Will I Lose My 500 Mile Upgrade Certificates If My American Elite Status Expires?

Jan 23, 2018

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“Reader Questions” are answered twice a week — Tuesdays and Thursdays — by TPG Senior Editor Julian Mark Kheel.

We’re only a few days away from that dreaded date — January 31 — when the elite status membership year ends for most US airlines, and some people will find themselves dropped to a lower elite tier… or even worse, as a [gulp] general member. So TPG reader Rooh asks if this means his upgrade certificates are disappearing too…

I am a Gold elite member on AA and my Gold eliteness expires January 31st. I have some 500-mile upgrade certificates in my account. Will I still be able to use them for upgrades when I’m no longer Gold?

TPG Reader Rooh

Unlike Delta and United, American maintains a slightly odd system for complimentary upgrades for its lower- and mid-tier elites. AA Gold and Platinum elites earn 500-mile certificates — sometimes called “stickers” from the old days when they were actual stickers applied to paper tickets — based on how much they’ve flown (the certificates can also be purchased). Those elites then have the option to apply the certificates to flights where they want to be added to the upgrade list.

As you might guess, each certificate is worth 500 flight miles, so one way from New York (JFK) to Los Angeles (LAX) would require five certificates, since it’s 2,475 miles in length. Flights shorter than 500 miles don’t require any certificates.

Image by gcmap.com.

But what happens if you have certificates in your account, but you didn’t fly enough to maintain your status? Well, you can use the certificates at any level of AA elite status, so if you dropped from Platinum to Gold, you’ll have no problem using your stickers. In the past you were also allowed to use 500-mile certificates to upgrade on “Y” and “B” class fares even if you weren’t an elite, but that ended in March 2016. Now you must be an American elite of some sort to apply certificates to a ticket, so if you don’t have any elite status at all after January 31, you will not be able to use your existing certs.

There’s one bit of good news — even if you lose your elite status, your certificates do not disappear. They’ll simply sit in your AAdvantage account, taunting you. Since the certificates have no expiration date, you can reactivate them by re-earning any level of American elite status, whether it be this year or in a future year.

You also have one option to use your certificates even as a non-elite. According to the AAdvantage terms and conditions:

“Non elite status members may only upgrade when they are traveling as the companion to an elite status member.”

That means if you’re flying with someone else who is still an AA elite, you can request the upgrade and then have them pull from your own certificate inventory instead of the elite member (you’ll have to call to have this done manually). Remember that in all cases, applying 500-mile certificates doesn’t guarantee an upgrade — it just means you’ve requested it, and you’ll be added to the upgrade list and potentially clear based on American’s upgrade priority rules. Also, you cannot use upgrade instruments on any Basic Economy fares.

So don’t fret, Rooh — even if you can’t use those certificates before January 31, they’ll still be there for when you become eligible to use them again, or you can always hitch a ride with another AA elite. Thanks for the question, and if you’re a TPG reader who’d like us to answer a question of your own, tweet us at @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or email us at info@thepointsguy.com.

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