Airline Companion Upgrade Policy Overview

by on July 6, 2012 · 9 comments

in Alaska, American, Southwest, United, US Airways

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I recently wrote about my experience with Delta Companion Upgrades and many of you asked about the policies of other airlines. While I have the most personal experience with Delta, here are the basic details on how some of the other airlines handle companion upgrades. The main differences among these airlines is whether a companion gets upgraded with the same priority as the elite member, or after all elite members get upgraded. Most airlines will upgrade companions of higher elites before upgrading lower elites. I personally prefer Delta’s policy that upgrades all elite members first – they are the ones that are doing all the flying after all, though it could make for an uncomfortable situation if you get upgraded and your companion does not. Though I don’t feel strongly either way and believe this is a prime example of #firstworldproblems.

Air Canada
Gives elite members e-upgrade certificates, which they can use to nominate companions for upgrades. Companions are upgraded at their nominees elite status window, but at the airport nominees will be on the upgrade list using their own elite status as priority.

American only offers complimentary upgrades to Executive Platinum members. Gold and Platinum members have to use 500-Mile Upgrades, unless traveling on full fare economy tickets. AAdvantage Executive Platinum members don’t have to use 500-Mile Upgrades when requesting upgrades and they may request unlimited complimentary upgrades confirmed at up to 100 hours prior to departure (subject to availability) when traveling on purchased, published fares on eligible American Airlines or American Eagle flights. However, when it comes to companions, Executive Platinums may only request a complimentary upgrade for one companion if the companion is traveling on a full-fare economy class ticket ( Y or B fares) otherwise they would have to use 500-Mile Upgrades to help their companion out or a systemwide if traveling internationally. Gold and Platinum may request unlimited complimentary upgrades for themselves (using E-500s) and one companion when both traveling on full-fare economy class tickets.

American AAdvantage Executive Platinums get free upgrades, but even other elites have to burn through 500-mile upgrades.

One companion traveling on a paid ticket on the same reservation as a Premier member is eligible for Complimentary Premier Upgrades on select flights, and may be confirmed with the same priority as the Premier member, even on the day of departure. If the companion is a Premier member, the upgrade will be processed according to the highest Premier status level in the reservation. If a reservation includes three or more travelers, and only one is not a Premier member, the Complimentary Premier Upgrades will be processed according to the lowest Premier status level in the reservation. If two or more travelers on the reservation are not Premier members, it will not be processed automatically. In these cases, Premier members should call the Premier Desk to request a separate reservation for themselves and the eligible companion and hope at least the Premier member qualifies for an upgrade.

US Airways
One non-Preferred traveling companion can upgrade when traveling on the same reservation as a Preferred member with a qualifying paid ticket. The companion will be upgraded at the same time as the Preferred member. The only downside is if there is one upgrade spot left and the Preferred member is with a companion, both would be skipped over for the upgrade and the next Preferred member on the upgrade list who is traveling solo would receive it instead. Have any US Airways elites experienced this?

If your companion’s lucky enough, they’ll be able to indulge in all the fine culinary temptations that domestic first class has to offer.

MVP Gold and Gold 75,000 mile members may upgrade one companion traveling with them on the same flight if booked in the same class of service. If the companion is traveling on a separate reservation, members need to contact the MVP Gold Desk to process the companion upgrade request. Companion Upgrades must be requested at the same time as a Complimentary Upgrade for the elite member. If the elite member has already requested a Complimentary Upgrade and calls back to request a Companion Upgrade, the Complimentary Upgrade will be removed and re-requested with the Companion Upgrade in order to assure that both are together on the request queue or upgrade waitlist. MVP Gold members also get MVP Gold Guest Upgrades, which are electronic upgrade coupons given to MVP Gold members to upgrade friends or family members who are not traveling with them, or for their own use for immediate upgrade when not purchasing a qualifying fare. Alaska Airlines notes that they may also be provided as a Customer Care gesture in the event of a downgrade or service failure. I am not sure what exactly counts as such a “gesture” but if any Alaska MVP’s have experienced it, please comment below with the specifics.

