American Airlines used to offer confirmable upgrade space on nearly all domestic flights (other than premium New York JFK – Los Angeles and San Francisco flights). That completely changed at the beginning of January and now using miles or upgrade certificates is nearly impossible even domestically.
Years ago Executive Platinum upgrades — which can be used on any American flight — would confirm into revenue first class inventory. Now you can barely use confirmed upgrades domestically, they aren’t only difficult internationally.
That’s a pretty big devaluation for the AAdvantage program, which still charges cash copays to upgrade domestically even for all elite members other than ConciergeKey members. 15,000 miles and $75 used to upgrade nearly any flight, now they can’t be used for very many flights at all.
It’s also a devaluation of the Business ExtrAA program. I frequently redeem points in American’s small business program for domestic one-segment upgrade certificates. These are valid on most but not all fares, and confirm into the same ‘C’ upgrade inventory as miles or VIP systemwide certificates. (They aren’t valid on B, N, O, Q or S fares.)
I was booking a 4 hour domestic flight where — much to my surprise — there was confirmable upgrade space available. So I decided to plunk down one of my Business ExtrAA certificates. It’s a tougher process than you’d expect.
- The lowest fare for my trip was an S fare. S fares can’t be used with Business ExtrAA upgrade certificates.
- I needed to book a G fare for $45 more.
- I put the cheaper reservation on hold. I was lucky this was offered to me at AA.com, they don’t always offer this option any more which makes the process even more of a pain.
- Then I called up American. They transferred me to the meeting services desk. I needed them to upfare the reservation and then process the upgrade.
Here’s published fares currently on the route.
I wanted the $220 G fare. The agent told me ‘the cheapest eligible fare is…’ the V fare that’s $47 more. Most people would believe what an agent told them. I pushed back, “you aren’t seeing any availability in G?” She stammered and came back with the lower price. She had quoted me a price that was almost fifty bucks too high.
Processing the upgrade for the first time I was asked not just for the certificate type (BXP1) but for the serial number on the certificate. That’s a pain because it suggests they want me to use a specific certificate (I have a stack) with a specific reservation. Usually I just have a couple of these in my wallet, and I might have multiple upgraded reservations at any given time.
At the same time the certificates have become much harder to use, because of lack of upgrade space, they wanted to tie specific certificates to a specific reservation. They must be trying to crack down on some sort of aftermarket in these even though they’re all of a sudden far less valuable.
In the end, meeting services didn’t set up the upgrade correctly so American Airlines didn’t ticket the reservation. I had to call back and sit on hold.
- Use Business ExtrAA certificates when you can, since they’re so much tougher to use than they used to be.
- You may need to have the certificate in hand now, in case the agent insists on inputting the certificate’s serial number.
- Watch out if you are having them adjust your reservation to a higher fare, or sell you a higher fare that’s eligible for the upgrade with these certificates — the agent may not quote you the lowest eligible fare.
- Always be sure you receive a ticketing email from American, I rarely receive email notifications like I did this time when a reservation fails to ticket. The risk is greater on ‘complex’ bookings like this one.