Finding AAdvantage SWU flights and my 2016 flight aspirations

My AAdvantage account currently has eight American Airlines SWU e-certificates. The System Wide Upgrades are valid for a one-way upgrade on a paid ticket with up to three flight segments outbound or inbound.

Miles and points wisdom states the best value for an SWU is upgrading long-haul international flights. In my case, that most certainly means an upgrade from paid economy to international Business Class. In theory, one can upgrade from Business to First Class, but unless I get lucky to land a mistake fare, Business Class fares are not in my paid travel future.

AA my SWU account

My current American Airlines SWU account balance is 8 upgrades earned September 28, 2015 when I qualified for AAdvantage Executive Platinum.

2016 Upgrades for AAdvantage Executive Platinum members

You’ll get 4 complimentary one-way systemwide upgrades when you qualify or re-qualify for AAdvantage® Executive Platinum status. You can earn up to 4 additional systemwide upgrades for a total of 8; 2 for every 50,000 EQMs earned above 100,000.

If you’re traveling on most Business and Economy Class fares and an upgrade is available at the time of booking, you or anyone you choose will enjoy a confirmed upgrade to the next class of service.

aa.com Systemwide Upgrades About systemwide upgrades

  • If you qualified for Executive Platinum status before January 1, 2016, you’ll still earn 8 upgrades to use during the 2016 membership year.
  • Systemwide upgrades can be used for one-way travel for up to three segments on American and American Eagle marketed and operated flights.
  • Systemwide upgrades are credited to your account within 48 hours of being earned.
  • Upgrades earned based on your 2015 flight activity are valid through February 28, 2017.
  • Upgrades earned based on your 2016 flight activity are valid through January 31, 2018.
  • All travel must be completed by midnight (CT) of the expiration date.
  • You can share your upgrades with anyone you choose, whether you are traveling with them or not. Call your elite service desk in advance to request the upgrade.
  • If you cancel your trip prior to travel, call your elite service desk to reinstate your upgrade(s) for future use.

Systemwide upgrades aren’t available when you’ve booked:

  • Codeshare flights, including flights marketed by American and operated by other airlines
  • Government or military fares
  • Fares ineligible for mileage credit (like award tickets)

aa.com Systemwide Upgrades

Finding Systemwide Upgrade Flights on aa.com for Amsterdam

American Airlines’ website shows when there is SWU availability at time of booking. SWU availability at time of booking is shown for a very small portion of overall itineraries I research.

I have eight SWU certificates in my account. That is enough to upgrade four round trip tickets. That is two round trip tickets upgraded from economy to business class for my wife and me.

Checking out flight plans for a trip to Amsterdam next month shows the lowest airfare ticket Los Angeles to Amsterdam at $799 round trip on Aeroflot, a SkyTeam Alliance airline.

American Airlines and Oneworld flights price out at $1,241 round trip from San Francisco or $1,259 round trip from Los Angeles.


SFO-JFK-LHR-AMS $1,241 ticket has SWU availability for SFO-JFK and JFK-LHR on American Airlines flights.

$542 Fare Mileage Run Alternative flying AMS-LAX round trip


At $546 round trip, the price to fly Amsterdam to Los Angeles on an American Airlines ticket is less than 50% of the ticket price when starting in the USA. A one-stop AMS–LHR–LAX can be upgraded on the long-haul international flight with an SWU.

Living in Monterey allows me to connect to an Alaska Airlines evening flight back to Monterey for $59.

AA AMS-LAX-SWU Mar22 $542

I can book AMS-LAX for $542 round trip and upgrade the transatlantic flights each way with two SWU certificates. This round trip routing is around 12,150 flight miles and earns 24,300 redeemable miles for me, an AAdvantage Executive Platinum member.

Alaska Airlines will fly me LAX-MRY for $59 for a total ticket price of $601 for Amsterdam to Monterey and LAX to Amsterdam. The ticket price AMS-MRY-AMS is $660 round trip, if I need to fly Alaska Airlines both ways.

The question is how do I initially get to Amsterdam to start a round trip flight from Amsterdam to Los Angeles?

Norwegian Air Oakland OAK – AMS Amsterdam

$291 one-way Mon Feb 8, 2016

OAK-AMS $291 Feb 8 Norwegian


My plan is earn maximum American AAdvantage miles during first half of 2016 while redeemable miles earned are based on flight distance.

I presented my 2016 travel plan a few months ago when tickets were around $400 USD for travel between Sweden or Norway to San Francisco. Those are lower fare cities, but Sweden and Norway are not the best places in the middle of winter unless you desire to ski. Prices are high in these countries for a tourist.

The ability to travel between Amsterdam and California for around $550 round trip makes this a more desirable routing for me to earn AAdvantage miles in the first part of 2016.

2016 Economy Flight Aspirations

Besides flying American Airlines operated flights to burn SWUs and codeshares to earn redeemable miles, my 2016 flight aspirations include a few other airline economy class products.

  • Fly Norwegian from California to Europe. Oakland to Amsterdam would meet one of those objectives. I would also like to try the Norwegian LAX-LGW London Gatwick flight.
  • Fly Aeroflot via Moscow to somewhere in Europe or to LAX from Europe. Aeroflot has low one-way fares to many airports in Europe for $375 to $475.
  • Fly WOW Air from California to Europe, once flights start from LAX and SFO.
  • Fly Turkish Airlines SFO to Europe.

These are all low-fare airline options for travel from California to Europe.

One thing about this past year is there were great low fare deals from California to Europe in the winter and spring of 2015, yet great low fare deals have been sparse since August 2015. The real deals these past six months have been the low airfares from Europe to California.

The availability of airlines like Aeroflot, Norwegian and WOW offering one-way fares from California to Europe makes it possible to pursue a frequent flyer strategy of flying low round trip fares to California originating in Europe at far lower cost than flying to Europe starting in California for earning AAdvantage redeemable miles in 2016.

About Ric Garrido

Ric Garrido of Monterey, California started Loyalty Traveler in 2006 for traveler education on hotel and air travel, primarily using frequent flyer and frequent guest loyalty programs for bargain travel. Loyalty Traveler joined BoardingArea.com in 2008.

More articles by Ric Garrido »


  1. Worth noting that you can’t trust AA’s website for SWU space since they might be showing availability for J-F upgrades instead of Y-J. Best to use EF instead and make your own routings based off availability.

  2. If you click the “Systemwide Upgrade” link on AA, it will tell you if there are Y-J upgrades available, or just J-F; however, pretty much all of the international flights open up Y-J availability about 1 week prior to departure. At least that was my experience with using EF when I booked my flight to Madrid for September 2015 back in July 2015.

  3. Big price increase of $200 with Oneworld flights today on Amsterdam-Los Angeles route. Looks like no economy upgrade availability for most of the flights I searched today on AA.com.

    Still available, Turkish Airlines at $584 AMS-LAX round trip with overnight in Istanbul outbound leg.

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