As I fly American more and more as an Executive Platinum member, there are some things I’ve really come to love about them, especially as a leisure flyer.
One of the major differences between American and United when it comes to comparing their top tier status levels is that 1K members at United get six fare restricted systemwide upgrades per year (you have to purchase at least a “W” fare for international travel, which can be pretty pricey in many markets), while Executive Platinum members at American get eight systemwide upgrades per year that can be used on any fare class.
That means at American your $500 ticket to Europe and $800 tickets to Asia can be upgraded. But the real kicker is how American prioritizes upgrades.
At United as a 1K member, it’s to some extent a crapshoot whether or not you’ll get your upgrade unless you can confirm it immediately. That’s an issue given that you’re often paying a huge premium for the chance at an upgrade, when it might just not come true. United, as I understand it, sorts upgrades first based on status and then based on fare class. That means I can be a 1K member booking 11 months out, and I’ll be jumped by any Global Services member that’s added to the waitlist and any 1K member on a higher fare class that’s added to the waitlist.
American, on the other hand, sorts upgrade lists based on status and then time added to the waitlist. That means if I book a ticket 11 months out and there’s no confirmable upgrade space, there’s no need to sweat it. If a single upgrade clears (which it will), it’ll be me. At American, Executive Platinum is actually top tier status, while at United 1K is really a glorified middle tier, given how many Global Services members there are. That’s not a jab at United because I find they treat 1Ks really well, but at the end of the day they’re not top tier — there’s always a Global Services member that can jump you on just about any list.
The reason I bring this up is because recently I was going to book a ticket on American from Chicago to Delhi with a friend and upgrade. The problem is, there was only one confirmable upgrade seat remaining. That means if my friend took that last confirmable upgrade seat, I would be the first person on the waitlist no matter what, which is pretty amazing.
Now, to a large extent that system doesn’t really make sense to me. I love it as a leisure flyer, though you’d think an Executive Platinum on a last minute, super-expensive fare should clear an upgrade ahead of me. As much as it’s a bit irrational, I’m not complaining!
Along the same lines, American charges close-in ticketing fees for upgrades within 21 days of departure. It’s normal for airlines to charge close-in ticketing fees for awards, but it makes no sense to charge them for upgrades, since those seats will otherwise go to elite upgrades. So as a non-elite you’d be paying $175 plus 15,000 miles for a one-way domestic upgrade requested within six days of departure. Again, it doesn’t make sense to me, but as an Executive Platinum member it certainly helps in keeping upgrade percentages close to 100%.
Anyway, I’ll be posting a more comprehensive review of the two airlines from a top tier elites’ perspective soon, so keep in mind this is only one small aspect of the two programs. Also, while it’s nice to have all those systemwide upgrades, American’s international route network is lacking somewhat, to say the least. They fly to Helsinki but not to Hong Kong, they fly to Budapest but not to Bangkok, and they fly to Dublin but not to Dubai.