September 9, 2021

Types of upgrades on American Airlines: Systemwide upgrades − AAdvantage program

There are a few different ways that you can get an upgrade on American Airlines. Some of these options are available for any traveler, while others are only applicable to members who have elite status or an American Airlines credit card. In order to upgrade, you must have an eligible ticket and there must be space available. Upgrades are never guaranteed until they’ve been confirmed by the airline.

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Upgrade AA Flight with miles & Enjoy a higher cabin of service

Upgrades are valid to the next cabin of service and are valid for a single one-way trip with a maximum of three segments. Upgrades are subject to capacity controls. Excluding award tickets and Basic Economy fare tickets, the following eligible fare types can be upgraded:

  • Discount Economy with published fares booked in H,K,M,L,V,G,Q,N,O,S and Military or Government fares booked in Y
  • Full-Fare Economy with published fares booked in Y
  • Discount Premium Economy with published fares booked in P
  • Full-Fare Premium Economy with published fares booked in W
  • Discount Business with published fares booked in I
  • Full-Fare Business with published fares booked in J, D or R

To / From
Contiguous 48 U.S. states, Alaska, Canada – Contiguous 48 U.S. states, Alaska, Canada

  • From Discount Economy / Premium Economy – 15,000 + $75
  • From Full-Fare Economy / Premium Economy – 5,000
  • From Discount Business – 15,000 + $175
  • From Full-Fare Business – 15,000

To / From
Contiguous 48 U.S. states, Alaska, Canada, Mexico, Caribbean* – Contiguous 48 U.S. states, Alaska, Canada, Mexico, Caribbean*

  • From Discount Economy / Premium Economy – 15,000 + $75
  • From Full-Fare Economy / Premium Economy – 8,000
  • From Discount Business – NA
  • From Full-Fare Business – 15,000

To / From
Contiguous 48 U.S. states, Alaska, Canada, Mexico, Caribbean* – Hawaii

  • From Discount Economy / Premium Economy – 15,000 + $175
  • From Full-Fare Economy / Premium Economy – 8,000
  • From Discount Business – NA
  • From Full-Fare Business – 15,000

To / From
North America** – Central America

  • From Discount Economy / Premium Economy – 15,000 + $75
  • From Full-Fare Economy / Premium Economy – 8,000
  • From Discount Business – NA
  • From Full-Fare Business – 15,000

To / From
North America** – Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru

  • From Discount Economy / Premium Economy – 15,000 + $150
  • From Full-Fare Economy / Premium Economy – 8,000
  • From Discount Business – NA
  • From Full-Fare Business – 15,000

To / From
North America** – Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay

  • From Discount Economy / Premium Economy – 25,000 + $350
  • From Full-Fare Economy / Premium Economy – 15,000
  • From Discount Business – 25,000 + $550
  • From Full-Fare Business – 25,000

To / From
North America** – Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, China, Australia, New Zealand

  • From Discount Economy / Premium Economy – 25,000 + $350
  • From Full-Fare Economy / Premium Economy – 15,000
  • From Discount Business – 25,000 + $550
  • From Full-Fare Business – 25,000

To / From
North America** – Europe, Middle East, Africa

  • From Discount Economy / Premium Economy – 25,000 + $350
  • From Full-Fare Economy / Premium Economy – 15,000
  • From Discount Business – 25,000 + $550
  • From Full-Fare Business – 25,000

How much does it cost to upgrade on American Airlines?

500-mile upgrades can also be purchased by elite members for $40 per upgrade, or 40,000 miles for eight 500-mile upgrades. Non-elite members may not purchase 500-mile upgrades (although they may purchase regular upgrades

Here’s an overview of the main ways to get an American Airlines upgrade:

