American Airlines first class upgrade guide

By Chris C., September 1 2016
American Airlines first class upgrade guide

First class is a great way to fly, and fortunately for American Airlines passengers, getting a seat up the very front is easier than you’d think.

That’s because all American Airlines AAdvantage members can use their frequent flyer miles to request an upgrade, while Gold, Platinum and Executive Platinum cardholders also enjoy a variety of complimentary upgrades to first class, even when booking an economy ticket.

Here’s how to turn 30B into 1A on your next American Airlines flight.

Using AAdvantage miles for AA first class upgrades

Upgrading from business class to first class is one of the best ways to use your AAdvantage miles, and better yet, you can upgrade from Sydney to Los Angeles and through to New York for the same number of miles as upgrading only the Sydney-LA leg.

You’d need 25,000 AAdvantage miles from most paid business class tickets on that route, while from the least-expensive fares you’d need to pair a US$550 (A$722) cash payment with those 25,000 miles to secure the same upgrade.

In exchange you’d get first class tickets aboard AA’s flagship Boeing 777 from Sydney to Los Angeles and then aboard AA’s Airbus A321T service between Los Angeles in New York, which also has a separate first class cabin ahead of business class.

Welcome aboard American Airlines first class...
Welcome aboard American Airlines first class...

However, upgrades to first class are all ‘one class’, so while you can upgrade from business class to first class on those flights you can’t upgrade from economy straight into first class.

You also can’t use miles to upgrade when flying on a ticket which was already booked using AA miles, or with frequent flyer points from partner airlines such as Qantas.

The rules are different on shorter AA flights which offer only economy and ‘first class’ (no separate ‘business class’ service), in which case you’re clear to use miles for an upgrade.

In all cases, upgrades can be confirmed from the moment your booking is made, are always subject to availability and can be requested via the AA website after logging in to your AAdvantage account.

Using AA 'systemwide upgrades' for first class

AA's top-tier Executive Platinum frequent flyers collect at least four 'systemwide upgrades' (SWUs) each year (previously eight per year), which can each be used for a confirmed one-class upgrade.

As when using miles, you can upgrade an entire journey of up to three connecting flights – such as Sydney-LA-New York (two flights) – using just one upgrade.

In other words, four systemwide upgrades is enough for two return first class upgrades between Sydney and New York, or four one-way upgrades on the same route.

Turn your business class suite into an office in the sky on flights to the USA...
Turn your business class suite into an office in the sky on flights to the USA...

You can't process these online but you can use them over the phone by calling the number on the back of your card. These can also be used to upgrade friends and family, even if you're not travelling.

Like using points, SWUs can be processed from the moment your booking is made and locked in if an upgrade is available on your flight, but can't be used on tickets booked using frequent flyer points, or if you've booked a codeshare flights (such as a QF flight number on an American Airlines jet).

Should an upgrade not be available on your flight, your request can also be 'waitlisted' and considered by the airline closer to departure.

Using AA's 500-mile first class upgrades

On flights within North and Central America (including the USA, Canada and Mexico, among others), first class upgrades for Executive Platinum members come unlimited and complimentary, provided there's a spare seat available in 'first class' before the flight.

(Keep in mind that in the States, 'first class' on these short flights is generally what we Aussies would call 'business class' back home, although on longer flights such as from LA to New York, AA offers a more 'first class' experience.)

On AA's longest transcontinental flights, stretch out in a fully-flat bed...
On AA's longest transcontinental flights, stretch out in a fully-flat bed...

Platinum and Gold frequent flyers instead receive complimentary space-available upgrades on flights only up to 500 miles in length – such as from Los Angeles to San Francisco, Las Vegas or San Diego.

On longer routes such as the 800-mile trek from Dallas/Fort Worth to Chicago, you'd need to burn through some of the '500 mile upgrade' certificates that American Airlines dishes out as you continue to fly, with one certificate required for every 500 miles in flight length or part thereof.

That means you'd round up each flight length to the nearest 500 miles: so between Dallas and Chicago, prepare to part with two 500-mile upgrade certificates.

While AA also sells these upgrade certificates outright for US$40 each, you won't actually be able to use them unless you're an AA Gold frequent flyer or higher, or are travelling with the same.

Unlike when using miles or systemwide upgrades, all of these 500-mile upgrades are processed closer to departure: from 100 hours prior for Executive Platinums, from 72 hours prior for Platinum members and from 24 hours prior for Gold cardholders.

These upgrades are also available from any paid economy fare – from the most rock-bottom sale ticket through to the most expensive – although if you booked your original economy flight using frequent flyer points, that's where you'll stay.

Also read: American Airlines Boeing 777 first class review, Sydney-LA

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Chris C.

Chris is a a former contributor to Executive Traveller.


09 Aug 2014

Total posts 9

Enjoy this for the next three months.  Come next year, there will be a new level called Platinum Pro.  Further down the line, PEY will also be introduced.  I would imagine those SWUs will be a ONE class upgrade.  

Virgin Australia Platinum

09 Sep 2014

Total posts 68

"Here’s how to turn 30B into 1A on your next American Airlines flight."

Simple answer: You can't.

Upgrades are valid to the next cabin of service and are valid for a single one-way trip with a maximum of three segments.

This article should be amended to state: "Here’s how to turn 30B into 3A and beyond on your next American Airlines flight from Australia to the USA."

Granted the article mentions that upgrades are all one class. But why tease the reader with such an introductory statement only to negate it much further down in the article.

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