≡ Menu

American Airlines Upgrade Policy – How Even A Gold Can Get One

This post may contain affiliate links from our advertising partners, such as American Express. Read my Advertiser Disclosure policy here.

American Airlines has a very different upgrade policy than Delta. My recent rendezvous with American caused me to further explore their policy. I took a crash course on their upgrade policy from the vantage point of a gold elite.

In this post I’ll share how the American Airlines 500 upgrade policy works and comment on a recent upgrade experience with American Airlines. There positives and negatives, but one thing for sure is you have a little more control over the process when you would like an upgrade.

Free Admirals Club Pass

Also, don’t forget to leave your best tip for a new American Airline flyer in this post. By doing so you will have a chance to win a free Admirals Club pass and coupon for $100 off an Admirals Club membership.

How It Works

The 500 mile upgrade policy allows a member to upgrade from coach to the next level of service. For example, a coach ticket on a two class flight would upgrade you to first class but on a three class flight would upgrade you to business class. The policy has several eligibility and restrictions so it is important to pay close attention.

1. Check to make sure you have 500 mile upgrades in your account

  • AAdvantage Platinum and AAdvantage Gold members earn four 500-mile upgrades for every 10,000 qualifying miles flown
  • You can purchase them at a discounted rate on AA.com and at the airport Self-Service Check-In machine during flight check-in ($30 online or at kiosk and $35 through an agent)
  • AAdvantage elite-status members may buy upgrades with AAdvantage miles at a rate of 35,000 miles for eight (8) upgrades

2. Request an upgrade when making your flight reservations on AA.com, on your mobile device, through an American Airlines agent, or your travel agent.

3. Your upgrade request will be processed automatically if upgrade seating is available based on the applicable upgrade window:

  • Executive Platinum at 100 hours prior to departure
  • Platinum at 72 hours prior to departure
  • Gold at 24 hours prior to departure
  • Non-elite member at 24 hours prior to departure

4. Confirmation of upgrade will be sent via email or voicemail

5. If upgrade was not processed at check-in you will automatically be placed on the gate lottery upgrade list

Make sure you request your upgrade as early as possible since the requests are prioritized within the elite member levels. Y and B fares trump all requests within an elite member level followed by the order in which the request is placed.

Eligibility

  • Regular members (non-status) are eligible to upgrade from a full fare coach ticket (Y, B)
  • Elite members are eligible to upgrade on any paid coach ticket
  • Only Elite members may request an upgrade for themselves and a one companion on a coach ticket

But it gets better:

  • Platinum and Gold members receive complimentary upgrades on full fare coach tickets (Y, B)
  • Executive Platinum members receive complimentary upgrades on all coach tickets

Restrictions

Several restrictions exist around the use of 500 mile upgrades.

  • One upgrade unit is required for every 500 miles of travel
  • Travel must be within and between the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, The Bahamas and Bermuda
  • Or between the U.S. and Central America

Bottom Line

I really like having more control over the upgrade process. This gives a little hope for a lowly Gold to use a 500 mile upgrade and secure that first class seat.

For example, I recently flew on American Airlines and wanted to try out their first class regional jet product to report back the difference in upgrade policy with Delta. Purchasing 500 mile upgrades online was easy. I decided to use 35,000 miles to purchase 8 upgrades at 4,375 miles a piece. The flight required 2 upgrades so I essentially upgraded one way for 8,750. The upgrade cleared at the 24 hour window, since I’m gold, and off to first class I went. The seats were as comfortable as the Delta regional jet first class seats. I did notice the head rest sides, when pulled out, really support your head for sleeping.

So what do you think about AA’s upgrade policy when compared to Delta’s?

First Class Seat

View at Landing

If you haven’t already done so, consider signing up for my RSS Feed to have blog posts sent directly to your email, or consider joining me on Twitter or Facebook.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or suggestions expressed on this site are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.

About the Author

About the author: The Weekly Flyer is writes about travel from a business traveler perspective. He travels the world every week accumulating points and miles along the way. Feel free to reach me at theweeklyflyer@gmail.com

{ 34 comments… add one }

  • AS February 1, 2012, 10:12 am

    I don’t like AA’s policy at all. For a non-Exec Plat you are looking at best case 20% of your travel covered by complimentary upgrades unless you fly Y/B fares. Very low success rate compared to UA/CO, DL or US.

    I don’t subscribe to the ‘control over when you get them theory’. It only gives me the control to choose which 80% of my flights I am guaranteed to be flying in coach. I’d much rather play the unlimited complimentary upgrade lottery.

