The days of free business class upgrades, of batting your eyes at the check-in desk, of dressing spiffily or of claiming it’s your honeymoon, are sadly over. Plenty of travellers who are frequent flyer ninjas are getting cheap business class flights by making mileage runs or hacking credit card sign-ups and rewards but these kind of programmes are generally only open or work well for US residents. There are no really great options for gaining stacks of airpoints through Australian or New Zealand credit cards (that I’ve been able to find).
So, for those of us who don’t fall into the mileage hacking category, is there a way to get cheap business class upgrades? Yes! It’s called…
Bidding for Business Class
Airlines are looking to grab any extra money from you that they can. So naturally, if there are seats in business class going spare and you’re already going to be on that plane, it makes sense for them to offer up those seats to you at a discounted price.
Here’s How It Works:
- Buy your ticket in economy class.
- Receive an email from the airline informing you of the option to bid for a business class upgrade. (We received ours a week prior to the flight.) If you don’t receive and email check on the airline website. Here’s a list of the airlines that offer bidding for business class upgrade and links to the relevant page on their website.
- Select the price you’re willing to pay for the upgrade and place your bid. Your credit card will not be charged unless the bid is successful.
- Wait until just before your flight to find out if your bid has been successful. You’ll be notified about 24 hours before flying if your bid was successful.
Last month we had the opportunity to try this out on Etihad when flying from Brisbane to Singapore. I’ve never flown business class, we were all stressed & tired and not looking forward to being on a day flight with a toddler for eight hours. We debated back and forth on whether or not to spend the money but in the end decided it was worth the shot. And we got lucky! We put in just over the minimum bid for three business class seats and won the auction. I doubt many people on the flight actually gave it a go! The flight wasn’t overly full and there were still several seats open in the small business class cabin. We ended up arriving in Singapore perfectly refreshed and happy after what would normally feel like a long flight. We were super comfortable the whole way, lie flat beds made it easy to nap and Reuben didn’t make a peep the whole flight. Another business class passenger complimented us on landing saying that he’d never seen a child behave so well on a plane.
Tips for Successful Bidding
- Look at what it would cost you to purchase the business class fare. Subtract what you spend on the economy class fare and aim for around 20-40% of that. For example, on our recent flight from Brisbane to Singapore the one-way business class fare was $2600 and our economy class fare was $500. With a difference of $2100, the suggested bid on Etihad was $800 and the minimum $500.
- Bid slightly over the minimum bid. We bid $520 per person for the upgrade figuring most people giving it a go would select the minimum bid.
- Check how full the flight is. Make a pretend booking online, in both business and economy, so you can get to see the seat map for each cabin. If business class if empty your chances of an upgrade are good. If economy class is super full, your chances of an upgrade are quite good as airlines overbook flights all the time so freeing up your economy class seat could help. If you can’t look at the seat allocation map before purchase, ring the airline directly.
- Decide what the upgrade is worth to you. If it’s a long flight, would it be to your benefit if you could work comfortably on the plane for a few hours? Or arrive at your destination and not spend several days recovering from an uncomfortable flight? We noticed a huge difference in our mood when we got off the plane in Singapore. We weren’t exhausted and we didn’t suffer any jet lag. Lee was able to work in the lounge before departure but chose not to work on the plane. Champagne to drink instead!
- Book a single ticket. You can’t split your booking group up. If you’re travelling with a family you all have to bid for the upgrade which could get tricky (and pricey) if you’re a big family. If one of you wants to give it a go, book your economy class tickets separately. It’s quite common for parents to travel in business class while their kids are back in economy.
- The kind of ticket you purchase may matter. While airlines are cagey about this fact and don’t divulge the exact formula they use, not all fares are eligible for business class upgrade auctions. If you’ve bought a super-hyper-mega promo fare, you might not get the email offering the service. If you’re concerned, ring and check with the airline directly before paying for your flight.
- Your frequent flyer status with the airline may count. Some airlines, like Air New Zealand, give extra weighting to bids made by frequent flyer club members.
Would you give it a go on your next flight? Or have you tried out bidding for business class upgrades? I’d love to know how much you paid for your upgrade compared to the cost of your economy class ticket.
Very informative, and useful tips for those that really can’t bear economy, I’m too tight fisted to spend any additional money, but I’m sure there are others that will appreciate these tips.
I never knew you could do this. Excellent! Thanks for all the tips. We definitely get the short straw in Aus/NZ when it comes to airmiles. Have found AmEx to be the best, and even that’s pretty bad… So always good to have tricks up your sleeve. Cheers 🙂
Great information! I had no idea that you could bid on Business class seats. My family always fly economy, but we were upgraded on our last flight and after that wonderful experience, it will be hard to going back to the way things were.
interesting! i had never heard of this, but it’s been a long time that I have flown anyone but air asia (and i dont like how they take the money from you before you know if you are successful to do their similar thing). It made me think about our upcoming flights to LA, so I googled and Virgin Australia has just started doing a similar thing, so you can add them to your list 🙂 They don’t let you bid if you are travelling with someone under two though, so that counts us out 🙁
Never heard of bidding before – So very interested to hear about it –
But super disappointed Qantas aren’t on the list 🙁
And you’re so right about checking what type of ticket you’re buying –
I’ve been caught on not being able to go for a frequent flier upgrade due to inadvertently buying a ticket that wasn’t eligible – yet was the only option available at the time for booking on-line.
i never knew this was possible either! Awesome advice. Thanks Bethaney!
