BREAKING: American and US Airways Begin Reciprocal Upgrades This Week. Here’s How It Will Work!

About a week and a half ago I reported that American and US Airways would begin offering each others’ elite frequent flyers upgrades within 24 hours of departure starting June 11.

Now they’ve confirmed it, and the program will indeed start on Wednesday to allow US Airways frequent flyers to upgrade on American flights, and American’s elite frequent flyers to upgrade on US Airways flights.

  • Upgrades are available within 24 hours of departure, when the check-in window opens.

  • US Airways Chairmans Preferred (100,000 mile flyer) elites will get their upgrades complimentary. Silvers, Golds, and Platinums looking to upgrade on American will have to buy stickers to do so, just like American Gold and Platinum members do.

  • American elites looking to upgrade on US Airways will get theirs complimentary, like all US Airways elites have.

  • These upgrades are available on North America flights (including “Canada, Mexico, the Bahamas, the Caribbean, Bermuda and Central America”). Upgrades on US Airways exclude Hawaii, while upgrades on American include Hawaii.

  • If a seat is not available on US Airways at check-in, American elites can add themselves to the upgrade standby list. Their status will be treated the same as comparable US elites (So American Executive Platinums are grouped with US Chairman members, etc). Waitlisting will not be an option for US Airways elites flying American.

These are interesting differences and stem from the way these are being processed.

They’re using the Load Factor Based Upgrade (“LFBU”) process. Check-in upgrades are first come first serve meaning no prioritization based on status.

The upshot:

  • US Airways elites only get to upgrade on American when they would otherwise be offered a paid upgrade at check-in as a non-elite, and they get to pay for upgrade stickers. They also don’t get to waitlist. So not much of a new benefit for US Airways elites.

  • American elites get to upgrade free when they could otherwise pay at checkin, and they get to waitlist when their US Airways upgrades aren’t available. I will find this very useful for the flights I’ve been taking US Airways for, anyway like the New York – Washington DC Shuttle where I find paid upgrade offers more often than not when I check in.

American only offers the ‘LFBU’ when they expect to accommodate all waitlisted American elites, so all American elites should almost always come before US elites have a shot.

US Airways offers all seats for upgrade within the check-in window, this means American elites won’t have to pay the buy up cost. And US Airways seat buy ups are available even when traveling on award tickets. That should continue to be the case.

Upgrades on Awards When Flying US Airways?

I’ll test it soon enough, US Airways generally offers me paid seat upgrades at check-in on my 4500 point British Airways Avios awards, New York – DC.

I wonder if these will become free, since the same process is being used (first class seat available, offer it for sale, add-on check elite status and offer it for free).

American explicitly says though that day of departure upgrades on US Airways on award tickets won’t be available.

No Further Upgrade Changes Until the Programs Integrate

I spoke with American AAdvantage President Suzanne Rubin about the new upgrade benefits and learned that there will not be any further upgrade improvements until the programs combine sometime in 2015.

They have no plans for status match across carriers, and while they’re committing to integrate the programs in 2015 there’s no specific date set.

The new upgrade opportunities are “built to run on same rails” that already exist at each carrier. It’s the most efficient way to offer the important upgrade benefit to elites. And they plan what’s next to be integration of the airlines where elites will all be part of the same program and on the same footing within their respective status tiers.


About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. @pablo – these upgrades will only be available to American elites at check-in (and are already available on a buy up basis to non-elites and to American elites) so really shouldn’t impact US Airways elites on US Airways flights most of the time.

  2. How will the AA upgrade purchase process work for US elites? Have they made the IT change on the US side to store an upgrade balance on the account? Or are the upgrades only available for purchase at the time the upgrade is requested/cleared?

  3. Gary — I am wondering how you interpret the language about EQM combination. Several months ago you were pretty bullish on the 10k US EQM for 25k spend on the US card counting toward combined status next year, and vice versa with the 40k spend on the American card. Curious if that is still your view. The language in today’s email from US makes it seem less likely. It would be nice to know, with this new upgrade news. Having status on both, I sure would like to be able to pick and choose which number I fly with.

