Travel SOS: how do you bid for a flight upgrade?

Lynne wants to know how bidding for a flight upgrade works.

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.


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?



    To make a comment, please register or login
    18th Nov 2017
    Why be stupid and bid for an upgrade?

    Paid $12,602.66 for two in Upper Class (First Class Virgin Atlantic) in 2013, when BA & QANTAS had their PREMIUM ECONOMY tickets for $14,500. Who would pay all that for a class lower than the one you're going in?

    I did my research for the 2013 trip from 2011, so that gave me an idea of when it was cheapest to book. I researched several airlines, not just one.

    During your research, find out when the best time is to book your tickets. They can range from $8000 each all the way down to $6500 each, depending on the time you're going & when you're booking. The further out or the nearer you book to the departure date, the more it'll cost. Choose who you fly with carefully, as most airlines have different checked luggage weights.

    Even if you use a comparison website, go to the airline's website and do your own search for restrictions, etc.

    Don't go for the first fare you come across. It could mean that you're travelling for much longer than the standard time it takes to travel to your destination. Eg some Asian/European airlines take around 30 hours and 2 stops for the journey, but the flagship carrier takes up to 24 hours and 1 stop.

    18th Nov 2017
    If you can’t afford business in long haul flights , you can still have an enjoyable trip if you break your journey by flying short legs and overnighting in a nice hotel
    Less tired by and you get to spend enjoy multi destinations
    Works for retirees and those who are not squeezing their holidays into just a couple or 3 weeks
    19th Nov 2017
    Great suggestion Raphael!
    20th Nov 2017

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