British Airways and American Airlines announced a reciprocal upgrade system but American Airlines elites draw the short straw.
British Airways and American Airlines Announce Reciprocal Upgrades
This week British Airways and American Airlines jointly announced a program to utilize systemwide upgrades handed out to elites of both respective programs. These systemwide upgrades will allow the best customers of both programs to access premium space as if it were their own carrier.
American Airlines details the program as follows:
Enjoy a confirmed upgrade from most Business fares to First, from Premium Economy to Business, or from Economy to Premium Economy when flying transatlantic on British Airways.
Systemwide upgrades can be used for one-way travel for up to 3 flight segments on British Airways marketed and operated flights or British Airways operated flights marketed by American. At least one American marketed flight must be in the itinerary to be eligible.
AAdvantage® status members receive a choice of rewards, including the option to select systemwide upgrades, upon qualification for AAdvantage Platinum Pro® status and flying 30 eligible segments.
Loyalty Choice Rewards
- Million Miler members get 4 systemwide upgrades when you reach 2 Million Miles and for every Million Mile level after
- Systemwide upgrades are credited to your account within 48 hours of being earned
- Upgrades will expire 1 year from the date deposited. Systemwide upgrades can be used for travel beyond the expiration date – the upgrade just needs to be confirmed before the upgrade expires.
- You can share your upgrades with anyone you choose, whether you are traveling with them or not. Call your AAdvantage® status service desk in advance to request the upgrade.
- If you cancel your trip prior to travel, call your AAdvantage® status service desk to reinstate your upgrade(s) for future use
Systemwide upgrades aren’t available when you’ve booked:
- Codeshare flights, including flights marketed by American and operated by other airlines, except for flights marketed by American Airlines and operated by British Airways
- Government or military fares
- Basic Economy fares – only AAdvantage® status members can upgrade from Basic Economy fares
- Fares ineligible for mileage credit (like award tickets)
British Airways Gold elite members will earn (2) systemwide upgrades upon achieving or re-qualifying for the status level and can use upgrades in the same manner but with a few noted caveats:
- British Airways customers get to skip premium economy in upgrade lists
- All fares are eligible for British Airways customers including basic economy, while only American Airlines elites can upgrade from basic economy (excluding assignees)
Of note, this does not allow the upgrades on reward flights using British Airways Avios which are handled separately. If upgraded, the new class does not result in additional tier points for British Airways members.
How Does This Affect American Airlines Elites?
On the surface, American Airlines elites should rejoice at the exapnded ability to utilize systemwide upgrades. However, it’s not quite an equal deal for American elites.
- Because American Airlines doesn’t upgrade from economy to premium economy using systemwides, British Airways travelers can move from coach to business class, but American elites would have to buy premium economy on British Airways to move into business class. Upgrading from premium economy to Club World (business class) is certainly worthy of a systemwide upgrade, but without securing the upgrade confirmed in advance, many American Airlines customers may pay for premium economy but never receive an upgrade adding unnecessary costs.
- The product for American Airlines customers in Club Europe on British Airways flights is not remotely close to American Airlines domestic business class and first class with the exception of flights so short that a premium class isn’t even offered. Upgrades to business class in Europe are simply coach seats with a middle seat blocked. There’s not a wider seat, cabin separation, or even more leg room – just an unoccupied middle seat. Even American’s E175s offer a superior product to British Airways anywhere within Europe for which the upgrades are permitted.
- The connecting market in the US is so much larger and varied than what British Airways permits. The rules permit itineraries operating with a trans-Atlantic segment but that leaves a big opening. If an itinerary included London-New York-Los Angeles-Honolulu, the six-hour segment would allow a British Airways upgrade all in a premium cabin (if available) for another five-hour segment (in lie-flat business class) and another five-hour flight in business class or first class. That puts BA customers booking as low as basic economy is contention for upgrades in competition with American Airlines customers.
The products simply are not comparative. Without a doubt, a move from premium economy “World Traveler” is a bigger move than Club World to First Class, but London to Istanbul, for example, wouldn’t even compare to American’s worst possible first class hard product. Upgrading British Airways flights for the trans-Atlantic segment is great, but the “last mile” to a European destination isn’t even a better seat than the exit row on the same aircraft.
On some routes, like New York JFK – Los Angeles LAX is already highly competitive, but adding another group of frequent flyers to the mix isn’t helpful.
Some positive elements for American Airlines Executive Platinum members are that they receive twice as many systemwide upgrades (4) to use as British Airways Executive Club Gold members (2.)
American Elites also outnumber British Airways elites and there are far more point-to-point UK to USA flights now eligible. For example, British Airways flies to Austin, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Tampa, and Orlando while American does not fly to London from cities (other than Raleigh-Durham) that British Airways does not.
After switching to United Airlines due to the lack of usability of systemwide upgrades and quality of service issues at American, the one drawback I have noticed (outside of redemption rates) is that systemwide upgrades (Plus Points) often require a more expensive fare to secure. This is what this upgrade essentially emulates for access outside of American Airlines flights. For American Airlines flights there is now more competition for upgrades not only trans-Atlantic but other flights as well. The upgrades for American Airlines passengers in Europe are in no way comparable to American Airlines’ first class or trans-continental business class. Additional options to upgrade your flight might look good at first, but when competing with BA’s elites for first class seats elsewhere in the network will not be as welcome.
What do you think? Is American Airlines/British Airways reciprocal systemwide upgrade arrangement an enhancement or a drawback for American Airlines elites?