American Airlines Now Gives Free Upgrade on Award Tickets

All AAdvantage elites will now be eligible for award upgrades, but lower-level members might struggle to get them.
Sean Cudahy
By Sean Cudahy 
Edited by Meghan Coyle

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American Airlines is expanding one of the most popular perks of airline elite status. Starting June 9, all AAdvantage elite status members flying on award tickets will be eligible for complimentary upgrades.

The change means American’s Platinum Pro, Platinum and Gold members can tap into the same upgrade benefits on award tickets that they enjoy on a paid ticket.

The airline has only allowed its top-tier Executive Platinum and ConciergeKey members complimentary upgrades on award tickets.

The move, in theory, means more opportunities to upgrade to first class for customers booking a flight using AAdvantage miles. At the same time, though, it likely means longer upgrade lists for those upgrades.

In an email, the carrier touted these changes as steps that make it simpler and “more convenient for customers to experience their benefits and reward loyalty.”

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How to get American Airlines upgrades

American Airlines provides complimentary upgrades to its elite-status members. AAdvantage members are prioritized for upgrades based on their elite status tier.

Higher-level elite members can also have their upgrades confirmed farther in advance of a flight, as follows:

  • AAdvantage Gold members: upgrades are confirmed up to 24 hours before departure.

  • AAdvantage Platinum: up to 48 hours.

  • AAdvantage Platinum Pro: up to 72 hours.

  • AAdvantage Executive Platinum: up to 100 hours.

Complimentary upgrades on American are available on flights within or between the U.S. (including Hawaii), Canada, Mexico, Central America, Bermuda and the Caribbean.

These complimentary upgrades allow main cabin flyers with AAdvantage elite status to move to the next class of service, either business class or domestic first class.

As always, with upgrades, this is all contingent on availability in the premium cabin.

Other ways to upgrade on American Airlines, including for overseas flights, involve using AAdvantage miles or one of the Loyalty Point Rewards options.

American Airlines upgrade priority

Priority is important when it comes to upgrades to first class. It’s how the airline decides who gets a spot in the premium cabin.

With American Airlines upgrade policy changes taking effect, here’s how upgrade priority works:

1. Priority by tier

First, the airline will award upgrades based on elite status tier.

  • Executive Platinum.

  • Platinum Pro.

  • Platinum.

  • Gold.

2. Loyalty Points

Next, rolling Loyalty Points total over the past 12 months will help break the tie among AAdvantage elite members within a particular status tier.

Upgrades for traveling companions

AAdvantage elite members traveling with both paid and award tickets will be allowed to upgrade one companion flying on board the same flight.

This applies even to companions traveling on the same flight but on separate reservations. If you’re flying with a family member or friend that’s booked through a separate reservation, call the airline’s reservations line to have the itineraries linked.

Furthermore, American’s booking system will now treat both companions as the same level of priority throughout an itinerary when deciding on upgrades, based on the person with the highest status tier and rolling Loyalty Points totals.

How other airlines handle award ticket upgrades

American isn’t the only major U.S. airline to allow complimentary upgrades to elite status members traveling on award tickets.

Delta Air Lines Medallion elite status members receive unlimited complimentary upgrades to first class on paid, award, Miles + Cash, and Pay with Miles tickets.

On the other hand, United Airlines is a bit stricter when it comes to award tickets for complimentary upgrades for Premier elite members. Premier Silver, Gold, Platinum and 1K members can generally be eligible for complimentary upgrades on paid, full-fare economy tickets.

However, to get a complimentary upgrade on an award ticket, you’ll have to have one of the United credit cards.

American Airlines upgrades on award tickets recapped

Going forward, American Airlines’ lower-level elite status members will be eligible for a key perk that used to be restricted to only Executive Platinum members and ConciergeKey members: complimentary upgrades on award tickets.

That doesn’t mean they’ll receive the upgrades though. With more members qualifying for upgrades on any given flight, the lowest-level elites like Gold and Platinum may find it harder to get off the upgrade waitlist.

(Top photo courtesy of American Airlines)

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