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  • Writer's pictureKirk

Travel Tip - Securing a First Class Upgrade on Domestic Flights

This one is a bit of a loophole I expect the airlines will close sometime, but until they do I will continue to exploit. I’m not sure it’s really called a loophole or not, but it’s a vulnerability anyway.

For followers of my blog, you know I fly using points. In fact, I cannot recall the last time I bought an airline ticket, as it’s been years.

There are four major domestic carriers: Delta, United, American, and Southwest. For me, American Airlines is the most coveted point currency. That’s because I have nearly the top status with them of Executive Platinum which puts me nearly 1st in line for upgrades to domestic first class. Only the allusive Concierge Key is higher and I rarely encounter them on my flights.

But, unfortunately American Airlines points are the most difficult to accumulate of these 4 carriers. That’s because I can’t transfer points from other programs to it like I can the other 3. I can transfer points to Delta from my American Express account. I can transfer to United from my Chase Ultimate Rewards points. And I can transfer to Southwest from Chase as well. However, even yhough Citi bank issues the American Airline credit card, they don’t allow the transfer of Citi Thank You points to American Airlines. Go figure!

I have generated my current balance of 325,000 AA miles through manufactured spending. a bit tedious, but necessary for my domestic travel. I prefer the AA miles not only due to my ability to upgrade to first class, but also because their miles go the furthest. Delta and United require huge chunks of miles, often 35,000 miles or so for a one way flight. Gone are the days of 25,000 miles round trip on these airlines, like when I first started doing this. Even Southwest can be higher than AA.

But I can find flights as low as 6,000 miles one way with AA, and I often do! The trick is to be flexible and book way in advance (but even last minute often works if flexibile). Since I can be very flexible I often book flights in this 6,000 to 7,500 mile range. That can make my 325,000 mile balance (and growing) last a long time!

Now, AA offers these low mile flights because these are the routes and times they are not near capacity. But fortunately for me, the routes I fly they are almost always available at reduced rates if flexible with flying times, as I am.

Since these are the lower capacity flights, first class seats rarely sell out. That leaves me the opportunity to be upgraded most of the time. And I am upgraded over 90% of the time!

I read a lot in other blogs about the complaints of other Ex Plat members who say they are seldom upgraded. Well, I expect they don’t have my flexibility of time or routing. If you “buy” a ticket with 25,000 AA miles one way, don’t expect an upgrade as the flight is nearly full. It’s the cheaper fares that usually allow.

But that’s only a smaller part of this travel tip. The one I think they will eventually shut down is the one that gives me an added advantage to secure that upgrade. I book at least two separate flights to the same destination in one day! Yeah, I can do this because the airlines allow free last minute cancellations. So there’s no downside!

The advantage to this is I can wait to see which one of the flights will clear my upgrade in advance. Since AA upgrades Ex Plat members up to 100 hours prior to the flight, I just wait and see which of my booked flights clear first, then I cancel the other. Even if they don’t clear in advance, I can look at the seat availability of first class on line, and get a pretty good idea which will clear last minute.

I can do this because I’m flexible. I usually can fly early morning or late at night, the two times least traveled. I’m usually even flexible which day and may book the flight on two separate days. But I can only do this because of their generous free cancellation policy. Thank you domestic airlines! This is a hold over from the pandemic days I expect they will halt one day.

For many of you reading this, it may have no applicability. But, if you travel on points, or even cash, and have any status with an airline that allows upgrades, you can do it too.

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Mike Wells
Mike Wells
May 27
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

You have seen and done a lot of traveling on some ones dollar. Yes you have to do some leg work and do some other tedious things but this has worked well for you. Congratulations

May 27
Replying to

Thanks Mike

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