American Airlines 500-Mile Upgrades

  • The primary upgrade system for AAdvantage elites is the 500-mile upgrade system. This rather convoluted upgrade system requires using 500-mile upgrade certificates to upgrade your flight from economy to the next class of service. For most flights, that means upgrading to domestic first class. But, on some flights, that means an upgrade to a lie-flat business class product.
  • These 500-mile upgrades are valid on domestic and short-haul international routes (between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, the Bahamas, the Caribbean, Bermuda and Central America). To use 500-mile upgrades, you need to book an American Airlines-operated and -marketed flight. That means you can’t apply a 500-mile upgrade certificate if you booked a British Airways (or other Oneworld) codeshare ticket on an American flight—even if you have AAdvantage elite status.
  • As the name implies, each 500-mile certificate is enough to upgrade up to 500 flight miles. So, a 925-mile flight from Chicago (ORD) to Houston (IAH) requires 2 certificates. However, a slightly longer 1,041-mile flight from Chicago (ORD) to San Antonio (SAT) requires 3 certificates.
  • Not all elites need to check the mileage of their flights. Platinum Pro and Executive Platinum elites are eligible for unlimited, auto-requested upgrades on all paid flights. In addition, Executive Platinum elites are eligible for free upgrades on award flights through the 500-mile upgrade program.
  • That leaves AAdvantage Gold and Platinum elites counting miles and certificates. Both of these tiers get unlimited, auto-requested upgrades on paid flights under 500 miles. However, Gold and Platinum elites need to redeem 500-mile upgrade certificates to upgrade longer, paid flights.
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AADVANTAGE 500-MILE ELITE UPGRADES

Gold

  • UNLIMITED FREE UPGRADES ON FLIGHTS UNDER 500 MILES: Yes
  • UPGRADES ON FLIGHTS OVER 500 MILES: Use certificates
  • UPGRADES AVAILABLE ON AWARD TICKETS: No

Platinum

  • UNLIMITED FREE UPGRADES ON FLIGHTS UNDER 500 MILES: Yes
  • UPGRADES ON FLIGHTS OVER 500 MILES: Use certificates
  • UPGRADES AVAILABLE ON AWARD TICKETS: No

Platinum Pro

  • UNLIMITED FREE UPGRADES ON FLIGHTS UNDER 500 MILES: Yes
  • UPGRADES ON FLIGHTS OVER 500 MILES: Complimentary
  • UPGRADES AVAILABLE ON AWARD TICKETS: No

Executive Platinum

  • UNLIMITED FREE UPGRADES ON FLIGHTS UNDER 500 MILES: Yes
  • UPGRADES ON FLIGHTS OVER 500 MILES: Complimentary
  • UPGRADES AVAILABLE ON AWARD TICKETS: Yes

Earning and Buying 500-Mile Upgrades

AAdvantage Gold and Platinum elites earn four 500-mile upgrade certificates for every 12,500 EQMs earned in a membership year. Platinum Pro and Executive Platinum elites don’t earn 500-mile certificates. Instead, the 500-mile upgrade balance is frozen at the balance you have when you reach Platinum Pro. You can still use these banked upgrades to upgrade a companion.

All AAdvantage elites can use 500-mile certificates to upgrade one companion traveling with them on the same flight. That’s true even if they’re booked on a different reservation. If you don’t have enough certificates, you can buy more for $40 per 500-mile upgrade certificate.

You must be a current AAdvantage elite member to use the 500-mile upgrades you earned as an elite. If you lose AAdvantage elite status, you won’t lose your 500-mile upgrades. But, you won’t be able to use them until you regain elite status.

Upgrade Timing

500-mile upgrades clear when American Airlines opens upgrade availability and an elite member is within the upgrade window. Upgrades will be confirmed as early as:

  • Executive Platinum: 100 hours before departure
  • Platinum Pro: 72 hours before departure
  • Platinum: 48 hours before departure
  • Gold: 24 hours before departure

American Airlines Systemwide Upgrades

Special upgrades, known as systemwide upgrades (SWUs), are available only to flyers with Executive Platinum status, the top level of American Airlines’ elite status. (Technically there is a higher level, ConciergeKey℠, but that level is by invitation only.)

AAdvantage members get four systemwide upgrade certificates each time they qualify or requalify for Executive Platinum status. You can also choose to get additional SWUs when you reach 150,000, 200,000, and 250,000 EQMs. If you are a Million Miler, you get four SWUs when you reach two million miles and an additional SWU for every million miles after that.

