Reciprocal Upgrades Bring Back Time As A Key Element For Success At The New American Airlines

Now that American Airlines and US Airways have announced reciprocal upgrades, elite members have to recalibrate their thinking. There’s still some questions, but we know as of yesterday that the process is working, at least for AAdvantage elites on US Airways flights.

AAdvantage elites are entitled to upgrades when they check-in for a US Airways flight, which makes me think of the last time I can recall timing being critical for scoring an upgrade as an American Airlines elite member.

I don’t recall the exact time this quirk started or finished, but there used to be a loophole in the domestic upgrade system at American Airlines. I believe I first discovered it back in roughly 2004, long after other more experienced travelers did. It’s long gone now, but as I recall it was around at least until I achieved Executive Platinum back in the 2007-08 timeframe.

If you were a Gold or Platinum member and hadn’t cleared your upgrade on your day of departure, you could call the airline between 3 and 4 hours before your flight. There were plenty of conflicting reports, but I managed to score upgrades from just within 3 hours up to 4 hours of departure. Your goal then was to use the automated phone system to check your upgrade status.

If there were any seats left in first class the automated system would upgrade you regardless of where you were prioritized on the list. It was a pretty sweet trick back when I was a Gold and Platinum member.

Fast forward to now and time is again of the essence if you’re an AAdvantage elite member trying to score an upgrade on a US Airways operated flight.  Once it’s time to check-in for your flight, it appears any seats left will be on a first-come, first-served basis.  That means a free-for-all at the 24-hour mark.

There’s one small benefit to the AAdvantage upgrade system that actually prevented me from checking in early if my upgrade hadn’t cleared yet.  If you weren’t checked in and scored an upgrade, the system would generally let you select a seat before checking in, whereas if you were already checked in you got whatever seat was assigned to you automatically.  Generally speaking, I haven’t found that to be the case on United flights.

Now, in order to give myself the best possible chance at a US Airways upgrade, I’ll be setting my alarm to hit that 24-hour mark.  Since this system is bound to be in place until at least next year I think there will be a bunch of us setting our alarms.

What I’m not sure of at this point is how this will work for connecting flights.  I tested a direct flight the day the new system launched and everything worked fine.  I assume the inventory will be open for all domestic legs of your flight when you check-in for the first one but haven’t confirmed this.




  1. Well, you’re just giving away all of the US Air elite flyer secrets now, aren’t you? 🙂

    Fine. I’ll toss you another one. ExpertFlyer seat alerts are great for this process.

  2. I checked in at the T-16hour mark. My flight phx-san upgrade had already cleared by the time I check in and I was prompted to join the airport standby list for my 1st segment. Seems like even without checking in upgrades are clearing for AA elites

    1. Rocky, interesting. So you cleared without being checked in on a US flight? We’re you on the AA codeshare or booked with US directly?

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