The Winners and Losers of American Airlines' New Companion Upgrade Rules
It's hard to keep up with American Airlines' upgrade rules. Anyone who knew the system prior to May 2017 had to learn a whole new system when the upgrade system was revamped then. That system still generally remains in place, rewarding elite status and Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQD) earned in the past 12 months. While airport upgrade lists generally will clear in order, there are some quirks that might look like you've been skipped — even when the system is working as it should.
Well, for those that have mastered the system — including the tricks on how to avoid being (legitimately) skipped on the upgrade list — a new wrinkle rolled out this past weekend. American Airlines is revamping how AAdvantage elite companions clear on the upgrade list in two ways.
Systemwide and mileage award companion upgrades
American Airlines top-tier Executive Platinum members currently earn four systemwide upgrades per year. These "golden tickets" get you upgraded from economy to business class — or from business class to first class on the few routes that have first class — on up to three American Airlines flights on an outbound or return itinerary.
If you don't have or don't want to use a systemwide upgrade, American Airlines offers mileage upgrade options. Flyers can pay a mileage amount plus cash co-pay to get upgraded. Both the systemwide and mileage award upgrades receive top priority on the list within each elite status band.
After this weekend's change, elite members can sponsor a companion to their reservation who will receive the same priority on the waitlist. And, unlike prior companion upgrade rules, the companion doesn't have to be flying on the same record locator. Instead, the only requirement is that the companion has "to be traveling on the same flight and using the same type of upgrade."
For systemwide requests, the companion doesn't have to be using the elite member's systemwide upgrade certificate. That means, traveler #1 (Executive Platinum elite) can sponsor traveler #2 (no elite status) who can use a third member's systemwide upgrade. After adding traveler #2 as the traveler #1's companion, both travelers will have the same upgrade priority on the flight.
In order to nominate a companion for this purpose, elite members are directed to "call AAdvantage Reservations or their Elite Service Desk."
500-mile upgrades for elite companions
In addition, AA is tweaking how elite members traveling together will clear. Before the change, elites traveling together would be listed on the airport upgrade list based on their own upgrade priority. Now, elites can request at the airport to have their reservations linked to be prioritized at the higher-elite's status level.
The clear winners of these changes are top-tier elites (particularly Concierge Key elites) and their companions — especially when traveling on separate reservations. For example, an Executive Platinum elite traveling on a work-paid flight can book a separate ticket for their companion and link the two reservations together for upgrade purposes.
Mid- and lower-tier elites. As with the upgrade changes in May 2017 allowing Concierge Key and Executive Platinum elites to upgrade for free on domestic awards, this change is going mean even more passengers on the upgrade lists. And, the mid- and lower-tier elites lose out on upgrades when this happens.
Also, for highly-competitive routes, losers could also include Executive Platinum members who haven't spent enough in the last 12 months. For routes like Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) to Hong Kong (HKG) where only high-spending elites have their systemwide upgrade requests clear, allowing the highest-spending elites an opportunity to nominate a companion who can leap-frog the entire list to join them at the top means even more Executive Platinum elites will miss the upgrade.