US Airways Elites to Get Free 500 Mile Upgrade Certificates on American

When the American and US Airways frequent flyer programs combine soon, we’re going to basically get the American program — which means that upgrades will no longer be ‘complimentary’ to all US Airways elite members.


  • Executive Platinums (100,000 mile flyers) will get complimentary upgrades on all flights, as they do now.
  • All elites get complimentary upgrades on flights of 500 miles or less
  • Golds (25,000 mile flyers) and Platinums (50,000 mile flyers) will use 500 mile e-upgrade certificates. This is the American model, and US Airways elites will transition to it.

The two frequent flyer programs will combine long before the airlines themselves combine. I expect that US Airways flights will still offer complimentary upgrades until the reservation systems are merged late in the year.

So the 500 mile upgrade system will apply to American flights only for the first several months.

When the 2015 program was announced, American AAdvantage President Suzanne Rubin told me that US Airways elites would be given 500 mile upgrades to start off when the two frequent flyer programs become one, as a way of easing them into the program.

We haven’t heard much about that over the past few months. However, it’s suggested over at that,

Legacy US members will be given a starting balance of 500-mile upgrades when the programs are merged– up to 24– based on their activity through Feb 2015.

I think what this means is that flying during the previous elite year (March 2014 through February 2015) will determine the number of 500 mile e-certificates that each member starts with. It’s not clear what ‘ratio’ will determine the number of certificates given to start, however.

These certificates will only be needed for American flights of over 500 miles (and there will be no ‘grace’ amount over that).

I’ve written that I’m a fan of the 500 mile upgrade system. You earn (4) 500 mile upgrades for every 10,000 miles flown. You can then pick and choose which flights you want to list for an upgrade on. If you want to upgrade more than 2000 out of every 10,000 miles of flying you pay for extra certificates. What happens is that not every elite lists for an upgrade on every flight, and lower level elites have a better shot at an upgrade.

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. Gary, any guesses as to how long the USAir award chart will be in place? Planning on booking a trip to Asia but can’t book for a couple of months yet.

  2. I have been loyal to one airline, USAirways, because of the unlimited complimentary upgrades. I fly for business. I want a bigger seat after a day of meetings, cabs and traffic in another city. I dont really care about luxury on my flights from Charlotte, DC, Philly or Phoenix to Tampa. No more complimentary upgrades = no more loyalty.

  3. Great – so those of us who didn’t requalify for EXP (but still have Gold or Plat) get nothing but our equivalents coming from US Airways gets certs. Awesome.

  4. @FreeTravelGuys it is in place until the programs merge, and that could come any time in the next 3 months, a couple of months out is a risk.

  5. Gary,

    I understand, that, as you say “lower level elites have a better shot at an upgrade”. But the AA system does not benefit Platinums – it benefits Golds.

    On all airlines, lower tier elites get the crumbs that highest tier elites and people who pay for first leave behind. Aadvantage creates a comparative advantage to its lowest tier elites (Golds) by incentivizing mid tier elites (Platinums) to “hold back”, making them give something up for their upgrades.

    Your positive commentary for the 500 mile upgrade system would carry greater force if AA made its executive platinums “hold back” as it does to its platinums.

  6. Andy, if you flew 60K Miles on AA last year, you would have received 24 certs over the course of the year. People who were DM members got zero and (and paid for any upgrade they wanted on an AA flight) and will finally get those 24 certs.

  7. Sorry not following your logic scott, in reality with planes so full the chances of a Gold elite having their upgrade clear 24 hours out are slim and none unless you happen to find the one flight that the efficiency experts haven’t yet figured out to either axe or consolidate on the schedule.

    Just my 8 (gonna stay 8?) cents.

  8. @ sam,

    Quite true, but lowest tier elites have a comparatively better chance on AA than on airlines which provide unlimited, cost free upgrades, to ravenous mid tier elites.

    As an AA platinum for life, I earn few 500 mile certificates, so I must pay good money for them for my occasional DCA-ORD trips. It is 612 miles, so it takes 2 500 mile certificates, costing me $60. At times, I hold back, accepting Y. Were I a UA Gold on the same route, there would be no incentive t ohold back, permitting a hapless silver some remote opportunity for an upgrade.

  9. Just curious,

    Is there any reason AA is significantly different from SPG in how redemptions are used?

