Business class seat in lie-flat mode on British Airways
Business & Premium Classes

Business Class for Less: How to Bid on Seat Upgrades for Your Next Flight

Scott Laird

Scott Laird

April 11, 2024

5 min read

Table of Contents

Many travelers have dreamed about flying in a higher class of service—particularly on a long-haul flight across the ocean—but have been turned off by fares that often seem to reach into the stratosphere. Thankfully, some airlines allow travelers the ability to “bid” for seats in higher cabins than the ones they originally booked, either to premium economy, business, and sometimes even international first class on the dwindling number of airlines that still offer it. 

The bid process, however, can be confusing. Are bids binding as soon as they’re made? Can bids be retracted or modified once submitted? Can you gamble and bid a single dollar and see what happens? 

Read on for more details on the process, plus some additional first-hand tips from Going’s team of travel experts.

How bidding on a seat upgrade works

1. The airline might email you and let you know you can bid for a premium seat. 

This can vary by airline, and only if the airline has a working e-mail address on file. Some airlines will send the e-mail immediately after booking if there is no limit on how far in advance they will accept bids; some airlines limit bids to a set period prior to departure—sometimes only within a few days of departure. The email will include a link to where you can bid, plus information on when any bids are due and when you’ll be notified if you are successful. 

2. You can go to the airline’s website and see if your flight is eligible. 

Airlines that offer bid upgrades typically have dedicated pages on their websites where passengers can provide their booking details to find out if they are eligible to bid for an upgrade. Passengers will sometimes find links directly to upgrade bids in their reservation confirmation e-mail or in the manage reservation portion of the airline’s website. 

Alternatively, passengers can google the name of their airline and “bid upgrade” to find the explanation page for their airline’s program. We’ve also provided the links below for select airlines offering bid upgrades on their flights to the United States.


How to bid on a seat upgrade 

1. Choose the flight legs and passengers and the class you want to bid on.

On some flights, you might be able to bid on an upgrade from economy to either premium economy or business, but many airlines limit upgrades to a single class, so economy passengers may only be able to upgrade to premium economy if that’s the next highest class of service. Generally, you’ll be able to choose to bid to upgrade one or multiple legs of your trip, but most airlines require the same bid for all passengers on the same reservation. 

Going’s Senior Product Designer, Tika, opted for bidding on a flight that was part of a long travel day: “I bid $500 for a business class flight from Madrid to Bogota on Avianca. It was a 10-hour flight as part of a 20-plus-hour trip and I knew I would be exhausted. The airplane itself was old, but the seats were lie flat, and I fell asleep right after takeoff and woke up when it was time to land. I didn't experience any of the business class perks because I slept through it all. Still worth it!” 

2. Confirm exactly what you’re getting. 

Take a look at the airline website to confirm what the upgraded experience is like, and then check the bidding terms and conditions to make sure the amenities you want are included (some upgrades don’t include things like lounge access or increased baggage allowance). 

“I once paid $300 to upgrade to business class on Air France (not via bidding) and was disappointed to find out the seats were the old angle seats, not true lie-flats,” cautions Going’s Content Marketing Director, Katie. “It was still better than economy, but had I paid a lot more, I would have had regrets.”

It’s also worth mentioning some airlines’ upgraded products may vary due to last-minute aircraft swaps so keep this in mind when bidding.

3. Determine your bid amount.

Choose how much you're willing to pay—but check the price for a confirmed upgrade first—sometimes, it can be similar or even cheaper than the minimum bid, and then there’s no risk you won’t get it. 

Going’s Product Operations Program Manager, Daniel says, “The key when you're bidding is to ignore what the airline tells you is a good or bad deal and be guided by your own budget. Subject the purchase to the same level of scrutiny you would any other vacation expense. It's also helpful to look at the retail price of the flight you're bidding for and calculate whether the prices you're being shown are, in fact, less than straight-up purchasing the seat you want.”

Most bidding systems will have a minimum amount, and often they will provide guidance on the range of bids that are most likely to be accepted. 

“Think carefully about the max you’re willing to pay,” says Katie. “When selecting my bid amount, I weigh the cost of what it would have been just to buy the upgrade, how much the upgrade breaks down to on a per-hour basis, and what amount I would be willing to pay once I’m cramped in economy and miserable; usually that list bit increases the bid by about $50.”

bidding scale
slider than shows likelihood of a bid being accepted

4. Input your payment information. 

You’ll be charged if your bid is accepted, typically the same day or within a few business days after you’re notified that your bid was successful. If your bid is not accepted, you won’t be charged. 

