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How to Get Upgraded on American Airlines: A Step-by-Step Guide

You can get an upgrade on American Airlines through systemwide upgrades, complimentary upgrades, miles and cash. Here's all you need to know.
Author: Lorraine Smithills
Lorraine Smithills

Writer, Contributor

Experience

Lorraine is a freelance finance writer with years of experience in the banking sector and after a successful career in one of the largest retail and commercial financial services providers. She has a passion for helping people with less financial confidence to get control of their money through budgeting, saving, and responsible credit practices.
Interest Rates Last Update: April 15, 2024
The banking product interest rates, including savings, CDs, and money market, are accurate as of this date.
Author: Lorraine Smithills
Lorraine Smithills

Writer, Contributor

Experience

Lorraine is a freelance finance writer with years of experience in the banking sector and after a successful career in one of the largest retail and commercial financial services providers. She has a passion for helping people with less financial confidence to get control of their money through budgeting, saving, and responsible credit practices.
Interest Rates Last Update: April 15, 2024

The banking product interest rates, including savings, CDs, and money market, are accurate as of this date.

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Whether you’re headed on vacation or taking a business trip, flying can be either a trial or a pleasure. If you can upgrade to a premium cabin, you are sure to have a more enjoyable flight experience. Fortunately, there are several ways to get upgraded on American Airlines, which may mean that you don’t need to break the bank.

If you’re already brand loyal to American Airlines, becoming familiar with the ways that you can get upgraded is sure to benefit you and ensure you have an enhanced experience every time you fly.

How to Upgrade on American Airlines Flights

There are three types of American Airlines upgrades and this will determine the availability and cost for upgrading when you fly.

Systemwide Upgrades or SWUs were previously available after you earned 125,000 Loyalty Points or reached Platinum Pro elite status. However, in March 2023, American Airlines increased the threshold up to 175,000 Loyalty Points. However, you can now receive two systemwide upgrades rather than just one.

You can choose a systemwide upgrade as your reward for this level rather than bonus miles, trip credit or Admirals Club access. In fact, there are several levels that now offer SWUs as a choice of reward.

You can accumulate Loyalty Points when you’ve earned at least 125,000 AAdvantage Miles. These could be earned by flying, earned with American Airline partners or by using an American Airlines credit card. If you reach the Two Million Miler Level, you’ll receive four SWUs, regardless of your current status and you’ll get an additional four upgrades for each million mile threshold after.

A SWU provides an upgrade from most Economy or Premium Economy fares up to the next class of service and Business class fares to First class. These can be applied for any destination where American Airlines flies and you can use SWUs for one way travel that is up to three flight segments on AA marketed and operated flights.

However, not all flights have available seats for SWUs. You will need to check for eligible flights via your account, which will be indicated with a green check mark.

American Airlines Systemwide Upgrades
175,000 Loyalty Points is needed for Systemwide Upgrades (Photo by Ceri Breeze/Shutterstock)

If you don’t have elite status, you can upgrade your seat with your accumulated AAdvantage miles. This option is only available for tickets you purchase, as award tickets are ineligible. You may need to pay using both miles and cash, depending on your fare class.

As an example, if you have a discount economy domestic flight ticket, it would cost you 15,000 miles and $75 to upgrade to the next fare class. However, with a full fare economy ticket for that same domestic flight, it would cost 5,000 miles and there is no copay.

In addition to your ticket fare class, the miles and cash cost will depend on your destination. Upgrades apply for up to three flight segments within one direction.

Just be aware that there are no guarantees of an upgrade before check in. If the airline does not confirm the upgrade at the time of your request, you will be waitlisted. This is not ranked as a first come, first served system, as the upgrade priority determines how your upgrade request is ranked against other travelers.

The American Airlines elite program has been recently overhauled, which has expanded the availability of complimentary upgrades to all elite levels. Once you qualify for elite status, you can receive unlimited upgrades for domestic, Central American and Caribbean flights.

Additionally, once you reach Executive Platinum, you’ll receive complimentary upgrades on your award tickets.

You’ll receive your complimentary upgrade for eligible purchased fares in Main Cabin or Premium Economy up to the next service class on eligible flights. American Airlines aims to confirm upgrades before departure, but this depends on your status. Gold members will receive notification 24 hours prior to departure, but this increases to 48 hours for Platinum members.

You can add a companion to your complimentary upgrade, but they need to be on the same reservation. For separate reservations, you can link them by calling the AA Reservations helpline.

Upgrade to American Airlines first class
Upgrade to American Airlines first class. (Photo by First Class Photography/Shutterstock)

How American Airlines Prioritizes Passengers for Upgrades?

There are several factors that American Airlines considered when deciding which passengers have priority for upgrade requests.

