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In the AAdvantage program, there are 3 statuses, Gold, Platinum and Platinum Executive. The Platinum has a "72-hour upgrade window". The Executive has a 100-hour window. I assume this refers to when you can sign up for an upgrade and essentially get in line for an unsold first class seat.

Do all these seats invariably go to Executive members, or do Platinum members have a chance at them? In other words, what I am thinking is that if there are dozens of Platinum members on a flight in economy and they all sign up for an upgrade, then there might a long list of Executive members in the line for just a handful of first class seats. But if there are not so many Executive members, then maybe Platinum members would have a shot at those seats.

What is the common experience?

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I have been both American Platinum and Exec Platinum. Certainly, you are more likely to get upgrades as the latter, but I got a few upgrades as the former too. It all depends on how loaded the plane is, how many first class seats on that plane, etc. - there's no hard and fast rule.

By the way, I assume you are talking about US domestic upgrades and not international, which are a totally different kettle of fish...

  • Thanks very much, your experience in this is invaluable to an answer. When you say a "totally different kettle of fish" for the international flights, how is it different? – Lemuel Gulliver Nov 2 '15 at 19:04
  • @LemuelGulliver you don't use 500-mile upgrades (or complimentary on ExecPlat) to upgrade international flights. Instead you need to use SystemWide upgrades or money or real miles... – Andrew Ferrier Nov 2 '15 at 21:48
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    I'm not even sure what the big deal of first class is on domestic flights, unless it's New York to Honolulu. – JonathanReez Supports Monica Sep 27 at 15:59
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The window refers to the earliest point before departure that AA will process upgrades using "segment" upgrades, not when you can "get in line." All elite members (Gold, Platinum, and Executive Platinum) can request "segment" upgrades at the time of booking. Requesting an upgrade adds you to the upgrade list for your flights ("get in line"). The earlier you request the upgrade, the earlier on the list you are. Executive Platinum members, and all elite members on flights 500 miles or under, are auto-requested, but Gold and Platinum members need to manually request upgrades (by clicking the box next to the flight when you view your itinerary on aa.com).

Keep in mind that for flights over 500 miles, Platinum and Gold members need to spend upgrade "segments" for upgrades. You need one "segment" for each 500 miles or fraction of the flight. So, a 1,200 mile flight costs three "segments." You earn "segments" as you fly, and can buy additional ones online or from an agent (they are cheaper online).

Depending on how a flight is selling (and other factors such as weather issues), AA's Revenue Management (RM) group determines how many seats are available for "segment" upgrades. This number is secret, you can't see it, but it's there and is constantly adjusted over time as conditions change.

At 100 hours before the flight, AA starts processing upgrades for Executive Platinum (EXP) members. If RM allocated 3 seats for upgrade, then the first three EXP members on the list get upgraded. There might be fewer EXP members than upgrade seats, so some seats may remain, and additional seats might be allocated within the 100-hour window. AA continues processing upgrades right up until a few hours before the flights. At 72 hours before flight, Platinum (PLT) members are eligible, as well as EXP. At 24 hours, all elite members are eligible.

When AA processes upgrades, the list is ordered first by status (all EXPs, then all PLT, then all GLD). Within each status level, it is ordered by full-fare (Y and B codes) vs discount fare (all other coach fare codes), and then by time requested. So, booking early and requesting immediately give you a better chance.

Because Platinum and Gold members need to spend "segments" to get upgraded, most will pick and choose which flights they most care about the upgrades, and request only those. That means that the odds of getting upgraded as a Platinum depend on how many EXP members are on your flight, and how many PLTs are on your flight who have requested upgrades and did so before you did (and if any of them bought Y/B fares, which are not that common).

Once the flight goes to airport control a few hours before departure, AA stops processing upgrades, and everyone who is still waiting for an upgrade gets moved to the airport upgrade list when they check in. You can see your position in this list by using the aa mobile app, or at the airport on the gate monitor. Note that people don't get added to the list until they check in, but when they do check in, their position on the list is based on where they were before, not when they checked in.

If you want the best shot at an upgrade, fly on days and times that are not popular with business travelers (who are most likely to be EXP), such as Saturdays, and to a lesser extent, late morning through mid-afternoon, buy your ticket far in advance, and request the upgrade right away.

  • This answer has a lot of useful information, but does not answer the core question, which is what the chance is of a Platinum member getting an upgrade on the "average" flight. Is it 1 out of 3, 1 of 10, 1 out of 100? I need some idea and this answer does not really offer any experience. The accepted answer says he got a "few" upgrades, which I interpret to mean he got upgrades maybe 1 out of 3 or 1 out of 4 times that he tried. – Lemuel Gulliver Sep 29 '16 at 21:25
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    An upgrade depends on two factors: availability of upgrades on the desired flight, and the number of passengers ahead. Some flights, some days of the week, times of day and times of the year tend to have lots of high-status passengers. The experience of any single flyer isn't comparable unless flying the same routes, days of week, time of day, and times of year. So it's not meaningfully possible to quantify the odds of an upgrade in general. You can ask about the odds on specific routes, days of week, and times of day and year, and possibly get a meaningful answer. – jetset Oct 7 '16 at 3:26
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    amazingly informative answer! – Fattie Aug 20 '18 at 7:49
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There are two types of upgrades: "segment" and miles/SWU. "Segment" upgrades are only valid on "domestic" flights (flights within the U.S., Canada, Mexico except Mexico City, and the Caribbean). "Segment" upgrades can be requested at any time, but are only processed during the upgrade "window."

Mile/SWU upgrades are valid for all flights everywhere AA flies. They cost either one SWU or a set amount of miles plus a cash copay (the amount of miles and the copay vary based on the region of the flight and the fare booking code). Mile/SWU upgrades can be confirmed at the time of booking, if upgrade space is available. This kind of upgrade space is not a secret, you can find out which flights have this kind of upgrade space by calling and asking, or using tools such as ExpertFlyer, or even aa.com in some cases.

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Chances of an upgrade question: I would say 75% with executive platinum. This is highly dependent on the number of other elite members as others have said in the post e.g. on a Monday morning from Philadelphia to LA the odds are a lot less even with Executive platinum as more than half the plane will have some elite status and several will be EP - lower status elites have no chance of an upgrade on these flights. Fly on a weekend or off-peak and odds are closer to 100% for executive platinum and pretty high for platinum pro/platinum. I've even received upgrades on red-eyes from Phoenix to Philadelphia on Gold. As Executive platinum, I always get them on leisure destinations and any off-peak itinerary.

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