5. Cross your fingers.

Most airlines will let you know at a set interval before the flight, which is usually outlined in the terms when you input your offer. For most airlines, this is around 48-72 hours before the flight. 

If your bid doesn’t get accepted, it’s always worth asking about upgrades at check-in. Wendy, Going’s Head of HR, did just this recently: “My $500 bid from Osaka to Vancouver on Air Canada was rejected, but during check-in, I was offered to upgrade to business for $772 per person. I was in vacation mode, where money grows on trees, so I took it. Not sure if it was the best deal, but it was my first time in business, so I thought it was worth the experience! I have no regrets.”

The rules for bidding on a seat upgrade 

Every airline has different rules, but there are a few standard requirements set forth by the bid software operator (most airlines use the same software provider). 

You have to have an eligible ticket already. 

The bidding system won’t work until your booking has been confirmed and ticketed. 

In most cases, you must also have been ticketed on the airline you’re bidding on (e.g., if your outbound flight was booked on United, who issued your ticket for the roundtrip, including your return flight on Air New Zealand, you won’t be able to bid for an upgrade on Air New Zealand). 

Most free tickets (including those purchased with miles or containing mileage upgrades) will also generally be excluded, as will many codeshare flights, but there are exceptions; some airlines allow mileage redemption tickets to be upgraded. 

No $1 bids. There’s almost always a minimum.

The minimums can also be significant, especially for the most premium cabins like business and first (anecdotally, Going staff report having seen anything from $250 to $400 as a minimum starting bid). 

It always makes sense to compare the minimum bid with the current fare difference or per-segment cost to pay for an upgrade. It can sometimes be similar or even cheaper than the minimum for a bid. 

Hawaiian airlines bidding
Instructions on the Hawaiian Airlines site for bidding

The amount you bid is in addition to what you have already paid. 

Bids are generally per person (often for all the passengers in the reservation, so pay close attention to the fine print—most airlines won’t allow passengers to pick and choose which passengers to bid for), in addition to the fare already paid. If you only want to bid on an upgrade for one passenger, call the airline’s reservations center; oftentimes, a reservation can be “split” to allow for single-passenger bids.

There’s a window of time when you can place your bid. 

Most airlines will accept bids up until a couple of days prior to the flight, generally two to three days prior. Airlines also vary on when they will clear the bids from the system; some airlines might clear bids weeks in advance, while some are known to clear bids up until the flight departs, even clearing bids while passengers are waiting at the departure gate. Airlines that clear bids after check-in often have disclaimers advising passengers that only the onboard amenities will be available if their bids are cleared after check-in (so no adjustments to checked baggage allowance or lounge access). 

If your bid is declined, you cannot bid again. 

Airlines allow passengers to cancel or change their bid until the deadline for submitting bids, or until an upgrade offer has been accepted. However, once an upgrade offer is declined, passengers are not able to return and make another offer.

No takebacks once the bid deadline has passed. 

Airlines generally follow this rule, but there are limited exceptions (like in the case of a schedule change or equipment downgrade). The terms and conditions typically provide details on how to request a refund for extraordinary situations. Absent one of these, however, upgrade bids are as nonrefundable as a regular nonrefundable ticket. 

Which airlines allow bidding on an upgrade? 

Only one US carrier–Hawaiian Airlines–offers a bid-up program. Here’s a list of other airlines with service to the United States that also allow passengers to bid for premium seats.


Aer Lingus: Aer Lingus allows passengers to bid on upgrades to business class on transatlantic flights up to five days prior to departure. Airport amenities like additional baggage allowance and lounge access will apply. Aer Lingus will not refund special services like preordered meals or premium seats for upgraded passengers. 

Brussels Airlines: Brussels Airlines allows passengers to bid on upgrades to business class on most European flights and to business or premium economic class on long-haul flights. Bids are accepted up to 50 hours prior to departure, and passengers who have already purchased seat assignments can apply for a refund of their original purchase with customer service. 

Edelweiss: Edelweiss allows passengers to bid on upgrades to business class and Economy Max extra legroom seats on most flights if they have bought their tickets directly from Edelweiss. Bids are accepted up to 48 hours prior to departure, and upgrades are awarded no less than 23 hours prior to departure. Prepaid services are non-refundable for passengers who bid for an upgrade, and the baggage allowance and lounge access provisions will apply. 

