End of the free upgrade?

2013-05-02 11:00
Auckland - Could anything be more welcomed than the free upgrade from economy class to business class on a long haul flight? But it seems this perk for eligible travellers could be endangered.

The Independent reports certain airlines are adopting the online upgrade auction concept that allows travellers with cheap tickets to make blind bids for unfilled business class seats.

The facility is already offered by Austrian Airlines, Air New Zealand, El Al of Israel, Etihad of Abu Dhabi and Virgin Atlantic  and has been deemed an innovative way of making extra cash by filling seats that would otherwise fly empty or be given away for free.

The technology behind the bidding services is run by American software developer, Plusgrade and entails passengers buying economy tickets for long-haul flights being invited to bid for an upgrade to the business class cabin, which boasts 2-metre-long flat beds. A successful bid would also mean access to business lounges and improved catering.

The biggest risk however would be "cannibalising earnings from existing full-fare business travellers". Airlines are coy about the average level of winning bids for fear of setting a “price list” that may persuade existing business-class passengers to switch.

But not everyone is eligible to take part in the auction. The system is designed to ensure that “each passenger targeted for the opportunity and selected for an upgrade meets a host of internally prioritised goals”.

Some airlines exclude passengers who buy the most heavily discounted tickets, while Air New Zealand insists that bids are placed at least a week before departure. The Air NZ auction, cOne Up, uses a colour-coded on-screen meter to indicate how successful a bid is likely to be: a NZ$100 (about R800) offer for a Heathrow-Auckland flight from economy to premium economy shows red, while a bid for 10 times as much gets a green.

Successful bidders are contacted at least three days ahead, while those who bid too low travel as originally planned; their credit card is not charged.

Some frequent flyers  are alarmed that the free upgrade, regard as a well-deserved perk, might no longer be a option.

Have you ever received a free upgrade, why not tell us about it in the comments section below?

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