How American Airlines Upgrades Are Prioritized Now & How Things Will Change

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Yesterday I wrote about how travelers can use American Airlines AAdvantage Miles to upgrade domestic and international flights so it seems appropriate to take a look at how American prioritizes upgrades that have been waitlisted and how it prioritizes complimentary and 500-mile upgrades. I’ll take a look at how the system works right now and also touch on how the system will be changing once the recently announced devaluations come in to full effect.

American Airlines Upgrade Priority – Pre Devaluation

For the rest of 2016 (and possibly a bit of 2017) the way American Airlines prioritizes upgrades will remain the same as it has been for some time.

A traveler’s position on the upgrade waitlist is governed by 3 factors:

  • Elite status
  • Time upgrade was requested
  • Fare code/class (for full fare economy tickets only)

Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 15.35.58

It’s important to note that, as far as we know, there is no priority given to systemwide upgrades over  the miles & co-pay upgrades I discussed yesterday – but systemwide upgrades and miles & co-pay upgrades do have priority over domestic complimentary and 500-mile upgrades.

The only time the fare class/code comes in to play is in the case of full fare Economy Class tickets which take priority within each status group.

The priority list:

  1. Executive Platinum status holders booked into full-fare economy class (Fare codes Y & B)
  2. Executive Platinum status holders booked into all other fare codes
  3. Platinum status holders booked into full-fare economy class (Fare codes Y & B)
  4. Platinum status holders booked into all other fare codes
  5. Gold status holders booked into full-fare economy class (Fare codes Y & B)
  6. Gold status holders booked into all other fare codes
  7. Travelers with no status booked into full-fare economy class (Fare codes Y & B)
  8. Travelers with no status booked into all other fare codes.

Each one of those groups (1 – 8) will have its own hierarchy within it based on the time that each traveler requested the upgrade – the earlier the upgrade was requested the higher the priority.


All travelers on the same booking (PNR) will share the status of the person with the highest status in that reservation but, as good as that sounds, this can cause issues.

American Airlines doesn’t always release more than one upgrade at a time so, if you’re traveling as a couple and you haven’t indicated to American that you’re happy to have upgrades clear separately if only one opens up, you can find that neither traveler gets upgraded and the next solo traveler on the list gets the upgrade – this has happened to me a few times.

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Upgrade Timings

  • International upgrades (systemwide upgrades and miles & co-pay upgrades) can upgrade at any time from the moment the upgrade is requested to the day of departure.
  • Domestic systemwide and miles & co-pay upgrades can upgrade at any time from the moment the upgrade is requested to the day of departure.
  • Domestic complimentary upgrades have “windows” during which they may be confirmed. These open up at different times based on elite status:
    • Executive Platinum status holders – 100 hours before departure
    • Platinum status holders – 72 hours before departure
    • Gold status holders – 24 hours before departure

American Airlines Upgrade Priority – Post Devaluation (2017 onwards)

American Airlines has announced that it will be changing the way it prioritizes upgrades on the waitlist from some point in 2017 – once again the airline has failed to give us an actual date when a change they’ve announced will be happening (UPDATE: this change went into effect on 20 May 2017)

What we know

American Airlines will be introducing a new status level from 2017 called Platinum Pro and, as this will sit between Executive Platinum and Platinum in the status hierarchy, Platinum members will now find themselves further down the upgrade priority list.

The airline is also changing when the complimentary upgrade windows open for each status level and, once again, Platinum members are the ones who lose out as their window gets pushed back:

Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 15.10.40

American Airlines has also announced the following:

The way your upgrade request is prioritized will change later in 2017. You’ll be listed according to your elite status level followed by the number of EQDs earned in the last 12 months.

The timing of the implementation may be typically vague but the net result is clear – this is bad news for those of us who (a) purchase cheap fares and (b) buy well in advance.

I love to plan in advance and that’s served me well for AAdvantage upgrades – I have Executive Platinum status (which has regularly put me towards the top of the upgrade list) and my early booking has seen me cement my position at the very top of the upgrade list more often than not…..but those days are nearly over.

When we request upgrades will no longer count for anything but what we’ve spent with American (EQD) in the previous 12 months (on a rolling basis) will count for a lot.

As an Executive Platinum status holder I will still have priority over Platinum Pro, Platinum and Gold status holders but my propensity for spending as little as I can will almost certainly see me towards the bottom of my status-group when it comes to upgrade priority.

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Bottom Line

Change is coming and there isn’t much any of us can do about it – some will be better off under the new upgrade rules but a lot of this blog’s readers will be worse off….just like me 🙂

For domestic upgrades we’ll just have to learn to live with the new rules (if we choose to stick with American) but, for international upgrades we just need to be smarter when it comes to the travel we book.

Tools like ExpertFlyer allow travelers to view what flights have upgrade inventory before they book (you can also call up American and ask…although that’s a lot more time consuming) so it’s entirely possible to avoid the waitlist lottery altogether if you’re a little flexible with when you can travel – that’s exactly what I plan to do more of in the future.

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