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Getting a seat upgrade and waived baggage fee is probably the norm for someone like Beyoncé, but for the average flyer, these little bonuses instantly improve their experience travelling.

So what causes these bursts of good luck? A charming smirk, a witty remark, well-used manners or just an employee wanting to pay it forward? According to popular travel website The Points Guy, when you’re travelling with American Airlines, it all comes down to how the airline has you ranked. Yup, there’s a secret points system that you didn’t even know you were a part of.

At American Airlines (AA), it’s called the Helix Score, which is a point system that ranks each passenger between one and five Eagles. The Eagles are given to passengers based on their flying status — Executive Platinum flyers (the company’s most elite membership option) allegedly receive more Eagles than, say, Platinum Elite flyers, the third tier in AA’s four-tier membership program. Currently, there’s no word on whether regular cabin passengers have a ranking, or if it’s strictly for elite members.

AA is tight-lipped about this sneaky scoring system, though. If you ask an employee about your Helix Score, most will pretend it simply doesn’t exist. I even called to inquire about a flight from Vancouver to Phoenix and asked the agent if she could tell me my Helix Score, and she claimed to not know what I was talking about. However, JT Genter, a travel expert at The Points Guy, claimed that different sources working within the airline have revealed bits and bites of info about the secret rating system.

“There’s no way of finding out your Helix Score — agents will have this score in front of them when you call, interact on social media or file a complaint,” Genter wrote. Even if you do come across an agent who’s willing to whisper your score over the phone, it doesn’t matter. “Everyone’s Helix score updates nightly,” he said.

Having a good rating can determine how you’re compensated for a travel mishap or if you can use upgrades after they expire.

If you want to play the system and improve your chances of being treated better, Genter explained that “the primary purpose of this score [is] maintaining valuable customers that they might lose to other airlines.” So playing hard to get by bouncing around to different airlines once in awhile could help your score.

There’s no word on whether our Canadian carriers like WestJet or Air Canada have similar systems in place, but one has got to expect that other big players in the game are tracking passenger behaviour some way or another. Or, perhaps a “please” and “thank you” is all it’ll take to get yourself a seat upgrade.

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