Many airlines allow customers to book business class tickets with miles through their loyalty programs or upgrade with miles or upgrade certificates. In an effort to monetize those business class seats, a growing number of airlines is offering customers to bid to upgrade their flight by one class, say from Economy to Business class. For elite members in the frequent flyer programs that may mean fewer free upgrades or upgrades with points. For infrequent flyers of an airline that can be a welcome opportunity to fly in a nicer class of service for much less than the full fare!
Malaysia Airlines is one of a long list of airlines now offering this type of auction system to bid for upgrades. Shortly after making an economy class reservation, I received an email telling me that my itinerary is eligible for an upgrade to business class. The email promised “Fine dining in the skies” and “angled seats”, which is a little misleading as the Boing B737 scheduled for our flight has old recliner seats.
The email or site doesn’t really give you how the bids are evaluated, other than providing an offer “strength” meter going from red for a low bid to green for the maximum bid. The idea is that your bid is compared with other people bidding on the upgrades and the best one wins. An educated guess is that other parameters, like the purchase price of your ticket, availability of seats on your flight, the business class price of a ticket for your route and possibly your elite status with the airline can influence the chances of your bid being accepted.
In our case (two people on one reservation, connecting flight) the bid option ranged from $60-$265 per person for a 3h 40min flight and $75-265 for a 3h flight on what I assume to be a more popular/expensive route. That would make for a minimum of $270 per person round-trip. After the customer service disaster we encountered with Malaysia Airlines, we were really not in a mood to spend more money with them and declined. I also have OneWorld status, giving us lounge access and priority boarding, some of the advertised benefits of an upgrade. I’m still tempted to try out the bidding for our return flight, as I’d be curious to experience their business class onboard product and service.
With another airline, I’d be intrigued to try this out and I think it’s in general a great option for infrequent travelers who don’t have the cash, miles or upgrade vouchers to get a business class ticket. You can offer for just one leg, for example a long trans-oceanic flight, and whatever amount it is worth to you. If you win – great. If you don’t, you haven’t lost anything. The PointsGuy has a list of airlines who have a similar bidding process – it’s another point of consideration when selecting an airline. And the International Business Times has some suggestions on how to go about submitting the winning bid! So, check out the airlines and tips via the links and maybe you can enjoy a more comfortable flight on your next trip!