Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information and offers.
There are many ways to upgrade your American Airlines flight. For example, you can redeem American miles for an upgrade or accept a paid upgrade offer. And when traveling on eligible flights in North America, American Airlines AAdvantage elite members can hope for a complimentary upgrade.
But high-tier American Airlines elite travelers and AAdvantage Million Miler members also have the opportunity to earn systemwide upgrades. These can help you secure a comfier seat ahead of time, and they can also bump you to the top of the priority list at the airport.
Here’s what you need to know about American Airlines systemwide upgrades.
What are systemwide upgrades?
You can use a systemwide upgrade to upgrade a paid fare to the next class of service for up to three segments one-way. On flights marketed and operated by American Airlines, you can use a systemwide upgrade to upgrade:
- Business to first on a three-cabin aircraft
- Economy or premium economy to the next class of service (business or domestic first)
You can’t use systemwide upgrades to upgrade government fares, military fares and fares that are ineligible for mileage credit. And although AAdvantage members without elite status can’t upgrade from basic economy fares, American Airlines elite members can use systemwide upgrades on basic economy fares.
As of late 2022, you can also use systemwide upgrades on transatlantic flights operated by British Airways if your fare is marketed by British Airways or American Airlines and you have at least one American Airlines-marketed flight in your itinerary. When flying transatlantic on British Airways, you can use a systemwide upgrade to confirm an upgrade from business class to first, premium economy to business or economy to premium economy.
Of course, finding upgrade space before you book — or hoping upgrade space opens up after you book — can make systemwide upgrades difficult to use. But we’ll discuss how to search for upgrade space and use systemwide upgrades in a later section.
How to earn systemwide upgrades
One way to earn systemwide upgrades is the Loyalty Points rewards program. Systemwide upgrades are a choice (in other words, you must select them instead of other rewards) at the following Loyalty Points milestones each qualification period:
- 175,000 Loyalty Points: You get one reward choice at this milestone; one option is two systemwide upgrades.
- 250,000 Loyalty Points: You get two reward choices at this milestone; one option is two systemwide upgrades.
- 400,000 Loyalty Points: You get two reward choices at this milestone; one option is one systemwide upgrade.
- 550,000 Loyalty Points: You get two reward choices at this milestone; one option is one systemwide upgrade.
- 750,000 Loyalty Points: You get two reward choices at this milestone; one option is one systemwide upgrade.
- 1 million Loyalty Points: You get one reward choice at this milestone; one option is four systemwide upgrades.
- 3 million Loyalty Points: You get one reward choice at this milestone; one option is six systemwide upgrades.
- 5 million Loyalty Points: You get one reward choice at this milestone; one option is 10 systemwide upgrades.
As a reminder, Platinum Pro status requires 125,000 Loyalty Points each qualification period and Executive Platinum status requires 200,000 Loyalty Points. So, you won’t be able to choose any systemwide upgrades if you earn Platinum Pro status with 125,000 Loyalty Points during this qualification period. And you’ll only earn at most two systemwide upgrades if you snag Executive Platinum status with 200,000 Loyalty Points during this qualification period.
AAdvantage members with American Airlines lifetime status can also earn systemwide upgrades when they reach specific milestones. Lifetime status with American Airlines isn’t based on Loyalty Points; instead, it is based on the distance you fly on American-marketed flights and the base miles you earn on eligible partner-marketed flights.
When you reach 2 million miles toward AAdvantage Million Miler status, you’ll get four systemwide upgrades and lifetime AAdvantage Platinum status. Then, for each subsequent 1 million miles you earn toward Million Miler status, you’ll get four more systemwide upgrades.
Once you earn or select a systemwide upgrade, American Airlines will deposit it into your account within 72 hours. Systemwide upgrades expire one year after they’re deposited in your account. But, although you must use the systemwide upgrade to confirm an upgrade before it expires, travel can occur after the expiration date.
How to check your systemwide upgrades
To see how many unused systemwide upgrades you have and the expiration dates on these upgrades, log in to your American Airlines account and click “Rewards” under “Rewards Hub” on the left-hand side of the webpage. Under “Seat coupons, upgrades and passes,” you’ll see a tile labeled “Systemwide upgrade” if you have any in your account.
Click on this tile to see more information about your systemwide upgrades, including when systemwide upgrades were deposited in your account and which systemwide upgrades you’ve redeemed. All of your unexpired systemwide upgrades will show on the “Deposited” list when you expand it, but only the ones you’ve redeemed will show on the “Redeemed” list when you expand it.
Mentally remove the redeemed systemwide upgrades from the deposited ones once you expand the lists. Doing so will help you determine when your systemwide upgrades expire.
