Reciprocal Upgrades – American and US Airways – Part II

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This week, we continue our series on tackling the new reciprocal upgrade policy between American and US Airways.  Today we’ll tackle the topic of US Airways elites upgrading on American Airlines operated flights.

The policy of allowing reciprocal upgrades is still only a couple of months old but it eases some of the pain of adjusting to merger related changes.   Full completion of the integration appears to still be about 18 months out on the horizon but this allows elites to more fully have their status recognized with similar benefits.

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

(Yesterday, in Part I, we discussed how to upgrade on US Airways if you are an American Airlines elite status member.)

First, the disclaimer – it’s been a couple of years since I last held elite status on US Airways so I have not been able to try this personally so I am explaining this from a purely technical standpoint.  I have talked with a few US elite status members who have reported that this has been a bit more difficult from the US to American side than my own experiences in reverse.

How do US Airways elite members get into the pointy end of the plane?

How do US Airways elite members get into the pointy end of the plane?

First, like yesterday’s example with US Airways metal, checking in at the first opportunity (“the 24 hour mark”) is important here.  Set an alarm on your phone so that you can be ready.

On American, if there is an opportunity to upgrade, you will be shown that opportunity on the check in screen (either via, mobile device, or kiosk).

If the opportunity is available, you will be given the opportunity to confirm it for free if you are a US Airways Chairman’s Preferred member.  If you hold Platinum Preferred, Gold Preferred, or Silver Preferred status on Us Airways, you will be given the opportunity to purchase the upgrade for $30 per 500 miles of flying.  This is consistent with American’s existing policy for their mid and low tier elite members who also must purchase upgrades.

There are three major distinctions between upgrading on American metal and upgrading on US metal that I’d like to note as these affect the ability for US members to upgrade they way they are accustomed to on US Airways.

  1. American often does not have open upgrade seats waiting for assignment 24 hours before a flight because the airline allows it’s own elite members to request upgrades when they book their ticket.  They then process those upgrades in advance, beginning at 100 hours from departure for Executive Platinum members.
  2. American only allows domestic coach to first upgrades into X inventory fare buckets.  Those buckets are manually controlled by revenue management so it’s possible to have F seats still for sale but not available for upgrade.  This differs from the ability on US to change to any open F seat in the cabin 24 hours prior to departure.
  3. American does not allow US Airways members to waitlist for the upgrade if it is not available at check-in time.  Their own elite members, however, continue to standby for the upgrade until flight time.  US refers to this in instructions to its elites:  “Upgrades are only offered on a first come, first served basis when premium-class seats are available based on the number of passengers confirmed in the premium class and accommodation of any previously submitted upgrade requests.”

All of this would imply that upgrading for US elite members is more difficult on American than it is for AA elite members on US Airways (who can still waitlist for the upgrade and also can select any open F seat on a first-come, first-served basis).  The FAQ from US Airways is listed below and also seems to convey this assumption in its text.

For US elites who are not able to upgrade at the time of check-in, your best strategy is to get to the airport early and check in with the agents once the flight is released over to airport control (typically three to four hours before departure).  Be certain that the agents know that you are interested in the upgrade and then be in the gate area (not the club, not wandering the concourse) so that you can monitor the status of the exiting upgrade list (which will be displayed on the monitor of airports that use the newer gate area systems).   Unfortunately tools like ExpertFlyer are not very useful here since AA does not make domestic sticker upgrade inventory available to search so its not possible to set alerts for seats otherwise.


Tomorrow in Part III, I’ll discuss what happens when you have flights on both carriers on the same day and same itinerary.

On Friday in Part IV, we’ll wrap up with a comparison between the scenarios and discuss the overall policies including my take on strategies for elites from both airlines when it comes to upgrading.


If you have personal experiences with any of these scenarios (AA elite upgrading on US Airways, US elite upgrading on American Airlines, or either elite upgrading on a hybrid itinerary), I would LOVE to hear from you in the comments so I can address your particular experience.  Please share in the comments below.


Here is the full Q&A on elite upgrades from US Airways’ website:

Q:  What’s changing for Dividend Miles members?

A:  We launched reciprocal elite upgrade benefits. Upgrades on American Airlines operated flights are complimentary for Chairman’s Preferred members. Platinum, Gold and Silver Preferred members can upgrade for $30 per 500 miles of travel (based on American’s existing upgrade policy). Dividend Miles members will continue to be able to upgrade on American marketed, US Airways operated codeshare flights through GoUpgrades. This program is temporary until we combine our programs into a single loyalty program. Learn more at

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

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

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

A:  This is a temporary change while we work to combine our programs. We wanted customers to enjoy the benefits of the merger as soon as possible. Once we have a single loyalty program, we’ll share information about our future upgrade policy and provide ample notice to members.

Q:  How do upgrades on American work?

