Systemwide Upgrades – My Policies

By now, you’ve heard of the $450 business class, round-trip fares from Washington DC to Beijing, China that many were lucky enough to book.

Because the fares booked into Business Class (albeit an older 777), Executive Platinum’s were clamoring to use one of their 8 annual issued systemwide upgrades to sit in First Class instead.

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While I didn’t get in on the fare sale since I couldn’t make the dates work, I do want to chime in on my personal “policy” of when to use systemwide upgrades, since I don’t think their value comes in handy when using them for a Business to First upgrade.


I don’t use them on domestic legs

While this probably goes without saying, using systemwide upgrades on a shorter domestic trip doesn’t make sense, mainly because there’s a high chance of getting upgraded for free using complimentary upgrades as an Executive Platinum. I’d see this as wasting an upgrade certificate, that could be use on an international segment.

I don’t use them to upgrade from Business to First.

Now, unless it is coming close to expiration and the certificates will be of no use to me in a few short weeks, I don’t find value from upgrading from Business to First, since the service difference is marginal. Besides, the most important features when upgrading out of economy class (or, the main cabin as American calls it) is the extra legroom and bed feature of the seat. Simply sitting in Business solves this issue in most cases, and I would rather have 8 one-ways in Business, rather wasting an upgrade to sit in First, leaving another trip in coach.

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I only use them on international trips

The most value from the certificates come from using them on international “over the water” legs, since these tend to be the longest, fall during overnight or odd hours, and have the highest value difference over a basic economy fare, where you wouldn’t otherwise buy up with cash. I give preference to overnight flights first, the followed by solely daytime flights.

My end thought here is that assuming I have a limited amount of international AA trips a year, I’d rather use them to get out of economy, than upgrade from Business to First, leaving some flights in the “back of the bus.” Of course, your situation and circumstances may vary, and you may use your upgrades in a different way. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

What’s your “policy” for using systemwide upgrades on American or other airlines that issue them?

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  1. says

    I don’t do very much international travel and when I do it is usually on an award ticket in the forward cabin. I’ll use my SWUs on the rare international paid trip that I have, or on longer domestic flights. I know, sounds like a waste to you, but it works well for my travel patterns.

    • says

      Nope! Each person has their own style, so what works for one person, may not for another. Since you take few international trips, you find better value in longer US domestic flights, which works well. Although, I did see someone try to use an SWU from JFK to DCA once which just baffled me… lol

  2. says

    You’re right about it not being worth it to bump yourself from business to first, at least on the older planes. I used my miles once for first class to London & it was a waste. I just didn’t see what the big deal was.

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