Your Upgraded Flight Gets Cancelled? Keep Your Business Class Seat!

Often times upgrades are at the ‘bottom of the barrel’ — I’ve certainly been told “sorry” before when I have a confirmed upgrade on a flight that gets cancelled and the airline is offering me options for re-accommodation. They’ll happily put me on another flight, in the class of service that I paid for on my original ticket, but I can kiss my upgrade goodbye.

There’s a several years old policy at American, though, that I was just reminded of and that’s detailed at Upgraded tickets

that encounter a schedule irregularity may be protected into the upgraded cabin on any of our oneworld partners.

If your flight, for instance, from DC to New York to catch American’s onward service to London gets cancelled, your upgrade on New York JFK – London can be protected on the British Airways JFK – London flight or even on Washington Dulles – London non-stop.

This is apparently easiest to do when getting re-accommodated on one of American’s joint venture partners. An agent can just handle the rebooking themselves, for instance, if they’re putting you on British Airways, Iberia, Finnair, or Japan Airlines. They have a more cumbersome procedure trying to rebook onto other oneworld airlines but it can be done.

It’s important to know this, since not every agent knows this. Although American’s automated rebooking system is aware and has been known to handle this correctly on its own (at least with Joint Venture partners).

It doesn’t apply to domestic ‘sticker’ (500 mile or complimentary) upgrades at least in my experience. If I have a free upgrade on an American domestic flight, I won’t necessarily be guaranteed the premium cabin on an alternative flight — I’ll usually go onto the upgrade list even if there are first class seats for sale. Although I’ve never pushed to see if this policy really should apply.

But it’s clearly the case that for international travel, confirmed upgrades should be protected when you need to get rebooked — even on another airline. Buy a coach ticket, upgrade, and American will put you in business class on their partner.

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. I had this happen a few weeks ago on a flight from Zurich back to JFK due to a 7 hour delay. They started the process to re-book me on an Iberia flight keeping my System-wide upgrade to Biz intact. For other reasons, I needed a different flight out and the Delta fight out worked for me. The agents not only put me on a non-partner airline, but also put me in their system in business class. Unfortunately, when I went to get my seat assignment, the Delta agent said they won’t honor the business class seat. Since they were a different alliance, American said they couldn’t force them. Though to Delta’s credit, they did give me a free upgrade to economy plus (or whatever Delta calls it).

  2. Hi Gary – anything comparable on UA. I did have a SYD – UA go MX last year and the phone agent (I immediately called the 1K desk) snagged the the only seat on the plane for the next day. Not sure if iit was because the first to call but did not expect an upgrade to stick when others including revenue were also wanting that seat. It was the 4th MX for me in a month (3 different continents) so they may have taken pity on this lost soul.

  3. Thanks Gary/Jon. Just the info I need for working with AA re the suspension of #242 DUS-ORD.

  4. Thanks, Gary.

    Any clarity on what the policy is when it’s a domestic AA flight upgraded by an SWU or by miles/cash?

  5. I had this happen on a trip in January. I was previously upgraded (SWU) on DFW-LHR, but I could not get to DFW. The agent routed me through ORD and put me on BA in J. I just thought she was being incredibly kind (and she was, as they were terribly busy, but it was 3 AM and I had been on hold for over 2 hrs.) Nice to know this is policy.

  6. So AA won’t accommodate a passenger on BA who’s ticket was paid for with miles yet will if you upgrade with them. How very strange.

  7. US recently announced suspension of schedule for CLT-GRU, and I’ve got a flight in November on them in C. It was an “other partner” award (not one-world) — think they’ll put me on business on AA’s JFK-GRU? Flexibility in dates?

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