Getting a complimentary upgrade is harder than ever. Many airlines have scaled back their loyalty programs, making it difficult to acquire elite status or simply encouraging more people to pay for business and first class so that there are fewer upgrades available. I’m not sure whether to be excited or disappointed, but Amex Membership Rewards is now joining this trend and providing a new way to get an upgrade on your next flight. They call it “Upgrade with Points.”
Cardmembers who earn Membership Rewards points (e.g., with a Platinum Card or Gold Card) can present an offer to 20 different airline partners. Choose how many Membership Rewards points you’re willing to redeem for an upgrade to the next class of service. If it’s accepted, the points will be deducted and you’re moved up. If not, you keep your points. You can even cancel your offer any time up until the airline accepts it.
There are 20 participating airlines, and they aren’t all the same ones that traditional participate in points transfers with Membership Rewards. For example, Singapore Airlines is a partner in both programs, but Icelandair is a new partner for the upgrade program. You still can’t transfer Membership Rewards points directly to redeem through Icelandair’s Saga Club loyalty program. Here’s a list of all the airlines participating in Upgrade with Points:
- Aerolineas Argentinas
- Air Canada
- Air China
- Air Mauritius
- Caribbean Airlines
- Etihad Airways
- Fiji Airways
- Gulf Air
- Kenya Airways
- Malaysia Airlines
- Silk Air
- Singapore Airlines
- TAP Portugal
A few airlines have already started taking upgrade offers in cash, so in that sense it’s not too unusual to see the option to take upgrades for points instead. American Express already lets you transfer Membership Rewards points to over a dozen different airlines. By bidding your points directly, you skip the inconvenient transfer and also preserve the flexibility to use your points on another airline in case the upgrade bid doesn’t succeed.
Here’s more information from American Express on how it works:
Visit the Upgrade with Points section of MembershipRewards.com or visit www.americanexpress.com/upgrade.
Select the airline you are booked with.
Enter your reservation details to see if your itinerary is eligible to upgrade.
If eligible, use Membership Rewards points, or a combination of points and dollars, to place an offer towards an upgrade.
Your offer will be accepted or declined by the airline, usually within 5 days of your flight. Whatever the airline’s decision, American Express will communicate the result to you via email prior to your departure.
If your offer was accepted, visit your airline’s website or call your airline to obtain a copy of your updated itinerary.
I also like the idea of upgrading because you continue to earn miles and status according to the terms of the ticket you originally booked. Generally, you’re better off just booking an award in first or business class, but I happen to be one of those people who still flies enough on paid tickets to earn status the old fashioned way. Sometimes it’s another person paying (e.g., business trips). Redeeming Membership Rewards points offers you a way to still sit up front.
On the other hand, I’m not thrilled with policies like this that make it easier for airlines to excuse the devaluations of years past. A new way to pay for an upgrade doesn’t make up for the fact that upgrades used to be given out more often and for free. But since you get to make your own bid, you might be able to lowball the airline and still come out a success. (There is no minimum bid required.)
It will be interesting to read reports of some of the first frequent flyers to try this new Amex benefit. I don’t personally have any upcoming trips, but I can see myself booking premium economy or business class on Singapore Airlines, crediting the miles to Alaska Airlines, and then placing an additional offer for an upgrade through American Express.