Posted by: pizzainmotion | May 5, 2013

American Airlines Testing Out New Paid Domestic Upgrades To First Class?

I was working on a reservation last night just like I normally do on  After selecting my flights, I continued to the screen where I could select seats and request upgrades.  I immediately thought I had been transported to the land of United Airlines.

See, United has been selling upgrades at time of booking for as long as I’ve been traveling them regularly (about 2 years).  And, they do a pretty poor job of pricing them.  As an elite who is supposed to be on that upgrade list I’m always frustrated when they price those upgrades at $500 and above.  I’ve been a part of discussions with folks at United when they’re asked why the pricing seems to be higher for elites than the casual flier.  They claim it’s a glitch, but it seems to be a glitch they’re in no hurry to fix.

While I have an official sample size of one, the offer American pitched me last night didn’t seem unreasonable.

Screen Shot 2013-05-04 at 10.48.55 PM


Let’s break down the value here real quick (best we can, at least).  This was for a trip to New Orleans (MSY), so my routing was IAD-DFW-MSY-DFW-IAD.  Let’s just say I was a Gold or Platinum member of AAdvantage.  f I had to go purchase stickers at $30 a clip, this itinerary would cost $180 (6 stickers).  I’d get most of the other amenities on the list if I was an elite, but 25%-50% more miles adds a bit of value here as well.  25% more miles would be 836 including elite minimums, which I would value at roughly $16.  50% more miles would be worth roughly $32.  I couldn’t find any T&C link to explain how many bonus miles I’d receive with this offer, so that’s a bit of a gray area.

Let’s call it $200 in value for the price of the stickers and roughly $20 worth of extra miles.  Is it worth it to pay an extra $70 to secure your upgrades up front?  As an Executive Platinum member with a virtually 100% upgrade rate over the past 4 years it’s certainly not.  But, I see two scenarios where this can be extremely valuable at these prices:

1.  Lower elites/non-elites booking flights.  Assuming these prices scale with distance in a reasonable fashion, I’ve always felt the 500-mile upgrades were an affordable way for lower tier elites to score upgrades at a high percentage with American.  At these prices, you’re essentially paying a bit more to guarantee you get that “sticker” upgrade.

2.  If American did start selling a lot more F seats this way, I could see myself considering this option on longer transcontinental flights.  For example, IAD-LAX is a tougher upgrade for me to get.  I clear my upgrades regularly on that flight, but almost always within 24 hours of departing or at the airport.

As I said earlier, I have virtually no data on this, so my assumptions are based on one occurrence.  I tried to get this to pop up again this morning but 3 test itineraries didn’t yield any joy.  I’m excited/nervous to see what happens next.

Has anyone else seen this yet?

I’ve never seen this on before.


  1. I’ve seen it regularly. It shows the difference in fare between Y and F, giving the passenger one last chance to book F (and does the math on the difference in fare for them).

    • John, it may have been the difference between Y (full fare coach) and F, I didn’t take notice of that. But the fare I had priced was a deep discount coach fare. The spread between my fare and an F fare was over $700.

      This pricing seemed a lot more reasonable versus UA, where the number is generally almost the difference between a deep-discount coach and F fare.

  2. United seems to be getting better at pricing. Looking at the latest data from DidItClear for DEN-ORD for example (, we have quite a few reports of $109, $266 and $408 upgrades for 1K members. For a transcon, e.g. SFO-ORD (, Gold members have reported $249 and $269 upgrades. Interesting to see American is jumping into that game as well. The days of guaranteed 100% success rate for Ex. Plat. may soon be over…

    • No question one of the first thoughts in my mind when I saw this was my puny UA upgrade percentage and a foreshadowing of things to come on AA.

  3. […] of TODs, Edward's post about AA paid upgrades (…o-first-class/) made me start digging into the data. I was pleasantly surprised about the amount of ToD reports we […]

  4. […] post about AA paid upgrades (…) made me start digging into our data. As you may have noticed, there is a section ToD / Buy-up […]

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