A:  Preferred members can upgrade on American Airlines operated flights, if seats are available, within and between the U.S. (including Hawaii), Canada, Mexico, the Bahamas, the Caribbean and Bermuda as well as between the U.S. and Central America. You’ll see the option to upgrade when you check in, if seats are available.

Q:  How can I request an upgrade?

A:  If a seat is available, you’ll see the option to upgrade when you check in with American on, mobile web or at the kiosk. We recommend you’re the only passenger booked in your reservation or upgrades may not be offered when you check in. 

Q:  If an upgrade is not available when I check in, can I be added to the airport standby list?

A:  Sorry, Dividend Miles Preferred members cannot be added to the standby list for an upgrade on American.

Q:  How do I check if an upgrade has become available after I check in?

A:  Go to from your computer or mobile device.
– Choose ‘Plan Travel’ from the top menu, then ‘My Trips’ at the top, far right of the screen
– Select ‘Continue Without Logging In’
– Enter your first name, last name and American Airlines record locator*

*If you booked your trip through US Airways, the American Airlines record locator will be listed at the top of the US Airways email receipt as the American Airlines ‘Confirmation code.’

Q:  An agent told me First/Business Class seats are available on my flight. Why can’t they upgrade me before check-in?

A:  The option for Dividend Miles Preferred members to upgrade on American is only available beginning 24 hours before departure (when you can check in) on, at the airport kiosk or with some agents at select airports.

Q:  Are AAdvantage elite status members prioritized over Dividend Miles Preferred members for upgrades?

A:  Just as Dividend Miles Preferred members are able to get upgraded before the day of departure, the same is true for AAdvantage elite status members. The one difference you may notice is that AAdvantage elite status members whose upgrade requests couldn’t be confirmed in advance are automatically moved to the airport standby list at check-in. Unfortunately, we’re unable to add Dividend Miles Preferred members to the standby list for upgrades on American.

Q:  How much do upgrades cost?

A:  Upgrades are complimentary for Chairman’s Preferred members. Platinum, Gold and Silver members can upgrade for $30 per 500 miles of travel (similar to the pricing offered to AAdvantage Gold and Platinum members).

Q:  Is it likely that I’ll get an upgrade?

A:  Upgrades are based on availability at check-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 will have less availability for upgrades at the time of check-in.

Q:  If I’m Chairman’s Preferred, do I have priority over other elite members?

A:  If an AAdvantage or Dividend Miles lower tier member checks in first, he or she may be granted the upgrade first.

This program is temporary until we combine our programs into a single loyalty program.

Q:  Do I have to include my Dividend Miles number in my reservation (and therefore earn Dividend miles) to be considered for an upgrade on American?

A:  Yes, you must include your Dividend Miles number in the reservation to be recognized and offered an upgrade.

Q:  What if my trip includes travel on both US Airways and American?

A:  If you’re a Preferred member checking in with US Airways for your first flight and connecting to an American flight, you can check or go to an American kiosk to see if an upgrade is available.

Q:  If I’m a Preferred member traveling with a companion, can he or she get upgraded too?

A:  On American-operated flights, companions will be charged the standard day-of-departure upgrade price. We recommend you are the only passenger in your reservation for the best chance of getting upgraded. If not, upgrades may not be made available.

Are you Chairman’s Preferred, booked on a flight marketed/operated by American and traveling with Platinum, Gold or Silver Preferred members?

We recommend you check in individually, apart from the others in your party, so the upgrade can be displayed at check-in. If you’ve already checked in, please see an airport agent for help.

Are you on an American marketed/operated flight, and all passengers in your reservation are Chairman’s Preferred, or everyone is Silver, Gold or Platinum Preferred?

If upgrades are available, they will be displayed for everyone in your party at check-in. To confirm the upgrades, all parties must accept the upgrade at check-in.

Did you book an American operated flight marketed by US Airways?

This is considered a codeshare flight. Everyone in the reservation must be Chairman’s Preferred, or all must be Silver, Gold or Platinum Preferred for upgrades to be displayed at check-in. For future travel, we suggest you book as a single passenger.

Q:  Will this new upgrade option impact the ability for current Dividend Miles members to upgrade on US Airways-operated flights?

A:  We attempt to confirm upgrades for Preferred members on US Airways operated flights as early as possible. Although it’s possible that an upgrade seat may be granted to a non-elite member at check-in, Preferred members can be added to the airport upgrade standby list for US Airways flights if upgrade seats are not available at check-in. If upgrade seats are available, they will be confirmed in priority order, based on the member’s elite status level and check-in time.

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. Thanks for the updates. Have a trip in October booked via AA, but on US Airways. Verified yesterday that the Citi AAdvantage benefits do not reciprocate on US Airways (and the US Airways card does not reciprocate to AA). Looks like most of the areas they are integrating so far are areas that benefit them and not the consumer.

    • I think you hit the nail on the head. A lot of the changes in the merger are not about “us”. They are about making an efficient airline that turns a profit!

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