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Bidding for Upgrades Now Officially an Air Travel Trend

Bidding for upgrades is now officially a trend. We previously noted that El Al and Etihad had adopted the online upgrade management system developed by Plusgrade; other airlines currently using this bidding system are Air New Zealand, Brussels Airlines, Czech Airlines, TAP Portugal, and Virgin Atlantic.

Although you'll find minor airline-to-airline variations, the basic system is common to all applications:

  • If you already have a confirmed reservation, a few days before departure, the airline sends you an e-mail asking if you'd like to upgrade from economy to business or from business to first.
  • The airline sets either a minimum qualifying bid or a bidding range.
  • If you're interested, you enter your bid.
  • The airline sifts through the bids and decides which to accept, using its own proprietary ranking system that factors how much you paid for your original ticket, your status in the airline's frequent-flyer hierarchy, and the number of elite frequent flyers that are also eligible for upgrades.
  • If your bid succeeds, the airline notifies you and charges your credit card. If not, you haven't lost anything.

So far, we haven't seen any results of bidding success from flyers, so we have no idea of the range of bids required to make the move. The sites that post bidding history on Priceline haven't yet posted anything about upgrade bids.

No major airline based in North America has adopted the Plusgrade bidding system yet. But bidding isn't the only pathway to the front cabin; some domestic airlines offer paid upgrades. We've seen a combination of last-minute cash offers at the departure gate on some airlines and before-departure paid upgrade emails from others—but so far with no detectable, consistent patterns. But don't be surprised if some North American carriers decide to go with the Plusgrade system soon.

Have you ever submitted a bid for an upgrade? And if you did, how much did you offer, and was your offer successful?

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