While Southwest doesn’t offer companion upgrades (since there isn’t anything to upgrade to since Southwest only has economy class) they do offer a Companion Pass after 100 qualifying one-way flights or earning 110,000 Qualifying Points in a calendar year. Companion Pass qualification will be based on a calendar year.  A Companion Pass Member will maintain his/her Companion Pass for the remainder of the calendar year in which status is earned, and the entire calendar year immediately following.  To continue their Companion Pass privileges, members must re-qualify each year.  For example, a Member who earns a Companion Pass on July 15, 2011 will maintain the Companion Pass for the remainder of 2011 and all of 2012. Beginning January 1, 2012, the Member must complete 100 qualifying one-way flights or accrue 110,000 Qualifying Points by December 31, 2012, and upon doing so, the Companion Pass will be extended to December 31, 2013.

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  • tivoboy

    I think the United information might need some updating. As it stands now, United will clear ONE flyer in say a TWO flyer reservation, regardless of shared status or not, by the status of the higher flyer. I have had so many split reservations in the past 1.5 years it isn’t even worth counting anymore. Within 24 hours, or same day, no question a pair in a reservation is going to be split, by INDIVIDUAL status and people are cleared by THEIR OWN status.

  • Max


    I appreciate your explanation of these policies, as always. I would encourage you to use the term “#firstworldproblems” sparingly, however humorous you intend it to be. Saying that these are issues only exist in the developed world suggests that those in the developing world are unable to experience problems of little overall importance, which I think belittles their experiences and lives.

    That said, I *have* been in a situation where I was upgraded and my companion wasn’t on a Delta flight. Let’s just say that between free alcohol and sitting with my girlfriend, I was encouraged to select with the latter!

  • Ericlipkind

    On United, I thought if your companion was not Elite, your upgrade would not automatically process and you had to separate the records and add the companion to the upgrade list at the airport. Did this change?

  • FullMoon

    My recent experience on UA mirrors tivoboy’s. Same paid reservation, but difference in status (one a 1K, the other either a 1P or 2P)… each reservation has apparently been split during any communication with UA, including at the counter or gate–always without UA agents notifying us prior to the fact. This has negatively affected our companion upgrades at the gate, never mind treatment during IRROPS. In the beginning I figured it was just an anomaly, but now the pattern is clear.

  • SomeGuy

    Have had the issue you mentioned with US Air having only one upgrade spot left and the original reservation was Chairman + 1. If you call the CD during the Chairman’s window but before the Platinum window, they will split the reservation so the CP can take the upgrade spot. Or, of course you can do nothing and sit together in economy.

  • thepointsguy

    Never thought about the bad connotation to that phrase, but thanks for pointing out and I’ll keep that in mind for the future!

    As for your decision- I think that was the smarter one in the long run!

  • Charles Clarke

    I’m not seeing how it is belittling those in the developing nations by saying that they are usually dealing with bigger issues and not whining about trivial stuff. I don’t think it says that they *can’t* whine about trivial stuff, but that they usually don’t. I see it as a knock on those of us who have the necessities of life and so we find trivial stuff to whine about because we have food, clothes, shelter, etc. Though with the fires around here lately, even those can’t be taken for granted. Which hopefully gets us to whine less.

  • Brian D.

    I’ll let you know about the US Airways upgrade. I have chairman status and will be taking a family trip in August. I have 3 people on my reservation. I was told to call a week ahead and split my upgrade between the other two individuals and use points. That was the recommendation from the chairman line when I called after making the original reservation.

  • Zach

    My wife is a US Plat, and we are 5 of 6 this year with me clearing as a companion. Pretty good results. The one failure was a PHX-DCA flight, which is a tough upgrade anyway. I’m not sure whether she got passed over due to me being on the reservation, but I think she prefers that option anyway (staying together rather than separating – I guess she likes me)

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