American Airlines 'increasingly aggressive' with upgrade offers

There has been a lot of discussion recently about plans and deals airlines are offering passengers.

Some of the news has involved controversial decisions the carriers have made.

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For example, Delta Air Lines  (DAL) – Get Free Report made some changes to its SkyMiles program in September that were widely criticized.

Specifically, Delta had tried to reduce access to its airport lounges by limiting the number of visits to them its passengers could make. It also took away lounge privileges that were linked to its SkyMiles Platinum American Express card.

Delta eventually responded to the criticism and softened the access requirements it had intended to implement.

Alaska Airlines  (ALK) – Get Free Report had already made clear that it was offering SkyMiles customers a good match deal to join its loyalty program.

For its part, JetBlue  (JBLU) – Get Free Report made overtures to SkyMiles customers by offering them upgrades as well.

Southwest Airlines  (LUV) – Get Free Report updated its Rapid Rewards program to entice more travelers to participate.

And American Airlines  (AAL) – Get Free Report announced a new program it said will benefit both businesses and the people who travel for them, called AAdvantage Business.

An American Airlines Boing 777-300 wide-body aircraft is seen on final approach for landing at London Heathrow International Airport. (Photo by Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

NurPhoto/Getty Images

American Airlines promotes cash upgrade offers

In addition to boosting its business travel plan, American has also been emphasizing offers for its passengers to pay cash for upgrades.

“American Airlines seems to be getting increasingly aggressive about selling upgrades for cash after booking, including to elite members who are on the upgrade waitlist,” wrote Ben Schlappig of One Mile At a Time. 

Often, American has upgrade offers available any time after a traveler books a ticket and before the flight.

These offers are inconsistent and vary between flights. Schlappig explains the two ways travelers can see the applicable upgrade offers.

“You can log into the American Airlines app and open your itinerary; refresh the itinerary and then wait about 15 seconds, and you may see an upgrade offer pop up at the top of the screen, where it will say ‘upgrade your flight starting from $X,'” he wrote. Or, “you can log into your reservation on, and at the bottom of the screen you may see a section with upgrade offers; again, it can take a short while for an upgrade offer to populate, so you’ll want to keep the page open for a bit.”

American will sometimes email its customers upgrade offers as well.

“In some cases, the upgrade price will be the difference between the fare you paid, and the fare for the premium cabin you’re trying to upgrade to,” Schlappig wrote. “In other cases, the upgrade price will represent a massive discount over the fare difference between the two cabins, even if you upgrade minutes after booking your ticket.”

The upgrade offers are a matter of controversy

A number of American’s loyalty program members are not happy how the cash upgrades are being implemented.

“Many elite members find that their upgrades aren’t clearing in advance, but instead they’re being offered cheap buy-up deals in the days prior to departure,” Schlappig wrote. “As you’d expect, upgrades are a zero-sum game, and a particular plane only has so many premium seats.”

“So rather than offering elite members the space available upgrades that they hope for, airlines are instead doing what they can to get those people to buy upgrades instead,” he continued. “It of course makes one wonder why they should even bother being loyal, since upgrades are one of the main perks of elite status.”

The practice of select customers being targeted for upgrades after booking seems to be on the rise at American.

“The pricing and availability of this varies significantly, but in many cases I’m noticing pricing that’s more attractive than ever before,” Schlappig wrote.

“While being able to guarantee an upgrade could be a good deal, this is a double-edged sword, as it makes it tougher to score a complimentary upgrade,”  he added.

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