Not much can be said of domestic first class after experiencing the Flagship Suite service on an American Airlines flight last year to London. After vowing never to upgrade on a domestic flight again because of some service issues I experienced for which American compensated with bonus miles, I realized with a busy afternoon planned after arriving in New York some rest could be had in a comfortable airline seat. Plus I've been hoarding my upgrade units for a while.
EARNING AND USING 500-MILE UPGRADES ON AMERICAN:
Complimentary upgrade rules vary by airlines. On American Airlines the upgrade account is separate from a passenger's mileage account. All members in the AAdvantage program earn miles for rewards. However AAdvantage members holding Platinum or Gold elite status earn four upgrade units for every 10,000 qualifying miles flown. Each upgrade unit is then required for every 500 miles of travel. Click HERE to view the rules of American's 500-Mile Upgrade program. Since flying to New York City is a little over 5,000 miles one way, an elite Aadvantage member must possess at least 11 upgrade units to be upgraded all the way through.
Upgrades are always to the next class service. So a passenger holding an economy ticket would be upgraded to first class on flights with two classes of service or to business class on flights with three classes of service. The upgrade program applies to all domestic flights and only select international destinations.
If passengers are short one or two upgrade units, additional units can be purchased for $30 each online. Being upgraded is not automatic. The upgrade must be requested on the passenger's reservation and being upgraded will largely depend if seats are available in the next class of service and what elite level the passenger holds. So Aadvantage Platinum members are upgraded 72 hours before departure while Gold members upgraded 24 hours prior to departure. On flights with connections, the passenger may request to be upgraded on only one of the two connecting flights. This is what I did for this flight to from Honolulu (HNL) to New York La Guardia (LGA) via Dallas-Ft Worth (DFW). I upgraded to Dallas (Flight #8) but not from Dallas to New York (Flight #704).
If a requested upgrade has not been confirmed 24 hours prior to departure, its likely there are no seats available in the next class of service. The passenger can always request the upgrade at the airport should a seat be available then.
Alternatively all passengers can use their miles for a reward of a first class ticket or upgrade. Click HERE to view the Aadvantage Rewards Chart.