  • matt February 1, 2012, 10:18 am

    Upgrading 20% of your miles flown using instruments (or paying for additional instruments) isn’t particularly generous for the domestic flyer, but if you have significant international travel the picture improves. I have no desire to burn miles for upgrades on regional jets.

    At the Gold level it’s probably net beneficial, but high-mile domestic platinums are not going to get upgraded nearly as much as possible/probable on e.g. Delta. IMO it makes the program less attractive for people flying less than 100k miles a year, with an exception at the bottom.

  • Alan D February 1, 2012, 10:28 am

    Well… I was at the megodo also, and i think you drank a bit of the AA Kool-aid. I’m ExecPlat on AA and Diamond on Delta for the last 8 years (plat b4 they created Diamond) so I understand the the product well.

    As a ExecPlat there is a slight benefit that you can get a better shot at an upgrade on a last min ticket.. but that’s very slight and for all others, AA’s program is a bit worse.

    The true test i think is how full is first class. On delta it is very very rare to have an empty seat in First, whereas on AA it’s rather common. The net is, it’s more of a revenue center on AA and they are happy to leave plats in golds in the back if they don’t get something out of you… stickers earned, bought with miles or points.

    Both programs have pluses and minuses.. and I travel a lot with both, so obviously I like both AA/Delta… but i think you’re not drawing the right conclusion here.

  • Jc February 1, 2012, 10:35 am

    You do not have to have the upgrades in your account to request or clear. You will need them to check in for your upgraded flight or to be put on the standby list.

  • Karlyn February 1, 2012, 10:36 am

    I totally have to agree with the above commentors. I’d likely find it more user friendly if elites could use them internationally

  • Jc February 1, 2012, 10:40 am

    As a PLT, I like the current system. Less people request upgrades because not everyone is willing to shell out for the 500 mile upgrades, and therefore there is less competition (I am almost always willing to purchase the upgrade instruments…never on a Regional). People who travel internationally can also earn a ton more of the upgrades.

    On other airlines you are competing against EVERYONE within your status, as they are always complimentary.

  • The Weekly Flyer February 1, 2012, 11:09 am

    AS – The unlimited lottery game at DL is not fun for a non-Diamond member. You’ll frequently see yourself in the mid to high double digits on the upgrade list. I do like controlling the upgrade % and will like it even better if I make Exp Plat with eVIPs.

    Matt – I have no desire to upgrade on regional jets, but was my only option to try out the upgrade policy. I agree, it is a big incentive to fly over 100k for the unlimited domestic upgrades. But the high mile Platinum would earn 4 instruments per 10k miles flown. So assuming 80k miles, that is a total of 32 instruments, yeah, I guess that is not that good for a Platinum.

    Alan – Maybe, I agree there were only 3 people in first with me on that regional jet and coach was about half full. It made me wish I had just sat in the bulk head instead of the F seat. But regardless I wanted to try out the instrument for myself.

    JC – As a platinum isn’t the max you can earn about 36 instruments a year? Assuming an average of 2 instruments per flight, that only gives you 18 flights to upgrade using instruments. You’d be better off going for Ex Plat or moving to DL’s Platinum game if not hub captive.

    Karlyn – Isn’t that what the eVIPs are for?

  • Evan February 1, 2012, 12:23 pm

    As a low-level elite with both AA and US, I find the AA system to have a major advantage in that sometimes the low-level elite folks can get upgraded on routes that would be impossible on airlines with UDU. Because of the lessened level of competition for upgrades (people manage the use of their certs), as a Gold on AA I scored an upgrade on the LAX-IAD transcon (sat across the aisle from Scott Bakula on that flight too). As a Silver on US (or any other UDU program), that would very likely never happen.

  • The Nomad February 1, 2012, 12:31 pm

    THe 500 miles upgrade system is good for 25-50K flyers. Totally disappointing for 50-100K mile flyers.

  • The Weekly Flyer February 1, 2012, 12:38 pm

    Nomad – …and doesn’t matter at all for the 100+ flyers.

  • Robin February 1, 2012, 1:42 pm

    I think the system that you prefer depends a lot on what routes you fly. As a 75K flyer on UA/CO, I’m batting 100% for upgrades since December… without expending any instruments, miles, or cash. But I never fly hub-hub routes. There are 1Ks who fly IAD-SFO every two weeks and NEVER get an upgrade because that route is so premium-heavy that the few F seats left go to Global Services folks. With the 500-miler system, even mid-tier elites can get upgraded on transcontinental hub-hub flights… but not on every single low-demand segment like I do on UA.

  • Gary February 1, 2012, 7:40 pm

    American’s policy is actually great for Golds. Because not every other Gold and Platinum is looking for an upgrade every time, that makes it more likely the Gold will actually clear when they request it. Unlimited complimentary upgrades mean the death of lowest tier elite upgrades. Except at US AIrways where even Silvers seem to clear frequently, they just don’t have the same elite pool.

