As many American Airlines travelers are well aware there are several major changes coming to the AAvantage program beginning on January 1, 2017. One of the lessor discussed changes is in regards to the earning period for 500-mile upgrade certificates or “stickers.” Oddly enough, the earning period for 500-mile upgrades does not close until January 31, 2017. Also, per American, the airline will no longer offer pro-rated 500-mile upgrade certificates at the end of the earning window.
What are 500-Mile Upgrade Certificates?
500-mile upgrade certificates or stickers are certificates which allow AAdvantage Gold or Platinum elites to upgrade to the next class of service (when offered) while traveling domestically in the United States on American Airlines or regional partners. One certificate is required per 500 flight miles.
How Do 500-Mile Upgrades Work?
On flights under 500 miles, all AAdvantage elites are offered complimentary auto-requested upgrades that do not require the use of a sticker. On flights over 500 miles, AAdvantage Gold and Platinum Elites must first request the upgrade and only if the upgrade clears will the certificates be credited from your account. After January 1, 2017, AAdvantage Platinum Pro and Executive Platinum Elites and Concierge Key members receive unlimited complimentary upgrades on all domestic flights regardless of length.
For AAdvantage Gold and Platinum Elites on flights over 500 miles one sticker is required per 500 miles flown; so a flight of 503 miles (STL-DFW) requires a single sticker in order to be upgraded. If a flight is just 599 miles, a single certificate is required, but if the flight is 1,000 miles a second certificate is required to be upgraded. American used to have some flexibility on routes just over the 500-mile thresholds, but no longer do.
Only AAdvantage Gold or Platinum Elites can earn or use upgrade certificates, but one major change coming in 2017 is Elite pasengers’ travel companions on the same record locator are now considered for upgrades as well (certificates required for Gold/Platinum). So two passengers traveling 1,000 miles would require a total of 4 certificates if the upgrades clear. Companions of Concierge Key, Executive Platinum, or Platinum Pro Elites will not be required to use stickers when upgraded.
How Are 500-Mile Upgrade Certificates Earned?
500-mile upgrades can be purchased for $40 each, up from $30. If you opt to purchase Stickers make sure to do so via AA.com to avoid the processing fee and since American processes the purchase directly, make sure to use a credit card that earns bonus points on travel purchases.
Elites can also earn 4 certificates per 12,500 Elite Qualifying Miles flown. Which brings me to the whole point of this post. The cutoff for earning 500-mile upgrades does not end until January 31, 2017! Last year the earning window ended on February 29, 2016 and if you fell short of the then 10,000 EQM requirement you could call American and receive a pro-rated portion of the 4 certificates. I had flown 8,000 miles at that point last year and was granted 2 certificates. This year American will officially not allow pro-rated certificates, but it definitely does not hurt to call and ask. I am not exactly sure Platinum Elites who qualify for Platinum Pro mid-year will be given pro-rated stickers as was the policy for Platinum to Executive Platinum in 2016.
Also, the January 31, 2017 cutoff means Gold/Platinum Elites will then just have 11 months (ending December 31, 2017) to earn 500-mile upgrade certificates in 2017.
Do 500-Mile Stickers Expire?
As far as I can tell based on American’s polices, 500-mile stickers do not ever expire, but if you do not qulify for Elite status you will not be able to use your stickers or earn more stickers until you again qualify for elite status.
Since American changed the 500-mile earning requirement from 10,000 EQMs to 12,500 EQMs on March 1, 2016 it seems American has given members two 11 month periods to earn stickers and will then return to a 12 month earning period in 2018. Most importantly, American as already made an official statement that 500-mile upgrade certificates will NOT be pro-rated when the January 31, 2017 cutoff hits so if you are extremely close to earning the full 4 stickers (worth $160 to buy) it may be work squeezing in one last flight before the end of January to make sure you earn the stickers.