As American Airlines enters the Loyalty Points era, it is making two key changes to its elite upgrade program.
American Airlines Loyalty Points Era Starts Today
Starting today, the way in which elite status is earned on American Airlines changes. Rather than centering elite status on pure flying, American is now offering additional avenues to earn elite status in the AAdvantage program. I’ve outlined the new program here.
This week, American Airlines also announced new key changes to the way in which it processes upgrades for AAdvantage members with elite status.
Free Upgrades For All Elites, Ends Of 500-Mile Upgrade Stickers, Companion Upgrades Coming
Lower tier (Gold and Platinum) AAdvantage elite members will no longer have to use 500-mile upgrade stickers (these were electronic, but historically actual stickers and the name stuck) in order to upgrade a domestic flight within the United States or between the USA and Canada, Mexico, the Bahamas, Bermuda, the Caribbean, or Central America.
Instead, all elites will be added to to the complimentary upgrade waitlist and clear in the following order:
- Concierge Key
- Executive Platinum
- Platinum Pro
Within those tiers, preference will be based upon fare class, check-in time, as well as the passenger’s overall spending on American over the last year.
Companions can be upgraded using 500-mile stickers (only one per flight). Later this year, American Airlines plans to allow all elites to request complimentary upgrades for a companion on the same flight as well.
500-miles stickers will slowly be phased out and each sticker will convert to 250 Loyalty Points later in the year.
Upgrades Will Be Cleared Automatically 40 Minutes Prior To Departure
American Airlines will begin auto-clearing upgrades 40 minutes prior to departure, a move that solves a frequent frustration for AA elites. After the system sweep occurs, passengers can simply refresh their boarding passes for updated seating assignments.
Upgrades were historically cleared manually around 30 minutes prior to departure, which left elite passengers near the top of the upgrade waitlist in limbo. Wait to board in hopes of the securing the upgrade and risk giving up overhead bin space or board early and hope that the agent will come onboard to process upgrades? Due to pressure on agents to get flights out on time, that did not always happen, leaving elite passengers in economy class and empty seats in first class.
Thus, this new system should:
- Ensure upgrades are processed according to the upgrade watilist
- Solve the early boarding dilemma for elites waiting for an ugprade
- Eliminate the problem of upgrades not being cleared at all due to pressure to get the flight out on time
United uses a similar automated system, though does not clear upgrades until 30-minutes prior to departure. This has largely solved the issue of upgrade shenanigans. Passengers receive an alert concerning their new seat assignment and flight attendant iPhone manifests are also updated.
No-shows who are checked in must still be manually offloaded and that could still lead to flights departing with open seats on both American or United.
Winners And Losers
Everyone wins (except perhaps employee standbys hoping gate agents won’t properly clear upgrades) with AA’s news automated upgrade clearance sweep 40 minutes to departure.
As for the complimentary upgrade changes, whether you are a winner or loser really depends upon your status. The beauty of the 500-mile sticker system was that by forcing you to proactively upgrade and only upgrade flights that you care about upgrading, it left more upgrade space for Gold members.
I expect Gold members will lose out here and find even fewer upgrades than they do today.
However, Platinum members will see more upgrades simply as a function of now edging out Gold members.
Executive Platinum and Platinum Pro members, which already receive complimentary space-available upgrades, will likely not notice a change.
American Airlines enters a new era today with its Loyalty Points scheme. This week, it also announced it was changing the way in which it processes complimentary upgrades for elites, eliminating 500-mile stickers, and introducing an automatic upgrade clearance system.
What are your thoughts on the latest upgrade changes at American Airlines?
image: American Airlines