1. Your AAdvantage Elite Status

Your elite status is American Airlines' most important factor to determine upgrade eligibility. The higher your elite status, the higher that you’ll be on the upgrade list. The order of priority is:

  • Concierge Key
  • Executive Platinum
  • Platinum Pro
  • Platinum
  • Gold

2. The Type of Upgrade

The second most important factor for assessing upgrade requests is the type of upgrade. As with elite status, there are some upgrades which have a higher priority compared to others. The order of priority is:

  • SWUs or AAdvantage Miles with Co-pay
  • Elite travelers
  • ConciergeKey and Executive Platinum traveling on an award ticket
  • Complimentary Upgrades- awarded to elites in the order of their status.

3. Purchased Ticket Fare Class

Finally, American Airlines will consider the booking codes of purchased tickets and when the ticket was purchased. Booking codes allow American Airlines to prioritize upgrade requests among passengers.

For main cabin to the next class, the priority order for upgrades is W, P, Y, H, K, M, L, V, G, S, N, Q, O and T.

For business to first class upgrades, the priority for booking codes is J, R, D, I and C.

If there are two passengers on the upgrade priority list at the same level, American Airlines uses the number of Loyalty Points in the passenger’s account as a tiebreaker.

New American Airlines lounge at JFK international airport
New American Airlines lounge at JFK international airport (Photo by EQRoy/Shutterstock)

How to Improve the Chances for Getting an Upgrade?

As we’ve covered, there are no guarantees for getting an upgrade, but there are several things that you can do to improve your chances.

  • Use Miles: This is the easiest way to fly in a premium cabin. You can use your accumulated miles to book a first class or business award ticket for your itinerary. You can also use your miles to pay for an upgrade where space is available.
  • Buy an Upgrade: You can purchase a ticket upgrade when you book, check in or even at the gate. You may even get a discounted upgrade rate for pre departure gate purchases. Watch out for prompts and offers to upgrade when you’re booking your fare.
  • Achieve Executive Platinum Elite Status: Achieving this level of elite status is a great way to get SWUs, which can be used on any AA flight with any fare class of ticket. You’ll also be in the top bands when AA assesses upgrade priority.
  • Get Elite Member Sponsorship: If you know a top AAdvantage Elite member, you could get an upgrade if you’re both traveling on the same eligible flight.
  • Set up a Fare Alert: Occasionally, you can score a discounted premium economy or business class ticket for less than an economy fare, but you have to have good timing. Fortunately, you can automate this by setting up an alert for routes you’re interested in with sites like Google Flights.
  • Trip Disruption: If you’ve missed your connection because of a disruption that is the fault of the airline or you’ve given up your seat due to an oversold flight, you could ask for an upgrade on the next available flight. There are no guarantees, but when the airline is at fault, you may get an upgrade as compensation for your inconvenience.
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Can I Upgrade on American Airlines Partner Airlines?

You can use your AAdvantage miles to upgrade on the American Airlines partners, British Airways and Iberia. This upgrade potential is available for yourself or anyone that you designate.

The upgrades are available to the next cabin level for a one way trip up to a maximum of three segments. There are several fare types that you can upgrade:

  • Full fare economy with fares booked in B or Y with British Airways or Iberia
  • Premium Economy with World Traveler Plus fares booked in British Airways W
  • Full fare Business with fares booked in C, J, D and R with British Airways or Iberia.

You will need to buy at least one full fare economy ticket to be able to use your miles for an upgrade. You also need to add the cost of your miles to the overall upgrade cost. This varies from 12,500 miles to upgrade from full fare economy to premium economy on North America to Europe itineraries up to 50,000 miles to upgrade from Business to First class on North America to Africa or the Indian Subcontinent itineraries.

Bear in mind you may incur additional taxes plus carrier imposed fees for some itineraries. For example, those with flights originating in Great Britain or France.

You can also use your systemwide upgrades on your British Airways flight, provided that you purchased your ticket through American Airlines and there is at least one American Airlines segment included in your itinerary.

upgrade on the American Airlines partners
use your AAdvantage miles to upgrade to business or first class on the American Airlines partners (Photo by M101Studio/Shutterstock)

How To Request Upgrade On American Airlines App/Website?

If you want to request an upgrade on your American Airlines flight, you’ll need to visit aa.com. There is an option on the app, under the “Manage Your Flight” button from the “My Trips” menu, but it will direct you to complete the process on aa.com.

After you login to aa.com, you’ll be able to view your flight details and you’ll see an option to request an upgrade under the flight management tab.

When Do American Airlines Upgrades Clear?

The timing of upgrades clearing typically occurs when American Airlines opens up the availability. However, the earliest you’ll have an upgrade clear will depend on your elite status.

Gold members can have an upgrade confirmed up to 24 hours before departure, but this increases to 48 hours and 72 hours for Platinum  and Platinum Pro elite members respectively. Executive Platinum members have the longest upgrade window and can have an upgrade cleared up to 100 hours before departure.

Bear in mind that regardless of the above windows, upgrades will only clear when there is available space. If you’ve not had your upgrade confirmed before check in, you’ll be added to the standby list and you may be upgraded before boarding.

