In this post, I wanted to share why I think American Airlines will change its approach to elite upgrades in the not too distant future. I mentioned this in a post a few days ago so I wanted to expand my thought process a little.
First of all, let me state that this is just speculation on my part and I have no inside knowledge of the matter that suggests this is happening. Rather, I just don’t see this American that way could not Change the upgrade program due to the new partnership with Alaska Airlines.
Let me start with some background on American’s current upgrade program, and then share what I think is about to change.
American Stickers 500 Mile Upgrade Program
All American AAdvantage Elite members are eligible for upgrades in one form or another for flights within the US, as well as flights between the US and Canada, Mexico, the Bahamas, the Caribbean, Bermuda and Central America.
However, the way these upgrades are processed depends on your status:
- Concierge Key members receive free upgrades from 120 hours before departure
- Executive Platinum members receive free upgrades 100 hours before departure
- Platinum Pro members receive free upgrades 72 hours before departure
- Platinum members receive upgrades 48 hours before departure. However, you must use 500 mile upgrade stickers to be eligible, except on flights under 500 miles where upgrades are free
- Gold members receive upgrades starting 24 hours prior to departure, but must use 500 mile upgrade stickers to be eligible, except on flights under 500 miles where upgrades are free
- Pets can also be upgraded at all elite levels. However, they require additional 500 mile upgrade stickers (also for Concierge Key, Executive Platinum, and Platinum Pro members).
What are the 500 mile upgrade stickers that AAdvantage Platinum and Gold members must use on flights over 500 miles and that all elite levels must use for companion upgrades?
- Any 500 mile upgrade sticker can be used to upgrade a 500 mile flight value. In other words, a 1,800 mile flight would require four of these stickers
- Platinum and Gold members receive four 500-mile upgrade stickers for each 12,500 elite qualification miles earned during a calendar year
- 500 mile upgrade stickers are also available for purchase by all elite levels for $ 40 each
Some elite upgrades require 500 mile upgrade stickers
Why I think American’s upgrade program will change
Alaska Airlines has just joined the oneworld alliance, and at the same time American and Alaska have begun rolling out top-notch mutual upgrades.
Alaska Airlines has just joined the oneworld alliance
This is because American and Alaska are planning a close collaboration, probably the closest collaboration we’ve seen between any two U.S. airlines. Airlines will do whatever it takes to create metal neutrality, which means they want to encourage American aviators to fly Alaska when it suits them and vice versa. This is especially important as Americans are building a major international hub in Seattle.
It’s pretty clear to me that the benefits of the loyalty program will be significantly coordinated between the two airlines. For example, Alaska Airlines is introducing a new elite tier of 100,000 miles that is clearly intended to create an Executive Platinum equivalent at Alaska Airlines.
Currently, the two airlines only offer mutual upgrades for first class passengers. However, there are plans to expand these to other elite levels over time.
So that Americans and Alaska can realistically offer a truly valuable mutual upgrade program American must introduce unlimited free upgrades for all elite members::
- I don’t see a world where the Alaska Mileage Plan will adopt American AAdvantage’s 500 mile upgrade sticker program, especially since Delta SkyMiles and United MileagePlus offer unlimited free upgrades at all levels
- Even performing mutual upgrades has been weird so far, with Alaska MVP Gold 75K members receiving free American companion upgrades while American AAdvantage Platinum Pro members must use 500 mile companion upgrade stickers
- This only gets more confusing as upgrades are introduced at more tiers, as Americans and Alaska take very different approaches to upgrades
I expect American Airlines will simplify its upgrade program and offer free upgrades to all elite members. Yes, that will result in some loss of revenue for Americans as the airline would stop generating revenue from the sale of 500 mile stickers, but I also can’t imagine the revenue being that significant as it was for elite Members of the lower class are not particularly likely to delete upgrades.
Alaska and American need to coordinate their upgrade guidelines
Are there any downsides to updating changes?
I think a new upgrade program would be a lot easier to understand and logical given the Alaska Airlines partnership, although it wouldn’t necessarily be good news for everyone:
- AAdvantage Gold members would have an even more difficult time deleting upgrades as AAdvantage Platinum members are currently not always requesting upgrades as they have a limited number of 500 mile upgrade stickers
- One can imagine what happens to companion upgrades as the airline has unlimited free companion upgrades. This could be a mixed match as it means companions can be updated more consistently before other elite members
- It is possible that Americans will work out some exemptions for upgrades domestically. For example, American might follow United’s lead and not offer free upgrades on premium transcontinental routes
- I could see Americans trying to offset the lost revenue from selling 500 mile upgrade stickers by directly trying to sell upgrades to non-elite members at a reasonable cost
Could American Airlines change its upgrade policy on premium Transcon flights?
I anticipate that at some point in the not-too-distant future, American AAdvantage will significantly change its approach to elite upgrades. Let me reiterate that I don’t have any inside knowledge here, but that it just makes sense to me.
American’s current approach to upgrades just won’t work if the airline plans to do reciprocal upgrades with Alaska in a meaningful and beneficial way. While AAdvantage will experience some loss of revenue, the reality is that Americans see a lot of upside potential with their Alaska partnership and frequent flyers need to be on board the partnership for it to work.
However, that wouldn’t necessarily be good news. While unlimited free upgrades sound exciting, we compete for a limited number of places so there will always be winners and losers.
What do you think – will American AAdvantage change its approach to elite upgrades? And if American Airlines doesn’t change its upgrade program, how do you see Alaska and American expanding each other’s upgrades?