American Airlines Launching A Bid System For Upgrades (Sub-title: I’m a Bit Scared)

I was having a perfectly reasonable day until I saw this post from Wandering Aramean detailing American Airlines’ decision to jump in the pool of airlines offering upgrades in an auction system.  Don’t get me wrong, this program has the potential to be a nice boon for those that don’t have status on American Airlines, a way to get upgrades for a price they’re willing to pay.  Let’s look at the details:

The landing page for the new program details the bid system.  Essentially, you can enter and change your bid as often as you like until American accepts it.  If they accept your bid they’ll automatically charge your credit card at that point and there are no more refunds unless there’s a travel disruption as defined in the T&C.

Now, the information states that elite passengers should continue to receive upgrades through the normal paths outlined in the AAdvantage program.  But, it doesn’t specifically say elite members can’t bid for upgrades.  So, I tried it for an upcoming itinerary I have that’s within the 6-day window detailed in the new program.  I got a message saying my itinerary wasn’t eligible to participate:

Bid System

The website does state that this product is rolled out only in a limited number of markets right now, so it’s certainly possible my itinerary wasn’t eligible for those reasons, but there’s still an open question as to whether elites may be able to bid as well and potentially jump the queue.

Now, they make a point of mentioning this will only be done after all elites requesting upgrades are accommodated:

Rest assured that elite status member upgrade requests will continue to be given priority and will not be impacted by this program.

Some folks in the blogsphere have said their not so sure.  I’m sure.  Sure that this will impact me and many other travelers.  I frequently change flights close to my departure due to a shifting business schedule.  That’s one of the reasons I buy American’s Choice Plus fare bundles when the pricing makes sense, so I can have that freedom of choice.  And, American does a fabulous job holding seats until shortly before departure for it’s top elites (and so they can sell them to last-minute folks).  I haven’t missed an upgrade after switching flights last-minute on American all year long.

Now, American offers paid upgrades at check-in for non-elites now.  So, some may argue this won’t create more demand.  But, unless American sets the winning bid price higher than the prices they used to charge for paid upgrades (doubtful) then this method should cause some higher percentage of seats to be sold as upgrades in the F cabin.

At some point, that’s bound to impact someone like me that changes flights frequently at the last-minute.  It’s one of my biggest beefs with United’s policy of unlimited free domestic upgrades for all elite members.  Changing flights on day of departure means that everyone has already been upgraded and you’re stuck sitting in a middle seat in the back of the plane.  That’s a far cry from American’s cushy policy for top elites now.

That being said, Doug Parker is coming to American (just in case you hadn’t heard).  That may mean unlimited domestic upgrades for all elites just like US Airways and United practice now.  So, it may be a moot point anyways.

Time will tell, but I see nothing positive for American Airlines elite customers in this announcement.  As Seth says, welcome to the world of ancillary fees.  We’re going to be here for a while.


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