Rumors are swirling that American Airlines is considering restricting the use of systemwide upgrades to only recipient account holders. To do so would take AAdvantage on an unnecessary kamikaze mission.
The rumor comes from reliable insider JonNYC. Over the years, he has repeatedly brought us insider news before it occurred. Although American Airlines presently (and empathically) denies that any further restrictions are coming to the upgrade program, do not think for one moment that this policy change is not under consideration.
Or, put slightly differently; write in and tell AA that you know this is being actively considered (they’ll lie and say it isn’t, of course,)and let them know just how unacceptable it would be
— JonNYC (@xJonNYC) February 20, 2019
Those who earn top-tier Executive Platinum (EXP) status on American Airlines receive four systemwide upgrades (SWUs) per year. These SWUs are good on any flight, for any person, in any fare class for a one-cabin upgrade (or two-cabin upgrade from economy to business class, bypassing premium economy). But this upgrade space is subject to capacity controls and American tightly guards its “C” class (business class) upgrade inventory.
The result is that many EXP members end up letting their upgrades expire or “wasting” them on shorter domestic routes because there simply is no upgrade space on longhauls. At best, these upgrades are waitlisted and may clear at the last-minute at the departure gate, causing a bad case of upgrade phobia prior to a longhaul flight.
And perhaps because of this, every December or January becomes a rather amusing time. So many EXP flyers have leftover upgrades that are expiring and start offering them to friends and family for free, just in hopes they will be used by someone rather than totally go to waste.
Perhaps this is what drove American Airlines to consider restricting the use of these SWUs only to account holders. Now I would imagine any new rule would not be so draconian as to restrict a spousal upgrade when traveling with the member. In fact, I bet anyone traveling on the same itinerary as the member could still be upgraded. Nevertheless, that would represent a substantial downgrade.
Pull a Delta?
Already, American Airlines has halved the number of upgrades (from eight to four) given to EXP members and so severely restricts space that even those can often not be used. I sincerely believe that if American were to pull a Delta, it would see mass revolt from its EXP base.
I say “pull a Delta” because Delta already has a similar restriction in place for its systemwide upgrade program. A Delta Diamond member cannot simply sponsor the upgrade of another person…the two must bee traveling together. But Delta also boasts strong operational performance and other perks that help to counteract that. Not so on AA.
Look, I do not dismiss potential AA concern over fraud and the bartering/selling of these upgrades. But that sort of thing exists in any program and American has a very proactive revenue protection team in Dallas that goes after those suspected of engaging in this practice. But I do not think that is what is driving this potential policy change. Instead, I think AA would try to spin it as a benefit to EXP members themselves. The logic would go something like this: by restricting upgrade only to the account holder and those traveling with the account holder, we preserve upgrade space for you, our valuable member.
But that’s a false dilemma, since AA rarely releases upgrade space in advance anyway. Thus, when it comes time to sweat out an upgrade at the gate the EXP member will always enjoy a higher waitlist position than any sponsored friends or family without status.
Put simply, restricting the use of systemwide upgrades would backfire tremendously. It is already extremely difficult to use these upgrades and to place further restrictions on their use would only further erode the remaining value of Executive Platinum status.
A few years back I held Executive Platinum status on American Airlines. That was back in the era in which EXPs received eight SWUs per year. Even then, when the space flowed more freely, I was not able to use my upgrades on the longhaul flights I wanted. Instead, I ended up burning them for domestic travel.
American has so many ways to control the flow of upgrades. Therefore, to restrict their use to EXP members only would not represent the beset solution to the dearth of upgrade space. Instead, it would only inflame AA’s most valuable members, who would see it as a further barrier to using their hard-earned SWUs. Indeed, it would place AAdvantage on an unnecessary and tragic kamikaze mission.
What do you think about AA restricting upgrades further?