There are many well-known tricks to getting upgraded on a flight: Look nice, act nice, use points … bid?
The Wall Street Journal reports that airlines, such as Virgin Atlantic, Air New Zealand, United Arab Emirates’ Etihad Airways and Israel’s El Al Airlines, have instituted a bidding system for upgrades to coveted business and first-class seats.
It works like this: The bidding opens to select holders of economy or premium economy tickets a few weeks before the flight, then closes 48 hours before takeoff. Airlines are able to choose which passengers get the offer–perhaps people who fly business class when it’s financed by their employer, or fliers who seem like they might be good candidates for more expensive seats in the future. These fliers then put forward the amount of money they would be willing to pay for an upgrade and are notified if they have the highest bid.
El Al Airlines tells the Journal that the average winning bid for a business class seat upgrade is $800, which seems steep, until you know that those seats go for $3,000 to $10,000 more than economy seats if you’re buying upfront.
On some airlines, it’s not just a better class of seats that’s up for auction–it’s also middle seats in economy class. El Al says that empty middle seats usually go for about $150 to create a buffer for a traveler looking for extra room.
It sounds like good news, but there’s a downside for travelers. Airlines report that because of the thrill of the auction, flyers end up spending more online than they would have had they been offered an upgrade at the ticket counter.
Regardless, an upgrade auction may be in your future. Plusgrade, a company that provides bidding systems to airlines, says that it plans to work with an as-yet-undisclosed North American airline starting later this year.