Upgrades aren’t just for elites anymore (or, on US airlines in premium cabins, for employees). For several years US domestic carriers have offered buyups at the airport. With unlimited complimentary upgrades it might have been rare for a general member to receive a buy up offer, though on some routes they’re quite common such as the US Airways ‘shuttle’ in the Northeast corridor.
United has been perhaps the most aggressive with buyup offers to first class. They offer two kinds of upgrades — offers to allow customers to pay the difference between their fare and a coach fare with confirmed upgrade without paying a change fee, and inexpensive options that are supposed to only be made when all elites on the upgrade list are expected to be cleared.
This latter has become known as “Tens of Dollars” upgrades (TODs) because of how inexpensive they are. Generally elites, who were supposed to be given complimentary upgrades, would not receive the offer… and then at times not clear their upgrade.
The conspiracy theorists believed they weren’t receiving the offer because United didn’t want them to know that the offer was being made at all, that their elite benefits were being sold out from under them so cheaply.
United would say that this was never the intention, that there have been programming glitches and few confirmed instances of this really happening.
But it’s been an ongoing phenomenon for years with Continental, and it ported over to the United side with the merger.
Offering up upgrades to everyone isn’t confined to airlines, Hilton was the first but other chains have adopted “Nor1″ (the company that first offered the solution) “eStandby upgrades.” The idea being that if rooms are available on day of arrival, they upgrade will be allocated for a pre-determined fee. It’s a way of extracting incremental revenue from guests willing to pay, instead of seeing the rooms go empty (or instead of allocating them to elite members for free).
There’s plenty of testing to determine the best possible price point to maximize revenue. But we’ve mostly seen travel providers offering upgrades for a specific price. We haven’t seen bidding.
Now, reverse auctions are something that Delta has toyed with for voluntary denied boarding compensation (“how much would it take for us to convince you to take a later flight, since yours is full?”).
But we haven’t seen auctions for upgrades. Until now.
Etihad has launched a new system where passengers will bid for their upgrades in an auction.
With our newly launched online upgrade system, guests holding confirmed tickets on Etihad can now determine the amount they are willing to pay for an upgrade to the next higher cabin…
Guests will be notified on email about potential availability of seats for upgrades, following which they can make their offer. The success of an offer will depend on the amount offered for an upgrade, other competing offers as well as the guest’s status within the Etihad Guest program. As always, the higher the offer, the greater the chances. Guests will be informed by Etihad about the final status of their offer two days prior to departure.
Customers who upgrade this way get a 10% mileage bonus on top of what they’d normally receive for their ticket. The FAQ says that any extra baggage allowance for a higher class of service applies to the upgraded segment only and not to any onward segments, but I’m not sure how this could work if the onward segment is a connection rather than following a stopover.
They’ll provide guidance on whether a bid is high enough to be likely to be successful, but since there’s not yet any historical data it’s not clear just how useful the indicator will be (or like Priceline, the guidance offered should be ignored and just serves to pump up bids).
Several ticket types are ineligible to bid for upgrades: promotional fares, guest seat rewards, award tickets, free tickets, tickets already upgraded using miles, and customers traveling with infants. (I’m curious why this last category would be excluded?)
What’s strange and completely opaque is the method they’ll be using to determine who gets the upgrade, since it’s not strictly “highest bid wins.”
The success of an offer depends on a combination of factors such as the amount offered for the upgrade, competing offers, the original fare at which the ticket has been purchased, your status within Etihad Guest programme and the number of seats available for an upgrade. To improve your chances, enroll into Etihad Guest by clicking here and put forward your best offer.
If I were running the program, I’d probably arrange it as a Vickrey auction.
In any case, I sure hope this ‘innovation’ remains cordoned off in the Middle East…