How to use systemwide updates
I’ll be honest: Using American Airlines systemwide upgrades on long-haul international flights can be difficult. But it’s possible. My husband and I used systemwide upgrades on transpacific flights between the U.S. and Japan earlier this year. We used systemwide upgrades to upgrade our party of four to business class on the flight to Japan shortly after booking. And although upgrade space didn’t appear until days before the return flight, we secured two upgrades to business class on this flight with systemwide upgrades.
How to find systemwide availability
Finding systemwide availability is perhaps the most difficult part of using systemwide upgrades. American Airlines encourages its members with systemwide upgrades to log in to their account on the American Airlines website and then look for flights with a “Systemwide upgrades” link on the results page. I found a lot of options to use systemwide upgrades on nonstop flights from New York to London departing in just a few days when I wrote this story.
Once you find a flight option with this link, you can click the link to see what classes currently have systemwide upgrade availability.
And if you’re looking at a multisegment option, you can see which segments have systemwide upgrade availability.
Using the American Airlines website is certainly one way to find systemwide upgrade availability, especially if you tend to book last-minute paid flights.
But some travelers will find it easier to sign up for a paid membership with ExpertFlyer (owned by TPG’s parent company, Red Ventures). This allows you to search for upgrade availability, and you can even set alerts for individual flights. You’ll need to find availability in the following fare buckets to use a systemwide upgrade:
- Business to first on three-cabin American Airlines flights: A
- Other upgrades on American Airlines flights: C
- Business to first on British Airways flights: Z
- Premium economy to business on British Airways flights: U
- Economy to premium economy on British Airways flights: P
Using ExpertFlyer, you can search for A and C upgrade availability on American Airlines flights using the “Awards & Upgrades” section. For example, here’s a search for nonstop flights from New York to London operated by American Airlines just a few days after I wrote this.
If you want an upgrade alert for a specific flight that doesn’t currently have upgrade availability, click the exclamation mark next to the result.
You’ll get the most accurate results through ExpertFlyer when you search for systemwide upgrade availability segment by segment. So, search and set up upgrade alerts segment by segment for any flights you hope to apply systemwide upgrades to.
How to request a systemwide upgrade
Once you’ve found upgrade availability, call AAdvantage to request the upgrade. Unfortunately, you can’t use American Airlines’ website or mobile app to request systemwide upgrades.
Once you get an agent on the phone, the call can take anywhere from 15 minutes to well over an hour depending on the agent you get. If the agent can clear your upgrade, the upgrade will be deducted from your systemwide upgrade balance (which you can check as described above).
If there isn’t any upgrade space on your flight(s), you can waitlist your request for flights operated by American Airlines (you can’t waitlist for an upgrade on British Airways flights). Waitlisted requests will clear in order based on the following priority:
- Status level
- Upgrade type
- 12-month rolling Loyalty Points
- Booking code
- Data and time of the waitlist request
If you’ve waitlisted your request but haven’t cleared the waitlist by the time you check in, AAdvantage will add you to the airport upgrade standby list if you have enough systemwide upgrades in your account 48 hours before departure. If your upgrade clears from the airport upgrade standby list, AAdvantage will deduct a systemwide upgrade from your account.
Finally, if you’ve cleared a systemwide upgrade but need to cancel your trip before you depart, call AAdvantage and ask to reinstate your systemwide upgrade(s).
How do you earn miles when you use a systemwide upgrade?
Unfortunately, you’ll still earn American Airlines miles and Loyalty Points based on the fare class and cabin you originally booked.
Can someone else use my systemwide upgrade?
You can use your systemwide upgrades for anyone you choose, even if you aren’t traveling with them. However, the terms and conditions for systemwide upgrades state, “Upgrades are void if sold or advertised for sale for cash or other considerations.”
So, although you can gift your systemwide upgrades to friends, family members or lucky strangers, you shouldn’t receive anything in return.
When you can clear American Airlines systemwide upgrades on long-haul international flights, they’re extremely valuable, and it feels like a big win. It’s certainly possible to clear systemwide upgrades just days before your flight (or even at the airport), but it’s also possible to do so months in advance.
You’ll often have the best chances at clearing systemwide upgrades on high-frequency routes offering multiple flights operated by American Airlines daily. And traveling on off-peak days and seasons can also help.
If you want to use your systemwide upgrades on long-haul international itineraries, I recommend first looking at upgrade availability on your longest segment. Ideally, you’ll find and book an itinerary with upgrade availability on the longest segment, as then you can use a systemwide upgrade to clear into a higher class of service shortly after booking. Otherwise, set up upgrade alerts or add yourself to the waitlist to hopefully use your systemwide upgrade as your flight nears.