Home / Travel Tips  / Travel Hacks for Seat Upgrades: What to Know about Airline Seat Bidding

Travel Hacks for Seat Upgrades: What to Know about Airline Seat Bidding

man sitting on an airplane looking up the aisle, get a better seat with our travel hacks

Plane seats have hit the auction block! More airlines are looking to streamline the upgrade process and generate extra revenue with airplane seat bidding. But how can passengers ensure they’re getting the best bang for buck when the hammer drops? We’ve got the travel hacks you need to know about it.

What to know about airline seat bidding

Nothing beats the feeling of scoring a seat upgrade, especially at a great price. At least that’s what many of today’s biggest airlines are hoping. Over the past year, major airlines around the world have introduced new ‘seat bidding’ programs that enable passengers to make an offer on open seats in premium economy and/or business class ahead of their flight.

How does it work?

Although minimum bids are generally required, passengers set their own price in loyalty points, cash or a mix of both. Travel experts say it is great way to fly in a premium cabin at a fraction of the cost. “If you’ve purchased a sale fare, it’s absolutely worth bidding for an upgrade,” says Jason Dutton-Smith, a freelance travel and aviation writer.


“For example, I purchased a return ticket from Brisbane to Los Angeles on sale for $950. The upgrade bidding started at $700 one way for a premium economy seat. This would save me at least $500 one way (assuming the bid was successful) compared to purchasing a seat in premium economy from the get-go,” he added.

A screenshot of the airline seat bidding - travel hacks to know

How are travelers using it?

Travel hacks like seat bidding have proven particularly enticing for business travelers, as employers often cover the initial fare costs. Sal Quah, Director of Operations at ICD Property, takes up to four domestic trips a month and flies overseas every few months. He says he’s more than happy to put in a bid when given the option.


“I usually offer to bid at the lowest price allowed plus some points. [Bidding] allows passengers to have the possibility of an upgrade and to enjoy the extra benefits without having to pay for full price business class tickets,” says Quah.


Seat bidding is also democratising the upgrade. A luxury typically reserved for frequent flyers with thousands of points to spare is now open to a wider variety of passengers. For instance, with Qantas’ Bid Now Upgrades program, passengers can use a combination Qantas Points and money to place a bid, giving those who don’t have enough points for a standard upgrade a chance to score a sweet seat.

airplane wing flying over a hilly area - grab a better seat with our travel hacks for airline seat bidding

There are however, a few things passengers should keep in mind before throwing their card in the air.

#1. It’s not available to everyone

In a perfect world, you could try you luck with these travel hacks and bid whatever you wanted for a seat. Most programs, however, require a minimum bet and membership in the airline’s loyalty program. Passengers booked on more expensive fares may also be given preference. And it is only available when there are business class or premium seats to fill. This means you might be out of luck during peak periods and on popular routes.

#2. A bid is not a guarantee

Airlines take different factors into consideration when evaluating the bids. Etihad Airways’s website says “the higher the amount you offer, the greater your chances.” Air New Zealand’s website says it also considers the value of your offer and your loyalty member status. Luckily, if you don’t win the seat, there are no charges and you simply keep the seat you booked.

#3. You might land a better (but not perfect) seat

If you are successful, you might not get the exact seat you want, so you need to weigh the pros and cons. “There may only be middle seats available in Premium Economy and if you’re travelling with someone you may be separated, depending on what seats are still available,” says Dutton-Smith.

#4. It may not be your seat for the entire journey

Travel hacks do have their limits. Some airlines specify that bids are made for each sector of a journey, so if you are travelling through more than one sector you will need to choose which leg you want to upgrade (the longest one, typically!)


Regardless of whether you book a premium seat in advance or bid on an open spot, you will still be paying for the luxury. Only you can decide if the upgrade is worth the investment. But if you’re keen for a punt, give it a go and you just might be flying with more space at your feet and a few extra bucks in your wallet.

Have you tried airline seat bidding? Tell us about how it went for you and any other travel hacks you have for nabbing a better seat!

This story first appeared in KarryOn.com.au