Icelandair: Icelandair allows bids on upgrades to Saga Premium business class on most flights. Passengers receive an e-mail 10 days prior to departure if they are eligible. Bids are accepted up to 26 hours prior to departure. Bids will be awarded up to 26 hours prior to departure or up to 3 hours prior to departure on flights departing from Keflavik. Passengers can bid cash or Saga Points to pay for an upgrade.

Lufthansa: Lufthansa allows bids on upgrades to premium economy, business class, and first class on most flights up to 48 hours prior to departure. Airport amenities like baggage allowances and lounge access will apply, and Lufthansa will also award miles based on the upgraded class of service for the upgraded segments. 

Scandinavian Airlines: SAS offers upgrades to SAS Plus premium economy and SAS Business for bid up to 6 hours prior to departure on flights to North America and Asia, and up to 25 hours prior to departure on flights within Europe. Passengers can bid for upgrades using cash or points. Baggage allowances will remain based on the original ticket, but other amenities like lounge access will apply. Prepaid services in the original cabin will remain nonrefundable.

TAP Air Portugal: TAP offers two bid windows. Up to 36 hours prior to departure, passengers can bid cash or points for an upgrade to business class. For these upgrades, all airport and onboard amenities apply to successful upgrade offers. Within 24 hours of departure, passengers can bid for seats in Comfort (economy with extra legroom only) or business, but airport amenities like baggage allowance and lounge access won’t be available.

Virgin Atlantic: Passengers with tickets issued by Virgin Atlantic can bid to upgrade to premium economy or Upper Class up to 7 days prior to departure. Virgin Atlantic will award upgrades up to 2 days prior to departure. Passengers with successful bids for Upper Class will be entitled to greater baggage allowance, but only on the upgraded segment (charges may apply to other segments) and lounge access is offered subject to availability. 

The Americas

Aeromexico: Aeromexico offers upgrades to Clase Premier for bid prior to departure, but does not indicate how close to departure bids will be accepted or cleared. Passengers who successfully bid will receive the baggage allowance of the upgrade class, and lounge access, but only on flights within or departing from Mexico. Aeromexico does not specify a minimum bid, but the airline is not obligated to accept ludicrously low bids.

Air Canada: Air Canada offers passengers traveling on Air Canada, Air Canada Rouge, and Air Canada Express upgrades for bid to premium economy, business class, and Signature Class up to 48 hours prior to departure. Successful bids include the baggage allowance of the new fare but bids into Signature Class do not include access to Signature Lounges in Vancouver and Toronto; passengers will be accommodated at the Maple Leaf Lounges, which have less upgrade amenities. 

Avianca: Avianca allows passengers to bid for upgrades to business class on widebody aircraft, but the airline’s website is short on details regarding any restrictions. 

Copa Airlines: Copa Airlines allows passengers to bid for upgrades to Business Class, but details are short on the airline’s website. Copa indicates they will evaluate and award bids between 50 and 20 hours prior to departure and that baggage allowances and lounge access will be included with successful bids. 

Hawaiian Airlines: Hawaiian Airlines passengers can bid on first-class seats on most Interisland, North America, and international flights up to 48 hours prior to departure. First class lounge access and baggage allowances apply for passengers who bid successfully. There is no refund for pre-purchased services like seat assignment or baggage fees. 

LATAM: LATAM allows passengers to bid for upgrades to premium economy and business up to 12 hours prior to departure. Bid awards are issued from 12 to 2 hours prior to departure. There is no refund for pre-purchased services. Baggage allowance and lounge access are included. 

Africa/Middle East

Ethiopian Airlines: Ethiopian offers biddable upgrades up to three hours prior to the departure of the flight. Upgrades are awarded between 24 and 3 hours prior to departure. Baggage allowances and lounge access are included for upgraded passengers, but mileage accrual remains the same as the original ticket. 

Etihad Airways: Etihad Airways allows passengers to bid for upgrades to business class and first class up to six hours prior to departure. Passengers can only bid to upgrade to the next class of service (e.g., passengers must already be ticketed in business class to bid on upgrades to first class). Lounge access will be provided only for upgraded flight segments; baggage allowances will be those stated on the original ticket. Chauffeur services will not be provided unless the entitlement is provided as part of the original ticket. Passengers will earn miles based on their original ticket, but passengers choosing to accrue Etihad Guest miles will receive a 10% bonus if their bid is accepted. 

