With airline prices predicted to remain high for the rest of 2023, even the most basic economy tickets will feel like a (financial) splurge. But many airlines now have programs in place that allow passengers to bid on upgraded tickets in premium economy, business, or first class. Here’s what to know.
How to bid on flight upgrades
The process differs from airline to airline, but here’s a general overview of how it works:
In order to bid on an upgrade, you first must book a ticket. These auctions are available to ticketed passengers only.
Some airlines will email ticketed passengers if they’re auctioning off upgrades, but many don’t. Your best bet is to check the airline’s website to see if they’re taking bids for your flight. Bidding typically opens between two and seven days ahead of a scheduled flight.
If there’s an upgrade auction for your flight, keep in mind that it only applies to that specific leg of your trip—not your return ticket. When it’s time to bid, the airline will set a minimum bid—which is typically a few hundred dollars—so sadly, you can’t bid $5 and hope for the best.
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Also, unlike most other auctions, you won’t know what other passengers are bidding, and have the chance to adjust your entry accordingly. You can, however, check a website like Expert Flyer, to see how many business-class and premium economy seats are still open on your flight—though that’s no guarantee that you’ll get upgraded for the minimum required bid.
You’ll be asked to enter your payment information when placing your bid, but you’ll only be charged if yours is accepted. If it is, you’ll be notified by email.
Which airlines offer auction upgrades?
Unfortunately, at the moment, the only U.S. airline that auctions off upgrades is Hawaiian Airlines, but many of the larger international carriers do, including:
- Aer Lingus
- Air Canada
- Air New Zealand
- Czech Airlines
- Fiji Airways
- Kenya Airways
- Royal Jordanian
- Scandinavian Airlines
- Singapore Airlines
- Virgin Atlantic
Yes, this is clearly another way for airlines to make some extra money—instead of leaving the upgraded seats empty, or giving them away for free—but, unlike many other policies, at least there’s something for passengers to gain from this one.