Business Class Saver Awards, Instant-Clear Upgrade Space on American Airlines’ Longest Flights

Aug 24, 2019

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American Airlines operates 6,800 flights to 365 destinations in 61 countries. But, when it comes to ultralong haul flying, AA has a fairly small footprint. I count just three flights longer than 7,000 miles — and two of these routes involve Hong Kong.

As you’ve probably seen in the news, Hong Kong has been embroiled in weeks of pro-democracy protests that are making it difficult for travelers to visit the city. And that’s having an impact. Hong Kong officials have shared that there’s been drastic 50% reduction in the number of tourists to the city-state in mid-August compared to the same time last year.

RELATED: What Hong Kong Travelers Need to Know About the Protests

Understandably, that reduction in tourism is having a drastic impact on airlines. On Friday, United announced that its suspending its Chicago-Hong Kong route effective September 8. Delta hasn’t operated flights to Hong Kong since October 2018.

American Airlines hasn’t announced any plans to cancel or reduce flights yet, but it would be understandable if it did — especially when you look at the seat maps as a proxy for just how few passengers are on these flights. For now, the low loads have led to some cheap cash fares.

My dad has had an interest in visiting Hong Kong for years. As Hong Kong is one of my favorite cities in the world, I’m happy for any excuse to go back despite having visited six times in the last two years. So, we made plans to go this fall. I’ve been tracking award and systemwide upgrade space ever since.

A few weeks ago, systemwide upgrade space opened up on one of the 14-hour flights at the same time prices between Los Angeles and Hong Kong cost just $458 round-trip. So, we booked our flights and cleared the upgrade immediately into business.

When we went to select our seats, we noticed something wild: there was just one seat taken in the entire 52-seat business class cabin, despite the flight being just over six weeks out:

With that many empty seats, you may assume that award prices on these flights would drop and/or that there would be upgrade space available. While that hadn’t been true previously, upgrades and saver awards are finally starting to open up.

That is, at least when you ignore nonstop awards flights. Despite empty business class cabins, AA is still charging at least 140,000 miles for a one-way in business class on a nonstop flight:

However, if you search one-stop itineraries, business class award availability is pretty wide-open over the next few weeks:

And no, this isn’t a mixed-cabin award that leaves you in economy for the long-haul. Spot-checking dates, I’m finding reasonable 1-stop options in first class domestically, and business class on the overwater flight — like this one from New York City to Hong Kong. Business class awards from the continental US to Asia Region 2 cost 70,000 AAdvantage miles one-way.

Checking upgrade space for both Dallas-Hong Kong and Los Angeles-Hong Kong through the end of the year, I’m finding 49 upgrades currently available, but 29 of those are on flights departing August 25.

“C” upgrades available LAX-HKG HKG-LAX DFW-HKG HKG-DFW
25-Aug 3 7 7 7
1-Oct 4
7-Oct 4
9-Oct 3
22-Oct 5
24-Dec 2
27-Dec 7

While that’s far from wide-open, it’s pretty uncommon to see upgrade space at all on these nonstop ultra long-haul flights.

Travelers can utilize this upgrade space by applying a systemwide upgrade, which top-tier Executive Platinum elites get four of per year. Here are the basics of systemwide upgrades:

Or, you can use this space to apply mileage upgrades:

But what if you don’t want to visit Hong Kong during the protests? Well, you don’t have to stop flying when you get to Hong Kong. American’s partner Cathay Pacific flies all over Asia from its hub in Hong Kong, so you can continue on to other destinations such as Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Bali or anywhere else in Southeast Asia.

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