Qantas is the latest airline to offer economy passengers a business class upgrade via online auction through the launch of its new Bid Now Upgrades scheme, with the highest bid winning the cushiest seat.
To be rolled out from this week on domestic and international flights, Bid Now Upgrades will offer selected travellers a chance to be bumped up from economy or premium economy to business class using a mix of Qantas Frequent Flyer points and a cash payment.
Bid Now Upgrades will start from 3,000 Qantas Points on domestic routes and 5,000 Qantas Points on international flights (including flights to Asia, the USA and London), with travellers adding a cash component to sweeten their bid.
For example, here’s a sample Bid Now Upgrades screen for a transcontinental flight between Perth and Melbourne.
This bid has a floor of 4,000 Qantas Points, which can be combined with a cash component as high as $975 (the minimum and maximum dollar range is based on how many points you bid).
There’s no ceiling on how many Qantas Points you can put on the table, apart from what your account balance and common sense might dictate.
By comparison, a standard points-based Qantas Frequent Flyer upgrade on that same route would require upwards of 10,000 Qantas Points depending on the type of economy fare you’d purchased.
Point-based upgrade requests trump auctions…
Qantas is aiming Bid Now Upgrades at infrequent travellers and Qantas Frequent Flyer members who don’t have enough points in their account to put in an upgrade request under the Classic Upgrade Rewards scheme.
Bid Now Upgrades will complement conventional points-based Classic Upgrade Rewards requests rather than replace them, and Qantas is adamant that Classic Upgrade Rewards will always take priority over Bid Now Upgrades.
“This new initiative will in no way impact the chances of members securing a Classic Upgrade Reward” pledged Qantas Loyalty CEO Lesley Grant. “These will always be confirmed first regardless of their Frequent Flyer tier and they remain the best value option.”
Grant added that Bid Now Upgrades will not change the process or priority for frequent flyers applying for a Classic Upgrade Reward “more than 24 hours out from their scheduled departure”.
Successful Bid Now Upgrades will be allocated after all Classic Upgrade Rewards have been processed, with the airline saying the scheme is designed “to unlock revenue opportunities” by turning unsold business class seats into cash.
Qantas says the new auction system “ranks below Classic Upgrade Rewards in terms of priority and value, but gives members the flexibility to supplement points with a cash payment.”
… but auctions trump at-the-gate upgrades
However, as Bid Now Upgrades will be locked in around 24 hours before the flight, they’re expected to reduce the availability of what Qantas terms an ‘On Departure Upgrade Award’.
These are points-based business class upgrade requests available to Platinum and Gold Qantas Frequent Flyers and Qantas Club members on domestic flights, but which are confirmed at the airport within three hours of the flight’s departure.
By that time, Qantas will have handed out business class seats to all successful Bid Now Upgrades.
How the Bid Now Upgrades system works
Selected flights only: Bid Now Upgrades will only be made available on flights where Qantas expects there will still some spare business class seats remaining after Classic Upgrade Reward requests have been processed.
This will likely rule out many popular routes during peak times, instead favouring off-peak periods with lower demand for both business class sales and points-based upgrades.
Selected passengers only: Bid Now Upgrades operates as an invitation-only scheme and not all passengers will be given the opportunity to lodge a bid. First in line will be travellers booked on the more expensive economy fares such from the Flex, Semi Flex and Saver categories, rather than the cheaper sale fares.
Passengers chosen to bid for a business class bump will receive an email invitation seven days before their flight’s departure.
Making your bid for business class: the range of a bid spans from with a minimum number of points and a minimum dollar value, depending on the flight. The minimum and maximum dollars values will then shift depending on how many Qantas Points are bid, so travellers should first enter how many points they’re prepared to part with and then adjust the slider to choose the cash component of their total offer.
What’s the trick to a winning bid? Qantas is understandably cagey about the ‘formula’ behind Bid Now Upgrades, especially in terms of the split between points and cash. What we know is that as part of the Bid Now Upgrades system the airline assigns a set dollar value to each Qantas Point, which is added to the cash element of each bid to arrive at the total amount each bid is worth. But would an offer of 4,000 points + $800 trump an offer of 8,000 points + $700? Your guess is as good as ours.
Boost your odds: travellers can modify or cancel their bid at any time up until 24 hours before departure.
Tie-break: if two people on the same flight lodge the same bid but there’s just one seat up for grabs, factors which decide who gets the upgrade include the type of economy fare bought, each traveller’s frequent flyer status and who put their bid in first.
Winners are grinners: passengers are advised via email the day prior to departure if their bid offer has been successful or not. If your bid didn’t make the cut there’s no points lost and nothing to pay.
Bid for business class with points + pay
Virgin Australia, Air New Zealand, Etihad Airways, Malaysia Airlines and Cathay Pacific all run upgrade auctions using either money or frequent flyer points to help fill seats at the pointy end of the plane.
Qantas says its approach is unique because travellers can bid for an upgrade using a combination of points and cash.
In November last year Qantas presented the Bid Now Upgrades concept to focus groups consisting of selected Qantas Frequent Flyer members.
However, an Australian Business Traveller reader who attended one of the 90 minute market research workshops reported that during his session, “most of the Qantas Frequent Flyers in attendance” voiced their preference for an ‘upgrade at the gate’ system in which Qantas would offer fixed price upgrades directly to top-tier frequent flyers.
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About David Flynn
David Flynn is the editor of Australian Business Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.