I can’t use the upgrades I purchased on American Airlines

Roger Anstey buys upgrades on American Airlines and then learns that only elite AAdvantage members can use them. He’d like the upgrade costs refunded and his frequent flyer miles back. Can our advocates retrieve them?

Question: A few years ago I purchased six 500-mile upgrades on American Airlines for my wife and myself. Neither of us had elite status at that time. Since then, I have used three of the upgrades.

I tried to use the remaining upgrades for a forthcoming flight from Hartford, Conn., to Miami, only to learn that only elite AAdvantage members can use them and that they are nonrefundable. It seems that American Airlines changed its upgrade policy since I purchased them and failed to publicize the change. My wife and I do not fly frequently enough to qualify for elite status.

Then I requested 15,000 frequent flyer miles to upgrade to first class. American’s agent laughed at my request.

Can you help me recover my costs? — Roger Anstey, Avon, Conn.

Answer: I’m sorry you couldn’t upgrade your seat on your pending flight to first class.

However, I wonder about your communications with American Airlines, because last year you demanded American’s help in getting a refund of frequent flyer miles used for an upgrade to first class, for which you felt you were overcharged. On that occasion, you took an extremely aggressive tone with American, which would not have moved its representatives to assist you.

And in reading your correspondence with American Airlines this time, it seems that you’re still doing it. You sent the following to Sean Bentel, former head of customer relations (the following is per your documentation):

Received a phone call from Layla in response to my email to you. The only thing I can say good is that it was a quick response. … She gave me a lot of lip service but the essence was screw your we ain’t doing anything about it. …

Once again you company is screwing me out of money. Corporate Customer Service should be called customer disservice. Nothing but lip service. Basically she said become gold and you can use them which is absurd because I don’t fly enough to ever achieve that level. Only fly to vacation and see Kids.

What I am asking for is not exorbitant. Miles do not cost your company anything. Upgrade to first class on Monday don’t cost your company anything.


As we pointed out then, it’s never appropriate to employ accusations, sarcasm, or all caps (the online equivalent of shouting) in a request for help.

Related story:   Why did United cancel my return flight?

But our advocates decided to reach out to American to find out whether the airline had changed its upgrade policy. (Our website contains executive contact information for American Airlines.) We also discovered that in 2013, non-elite AAdvantage members could upgrade from full-fare Economy class (booked in Y or B fare class).

American told us that “We have worked it out, and will refund the certificates. However, you always had to be elite to use them.”

It isn’t clear why you weren’t made aware of the upgrade policy change or when it took place, but you will be getting your money back.

Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for Elliott.org. Read more of Jennifer's articles here.

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