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Spend Thanksgiving in Europe with wide-open American Airlines upgrade space

April 07, 2020
11 min read
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While the coronavirus outbreak has stopped all non-essential travel around the world, it has given frequent flyers a unique opportunity to use points, miles and upgrade certificates for future travel. Airlines have been opening more award seats and upgrade space for flights departing in late-2020 and early-2021, making it easier than ever for travelers to use their miles to book luxury travel on the cheap.

Stay up-to-date on the outbreak by visiting our hub page for coronavirus coverage and signing up for our daily newsletter.

American Airlines made waves earlier this week when it offered ultra-cheap, first-class tickets to Japan, but the deals don't stop there. AA loyalists with their sights set on a European trip over Thanksgiving will be happy to know that there's wide-open business class upgrade space on a number of European routes from American's various hubs around Thanksgiving 2020.

You can upgrade tickets using Systemwide Upgrades or AAdvantage miles if you hold an economy ticket in certain classes. If this sounds like something you're interested in, read this article for info on how to book one of these tickets.

Should I book travel now?

There's no doubt that you should not be traveling right now, but the story may change when it comes to booking future travel. As discussed in the intro, award and upgrade space is open on a number of routes at the end of the year, so if you're familiar with the risks, you may be able to score an excellent deal by booking your late-2020 and early-2021 travel now.

So, what are the risks? While all of us at TPG are crossing our fingers that the coronavirus outbreak will be globally contained by the end of the year (if not sooner), there's still a chance that it won't be. With that in mind, know the cancellation policies of all tickets you book. There may be a fee to cancel — even in light of the coronavirus — so understand that you may be on the hook for paying these if the outbreak isn't contained by the time you're set to travel.

Read our complete guide to canceling or changing American Airlines flights before you book any of the tickets mentioned here. It discusses the cost to cancel both paid and award tickets and highlights times where you may be eligible for a free change.

Thanksgiving tickets with AA upgrade space

Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

We've found upgrade space on a variety of different European routes departing the week of Thanksgiving and returning the week following. Each of these flights has "C" space available, meaning that you can upgrade a paid economy fare to business class without waitlisting.

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RELATED: Best long-haul routes for American Airlines upgrades

Additionally, some flights only have upgrade space on one leg of the trip. These flights can still come in handy if you book an open-jaw trip where you arrive in one city and depart from another, seeing two European destinations on the same trip.

Google Flights PHL AMS Ticket American Airlines

Remember, you'll still need to purchase an economy ticket to take advantage of these upgrades, but you can score a pretty excellent deal. For example, an upgradeable flight from Philadelphia (PHL) to Amsterdam (AMS) starts at just $560 at the time of writing this article.

Here's a look at open American Airlines upgrade space around Thanksgiving. Note that some of these flights even have 4+ seats available, so you can take the whole family with you.

Charlotte (CLT)

To/from Frankfurt (FRA):

  • Outbound: November 11-12 and 25
  • Inbound: November 25-26; December 1-3 and 5

To/from London (LHR):

  • Inbound: November 25-28; December 1-3

Chicago-O'Hare (ORD)

To/from London (LHR):

  • Outbound: November 11-24
  • Inbound: November 25-27; December 1-3

To/from Paris (CDG):

  • Outbound: November 17 and 21
  • Inbound: November 25-26; December 1-2

Dallas (DFW)

To/from Frankfurt (FRA):

  • Outbound: November 11-12 and 16-18
  • Inbound: November 25-26; December 1-3

To/from London (LHR):

  • Outbound: November 17 and 23-24
  • Inbound: November 25-28

To/from Paris (CDG):

  • Outbound: November 17 and 24
  • Inbound: November 27; December 2

Los Angeles (LAX)

To/from London (LHR):

  • Outbound: November 11, 17-18 and 22-25
  • Inbound: November 25-28; December 1-4

New York-JFK

To/from London (LHR):

  • Outbound: November 11-14, 16-18 and 21-24
  • Inbound: November 25-28 and 30; December 1-5 and 7

To/from Madrid (MAD):

  • Outbound: November 16-18 and 23-24
  • Inbound: November 25-28; December 1-6 and 8-9

To/from Milan (MXP):

  • Outbound: November 17-18 and 23-24
  • Inbound: November 25-27; December 1-5 and 8-15

Philadelphia (PHL)

To/from Amsterdam (AMS):

  • Outbound: November 10, 17 and 25
  • Inbound: November 23-26 and 30; December 1-3 and 6

To/from Dublin (DUB):

  • Outbound: November 10-11, 17-18 and 24-25
  • Inbound: November 25; December 1-2, 7-9, and 14

To/from Madrid (MAD):

  • Outbound: November 23-24
  • Inbound: November 25

To/from Manchester (MAN):

  • Outbound: November 9-11, 16-18, 22 and 24
  • Inbound: November 25-29, December 1-6 and 8-11

To/from Paris (CDG):

  • Outbound: November 10 and 17
  • Inbound: November 26 and 28-30; December 1-3, 5-9 and 11

To/from Rome (FCO):

