Reciprocal Upgrades – American and US Airways – Part IV

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This is the last part of a four-part series on reciprocal upgrades between American Airlines and US Airways.

In Part I, we discussed how American’s elite status members can upgrade on US Airways metal.

In Part II, we reviewed how US Airways’ elite status members can upgrade on American metal.

In Part III, we reviewed how upgrades work when elites have flights on both carriers on the same day.

Today we’ll talk about some of the challenges elite flyers have faced so far and what strategies flyers should take to ensure their best chance at an upgrade.

To this point, we’ve been talking about the ideals and the “should be” scenarios.  The actual experiences from top-tier flyers on both airlines are all over the map.

I have heard more success stories of American Executive Platinum  members obtaining upgrades on US Airways metal than I have of US Chairman’s Preferred members obtaining upgrades on American.  This may largely be attributed to a difference in how the upgrade systems work for these.

On US Airways, most (if not all) first class seats are released for upgrades at the 24 hour check-in mark.  Because of this, elites who check in as quickly as they can after that 24 hour window opens are going to have the best chance of success with an upgrade.  This “free for all” system puts the priority on check-in time NOT status so whoever checks in first at that point has the best chance if seats are open.  (This also means that a lower status member can trump a top-tier member at this point in the process!)  If the upgrade is not available, members can waitlist for the upgrade and will be paired on the priority list by status tier (with AA and US elites matched by comparable OneWorld status grouping) and then within that status priority, listed in order of check in time.  Please note the common theme – check in time is important!!!  Also keep in mind that US Airways is still offering their own elites advance upgrades through their normal Dividend Miles program so US elites still have a slight edge.

On American, first class seats are also released in advance to status members of the AAdvantage program starting at 100 hour for Executive Platinum members.  US Airways elites may begin requesting an open seat at the 24 hour mark (check-in), but it’s important to note that there will only be seats open if American has already processed their own upgrade waiting list of all of their elite status members.  There is also NO way at this time for Dividend Miles elite members to be added to this wait list, so reciprocal upgrades will logically be more difficult to obtain as they will fall behind all other waiting AAdvantage members.

On US Airways, elites are reporting mixed measures of success with reciprocal upgrades. As I mentioned in Part I, I was successful at upgrading all three of my US Airways flights (booked on at the 24 hour mark a couple of weeks ago.  Other American elites are reporting that they are having difficultly requesting the upgrade at the 24 hour mark because their AAdvantage number is not carrying over to the reservation.

I talked to two different Executive Platinum members yesterday who were having difficulties obtaining an upgrade where the US Airways agents at the counter were unable to help them or process the upgrade on a complimentary basis, even with seats available – this is a possible systems issue and travelers need to be aware that it could affect them.  (One had booked the flight on and then called to have his AAdvantage number added. The other had booked through a corporate travel department.)

At BWI on August 7, one Executive Platinum worked with an agent who continued to get system prompts to charge for an upgrade and reflected his EXP status incorrectly.

At BWI on August 7, one Executive Platinum worked with an agent who continued to get system prompts to charge for an upgrade and reflected his EXP status incorrectly.

If you are booking an AAdvantage elite booking a US Airways flight, your best course of booking is to book it yourself via so that data translates over.  If you cannot do that, it is important that you make a note of both your AA record locator and your separate US record locator.  The second locator is what will be required to check-in online with US Airways to switch to an available first seat at the 24 hour mark.

If you are a US Airways elite booking an American flight, it becomes critical to pay attention to flight loads if an upgrade is important to you.  Several US Airways elites reported that they have had little success in upgrading on American flights so far, with some noting that the gate agents have told them that they won’t even look as long as there is a wait list of AA elites.  The best strategy for US elites who want to have the best chance of upgrading, it seems, is to stay on US metal until there is further integration of the programs.

While it’s not possible to know before the airport resumes control of a flight just how many elites are waiting for an upgrade, paying attention to the overall flight loads is important.  You will stand a better chance of getting upgraded on a lighter load flight than you will on an elite heavy route (like DFW-ORD on Monday mornings or Thursday evenings where it’s common to find a couple dozen Executive Platinums sitting in coach!)  If you are flying at top tier levels, you really need a subscription to a service like ExpertFlyer so you can check passenger loads yourself!

For travelers who are on itineraries with other passengers, there are specific instructions from each airline pertaining to multi-passenger upgrade requests.  I have not tackled these in this series, but if you are interested, I’ve included the full airline FAQs at the bottom of Part I (AA elites on US) and Part II (US elites on AA) so that you can read additional instructions that pertain to your scenario.

And it’s worth mentioning that if a first class seat is of critical importance for your flight, sometimes buying up to first is going to be your best bet for ensuring that you get that seat, not reciprocal upgrades!


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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. As a lowly AA GLD, I’ve had great luck upgrading my US flights since this went into effect. I think of 4 flights, I had 2 upgraded at check-in, 1 upgraded online later, and 1 that didn’t clear. These were all single segment trips, and the process was flawless.

    But on the one that cleared later, I checked in right at T-24, and I was the only person on the upgrade waitlist, When I last checked the waitlist the next day, maybe 9 hours before departure, I was showing as #1 of 10. Now, I suppose it’s possible that all 9 people below me were also AA GLD (not PLT or EXP), it left me suspicious that the waitlist is ordered only by check-in time, and not by status.

    Of course, since any elite can grab an F seat inside of 24 hours if they notice that one has opened, it’s probably pretty rare that US clears anyone off the waitlist, except if there’s the rare F no-show, so the waitlist order may not matter much…

    • That’s a interesting data point. I think there will be a lot of anomalies as this integration continues forward – it certainly happened during the UA/CO merger!

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