Virgin Australia launches cash auctions for business class upgrades

By David Flynn, October 1 2013

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

For full details, visit Virgin Australia's UpgradeMe Premium Bid page and check out the detailed FAQ.

If you've put in a bid for an upgrade, let us know how much you offered and if it was successful!

Follow Australian Business Traveller on Twitter: we're @AusBT

David

David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

mr_pb

mr_pb

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

01 Oct 2013

Total posts 93

Honestly, this is an underwhelming program in comparison to other airlines having a similar "upgrade auction" program. For example, Air NZ OneUp allows bids with cash or FF points, and if you're successful you get all the benefits of the class that you've won an upgrade for. So no thanks, Virgin.

jetsetter86

jetsetter86

Skywards Gold

21 Apr 2011

Total posts 54

Agree with mr_pb. Sounds like this is a nice little way for virgin to supplement its revenues rather than offer real value to customers with the full service offering. If you dont get the higher miles, unless you get a great deal is the upgrade really worth it? 

Also it may make better business sense if they leave the auction open until check in closes, that way its a more efficient marginal revenue scheme.

watson374

watson374

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

17 Aug 2012

Total posts 2221

I think it's deliberately a half-a*sed program designed to dangle premium travel in front of those willing to part with some extra cash, while protecting the existing fully-paid and ultra-frequent-flyer customer base.

gippsflyer

gippsflyer

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Jan 2013

Total posts 715

I agree, Virgin Australia is being wise in making sure it offers an upside to economy travellers without undermining its premium segment. I, for one, wouldn't want Business full of pax who paid less than me!

gippsflyer

gippsflyer

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Jan 2013

Total posts 715

Discounted economy fares on Virgin are where Economy pax get real value jetsetter86 - this scheme just offers price scaling for premium seats that otherwise would be unsold, while protecting the existing premium market.

You don't get something for nothing, after all. If you want full service, you have to pay for it, whether it's on Virgin metal or not.

aussieboyaussie

aussieboyaussie

20 Aug 2012

Total posts 114

This is great news, similar to AirNZ.  Now come on Qantas, let's see what you've got...?

TheRealBabushka

TheRealBabushka

21 Apr 2012

Total posts 3034

Just what the consumer needs, another dimension of uncertainty in the upgrading game! 

So presumably if a Gold FF bids $1 less than a Silver FF, the latter wins the upgrade?

KG

KG

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 May 2011

Total posts 736

I think this could be great on long haul flights (domestic coast to coast on A330 and international destinations) where there is often an abundance of premium seats and where in some case you cannot upgrade on forehand. Especially on the coast to coast routes i have noticed that often there are 15+ seats open, so presumably if you bid in the lower range you would be able to secure an upgrade at significantly lower cost than buying the ticket outright. Obviously the lack of perks is disappointing, but if you are a Gold FF or above you get the lounge access and extra luggage in any case.

Darkavid99

Darkavid99

Virgin Australia - Platinum

21 Dec 2012

Total posts 90

This worries me. They say it wont affect the availabilty of upgrade seats for Platinum FF's but how do we know this is the case? One of the key benefits of Virgin is upgrading either at time of booking (with points or platinum upgrade) or lounge upgrades. Surely if they are encouraging cash upgrades it will limit seats for loyal frequent flyers.

dbs

dbs

02 Oct 2013

Total posts 1

Nice to see a product offing that’s adding more choice for consumers and providing them with a better experience when they fly. It’s good that travelers without Velocity points or status now have access to an upgrade. I don’t think this will harm the frequent flyers either if there’s still space available and they have first preference.  I’m looking forward to flying Virgin to try this.

shragi

shragi

QF - Red

23 Nov 2012

Total posts 31

yeh....nah! No thanks. not worth $250 for a one hour flight. what is minimu for an east-west flight?

Graham S

Graham S

09 Jul 2012

Total posts 11

For goodness sakes who cares about these hair-brained schemes some pony tailed marketing graduate dreams up to justify his job for another week? Why can't the airlines just do their core job, i.e. get me onto the aircraft with minimum fuss & as smoothly as possible, don't lose my luggage, leave on time and provide a meals & drinks service. Aircraft are nothing more than buses and trains that fly, that's all they are. Try the KISS principle   

Graham S

Graham S

09 Jul 2012

Total posts 11

For goodness sakes who cares about these hair-brained schemes some pony tailed marketing graduate dreams up to justify his job for another week? Why can't the airlines just do their core job, i.e. get me onto the aircraft with minimum fuss & as smoothly as possible, don't lose my luggage, leave on time and provide a meals & drinks service. Aircraft are nothing more than buses and trains that fly, that's all they are. Try the KISS principle   

shragi

shragi

QF - Red

23 Nov 2012

Total posts 31

have you met Tiger.....

Graham S

Graham S

09 Jul 2012

Total posts 11

Point taken 

logicbox

logicbox

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

18 Jun 2013

Total posts 4

"and, as you might expect, you'll only receive the number of Velocity points and status credits appropriate to your original pre-upgrade ticket"

Actually, since financial consideration is being made for the upgrade my expectation is that VA would reward points/status on the basis of the class not just being flown but as it happens actually purchased. That the buyer paid significantly less for the next tier ticket as a consequence of playing the UpgradeMe game ought not to matter.

Of course I understand perfectly why they wouldn't do that, yet if the idea is to "gamify" the upgrade then why not go all the way? It's not that hard to write algorithms that put the customers they want in the next cabin and thereby incentivise them to pay a full fare next time.


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