So you did it, you made Executive Platinum. Whether it’s your first year as EXP or your 30th it’s a cool feeling knowing you’ve qualified for American’s top published tier of status (there’s an unpublished tier called ConciergeKey).
There are many elements to the benefits you receive as an EXP and I’m going to try and cover them in very plain language, since the benefits are hard to understand at first. I’ve been EXP for a few years now and have a good grasp on the program so please ask questions in these posts and I’ll do my best to reply!
“Systemwides” or “evips” or “SWUs” allow you to reach out and upgrade a passenger one class of travel, subject to availability. One SWU is good for one-way travel of up to three segments on flights (domestic or international, doesn’t matter) operated and marketed by American Airlines (basically a flight on an American jet with an American flight number).
Before 2016 you were awarded 8 systemwide upgrades upon qualification. Starting in 2016 you will be awarded 4 systemwide upgrades with the possibility of earning 2 more once you reach 150,000 elite-qualifying miles (EQM) and 2 more at 200,000 EQM for a total of 8 per year.
An example I have is a trip to Asia I have coming up soon. I’ll be flying out DFW-NRT and back HKG-DFW on a ticket in Economy. If there is availability I can use a SWU to upgrade me to Business on DFW-NRT and another SWU to upgrade me to Business on HKG-DFW.
If the routing was a little more complex, say LGA-DFW-LAX-NRT, I could still use one SWU to upgrade me on all three segments (LGA-DFW, DFW-LAX, LAX-NRT). Again, that all depends on availability.
How to find availability
If you want to search for a flight, make sure you’re logged in to your account on AA.com and do a flight search. For example’s sake I searched for a one-way flight LAX-PVG and the following popped up.
If I want to check SWU availability, I click on the Systemwide Upgrade link below 183, for example (this is new, it used to only display the text if there was availability, now you must click the Systemwide Upgrade link).
When you click the link, the following pops up.
If you’re looking at an itinerary with multiple segments or on a 3-class aircraft you’ll have a radio button you need to select to search through availability. Oftentimes you’ll find that there’s availability for domestic legs but not international ones so be careful when searching!
How to apply a SWU
Unfortunately you cannot apply a SWU online. The availability searching tool is just that, a tool to search availability. Once you find the availability you’re looking for you can either make the reservation online and call the EXP desk (800-843-6200) to apply your SWU or you could simply call the EXP desk and have them make the booking for you (I usually do the former).
What if the website doesn’t show availability?
If they cannot confirm you on booking date they can add you to the upgrade list. This list is sorted based on the timestamp of your upgrade request, so for flights like AA137 and AA138 (DFW-HKG and vice versa) where there is typically little to no availability, you’ll want to request your SWU as soon as possible to help your chances. If your upgrade doesn’t clear then obviously you’re not charged a SWU.
Can I use SWUs only for myself?
You can use a SWU for just about any passenger traveling on a flight marketed by and operated by American Airlines. All you need to do is call the EXP desk with the record locator of the passenger you’re looking to upgrade and they can take care of it from there.
Do my SWUs expire?
Yes. They typically expire at the end of your EXP membership year. I have 8 SWUs at the moment and they expire January 31, 2017. I’m sure there have been exceptions over the years but it’s not typical for American to extend the life of the SWUs.
If I have some left over and won’t use them, can I sell them? What should I do?
You cannot sell SWUs. If you are caught doing this American can (and will) shut your AAdvantage account down. Some people have done this in the past but it’s very much at your own risk. I do not recommend doing this if you have leftovers. Instead, bless a friend or family member by upgrading them if you’re not going to use yours.
What do you think is the most valuable way to use SWUs?
SWUs are amazing because they can upgrade almost any purchased ticket (you can’t SWU an award ticket). Other airlines require you to buy a minimum of a more expensive ticket in order to apply an upgrade like this, but American’s existing SWU policy is great because I can buy the cheapest Economy fare and upgrade into Business.
I find the most value for SWUs comes on international itineraries, since the flight distances are so long. I’ve only used a SWU on a domestic flight once, but it was a long LAX-JFK flight and felt I got good value from it.
My general recommendation is to use SWUs for the longest flights you’ll take throughout the year, especially if on a widebody aircraft (A330, 767, 777, or 787). Some use these upgrades on special family trips to places like the Caribbean but I think coach is fine for a few hours of flying time. Obviously your opinion is just as valid as mine here, just telling you my opinion.