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Effective June 9, 2023, American Airlines is making some big changes to how complimentary upgrades work for AAdvantage elites. Starting then, all elite members will be eligible for complimentary upgrades on American Airlines award tickets. Also, award travelers will no longer be prioritized below cash tickets on the upgrade list.
This is undoubtedly good news for award travelers. However, first class seats aren't unlimited. Anytime there are changes to who gets a limited supply, there are going to be winners and losers. Let's dig into the details of what's changing and review who this benefits and who's losing out.
American Airlines New Upgrade Policy
Starting June 9, 2023, American Airlines is simplifying how upgrades work. In short, both cash tickets and AAdvantage award tickets will be treated the same for complimentary upgrades. That means all AAdvantage elite members will be eligible for complimentary upgrades on American Airlines flights within North and Central America, regardless of how they booked their flight. Complimentary upgrades also extend to one travel companion on the same flight.
Going forward, American Airlines upgrade priority will be based on:
- The traveler's elite status tier (e.g. all Executive Platinum elites will clear before Platinum Pro elites), with the tiebreaker being…
- The traveler's rolling 12-month Loyalty Point earnings
I asked American Airlines to clarify if systemwide and mileage upgrades will still be prioritized above cash and award tickets. I'll update this post once we get a response.
Winners of American Airlines Upgrade Policy Changes
When these American Airlines upgrade policy changes kick in, a lot more travelers will be eligible for upgrades on American Airlines flights. Here are the winners of these changes.
Non-Executive-Platinum-elite award travelers
The most obvious winners of these changes are AAdvantage Platinum Pro, Platinum, and Gold elites. All of these elites are now eligible for upgrades on AAdvantage award flights when they weren't before. This makes earning AAdvantage elite status that much more appealing.
You still won't earn Loyalty Points on award travel; AA still hasn't copied Delta and United in this regard. However, the chance to get an upgrade on award tickets makes redeeming AAdvantage miles that much more valuable.
Executive Platinum award travelers
These changes are also a huge win for Executive Platinum award travelers. Previously, all Executive Platinum travelers on cash tickets would get upgraded ahead of Executive Platinum elites on award tickets. Now that this is no longer the case, Executive Platinum elites don't have to worry about being deprioritized when redeeming AAdvantage miles for a flight.
Elite travelers with companions
In addition to getting added to the upgrade list themselves, AAdvantage Platinum Pro, Platinum, and Gold elites can also now ‘sponsor' one companion for a complimentary upgrade on award tickets. This perk was previously limited to Executive Platinum elites.
However, in practice, this will likely only be useful on a few routes. On competitive routes, it's going to be rare enough that there's one upgrade available to lower-tier elites. It will be even rarer when two upgrades are available.
Who Loses With These American Airlines Elite Upgrade Changes
Elites flying on cash tickets
Before these changes, American Airlines prioritized upgrades by the type of upgrade requested. After sorting by elite status, travelers using systemwide upgrades or mileage upgrades got top priority, followed by travelers on cash tickets, and then eligible travelers on award tickets (e.g. Executive Platinum elites).
Now, cash travel isn't prioritized above award travel when it comes to upgrades. That means award travelers with the same elite status tier but higher Loyalty Points will clear ahead of travelers that paid cold hard cash for their ticket.
These changes also make it harder for lower-tier elites to clear upgrades on cash travel. Upgrades were already hard enough to clear when award travelers weren't on the upgrade list. Now, it's going to be an even longer shot.
Travelers using Systemwide or mileage upgrades
While we are still trying to confirm this with American Airlines, it seems that systemwide and mileage upgrades will no longer be prioritized above cash — and now award — tickets. That's a loss to travelers that looked to use these upgrades to jump higher on the upgrade list. Let's hope that this change isn't confirmed.
Starting June 9, 2023, American Airlines is making big changes to who's eligible for elite upgrades and the prioritization of upgrades. Soon, all AAdvantage elite members will get the chance to upgrade themselves — and potentially one travel companion — on all flights within North and Central America, even when booking using AAdvantage miles.
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