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Act now: Business-class saver awards, instant-clear upgrades on AA's longest flights

Dec. 09, 2019
8 min read
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As we near the end of the year, many AA Executive Platinum elites are wondering how they can use their Systemwide Upgrades (SWUs) before they expire on Jan. 31, 2020. Meanwhile, there are plenty of TPG readers who have expressed frustration about trying to use their AAdvantage miles due to AA's frustrating way of releasing award availability and expansion of dynamic award pricing.

Wouldn't it be great if there's a way that you can use your Systemwide Upgrades and/or miles on some of AA's longest flights in AA's best business-class seats? Well, that's the case right now.

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AA's flights to Hong Kong are two of the airline's longest flights in its impressive network of 6,800 daily flights to 61 countries. As you've probably seen in the news, Hong Kong has been embroiled in months of pro-democracy protests.

TPG's own Clint Henderson visited recently and reports that Hong Kong is still a great destination to visit. However, there's understandably been a reduction in tourism, and it's having a drastic impact on airlines. United recently suspended its Chicago-Hong Kong route and Hong Kong Airlines is ending its LAX route in February 2020 — if the airline doesn't collapse sooner than that.

American Airlines' cheap fares to Hong Kong

American Airlines hasn't announced any plans to cancel or reduce flights — at least not yet. Instead, AA has dropped fares to some incredibly cheap rates. For example, you can book flights between Los Angeles (LAX) and Hong Kong (HKG) for under $400 round-trip right now.

It gets better. Not only are the flights cheap, but there's upgrade space available on these flights. Executive Platinum elites who want to use their Systemwide Upgrades on AA's longest flights can instantly apply their upgrade on dozens of flights:

Related: The ultimate guide to getting upgraded on American Airlines

Use mileage upgrades to upgrade your flights

However, this upgrade availability isn't just relevant for American Airlines elites. Lower-tier elites and non-elites can upgrade themselves into business class using AAdvantage mileage upgrades. Mileage upgrades between the U.S. and Hong Kong cost 25,000 miles plus a $350 co-pay when upgrading from discount economy to business class.

Using mileage upgrades, you can pay as little as $1,098 ($398 ticket + $350 copay + $350 copay) and 50,000 miles for a round-trip business-class flight between the U.S. and Hong Kong. That's a pretty incredible deal considering AA charges around $5,800 for the same flights:

Related: The best credit cards for American Airlines flyers

Which dates have upgrade availability?

Whether you're applying a Systemwide Upgrade or a mileage upgrade, you're going to need "C" upgrade space. The best way to search this space is by using ExpertFlyer — which will show you exactly how many upgrades are currently available on each flight.

Related: The beginner's guide to ExpertFlyer

To show just how open upgrade space is, I checked upgrade space for both Hong Kong flights now through the end of February 2020 and found 181 instant-clear upgrades currently available:

"C" upgrades availableDFW-HKGHKG-DFWLAX-HKGHKG-LAX
24-Dec------7
25-Dec--7--7
26-Dec------7
27-Dec------7
28-Dec--7--7
29-Dec------7
20-Jan----6--
21-Jan6--5--
22-Jan7--1--
23-Jan7--1--
24-Jan7------
25-Jan5------
26-Jan6------
27-Jan----2--
28-Jan1------
4-Feb------7
5-Feb------3
6-Feb------3
9-Feb------1
10-Feb------7
11-Feb------7
12-Feb------7
13-Feb------7
17-Feb------1
18-Feb------1
19-Feb------7
24-Feb------6
25-Feb------3
26-Feb------7
27-Feb------4

Related: Maximizing redemptions with American Airlines AAdvantage

Booking saver business-class awards on AA's longest flights

If you want to book an award ticket, there's good news and bad news. First, the bad news: Despite plenty of empty seats in business class, AA isn't releasing MileSAAver award availability on its nonstop flights between the U.S. and Hong Kong.

Instead of the saver rate of 70,000 miles each way, AA is charging at least 110,000 miles each way for a business-class nonstop between LAX and Hong Kong. And most dates are pricing even higher than that:

However, the good news is that there's plenty of business-class award availability on the same dates when you look at one-stop options starting in other cities. For example, travelers based in New York have plenty of saver-award availability to Hong Kong at just 70,000 AA miles each way:

And no, this isn't a mixed-cabin award that leaves you in economy for the long haul. When I spot check dates, I'm finding reasonable one-stop options with domestic flights in first class, a reasonable layover and business class on the transpacific flight — like this example from New York (LGA)to Hong Kong:

Related: How to redeem miles with the American Airlines AAdvantage program

If you're new to the points and miles world, terms like "Systemwide Upgrade" and "mileage upgrades" may be foreign to you. That's why we at TPG created "Points PhD" explainer videos to go over the basics of these programs.