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Going Once, Going Twice: How to Bid on a First-Class Seat

Going Once, Going Twice: How to Bid on a First-Class Seat

On fall flights between Toronto and Warsaw, Julia Gifford bid about $300, just above the minimum, for an outbound trip in premium economy on LOT Polish Airlines. The original round-trip economy fare was about $800.

“I upgraded both directions after an excellent first experience,” said Ms. Gifford, a Toronto native who lives in Riga, Latvia, where she runs a content marketing and public relations agency. She reported the food, the space and the mood of the flight attendants was much improved. “It was so worth it.”

While airline prices are notoriously dynamic, looking at the same routing on current flights, the difference between economy and premium economy prices for standard fares before any auction is usually more than $300. According to recent prices, a successful upgrade bid of $300 appears to save between 7 to 30 percent over the price at the time of booking.

“I would definitely recommend it to people who wish to fly business and are not sure if it’s worth it,” said Shamarel O.E. Odusanya, a psychologist based in Dubai, who won a business class upgrade for about the price she paid for her economy seat (995 Emirati dirhams, or roughly $270) on an Etihad Airways flight from Dubai to Tel Aviv and avoided a hefty fee for an extra checked bag because it was included in the upgrade ticket. “I particularly enjoyed the calm of the lounge, which made what can be a stressful experience a rather enjoyable one.”

Travelers may get other offers to upgrade directly from the airlines, sometimes immediately after they book a flight and even at the check-in counter at the airport.

Consumers set their threshold for engaging in auctions, which offers a degree of control.

“Ultimately, it’s a win-win for the airline and the traveler,” said Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst who runs Atmosphere Research Group and recently won an upgrade auction to business class for $100 on a flight from Vienna to Warsaw, bringing the total cost of the ticket to $350, a third less than the $525 business class ticket available when he booked economy. “Airlines are collecting incremental revenue and being paid for a premium product. The passenger is winning because he or she is paying a price they feel is fair and meets their budget needs.”

Upgrade services are banking on the premise that fliers are looser with their budgets once travel is upon them.

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