BE IN THE KNOW

November 25 2013

One Airline is Reinventing Upgrade Requests

By David McMillin

first class

Upgrading to first-class or business class could be getting more interesting.

American Airlines is testing a new bidding process for travelers who want to move up to a higher class of service. Rather than asking fliers to pay a specific amount, American is inviting them to make an offer. The program sounds similar to an auction with private bids that will allow the airline to understand what travelers are willing to pay.

Here’s how it works. Travelers select an amount of additional money they are willing to pay for the upgrade and enter their credit card payment information. If the bid is accepted, they will be charged. It sounds fairly similar to the same type of bidding process that sites such as Priceline use for the Name-Your-Own-Price process for booking hotel rooms. However, travelers do not know whether the bid was accepted until 24 hours before the flight.

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Matt Miller, spokesman, American Airlines, says the program is a limited test in select markets.

“We’ll be evaluating results in the coming weeks to determine if it’s something our customers value,” Miller says.

While some frequent fliers may worry that this type of offering will make their status mean less, Miller reassured me via email that the carrier’s most prized customers will not be affected.

“AAdvantage elite status member requests will continue to be given priority and will not be affected by this offering,” Miller says. “Elite status members should continue to request 500-mile upgrades as they do now.”

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This seems like a smart move on American’s part. While most airlines use standard fees for everything, the bidding program appears to be based on how much customers value a premium experience. It’s entirely fueled by market demand; customers can set the price for a better seat.

However, the program isn’t entirely customer-friendly. One look at the fine print reveals that American’s legal department has helped excuse the company from including some of the perks associated with first-class.

“American Airlines does not guarantee that you will be offered a meal for the class of service to which you have been upgraded, nor other amenities generally associated with the class of service to which you have been upgraded,” the terms and conditions sheet declares.

Flying American soon? Click here to see if your trip is included in the bidding test.

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