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May 17

American Airlines Changes Upgrade Prioritization (Again)

One of the better moments in travel is when you get that email (or the hand-off from a gate agent) that you’ve been upgraded. Each airline has its own method for determining who gets upgraded when, and those criteria change every few years, which is too bad, because it usually takes me that long to figure out the current system.

American Airlines Upgrade Changes


american airlines

The new schedule. Subject to change.

American Airlines has once again adjusted its upgrade criteria, giving me something new to memorize. The big changes revolve around dollars. Elite status will remain the main differentiator, followed by the type of upgrade.* Those will take precedent over the booking code and when you make the request.

Here’s what’s interesting: The top-two criteria in the tie-breaker scheme (Remember, elite status is still the most important factor.) now involve money, as opposed to who got in line first. The “type of upgrade” gives priority tto those using miles or systemwide upgrade certificates. Only after those customers are satisfied to the freebies come. The next most important factor is Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQD), which can be thought of as how much money you spent on tickets in the past 12 months.

The Bottom Line: More than ever, airlines are focusing on your dollar value as a customer, rather than how many miles you flew. While that is a boon for business travelers or high-spenders, leisure travelers will find it increasingly difficult to sit up front.


*Beginner’s Hint: Even the most infrequent flyers can get upgraded, but you will usually have to use some sort of currency, although not necessarily the dollar. You can often use miles, sometimes with a copay, to move up a cabin. On American, the best way to get a domestic upgrade is to spend 15,000 miles and $75. That doesn’t make a lot of sense if you are flying from Chicago to Minneapolis, but it does make that Philadelphia to San Francisco flight a lot more comfortable. Note that the airline needs to have capacity open in the upgrade fare bucket, something that has become more difficult on American (That link goes into some depth on fare buckets and may not be entirely “beginner-friendly.”).


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