If you’ve been with me for a bit, you are aware that I am an AAdvantage Gold Million-Miler member. Gold is the lowest tier status in the AAdvantage program. Through a confluence of events, I have been flying American more often in the last couple of months. It’s more a travel pattern and fare decision than any sort of conscious effort to avoid Delta, an airline I continue to consider to be my primary carrier.

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During my experiment, I’ve flown 13 segments on AA, with one of those being American Eagle Envoy CRJ-700 service. I also have one award roundtrip in there, and I spent miles to upgrade two segments. I am not counting the mileage upgrades and the award itinerary in my success rate. That leaves us with 9 segments to count in my percentage and I have cleared on 8 of those segments. That gives me an incredible 89 percent upgrade success rate as a lowest-tier AAdvantage elite member. The most recent of those upgrades is today, a Monday, on a very full flight to DFW from Atlanta.

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Frankly, I can’t prove that I would not have cleared on either of those two mileage upgrade flights, but they were both important enough to me to spend the miles to guarantee the upgrade for various reasons. I acknowledge that I have been judicious in picking flights, and that 4 of the 13 were on weekends. Still, I think that a nearly 90 percent upgrade success rate as a lowest tier elite is amazing.

MJ’s Take

No airline “owes” me an upgrade. Delta is doing a wonderful job of selling paid first class seats, a phenomenon known as FCM or First Class Monetization. Further, I’m quite sure American is selling its share of first class seats as well. The real difference is here is how each airline processes elite upgrades. Delta’s system is “comp for all,” which creates unlimited demand for the product. On the other hand, American has maintained a system of “paid” upgrades where elites have to use earned “sticker” upgrades, miles, or some other script to confirm an upgrade. Of course, American’s top-tier Executive Platinum elites receive unlimited complimentary upgrades.

Granted, I spent $60 to buy two electronic upgrades for this flight. Do I think it was worth it? Heck yes. I’ve said before that I far prefer American’s upgrade system to the “free for all” system. It means that lower tier elites have a shot at upgrades they care about. For the record, I care about all of them. I really like Delta and find it to be the most reliable of the big U.S. airlines, but an upgrade rate like I’m experiencing on American is difficult to ignore.

-MJ, June 22, 2015