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American’s New International Upgrade Policy Is Good For All Frequent Flyers

Skift Take

New details on how frequent flyers will upgrade on flights with premium economy leaked this week. For once, the news is good for almost everyone.

— Grant Martin

Ever since American announced its Premium Economy product in 2016, frequent flyers have been wringing hands over whether the new cabin between economy and business would disrupt the the traditional upgrade process.

As Delta, United and a host of international carriers launched respective cabins through the rest of the year, the mystery continued to swirl — but this week, there finally may be an answer to how the process works.

Leaked online by Twitter user xJonNyc and picked up by a variety of bloggers, American now seems to be planning to allow passengers traveling in international economy to upgrade directly from that cabin, past premium economy and straight into business class. Critically, this applies to the System Wide Upgrades (or SWUs) that top tier AAdvantage loyalty program elites earn annually.

American will only operate international premium economy on a portion of its fleet starting with the 787-900 which is already in service (though the cabin is not officially for sale).

According to the popular blog View from the Wing, the airline is still figuring out a process for passengers to upgrade from economy to premium economy, though elites will be able to select space-available premium economy seats for free on the day of departure.

News on the upgrade process comes as a relief to many frequent travelers who have seen elite benefits erode significantly over the last year. American’s 2017-2018 AAdvantage program, for example, now has revenue requirements tied to earning elite status while top tier elites now earn only 4 SWUs instead of 8. AAdvantage members have furthermore been roiled by an apparent lack of domestic elite upgrades, though the airline has remained silent about a concise strategy surrounding the phenomena.

American’s choice to allow economy passengers to upgrade through to business should also be a blessing for passengers on United and Delta. As the three legacy carriers have overhauled their cabins throughout the last year, product differentiation has been rare, so it’s likely that upgrade processes at the other airlines will follow American’s suit.

American plans to start selling and operating international premium economy on select routes starting in February, while United will start flying its own cabins in the second quarter. Delta’s more ambiguous plans have it selling and operating international premium economy by the end of the year.

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