Want a shot at an upgrade to business class on your next Virgin Australia flight? Be prepared to put your money down under the airline's new UpgradeMe Premium Bid auction system, launched today for all Virgin Australia domestic and international flights.
Similar to the upgrade auction systems are already offered by Etihad and Air New Zealand – both of which are Virgin Australia partners and financial stakeholders – UpgradeMe Premium Bid asks travellers to make a cash bid for any available seats in Virgin's 'premium' cabins, which includes premium economy on international flights to Los Angeles and Abu Dhabi as well as the more popular business class.
But forget about that ambit $1 bid – Virgin sets minimum and maximum bids based on the distance you'll be flying as well as the availability of extra seats at the pointy end of the plane.
In the case of the Brisbane-Sydney flight shown below, the traveller is bidding in the mid-range of $255, with the option to go as low as $150 and up to $350 – at which point you may realise that buying a business class fare to begin with could well have been cheaper.
And not all empty business class seats will be up for grabs. Virgin Australia spokesman Nathan Scholz confirmed to Australian Business Traveller that "only a percentage of seats in the premium cabin will be available for UpgradeMe Premium Bids."
"We will have some restrictions (on the number of seats available)" Scholz explains, so that travellers can still use other upgrade channels such as Velocity points or the Complimentary Fare Upgrades issued Platinum members.
"The upgrade options already available to Velocity Frequent Flyers were important considerations in designing UpgradeMe Premium Bid, so we have looked at that" Scholz says, citing in-lounge upgrades as an example where Virgin's most frequent travellers would not be disadvantaged by bids.
(Virgin is also rebranding its current upgrade options under the UpgradeMe banner, with Velocity points-based upgrades now called UpgradeMe Points and the Complimentary Fare Upgrades available to Platinum members dubbed UpgradeMe Platinum Member Offer.)
No bidding if you booked through an agent
However, only bookings made directly with Virgin Australia are eligible for an upgrade bid. That won't please the majority of business travellers whose bookings are done through a travel agency, and often in economy, but would welcome the chance to pay out of their own pocket for a business class upgrade.
Scholz says that there are no plans to extend the UpgradeMe Premium Bid system to travel agent bookings.
"Part of the reason is that an upgrade changes the booking and we believe it's important for the customers of our travel partners to have their booking remain with that agency" he says, "so at this stage we have not included external bookings."
Eligible travellers will receive an email inviting them to bid for an upgrade "up to one week prior to departure" Scholz explains, "although within that period guests can also enter their booking details at the Virgin Australia website and check if they're eligible."
You'll be advised by email of your bid's success (or otherwise) "at least two days prior to the departure date."
There are a few other caveats worth noting.
- Virgin's cheapest Saver Lite economy tickets don't quality for an upgrade bid – only Saver and Flexi fares
- Even if your bid is successful, you won't be eligible for the business class perks of a limousine service and higher checked luggage allowance
- International economy bookings can be upgraded only to premium economy, not business class: only premium economy passengers can bid for business class on international flights, and even if they're successful they won't get access to any business lounges
- and, as you might expect, you'll only receive the number of Velocity points and status credits appropriate to your original pre-upgrade ticket
If you've put in a bid for an upgrade, let us know how much you offered and if it was successful!
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