The Best, Least Known Feature of American Airlines Upgrades that Can Save You on Your Next Trip

If you upgrade with American using miles or confirmed systemwides, then you’re protected.

Via Traveling Better, if your flight is effected by weather, crew legality, mechanical issues, or even air traffic control — if your flight is delayed just two hours (and in fact, just one hour if you are an AAdvantage elite member or full fare passenger) then you can be protected on a joint venture partner or oneworld airline in the same upgraded class of service if their flight will get you to your destination faster than the next American flight with available inventory will.

This policy has been in effect since March 2013.

The order in which an agent should work is:

  1. Try to confirm your upgrade using upgrade inventory on an American flight.
  2. Confirm in the lowest revenue booking class as your upgraded cabin on the next American flight, if that gets you in earlier than the next American flight with upgrade space.
  3. Confirm you on an American codeshare on one of their joint venture partners – Finnair, British Airways, Iberia, or Japan Airlines. (With the enhanced Qantas relationship, this policy could have been or may be extended to Qantas but I do not know this.)
  4. Confirm you on a Finnair, BA, Iberia, or Japan Airlines flight in the same upgraded cabin.
  5. Confirm you on a oneworld airline in the same upgraded cabin.

If you can’t be confirmed then they’ll waitlist you for the upgraded cabin.

Complimentary upgrades, given free to Executive Platinums and to all elites when flights are under 500 miles (and eUpgrades supported by certificates for Golds and Platinums on flights 500 miles or more) do not receive this protection.

Confirmed upgrades are confirmed. Not every agent knows that, so if you’re dealing with someone who doesn’t want to protect you in the same upgraded class of service, you’ll want to deal with another agent instead or if that isn’t possible have them check with a supervisor and review the policy. I keep a link to it handy, just in case.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. This happened to me, actually, and I thought I just got lucky. I was booked RNO-LAX-LHR and the RNO-LAX flight was oversold. I volunteered my seat on the condition they could keep me in the upgraded class, and they booked me RNO-ORD-LHR in BA revenue J, and I even got the class of service bonus miles, and arrived earlier than my LAX-LHR flight would have anyway.

  2. I love this policy but get frustrated sometimes, as in my personal experience most AA staff have no idea it exists and are not very receptive to the idea that it might exist. Gary, when you say that you keep a link to the policy with you just in case, what do you mean? Can you tell us what, precisely, you show them? I’ve printed out some of what’s been posted online about it, but often the AA staff aren’t usually interested. It usually takes a lot of talking with the staff, a manager, and sometimes the EXP desk before someone actually takes the time to look up “SCHEDULE IRREG” and read down to the relevant section. In a nutshell, most AA staff are very assertive that no such policy exists and are not interested in looking it up.

  3. I was recently flying LHR-JFK-SFO in paid J, on BA connecting to AA all ticketed by BA as BA codeshare flights. The JFK-SFO flight was cancelled and we were rebooked into Y on the next AA flight. We were told that BA hadn’t protected us in J and basically that was it as the flight was oversold (due to the earlier cancellation). They said we could possibly get J the next day as we were booked onto the last service of the day. It would seem that if you are flying on AA on BA ticket you don’t get these kind protections. AA are currently offering a $50 voucher as compensation and are dragging their heels confirming back to BA that we flew in Y so that BA can process a refund of the fare difference (although I’m doubtful we get much from this). It certainly leaves me reluctant to book code shares like this again as the airlines just blame each other and nobody takes responsibility for the failures.

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