Royal Jordanian: Bids for upgrades to Crown Class open 15 hours prior to departure and will be accepted up to 6 hours prior to departure. Lounge access and baggage allowance will reflect Crown Class for accepted bids, but passengers will accrue mileage on the original ticketed fare. 


Air India: Air India passengers can bid on upgrades within 72 hours of each flight’s departure and up to 12 hours prior to departure. Successful bids will be awarded lounge access and additional baggage allowance, but miles will accrue based on the original purchased fare class.

Air New Zealand: Air New Zealand allows bids for upgrades to economy SkyCouch, premium economy, and Business Premier using cash or AirPoints. Passengers can only upgrade one class of service, so economy passengers can only bid on upgrades to economy SkyCouch or premium economy. Lounge access and baggage allowance changes are only awarded to passengers whose bids are accepted before check-in. Passengers whose bids are accepted after check-in will only receive onboard amenities. 

All Nippon Airways (ANA): ANA allows economy class passengers the ability to upgrade to premium economy between 7 days and 48 hours prior to departure from select destinations. Bids are for seat upgrades only; all other benefits remain that of the original economy class fare.

Cathay Pacific: Cathay Pacific accepts bids for upgrades to a single cabin class up to 50 hours prior to departure. Passengers can bid to upgrade from economy to premium economy or premium economy to business. On flights without premium economy, economy passengers can bid to upgrade to business. The baggage allowance of the original ticket applies even to successfully upgraded flights. Cathay Pacific excludes flights to/from India from the bid upgrade program because of technical limitations. 

Fiji Airways: Fiji Airways Bula Bid allows passengers to bid for upgrades to business class up to 24 hours prior to the flight’s departure. Passengers will be notified of successful bids up to 18 hours prior to departure. Baggage allowances and lounge access will reflect business-class entitlements following a successful upgrade bid. 

Qantas: Qantas offers passengers the ability to bid on upgrades within 7 days of departure, up to 5 hours prior to departure on Australian domestic flights, and up to 10 hours prior to departure on international flights. economy class passengers can bid on premium economy and business upgrades; premium economy passengers can bid on business upgrades, and passengers must be ticketed in the business cabin to bid for upgrades to first. Passengers can bid cash, Qantas Points, or a combination of both. Baggage allowances and lounge entitlements will reflect the upgraded ticket if a bid is successful. 

Which airlines don’t allow bidding on an upgrade? 

  • American Airlines
  • Delta Air Lines
  • Alaska Airlines
  • United Airlines
  • British Airways
  • Air France
  • KLM
  • Qatar Airways
  • Emirates

Frequently asked questions about bidding for an upgrade

How much does an upgrade cost?
Upgrade costs are determined by the passenger’s bid, but airlines typically set a minimum bid. Going's flight experts have seen $200-$500 bids get accepted for upgrades from economy to business on long-haul flights, and bids as low as $50 for upgrades to business or premium economy on domestic flights.
What are your odds of winning an upgrade?
Airlines use a meter to indicate to passengers how likely their bid will be accepted. Some airlines weigh bids higher from passengers based on elite status in their frequent flyer programs.
Do you get all the perks of the upgraded class when you bid on an upgrade?
It depends on the airline, and policies vary widely. Virtually all airlines maintain the terms of the original ticket on topics such as changeability and refundability, but practices on lounge access and baggage allowance can vary widely.


Bidding for an upgrade can be a cost-effective way for passengers to experience a higher class of service. It can also allow them to pick and choose which flights they want upgraded prior to departure—perhaps only the longest or overnight flights in their itinerary are worth the additional cost.

Passengers should always check the price to purchase an upgrade outright before placing a bid–sometimes, the price is at, near, or lower than the minimum bid. 

Scott Laird

Scott Laird

Freelance Writer

Scott developed a passion for travel during frequent childhood trips between homes in Anchorage, Alaska, and Kaua'i. Currently Dallas-based, he's been writing about travel for the past 8 years and is a frequent contributor to TravelPulse, TravelAge West, TripSavvy, and Conde Nast Traveler. When not in Dallas, he can typically be found in Europe, on the US West Coast, Alaska, Hawai'i, or Tahiti.

Published April 11, 2024

Last updated April 11, 2024

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