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No, American won’t extend systemwide upgrades again

July 14, 2022
5 min read
American new Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner Zach Griff - 5
No, American won’t extend systemwide upgrades again
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Top-tier elites with American Airlines can choose from a selection of gifts after qualifying for status.

One of those gifts — and perhaps the most popular pick — is a pack of systemwide upgrades. These certificates allow you to upgrade any American Airlines-operated flight (including long-haul routes) from economy or premium economy to business class (or from business to first).

You can confirm the upgrade if you find availability, and if you can't, then you can be placed on a waitlist.

When the pandemic hit in March 2020, travel essentially came to a halt. The elite status hamster wheel stopped spinning, and many airlines such as American, were quick to extend status perks and lower qualifying tiers.

Systemwide upgrades was one of the perks the carrier extended.

American initially gave travelers a six-month extension, followed by another year-long extension that it announced in June 2021. This meant that unused upgrades earned in 2019 and 2020 wouldn't expire until July 31, 2022.

Now, more than two years since the outset of the pandemic, American is saying enough is enough. The airline confirmed to TPG that it'll indeed expire unused systemwide upgrades on July 31, as planned.

Related: How to use American systemwide upgrades

Why American's move is surprising

American's move to now expire systemwide upgrades might surprise some travelers. After all, United Airlines recently made headlines for giving travelers an additional six months to redeem PlusPoints (the airline's upgrade currency).

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Flagship Business on the Boeing 777-300ER (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Plus, roughly a year ago, Delta Air Lines extended Medallion elite status, as well as existing Global and Regional Upgrade Certificates, through Jan. 31, 2023.

Though travel demand has indeed returned, there are still some flyers who haven't taken to the skies. Plus, many travelers prefer to use their systemwide upgrades on long-haul flights to cities in Europe, South America and Asia — places that have generally been slower to reopen (especially the latter two continents).

Aside from the slower rebound in travel to South America and Asia, travelers looking to redeem systemwide upgrades on flights to Europe this summer have likely run into issues finding availability.

There's been an uptick in the number of premium leisure bookings, which leads to fewer business-class seats available for upgrades.

This is great for American's bottom line, but it's likely led many elites to save their systemwide upgrades for more exciting redemption opportunities down the line (when there would hopefully be more upgrade availability).

While the loyalty industry is sometimes compared to a game of "follow the leader," American is seemingly charting its own path in this case. The airline isn't extending systemwide upgrades any longer, and that's sure to bother some of the airline's top spenders.

In fact, TPG checked in with some loyal American flyers to hear their takes. Gary Spence, a TPG reader based in Florida, shared that he's not happy with American because the airline isn't extending systemwide upgrades. Spence is also a Delta 360 and United Global Services member (two invite-only tiers), and his upgrades on both of those carriers have been extended.

Lee Goldberg, a principal at a global technology consulting organization, told TPG that he has two systemwide upgrades that "I just can't use this month. I only use them for international travel," he told TPG. Goldberg's upgrades will likely go unused.

Six-year Concierge Key member and super-frequent-flyer Steve Giordano shared his frustration with American's systemwide upgrades in a Twitter response. "If I’m able to use or successfully give away two a year, it’s a good year. I’ve watched probably 30 of them expire over the last few years," he wrote. Giordano is a partner at the Nomadic Aviation Group, which specializes in complex flight operations; he also runs the popular Cockpit Casual YouTube series.

Related: The ultimate guide to getting upgraded on American Airlines

How to redeem expiring systemwide upgrades

If you have expiring systemwide upgrades, it's best to make plans to redeem them as soon as possible.

The easiest way would be to apply them to a flight in the future. Though they expire on July 31, you can use them for travel beyond the expiration, as long as the upgrade is confirmed before the expiration date.

This means you need to find confirmable upgrade space, which is quite challenging nowadays given that many flights are filling up in all cabins.

American Flagship First on the Airbus A321T. (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

That said, there are certainly some seats out there, so be sure to do your research before booking.

Another alternative is to offer an upgrade to a friend or family member who might be traveling before the end of the month. You can waitlist that upgrade then hope for the best.

Lastly, you can petition American to follow Delta and United's lead by extending the deadline for upgrades. You can reach the airline's customer care department via the web form here, and you can submit feedback to the AAdvantange team by emailing them.

Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.