Are Upgrades Easier On American Or US Airways?

As I wrote about earlier, the integration between AAdvantage & Dividend Miles is happening this weekend. When it comes to the merger, this is the thing I was most looking forward to, as sad as I am to see Dividend Miles disappear.

AAdvantage-Integration-1

Truly reciprocal upgrades are finally here!

What am I most excited about? Truly reciprocal upgrades on US Airways. Up until now Dividend Miles members could only get day of departure upgrades on American, and AAdvantage members could only get day of departure upgrades on US Airways.

Now the two airlines have modified their upgrade systems and are offering truly reciprocal upgrades, given that everyone is now “just” an AAdvantage member.

As a reminder, here’s how the new complimentary upgrade system works:

American Airlines Operated And Marketed FlightsGoldPlatinumExecutive Platinum
For flights 500 miles or lessUnlimited, auto-requested complimentary upgradesUnlimited, auto-requested complimentary upgradesUnlimited, auto-requested complimentary upgrades
For flights over 500 milesUse earned or purchased 500-mile upgradesUse earned or purchased 500-mile upgradesUnlimited, auto-requested complimentary upgrades
Upgrade windowConfirmed as early as 24 hours before departureConfirmed as early as 72 hours before departureConfirmed as early as 100 hours before departure

This change represents the following, in relation to what members were previously used to:

  • AAdvantage elite members will now receive complimentary upgrades on flights of under 500 miles
  • Former Dividend Miles elite members will no longer receive complimentary upgrades on flights of over 500 miles
  • Instead, for flights of over 500 miles, Gold and Platinum members will have to use 500 mile upgrade stickers to upgrade

US-Airways-First-Class
US Airways first class

Are upgrades easier on American or US Airways?

In practice, what are the implications of truly reciprocal upgrades?

Well, as an Executive Platinum member I have to say I’ve had extremely good luck with having upgrades clear on American. I don’t remember the last time an upgrade didn’t clear, and I even book a lot of last minute tickets.

I don’t know if American proportionally has fewer elites than other airlines or what, but I couldn’t be happier with my upgrade percentage. In fairness, I generally avoid traveling on Mondays and Thursdays as much as possible, and also avoid transcons (not by design, but rather because that’s just usually how my schedule works out).

That being said, I’d be willing to bet almost anything that US Airways proportionally has the fewest elite members of any of the US legacy carriers. That’s part of what Dividend Miles elite members loved about the airline — their upgrades almost always cleared because there weren’t that many elite members to compete with.

So while I’ve had good luck with upgrades on American, upgrades on US Airways are going to be even easier.

American-737-Economy-Class
While American’s new 737s are nice, this is a view I try to avoid

I wouldn’t expect a huge shift in proportion of elites

Keep in mind that the airlines people choose to be elite members with are largely driven by geography, so I wouldn’t expect a huge shift in terms of the average number of elites per “airline” in the short term. Charlotte hub captives are still going to mostly be flying US Airways. Dallas hub captives are still going to mostly be flying American.

Beyond that, there’s something to be said for familiarity. People like flying an airline they’re used to, in terms of knowing what to expect, knowing the lounge situation, etc.

First-Class-Food
Enjoy the same fabulously tasteless food on both American and US Airways!

But as a general rule of thumb I think you’re going to have a better shot at an upgrade on US Airways than on American.

What’s my carrier strategy going to be?

Given all of the above, how will I choose whether to fly American or US Airways going forward, given that there’s now true “metal neutrality?”

  • For transcons I’ll continue to fly American through Dallas as much as possible — it’s typically the most direct, and if one upgrade doesn’t clear, being in coach for 2-3 hours isn’t the end of the world; Dallas also has the American Express Centurion Lounge
  • For travel up and down the East Coast I look forward to flying US Airways, given that upgrades are a near guarantee and given that it’s the most direct option
  • For other routes I’ll continue to “prefer” American simply because I like their planes more (they have power ports, more legroom in first class, etc.), though on peak dates I’ll probably fly US Airways for a better shot at an upgrade
  • I find US Airways often has the lowest fares in a given market, so will absolutely fly them if it saves me money

Centurion-Lounge-Dallas
American Express Centurion Lounge Dallas

For AAdvantage elite members, how is your upgrade “strategy” changing now that you have equal benefits on American and US Airways?