    I ask because with SPG’s recent change to the upgrade priority program, they stated that one of the reasons is that upgrades were always being requested at the same hotels. I’m curious whether AA sees a similar effect, thereby reducing the value of their upgrade request stickers (which I assume are not returned, even if you don’t clear). I’m new to elite status, so don’t have enough experience to know if this is a real problem for AA or something I’m just inventing.

    If it is a problem, is there anything AA could do?

  10. Well ‘given’ that old timers like you enjoy your status on an airline that’s been through the big bk, what incentive is there at all for a flyer who does not qualify for “lifetime” or million miler status to spend their future travel dollars in support of funding those who like to call others ‘hapless’.

    In other words, when a sensible traveler evaluates the future landscape and takes in the factors of concierge key and those who enjoy status due to what they’ve done many years ago, most sensible travelers at least should choose the eschew support of your programs altogether and simply opt for Jetblue or Southwest.

    It’s a very thin line the legacy airlines are walking here IMnsHO because even if you try to send your business their way, they still attempt to implement rules from the Eisenhower era.

    I really think they should truly form a completely new airline and think they would really like to but legacy and other restrictions prevent them from doing so.

    I’m not weighing on whether somebody with that much travel with an airline has earned their stripes, of course they have, but I’m just commenting on what their future prospects are in terms of chasing after the dollars of Generations X , Y and Z.

  11. Well, James B,

    Hotels and Airlines are different animals. As for airline elite upgrades, lower level elites may be advised to seek upgrades on midweek, off time flights or ones to leisure destinations. These flights will tend to have fewer “road warrior” high level elites which will trump you in the upgrade queue.

    Gary has written in the past about what flight days, destinations, etc., to target if upgrades are a priority. And if you look, I think you will find the discussion helpful.

  12. So what will be the process for AA EXPs to be upgraded on US Airways flights? The process now of waiting to be added to the upgrade list at the airport gives you zero chance of an upgrade.

  13. @jamesb2147 well people tend to want to be upgraded on the longest flights so even with a request system those tend to be the hardest to clear although time of day and day of week matter (based on when business travelers are flying)

  14. @jfhscott – Not all platinums request every time so a platinum has a better shot than otherwise when they do request. And of course it benefits golds too. The effect would of course be greater if executive platinums used 500 mile upgrade certs, too [as used to be the case, and used to be the case at united too for that matter]

  15. When I was AA Gold, upgrades were pretty easy to come by on most routes, so I’m a fan of the 500-mile sticker system. But I loved the US method, where I could simply upgrade via the app for free at check-in. Even though it was always for puny LGA-DCA runs.

  16. I really get a kick out of the complaining that comes from people who haven’t experienced the AA method. As a long time lifetime Gold and now Platinum, I have benefitted tremendously from the way AA does things.

    In essence, I have 3 choices every flight for flying in F:

    1. Buy a Y-UP fare for something around $300 r/t at the time of my reservation.
    2. Burn 30,000 miles and $150 for an upgrade. I can easily follow the upgrade availability on expert flyer, so I rarely need to make this choice more than a few weeks in advance.
    3. On a flight for which I have no real F concerns, I can burn 3-4 500 mile upgrades at $30 bucks each, so $90-$120 for an upgrade. On a sub-2 hour flight, I won’t bother getting on the list, for a 2-3 hour flight, I will.

    I have TONS of choices, and I can decide how important an F seat is to me. And in the past 5 years, I have rarely flown in Y unless it is a short flight and that has always been my choice. My upgrade percentage as a platinum has been excellent when I go the upgrade list route.

    From my limited experience on UA and DL, I never, never, never got upgrades as a low level elite. With AA, I can make a variety of choices and often be sitting in the big seat WHEN I WANT for minimal cost.

    So, doubters and haters, give it a try. My only fear is that AA will “improve” the system and make golds and platinums far worse off.

  17. So what happens to folks who purchased US Air gold status for the year which was to come with unlimited upgrades when available? Do they get a refund?

  18. Gary – So you think even though programs combine in the next month or 2 (probably), as a US Chairman I’ll still have complementary companion upgrades on US metal for the foreseeable future? I have a flight with my gf in June from CLT-SFO and have figured I would have to buy (10) 500 mile certs to upgrade her roundtrip.

  19. @heels05 – i believe that us airways metal upgrades will still be complimentary until the airline reservation systems get combined towards the end of the year.

  20. YES Gary. I bought up and a later comment is that comp upgrades should still be available until the end of this year. Phew…

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