Never say never: I just got upgraded as a lowly AAdvantage Gold member

May 14, 2022

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When I first began working at TPG nearly 12 months ago (time really does fly), I was completely new to the world of points and miles. Since then, I’ve experienced my fair share of TPG firsts by using points and miles, including flying premium economy and obtaining basic hotel and airline status.

Two weeks ago, I received my first complimentary flight upgrade thanks to my entry-level AAdvantage status.

Here’s how and why I was upgraded on a one-hour, 13-minute flight from St. Louis Lambert International Airport (STL) to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport (ORD).

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Upgrades thus far: Seat selection

When I first obtained Gold status at the end of 2021, I was most excited about the possibility of being upgraded on American flights. However, I was told consistent upgrades would be unlikely given that Gold does not give you much. So far, the biggest difference I’ve noticed as an AA status holder is that I’ve been able to select extra-legroom seats without charge when checking in for my flight.

There are two extra-legroom seat options for status holders — preferred seats and Main Cabin Extra.

In looking at an AA seat map, preferred seats are marked in green and are nothing more than what the name implies: They’re located in preferred areas of the plane, which could mean they are closer to the front, in a row of two versus three seats, etc. Unlike Main Cabin Extra, these seats do not generally offer any additional legroom, which is most important to me as someone with long legs.

Therefore, I’ve elected thus far to go with Main Cabin Extra seats when available, given that they offer additional legroom (33-43 1/2 inches of pitch, depending on the aircraft, versus the 30-33 inches you’ll find in standard economy seats).

(Screenshot from American Airlines)

Beyond this complimentary seat selection, I have priority boarding with Group 4, which is technically early boarding. I’m also eligible to check one bag for free, though I would rather die than check a bag. Otherwise, I’ve flown this year thus far without receiving any other status-induced treatment. That’s why I was equally surprised and thrilled to be upgraded to first class on AA Flight 4485 on April 28. I had no indication I would be flying first class until the night before — inside the 24-hour upgrade window for Gold members — when AA alerted me via email that my upgrade cleared.

(Screenshot from American Airlines)

Related: Why my favorite first-class seat is surprisingly on a regional jet

How my seat changed during a regional business-class flight

Although a first-class ticket means you are eligible to board in Group 1, my mobile boarding pass did not update to reflect my new seat or early boarding, so I still boarded as normal in Group 4.

(Screenshot from American Airlines)

Although the walk to seat 4D was certainly shorter than it was to 11D, it was at this point that I realized I should have opted for a seat on the other side of the plane.

(Photo by Caroline Tanner/The Points Guy)

Because this was a regional American Eagle flight, we flew on an Embraer 175 aircraft, which is a small jet that several major U.S. carriers frequently use for regional flights. On this aircraft specifically, the seats are in a 1-2 configuration, with A seats as single seats and seats D and F side by side.

To maximize your space, try to get an A seat versus D or F.

Related: A beginners guide to American Airlines economy seats

(Screenshot from American Airlines)

The seat itself felt roomier at nearly 20 inches wide and with a 37-inch pitch, compared to the 18.2-19.3-inch seat you’d encounter in Main Cabin Extra and Main Cabin, with a 34-inch and 30-inch pitch, respectively, on these jets specifically.

(Photo by Caroline Tanner/The Points Guy)

Even though I noticed the extra seat space and legroom, there were two areas where I could’ve used more space. That included room for my backpack, which did not fit comfortably underneath the seat in front of me thanks to a metal divider essentially halving the amount of usable space. As a result, I ended up putting my backpack in the overhead bin so as to not disturb my legs or my seatmate, a retired Delta pilot.

(Photo by Caroline Tanner/The Points Guy)

My second qualm with the seat was that the seat pocket hung out rather far, encroaching further into my personal bubble.

Leg room on board American Airlines flight
(Photo by Caroline Tanner/The Points Guy)

Differences in first-class service vs. economy

Shortly before taking off, the 12 passengers in first class were offered a predeparture beverage in a real glass. That’s a big deal, per senior aviation reporter Ethan Klapper, who noted that predeparture beverages are mostly offered in plastic cups, even before the pandemic. A variety of snacks were also served after takeoff, including chips, granola bars and nuts.

If you’ve read any of my flight reviews before, you know that I usually have an issue with the food offered due to dietary restrictions, so I wasn’t expecting to be able to eat anything offered on this short flight. Although a granola bar appeared to be the most likely contender for me, it turned out to contain gluten. However, I was excited to have been offered a snack nonetheless, and ate the almonds.

Onboard snacks
(Photo by Caroline Tanner/The Points Guy)

Bottom line

Overall, I enjoyed flying AA’s first class and the enhanced service is what I will remember most about it.

As my seatmate in 4F thanked the flight attendant for clearing our drinks away, she said, “Thank you, we appreciate you.” I don’t recall an American flight attendant saying that to me before and like to think the interaction was a result of us being in first class.

I don’t expect to get upgraded consistently with my Gold status. An upgrade is most likely to result when unsold seats are available at the last minute, as status upgrades are granted in a list of descending order, starting with Concierge Key and Executive Platinum members.

My next goal is to get upgraded to first class on a flight exceeding more than an hour in the air.

Read more: I flew this French low-cost airline from LA to Paris and wouldn’t do it again 

Featured photo of an American Eagle Embraer ERJ-175 passenger plane at LaGuardia Airport by Robert Alexander/Getty Images.

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