In this article, I wanted to share why I think American Airlines will change its approach to elite upgrades in the not too distant future. I mentioned this in passing in an article a few days ago, so I wanted to expand my thinking process a bit.
Let me note up front that this is pure speculation on my part and I have no inside knowledge on the subject to suggest that this is happening. Rather, I don’t see this American at all could not modify its upgrade program given its new partnership with Alaska Airlines.
Let me first give you an overview of American’s current upgrade program and then I’ll share what I think will change.
US 500 mile upgrade “sticker” program
All US Elite Members of AAdvantage are eligible for upgrades available in one form or another for flights within the US, as well as flights between the US and Canada, Mexico, Bahamas, the Caribbean, Bermuda and Central America.
However, how these upgrades are handled depends on your status:
- Concierge Key members receive free upgrades from 120 hours before departure
- Executive Platinum members receive free upgrades from 100 hours before departure
- Platinum Pro members receive free upgrades from 72 hours before departure
- Platinum members get upgrades starting 48 hours prior to departure, but they must use 500 mile upgrade stickers to be eligible, except on flights under 500 miles, where upgrades are free.
- Gold members get upgrades starting 24 hours before departure, but they must use 500 mile upgrade stickers to be eligible, except on flights under 500 miles, where upgrades are free.
- All Elite Levels can have companions upgraded with them as well, but additional 500 mile upgrade stickers are required for them (even for Concierge Key, Executive Platinum, and Platinum Pro members)
What are the 500 mile upgrade stickers that AAdvantage Platinum and Gold members must use on flights over 500 miles, and that all elite levels must use for companion upgrades?
- Each 500 mile upgrade sticker can be used to upgrade the value of 500 flight miles; in other words, an 1800 mile flight would require four of these stickers
- Platinum and Gold members earn four 500 mile upgrade stickers for every 12,500 elite elite miles earned in a calendar year
- 500 mile upgrade stickers can also be purchased for $ 40 each by all elite levels
500 mile upgrade stickers are required for some elite upgrades
Why I think American’s upgrade program is going to change
Alaska Airlines has just joined the oneworld alliance, and to coincide with that, American and Alaska have started to introduce reciprocal first class upgrades.
Alaska Airlines has just joined the oneworld alliance
This is because the United States and Alaska are planning close cooperation, possibly the closest cooperation we see between two US airlines. Airlines are going to do whatever they can to create metal neutrality – that is, they want to encourage American travelers to fly to Alaska when convenient, and vice versa. This is all the more important as the Americans are building a major international hub in Seattle.
It’s pretty clear to me that we’re going to see a significant alignment of loyalty program benefits between the two airlines. For example, Alaska Airlines is introducing a new elite 100,000 mile tier, which clearly aims to create an Executive Platinum equivalent at Alaska Airlines.
At the moment, the two airlines only offer reciprocal upgrades for high-profile travelers, but this is expected to be extended to more elite levels over time.
In order for the Americans and Alaska to provide a truly valuable, realistically reciprocal upgrade program American to introduce free and unlimited national upgrades for all elite members:
- I don’t see a world in which Alaska Mileage Plan will adopt American AAdvantage’s 500 mile upgrade sticker program, especially since Delta SkyMiles and United MileagePlus are offering unlimited free upgrades to all levels.
- Even running reciprocal upgrades so far is weird, as Alaska MVP Gold 75K members get free companion upgrades on American, while US AAdvantage Platinum Pro members have to use upgrade stickers. 500 miles for their companions.
- This will only get more confusing as upgrades roll out to more levels, given the very different approaches the Americans and Alaska take to upgrades.
My prediction is that American will simplify its upgrade program and offer all elite members free upgrades. Yes, this will result in lost revenue for American as the airline would no longer make revenue from selling 500 mile stickers, but I also can’t imagine the revenue to be that big, given that it doesn’t. is not very common for lower level elite members. to clear upgrades.
Alaska and Americans will have to align their upgrade policies
Are there any downsides to upgrading the changes?
I think a new upgrade program would be a lot easier to understand and make sense given the Alaska Airlines partnership, although that wouldn’t necessarily be good news for everyone:
- AAdvantage Gold members would have an even harder time upgrading, as currently AAdvantage Platinum members do not always request upgrades as they have a limited number of 500 mile upgrade stickers.
- Everyone’s guessing what’s going on with companion upgrades because we got to see the airline introduce unlimited free companion upgrades, and it could be a mix, as it means companions could be upgraded more consistently. before the other elite members.
- Americans may have exceptions for national upgrades; for example, maybe American would follow United’s lead and not offer free upgrades on premium transcontinental routes
- I could see Americans trying to make up for lost revenue from selling 500 mile upgrade stickers by outright trying to sell upgrades to non-elite members at a reasonable cost.
Could American change its upgrade policy on premium transcon flights?
At the end of the line
I predict that at some point in the not too distant future American AAdvantage will dramatically change its approach to elite upgrades. Let me stress again that I don’t have any insider knowledge here, but rather it makes sense to me.
American’s current approach to upgrades simply won’t work if the carrier plans to roll out reciprocal upgrades with Alaska in a meaningful and beneficial way. While there is some loss of revenue for AAdvantage, the reality is that American sees a lot of benefits with its partnership with Alaska, and frequent travelers have to be okay with the partnership for this to work.
That wouldn’t necessarily be good news, however. While unlimited free upgrades sound exciting, we are competing for a limited number of seats, so there will always be winners and losers.
What do you think – will American AAdvantage adjust its approach to elite upgrades? And if the American doesn’t change their upgrade schedule, how do you see Alaska and the American expanding reciprocal upgrades?