FAQs

Yes, it may be possible to upgrade your AA flight after you’ve purchased your ticket. You’ll need to search for available upgrades from the aa.com platform.

No, if you’ve purchased a basic economy fare, you will not be able to upgrade, regardless of your elite status level. The potential for upgrades only begins with main cabin fares.

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80,000 points 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $8,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership

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Advertiser Disclosure
The product offers that appear on this site are from companies from which this website receives compensation.
Top Offers From Our Partners

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Rewards Plan:
1X – 5X 5X points on up to $500,000 spent on directly-booked airfare and flights and prepaid hotels booked through American Express Travel (per calendar year), 2X points on prepaid car rentals through American Express Travel and 1X points on all other purchases
Welcome Bonus:
80,000 points 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $8,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership

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Rewards Plan:
2X – 6X 6 Marriott Bonvoy points for each dollar of eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy™ program, 3 points at Worldwide restaurants and on flights booked directly with airlines and 2 points on all other eligible purchases
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95,000 points 95,000 Marriott Bonvoy bonus points after you use your new Card to make $6,000 in purchases within the first 6 months of Card Membership

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Rewards Plan:
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Welcome Bonus:
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Advertiser Disclosure
The product offers that appear on this site are from companies from which this website receives compensation.
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Rewards Plan:
1X – 5X 5X points on up to $500,000 spent on directly-booked airfare and flights and prepaid hotels booked through American Express Travel (per calendar year), 2X points on prepaid car rentals through American Express Travel and 1X points on all other purchases
Welcome Bonus:
80,000 points 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $8,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership

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Rewards Plan:
2X – 6X 6 Marriott Bonvoy points for each dollar of eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy™ program, 3 points at Worldwide restaurants and on flights booked directly with airlines and 2 points on all other eligible purchases
Welcome Bonus:
95,000 points 95,000 Marriott Bonvoy bonus points after you use your new Card to make $6,000 in purchases within the first 6 months of Card Membership

Amex Delta SkyMiles Platinum card

Rewards Plan:
1X – 3X 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide including takeout and delivery in the U.S., and at U.S. supermarkets and 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases
Welcome Bonus:
50,000 miles 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in your first six months
Advertiser Disclosure
The product offers that appear on this site are from companies from which this website receives compensation.
Picture of Lorraine Smithills

Lorraine Smithills

Lorraine is a freelance finance writer with years of experience in the banking sector and after a successful career in one of the largest retail and commercial financial services providers. She has a passion for helping people with less financial confidence to get control of their money through budgeting, saving, and responsible credit practices.
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Top Offers

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Rewards Plan:
1X – 5X 5X points on up to $500,000 spent on directly-booked airfare and flights and prepaid hotels booked through American Express Travel (per calendar year), 2X points on prepaid car rentals through American Express Travel and 1X points on all other purchases
Welcome Bonus:
80,000 points 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $8,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership

amex brilliant

Rewards Plan:
2X – 6X 6 Marriott Bonvoy points for each dollar of eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy™ program, 3 points at Worldwide restaurants and on flights booked directly with airlines and 2 points on all other eligible purchases
Welcome Bonus:
95,000 points 95,000 Marriott Bonvoy bonus points after you use your new Card to make $6,000 in purchases within the first 6 months of Card Membership

Amex Delta SkyMiles Platinum card

Rewards Plan:
1X – 3X 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide including takeout and delivery in the U.S., and at U.S. supermarkets and 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases
Welcome Bonus:
50,000 miles 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in your first six months
Advertiser Disclosure
The product offers that appear on this site are from companies from which this website receives compensation.
Top Offers From Our Partners

amex platinum

Rewards Plan:
1X – 5X 5X points on up to $500,000 spent on directly-booked airfare and flights and prepaid hotels booked through American Express Travel (per calendar year), 2X points on prepaid car rentals through American Express Travel and 1X points on all other purchases
Welcome Bonus:
80,000 points 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $8,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership

amex brilliant

Rewards Plan:
2X – 6X 6 Marriott Bonvoy points for each dollar of eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy™ program, 3 points at Worldwide restaurants and on flights booked directly with airlines and 2 points on all other eligible purchases
Welcome Bonus:
95,000 points 95,000 Marriott Bonvoy bonus points after you use your new Card to make $6,000 in purchases within the first 6 months of Card Membership

Amex Delta SkyMiles Platinum card

Rewards Plan:
Up to 3x miles 3 miles per $1 spent on United purchases immediately after earning your $125 annual United purchase credit, 2 miles on all other travel and select streaming services, 1 mile on all other purchases
Welcome Bonus:
60,000 miles 60,000 bonus miles + 500 Premier qualifying points (PQP) after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
Advertiser Disclosure
The product offers that appear on this site are from companies from which this website receives compensation.

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