Back in March, I got to head out to San Francisco for a dear friend's wedding. I was able to find discounted business class tickets for around $600 each way on American Airlines, so I decided to pounce on those. I paid cash for the outbound, and used somewhere around 37,500 Citi ThankYou points for the return. (Man, am I going to miss that 1.6 cents/point redemption on AA for accruing EQMs!)
My return was late on a Sunday afternoon. I had tons of work to do, and wanted my own space to do it. So I looked into upgrading my ticket from business to first class on American's transcon A321T. While it's tough to score a "C" bucket economy-to-business upgrade on these routes, an "A" bucket business-to-first upgrade (using points plus cash copay or a system-wide upgrade ("SWU")) is typically available.
The morning of departure, I called the Executive Platinum desk and asked if I could upgrade. She saw that my ticket was a "bulk" fare ticket, and put me on hold to see if it was eligible for an upgrade. According to this agent, some bulk fare tickets are eligible, and some aren't. That much is true, in my experience. When she came back on the line, she said both options -- that is, using points plus a cash copay or using a SWU -- were available to me. At that moment, though, I had to hang up, since I was about to start brunch with the newlywed couple.
My second attempt was when I got to SFO. I walked up to a desk agent, and asked about the possibility of upgrading. She also observed my ticket was a bulk fare, and called someone else to ask. Her response was that I could not upgrade by any means, whether points plus cash or SWU.
I was a bit confused, and disappointed, but I wasn't going to fight it. At least not with her.
My third attempt was at the SFO Admirals Club (which is charming, by the way; I love that it falls somewhere between the ancient Admirals Clubs and the brand new ones in terms of decor). I discussed with an agent at the desk there, who made another phone call. She said I could not upgrade using points, but I could upgrade using a SWU.
Did I want to burn a SWU on this route? I wanted to save some for end of the year mileage runs in case I needed them, but I also really valued having more space on this flight. So ultimately, I used it.
I had a terrific flight. But this experience raises a question: What exactly is the upgrade instrument policy with "bulk" AA tickets bought using Citi ThankYou points?