Yesterday, I wrote a post on why I’m going against the conventional wisdom and believing that the current American Airlines AAdvantage elite upgrade process has a fighting chance to survive the merger between AA and US Airways. Flyers were pretty much on one side or the other with very little “splitting the difference.” So far, the results of my reader poll show that the majority (sample size of a whopping 153 at the moment) prefer the AA system.

One reader offered a great comment from the perspective of someone from the US Airways side:

“I’m a US Gold and for my type of flying, I’d hate to see the AA system adopted for upgrades. I fly a lot of sub-500mi flights, lots of connections to small cities. I get upgraded on these flights almost every time. If I was under the AA system, I’d hate to burn any stickers for the little flights, but the constant relegation to coach on the RJs would be tough.”

And another reader offered a thoughtful comment from the perspective of a flyer who moved to United and their “comp” system from AA:

“Having gone from 500 milers to unlimited on United, I much prefer the “sticker” method. It gives the flyer the opportunity to decide when an upgrade is worth it and doesn’t cause inflated expectations. One thing is for certain: if AA goes unlimited, the US lower tiers are in for a shock when they NEVER get upgraded anymore. That’s just the nature of mega-airlines, until they pull the “thin the herd” garbage that DL and UA have done.”

The “US lower tiers are in for a shock when they never get upgraded anymore” comment is something I want to focus on. In my opinion, the beauty of the current AA system is that the need to actually “fund” the upgrade with something means that the lower tier flyers are more choosey about which flights they seek to upgrade. Speaking from experience as both a US Silver and Gold most recently, I found my upgrade percentages to be higher with US Airways than they were with Delta at equivalent tiers. Now that AA and US are merging, I think it is inevitable that there are going to be a higher number of elites at all tiers. As the networks begin to mesh into one very large network, it isn’t going to be just the old US flyers flying from Charlotte to wherever anymore. Traffic will begin to crossflow (is that a word?) throughout the new combined network. Those upgrade lists are likely going to get a lot longer, and I think that legacy US lower tier elites are more likely to find themselves in coach more often.

In the end, I’ll still fly the airline no matter which way they go with this, but the upgrade process is one of those things that I am most curious to see settled. The new management team has access to the numbers and other data now. I don’t know what the data says, and I don’t know if there is evidence out there that big money corporate travelers prefer one way or the other. It will be interesting to watch the details of the new AAdvantage program come together.

-MJ, August 15, 2014