How does upgrade bidding work?

Many travellers dream of one day sitting in Business Class, or better still, First Class, but most will never fork out the funds for such a privilege.

Lynne is one such flyer and she’s found out that there’s a way to bid for an upgrade, but she’s unsure how it all works. Today, Leon does his best to explain the process.

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Q. Lynne
I want to book some tickets to fly over and see my son who lives in Berlin. It’s a long flight and although I can’t really afford it, I’d love to see if I can do this bid for an upgrade thing. How does it work? Do you have any tips for improving my chances of winning?

A. You’re right, some airlines do have a system where they’ll offer some ticket-holders the opportunity to bid on upgrades to higher classes. But only some flyers will have that chance. They’re usually frequent flyers and those who have booked flexi or full-priced fares.

So, if you do happen to be a frequent flyer with an airline, the first tip I’ll give you is, buy a full-fare ticket from that airline.

However, you may be annoyed if you don’t win the auction and end up sitting next to someone in economy who paid half the price of your airfare. So just make sure you’re really ‘all in’ on this bidding thing.

Different rules apply with each airline. Sometimes, just buying a full-fare or flexi ticket will be enough, other times, just being a member of a frequent flyer program will put you in good stead for the auction. Check with your airline to see how it selects participants.

If you are in the mix, you’ll be offered the chance to upgrade a week or so before the departure date.

The general process works as follows:

  • buy your ticket
  • you’ll receive an email saying you can bid
  • bid at the required minimum or maximum amount – you won’t be able to bid $10 for an upgrade and you won’t have to bid more than the cost of a straight upgrade
  • if you have more than one person on your ticket and you bid $50, it will go through as $100 because you have to bid for whomever appears on the ticket – not just yourself (that would be selfish anyway)
  • check your booking confirmation code to see which routes or segments are eligible for an upgrade – if you have a transfer, your upgrade may only cover the departure airport to the transfer airport (especially annoying if you fork out $400 for an upgrade from Melbourne to LA, only to realise you need to vacate the luxury seat at the transfer point in Sydney)
  • check the time window in which you must bid – it may be a 24-hour or 72-hour auction
  • your payment details will be taken at the time of bidding, but your account will only be debited if you win the auction. The fare is non-refundable, unless your flight is cancelled

The good news is: if you do win, you’ll be treated to all the same goodies and luxury as your First-Class counterparts who paid thousands for the same privilege.

A company called Plusgrade has the lowdown on most of the airlines that participate in auction upgrade programs.

Qantas’s program is called Bid Now Upgrades, Virgin Australia has one called UpgradeMe Premium Bid. Jump online and check out the terms and conditions and give yourself the best chance of winning. Hope that helps!

Do you have any tips for Lynne?

Related articles:
How to get travel upgrades
Score a free hotel upgrade
Should I buy a balcony upgrade?

Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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