  • Outbound: November 8, 15 and 24-27
  • Inbound: November 25-27 and 30; December 1-3, 8-12 and 14-15

To/from Zurich (ZRH):

  • Outbound: November 10-11 and 24
  • Inbound: November 25-26 and 30; December 1-3, 5, 7-10

Phoenix (PHX)

To/from London (LHR):

  • Outbound: November 9 and 17
  • Inbound: November 25-26 and 30; December 1-2 and 6-8

Upgrading an American Airlines ticket

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

As discussed earlier, upgrading an economy ticket requires that the flight you want to book has open "C" class space. When a flight has these seats open, you can bump yourself from a paid economy ticket to business class using a Systemwide Upgrade (SWU), AAdvantage miles or a Business Extra upgrade certificate. Calling American is one way to check on availability, though you can also use ExpertFlyer (which is owned by TPG's parent company, Red Ventures).

RELATED: Guide to award searches using ExpertFlyer

Just note that American's Basic Economy tickets are not upgradeable at all — so if you haven't booked, be sure to only lock in regular, Main Cabin tickets.

Systemwide Upgrades are the most common way to upgrade flights. These are awarded when qualifying for top-tier Executive Platinum status and when meeting set thresholds of Elite-Qualifying Miles (EQMs) in a year. They can be used to upgrade tickets on American Airlines but not on codeshare flights operated by another airline like British Airways.

You can also upgrade flights using AAdvantage miles. The number of miles required varies based on the type of fare you're upgrading, and discount fares require a cash copay. These copays range between $75 and $550, but for a discounted economy ticket from the U.S. to Europe, you're looking at $350 plus 25,000 miles per passenger in each direction.

This is obviously a decent amount of money and miles to spend, but consider it this way: If you can upgrade a flight like the one noted above, you're talking about less than $1,300 + 50,000 miles out-of-pocket for a round-trip, business-class flight to Europe. Not bad when the going rate can approach or exceed $5,000:

Note that upgrading could subject you to additional government taxes and fees may apply, but that'll only apply for select routes.

FAQs on upgrading American flights

Can I request mileage upgrades on a flight that doesn't have "C" space?

Yes, you can request an upgrade on any American Airlines flight; however, only flights with open "C" class space will clear immediately. You'll be added to a waitlist if you request an upgrade for a flight that doesn't have open "C" space, giving you a shot at upgrading if space does open. Don't worry, your AAdvantage miles and respective copay will be refunded if your upgrade doesn't clear.

How do I request a mileage upgrade?

Unfortunately, mileage upgrades cannot be processed online — instead, you have to call American Airlines to request one. You can request a mileage upgrade at any time before departure, but we recommend processing the request as soon as possible for the best possible chance at your upgrade clearing.

What types of economy fares can be upgraded?

As noted above, not all American Airlines tickets can be upgraded. Specifically, you can't upgrade Basic Economy flights, nor can you jump from an economy award ticket to business class using C-class upgrade inventory. This applies to upgrades with miles as well as those with Systemwide Upgrade certificates.

American Airlines mileage upgrade pricing screen shot

The following fare classes can be upgraded to business class using AAdvantage miles:

  • Discount economy (with a copay): H, K, M, L, V, G, Q, N, O and S plus military and government fares booked in Y-class
  • Full-fare economy (no copay): Y
  • Discount premium economy (with a copay): P
  • Full-fare premium economy (with no copay): W
Click the Details Button Screen Shot

You can view the fare class of the paid ticket you're booking by clicking the Details button underneath the flight information when booking a ticket on The fare class for each available cabin of service will show in the "Booking code" line.

Earning American miles

If you're AAdvantage account is a bit short, there are many ways to earn American miles to take advantage of these upgrade opportunities in the future. This includes transferring points from Marriott Bonvoy, dining at a participating restaurant in the AAdvantage Dining Rewards program or shopping through the AAdvantage eShopping portal.

RELATED: Maximizing online shopping portals

However, one of the quickest ways to earn American miles is by adding a new credit card to your wallet, and a few of American's cobranded cards are currently offering lucrative sign-up bonuses:

  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®: Earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $2,500 within the first three months of account opening.
  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®: Earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $5,000 within the first three months of account opening.
  • CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard®: Earn 65,000 bonus miles after spending $4,000 in purchases within the first four months of account opening.

The information for the Citi AAdvantage Platinum card and CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Just note that Citi imposes a 48-month waiting period between AAdvantage card sign-up bonuses, so be sure to time your applications carefully.

Bottom line

Again, while now is not the time to travel, it could be a great time to start planning future trips. If you have a stash of Systemwide Upgrades or AAdvantage miles you want to use for a year-end trip to Europe, consider booking a trip in economy class and upgrading to business class. This can save you money and make for a great post-coronavirus trip for you and your family.

Regardless, familiarize yourself with American's cancellation policies before you book and keep your eyes on the CDC's website when it's time to travel. After all, these are uncertain times for the travel world, and you should make it a priority to keep yourself safe when you travel.

Feature photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy

Featured image by JT Genter/The Points Guy
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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