Airlines that auction their business class seats
It wasn’t long ago that one could turn up at the airport and, with a bit of luck and the right shoes, stand a chance of being bumped up to business class. The fabled freebie. That still happens on the odd occasion, but constrained by tightening budgets, airlines have begun to get smarter about how they fill those empty business class seats.
One idea that’s taken off is auctioning available seats for those in economy who don’t want to pay full price. But be warned: there’s usually a minimum bid, so bargain hunters won’t be able to throw in a £50 bid and hope for the best – as a very rough figure, expect the minimum bid to be £100 for each hour you fly. Still, it’s possible to get hundreds of pounds off a full-price business class ticket if you’re willing to take the risk and find out just before boarding. It’s an especially successful method with leisure flights (like sun destinations and weekend flights), where the premium seats often remain empty.
Tempting? Here are the Citybond team's guide to five airlines where you can try your luck – and the luxury flight you’ll enjoy if you win.
With their base in Abu Dhabi, Etihad are a useful choice for long haul flights that need a stopover. That’s also why their auctions are super handy. Isn’t it much more alluring to handle a double-digit overnighter in the luxury of business class? Passengers whose booking number begins with 607 are eligible to bid, and they’ll find out if they’ve got a seat upfront up to six hours in advance. If you’ve paid enough to go left, a dreamy experience awaits. All seats turn fully flat, and have direct aisle access. To relax guests further, there’s an in-built massager in the chair, and mood lighting for an added spa feeling.
Jet Airways is a major carrier in India, which makes it a perfect contender for business class auctions: it’s not too far from the UK that you’d be seriously unhappy if your bid failed, but long enough that you could milk the benefit of a luxurious flight if you can buy a seat. What a glorious cabin it is too; champagne and fine wines are served, the seats are fully flat, and there’s a delicious menu featuring both Indian and international dishes. If the cabin crew see you settle into a movie, expect a tub of popcorn to follow.
Sri Lankan Airlines
Nearby, Sri Lankan Airlines are also a perfect distance to make bidding worthwhile. The airline auction off their empty business class seats between London and Colombo for a minimum US$750 bid, meaning flat beds, a better entertainment system and a gourmet menu including champagne, all for potentially less than half price of a usual seat. Passengers can place a bid up to three days before departure, and they’ll find out at least 24 hours before jetting off. With Sri Lanka mooted as a major must-see for 2019 it’s the perfect time to consider visiting the Indian Ocean island in style.
If you browsed our issue on 19 January you’ll know that Qantas recently came out top as the safest airline in the world, but that’s just one of the reasons to fly with the Australian airline. Their Bid Now scheme is open on some flights to select passengers, who’ll get an email to let them know about it. They have up to 24 hours before departure time to state their bid, and they’ll find out up to 12 hours before. The Qantas business class experience is worth the drama – from classy lounges before you fly to Qantas pyjamas and amenity kits for some proper sleep on the plane, it’s an enviable experience.
Virgin Atlantic’s economy cabin is pleasant enough, but to really go all-out, their upgrade auction is worth investigating. Economy passengers who don’t want to shell out four-figure sums can bid for a Premium Economy seat, which offers a more civil flight with roomier seats, priority boarding and a fancier dining menu. To blow the budget, their Upper Class has the longest fully flat beds you’ll find in a business class cabin, a bar area for snacks and drinks, and noise-cancelling headphones to enjoy the tablet-style entertainment – all delivered with Virgin’s usual high-end flourish.
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