How to Use Your American Airlines Systemwide Upgrades After the Expiration Date

Jan 26, 2018

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Each year American Airlines top-tier Executive Platinum elites get four “systemwide upgrades” (sometimes internally referred to as “EVIP”s) upon elite qualification. These allow the elites to upgrade themselves — or a friend — one class of service. The catch is that there needs to be upgrade space, and that can be hard to find.

Also, American Airlines has been chipping away this perk. Elites qualifying in 2015 got eight of these “golden ticket” upgrades. Elites qualifying in 2016 only got four. In the past, you could use these anytime from elite qualification through February 28 of the year after — meaning you had at the very least 14 months to use them. A month has been stripped off of that; systemwide upgrades now expire January 31.

In the past, Concierge Key elites and Executive Platinum elites with high Eagle scores were able to extend the extension of unused systemwide upgrades. We have confirmation from an American Airlines spokesperson that no extensions are being granted this year — even to Concierge Key elites.

Side note: The next shoe that elites expect to drop regarding systemwide upgrades is the restriction of upgrading economy tickets to premium economy instead of business class. On the record, American Airlines isn’t considering this option. Perhaps they’re aware that they’ve already devalued the Executive Platinum program enough.

So, what’s the good news?

Technically, systemwide upgrades need to be used on a flight departing by the expiration date. This means Executive Platinum elites that earned status in 2016 have to apply their unused systemwide upgrades to flights departing on or before January 31, 2018.

The good news is that there’s a way to trick the system into allowing you to use a systemwide upgrade for a flight after the extension date. Note that it seems you must have re-qualified for Executive Platinum status in 2017 for it to work.

As long as you have systemwide upgrades in your account that could be applied to a flight after January 31, 2018, the AA system will let you apply a systemwide upgrade request to that flight. Then, if that systemwide upgrade clears before January 31, 2018, the upgrade that’s expiring first will be taken out of your account.

Can you spell that out for me?

Sure! As of yesterday, TPG contributor Katie Genter (who’s also my wife) had used seven of her eight systemwide upgrades earned in 2016. That left one expiring January 31, 2018.

To test out this trick, I looked for a flight on ExpertFlyer that had “C” upgrade space. That meant that the systemwide upgrade request would immediately clear:

Image from ExpertFlyer. Date removed for security purposes, but it’s after January 31, 2018.

There just so happens to be an airfare war to Amsterdam (AMS) at this time. So, we booked a flight + hotel package through AA Vacations — using promo code JAN18 to save $20.18/night and earn 2,018 bonus points. Of course, we confirmed that the flight qualified for AA Special Fares, so she’d earn 1,012 Elite Qualifying Dollars and 11,134 award miles rather than the much-lower amount she’d earn from a fare-based ticket.

Once the reservation ticketed, I called the Executive Platinum desk and found a “45 to 55 minute” wait time Friday morning. I requested a callback. In the meantime, knowing that the American Airlines social team is filled with AA superheros, I reached out to them to apply the systemwide upgrade request to the ticket. Shortly later, the request was added and the upgrade cleared. The reservation re-ticketed before I even got a callback from the EP desk.

So, did the trick work?

Well, of course it did or I wouldn’t be sharing it! As expected, the system automatically pulled the systemwide upgrade expiring first from her account, leaving four systemwide upgrades available through January 31, 2019:

Can you give me a step-by-step?

1. Make sure you qualify: You’re going to have to be an Executive Platinum elite through January 31, 2019 with unused systemwide upgrades in your account expiring after January 31, 2018.

2. Find a qualifying flight: Unless you want to gamble with space opening in the next week, I’d recommend using ExpertFlyer to find a flight with C space open now.

3. Book the flight: If it’s a cheap flight (generally under 10 cents per flight mile), don’t forget to use Special Fares tricks to get extra Elite Qualifying Dollars and extra award miles.

4. Request a systemwide upgrade: You can wait for the Executive Platinum desk to pick up. But, I’d recommend direct messaging the American Airlines social team with the trip record locator and the upgrade request. Make sure to list your AAdvantage number in the message if you haven’t already provided it to them.

That should be all that’s needed. If everything goes to plan, your request will clear shortly afterward and the expiring systemwide will be cleared out of your account.

Good luck applying those expiring systemwide upgrades!

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