Do I Have to Book a Premium Economy Ticket to Upgrade to Business Class?

Nov 29, 2018

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

“Reader Questions” are answered twice a week by TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Ethan Steinberg.

While it often makes more sense to book the flight you want outright (in the cabin you want), it’s also possible to use miles or elite benefits to upgrade flights. Maybe you spotted a great cash fare, or someone else like an employer booked the ticket for you. Almost all upgrades bump you into “the next class of service,” and TPG reader Jim wants to know how the rollout of premium economy on many airlines affects this:

If I want to upgrade an American Airlines flight to London to business class, do I need to buy a premium economy ticket or can I just buy a regular economy ticket?


There are a few different ways to go about upgrading an American Airlines flight, but in all cases, you can upgrade from economy to business class and skip over the premium economy cabin entirely. However, not all economy tickets are eligible for upgrades.

The simplest way to upgrade a ticket is with miles and a cash co-pay at the following rates:

In Jim’s example of a flight from the US to London (LHR), it would cost 25,000 miles and $350 to upgrade a discounted economy or premium economy fare to business class, or 15,000 miles to upgrade a full-fare economy or premium economy ticket.

AA defines discounted economy and premium economy tickets as those with the following fare codes: H, K, M, L, V, G, Q, N, O, S, P and Military or Government fares booked in Y. Full-fare economy/premium economy tickets would have a Y or W fare code. This upgrade would cover a maximum of three segments on a single ticket, subject to availability. Award tickets and basic economy fares cannot be upgraded, and upgrades are only valid on flights marketed and operated by American Airlines or American Eagle.

Maybe Jim is an AA Executive Platinum elite or Million Miler looking to use some of his Systemwide Upgrades (SWUs). While he still couldn’t use an SWU on an award ticket, basic economy ticket or partner flight, an SWU would let him upgrade from most economy tickets directly to business class.

Another great option for loyal AA flyers is the Business Extra program, which lets companies earn a separate set of points in addition to AAdvantage miles. You can check out this guide for a full walkthrough of the Business Extra program, and if you’re trying to redeem your points for an international upgrade certificate the redemption page clearly spells out which fare codes are eligible and which are excluded.

Bottom Line

While I wouldn’t be surprised to see this policy change for the worse in the future, at the moment, American Airlines allows you to upgrade directly from most economy tickets straight to business class. While AA is relatively stingy with upgrade space, ExpertFlyer makes it easy to search for and you can even set alerts to notify you if space opens up. You’ll want “C” space to upgrade an economy ticket to business, and “A” space to upgrade from business to first class on a three-cabin aircraft (such as AA’s 777-300ERs and A321Ts).

Thanks for the question, Jim, 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

Marriott Bonvoy Business® American Express® Card

Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card account anniversary. Plus, earn an additional Free Night Award after you spend $60K in purchases on your Card in a calendar year. Awards can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy points) at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 125,000 Marriott Bonvoy Bonus Points after spending $5,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 8/31/22.
  • 6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy™ program.
  • 4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a 7% discount off standard rates for reservations of standard guest rooms at hotels that participate in the Marriott Bonvoy program when you book directly. Terms and Conditions Apply.
  • Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card renewal month. Plus, earn an additional Free Night Award after you spend $60K in purchases on your Card in a calendar year. Awards can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy points) at a participating hotel. Certain hotels have resort fees.
  • Enjoy Complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status with your Card.
  • Terms apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
17.99% - 26.99% Variable
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Recommended Credit
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

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

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.