Life Travel How to get an airline upgrade: neighbour-free seats and other sneaky tricks
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How to get an airline upgrade: neighbour-free seats and other sneaky tricks

There are ways to skip the queue and be treated like a VIP. Photo: Getty
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Love thy neighbour? Not on a plane it seems.

Etihad’s recently introduced “Neighbour-free Seats” concept lets Economy travellers put a little distance between themselves and their neighbours (for a price, naturally). Travellers can bid for up to three adjacent seats­ so they can occupy up to an entire row.

As Sarah Built, Etihad General Manager Australia and NZ says, “We aim to sell seats we would otherwise not sell, so there can be quite a significant discount. We have guests who want extra space and comfort, but without the price tag attached to Business Class.”

Of course, with these Neighbour-free Seats you are still in Economy, but if you hope to turn left rather than right as you board the plane – without blowing your budget – there are options. 

Bidding for a (much) better seat

More airlines are adopting auction upgrades, so you can bid your way from Economy to Premium Economy or even to Business Class to snare extra room – not to mention prestige and perks – but without the damage to your credit card.

Upgrade bids are mainly “invitation only” and there is a minimum spend (sometimes money plus frequent flyer points). Signing up to the airline’s frequent flyer program will increase your chances (sometimes being a member is essential). If there are multiple sectors for the journey, you need to bid on each sector.

Not all airlines entitle you to all the benefits of the upgraded class, so check the fine print.

If you’re flying Qantas, for example, and your Bid Now Upgrade is successful, your Business Class ticket will entitle you to a more luxurious seat or even lie-flat bed. Seats are wider and while the seat pitch (or amount of leg room) in Economy on an A380 Airbus is 31 inches, in Business Class it’s 78 inches. You also score additional baggage allowance, dedicated check-in, priority boarding and use of the swish-o Business Lounge.

With Cathay Pacific’s Upgrade Bid you can only upgrade one level – from Economy to Premium Economy or from Premium Economy to First. You can savour the comforts of the next class (lie-flat bed and “fluffy pillows” in Business) but you won’t get extra baggage allowance or frequent flyer points for the additional money spent.

Etihad also has an auction upgrade system. If you’re successful, and flying on an A380, you can order a daiquiri at the cocktail bar (they don’t have those in Economy!) though you won’t get the chauffeur-driven service that comes with a full-price Business ticket. 

Hawaiian Airlines has just expanded their popular Bid Up auction upgrade to the Australian market, meaning you can bid for the “front cabin experience” of Business Class en route to Hawaii.

Air New Zealand’s OneUp bid system has an ‘offer strength indicator’ on the website so you know if your bid is at least a likely contender (because it is a stab in the dark).

All in all, these are auctions and there are no guarantees – you may miss out, but you could score an upgrade that saves you literally thousands on a full-price ticket. Or at least a little more space with your “Neighbor-free seat”.

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