American Airlines Testing Out New Paid Domestic Upgrades To First Class?

I was working on a reservation last night just like I normally do on AA.com.  After selecting my flights, I continued to the screen where I could select seats and request upgrades.  I immediately thought I had been transported to the land of United Airlines.

See, United has been selling upgrades at time of booking for as long as I’ve been traveling them regularly (about 2 years).  And, they do a pretty poor job of pricing them.  As an elite who is supposed to be on that upgrade list I’m always frustrated when they price those upgrades at $500 and above.  I’ve been a part of discussions with folks at United when they’re asked why the pricing seems to be higher for elites than the casual flier.  They claim it’s a glitch, but it seems to be a glitch they’re in no hurry to fix.

While I have an official sample size of one, the offer American pitched me last night didn’t seem unreasonable.

Domestic Upgrades To First Class

 

Let’s break down the value here real quick (best we can, at least).  This was for a trip to New Orleans (MSY), so my routing was IAD-DFW-MSY-DFW-IAD.  Let’s just say I was a Gold or Platinum member of AAdvantage.  f I had to go purchase stickers at $30 a clip, this itinerary would cost $180 (6 stickers).  I’d get most of the other amenities on the list if I was an elite, but 25%-50% more miles adds a bit of value here as well.  25% more miles would be 836 including elite minimums, which I would value at roughly $16.  50% more miles would be worth roughly $32.  I couldn’t find any T&C link to explain how many bonus miles I’d receive with this offer, so that’s a bit of a gray area.

Let’s call it $200 in value for the price of the stickers and roughly $20 worth of extra miles.  Is it worth it to pay an extra $70 to secure your upgrades up front?  As an Executive Platinum member with a virtually 100% upgrade rate over the past 4 years it’s certainly not.  But, I see two scenarios where this can be extremely valuable at these prices:

1.  Lower elites/non-elites booking flights.  Assuming these prices scale with distance in a reasonable fashion, I’ve always felt the 500-mile upgrades were an affordable way for lower tier elites to score upgrades at a high percentage with American.  At these prices, you’re essentially paying a bit more to guarantee you get that “sticker” upgrade.

2.  If American did start selling a lot more F seats this way, I could see myself considering this option on longer transcontinental flights.  For example, IAD-LAX is a tougher upgrade for me to get.  I clear my upgrades regularly on that flight, but almost always within 24 hours of departing or at the airport.

As I said earlier, I have virtually no data on this, so my assumptions are based on one occurrence.  I tried to get this to pop up again this morning but 3 test itineraries didn’t yield any joy.  I’m excited/nervous to see what happens next.

Has anyone else seen this yet?

I’ve never seen this on AA.com before.

7 Comments

  1. I’ve seen it regularly. It shows the difference in fare between Y and F, giving the passenger one last chance to book F (and does the math on the difference in fare for them).

    1. John, it may have been the difference between Y (full fare coach) and F, I didn’t take notice of that. But the fare I had priced was a deep discount coach fare. The spread between my fare and an F fare was over $700.

      This pricing seemed a lot more reasonable versus UA, where the number is generally almost the difference between a deep-discount coach and F fare.

  2. United seems to be getting better at pricing. Looking at the latest data from DidItClear for DEN-ORD for example (https://www.diditclear.com/legs/do_search?leg%5Bfrom%5D=DEN&leg%5Bto%5D=ORD), we have quite a few reports of $109, $266 and $408 upgrades for 1K members. For a transcon, e.g. SFO-ORD (https://www.diditclear.com/legs/do_search?leg%5Bfrom%5D=SFO&leg%5Bto%5D=ORD), Gold members have reported $249 and $269 upgrades. Interesting to see American is jumping into that game as well. The days of guaranteed 100% success rate for Ex. Plat. may soon be over…

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