Reciprocal Upgrades – American and US Airways – Part I

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Many of us who regularly fly on American or US Airways are experiencing the aftereffects of route consolidation so that flights we are accustomed to on US Airways may now be operated solely by American.  Or likewise, we may find ourselves on US Airways flights because they are still underpricing American on many routes (at least out of DFW, where I fly from).  The pain of changing livery is being eased by a policy on reciprocal upgrades that was quietly rolled out during the 2nd quarter.

Reciprocal upgrading for AA EXPs on US Airways is not too difficult.

Reciprocal upgrading for AA EXPs on US Airways is not too difficult.

Reciprocal upgrades are one of the bright spots in the progress of the merger – and good news for elites since the finalization of the integration appears to still be about 18 months out on the horizon (at least according to statements from the team on their Q2 earnings call).  Under this program, elite flyers from one airline can now have the opportunity to upgrade on the other carrier if they follow specific steps to try to secure the upgrade.

In this post, I’ll cover how to upgrade on US Airways if you are an American AAdvantage elite status member.

I had the opportunity to try this out a couple of weeks ago when I had my first US Airways flights since the announcement.

Upgrades for American elites on US Airways can only be requested 24 hours before the flight, so it’s important to set a reminder alarm to check in at that time.  Timing is critical as any elite status member can request an upgrade at this point – status does not play a role as long as there are open seats for check in!!!

Once you are in the check in screen, you will select the option to “change your seat”.  At this point (exactly 24 hours out), the first class seats will show up on the seat map.  If one is available, you can click on it to select the upgrade.

At the 24 hour mark, you will see the seat maps for first class when you attempt to change your seat.

At the 24 hour mark, you will see the seat maps for first class when you attempt to change your seat.

Once you have selected the new first class seat, a confirmation box will pop up to be certain you want to change your seat.  The cost of these upgrades for elite members is $0 as US Airways presently offers free space-available upgrades for all elites in their program.

Do I want to upgrade?!  Um... yes!!!

Do I want to upgrade?! Um… yes!!!

Once that is confirmed, you will receive confirmation of the upgrade.  If you have a connecting flight on the reservation, you will need to check back at 24 hours for that flight.  Also, if the upgrade is not available at check in, you can add yourself to an upgrade standby list.  AAdvantage members will be classified in the same grouping as the equivalent Dividend Miles status (so Executive Platinum members and Chairman’s Preferred members will be classified the same).

The upgrade is now confirmed and the new seat assignment appears in the reservation.

The upgrade is now confirmed and the new seat assignment appears in the reservation.

Once you are at the airport, if you are already upgraded, board with first class and enjoy your flight and count how many times that the US Airways flight attendant passes the snack basket!

If you are still standing by, you will follow the same priority that other members do – if you are close to the top of the list, it’s always advisable to check in with the gate agent before boarding to ask whether first class has checked in (or boarded) full.

My 767 seat from Orlando to Charlotte was a nice break from a coach cabin.

Tomorrow, I’ll cover how the process works in reverse for US Airways Dividend Miles members upgrading on American flights.

On Thursday, we’ll talk about how to tackle hybrid itineraries with flights on both airlines.

On Friday, we’ll wrap up with a comparison of the scenarios and strategies for flyers of both airlines.


Here is the full Q&A on elite upgrades from American’s website:

Q: Is anything changing regarding current upgrade policies for AAdvantage members traveling on American or Dividend Miles members traveling on US Airways?

A: No, all current policies for loyalty members traveling on their respective airlines will stay the same.

Q: Dividend Miles elite status members receive complimentary upgrades for most domestic flights on US Airways. Will American follow suit?

A: American and US Airways will each maintain their separate loyalty programs at this time – AAdvantage and Dividend Miles. Decisions about upgrade policies will be determined at a future date. We will provide ample notice for any decisions that impact members.

Q: Are these the only changes to the upgrade policy moving forward?

A: This new upgrade option is being provided until we fully integrate our programs. Once we have a single loyalty program in place, we will provide additional information regarding our future upgrade policy.

Q: How does this new upgrade option work?

A: For travel on or after June 11, AAdvantage elite status members will have the ability to upgrade at no charge when traveling on US Airways-operated flights, if seats are available, within and between the U.S. (excluding Hawaii), Canada, Mexico, the Bahamas, the Caribbean and Bermuda as well as between the U.S. and Central America. Upgrades can be secured at check-in as early as 24 hours prior to departure and are offered on a first come, first-served basis. If a seat is not available, elite status members can choose to add themselves to the upgrade standby list at check-in. (Available for single passenger reservations only.) AAdvantage elite status members will be prioritized on the upgrade standby list based on their tier status and check-in time as follows: Executive Platinum members and Dividend Miles Chairman’s Preferred members will be prioritized the same; AAdvantage Platinum members will be prioritized in conjunction with Dividend Miles Platinum and Gold Preferred members; AAdvantage Gold members and Dividend Miles Silver members will be prioritized the same.

When traveling on US Airways marketed, American Airlines-operated codeshare flights in the current 500-mile upgrade markets, upgrades can be secured in a similar fashion. They will be offered at check-in as early as 24 hours prior to departure, on a first come, first-served basis. If an upgrade is not available, there is not currently an option to add you to the airport standby list for codeshare flights.

