If you’re a top-tier elite of one of the Big 3 airlines, then you’ve likely had the joy of using one of the super upgrade instruments that American Airlines refers to as a Systemwide Upgrade (SWU). Since I achieved Executive Platinum status roughly 10 years ago, this has been one of my favorite parts of elite status. One of my best use of SWUs was when I took our family of 3 plus my father and his girlfriend to Italy. We all flew in business class, with the help of my SWUs on some affordable coach tickets. That was then.
The new reality is that American Airlines has made a bunch of changes over the last few years, bringing them roughly in parallel with their competitors. One of the changes some Executive Platinum members really disliked was the reduction in SWUs from 8 to 4 per year.
How Big A Loss?
When the cuts were first announced I was bummed. I imagine most EXPs were. As 2016 wore on, it became apparent that using SWUs was exceedingly more difficult than in previous years. I kept thinking I’d find a good use for them. All of sudden, it was the end of the year and I still had 7 of my 8 SWUs. I was only able to redeem one during the year for a friend. That’s abysmal.
I found a home for 2 more of them, upgrading my father on a flight to LAX. I burned two on a short round-trip to Texas and was able to upgrade another friend. But, none of these were really very valuable uses.
A Way To Extend Your SWUs?
Systemwide Upgrades earned for travel during 2015 expire on February 28, 2017. But, there might be a way for you to extend that a bit. I saw it first discussed by JonNYC on Twitter, who’s usually a great source for AA info:
…before end of Feb. The later (rather useless) policy, has, of course, been around for several years now for 4/5 Eagle members.
— JonNYC (@xJonNYC) February 22, 2017
Then, View From The Wing wrote about it today. Given how valuable a SWU can be, it’s worth calling the American Airlines and asking if they’ll extend the expiration on any you still have.
Not a loss, but for the wrong reason
My phone call to AAdvantage customer service yesterday was not successful. The conversation was a bit cryptic but it was pretty clear I don’t have a 4 or 5 helix ranking with American. If you’re not familiar, the helix ranking is an internal measurement for Joe good a customer is. I’ve heard that too many complaints can negatively affect your score. And, spending more money is a good way to increase it.
Over the years, I’ve had some success figuring out what my ranking was at various times. I don’t recall ever being above a 4. I’m pretty sure I was a 3.5 at one point. At any rate, I’m pretty certain I’m not a 4 or 5 right now.
I’m not heartbroken. If American isn’t going to free up inventory for SWUs, then I’m not losing much when these expire. I don’t have any overseas flights on AA between now and May. Actually, for the first time in a long time, I have no trips scheduled on American right now. That was part of a decision I made last year to focus more on time at home and less on airline loyalty.
It’s worth a phone call if you have upgrades expiring, especially if you can use them between now and May. But, don’t hold your breath on either the extension or better availability in a couple of months.
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