American Upgrade Priority Changing As Of March 11, 2015

Each of the major US airlines approaches upgrade priority a bit differently. American’s system is probably the best for the leisure/discount traveler, as upgrades are prioritized as follows:

  • Status
  • Whether you’re connecting or not
  • Whether you’re a full fare passenger or not
  • Time of request

The second point is especially interesting, in my opinion. In other words, if I’m an Executive Platinum member flying from Detroit to Chicago to Los Angeles, I’d clear my upgrade for the second segment before an Executive Platinum member flying just from Chicago to Los Angeles, even if the other passenger is in a higher fare class.


The logic sort of makes sense. The idea is that if you’re connecting, you’re going out of your way to fly American, and should be rewarded for that. In other words, if you fly an airline nonstop you’re probably flying them because they have the best schedule, while if you’re going out of your way to fly an airline by connecting, you should be rewarded a bit more.

It’s interesting logic, and one that certainly usually works to my advantage.

Well, apparently American will no longer offer upgrade priority to connecting passengers as of March 11, 2015. That means upgrades will be prioritized by status, followed by whether you’re a full fare passenger or not (a vast majority of passengers aren’t), followed by time of request.

As a leisure traveler I like the old system, though if I were running American I would certainly be prioritizing upgrades by fare class over time of booking. Why given an upgrade advantage to someone that booked a cheap fare 11 months out over someone that booked a super-expensive last minute ticket?

What do you think about this change, and how do you think American should prioritize upgrades?

(Tip of the hat to Gary)


  1. As I mentioned over on Gary’s blog, I’m not sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, since I rarely connect being JFK/LGA-based, I’m glad that criteria is gone. However, as an AA Plat who often books up to 60 days out, you would think I have an upper hand when it comes to time of upgrade request. In practice, though, there have been numerous times where I attempt to confirm my upgrade request at the Admirals Club on the day of flying only to be told there’s no record of my request in the first place. Extremely frustrating. And I’ve heard so many conflicting things from AAngels, reservation agents and gate agents. Everything from “oh, yeah, you should always confirm the upgrade request on the phone right after you book” to “you need to re-request when you check-in for the flight” — information that is patently false.

    Some routes work perfectly, others are a consistent headache. If they’re going to revise the criteria to add more weight to the time of request, they need to ensure their systems are working properly.

    Meanwhile I flew UA recently (on which I have no status) and simply paid for the upgrade on the last available seat in F — despite a standby list with 10 or so UA elites on it. Sucks to be them.

  2. Yes, if you live in the DFW area, this is 100% great. According to the last numbers I’ve seen, for 2013, 57% of DFW passengers are connecting. You do the math.

  3. I don’t fly often so don’t castrate me for this question. Can a coach ticket flyer ask for free upgrades? Though I’m sure satistically you have very little chance of getting one since there is always someone with some sort of status/perk in front of you.

  4. Everyone who thinks that the “cheap fare booked 11 months out” is less beneficial for the airline than the last minute traveler is kidding themselves.

    The person booking 11 months out is:

    1. Providing immediate cash-flow to the airline – very important for the environment they operate in
    2. Helping fill up the plane early
    3. Subject to heavy change fees and schedule changes

    Revenue != Profitability

  5. Not very relevant to this topic, but together with AA’s ad for Freddie Awards, it made me wonder if AA would announce any ‘change’ right after this year’s Freddie. (must be scared by Richard Anderson!)

  6. The upgrade logic should benefit the people who supply the most $$ to American. I think they got it right. Time of booking should, in most cases, be a tie-breaker.

  7. My thoughts on this have always been that by upgrading connecting passengers first, you are trying to attract flyers from non hub cities. Most business flyers in DFW/MIA/PHX/etc. are going to choose the airline with the non-stop flights so AA is most likely already capturing them. Same goes for DL in ATL/MSP or UA in DEN/IAH etc. But for flyers in OKC/LAS/SNA/SAT/BNA/CMH/IND/etc. that already have to connect most times (unless flying SWA or to a hub city) so they effectively can choose from UA/DL/AA. These are the flyers that can sway from one carrier to another based on benefits. My opinion is reducing upgrades for these flyers will result in at least some giving up AA as their relative benefit vs. DL/UA will drop. Of course, that’s coming from a guys that really follows this stuff and most people won’t know what happened!

  8. I love how the changes happen 15 days after status expires, since they’re currently pushing out their Buy-Up for folks who are short on renewing their previous status. I was but a lowly Gold, but thanks to these connecting flights from my smaller market I got a pretty great percentage of upgrades.

    I decided not to buy-up, and i’m more and more glad that I didn’t. AA’s F catering has gone to crap (literally). Now with “free” upgrades, the upgrade pool is looking like UA/DL’s, meaning lowest tier members don’t get upgrades (and don’t get much incentive to be loyal). So I switched my loyalty to WN, since their service in Y for A-List members is leaps and bounds better than what a Gold gets in Y at AA, or a Silver gets in Y at DL or UA.

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