• Should I use my miles for an award? / How much is an AAdvantage mile worth?
There are widely varying thoughts on this question, with no single correct answer. When deciding whether or not to redeem AAdvantage miles for an award, a commonly cited value is 1¢ per mile, although some use 2¢ or 3¢. Indeed, much higher redemption values are often possible when redeeming Upgrade Awards (although, arguably, few would or could actually pay the full quoted price of an F/J ticket out of pocket) and oneworld Round-the-World Awards. Notably, AAdvantage miles can be purchased from AA for as little as 2.6¢ per mile, or even less with certain promotions. It is also important to remember that Award Travel does not accrue elite-qualifying miles or points or AAdvantage miles, further influencing each individual's calculations.
Passengers traveling on Award tickets are not eligible to use 500-mile electronic upgrades (stickers), systemwide upgrades (SWU, eVIP), or Award Upgrades (miles + copay). However, these passengers may be offered the opportunity to purchase an upgrade (LFBU) when checking in at an airport kiosk.
In addition, it is possible to convert an Economy Award to a new Business or First Award for the appropriate number of additional miles without incurring a redeposit fee. However, the awards must be in the same category (MileSAAver vs. AAnytime).
• What are the chances that my upgrade will clear?
The answer is plain and simple: It varies! However, if you are using 500-mile electronic upgrades, priority is based on status, then other factors (see: How does the upgrade waitlist work?), so your chances are generally better if you avoid EXP-heavy routes on weekday mornings and evenings; these upgrades may clear any time from the beginning of your upgrade window (depending on status) to the time the gate agent closes the aircraft door. If you are using an award or systemwide upgrade, you can check for upgrade inventory availability prior to making your reservation to select a flight where you can request and clear your upgrade request immediately after your reservation goes from ‘Purchased’ to ‘Ticketed’; if upgrade inventory is not available, you will be waitlisted and these upgrades may clear anytime thereafter. Upgrade inventory cannot be viewed on AA.com, but availability can be determined by calling AA Reservations (+1 800-433-7300) to inquire. First Class upgrade inventory (A) can be viewed online with any public inventory tool, such as the KVS Availability Tool, a subscription service. Business Class upgrade inventory (C) is hidden from public inventory tools, but can be viewed using ExpertFlyer, a subscription service that also offers a free 5-day trial.
FlyerTalk member sica4 has also established a searchable database of 500-mile electronic / sticker upgrade request outcomes. All members are invited to search and to contribute here.
500-Mile electronic / sticker upgrades may clear at any time between the opening of the relevant upgrade window (based on status) and the time the gate agent closes the aircraft door. Note that upgrades only clear when appropriate inventory is made available and elites do not necessarily clear at their upgrade window. Thus, passengers will often find themselves at the gate looking at the upgrade waitlist on the monitor. In the case of a connecting itinerary, the upgrade windows for the entire itinerary are based on the departure time of the originating flight, rather than each individual flight, so upgrades for connecting flights may clear prior to the opening of the upgrade window for that particular flight. If upgrades are not cleared prior to check-in by the automated upgrade system, passengers must request to be added to the airport upgrade waitlist at check-in, and must have sufficient 500-mile electronic upgrades in their account for the flight in question to be added to the airport list (see: How many 500-mile electronic upgrades / stickers do I need and when must I have them?).
Upgrade priority is based on:
1) Elite status – EXP, PLT, GLD, non-status AAdvantage
2) Connecting status – passengers connecting from another flight receive higher priority
3) Fare class – passengers traveling on full Y/B fares receive higher priority over other fares
4) Time of upgrade request – when you click the ‘Request Upgrade’ box on AA.com
Note that check-in time no longer affects 500-mile electronic / sticker upgrade priority, although it does still impact standby priority.
Elites requesting a companion upgrade will have their status applied to both passengers, but will, by default, only clear if both upgrades become available simultaneously, and may be passed over if only one upgrade inventory slot becomes available. This ‘no-split’ designation can be removed manually by calling AA Reservations, however, this also removes the linking of the elite member’s status to the companion. Note that this companion linking apparently does not always transfer properly from the automated upgrade system to the airport upgrade waitlist.
