Which Airlines Allow You To Bid On Seat Upgrades?

In recent years, several airlines have launched upgrade schemes where passengers are allowed, either through invitation or by their own investigation, to bid on empty premium cabin seats. But just which carriers are offering this gamble for added comfort and style? Let’s take a look.

Lufthansa Business Class
Lufthansa is one of the carriers that lets you bid for some extra space. Photo: Lufthansa

Premium for a fraction of the cost

Almost all frequent fliers have, at one point or another, received a text or an email a few days ahead of departure with an offer for the chance to bid on an upgrade for a trifle of what the original ticket would have cost. However, the airline will have set a minimum (and a maximum) amount to part with its unused business class seats.

If you are up for it, there are a few ways to increase your chances of getting a bid in the lower range accepted. For example, if you are flying on a leisure-focused route rather than a business route frequented by corporate travelers, chances are higher there will be more empty seats up front. You can also try flying during off-peak times of the day, and days of the week with less occupancy.

Most people will probably bid the minimum amount, so it is a good idea to try and go about 20% to 40% higher. Of course, none of that will help if your airline does not allow bidding on upgrades, to begin with. So let’s take a look at which carriers do.

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Etihad first class
Etihad allows business class passengers to bid on a first class bed instead. Photo: Etihad

First class crew

First things, or rather, class first. One of the few airlines that will allow you to bid on a first class seat, or bed, is Etihad Airways. The Gulf carrier does not restrict upgrades to destinations and will let you bid one class up. Of course, that means that to bid on first, you must have a business class ticket to begin with.

Joining Etihad in the first class bidding ranks is Indonesian flag carrier Garuda. This is also only available when first having acquired a ticket for one fare lower, and upon receiving an invitation email.

Hawaiian Airlines is also part of the Bid Up first class crew, and its bidding system stays open up until 48 hours before departure.

Which Airlines Allow You To Bid On Seat Upgrades?
Aer Lingus offers bid upgrades on select flights to the US and Canada Photo: Aer Lingus

A to C

Aer Lingus offers bidding on select transatlantic flights and it is only available to customers who receive an invitation by email.

Aeromexico allows you to bid on an upgrade to its Clase Premier business concept. This would land you a fully reclining seat on one of the airline’s 787 Dreamliners and is available on all flights that feature the cabin.

Air Canada runs the AC Bid program, which for a limited time (until the first and second week of September for various destinations), has lowered the bidding rate with 40%. While not all flights are eligible, Aeroplan members can use miles when making a bid.

Air New Zealand has its OneUp™ system. It allows travelers to bid on an upgrade for one class above their ticket fare. However, it is only available on international flights.

Air New Zealand has a trademarked bidding system known as OneUp™. Photo: Getty Images

Alitalia also offers a bidding option on international flights only, but not for reward tickets.

All Nippon Airways allows only those passengers invited to participate in an auction, but almost all international flights are available. Minors need permission from a guardian to participate in the program.

Copa Airlines offers a bidding scheme, an “instant upgrade,” and a payable option if you show up at the airport two hours before departure, and there are seats available.

Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific allows you to bid one class up on select flights, including those of its subsidiary airline Cathay Dragon.

Czech Airlines is betting on the gambling aspect and has named its system the Business Class Upgrade Auction Game, available on select services.

Cathay offers bid upgrades on its own flights, as well as on those operated by subsidiary Cathay Dragon. Photo: Cathay Dragon

F to L

Fiji Airways runs a program called Bula Bid, with eligible participants receiving invitation emails seven days prior to departure.

Icelandair invites passengers ten days before their flight to participate in bidding on a move up from economy to its Saga Premium cabin.

Kenya Airways does not explicitly say it sends out emails, but rather those on eligible flights are allowed to bid up to as little as 14 hours before departure.

LATAM, on the other hand, only provides this service to passengers who have received an invitation.

Lufthansa allows economy passengers on long-haul flights to bid on upgrades to either premium economy or business, and on short- to medium-haul to premium economy.

The rather nice Business Suites onboard the Qantas 787-9 Dreamliners are normally available to bid on for cash and miles. Photo: Qantas News Room.

Q to V

Qantas opens up the bidding seven days ahead of departure and closes it as little as 24 hours before. It is one of the few carriers to allow passengers to use a combination of cash and miles in the auction.

Singapore Airlines also lets customers use a mix of cash and KrisFlyer miles, or the one or the other. Customers can change their minds, or their bids, up to 50 hours before departure.

Qantas compatriot carrier Virgin Australia allows travelers to bid on both international and domestic upgrades through its UpgradeMe scheme.

Emirates on tarmac
Emirates Skybid Auction program is undergoing an overhaul. Photo: Getty Images

As a side note, Emirates used to have a bidding function known as the Skybid Auction, but it is currently “undergoing a makeover,” according to the airline’s website.

It could be wise to note that all upgrades are considered per passenger, and not per booking. Furthermore, you will only be eligible to bid if you have booked directly with the airline itself, rather than with an online booking service or ticketing agent.

Have you been successful at bidding for an upgrade? On which route? Was it worth it? Let us know in the comments.