How to Get an American Airlines First Class Upgrade for Only 15,000 Miles

Using AAdvantage miles to upgrade your flight is a smart way to save a ton of money and enjoy a premium experience.
Last updated Dec 20, 2019 | By Lee Huffman
Woman flying first class

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Getting a first-class seat can make your air travel experience much more enjoyable. You can book a premium cabin ticket, but there are other options to snag that upgraded flight without breaking your budget. Most people use airline miles to book their flights, but did you know that you can also use your miles for an American Airlines upgrade to First Class? Here's how to do it.

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How American Airlines upgrades work

It is possible to upgrade your ticket using elite benefits or by paying with AAdvantage miles. Elite members receive complimentary upgrades (when available) up to 100 hours in advance. However, the rest of us need to use our miles to upgrade our tickets if space is available.

Upgrades are approved in order of priority based on elite status, the type of upgrade you're using, and how much money you've spent with the airline in the last 12 months. Elite travelers with the most rolling 12-month EQDs (Elite Qualifying Dollars) are first in line for upgrades.

What classes can you upgrade to?

When upgrading a ticket, you may move up to the next cabin of service. The price in miles is listed for one-way travel, so you'll need to double that price for a round-trip ticket. You can have a maximum of three segments per upgrade.

For example, it costs 15,000 miles for a domestic American Airlines upgrade to First Class from Business Class.

What kind of flight routes can you upgrade on (domestic, international, regional, etc.)?

In most cases, passengers can use their miles to upgrade on flights that have space available. According to American Airlines, these eligible ticket types may be upgraded:

  • Discount Economy with published fares booked in H, K, M, L, V, G, Q, N, O, S and Military or Government fares booked in Y
  • Full-Fare Economy with published fares booked in Y
  • Discount Premium Economy with published fares booked in P
  • Full-Fare Premium Economy with published fares booked in W
  • Discount Business with published fares booked in I
  • Full-Fare Business with published fares booked in J, D or R

How is the upgrade price determined when using miles (flat rate or dynamic pricing?)

The price to upgrade a flight is based on several factors, including the price you paid, the class of service, your destination, and which carrier the flight is operated by. Additionally, if you request an upgrade less than 21 days before departure, there is a $75 fee. This fee is waived for Gold, Platinum, Platinum Pro, and AAdvantage Executive Platinum members.

There’s a flat rate on the number of miles required to book an upgrade. However, there are two charts that determine the cost of the upgrade – one for American Airlines operated flights and another for British Airways and Iberia flights.

American Airlines flight upgrades range from 5,000 miles to 25,000 miles. Full-fare flights do not have a cash surcharge, while discounted flights do (ranging from $75 to $550). For example, upgrading a full-fare Economy or Premium Economy flight costs 5,000 miles each way. By comparison, upgrading a discounted Economy or Premium Economy flight is 15,000 miles and $75 each way.

To / From To / From From Discount Economy / Premium Economy From Full-Fare Economy / Premium Economy From Discount Business From Full-Fare Business
Contiguous 48 U.S. states, Alaska, Canada Contiguous 48 U.S. states, Alaska, Canada 15,000 + $75 5,000 15,000 + $175 15,000
Contiguous 48 U.S. states, Alaska, Canada, Mexico, Caribbean Contiguous 48 U.S. states, Alaska, Canada, Mexico, Caribbean 15,000 + $75 8,000 15,000
Contiguous 48 U.S. states, Alaska, Canada, Mexico, Caribbean Hawaii 15,000 + $175 8,000 15,000
North America Central America 15,000 + $75 8,000 15,000
North America Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru 15,000 + $150 8,000 15,000
North America Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay 25,000 + $350 15,000 25,000 + $550 25,000
North America Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, China, Australia, New Zealand 25,000 + $350 15,000 25,000 + $550 25,000
North America Europe, Middle East, Africa 25,000 + $350 15,000 25,000 + $550 25,000

Chart courtesy of American Airlines.

Flight upgrades on partners British Airways or Iberia range from 12,500 miles to 70,000 miles. Mileage upgrades are subject to taxes and security fees depending upon the flight you are taking. For example, a Premium Economy ticket upgrade to Business Class while flying from North America to Europe is 12,500 miles each way.

