Your upgrade may not exactly be free, but it sure can be cheap.
Getting a flight upgrade is one of those luxuries that everyone hopes they’ll get when they arrive at the airline check-in counter.
Amidst the many pieces of advice on how to increase your chances of receiving a flight upgrade (from racking up frequent flyer points, to timing your trip just right), an easy way to help get you sprawling out in premium economy, business class or even first class for a fraction of the price is through an upgrade auction.
It seems that more and more airlines are offering this option as a way to fill seats and make a little bit of cash on the side. In 2017 alone, Hawaiian Airlines, Cathay Pacific and Fiji Airways have launched bid-to-upgrade options, and no doubt there will be many more joining them in the future.
A full list of airlines that let you bid for an upgrade
|Airline||What can you bid for?||What you need to know||Bid now|
|Qantas||Upgrade to premium economy or business class||You need to be invited to bid for an upgrade. Qantas Frequent Flyers can bid with points and money. Non-Frequent Flyer members must bid with money.||Bid Now Upgrades|
|Virgin Australia||Upgrade to a higher cabin class||Upgrade purchases and upgrade bids are both available.||UpgradeMe|
|Air New Zealand||Upgrade to premium economy, business premier or business class||Gold, Silver and Elite Airpoints members get a boost on their bids. Bids are considered by price, Airpoints status, the number of seats available and the number of passengers on your booking.||OneUp|
|Singapore Airlines||Upgrade to premium economy class||Upgrades are by invitation only. Minimum and maximum bid values apply.||mySQupgrade|
|Etihad||Upgrade to business or first class or to a neighbour-free seat||Upgrade purchases are also available.||My Upgrade|
|AirAsia||Upgrade to a flatbed, a neighbour-free seat or a more flexible ticket||Upgrades are handled through Optiontown.||Optiontown|
|Cathay Pacific||Upgrade to premium economy or business class||Available on select routes only.||Upgrade bid|
|Hawaiian Airlines||Upgrade to first class||Available on flights between Hawaii and North America only.||Bid Up|
|Fiji Airways||Upgrade to business class||Modifications and cancellations of your bid are allowed up to 24 hours before your flight departure.||Bula Bid|
|SAS||Upgrade to SAS Plus or SAS Business||EuroBonus members get a booster when bidding, so their points and money bids are worth more.||SAS Upgrade|
|Vietnam Airlines||Upgrade to premium economy or business class||Upgrades are handled by Optiontown.||Upgrade Travel/Optiontown|
|Malaysia Airlines||Upgrade to business or first class||Only one offer accepted per flight segment.||MHupgrade|
|Air China||Upgrade to business class||Select routes only.||Bid For Upgrade|
|SWISS||Upgrade to business class||Available on long-haul flights only. Not available on flights to India or Brazil.||SWISS Upgrade Bargain|
|Garuda Indonesia||Upgrade one cabin class either from economy to business class or business to first class||Unavailable on flights to Japan, flights to Jeddah and flights that codeshare with another airline.||BidUpgrade|
|SriLankan Airlines||Upgrade to business class||Bidding is open up to 36 hours before departure.||Bid Now to Upgrade Yourself|
|Air Canada||Upgrade to premium economy, premium rouge or business class||Available on select routes operated by Air Canada and Air Canada Rouge. Bids can be placed or revised up to 96 hours prior to departure.||AC Bid Upgrade|
|Lufthansa||Upgrade to premium economy or business class||Available on select short-, medium- and long-haul flights.||myOffer|
|TAP Portugal||Upgrade to TAP business class||You can also upgrade with miles or by paying a fee at the airport.||Plushgrade|
|LOT||Upgrade to premium economy or business class||Available for economy or premium economy ticket holders on select flight routes throughout Europe and Asia only.||LOT Upgrade|
|Iceland Air||Upgrade to economy comfort or saga class||Available on select routes only. Passengers must provide an email address to be invited to bid for an upgrade.||Class Up|
|EL AL||Upgrade to premium economy or business class||Available on select routes only.||EL AL Upgrade|
|Czech Airlines||Upgrade to business class||Bids are evaluated by price and additional services purchased.||Plusgrade|
|Brussels Airlines||Upgrade to Flex&Fast or Biz&Class||Available on select European routes only.||Upgrade|
|Austrian Airlines||Upgrade to business class||Bids are accepted up to 72 hours prior to flight departure.||Smart Upgrade|
|airberlin||Upgrade to business class, XL seats or a neighbour-free seat||You can bid for up to three neighbour-free seats. Bids are accepted up to 34 hours prior to departure.||airberlin exquisite|
|Air Mauritius||Upgrade to premium economy or business class||Flights must be operated by Air Mauritius or Air France and must fly into or out of Mauritius.||UpgradeNow|
|Aer Lingus||Upgrade to business class||Upgrades are only available for flights between Ireland and Canada or the US. An email invitation will be sent to you if you’re eligible to bid for an upgrade.||Upgrade Yourself|
How to bid for an airline upgrade
The auction process works in much the same way for most airlines. After you book your seat, you’ll either be invited by email to bid for an upgrade, or you can log into your account to see if your flight is eligible for an upgrade. If it is, follow the prompts to put down a price for anything from an upgraded seat to a neighbour-free seat.
The auctions are silent, though some sites include strength meters, which enable you to gauge how strong your bid is compared to others, so that you can adjust your offer accordingly.
If your bid is successful, you’ll be charged your highest bid amount and have your ticket upgraded. If you’re unsuccessful, you won’t have to pay a cent and you’ll keep the seat you originally booked.
The good news is that you don’t have to pay to bid to upgrade. Many airlines also let you to modify or cancel your bid in the lead up to your departure. Terms and conditions vary between airlines, though, so it’s a good idea to read up on them before committing to your bid.
Tips and tricks to winning an upgrade
- Don’t just try to be the highest bidder. Offering the highest bid is the obvious answer to winning an upgrade, but it’s not always the right one. Certain airlines, for example Air New Zealand, consider more than just your offer when deciding who to upgrade. Airlines may also consider your membership status and the number of passengers in your booking.
- Join the club. Certain airlines give their frequent flyer members a “bid boost”, which means that their bids have greater value than someone who is not a member.
- Don’t trust the strength meter. While the strength meter might help you determine whether you’re bidding enough, it’s not always an accurate indication of what your competition is bidding. Take it with a grain of salt.
- Bid on the small stuff. Programs like Optiontown let you bid on other features such as fast-tracked service and extra baggage. These are not as sought after as a seat upgrade and could be an easier win for less money.
- Bid to upgrade during quiet periods. The bid-to-upgrade option is usually dependent on how many empty premium seats are still available. The quieter the flight, the more seats you can bid on for cheap.
- Buy your upgrade. Some airlines don’t offer the option to bid for an upgrade but they do offer the option to buy your upgrade. Airlines that do this include Qatar Airways, American Airlines, Virgin Australia, Etihad and KLM. You might wind up paying more than if you went down the auction route, but you can also end up saving compared to purchasing a business class or first class seat upfront.