Award and systemwide upgrades come from distinct inventory compared to 500-mile electronic upgrades, and may clear at any time between the original request and the time when the gate agent closes the aircraft door. For award and systemwide upgrades, you must ask to be added to the upgrade waitlist manually at the airport and, at present, it is believed that check-in time, rather than time of request, does still impact waitlist priority for these upgrade instruments. There is no set priority amongst the different upgrade instruments, although some foreign stations have been reported to favor Award Upgrades over systemwide upgrades and domestic gate agents may favor 500-mile electronic upgrades over award and systemwide upgrades for expediency since the former does not require reticketing.
• How many 500-mile electronic upgrades / stickers do I need and when must I have them?
Each increment of up to 500 miles for a given flight segment requires the use one 500-mile electronic upgrade. Thus, a 1100-mile flight requires three 500-mile electronic upgrades. AA does provide an unofficial ‘grace window’ of 51 miles on the total mileage, so a 1051-mile flight will only require two 500-mile electronic upgrades. EXP upgrades are complimentary and do not require 500-mile electronic upgrades.
Elites can request an upgrade for one companion traveling on the same flight (not necessarily the same itinerary or reservation). As of Jul 2009, if both passengers are elites, 500-mile electronic upgrades will be debited separately from each member’s account. (Previously, the default was to debit the upgrades from the requestor’s account, which could be overridden at the airport by asking an agent to remove the ADC code on the Passenger Item List after the upgrade had cleared.)
Passengers do not need to have any 500-mile electronic upgrades in their accounts to request an upgrade online, but do need to have enough stickers in their accounts at check-in if the upgrade has cleared in advance, or if they would like to add themselves to the airport upgrade waitlist if the upgrade has not cleared in advance. 500-Mile electronic upgrades are only debited once the flight is completed.
• How do I earn 500-mile electronic upgrades / stickers?
AA awards GLD and PLT elite members four free 500-mile electronic upgrades for every 10,000 elite-qualifying miles (Miles Towards Elite Upgrades) earned during the membership year (Mar 1 – Feb 28). EXPs do not earn 500-mile electronic upgrades. Additional upgrades can be purchased online or at an airport kiosk for $30 each, or with an airport agent for $35 each.
500-Mile electronic upgrades do not expire and are not transferrable to other AAdvantage accounts (although they can be used to upgrade non-status companions traveling on the same flight).
Unofficially, elites can often get 1–3 stickers prorated at the end of the membership year to avoid ‘stranding’ Miles Towards Elite Upgrades by calling AAdvantage Customer Service (+1 800-882-8880) and requesting a partial credit. There is no set formula for this partial credit and this unpublished exception is made at the discretion of the individual agent. Emailing often gets poorer results in this particular case.
• How quickly do 500-mile electronic upgrades / stickers post to my account?
Earned upgrades post an additional 1-2 days after the flight crossing the next 10,000-mile increment posts to your account (which was historically 2-3 days after completion for AA flights but is now generally immediately following AA flights). Upgrades purchased online are available for use in approximately 2 hours, but may not post to your account until the following day. Upgrades purchased at kiosks are available for use immediately.
• How quickly do systemwide / eVIP upgrades post to my account?
Systemwide upgrades (SWU, eVIP) typically post within one week of attaining EXP status (8 SWU) or crossing a ≥2 million lifetime mile threshold (4 SWU). Systemwide upgrade balances are now displayed online at AA.com under the "View My Upgrades" section of My Account as of Jan 29, 2009.
• What can I do with 500-mile electronic upgrade / stickers I cannot use?
500-Mile electronic upgrades / stickers do not expire. While they are not transferrable to other AAdvantage accounts, they can be exchanged for 500 AAdvantage miles (RDM) each by calling AAdvantage Customer Service. The member must have a pattern of travel consistent with an inability to use 500-mile electronic upgrades, e.g., international or American Eagle routes. Exchanges are only permitted for earned upgrades, not purchased upgrades. Remember, while EXP do not use or earn 500-mile electronic upgrades themselves, they can still use them for a companion traveling on the same flight.