Systemwide upgrades are good for confirmed upgrades to the next class of service for one-way travel anywhere American flies. Members can also give their upgrades to any other traveler, even if they’re not traveling together. SWUs are great because you can use them on any route, and they get top priority. The disadvantage, of course, is that you need to achieve Executive Platinum status to get your hands on these valuable upgrade certificates.

Earning Systemwide Upgrades

AAdvantage members have three ways of earning systemwide upgrades:

  • Choosing systemwide upgrades as an Elite Choice Reward
  • Choosing systemwide upgrades as a Beyond Executive Platinum reward
  • Earn systemwide upgrades as a Million Miler benefit
  • Upon earning Platinum Pro elite status, AAdvantage elites now get a choice of benefits. Platinum Pro elites can opt to earn 1 systemwide upgrade. Then, if you reach Executive Platinum elite status, you get to choose two items from a different list of choice rewards—including 2 systemwide upgrades. So, in total, Executive Platinum elite members can opt to get a total of 5 systemwide upgrades each year.

AAdvantage members that continue to earn after reaching Executive Platinum elite status can earn even more systemwide upgrades through threshold rewards. In 2021, an Executive Platinum member that reaches 120,000 Elite Qualifying Miles (EQM) gets the choice between:

AA systemwide upgrades

  • 40,000 bonus AAdvantage miles
  • Gift of AAdvantage Gold status
  • Executive Platinum members get more choices upon earning 160,000 EQM and 200,000 EQM in a year:
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AAdvantage members can also earn systemwide upgrades through the AAdvantage Million Miler program. You’ll earn rewards for every Million Miler-qualifying mile threshold you reach:

  1. 1 million miles: AAdvantage Gold elite status for life and 35,000 bonus miles
  2. 1 million miles: AAdvantage Platinum elite status for life and four systemwide upgrades

Each additional million miles: four systemwide upgrades

Using Systemwide Upgrades

To apply for a systemwide upgrade, you need to find upgrade availability (more about that below) and you must be flying an eligible fare. Unlike other airlines, American doesn’t restrict cheap fare classes from being upgraded. Even basic economy fares can be upgraded. The only restrictions are on award tickets, government or military fares, and codeshare flights.

Systemwide upgrades are valid for one year from the date deposited into your account. However, the upgrade can be used for travel beyond the expiration date as long as the upgrade clears by the expiration date. Both of these policies are new as of January 1, 2021. So, make sure to pay special attention to your systemwide upgrade dates.

If you’re feeling especially generous—or only purchase first-class flights—you can share systemwide upgrades with anyone you choose. Just call American Airlines with the traveler’s flight information to apply for an upgrade. But, note that American Airlines will void your upgrades if you sell them or even advertise them for sale.

Searching for Upgrade Availability

Unfortunately, systemwide upgrades aren’t the “golden ticket” that they may seem. American Airlines needs to open a specific type of upgrade available for you to be able to apply a systemwide upgrade.

In the past, elite members would need to call American Airlines—or use a paid service like ExpertFlyer—to check upgrade availability. However, AA now shows systemwide upgrade availability to eligible AAdvantage members in flight search results on AA’s website.

To be eligible, you need to be logged into your AAdvantage account and have unexpired systemwide upgrades available for this availability to show. If you’re an eligible member and this “Systemwide Upgrade” hyperlink doesn’t show, that means that there’s no systemwide upgrade available on any flights in the itinerary.

If you don’t have a systemwide upgrade in your account, you’ll need to use a service like ExpertFlyer to search for systemwide upgrade availability. If you use ExpertFlyer to search for upgrade availability, make sure to search one leg at a time. That’s because American Airlines releases upgrade availability on a leg-by-leg basis.

Say you’re flying from Tulsa (TUL) to London (LHR) via Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW). You may not care about the upgrade from Tulsa to Dallas, but you want the upgrade from Dallas to London. Thankfully, if you find availability on the flight from Dallas to London, you can upgrade that leg without needing to find upgrade space from Tulsa to Dallas.

