Forget those old lists of top 10 ways to get an upgrade, most of which haven’t worked in years. If you want to sit up front on your next American Airlines flight you can now get there the old-fashioned way: Pay for it. American has become the first North American airline to partner with Plusgrade to provide a cash bidding system to open up first class seats to those who otherwise would not get upgraded. The program is targeted at travelers who do not hold elite status in the AAdvantage program. They explicitly note that elites should continue to use 500-mile instruments for their upgrade needs. The airline also says that “[e]lite status member upgrade requests will continue to be given priority and will not be impacted by this program.”
The program will allow all travelers to offer a per-passenger price for access to the forward cabin. American can choose whether to accept the offer or not and will do so wholly at their own discretion. The fine print of the program includes, among other bits, “[American Airlines] makes no representation that any passenger will be upgraded regardless of whether or not seats are available in the class of service for which an Offer is being made.” And, despite the marketing page promising “An upgraded seat in a premium cabin class, complimentary food and beverage, Priority Check-in , Priority Baggage and Priority Boarding,” the fine print says “American Airlines does not guarantee that you will be offered a meal for the class of service to which you have been upgraded, nor other amenities generally associated with the class of service to which you have been upgraded.” I’m sure that’s just a CYA comment tucked in by the lawyers but it sure would be annoying to be denied some of the benefits based on the fine print.
There are a couple interesting things about the way the program is run. Customers can modify their bid or even revoke it so long as it has not been approved. To some extent this means travelers can play games with the bids and try to beat the system a little bit. But the part where American says they won’t necessarily give out upgrades makes it a bit harder to win at that game, I think.
Also interesting is that these are supposed to be prioritized behind elites getting upgraded. I suppose that for now we have no reason to believe that they won’t follow through on that plan, though it is always interesting once the dollar signs start flashing to see what happens behind the scenes.
Ancillary revenue is the way of the future. Welcome to the party.
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