American Airlines systemwide upgrades now work on British Airways (and vice versa)


About a month ago, American Airlines and British Airways went live with reciprocal systemwide upgrades. Not only can AA systemwide upgrades now be used for travel on BA, but British Airways Executive Club Gold members will receive two equivalent upgrades that can be used for travel on American.

This happened right in the midst of the 3Cards3Continents challenge and we never got a chance to go over the new developments. So, let’s take a quick look now.

a seat with a monitor and a pillow on the side of the seat
It’s now possible to use AA systemwide upgrades on British Airways

Using American systemwide upgrades on British Airways

  • Only valid for tickets marketed by American with at least one AA-operated segment
  • Upgrade instruments issued to Alaska Mileage Plan 75K and 100K elites can’t be used on BA
  • Award tickets are not valid for upgrades on BA (only paid fares)
  • Only transatlantic and intra-Europe BA flights are eligible for upgrades
  • Waitlisting for BA upgrades is not allowed, there must be space available at the time the upgrade instrument is applied (“Z” for first class, “U” for business, “P” for premium economy
  • Upgrades are valid for one class of service only: economy to premium economy, premium to business, or business to first (or economy to business if there is no premium economy)

Just to emphasize that last point, if you book an AA ticket to Europe in economy with the transatlantic portion on AA metal and the intra-Europe segment on BA metal, you can upgrade the entire itinerary to business with a systemwide upgrade (assuming that there’s confirmable space available). On the other hand, if the transatlantic portion is on BA (with a domestic segment on AA, since there must be one AA leg), then the transatlantic BA segment could only be upgraded to premium economy from economy.

Using British Airways upgrades on AA

  • Only valid for tickets issued by British Airways (can’t be an AA-issued ticket)
  • Award tickets are not valid for upgrades on AA (only paid fares)
  • Only transatlantic AA flights are eligible for upgrades
  • Waitlisting for AA upgrades is not allowed, there must be space available at the time the upgrade instrument is applied (“A” for first class, “C” for business)
  • Upgrades are valid for one class of service, from premium to business or from business to first (AA doesn’t allow upgrades from economy to premium economy, even for its own elites).
Etihad guest Sweet Spots
AA Business Class

Quick Thoughts

This new upgrade agreement is undoubtedly an improvement. American and British Airways have been promising further integration for elites as part of their “transatlantic joint venture” and, while upgrade reciprocity has been promised for awhile, we hadn’t seen anything actually come to fruition.

That said, it’s an improvement that leaves something to be desired. I’d like to see more flexibity in terms of classes, routes and the ability to get waitlisted. Confirmable upgrade space has been brutal on American recently and not having the option to waitlist could make it very difficult to actually use these reciprocal upgrades. It’s also strange that American requires that one segment be both marketed AND operated by Amercan (and could create issues for elites in US gateways like NYC and Chicago that won’t have a domestic connection involved). Also, as an Alaska Elite, I’d love to be able to use the upgrades that we get on BA as well.

In the end this new upgrade reciprocity is better than a kick in the pants and could be useful to both AA and BA elites…provided they can find space.

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Yeah for upgrading to business class. But just try to use one for first class on either AA or BA. In the case of AA, revenue management simply does not like to release A award inventory (which is not the same as A revenue inventory). In the case of BA, I challenge anyone to identify Z inventory. To me, SWUs are a hollow and useless benefit. A key detractor for me with respect to AA. Sure, they have a business to run. But, I don’t like what they’re selling. Hasta la vista, baby.


I haven’t seen anything from BA about these systemwide upgrades, availability, conditions etc. Is there anything publicly available / announced?


… and I ask particularly as I’m BA Gold