Business Extra upgrades
Small-biz owners and others can join the Business Extra® program for free to get points that can be used for upgrades. You can also use the points for free flights, AAdvantage Gold status, Admirals Club® passes and more. As a member, you earn one Business Extra point for every $5 spent on eligible flights. The cost of Business Extra upgrades range from 650 to 3,100 points. One advantage of these upgrades is that you earn these points on top of your regular AAdvantage miles, so it can be a good way to stack your rewards.

American Airlines Upgrade Priority
As you might expect, upgrades are prioritized by elite status. American Airlines invitation-only ConciergeKey members clear first, followed by Executive Platinum, Platinum Pro, Platinum, and then finally Gold elites. If more than one elite member has applied for an upgrade, American Airlines utilizes a few tiebreakers.

For the first tiebreaker, AA considers what type of upgrade you’re using:

  • Systemwide and mileage award upgrades
  • 500-mile upgrades on purchased tickets
  • 500-mile upgrades on award tickets (Executive Platinum elites only)

Put together, that means that American Airlines prioritizes upgrades in the following order:

If two elites have the same elite tier and are using the same type of upgrade, American Airlines will consider the amount of Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQD) that each traveler has earned in the past 12 months.

If additional tiebreakers are still needed, American Airlines will first consider the booking fare class and then the date/time of the upgrade request.

Can I upgrade from basic economy American Airlines?

No upgrades, regardless of elite status, are allowed when ticketed on a Basic Economy fare. 17. Will customers ticketed on Basic Economy fares be eligible to purchase Same Day Flight Change and/or request flying standby on the same day as travel?

Can you upgrade from premium economy to business class on American Airlines?

For now, you can upgrade from Main Cabin or Premium Economy to First or Business using your AAdvantage® miles or systemwide upgrades. For flights to/from Hawaii and Alaska, Executive Platinum and Platinum Pro members receive complimentary upgrades if seats are available.

How many miles do you need to upgrade to first class?

No matter how long your flight is, it will cost exactly 15,000 miles to upgrade to first class, worth $270 based on TPG’s valuations. You can only upgrade cash tickets booked into one of the five most expensive economy fare classes Y, S, B, M, or H, and you need “U” inventory for your upgrade to clear.

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Is it worth it to upgrade to main cabin on American Airlines?

For longer flights, Main Cabin Extra is definitely worth it so you can have extra legroom and complimentary drinks. Having more legroom means you can get up without disturbing your seatmate on long-haul flights.

How much does it cost to upgrade to first class?

United Airlines’ first class will cost between $550-$950 on average for domestic flights, depending on date and destination. To upgrade from economy to a first-class seat on United, there is a fee of $325, which is sold in 500-mile increments.

AA Paid Upgrqades

The final upgrade option open to all American Airlines travelers is paid upgrades. If there are unsold seats in business or first class, American Airlines may offer travelers the option to upgrade during online check-in or when checking in at a kiosk.

The cost of these upgrades is dynamic and can vary wildly from one flight to another. So, you’ll just want to keep a lookout for these upgrades and consider whether it’s a good deal for you when you’re offered one.

Just keep in mind that you can’t “hold” one of these upgrade options. You’ll need to decide at the time you’re offered the upgrade. If you upgrade your flight after checking bags, you won’t get a refund. However, if you’d paid for a Main Cabin Extra or preferred seat, you’ll get an automatic refund.

Alaska Airlines Elite Upgrades

The newest upgrades on American Airlines are those available to Alaska’s elite members. As part of a renewed partnership with Alaska, American is now offering certain Alaska Mileage Plan elite members upgrades on American Airlines flights.

Starting April 5, 2021, Alaska MVP Gold 75K elites (and up to one companion) get access to complimentary, space-available upgrades when flying on domestic and short-haul international American Airlines flights. This unlimited upgrade benefit is meant to emulate the 500-mile upgrades that AAdvantage elites get when flying on the same American flights.

For now, MVP Gold 75K elites need to wait until check-in before being upgraded. That essentially prioritizes them behind all AAdvantage elite members. However, there are plans to formally add MVP Gold 75K elites to the American Airlines upgrade list “later in 2021”. At that point, MVP Gold 75K elites will be prioritized after AAdvantage Platinum Pro elites for upgrades.

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