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What You Need to Know about Airline Seat Bidding

Airplane seats have hit the auction block as airlines look to streamline the upgrade process and generate extra revenue. But how can passengers ensure they’re getting the best bang for buck when the hammer drops?

Airplane seats have hit the auction block as airlines look to streamline the upgrade process and generate extra revenue. But how can passengers ensure they’re getting the best bang for buck when the hammer drops?

Nothing beats the feeling of scoring a seat upgrade, especially at a great price. At least that’s what many of today’s biggest airlines are hoping.

Over the past year, major airlines around the world have introduced new ‘seat bidding’ programs that enable passengers to make an offer on open seats in premium economy and/or business class ahead of their flight.

Although minimum bids are generally required, passengers set their own price in loyalty points, cash or a mix of both.

Travel experts say it is great way to fly in a premium cabin at a fraction of the cost.

“If you’ve purchased a sale fare, it’s absolutely worth bidding for an upgrade. For example, I purchased a return ticket from Brisbane to Los Angeles on sale for $950 and the upgrade bidding started at $700 one way for a premium economy seat. This would save me at least $500 one way (assuming the bid was successful) compared to purchasing a seat in premium economy from the get-go,”

Jason Dutton-Smith, Freelance travel and aviation writer

The potential to save big has proven particularly enticing for business travellers, as employers often cover the initial fare costs.

Sal Quah, Director of Operations at ICD Property, takes up to four domestic trips a month and flies overseas every few months. He says he’s more than happy to put in a bid when given the option.

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“I usually offer to bid at the lowest price allowed plus some points. [Bidding] allows passengers to have the possibility of an upgrade and to enjoy the extra benefits without having to pay for full price business class tickets,” says Quah.

Seat bidding is also democratising the upgrade. A luxury typically reserved for frequent flyers with thousands of points to spare is now open to a wider variety of passengers.

For instance, with Qantas’ Bid Now Upgrades program, passengers can use a combination Qantas Points and money to place a bid, giving those who don’t have enough points for a standard upgrade a chance to score a sweet seat.

There are however, a few things passengers should keep in mind before throwing their card in the air.


It’s not available to everyone

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In a perfect world, you could try you luck and bid whatever you wanted for a seat, but most programs require a minimum bet and membership in the airline’s loyalty program.

Passengers booked on more expensive fares may also be given preference and it is only available when there are business class or premium seats to fill. This means you might be out of luck during peak periods and on popular routes.


A bid is not a guarantee

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Airlines take different factors into consideration when evaluating the bids. While Etihad Airways says “the higher the amount you offer, the greater your chances,” Air New Zealand says it also considers the value of your offer and your loyalty member status.

Luckily, if you don’t win the seat, there are no charges and you simply keep the seat you booked.


You might land a better (but not perfect) seat

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If you are successful, you might not get the exact seat you want, so you need to weigh the pros and cons.

“There may only be middle seats available in Premium Economy and if you’re travelling with someone you may be separated, depending on what seats are still available,” says Dutton-Smith.
It may not be your seat for the entire flight

Enjoy your spacious new digs while it lasts! Some airlines specify that bids are made for each sector of a journey, so if you are travelling through more than one sector you will need to choose which leg you want to upgrade (the longest one, typically!)
Regardless of whether you book a premium seat in advance or bid on an open spot, you will still be paying for the luxury.

Only you can decide if the upgrade is worth the investment. But if you’re keen for a punt, give it a go and you just might be flying with more space at your feet and a few extra bucks in your wallet.

Would you bid for a seat upgrade?