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American Airlines has launched a new trial option on their website called Plusgrade where flyers can bid on upgrades to business or first class (whichever is the next-higher class of service). The airline will begin testing it on specific routes in unspecified (so far) markets, but you can check the eligibility of your flight by entering your record locator and last name here. Starting 6 days before their flight, non-elites can make an upgrade offer and the airline will notify them prior to check in (so more than 24 hours in advance) if their offer is accepted.

Plusgrade

According to the new page devoted to the feature on AA’s website, here’s how you make an offer.

  1. Select the amount (per person) you would like to offer for the upgrade of each eligible segment on your itinerary.
  2. Enter your payment information: Enter your credit card details, which will be charged only if your offer is accepted.
  3. Review and submit: Review your information and offer amount/s and submit the request.

You will receive notice if your offer was successful no later than 24 hours before your flight. If your offer has been accepted by American, the credit card you entered is automatically charged, and you will be upgraded to a premium class, receive complimentary food and beverage, priority check-in, baggage and boarding – so all the benefits of flying in a premium class.

Just beware, per the terms & conditions, there are no refunds once your offer has been accept unless your flight is canceled or you are unable to be upgraded due to a reason attributable to American, including a change in equipment, a delay in the connecting flight that resulted in your missing the connection on which you were upgraded. Although it sounds like if a flight is canceled, your refund should be processed automatically, in some cases you may have to apply for a refund at www.refunds.aa.com. Your request must include the original boarding pass for the flight in question. If you are not able to provide the original boarding pass for the flight in dispute, American Airlines is under no obligation to refund you for the amount you paid for the upgrade. So that’s a few hoops to jump through.

Elite Upgrades

My major question as an Executive Platinum AAdvantage member is how this is going to affect elite upgrades, and my suspicion is that it will be negatively. American does take care to offer this guidance to elite flyers about the new feature (bolding mine):

Elite Status Members: AAdvantage elite status members (Gold, Platinum and Executive Platinum members) should continue to request 500-mile upgrades (complimentary or purchased) as normal. This option is offered to passengers who aren’t able to use 500-mile upgrades, either because they aren’t AAdvantage members, or because they are traveling on fares that are not eligible. Rest assured that elite status member upgrade requests will continue to be given priority and will not be impacted by this program.

Will someone's paid upgrade come at the expense of an elite upgrade?
Will someone’s paid upgrade come at the expense of an elite upgrade?

So while the airline says that all elite upgrades will be prioritized and processed first, I’m still skeptical. Especially because the upgrade window for these paid upgrades is the same as those for Gold AAdvantage members (who are, granted, the lowest tier). While Executive Platinums’ and Platinums’ upgrade windows are 100 hours and 72 hours respectively, Golds are grouped with the non-elites being offered the chance at a paid upgrade, so who’s to say there’s not a price threshold where the airline puts a paid upgrade ahead of an elite one? Also, what happens if an Executive Platinum changes flights the same day and would have gotten an upgrade otherwise, but AA sold the seat already? I know, #eliteflyerproblems, but it’s still something top-tier elites will have to start taking into consideration.

I don’t blame the airline for wanting to up-sell any unused premium seats, but I can’t help the nagging suspicion that this will come at the expense of elites and is just another move by an airline to chip away at elite perks as they all progress further down the road toward making their frequent flyer programs more revenue-based.

For instance, Air New Zealand has upgrade auctions to Business Premier, and Delta and United have been aggressively selling first/business class upgrades to non-elites and co-branded credit cardholders using their miles (and United sells upgrades at check-in when some elites will not yet have cleared the upgrade list), so although American is saying that all elite upgrade requests will be processed first, I’m not sure how long that will be the case.

If you have the chance to bid on one of these upgrades, report back in the comments about your experience – how the process worked for you, how much you paid, whether it was worth it, etc.

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