    But .. “I decided to use 35,000 miles to purchase 8 upgrades at 4,375 miles a piece.” NOOOOOOO!!! That’s a value of about 2/3rds of a cent a point. :(

  • Jc February 3, 2012, 6:40 pm

    @The Weekly Flyer – Yes, but I’m saying I’m willing to purchase them for upgrades…while many are not. This lessens competition for upgrades, so Gold and Platinums gets upgraded more often on AA than on airlines with unlimited upgrades.

    In regard to EXP, there is a huge delta in required EQM between PLT and EXP. I also try to keep my US status current for flights where AA doesn’t make sense.

  • Marshall Jackson February 3, 2012, 7:54 pm

    Personally, as an AAdvantage Gold, I prefer AA’s system. My upgrade success rate is over 50 percent, even when flying with Mrs MJ on Travel. As a Delta Gold ( AA Platinum equivalent) I’ve had a success rate of over 70 percent so both systems obviously are working ok for me. But AA’s system means that a low-level elite has a better shot at clearing, I think.

  • Vinnie February 14, 2012, 2:34 pm

    In my experience, AA hub-to-hub (i.e. MIA-DFW) travel has a terrible upgrade record for EXP’s. Connecting EXP passengers are given a higher priority on the airport upgrade list over local traffic (little known fact). I am only upgraded 60-70% of the time – the double elite mileage promotion this year should make this upgrade percentage much worse for the next two years. EXP’s: be sure to ask for your free salty snack and premium drink if you sit in coach.

  • MP April 8, 2012, 8:32 am

    The upgrade experience for me, AA Gold, has been terrible. In the last 60 days, I have flown 9 roundtrips between DFW and SFO. Requested upgrades on all segments, so 18 requests in total. I’m batting 0% upgrade so far…I’m flying my 10 roundtrip starting tonight..and I have been put on a waitlist. How much does anyone wanna bet what the outcome will be? The route is so premium heavy it boggles my mind and I can’t wait to get to Plat soon.

  • Jay April 23, 2012, 12:15 am

    MP, every elite has been flying SFO – DFW for double EQMS. No way you’re seeing an upgrade on that route as a Gold.

  • ThunderStorm April 23, 2012, 4:34 pm

    MP,
    Even as a Plat I never got an upgrade on that, nor the LAX-ORD or even the SFO-ORD route.

    Sorry :( But as Jay mentioned, its the DEQM promo.

  • Bodie April 29, 2012, 1:40 pm

    Ha!
    If you are Gold…..good luck with EVER being upgraded!
    Ive been up to Platinum Elite. Only then, did I start to actually receive any up graded seats!
    At Gold…..with 50 UPGRADES in my account…..I couldn’t get an upgraded seat to save my life!

  • David May 21, 2012, 3:51 pm

    I am with Bodie here, I an Platinum and have flown 22 segments this year already and have been upgraded ONCE although I have put in a request every time. I am flying BOS-DFW which does tend to be heavy on status holding fliers but beginning to question why I continue flying with AA. Complete joke

  • DF August 24, 2012, 3:27 pm

    Sitting on an AA jet at JFK bound for LAX as I type this. Epic fail on an upgrade once again with my Gold status, which seems to get you absolutely nothing except early boarding. We are 40 minutes into a delay occasioned they tell me by a “slight mechanical” problem. We shall see…I have done this milk run between the coasts many, many times and can’t remember the last time I achieved setting my bum down in even biz class. On the outbound, I had the pleasure of sitting next to “Mr. Smelly,.” so rank I had to request a seat change. Why let people who stink on the plane at all? Way to go AA. Shout out to crew member Clint for handling the “odiferous” one. Love you Clint! You are the man even if I am sick of AA.

  • koed December 7, 2012, 1:27 pm

    As a chairman on usairways that gets upgraded to first class about 95% of the time, i think that AA’s policy is awful for business travelers like myself. I spend far more money with the airline than the gold, silver, and platinum elites. The upgrade policy should be purely a pecking order based on status. I would not be willing to shell out miles and money all the time to fly in first on American Airlines. That being said, a gold member who doesnt fly with a ton of regularity will have no problem using his miles to get upgraded considering how infrequent he flies when compared to me (140 segments a year or about 105k MQMS). Bottom line, i give the airline far more revenue and spend more time with them. I should always be given preference over them. End of story.

