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):

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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.

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.

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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.

  • LeeAnneClark


    Lesson #1 in how NOT to communicate with Customer Service! Thanks OP for the education. ;-)

  • Dutchess

    Wow, love how the OP has learned NOTHING here. Good work by Chris and his team but next time Mr. Anstey comes out to complain you should throw it into the delete folder.

  • Bill___A

    Miles don’t cost anything and upgrades to first class on Mondays don’t cost anything? I’m certainly glad the OP had airline accounting figured out. He’s not dealing very nicely with them at all and is lucky he got refunded.

  • Noah Kimmel

    “But our advocates decided to reach out to American to find out whether the airline had changed its upgrade policy”

    Please stop helping mean people. If it was a first time frustration, maybe an exception, but this is downright disrespectful and repeat behavior, after being advised otherwise last time around.

    He also approaches everything not as win-win, but as win at all costs. 15,000 miles for three 500 mile certs is not fair value, and not good faith from someone who wants an exception to his own mistake. Why 15,000 miles? Because that is the cost of a one-way domestic award from Hartford-California where his family lives. Interestingly, they sell 500 mile certs for $40 each. So instead of asking for $120, as a one time courtesy, he demands AA to pay him for a flexible one-way ticket valued at a few hundred dollars. Yes, this does cost an airline something, nothing is free…

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    If you do a Google search of “Roger Anstey, Avon, Conn”…you can see how this person conducts himself on other matters.

  • Charlie Funk

    Not only didn’t learn anything, his spell check is broken

  • Koholaz

    As is his grammar check. I can understand why those types of missives end up in the round file.

  • AAGK

    Even a broken clock is right once a day. If the policy changed after his purchase, the airline properly refunded. I was confused by the inclusion of AA’s statement that only elites could use upgrades and your discovery that a change occurred in 2013. Was AA untruthful? Also, why is AA selling these upgrades to non-elites then?

    He should get nothing more than a refund for the miles spent on the now useless upgrades or let him use them.

  • cscasi

    Interesting. He and his wife were not elite status, yet he was able to use three of the six upgrades he purchased several years ago, even though American’s response to Chris’s communication was. “However, you always had to be elite to use them”. If that is the case, how is it that he was able to use three of them? Employees not paying attention or was he really able to use them some time ago?
    In any case, his attitude definitely showed in his communications to American and I am not surprised he got no help. He was quite lucky that Chris and team took the time to communicate with American on his behalf and was able to secure a refund of the three unused upgrades he had purchased but not been able to use. Some people just never learn how to communicate properly when they are trying to get a favorable resolution to their issues.

  • greg watson

    honey…………..or vinegar ?………………….when will people learn………what works the best.

  • Doctor Now

    I believe these were the ones you had to purchase. They were sold to AAdvantage members for about $30 or $40 each with the stipulation that non-elites could only upgrade Y or B class fare.

  • Doctor Now

    A few years back these were sold to non-elite AAdvantage members who could use them to upgrade Y or B class fares only. Elites could use them to upgrade other fare classes.

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