You can now apply American Airlines systemwide upgrades on basic economy fares

Oct 1, 2020

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American Airlines is busy making lots of adjustments during the pandemic.

It all started in April when the carrier announced elite status extensions and other updates to the AAdvantage loyalty program. Over the past six months, we’ve seen the Fort Worth-based airline pause mileage expiration for minors, add free inflight Apple TV+ streaming and more.

Perhaps the most exciting change was announced in August. AA joined Delta and United in permanently eliminating most change fees, including for awards. But AA’s announcement went even further.

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Effective Oct. 1, the carrier is loosening restrictions on basic economy tickets. Going forward, all flyers can purchase extra-legroom seats, same-day changes, upgrades and priority boarding.

The story’s even more exciting for elites. AAdvantage elites who purchase basic economy will now receive all their benefits when purchasing a basic economy ticket, including complimentary upgrades and extra-legroom seat assignments. The only downside is that come Jan. 1, 2021, you’ll no longer earn any elite-qualifying miles, segments or dollars from basic economy tickets.

But there is another exciting, flyer-friendly change to basic economy tickets. As of Oct. 1, you can now apply systemwide upgrades (SWUs) to basic economy tickets, as confirmed by an AA spokesperson.

Each year, top-tier Executive Platinum and invite-only ConciergeKey members receive four systemwide upgrades when qualifying or requalifying for status (you can get additional SWUs for doing more flying past the Executive Platinum thresholds). These upgrade certificates are valid for a confirmed, one-way bump from coach to business class or from business class to Flagship First.

A huge advantage of SWUs is that all published fare classes are eligible. And that now includes even the cheapest basic economy tickets.

Basic economy fare difference on a sample JFK-CDG ticket (Screenshot courtesy of American Airlines)
Basic economy fare difference on a sample JFK-CDG ticket (Screenshot courtesy of American Airlines)

For example, if you’re looking to upgrade a flight from New York to Paris, you’d previously need to book a Main Cabin ticket to be eligible to use a systemwide upgrade. Now you can save the price difference, purchase a basic economy ticket and still confirm your upgrade. (Just note that you’ll earn miles based on the purchased fare class, meaning that upgraded basic economy tickets won’t help you towards requalifying.)

Related: The ultimate guide to American systemwide upgrades

This is a positive development for American flyers. Plus, AA’s systemwide upgrade policy is now the most generous of the Big 3 U.S. Both Delta and United don’t let elites use upgrades certificates on basic economy fares.

In addition to systemwide upgrades, you can now apply 500-mile and standard mileage upgrades to basic economy tickets.

With all the positive changes AA is making to basic economy, I’m going to have a hard time justifying the splurge for a standard main cabin ticket.

Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy

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