  4. @E – since we expect programs to combine *sometime in* 2015, I would expect 2014 eqm’s won’t get combined. But we have to wait until the date certain is set to really know for sure.

  5. @Larry it does seem less likely that they’ll combine. That really surprises me. But it’s also dependent on the calendar. As the date of integration gets pushed the logic of combining 2014 eqm’s lessens.

  6. @steve s – i would be surprised if that functionality gets added before the airlines combine. Technically this would be tough, as American would be re-issuing tickets for upgrade on US Airways.

  7. @Larry,
    Gary has been pretty incorrect about his speculations about the Barclay Usairways card from the beginning. The 10k eqm is another speculation likely to be incorrect. As an eternal point optimist (any point is better than a hole in the head), you should alway be congnisant of Gary’s mindset.

  8. Seems like a reasonable approach to me, respecting the existing members (not displacing them with the other program’s members) while allowing members from the new program to possibly reap some benefit as well. Of course, the real outcome is going to depend on what sort of inventory games they play, but we’ll see how it pans out. Looks good on paper.

  9. @ABC what are you referring to in my being “pretty incorrect about [..] speculations about the Barclay Usairways card from the beginning.” ?

    I said form the beginning that Citibank would get to be the issuer of the American co-brand card and that’s correct. I shared details of the Barclays US Airways contract but flagged that termination provisions were blacked out. And that BofA got to continue servicing the US Airways card even after Barclays became sole issuer.

    I think my speculations have been largely right here, and I was one of the first talking about how Barclays would get to keep servicing existing cardholders but — as I had predicted — Citi would win out as sole issuer.

    I’m sure there’s a nuance or two if you go back to speculative posts a full year ago that didn’t turn out 100%, but that’s what speculating is. I think I’ve been largely right on the Barclays-issued US Airways card.

    The ability to spend $25k on the Barclays card in 2014, though, and earn 10k eqm which would then count towards 2015 status is something I expected 4-5 months back. That was based on a bet of Feb/March integration of the airlines, drawing on how other airline mergers (HP/US, DL/NW, AA/US) have gone. AA/US isn’t following the same path that others did, they say they’ve got a harder road here because they weren’t already partners with US Airways.

  10. not combining RDM until 2015 is a minor inconvenience

    not combining EQM for any activity in 2014 is absolutely horrific. many people have accrued separate EQMs under the assumption they would be unified, and now their plans are all in jeopardy.

  11. People complaining about combining EQM, humor me – what is so difficult about putting in your AA number for US flights or vice versa to get the miles in the program of your choosing? It’s been working pretty well for me…what am I missing?

  12. @CW just a question of whether it’s possible to double dip on the 10k elite qualifying miles from both the citi executive card and the us airways mastercard from spending $40k and $25k on each respectively.

  13. CW — The credit card EQM are one thing, but there are other reasons I would prefer to book my flights on AA using my AAdvantage number and my flights on US using my US number. I am gold with AA. If I credit AA metal flights to US, for example, I cannot use my stickers to upgrade on AA. Similarly, I am close to mm thresholds, but if I use my US number on AA flights, I don’t get mm credit, whereas I would if I used my AA number. Conversely, if I don’t use my US number on US metal, I don’t get upgrades. Finally, there are differences in how EQM are accumulated in each program for paid premium cabins, with US using an EQM model and AA using a points model, even for flights on the other’s metal, which means you get caught in the switches.

  14. Larry, thanks for the detail on that. I was coming from the perspective of someone who was previously active in only one of the two programs, and the assumption that most people fell into that category. But your points are very well taken for people who used to split between AA and US. Though they wouldn’t have gained any more status in either respective program back then than they will now, so i suppose nothing was lost…

  15. CW — good point. It’s more a missed opportunity. But no worse off than last year, that’s true.

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