Beginning June 11th, elite members of the American AAdvantage program, and US Airways Dividend Miles will have access to a new benefit, reciprocal upgrades between the two carriers.  Here’s how American described the process in an email to its elite members.

Until we integrate our programs, we will introduce the ability for AAdvantage elite status members to upgrade to First Class on US Airways within 24 hours of departure, beginning June 11, 2014. If available, an opportunity to upgrade will be presented at check-in for US Airways-operated flights within and between the U.S. (excluding Hawaii) and Canada, Mexico, the Bahamas, the Caribbean, Bermuda and Central America and will be provided on a first come, first served basis. If a seat is not available, you can also choose to add yourself to the upgrade standby list. These upgrades are complimentary for elite status members and one companion traveling in the same reservation – just as they are on US Airways today for Dividend Miles elite members.

Now, if you’re a US Airways elite flying on American, you’ll need to learn a little about American’s upgrade processes. Chairman’s Preferred members get comp upgrades, like Executive Platinums. However, if you’re a lower level elite, you’ll need to purchase 500 miler upgrades for $30 each like AA’s Golds and Platinums do today. If you’ve been with US a long time, this type of system is not completely unfamiliar as it was the way Dividend Miles did things years ago. Here’s how US Airways described the process to its elite flyers.

Beginning June 11, 2014, Preferred members can upgrade on American Airlines flights within/ between the U.S. (including Hawaii) and Canada, Mexico, the Bahamas, the Caribbean, Bermuda and Central America. Upgrades are first come, first served. If an upgrade is available, you’ll see the option to add it when you check in with American Airlines – on, at the kiosk or with an agent at the airport or Admirals Club. For the best chance of being upgraded, we recommend that you’re the only passenger in your reservation. Chairman’s Preferred members receive complimentary upgrades – as AAdvantage Executive Platinum members do today. And Platinum, Gold and Silver Preferred members can upgrade for $30 per 500 miles of travel – as AAdvantage Platinum and Gold members do today.

This is a meaningful benefit, though it remains to be seen how well it will work in practice. I’m sure we’ll hear reports starting Wednesday. I posted last week that I really hope the new combined program maintains the AA way of dealing with upgrades. I think it gives an earnest shot to lower level elites, while rewarding high mileage fliers with complimentary upgrades. With the other big airlines offering an unlimited complimentary upgrade to all elites, I wonder if AA sees this as some kind of competitive thing and feels it will need to match? Personally, I don’t see what’s so compelling about upgrade lists routinely in the 50+ range, but that’s just me.

In other news, it appears that 2015 is the year that AAdvantage and Dividend Miles will become one, but it’s not clear when in 2015 that will happen. I’m sure American has a goal, but they are busy doing the legwork to determine when they can really merge the programs.

-MJ, June 9, 2014