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American Will Charge Cash for Domestic Upgrades

The opening line in this morning's email from American's AAdvantage program is positively inspirational: "Move To The Front Of The Plane!"

Love to, fellas. In fact, I consider upgrading on longer flights to be one of the few consistently worthwhile uses of my frequent flyer miles.

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The note continues: "Did you realize that your AAdvantage miles could move you into Business or First class on your next trip on American Airlines? That's right—AAdvantage members traveling on most purchased fare tickets have the ability to use miles or miles plus a co-payment to upgrade to the next cabin of service."

OK, I knew that. In fact, everyone knows that. So why send a special email?

The next paragraph reminds me that 5,000 miles can be redeemed for a one-way upgrade from a full-Y domestic ticket. Again, old news. And irrelevant, since I only upgrade from cheaper fares.

It's only in the fourth paragraph that American finally delivers the bad news—the real reason for sending the email:

Effective October 1, 2008, Upgrade awards from most Discount Economy fares will change as follows:

Upgrade within the continental U.S. and Canada, within and between the continental U.S./Canada/Mexico/The Caribbean or between North America and Central America will require 15,000 miles plus a $50 co-payment.

Upgrade between North America and Europe, Japan, China, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile or Uruguay will require 25,000 plus a $350 co-payment.

Upgrade between North America and India will require 40,000 miles plus a $350 co-payment.

To summarize, the $50 co-pay for 15,000-mile one-way domestic upgrades is an altogether new fee, and the $350 co-pays are increases from $300 co-pays currently in effect.

Upgrades booked on or before September 30 may still be made at today's prices.

These are significant increases, with seriously negative implications for the value of AAdvantage members' miles. Especially painful is the change to domestic upgrades, because they are the most popular. The change will bring the total price of a round-trip domestic upgrade to 30,000 miles plus $100.

Perhaps the more honest opening to American's announcement would be "Move To The Front Of The Plane Now, Fast, Before We Impose New and Higher Fees for Upgrades!"

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