• Will I get F/J mileage credit for my upgraded flight?
AAdvantage mileage and point credit is based on the fare originally booked, not the class of service flown, so passengers who upgrade from Discount Economy still receive mileage and point credit based on their original Discount Economy fare. There are occasional exceptions to this, such as when a passenger is rebooked onto another flight directly into the premium cabin in F or J inventory, in which case the passenger will receive mileage and point credit as if they had purchased an F or J ticket.
• How can I change my seat assignment after online checkin?
Seat assignments generally cannot be changed online or by phone after online checkin. There is a workaround, in which a phone agent ‘unchecks in’ the passenger, allowing the passenger to complete online seat reselection and re-check in for the flight, however, agents may be reluctant to do so. In contrast, seat assignments can be changed after checkin by using a self-service kiosk or by any agent at the airport.
Because standby priority is determined, in part, by checkin time, passengers must balance this benefit of checking in as early as possible (24 hours before the departure of the first flight in an itinerary) with the risk that a better seat may become available closer to departure time as, for example, elite passengers are upgraded. Passengers awaiting upgrades should also note that they will be unable to change their automatically assigned seat online if the upgrade clears after online checkin.
There are two excellent websites with information about seating on the different aircraft that AA flies, SeatGuru and SeatExpert. There, you can find information about legroom, recline, and powerports. AA uses the FEBO (front even / back odd) rule when taking meal orders in F/J, although service usually starts from the front. On two-aisle aircraft with a single flight attendant servicing a cabin, ELFORB (even left front / odd right back) may be used.
• Will my seat have a powerport and what kind of plug do I need?
See SeatGuru or SeatExpert for information on which seats have powerports. AA uses “cigarette style” DC powerports on the vast majority of its planes, which are rated up to 75 watts. Various specific and universal power adaptors are available for use with laptops and other electronic devices. As of early 2009, a small number of newly delivered 737-800 (38D) and retrofitted international configuration 757-200 (75L) aircraft have regular AC outlets in every row of the aircraft.
DC powerports on domestic 757-200 (752) aircraft have been disabled since Sep 1, 2010 due to an undisclosed problem. DC powerports are also disabled in rows 17-44 of the coach cabin of most 767-300 (763) aircraft as of Jan 15, 2011. Both are expected to be repaired by the end of 2011. DC powerports were also disabled on all 767-200 (762) aircraft from Jan 15, 2011 – May 20, 2011 but have all now been restored.
• Will my flight have Next Generation Business Class?
All 767-300 (763) and 777-200 (772) aircraft are equiped with Next Generation Business Class (NGBC) seats. As of January 2009, AA is also in the process of converting 18 of its 757-200 (75L) aircraft for international service with 16 NGBC seats in the forward cabin. No other AA aircraft have NGBC. There are a number of useful tips and tricks for getting the most out of these seats, provided in the wiki page below.
AA provides Gogo Inflight Internet service on all 767-200 (762) aircraft, select MD-80 aircraft, and select 737-800 (38D) aircraft. Additional installations on MD-80, 38D, and domestic 757-200 (752) aircraft are continuing through 2012. The AA Wi-Fi Widget can be used to determine whether or not the service is expected to be available on a given flight, but only up to 24 hours prior to departure, and subject to equipment changes. Gogo service is based on cellular towers and is only available in the continental U.S.
Pricing is listed on AA.com and varies by flight distance and wi-fi device type. 30-Day passes were previously available, but Gogo now offers only Gogo Unlimited and AA Traveler Pass plans that automatically renew each month and can only be cancelled 7 days prior to the next renewal. Note that Gogo’s 24-hour pass is NOT valid on AA flights, although this is not clearly stated on the Gogo website.
Gogo blocks VOIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) services and AA prohibits voice calls in flight. However, the block can be circumvented using a VPN connection if one wants to listen in on a conference call.