Addressing The “If You Want To Fly First/Business Class, Buy First/Business Class” Argument

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As American Airlines has gradually made it harder and harder for its elites to score complimentary upgrades to domestic First Class or to use their miles/systemwide upgrades to move up into international Business Class one turn of phrase has gained popularity with a segment of the frequent flyer community – “if you want to fly First/Business Class, buy First/Business Class”.

This is the line that’s often trotted out on blogs and internet message boards when a contributor dares to complain about his/her upgrades not clearing on American Airlines.

The implication is obvious – the contributor shouldn’t be complaining that they’re not getting upgraded as, if sitting in the bigger seats is thatimportant to them, they should simply pay for a First/Business Class seat rather than hope for an upgrade.

I‘ve never understood this argument as it appears to miss the point of a loyalty program entirely and it’s interesting to note that when someone complains that American Airlines isn’t releasing award space to Europe (for example) you don’t generally get people suggesting that “if you want to fly to Europe, pay to fly to Europe”.

Why not? They’re both very similar complaints.

They’re both complaints centering around the inability to use stated benefits of the AAdvantage program and both are complaints that involve not getting something for free (or at least comparatively cheaply).

For some reason a certain segment of the frequent flyer community seems more hung up about people complaining about lack of upgrades than lack of award space and I’m not really sure why.

The issue here is that the stated benefits of the AAdvantage program combined with past history have given customers an understandable expectation that they will upgraded reasonably often on domestic flights (at least if they have top tier status) and an expectation that they’ll have a reasonable chance of being able to use their miles/systemwide upgrades to upgrade international journeys too….but that’s not really happening anymore.

American Airlines A321S First Class

Domestic upgrades are definitely harder to come by nowadays and it can be easier to find a Trump supporter on a Bernie Sanders donor list than it is to find international upgrade availability at the time of booking.

When the stated benefits and history of a loyalty program suggest that a certain benefit will be available to customers (and there’s no wording indicating that this benefit will be so rarely useable that it may as well not be a benefit) then customers have the right to complain….and they have a right to complain without being told that they should shut up and simply pay for the benefit.

Essentially that’s what the “if you want to fly First/Business, buy First/Business” argument is saying.

Apparently, despite what the AAdvantage program advertises, people shouldn’t complain when a benefit is hard (sometimes impossible) to use because that’s just being “entitled”…which is ironic considering the AAdvantage program suggests that members are entitled to the benefits they’re often not receiving.

American Airlines A321S First Class

So, either the stated benefits of the AAdvantage program should be changed to indicate the level of difficulty customers will have in using (or receiving) the benefits or American Airlines should make sure that the benefits being advertised are actual benefits and not simply a nod to days gone by.

What we don’t need is American Airlines apologists telling the airline’s customers that they have no right to complain….especially as I’m fairly sure those same apologists would be the first to raise their voices if they stopped receiving a benefit they believe is due to them.


  1. Agreed, 100 percent.

    As the US L3 (AA isn’t alone in this) make it increasingly difficult to a) obtain upgrades via certificates/awards, and b) get any sort of “comped” upgrades based up status (or other criteria in which the mystic forces of the airline industry operate) — and as they continue to shrink the pitch onboard, the size of the lavs, remove the IFE, etc., etc. — I find less and less of a reason to fly with them. AS and WN will take me anywhere I want to fly domestically, and foreign carriers can fly me around the world…and between AS miles, Chase UR, Amex MR, and Citi TYP, I often travel on miles in whatever class I want.

    Why fly AA? (Or DL or UA?)

    To be clear, it isn’t that I refuse to fly on the US L3, but rather only Spirit, Allegiant, and Frontier rank lower on my “carriers of choice” list. For example, two weeks ago I flew UA to BOS, but only because the AS flight would have arrived after the speakers dinner at a conference my wife and I were attending. The UA flight arrived about 4:00 pm, which gave us enough time to check into the hotel and get changed before dinner. Prior to that, I flew UA in 2016 for the very same reason, and again in 2014 — again for the same reason. I flew AA from LAX-ABQ, but only because AS cancelled my flight out of SNA and booked me onto the AA flight departing the same evening, but prior to that it was 2009. Delta? Not since 2004.


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