A number of airlines globally have introduced airline upgrade bidding. This is basically what it sounds like, you will be bidding in an auction for a business class seat. In the case of KLM international intineraries, an upgrade to their business class product World Business Class. There are few restrictions with regard to placing a bid, and bids (for long-haul international flights) range from €279 to €1500. Clearly, this upgrade scheme is most cost effective if you have purchased a low priced long-haul ticket. I am going to focus on bidding for long-haul upgrades, since these tend to represent the best value.
The process is rather simple and involves either choosing the upgrade bid option (on the KLM website while viewing the “My bookings” screen) or via the KLM upgrade yourself web site. (link updated 14 December 2016) While it is a simple process, there are many caveats. Not all itineraries are eligible for upgrade, and even if you have the highest bid you still might not receive (win) the upgrade. I tend to find the best attitude with regard to upgrade bidding on KLM is to enter into the process with a relaxed attitude and low expectations. One a very positive note, it costs nothing to bid and when you are bidding for an upgrade after purchasing a low economy class ticket you have very little to lose. As an aside, if you are purchasing expensive (often refundable) economy class international fares there are often other less expensive and more effective means of upgrading. Some methods involve mileage upgrades and day of departure upgrades based on fare class. These additional upgrade topics are beyond the scope of this article, but if you purchase an “expensive” ticket it is always best to weigh all of the potential options.
While on the subject of “value” of an upgrade, in many markets bidding for an upgrade can be very cost effective in comparison to the least expensive business class ticket available for purchase. For example, an average roundtrip ticket on a nonstop from Amsterdam to New York City (AMS-JFK-AMS) in business class trends from €3000 to €4000 roundtrip, while the least expensive economy class tickets can be as low as €600 roundtrip. A lot is also destination dependent. For example, when booking 3 months in advance KLM will often discount business class for under €2000 roundtrip to many long-haul markets. Obviously purchasing a fare for €1800 roundtrip in business class is a better deal than any upgrade scheme especially since you also will receive bonus mileage and elite qualifying miles in a SkyTeam mileage earning program such as Flying Blue or Delta SkyMiles.
Since I personally find real life examples to be best in explaining a process, I recently experimented with upgrading a €693.40 roundtrip ticket AMS-JFK-AMS. The process would be the same with an itinerary that starts in New York, JFK-AMS-JFK, but the pricing for such itineraries does vary from Amsterdam origination (ex-AMS). Another benefit of a city such as New York is that KLM has a number of the nonstop Amsterdam flights. Be aware, some cities flying (nonstop) to Amsterdam to/from the USA are only serviced by Delta though often KLM code-share flight numbers might appear when you search for a flight. KLM upgrade bidding is only applicable to actual KLM flights (not Delta codeshares), otherwise known as “KLM-metal.”
Before I share the process for trying to bid for an upgrade, I’ll touch on the “value” of a KLM business class upgrade. In my “real life” example if I were to win a middle/low bid for upgrade of (for example) €375 each way, that combined with my original €693.40 would yield a roundtrip business class airfare (including upgrade fees) of €1,443.40. Is this a good deal? Only you can answer that question, but in this market with regard to nonstop flights on KLM to New York City this is substantially less than purchasing a business class ticket. Of course, many personal judgment calls come into play when you try to value an upgrade. Some might say that a flight to JFK is too short to require an upgrade especially if they are eligible for free Economy Comfort or Extra Legroom seats on KLM due to their Flying Blue, Delta or other SkyTeam Elite+ status. For example, after booking this flight, there were many good economy class seats (KLM 747) available on my flight. While debating the value of an upgrade makes for interesting conversation; it often is a personal decision dependent on a number of factors.
The process for bidding is rather simple, but there are some kinks with regard to the process. As a general rule of thumb, I feel it is best to purchase a flight as a KLM flight number instead of a Delta codeshare (of a KLM flight). You can often do this even if purchasing tickets from an online travel agency or Delta. It is also best that the ticket be issued on KLM ticket stock (#074) instead of another SkyTeam carrier ticket stock (such as Delta #006 ticket stock). No matter how you purchase, you will need to have your KLM confirmation # available to upgrade. (Note : those who purchase KLM tickets from Delta, Delta will assign a Delta confirmation # but you can call Delta to retrieve the KLM confirmation # for your Delta issued ticket.)
In my example, I tried to upgrade my itinerary shortly after it was ticketed by KLM, but had no success with the KLM bidding upgrade site. In a case like this, there is not much one can do. I reached out to KLM twitter support; but they advised that not all ticketed itineraries are eligible for upgrade. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, bidding for a flight is not a guarantee. There are many restrictions or limitations that are controlled by KLM and the reasons are not disclosed. But, I take all of this in stride.
I waited about 2 weeks, and tried again. Why? Because, why not. This time, there was no error or issue with bidding for my upcoming flight. Since nobody had placed a bid, and since I already had secured a very good Economy Comfort Seat in the forward cabin on the 747, I only bid the minimum which was €279 in this case. The next person to bid would have to bid €289. Data-points on what circumstances a bid will win, best bidding amount and whether multiple bids can “win” is not revealed by KLM and can vary from flight to flight. In addition, if your reservation is for multiple people the bidding will be applicable to everyone in the reservation. Bidding is also restricted to travelers over 18 years old, so all people in the itinerary must meet this age requirement. When you bid, you are agreeing to purchase the upgrade at your bid price if the bid “wins,” so only bid if you are comfortable with your bid price.
Bidding for an upgrade can be an effective means of upgrading a low priced economy class ticket. Winning bids are awarded approximately 24-30 hours prior to departure. If you have been outbid you will receive an email and be given an opportunity to increase your bid. According to KLM “Bidding closes when check-in starts. If seats in Business Class are still available at that time, the highest bidder wins the upgrade.” This is memorialized in an email you will receive from KLM after your bid is accepted. Be aware that the seats “still available” is determined by KLM. Even though there might be business class seats available for sale or on the seat map, that does not mean they will definitely be released for (bid) upgrades. The process is simple, but does require a few steps. In summary :
- Purchase a ticket on a KLM operated flight (preferably on KLM 074 ticket stock).
- Wait for you confirmation to formally ticket (ticket number issued) and make note of your confirmation number (booking code).
- Use the KLM upgrade bidding portal or choose bid to upgrade from your KLM “My bookings” screen, if that option is offered.
- If for some reason, the system will not allow you to bid be sure to check back in a few days.
- Place your bid, and enter all required payment details and requested personal information (credit card address etc.).
- Track your bidding process, if desired, on the KLM bidding site.
- If you are outbid, you will receive an email and have an opportunity to increase your bid.
- Wait, and if you win a bid you should be informed via email prior to OLCI (Online Check In) for your flight. (In my experience you will receive an email if you win or lose your bid.)