To / From To / From Full-Fare Economy to Premium Economy Premium Economy to Business Full-Fare Economy to Business Business to First
North America Europe 12,500 12,500 25,000 35,000
North America Africa (via Europe) 20,000 20,000 40,000 50,000
North America Indian Subcontinent / Middle East (via Europe) 20,000 20,000 40,000 50,000
Europe Europe 10,000 20,000
Europe Asia Region 1 22,500 22,500 45,000 55,000
Europe Asia Region 2 17,500 17,500 35,000 45,000
Europe South Pacific 30,000 30,000 60,000 70,000
Europe Africa 17,500 17,500 35,000 45,000
Europe Indian Subcontinent / Middle East (via Europe) 15,000 15,000 30,000 40,000
Europe Central America / South America Region 1 35,000 45,000
Europe South America Region 2 22,500 22,500 45,000 55,000
Asia Region 2 South Pacific 12,500 12,500 25,000 35,000

Chart courtesy of American Airlines.

What other types of upgrades (besides using miles) does American Airlines offer?

American Airlines offers a few types of flight upgrades, including the following:

500-mile upgrade certificate upgrades

For elite fliers, all flights under 500 miles are eligible for complimentary upgrades. For longer flights, Gold and Platinum elites use "500-mile" upgrade certificates to request upgrades. Elite members receive four certificates for every 12,500 miles they fly. These certificates can also be purchased for $40 each, or eight certificates for 40,000 AA miles.

Systemwide upgrades

Systemwide upgrade certificates are given to top-tier Executive Platinum members. These elite fliers receive four systemwide upgrade certificates every year, which can be used to upgrade any paid flight on American Airlines.

Business Extra upgrades

Business Extra is an ancillary program that rewards businesses for flying with American Airlines. You earn points for flying, and those points can be redeemed for upgrades. These points are in addition to the normal miles you earn while flying.

How to get an American Airlines upgrade with miles

To redeem American Airlines miles for an upgrade, you'll need to buy your cash ticket first. Go through the normal steps of purchasing your flight, but keep in mind that discounted fares will require more miles (and possibly cash) when it is time to upgrade. Avoid buying a Basic Economy ticket because no changes are allowed, which means you cannot upgrade.

Once your flight is booked, contact reservations over the phone or visit an airport ticket office in person. You can request an upgrade using miles immediately after booking your reservation or at any time prior to check-in.

Provide your reservation details so the agent can search for available upgrades. If an upgrade is not available at that time, your request will be waitlisted. Waitlist requests are processed in order of status level, upgrade type, and total 12-month rolling EQDs.

Upgrade requests that haven't cleared by check-in will be transferred to the standby list. If your upgrade clears, it will happen automatically and the miles will be deducted from your account.

Keep in mind that upgrades are subject to capacity controls, so you may not be able to upgrade even when you purchase an eligible ticket.

How American Airlines credit cards can help you earn upgrades faster

American Airlines partners with Barclays and Citibank for its airline co-branded credit cards for consumers and small business owners. Deciding which credit card is best for you will depend upon your budget and what benefits are most important to you.

AAdvantage® Aviator™ Red World Elite Mastercard®

The Barclays AAdvantage™ Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard® earns 2X miles on eligible American Airlines purchases. It also offers generous perks for a reasonable $99 annual fee. Perks include the first checked bag for free (for you and up to four companions), priority boarding, and 25% savings on food and beverages purchased on American flights.

This credit card offers a unique "Flight Cents" benefit. In this program, you earn additional American Airlines miles by rounding up your purchases to the next dollar. The roundups earn ½ a mile for every penny that is rounded up. For example, a $3.10 purchase will round up to $4. You’ll earn 3 miles for the purchase and 45 additional miles for the $0.90 roundup for a total of 48 miles.

The AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard also offers an Annual Companion Certificate for $99 (plus taxes and fees) after spending $20,000 each year and up to $25 in statement credits for in-flight WiFi.

AAdvantage MileUp Mastercard

The Citi AAdvantage MileUp Mastercard has a $0 annual fee and limited benefits. You'll earn 2X AAdvantage miles per dollar spent at grocery stores and on American Airlines purchases, plus 1X on everything else. Inflight purchases receive a 25% rebate back to your card. This card is best for people who want to earn AAdvantage miles, don't check bags, and want to avoid annual fees.

AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard

The Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard is great for occasional travelers. You receive the first checked bag for free (for you and up to four companions), priority boarding, and a 25% discount on inflight purchases. You can earn 2X miles at gas stations and restaurants, and on American Airlines purchases; and unlimited 1X miles on all other purchases. Plus, new cardmembers can earn 50,000 miles after spending $2,500 in the first first 3 months. This card comes with an annual fee of $99 (waived first year).

AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard

Frequent AA travelers and those who enjoy airport lounge access will like the Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard. All cardholders (primary and authorized users) have access to the Admirals Club airport lounges. This usually costs up to $650 per person per year, so the Executive card's $450 annual fee is a steal by comparison. The primary cardholder also receives a Global Entry or TSA Precheck credit once every five years. And you'll get the first checked bag and priority boarding for you and up to eight companions. Elite status comes easier with 10,000 Elite Qualifying Miles after spending $40,000 each year.

AAdvantage® Aviator™ Business Mastercard®

The Barclays’ AAdvantage® Aviator™ Business Mastercard® is designed for small business owners. This credit card rewards spending on business expenses with 2X AAdvantage miles per dollar spent at American Airlines and office supply, telecom, and car rental merchants; plus 1X AAdvantage miles on everything else. And you'll be that much closer to a free flight when you receive an annual mileage bonus of 5% of the total miles earned during the year.

This business credit card also offers an Annual Companion Certificate good for one guest at $99 (plus taxes and fees) when spending $30,000 or more per account anniversary.

Your path to complimentary upgrades as an American Airlines AAdvantage elite member is made easier with the AAdvantage® Aviator™ Business Mastercard®. You'll receive $3,000 Elite Qualifying Dollars after spending $25,000 each calendar year. There is an annual fee of $95. However, additional employee cards can be added at no charge, and their expenses earn miles and count towards hitting that $25,000 target.

CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard

Small business owners enjoy 2x per dollar spent on American Airlines purchases, and purchases from telecommunications merchants, cable and satellite providers, car rental merchants, and gas stations with the CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard. Cardholders get the first checked bag for free (for the cardholder and up to four companions) and priority boarding for their party. And a 25% discount on inflight food, beverages, and inflight WiFi helps stay within budget.

Each year that your business spends $30,000 or more, you'll receive a domestic travel Companion Certificate. Depending upon which flight you redeem this certificate for, you could be saving hundreds of dollars with this benefit. The savings from the Companion Pass alone is worth more than the annual fee of $99 (waived first year).

FAQs about upgrading with miles on American Airlines

Can you complete upgrades for travel companions?

Yes. You may upgrade tickets for yourself or anyone that you designate.

Can you use American Airlines miles to upgrade on a partner airline?

Yes. You may use American Airlines miles to upgrade flights on British Airways and Iberia.

Can you upgrade award tickets?

You can, but it typically comes at a cost. To upgrade an award flight, you need to cancel your existing flight, redeposit the miles, then rebook the flight in the class you want. There is a fee for reinstating your miles unless you have Executive Platinum status.

Do Elites receive complimentary upgrades?

When you have Gold status or higher, you may receive complimentary upgrades while flying American Airlines. The higher status you have, the more benefits you receive and the more likely you are to be upgraded automatically. For example, Executive Platinum elites may receive upgrades up to 100 hours before departure.

On American Executive Platinum Platinum Pro Platinum Gold
Flights 500 miles or less: Unlimited, auto-requested complimentary upgrades
Flights over 500 miles: Use earned or purchased 500-mile upgrades Unlimited, auto-requested complimentary upgrades on flights over 500 miles Unlimited, auto-requested complimentary upgrades on flights over 500 miles
Complimentary upgrades on award tickets

Upgrade 1 companion traveling with you on the same flight with 500-mile upgrades
Upgrades confirmed before departure (as early as) 100 hours 72 hours 48 hours 24 hours

Chart courtesy of American Airlines

The final word on upgrading on American Airlines using miles

Although booking free flights is the most common way to redeem American Airlines miles, there are other uses for them. A good alternative is to upgrade with miles on paid flights on American Airlines, British Airways, and Iberia. The number of miles required will vary based on several factors, including flight class, destination, and the carrier.

Using the right rewards credit card can help you earn the miles you need to upgrade. Some cards will also help you achieve elite status so that you can receive complimentary upgrades and save your miles for future award flights.