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American Airlines Runs Plusgrade Paid Upgrade Trial

by on November 22, 2013 · 7 comments

in American

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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.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • trpt

    Air New Zealand has had this process in place for a while (OneUp), and I’ve successfully participated in it to get trans Pacific upgrades at a discount.
    Still, when it was introduced the AirPoints community was furious, and I think for good reason.

  • jasmine

    Anything to make money. I think the days of having any status with a airline is becoming more and more useless. Its all about the money and that has always been the status airlines care about the most. From a business standpoint I love the idea it will be a huge money maker for the airline at the expense of elite flyers but with us airways merging with them how that status will become nothing soon.

  • David

    I have Executive Platinum, as does my wife. Lately, although there are more than 50 % of the first class seats open 100 hours before a domestic flight, we often don’t find out about an upgrade until we arrive at the gate. With the bid process, American will know how many available seats they can sell well before that time. Why would they bypass that income to upgrade us instead?

  • Simon

    This looks like another infuriating experience for Executive Platinums. David points out the main issue these days: 100 hours before flight time is really “find out at the gate”. If the whole point of being at this premium level is to have a more comfortable flying experience and higher level of customer service American is already falling short with their promises to its elites. Even if they pull the “revenue seat” line with you it’s not hidden knowledge that American uses a ton of algorithms for its pricing schemes. Add in this new stunt combined with the impending doom of the USAir merger and a wonderful way to alienate elite customers is brought further to the forefront. This plus the potential use of cell phones in flight are making me wish for Amtrak to get its act together like Deutsche Bahn.

  • Santastico

    This would not work for Delta. They give away elite status to almost everyone so there wouldn’t be any available seat to be sold. Other day, as a Platinum elite on Delta, I was number 54 on the list to be upgraded to first class. Their program is a total joke.

  • IAD1K

    I have friends that are based in MIA and are not elite that frequently UG at the AA ckin kiosk, similar to what UA offers, for as little as 60$ to 200$…As a UA 1K for over a decade, I knew that as the airline [s] moved to a “free” UG program for elites, it was all down hill…And everything that has happened w/ Smisek & CO has supported that…

  • jjflysalot

    Further devaluation of my current GOLD status. Last time I flew it was like the recent SNL boarding skit you posted. GOLDs were not even mentioned in the boarding process–they mentioned their Eurotrash partner equivalents, but GOLD was definitely not mentioned by name to board early.

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