You no longer need deep pockets or a vast arsenal of frequent-flier miles to travel in style. On more than 50 airlines, you may be able to buy a seat in the front of the plane for less than half the usual price of a first- or business-class ticket.
Here’s how it works: Select customers receive an e-mail inviting them to bid on an upgrade, or customers submit a bid on the airline’s website. Airlines set a minimum, so don’t expect to fly first class for $1, says Ken Harris, chief executive of Plusgrade, which manages most of the auction programs. You’re not charged unless your bid is accepted.
Most of the participating airlines, which include Lufthansa, Qantas and Aer Lingus, are international carriers. But Virgin America offers the program, and Hawaiian Airlines says it will add it soon, as will several other North American carriers, says Harris.
Before bidding, go to ExpertFlyer.com to find out how many premium seats are available, says Richard Kerr, a frequent flier and contributor to The Points Guy blog. Even if there are plenty of open seats, bid $30 to $50 above the threshold. Most customers bid the minimum, Kerr says, so a slightly higher offer will give you a leg up.