Comments

  1. I tend to agree with your upgrade strategy, but flying DCA-LAX nonstop versus DCA-DFW-LAX – I am probably going to still take the nonstop. Reason being – it is generally cheaper than the connecting flight and is a lot less hassle.

    DCA-LAX can be a long 6 hour flight – but then LAX-DCA is only 4.5 hours.

    I might also look more at the nonstop DCA-PHX flight as a connection point to some places on the west coast. Again – likely looking at price.

  2. What about existing reservations for AA Platinums on flights of 500 miles or less? Are the new comp upgrades only for new reservations? My current reservation still gives me the option to request an upgrade (not automatic), which I don’t want to use stickers for.

  3. Sadly, I don’t get excited about the DFW Centurion lounge anymore. Every time I’ve been there (beyond the first few months) it has been packed beyond capacity, with standing room only on some occasions. There are lines for the buffet, not enough food, drinks, or even plates and cutlery. The staff continue to do their best with what they have and the place is gorgeous physically, but it’s simply overrun.

  4. @ FreeTravelGuys — I think that should be updated in the near future, as it’s something they’re working through. I’d give it a couple of days.

  5. I reached out to AA and they did say they’re doing some system sweeps and that’s the ultimate goal. Literal response: “Yes, our system will start some sweeps and apply the upgrade requests automatically”.

    Thanks for the feedback.
    Michael

  6. Hi Ben!

    I have just checked my new Aadvantage account and found out that my miles will expire on June 2015. Can you tell me how to prevent this (I don’t have US billing address)? Does donating 1000 miles still work? Or what about buying 1000 miles via points.com?

    Something else that came up my mind: Does Aadvantage really let you change dates (w/o changing route) on award travel without a fee?

    Many thanks!

    Thomas

  7. Lucky, you should feel the pain of AA Plat. My 500 miles upgrade never get cleared! I have more than 50 stickers yet cannot use them! I only fly around 50000 miles each year , most of them are domestic flights. However , I get way much better availability on US Airways flight, even staring from 24 hours before depeatires

  8. Ben-

    I have done a lot of research but I haven’t not found an answer. As a plat using a 500 mile sticker flying say 1100 miles, is this 2 stickers or 1 (given a flight less than 500 is complimentary)?

  9. @ Matt — It would cost you three. Flights under 500 miles are free for upgrades, while for flights over 500 miles you have to pay for the upgrade entirely.

  10. @ Thomas — Either of those transactions would count as activity. And yes, you can change the dates of travel for free, as long as the origin and destination remain the same. The ticket does have to be used completely within a year of the date of issue, though.

  11. Hi Ben!

    Thank you so much for your quick reply! Your blog is soooo helpful!

    One more thing:

    Do you know if AAdvantage will let me upgrade one leg of a booking from Business to First (if it comes available on a later date)? Is there a fee for such changes?

    Im trying to book:
    ZRH-AUH available in F
    AUH-MLE in C
    MLE-AUH in C
    AUH-ZRH only available in C at the moment, but i think it will become available in F in some weeks from now (since EY is releasing F seats about two weeks after the are releasing Y and C seats.

    Thanks again!
    Thomas

  12. I just found a change that I was not really aware of, historically AA gave a small buffer on flights when using 500 mile upgrades (ex. ORD – LAS is 1,514 miles but only required 3 stickers). That policy has changed, so now 4 stickers will be required. Supposedly they say it works out because you get some “free” under 500 mile flights, but for the under 500 routes I flight it typically doesn’t even have a 1st class

  13. Great blog! As a long-term CP with USAIR I’m still learning about the conversion to EXP. One significant disadvantage I can see is that AA doesn’t allow its EXP members to earn 500 mile upgrades beyond the 30 some they gave me as a result of my status at the time of conversion. The problem with that is that without the 500 mile upgrades I can’t get a complimentary upgrade for my wife when we travel together. On USAIR, if i got upgraded (which was very reliable) we both received a complimentary upgrade. This seems to be a poor way for AA to treat their most loyal customers. Also, USAIR confirmed upgrades 5 days in advance for CP. AA has decreased that to at most 100 hours and it seems it’s usually really about 3 days in practice. Can’t say I’m particularly impressed with the transition.

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