American extends travel window for expiring systemwide upgrades

Nov 15, 2019

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Attention American Airlines elites: Are you sitting on a bunch of systemwide upgrades (SWUs) you’ve been wondering how you’ll be able to use before they expire at the end of January? If so, there’s some good news! You’ll get a little more flexibility using them next year if you’re among the carrier’s top-tier elites.

American says its Concierge Key or Executive Platinum AAdvantage elite members will now be able to use their SWUs for travel beyond the Jan. 31 expiration date of their upgrades. Previously, SWUs had to be redeemed and used for travel prior to their expiration. View from The Wing, one of the first to report the change, noted American had previously allowed some elite members to extend their SWUs for about three months.

With the change in rules, which American confirmed to TPG, all of American’s Concierge Key and Executive Platinum members now can travel beyond the Jan. 31 expiration date as long as the SWU is redeemed before it expires.

“We are making this exception for our members this year to improve their experience and give them more opportunities to try to use their systemwide upgrades,” American said in a statement to TPG. “If customers have any issues, they can ask to speak to a supervisor.”

To extend the life of expiring SWUs, however, members must find confirmed space for the SWUs  — which is often easier said than done.

Related: The ultimate guide to getting upgraded on American Airlines

SWU’s are one of the most-coveted perks that come along with American’s Executive Platinum and invitation-only Concierge Key status. Advantage members earn four SWUs after qualifying for EP status by racking up 100,000 elite-qualifying miles (EQMs) plus the related $15,000 “elite-qualifying dollar” spending threshold. Additional SWUs can be earned at 150,000, 200,000 and 250,000 EQMs.

As the name suggests, the SWUs can be used anywhere across American’s system — including on American’s high-profile overseas flights from the U.S. The upgrades are good for a one-class upgrade, either from economy to business or from business to first on international flights.

They can also be used on domestic flights to upgrade from economy. But the most-valuable use of SWUs typically comes on long-haul international flights, where SWU-holders can move from a standard economy seat to a lie-flat business-class seat on routes to destinations like London, Tokyo, Sydney and Buenos Aires, among others.

But finding confirmed space to use the SWUs can be difficult, even for the most flexible of travelers. Even when the business-class cabin is relatively empty on a flight, American is known for being stingy in making confirmed upgrade space available for holders of SWUs. If confirmed space is not available, SWU holders have the option of being put on a waiting list to be upgraded when (or if) space opens up. Frequently, SWUs clear at the gate — meaning an elite SWU-holding passenger may not know if she’s been upgraded until her long-haul flight is ready to depart. That can be a stressful situation.

Related: How to use American systemwide upgrades

In part because of the difficulty some flyers have in finding confirmed SWU options, some American elites head into the year’s end with unused SWUs and a shrinking window in which to use them.

American’s change should add a little more flexibility. That is likely to be appreciated by its Executive Platinum and Concierge Key members.

Featured photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy.

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