Getting moved from coach to the front of the plane is one of the nicer things that can happen on a long flight. If you a lot (especially on full fare tickets), getting upgraded can be a routine occurrence. Of course, that raises the question of why airlines pretty much give upgrades away. Yes, it makes sense to take care of really good customers particularly when moving someone up to business class costs the airline very little. But there is no guarantee that high status frequent flyers necessarily want the upgrade more than some more lowly coach passengers. That is, Mr Executive Platinum may not be willing to pay more than Ms. No Status for the privilege of escaping the cattle car.
Now Ms. No Status may get her chance to score an upgraded if she is willing to open up her wallet as several airlines are starting to auction off upgrades (Flier Auctions: Better Seats, Going Once, Going Twice…, Wall Street Journal, Apr 24).
Airlines overseas have started auctioning off upgrades, with travelers in economy or premium-economy cabins bidding against each other for seats that offer better space, food, service and sleep. Bids for premium seats that otherwise might fly empty begin online weeks in advance and typically close 48 hours before takeoff. The company behind the auction technology says it may come to the U.S. soon.
So far, airlines say travelers end up spending more for upgrades in online auctions than they would spend at check-in. Unlike a casual offer at an airport kiosk, the auction system can generate excitement as fliers strategize about how to win.
“You can buy the cheapest ticket and still have a chance of sitting in business class,” said Danny Saadon, North America vice president for El Al Airlines, where the average winning bid for a business-class upgrade is $800. That’s a deal when the airline’s business-class tickets cost anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000 more than coach.
Different airlines run the auction in different ways since the system from Plusgrade, a New York City company, allows flexibility. An airline can choose who can participate in the auction so it may choose to offer the opportunity to bid to all customers or only those that bought in a particular fare class or to those that meet a certain profile. Besides access to business class, El Al also auctions off empty middle seats to those in couch want some extra elbow room. (more…)