Business Class Bidding: The Ultimate Hack For Dirt Cheap Upgrades

These airlines are offering a premium flight experience at a decently discounted price... if you know how to get it.

Business Class Bidding: The Ultimate Hack For Dirt Cheap Upgrades

Image: Executive Traveller

If you’ve boarded a flight lately and seen the full business class cabins, you might be wondering what’s happening with the alleged cost of living crisis?

But, as any business class regular will tell you, hardly anyone pays full fare to sit there. Redemptions, points upgrades, sale fares… there are many ways to fly up the front for less. One lesser-known option is bidding cash for an upgrade…

The three Australian airlines offering business class allow passengers to do this and, if approached wisely, can result in a premium flight experience at a decently discounted price.

Qantas Will Let You Bid To Upgrade… For A Price

With its large slice of government and corporate traffic, Qantas domestic business class cabins often fill up with paying passengers (or at least passengers with someone else picking up the tab). Plus, in peak hours, there are those Qantas road warriors stuck in economy class, often busting for a points upgrade. 

Consequently, while Qantas will often send out emails in the lead-up to a flight inviting you to bid for an upgrade to business, it isn’t always compelling value, and there is no guarantee your bid will be successful, even if you bid above the usually steep minimum price.

The bidding process itself is simple. You click on the link in the email, bid within the nominated price range, punch in your credit card details (you will only be charged if your bid is successful) and hit send. Qantas will notify you closer to flight time if they accept your bid.

Qantas’ 737 Business class. Image: Qantas

Depending on who you ask, Qantas has the best domestic business-class product in Australia. On many routes that’s debatable, but the premium Qantas places on its fares (and upgrade bids) reflects its status as a full-service carrier. However, Qantas undoubtedly has the edge with its domestic widebody services. These flights offer an international-grade business class seat that its competitors cannot match. 

However, Qantas cash business class fares between Perth and the east coast are murderously expensive. So, for many people, an upgrade bid can make sense on a transcontinental A330 or B787 service where they can enjoy a business-class product that is exponentially better than on the narrowbody offering.

A Competitive Counterpart To Qantas On Shorter Sectors

Virgin Australia also allows ticketed passengers to bid for an upgrade. Navigate to the upgrade options on the airline’s website, and you will be on your way. Generally, VA’s minimum bids are less than what Qantas asks for on the same route, but this is subject to passenger demand and other factors.

On a short hop, such as Gold Coast to Sydney, an AUD100 bid will often get you over the line. Prices increase in peak times and depend on how far you travel. However, bidding becomes irrational at a certain price point, and you are likely better off paying the asking fare… or slumming it up the back.

Image: Getty

As with Qantas, a Virgin Australia passenger travelling in business on a bid upgrade fare gets all the business class bells and whistles, including lounge access, priority boarding, and extra baggage allowances. While it’s not competitive with the Qantas widebodies, the Virgin Australia B737 business class product hits the sweet spot for short east coast hops, and frankly, the inflight service is often better than the Qantas offering.

In any case, jagging a cheap business-class seat on the flight home always feels like a good deal.

Rex’s Upgrade Bid Offers Value But No Lounge Access

Regional Express (Rex) also allows economy class passengers to bid for a seat up the front at pretty competitive prices. Rex’s jet network isn’t as comprehensive as its competitors and these types of business class upgrades don’t include lounge access or the normal business class baggage allowance, but the lower minimum bid prices offset that.

There is anecdotal evidence of people who have AUD50 upgrade bids accepted, but this is likely to be the exception rather than the rule and will very much depend on the route and time of day when you fly.

Image: The Australian

Many Rex passengers are hunting value, so there generally isn’t a strong demand for its full cash fare business class tickets, which opens up more seats for upgrade bids and benefits bargain hunters.

However, flying Rex doesn’t mean you are slumming it. Rex is not Jetstar. Their business product is perfectly fine for short hauls — on par with Virgin Australia’s but generally without VA’s chronic delays and cancellations. For the price most people pay to sit in Rex business class, it is a steal.

Keeping Bids Realistic

What’s the downside of bidding? Firstly, you are chasing a bargain. Offering a price close to or matching the actual business fare doesn’t make sense. While your bid may well succeed, you’ll accrue points and status credits per your originally ticketed rate and status tier, not at the full business class rate. You may also be shunted into the less desirable seats in the cabin and miss out on your preferred meal choice.

This is not necessarily a big deal if you paid an extra AUD80 to travel business class to Brisbane, but it might be if you bid AUD450. Keeping your bids realistic, keeping your expectations in check, and knowing what the cash fares are selling for are key to making bidding for upgrades work for you.