Do I Need 500-Mile Upgrades in My Account to Request an Upgrade?

Jul 18, 2019

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Reader Questions are answered twice a week by TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Ethan Steinberg.

First class upgrades are one of the most popular and sought-after benefits of airline elite status, yet each airline has a slightly different policy for how they handle them. For example, lower-tier American Airlines elites traveling on flights over 500 miles need to specifically request upgrades using the carrier’s 500-mile upgrade certificates, and TPG reader Haley wants to know if she needs the certificates in her account in order to make the request …

I’m flying with my daughter from Austin to JFK to London soon. It shows I need eight 500 mile upgrades for the first leg but I only have four in my account. Can I request the upgrade and buy the remaining certificates if it clears or do I need them all in my account?

TPG READER HALEY

There are a few parts to this question, so let’s break them down. The flight in question — Austin (AUS) to New York-JFK — covers a distance of 1,521 miles. Assuming Haley is an AAdvantage Gold or Platinum elite, she would need four 500-mile upgrade certificates per person for this leg (or eight for her and her daughter). If she had Platinum Pro or Executive Platinum status, she’d be automatically listed for a complimentary upgrade — no certificates needed. AAdvantage elites earn four 500-mile upgrade certificates for every 12,500 Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) flown, and you can buy additional certificates for $40 each. While the certificates never expire, they can only be redeemed if you currently have AAdvantage elite status.

RELATED: The Ins and Outs of American Airlines 500-Mile Upgrades

Now let’s dive into Haley’s question. If she needs four upgrades each for her and her daughter, one option would be to only upgrade one of them. It would be a shame to buy four extra upgrades at a cost of $160 and then not have them clear, so obviously Haley wants to wait until she’s sure she can get to use them.

Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. While you can request to use a 500-mile upgrade in advance — even if you don’t have enough certificates in your account — most upgrades won’t clear ahead of your flight. This means that you’ll be added to the upgrade list after checking in. If you don’t have enough 500-mile upgrade certificates in your account at check-in, American Airlines will prompt you to buy more in order to keep your place on the upgrade list. At this point there’s still no guarantee that your upgrade will clear, so it’s up to you to take a look at the seat map, identify whether there are still seats for sale in first class and note how many names are on the upgrade list before you make your decision — keeping in mind that the list may not show those who haven’t yet checked in.

Note that it is possible for upgrades to clear before the day of departure — starting 48 hours out for AAdvantage Platinum elites and 24 hours out for Gold elites — but more often than not, those final upgrades aren’t confirmed until just before departure at the gate.

Bottom Line

Unfortunately Haley can’t wait until after her upgrade clears before buying more 500-mile upgrade certificates, but she can wait until she checks in for her flight. At that point, she’ll be able to figure out a little more information on what her odds are of clearing an upgrade, though there’s no guarantee.

And remember that while American has somewhat large first class cabins on its domestic aircraft, recent changes to the carrier’s upgrade priority mean that a Platinum Pro or Executive Platinum member booking that flight at the last-minute would jump ahead of Haley and her daughter on the list. It’s up to her to decide whether she wants to roll the dice and purchase upgrades in advance.

Thanks for the question, Haley, and if you’re a TPG reader who’d like us to answer a question of your own, tweet us at @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or email us at info@thepointsguy.com.

Featured photo by Javier Rodriguez / The Points Guy

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases within the first three months of card membership. Plus, earn a $200 statement credit after your first Delta purchase within the first three months. Offer ends 7/28/21.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles after spending $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months and a $200 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new Card within your first 3 months. Offer expires 7/28/2021.
  • Limited Time Offer: Plus, get a 0% intro APR on purchases for 12 months from the date of account opening, then a variable 15.74%-24.74%. Offer expires 7/28/2021.
  • Accelerate your path to Medallion Status, with Status Boost®. Plus, in 2021 you can earn even more bonus Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) to help you reach Medallion Status.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Intro APR on Purchases
0% on purchases for 12 months
Regular APR
15.74%-24.74% Variable
Annual Fee
$250
Balance Transfer Fee
N/A
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.