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Are Tickets Purchased With Points Through a Bank Portal Eligible for Upgrades?

March 01, 2018
4 min read
Are Tickets Purchased With Points Through a Bank Portal Eligible for Upgrades?
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"Reader Questions" are now answered twice a week — Tuesdays and Thursdays — by TPG Assistant Editor Brendan Dorsey.

Purchasing the right ticket for an upgrade can be confusing, time consuming and expensive. So, what's one way to ease the burden? Buying a ticket with points through a bank's travel portal, and then applying an upgrade to that "free ticket." TPG reader Michael writes in asking if these tickets actually would be eligible for upgrades:

[pullquote source="TPG Reader Michael"]If I redeem my points from a credit card account such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Bank of America®️ Premium Rewards®️ Visa®️, etc., are these tickets considered “award tickets”? Will they be eligible for AA Systemwide Upgrades?[/pullquote]

Great question Michael. Let's talk about how systemwide upgrades (known as SWUs) work. SWUs are given to American Airlines Executive Platinums and Platinum Million Milers. They can be used on most paid American Airlines tickets to upgrade you or a friend from economy to business or from business to first class.

But exactly which tickets are eligible for upgrades? According to American, all fare classes are eligible except:

  • Codeshare flights, including flights marketed by American and operated by other airlines
  • Government or military fares
  • Fares ineligible for mileage credit (like award tickets)
  • Basic Economy fare tickets

So does purchasing an airline ticket through a bank's travel portal — say, by using Chase Ultimate Rewards or Citi ThankYou points — count as an award ticket? Fortunately not, since when you book directly through a bank portal as opposed to transferring your points to an airline partner, you're buying a revenue ticket and just using points instead of cash.

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But before you buy the ticket, make sure you search to see if the flight has upgrade seats available. If you're an Executive Platinum elite, you can do so by signing into your AAdvantage account before searching for flights, and aa.com will show you SWU availability. Otherwise, you'll need to use a paid service like ExpertFlyer to find upgrade space. Once you've found the right ticket, purchase it through the portal, get your record locater and call American to apply the SWU to the ticket. Just beware that we've seen some frustrating experiences when customers try to make changes or cancel a ticket that's been purchased through a portal after an SWU has been applied.

What about when buying tickets from other big carriers like Delta or United? For Delta tickets, all published fare classes are eligible for upgrades with the exception of basic economy "E" fares, so its basically the same situation as American. However, on United tickets, in order to apply a Global Premier Upgrade (GPU), the ticket will have to be in a "W" fare class or higher. You can call into the bank's travel center and confirm what fare class you'll be purchasing.

It's also smart to look out for tickets coded as bulk fares, as those can sometimes affect upgrade eligibility on certain carriers. Most bank travel portals allow you to dig into the weeds to see if you're purchasing a bulk fare — you'll need to look for a section marked "Rules" or "Policies" when booking a flight and search for words such as "wholesale" and/or "bulk fare."

Even if you're not trying to apply an upgrade certificate, these tickets should still get you onto the upgrade list if you have elite status with an airline. Just make sure you add your frequent flyer number when booking (or after the fact if the portal doesn't allow for that).

So booking a ticket directly with bank points can be a good way to keep your eligibility for an upgrade, since you can't use upgrade certificates on award tickets. Thanks for the question, Michael, 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.

Featured image by Getty Images

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TPG featured card

Best premium travel card for value
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

1 - 10X points
10xEarn 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
5xEarn 5x total points on flights through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
3xEarn 3x points on other travel and dining.
1xEarn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases

Intro offer

80,000 bonus points
Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

Annual Fee

$550

Recommended Credit

740-850
Excellent
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more
Best premium travel card for value
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10xEarn 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
5xEarn 5x total points on flights through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
3xEarn 3x points on other travel and dining.
1xEarn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

    80,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $550
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more