I’m just starting to read more and more about this. I’m a oneworld Alliance devotee and will be bummed if they start offering this service IF the result is that it will be harder for frequent fliers to upgrade. That being said, we rarely fly economy unless the flight is a few hours. Once you go up, it’s hard to go back down!!!!
I think we had an email about this with Air Asia recently, is that right? Do they do it? I wouldn’t spend the extra but I’m glad you got lucky, sounds fun. Seriously, parents go in business and dump their kids? What sort of parents are those?
It would probably never work to bid for first class with six people, but it’s nice to know it’s possible if I am ever alone.
Wow, I really want to try this! Wish there were more airlines on it but perhaps I’ll try with ANZ next year…
Great tip! I had no idea!
Like EVERYONE else, I had no idea this could happen! I may just try it this summer when I go home!
Wow – thanks so much for this Bethany – I’d never heard of bidding for a business class upgrade (though I’ve never flown any of the airlines on the list). What an interesting concept!
Great advice! I didn’t even know that you could bid for upgrades…
Great information! I’d love to be able to bid on business class for long distance flights. Unfortunately, U.S. based airlines don’t seem to be included in the list.
What a great service. I never knew it existed.
Very good info to know! We’ve never bid before, did once upgrade from Bangkok to Dubai. . . the difference between Economy and Business was only $200, so we decided to go for it!
I’m always on the look out for those types of deals too Larissa. 🙂
Very informative, and useful tips.
This is totally new for me! Very nice tips! I am going to bid for my long trip flight!
Thank you for this great post. You learn something everyday and I just did, from you! Hope to use this information next time we fly home.
Thanks Jenny! Let me know if you end up with a winning bid. 🙂
Great advice — and a very smart move for long flights over vast amounts of water. (But I do miss those days of being able to talk your way into business class.)
I only got upraged once, probably by luck and i didnt know that this way it is possible too. good to know.
I recently tried this with a Swiss Air flight from Bangkok to Zurich. The flight was full so we were not successful. We actually ended up with the worst seats: last row between the toilets with the tally behind! So much for being in the Star Alliance Loyalty Program! Will continue to try bidding for an upgrade. Hopefully, success soon.
Sorry you got stuck in the back of the plane. That sucks! We weren’t successful when we tried on our recent Air New Zealand flight from Auckland to Honolulu. I’d booked us the bassinet row anyway so it was actually a pretty comfy flight. I think it’s important to book your economy class seats in advance of trying for the upgrade if the flight is looking full.
Very helpful ! I dream of flying business every time we go back to France.
I’ve had the chance of flying business once, on a very short flight from the UK to France, thanks to the company I was working for….
It makes such a difference, even on a very short flight. Food is way better and the space….
Great tip Bethaney! I’ve bookmarked this for my upcoming trip to Ireland. Thanks 🙂
I didn’t know you could do this! We are doing UK to Bangkok soon with Emirates, I’m hoping they offer something similar.
Here is the list of airlines that offers business class upgrade auctions. Doesn’t look like Emirates are on there unfortunately! I have heard that they were launching it soon though. Will let you know when I find out!
How do I go about bidding for the Business Class? Is there a website to visit or what exactly have to be done in order to qualify for bidding? I am travelling on Etihad.
You should receive an email from the airline informing you of the option to bid for a business class upgrade. (We received ours about one week prior to the flight on Etihad.) If you don’t receive and email check on the airline website, log in and manage your booking or just give them a call. What airline are you looking at? I know for Air NZ you have to do it a couple of weeks before your flight. It does vary from airline to airline.
Yo , can u please tell me how to get an upgrade in etihad airways if I’m a part of there staffs family … I mean my dad works in etihad … So they don’t really upgrade their staff family members from buisness to first or economy to buisness …. So if u have any tips for me … Then please do tell me … It would be of great help
Ask your dad. 😉
Tried it for the first time with KLM. Was the highest bidder but did not get an upgrade as there were no more business seats available. There were eight. I then questioned them and was told that they could not upgrade me and match my bidding price. I am confused. This is misleading and should not be allowed.
I would lodge a complaint with the airline then Eduardo.
Just tried the bidding with Philippine Airlines.. I booked an economy ticket MNL-LON-MNL for 934 USD.. Minimum bidding to upgrade would be 670 USD per one-way making the total price (if my bid is even accepted) 2,274 USD.. A business class ticket at the time of booking was 1,994 USD, so be aware!
Looks like the sweet deal times are long over. Was offered to bid on a biz upgrade from BKK to ZRH on Swiss. But as it turned out, the _minimum_ bid was already at 40% of what your formula above suggested. And, funny or stupid, the bid slider went way beyond of what a newly booked biz-class ticket would have cost at that time (with seats available).
So in the end, not interesting anymore for the regular guy who does not have thousands to spend on an upgrade. And some might be suckered into overbidding regular fare prices. We will see where this all ends.
I wouldn’t write off ALL airline’s systems for business class bidding as “long over”. That’s a bit of a generalisation. Maybe Swiss just has different criteria. They are hardly a cheap airline and it’s probably a busy route for business class for them anyway so they probably don’t need the extra revenue on it.
I had an offer to bid for an upgrade from South Africa Airways for a flight from NYC to Jo’burg. The minimum bid was way too high for me to even consider. So I stayed with my bulkhead Economy seat to and fro.
Yeah some airlines don’t seem to get it. Same experience for us with Fiji Airways last year. The minimum bid was like $1100 or something crazy. Almost as much as it would have been just to book in business class to begin with! Some airlines definitely grasp the concept of this better than others!