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Michael Bennett is the former Senior Producer of the Travel Channels west coast operations and is currently a travel writer for Savoy and Black Enterprise Magazine. Michael is the host of Globetrotting on BET's BET on Jazz Network. For travel question write to


The last article I wrote concerned the redemption of frequent flyer miles for
free roundtrip domestic airfare.  As you might recall the threshold for one
free round trip ticket on most domestic carriers is 25,000 miles.  Now it's
time to look at another option for use of those frequent flier miles,
upgrades.  Let me caution you right up front, obtaining an upgrade is never
easy and virtually impossible if you're flying on a discounted coach fare. 
With that said lets take a look a few ways to increase your odds of obtaining
an upgrade.

Most major carriers have instituted a class system based on the number of
miles you've accumulated on that particular carrier.  The higher the status,
the easier time you'll have upgrading to first or business class.  And once
you reach this "Elite" status, that status remains in effect for one calendar
year.  To maintain that status in subsequent years you must accumulate the
required number of miles within the next calendar year.

For example, American Airlines through their "AAdvantage Program" has four
different status levels; Regular "AAdvantage" members, Gold, Platinum and
Executive Platinum.  Each level requires more miles than the next.  Gold
status requires the accumulation of 25,000 points or miles within a calendar
year; Platinum requires 50,000 and Executive Platinum 100,000. 

Points or miles can be accumulate through flights on American or their
alliance partners such as British Airways, Cathay Pacific or Qantas.  You can
also accumulate points or miles by purchasing products and services with
American Airlines marketing partners who've agreed to participate in the
program.  American has deals worked out with MCI, Hyatt Hotels, Hertz Rental
Car, Countrywide Home Loans and various other businesses and restaurants in
cities all across the United States.

I want to emphasis that these "Elite Status" programs, regardless of the
carrier, require the accumulation of miles or points within one calendar
year.   That doesn't mean you don't keep the miles in your account for future
rewards, it just means you won't be an "Elite" club member.  In previous
years most major carriers had expiration dates for use of frequent flier
miles, but those dates have been relaxed almost to the point of non-existence.

The airlines have made it easier to accumulate frequent flier miles and
qualify for membership in one of the various "Elite" programs, but there's a
catch.  As I stated in the opening paragraph, redeeming those miles for
upgrades is more difficult than ever, especially when flying on discounted or
coach tickets.  The airlines will usually wait until the last second to issue
an upgrade in the hopes that someone will purchase a full fare business or
first class ticket. 

The airlines typically hold those upgrade requests for "Elite" status members
or those who've paid full fare for a ticket.  The higher your status, the
earlier you can request a seat upgrade.  Using the American Airlines example
again, Gold Members can request and possibly secure an upgrade no more than
24 hours prior to departure.  Platinum Members can make that request 72 hours
prior to departure and Executive Platinum Members have 100 hours before
departure to request an upgrade.  If you're a regular "AAdvantage Member" you
can request an upgrade at the airport.  Regardless of your status, if an
upgrade is not available you'll be placed on standby.  If an upgraded seat
should become available "Elite" status members have top priority.

The American Airlines example is similar to that of most major carriers, but
they all call their programs something different and the rules for each can
be different as well.  It's best to check with each carrier or go to their
website for specific rules and regulations.

Does it make sense to fly one carrier all the time to accumulate miles more
quickly?  That depends on your flying habits and income.  If you're one of
those who fly to the same city several times a month, belonging to one
program is probably a good bet.  Review you own individual flying habits and
see what works.

Next week we need to spend a little time discussing the accumulation of
Frequent Flier miles.