Air New Zealand trials upgrade auctions

By John Walton, November 23 2011
Air New Zealand trials upgrade auctions

Frequent flyers are used to spending points for upgrades, or even being offered bargain-basement rates at check-in to pay their way into business or first class seats.

But Air New Zealand -- ever the innovators -- have a new option for upgrading: OneUp auctions, where you bid a set amount before your flight for an upgrade to fully flat beds in Business Premier or more room in premium economy Spaceseats.

Air New Zealand's unique Spaceseats are some of the roomiest premium economy seats around. And who doesn't like a purple ottoman beanbag?
Air New Zealand's unique Spaceseats are some of the roomiest premium economy seats around. And who doesn't like a purple ottoman beanbag?

OneUp is currently in trial mode, and only on direct bookings to North American cities Vancouver, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

(On SF and Vancouver routes, you'll find older planes with more conventional premium economy seats rather than the Spaceseats, and you won't find the improvements to Business Premier seen on Air NZ's newest Boeing 777-300ER planes.)

According to an Air NZ spokesperson Australian Business Traveller talked to, it works like this: "Economy and Premium Economy customers are invited to place a bid to upgrade to the next cabin class by nominating the dollar figure they would be prepared to pay. Customers whose bids are successful are advised a couple of days before travel."

Upgrade from economy to fully flat beds in Business Premier or more space in the Premium Economy Spaceseats? Yes please.
Upgrade from economy to fully flat beds in Business Premier or more space in the Premium Economy Spaceseats? Yes please.

There's a coloured status bar that shows how likely you are to succeed in your bid before you click OK.

The status bar indicates the strength of the offer being made. It's green when the offer being made reaches the average level of past successful offers (although it's no guarantee that any bid will be successful). When the bar turns red, it indicates that history shows your bid is "likely to be too low to be successful", Air NZ says.

So how many people will get an email offering a OneUp upgrade? "The number will vary, depending on expected loadings," Air NZ's spokesperson told us.

And you'll need to have booked through Air NZ itself, not Virgin Australia or any of the Kiwi airline's other partners: "Offers can only be made to those passengers that have booked an airfare directly with Air NZ and for whom we hold a valid email address."

If you're an Air NZ Airpoints frequent flyer, don't worry, your existing confirmed recognition upgrades (which used to be called complimentary upgrades) will clear ahead of OneUp upgrades: "OneUp upgrades will occur after Loyalty (Air New Zealand Airpoints) upgrades have been allowed for" the aitline spokesperson assured us. "Upgrades that would have occurred prior to the OneUp programme will continue to occur."

John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

19 Aug 2011

Total posts 167

Interesting that you say Air NZ claims that "recognition upgrades" will clear first, yet there are several categories of these.

Firstly, you can have confirmed or standby upgrades.  A confirmed one requires you be in effectively fully flexible booking classes and spend 2 upgrade "vouchers" to instantly confirm the upgrade.  These obviously would "clear" first.

Standby upgrades are different depending on status.  Gold Elites can get the standby upgrade confirmed up to a year before travel if the bucket of "R" or "A" class upgrades is available for that flight.  However, Golds will only have standby's confirmed no earlier than 72 hours in advance and Silvers 48 hours in advance, if at all - in both cases they may not be confirmed until check in or the gate.  The question is whether Golds or Silvers seeking standby upgrades will clear in advance of this new category.

Furthermore, it appears it totally devalues those with status using Airpoints dollars to buy standby upgrades (presumably confirmed upgrades are as before) as these are not "loyalty" upgrades per se (Gold Elites and Golds get two of those per annum, Silver one), but upgrades available using the currency of the Airpoints system.  Up till now, it has been possible to use the "loyalty" upgrades and airpoints upgrades effectively interchangeably, with the knowledge that the loyalty ones have slightly higher priority than airpoints dollar based ones.  

If this system effectively means flyers with status using loyalty upgrades and airpoints for standby upgrades get bypassed by those bidding for an upgrade (especially if the bid has a lower value than the upgrade price using airpoints, which uses NZ$ as the currency), then it is a major degradation for status customers.

For example, an upgrade to business premier from premium economy one sector is 470 airpoints dollars = NZ$470.  If someone bids for such an upgrade for less than that, and wins over the status customer, it looks like the status customer is losing out unfairly.

03 Jan 2011

Total posts 665

Yes, it's somewhat unhelpful that the recent wording change on the upgrade types hasn't fixed the clarity problems, isn't it?

My understanding from the Air New Zealand rep's statement is that frequent flyers burning Airpoints or upgrade certificates clear before OneUp certificates. That would make sense: these are arguably a more valuable currency to the airline than cash. But you're right, there's still some ambiguity there.

I will put your question to the Air NZ rep and let you know what the answer is.

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