  • Brooks February 13, 2013, 3:48 pm

    AA is also terrible about recognizing their “partner” airlines. I’m Executive Platinum and as a frequent traveler between LHR and IAD they don’t let you use upgrades on flights purchased through AA website, but operated by BA. It’s difficult to find a non BA operated flight between the two and I refuse to go to Gatwick.

  • J batten February 17, 2013, 1:17 pm

    Using a chaining technique ask the ticket clerk two things they will easily agree to and then ask them the thing you want which is more difficult for them to agree to.

  • ScottySam April 6, 2013, 5:05 pm

    Koed,
    You misunderstand I think. With your segs and miles you would be executive platinum and receive complimentary 500 upgrades.
    Regards
    Sammy

  • VG May 5, 2013, 7:41 am

    For those complaining about not getting upgraded as top tier EXPs on some routes – that is going to happen on any airline when there are more top tiers elites than seats in first. Upgrading as an top tier elite is in no way affected by the policies for lower elites on any airline.

    Many years as an AA PLAT I have experienced a consistent 80-85% upgrade success. However, it seems like lately more and more of those successes are at the gate. Many years ago (1980’s) I had 70% success as an AA gold, but that rate seems to have declined steadily and is now maybe 10% based on golds I know.

  • Mike May 27, 2013, 7:37 pm

    I am a US Air Gold member. I have been upgraded this year on about 90% of my flights. I love the free upgrades and anything less will be a great loss. Paying or using miles for what I get for free now is a loss and that is the bottom line. There are going to be a lot of unhappy USAir elites when the merger is complete and they take away our comp upgrades.

  • Christina May 30, 2013, 9:40 am

    I am a Platinum member and find the upgrade policies to be very complicated. I am also elite on COPA airlines and it is much much easier. In Copa you automatically get upgraded if there is still room 24 hours before your flight. They send you an email letting you know you’ve been upgraded.

    American has a complicated system since you have to meet so many targets (have the right ticket class S or Y, have accumulated 500 mile stickers, request it yourself, etc, etc etc).

    They should re-evaluate their program.

  • Yosemite Sam November 10, 2013, 11:01 am

    Been AA permanent gold for years,right below Plt. but will probably never get there. Read this blog to try to figure out how to get upgraded once in awhile, does AA ever give a next level free upgrade ? Is that what the billboard at the counter is saying ? or is that for people willing to use upgrade segments ? Pay more at the counter ? does a person request a free up grade at the counter ? thanks for any answers. Sam

  • Steve April 26, 2014, 3:23 pm

    I’ve been Platinum for a few years and my upgrade percentage is about 25%, It used to be better, but the flights are so full now (and therefore full of Elites) that I think you need to be Exective Platinum to have a reasonable chance of upgrade. I booked an non hub flight over a month in advance and requested an upgrade. Flight was at noon on a Tuesday, thought for sure I’d get upgraded. No dice.

    Also, the only “free” upgrades are on Y/B coach fares and EXP Elites. And if you buy Y/B fares, you’re basically paying for first class anyway (I worked at a company whose policy was to buy reimbursable coach fares — ended up being Y/B, and lots of upgrades even for non-status).

    I like American’s loyalty program for award travel, I just don’t ever expect to get upgraded unless I reach Executive Platinum.

  • Jan May 13, 2014, 6:18 pm

    Just shy of liefime Platinum status.I have flown 1.87 million miles. Need 130,000 miles more. I have the AA credit card, but you don’t get qualifying miles any longer using the card. Any inside info on how to reach the platinum level sooner/quicker?

  • Barbara May 15, 2014, 9:37 pm

    Travelled internationally last year, now have quite a few 500 mile upgrades, plus was talked into buying 12 of them before that for my brother and I to upgrade from DFW to SNA and return. Not only no upgrade, we got middle seats in the back of the MD-80, not even together.
    No luck at all using these things up so far this year. I find I was offered upgrades far more before I was elite, would often be asked at the kiosk if I would like to upgrade, generally for a very reasonable charge. Think I will avoid BA and AA internationally, lose my elite status & see what happens.

  • Dave August 30, 2014, 6:50 am

    @Jan: Other than doing mileage runs, only other booster I know is the Executive AAdvantage card. Spend $40k per year on it for 10k elite qualifying miles.

  • Anna October 18, 2014, 4:52 am

    Hi Guys!
    My company bought me a ticket:

    Nov 7th : GRU – DFW – SFO
    Nov. 15th: SFO- LAX – GRU

    I called AA and request an upgrade to business for 50k miles plus US$700.

    I am currently waitlisted and they said that if it goes through I will be sent an email.

    GRU – DFW 20 business seats available.
    LAX – GRU 26 ” ”

    What are my chances of getting them?
    Should I go ahead and pay for the premium economy seats?

    Thanks

Leave a Comment