Acute exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (AECOPD) are a frequent cause of hospital admission and are associated with significant morbidity, mortality, high readmission rates and high resource utilization. More accurate prediction of survival and readmission in patients hospitalized with AECOPD should help to optimize clinical management and allocation of resources, including targeting of palliative care and strategies to reduce readmissions. We have reviewed the published retrospective and prospective studies in this field to identify the factors most likely to be of value in predicting in-hospital and post-discharge mortality, and readmission of patients hospitalized for AECOPD. The prognostic factors which appear most important vary with the particular outcome under consideration. In-hospital mortality is related most clearly to the patient's acute physiological state and to the development of acute comorbidity, while post-discharge mortality particularly reflects the severity of the underlying COPD, as well as specific comorbidities, especially cardiac disease. Important factors influencing the frequency of readmission include functional limitation and poor health-related quality of life. Large prospective studies which incorporate all the potentially relevant variables are required to refine prediction of the important outcomes of AECOPD and thus to inform clinical decision making, for example on escalation of care, facilitated discharge and provision of palliative care.