Money Talks. American Airlines Adds Revenue Requirement For Upgrades

a plane flying in the sky

The last few years have seen wholesale changes to the American Airlines AAdvantage program.  For quite a few years, they were much more rewarding than their competition.  They also frequently offered a superior product when it came to amenities like meals and in-flight Wi-Fi (United didn’t really have any for years).  That’s changed and now American is very much on par with the benefits they offer to elite members.

It wasn’t necessarily a quick process to get here.  This is a bit of the greatest hits from an earlier post I did summing up changes:

We knew that how much you spent would have an impact on your ability to upgrade.  We just weren’t exactly sure when it would start.  The process starts tomorrow, though it’s only for flights starting in August.  View From the Wing outlines the changes, including how the new hierarchy looks:

Starting May 20 upgrade prioritization will be:

Elite status
Upgrade type (mileage awards and systemwide upgrades followed by 500 mile upgrades on purchased tickets and then 500 mile upgrades on awards)
Elite qualifying dollars in the past 12 months
Booking class
Time of request

What To Make Of This Change?

This change makes it harder for folks on cheaper tickets to score upgrades.  It also penalizes folks who don’t fly AA consistently.  For example, I started out the year on United and intended to switch to AA once I’d hit 1K with United.  That decision now means I’ll be behind all the other Executive Platinum members for upgrades due to my lower spending level.

American Airlines is adding the benefit of free domestic upgrades for Executive Platinum members on award tickets as well. I don’t view the two as an even trade, though some will.

I can understand the thinking on making revenue a tie-breaker, but I think it’s at least one step too far.  Revenue is king right now for the airlines, frequently at the expense of a long-term relationship with the customer.

That’s evident in the framework for the new Platinum Pro level that American added for fliers who accumulate 75,000 elite-qualifying miles on a yearly basis.  Delta and United both had that level, so American followed suit.  By also extending unlimited domestic upgrades to Platinum Pro, they hurt two groups of loyal travelers.

That move hurts Executive Platinum members who frequently make last-minute changes to their flights.  In the past, EXP members only had to contend with other EXP members if they made a change in the last couple of days prior to flight.  It’s also a disadvantage for Lifetime Platinum members.  They used to rank behind Executive Platinum members for complimentary domestic upgrades.  Now, that’s no longer the case.  And, since Plat Pro gets unlimited upgrades, the few first class seats that don’t get purchased will get sucked up well before a Lifetime Plat gets a chance very often.

American Airlines Adds Revenue Requirement For Upgrades

The Final Two Pennies

Revenue-based upgrade priority will make it harder for some elites to score upgrades.  That makes things like systemwide upgrades less valuable unless you spend quite a bit of cash.  My fellow business travelers aren’t reporting an avalanche of complimentary upgrades on American this year, so there’s questionable benefit to the Executive Platinum award upgrade benefit.

Here’s the thing.  I still really like American Airlines.  Some will say I’m irrational.  But, I’d rather fly them out of my home airport of Washington-Dulles, all else being equal.  I think their staff is, on whole, more friendly.  The in-flight Wi-Fi, while slower than United, always works.  That’s definitely not the case on United.  And, they have lots of new planes coming into the fleet.

But, since the program doesn’t provide me more benefits than United (and United gets me home to my family sooner with nonstop flights), I’ll have to like them from afar.

The post Money Talks.  American Airlines Adds Revenue Requirement For Upgrades was published first on Pizza in Motion


  1. “This change makes it harder for folks on cheaper tickets to score upgrades. It also penalizes folks who don’t fly AA consistently”

    Why should pikers have same upgrade chances as those paying full fares? And why reward those who don’t fly AA often? I think you are delusional to think a business should operate in such a customer-unfriendly manner. Full fare, loyal customers should always be given preferential treatment.

    The sad reality is many prefer to be treated like cattle so long as they get a cheap seat. It’s thw Walmartization of the world – accept shitty quality and horrific customer service in exchange for low prices.

    1. Disgusted, I spend way more than the average traveler on an annual basis. But, this change puts me at a disadvantage to that average traveler in that I don’t have the same amount of flying every month. The old requirements said that everyone who flew 100K EQMs was treated equally. Now, it’s not the highest spending customers. Just those who happen to have the highest rolling average. So, I can spend more and still be on the bottom of the upgrade list. And, just because you pay more for your ticket doesn’t mean you’re a more profitable customer.

  2. Comparing AmericanAirlines to United airlines at Washington Dulles airport is like saying i prefer a firing squad over the electric chair. They both suck but get the job done.

    1. Rjb, I disagree. On AA, you get 2X nonstop IAD-LAX, 3X MIA, 5X(?) DFW, and a handful of CLT. They don’t even serve ORD, one of their largest hubs. UA may not have great customer service, but they literally have dozens of nonstop routes. When the loyalty programs are the same, the carrier that can get me home sooner starts to look more appealing.

  3. While I’m not sure that you’re really irrational in your liking of AA, I wouldn’t personally agree. Since the merger, American has worked hard on a bunch of fronts to make things worse for their customers. As a business owner myself, this seems wildly counter intuitive, but then again I have plenty of competition, while the airlines don’t. I’m just picturing my customers’ expressions if I told them that I was raising prices and offering them less, just because I can.

    1. Christian, I view AA in comparison to UA and DL. While they’ve progressively made their program less competitive, they’re similar in structure to UA when it comes to redemptions.

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