Q: How can I request one of these upgrades?

A: If available, upgrades will be offered at check-in via all US Airways check-in channels:, US Airways app, US Airways mobile website, self-service kiosk, US Airways airport agent or a US Airways club agent on a first come, first-served basis. To secure an upgrade, all travelers in the reservation will need to agree to the upgrade options presented at check-in.

Q: Can an elite member request an upgrade after check-in?

A: Yes, US Airways airport/Club agents can offer an upgrade after check-in if seats are available. If seats are not available, the option to be added to the standby list is offered for single passenger reservations only and is prioritized based on tier status and check-in time.

Q: How much do these upgrades cost?

A: For AAdvantage elite status members upgrading on US Airways-operated flights, the upgrades are complimentary, as they are for Dividend Miles elite status members.

Q: What is the likelihood of my being offered an upgrade through this new option?

A: This is a first come, first-served upgrade option and is strictly based on upgrade availability at the time of check-in. In markets where we have a high number of purchased First or Business Class travel, or where elite status members of each carrier’s own loyalty program are upgraded in advance, customers will have less availability for upgrades at the time of check-in.

Q: If I’m Executive Platinum in the AAdvantage program, do I have priority over lower tier members?

A: These upgrades are offered on a first come, first-served basis. If an AAdvantage lower tier member checks in before an Executive Platinum member, they may be granted the upgrade first.

Q: Do I need to include my AAdvantage number in my reservation in order to qualify for an upgrade?

A: Yes, it is a requirement that AAdvantage elite customers include their AAdvantage number in the reservation to be recognized and offered an upgrade.

Q: What if my reservation includes a combination of travel on American and US Airways-operated flights?

A: In the case of a mixed itinerary where the AAdvantage elite member is checking in with American for the first flight and connecting to a US Airways flight, the customer would need to see a US Airways airport agent for an upgrade on US.

Q: Can elite status members still obtain upgrades for companions under this option?

A: Yes, a single companion traveling in the same reservation with an AAdvantage elite status member will be eligible to receive a complimentary upgrade. Additional companions pay the standard GoUpgrades price.

In order to make the upgrade process as seamless as possible, we recommend members are booked in a single passenger reservation. If not, upgrades may not be made available. If you are not in a single passenger reservation, please see which scenario fits your itinerary below and we’ll do our best to assist you.

Q: If I am booked in a reservation with AAdvantage elite status members who are upgrading on US Airways-marketed, American-operated codeshare flights, how can we receive upgrades?

A: If you are booked in a multiple passenger reservation, and all parties in your reservation are Executive Platinum members, available upgrades will be displayed at check-in for all members of your party. In order for the upgrades to be confirmed, all parties must accept the upgrade at check-in.

If you are booked in a multiple passenger reservation, and all parties in your reservation are either AAdvantage Platinum or Gold members, available upgrades will be displayed for all members of your party at check-in. In order for the upgrades to be confirmed, all parties must accept the upgrade at check-in.

Q: If I am booked in a multiple passenger reservation with a mixture of Executive Platinum and lower tier AAdvantage members on a US Airways-marketed, American-operated codeshare flight, how can we receive upgrades?

A: In order to offer an upgrade on a codeshare flight, all passengers in the reservation must be eligible for the same price point. In this case, no upgrade option can be offered. For future travel on codeshare flights, it is recommended that you book a reservation as a single passenger in order to be eligible to upgrade.

Q: Why did you decide to offer this upgrade option?

A: Although we have a lot of work ahead of us to combine our loyalty programs, we know reciprocal upgrades are one of the most valued benefits for our elite members at both airlines and want to provide elite status members with improved upgrade benefits as we continue integrating our loyalty programs.

Q: Will this new upgrade option impact the ability for current AAdvantage elite status members to upgrade on American Airlines-operated flights?

A: We currently account for any AAdvantage elite status members awaiting an upgrade before offering upgrades to other customers at check-in, which will remain the same.

About Jennifer Moody

Jennifer is a management consultant and avid volunteer. Her career and volunteer duty travels have helped her log top-tier airline and hotel status annually for the last nineteen years. In addition, she embraces the opportunity to maximize her vacation time by planning extracurricular trips that have taken her to over 60 countries and 48.5 US states. Once an "every week" road warrior, she now only travels around 100 days a year. She resides in her native Fort Worth, Texas where she enjoys cooking, gardening, sewing, needlepoint, wine, and playing with her Border Collie/Great Pyreness mix puppy Harley Quinn.

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  1. The system doesn’t work well for those of us in cities served by American Eagle. I booked on U.S. Air a few months ago. When I went to check in, U.S. Air said I couldn’t check in because my first flight was on American (even though it was a codeshare). American wouldn’t let me put in for upgrades since the flights were on U.S. Air.

    They made up for it, though, by bumping me to business class from Madrid to Charlotte… I got over my mad!

    • You are correct. I’m going to cover the hybrid itineraries (and what to consider when booking) in Part III on Thursday. The new upgrade policy just went into effect in mid-June though so it wouldn’t have worked a few months ago either. But YAY on that business class free upgrade Transatlantic. Those are rare these days!!!

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