The Basics

Upgrading Your American Airline Award For No Fee

Change fees are part of the game now for travelers who use miles to get around. There are still ways to get around some of these fees but they are pretty much here now.

Upgrading Your American Airline Award For No Fee

elusive business class

Getting to move to this for no fee and only 12,500 miles was a huge help!

Except for American Airlines. They are very generous in their award change policy in that you can make changes to an award for no change fees if the following parameters stay the same (for more information, check out this great post at One Mile At A Time):

  • No change to originating city
  • No change to destination city
  • Changes take place outside of 21 days from departure
  • No change between alliance members and partner members – like switching from Etihad to British Airways, for example
  • No change to award type – from Saver to Anytime

That means that you can book a flight now with your American Airline miles and then call in to upgrade that award ticket to business/first class when space opens up paying only the difference in miles between the classes (and possible tax/fees if there is a routing change).

That is a huge help since there is often plenty of economy seats available but not quite so many premium seats. I don’t know about you, but if I am planning a trip, getting to my destination is my primary concern. After that, if there is premium space and I have the miles, I worry about what cabin I am flying in.

So, I like to book the trip in economy and then wait to see about premium availability as the flight date gets closer. Other airlines will charge you anywhere from a little bit to change to a whopping $150 to make that kind of change so it is very generous on the part of American Airlines to allow that (please, PLEASE don’t change that, AA!). Tip: Use ExpertFlyer to set up an alert for award seats (on airlines that it does track that for) so that you can find out right away when that seat opens up.

When you find the seats you are looking for, simply call AA (800-882-8880) up and upgrade to the premium cabin paying only the difference in miles – and no change fee!

Great Way To Use The 10% Rebate

There is one more reason that is a big help. There are times when you may book a ticket and not have enough miles available for the premium cabin. If you have the Citi Platinum AAdvantage credit card (or the Aviator Red card), you get a 10% rebate on your miles used each year. By booking an economy ticket first, you will get the rebate for 10% of the amount that ticket was.

After those miles are refunded to your account, you can then move up to business/first (if there is availability) with the added boost of those economy miles. Of course, the rebate of miles is not going to be enough for the upgrade by itself but it may provide the boost you needed to make up the difference.

Make Sure They Do Not Charge You!

But, when you call in to make the change, make sure that they confirm there is no fee! While the language was much clearer on the older AA award page, it is not so clear now even though that policy still exists. On a recent upgrade of an award to business class, the rep never mentioned to me that she was assessing the change fee of $150 and I only found that out when I saw the charge on my credit card. I called in right away and it took a while, but they initiated a credit to get it back to me. I asked the agent I was dealing with about that if it was now policy to charge for such upgrades with the change fee and he assured me it was not, rather mistakes sometimes occur. So, be aware and ready in case something similar happens.

In my case, the rep wanted to give me $150 in AA credit instead of refunding me but I politely refused and said I wanted my money back. He said it is not so easy since it was already charged, so just save yourself a headache and specifically confirm when you call in that you will not be charged a change fee since you are just upgrading the seat and not changing the cities.


I really appreciate AA’s policy on this as it has helped me several times as well as many friends. Being able to upgrade from economy to business or first for just the difference in miles after already booking the ticket is a huge help. In my most recent ticket change, I was able to change my economy seat in for a business class seat on a long route for only 12,500 more miles. Had I needed to pay a change fee, that would have been a much harder decision than it was!

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About the author


Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.

1 Comment

  • Recently, I tried using the 10% rebate to upgrade to a higher class, but it didn’t work. When they reinstated the economy award flight, it took back my 10% rebate and I no longer had enough miles for business class.