I’ve made no secret of the special place AAdvantage holds in my heart. I fly Delta almost exclusively nowadays, and while I think Delta is a great airline, and operationally the best in the USA, AAdvantage is a program I cannot break up with completely. One of my favorite features of AAdvantage is the way they handle upgrades for elite fliers. Top tier elites receive unlimited complimentary domestic upgrades, but everyone else has to earn upgrade credits, or buy them by 500 mile increment.

While I may be in the minority of opinion on this, I think the benefits of such a system outweigh any positives that might be attained from moving to unlimited upgrades for all. We all have different needs and wants when it comes to our travels, and under an “earned upgrade” system, travelers will only request upgrades they truly care about, meaning lower level elites have an honest shot at more upgrades.

I was actually working for American when the decision was made to move Executive Platinum members to an unlimited upgrade system. If I recall correctly, the theory at the time was that our most frequent fliers were a little upset that other airlines had move to a complimentary system. That was not feedback any of those folks ever shared with me, but I suppose it’s possible in a “grass is always greener” sort of way. When the decision was presented to employees, it came with the caveat that moving all elite tiers to such a system was very costly from a revenue perspective. In short, the airline was actually making some money on upgrade credit sales.

Now that new American has arrived, the consensus opinion is that AAdvantage will move to the same system as the other airlines, especially because US Airways has such a system. While it’s certainly possible, perhaps even likely, I have to wonder if the new American’s, “new” accountants will see things that way? I think we can all mostly agree that among the big domestic airlines, American’s first class catering is a cut above. More meals/snacks on more flights, and a bit better quality too. That doesn’t come without a cost. Revenue does matter, and you can bet there’s a big accounting exercise going on right now. I vote for keeping the current AAdvantage upgrade system. I hope the accountants agree with me.

-MJ, June 2, 2014