a seat in an airplane

Looking for an upgrade? You’ve come to the right place. Upgrades are easier than you think: if you know where and how to look. American Airlines has a surprisingly fair system for upgrade, from how many miles you need and how much money you’ll have to pay- and this guide will show you everything you need to know to successfully upgrade on American Airlines flights…

an airplane flying in the skyFirst Things First: Eligible Ticket Required

Upgrading a domestic flight in the United States is cheaper and easier than upgrading an international flight, but both are possible and in both cases your upgrade is all about having an eligible ticket. To be eligible, you need a fare that’s allowed to upgrade. It’ll have a letter to signify what type of economy ticket it is. On American Airlines, booking classes eligible for upgrade are: H,K,M,L,V,G,Q,N,O,and S. Additionally, full fare (expensive) tickets in Y, W and P can also be upgraded.

So How Do I Know I’m Booking An Eligible Ticket?

In almost all cases the price you pay for a flight with American will be the exact same booking direct, as booking elsewhere. It also makes it easier to know if you can upgrade. When looking at flights on American, if you click “details” next to where it says “seats” you will see the letter of the booking code for your flight. As long as it’s one of the above- the fare is eligible to upgrade. But- it’s up to American to decide if they make space available for upgrades, even if seats are empty. We highly suggest using the tips below to find out if upgrades are available before booking. If none are, they make become available- but if only one flight is, you’ll want to book that one.

How Much And What Can I Use?

To upgrade: flights within the U.S. cost 15,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles and $75 in cash co pay. Most international tickets cost 25,000 AAdvantage miles and $350 in cash co pay each way. For a flight over 8 hours, or some that go over 10 hours, this is a great value for your miles (and cash). This works for a one way journey, so if you have a connection, that flight will be upgraded too. It’s possible that American will also try to tack on a $75 admin fee for flights upgraded within 21 days of departure, but they’ll often back off this- if asked politely. It’s waived if you hold frequent flyer status with the airline.

a seat in an airplaneIt’s All About “Space”…

We’ve got great tips on how to earn American AAdvantage miles quickly– but even if you’re loaded with points, it’s up to the airline to decide if you CAN upgrade, even if there are empty seats. This is where things get a bit trickier. This is where you can go pro, and set alerts for when upgrades become available, or stay amateur and just waitlist for upgrades and hope that the magic happens. More on this shortly.

Finding Space Like A Pro

ExpertFlyer.com is the go to tool for becoming a pro frequent flyer, or at least someone who gets upgrades like one. For $9.99 a month, which you can cancel at any time you can set alerts for upgrade space. That way- when and if American Airlines allows people to upgrade, you can be first in line to get it. If you don’t want to go this route, you can just call American and request to “wait list” for an upgrade on any flight, though you’ll have far less likely chance of getting one.

You Need “C” Space

Upgrades are all about “C” space availability. It’s American Airlines special upgrade category. Even if seats are available, they may not release any “C” space- but they may. If you don’t use ExpertFlyer, BEFORE booking a flight, you can call American Airlines and ask (politely) if any flights on the day(s) you want to travel have “C” space availability. If they do, they’re upgradeable. If you use ExpertFlyer, you can run a search for your route to see “C” space seats on each flight. If there is “C” available, you can upgrade to business. One important note: if your flight has Premium Economy (no U.S. flights currently do, and only a few international flights do) then for now, you’re safe to skip Premium and move to business. But this policy could change.



Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. I would also mention that for $4.99, one can have an expert flyer membership that they can do up to 250 queries in their own. No alerts like the $9.99, but half the price. Also, you mentioned that on flights that have PE, the upgrade would go there. When did that change? I haven’t heard or read anything about that. Really devalues the SWU……

    1. Alex, fantastic point! $4.99 option makes perfect sense for most people and I will update with that info.

      In the T&C’s: “The upgrade is a single cabin upgrade from the cabin booked, to the next cabin. A maximum of three segments in one direction may be upgraded. All segments being upgraded must be on the same ticket.”

  2. Could you do an update on best way to get upgrades today? My permanent platinum status means nothing now on AA. Almost 3.5 million miles with them and it’s worthless for upgrading. Thx!

    Ps. Have no clue the difference what you mean between the 4.99 and 9.99 membership

    1. $4.99 one time search on your flight destination

      $9,99 unlimited searches per month for as many destination

      whats not to understand?

  3. Why would your chance of getting it be lower from the waitlist? If you wait until they release C space, those who were already on the waitlist will get it automatically, likely before you have a chance to call and ask for it.

    1. That’s not correct, at least not until within 48 hours. The waitlist doesn’t move in real time, and if you get the alert and call in, you pass everyone on the waitlist. I’m speaking from experience, and others will verify.

  4. How do I upgrade an economy domestic ticket with miles online? I was told it was possible but can’t seem to find how to. Thanks.

  5. I flew from DFW to Charlotte and back. Tickets were purchased five months in advance and requested wait list the day I bought tickets. I’ve done this previously and always got an email (usually 1-3 months before my flight) saying the seats had been upgraded. This time I was told they no longer release seats for upgrades for folks like me who are platinum, diamond, etc until the day of the flight and I’d then go below everyone. Sure enough I got to the airport and we were in the mid-20’s on the wait list. I feel confident that on a plane with mostly empty seats in March there weren’t some 25 people ahead of me requesting to buy a mileage + cash upgrade. If this is the new policy, my few hundred thousand miles have become useless. Anyone else had a similar experience or heard of this change in policy?

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