Last updated: 11:55 AM ET, Fri July 29 2016

Hawaiian Airlines Starts Auctioning Upgrades

Airlines & Airports | Josh Lew | June 20, 2016

Hawaiian Airlines Starts Auctioning Upgrades

Photo courtesy of Hawaiian Airlines

Hawaiian Airlines has joined a growing list of carriers who are offering upgrades to their premium class via auction. The carrier will use the Plusgrade system, which is also utilized by airlines like Lufthansa, Cathay Pacific, Qantas and TAP Portugal.

Passengers who are eligible to submit a bid will receive an invitation to join the auction about one and a half weeks before their departure date. They can then log into the system and look at the details of the contest.

Bidding on upgrades

Every bid must meet the minimum price (and it cannot exceed the maximum amount either). The minimum bid is not the same for every flight. Variables like destination, day of the week and departure time can all factor into how the airline figures out the minimum amount required to participate.

Successful bidders will be notified about two days before their flight. These winners will get all the same perks as full-paying business-class fliers, including priority check-in, lounge access and two checked bags.

READ MORE: How Hawaiian Airlines is Reinventing Its Business Class

Hawaiian is expanding its international routes, but the initial auctions will only cover flights between Hawaii and the U.S. Mainland. This means that you cannot bid on upgrades for flights to or from Japan or Australia to Hawaii, for example.

Things bidders should be aware of

There are a couple of major catches that fliers need to be aware of if they choose to participate in an auction. The business-class baggage allowance is only applied to the auctioned leg of a trip. That means that if someone flies to Hawaii from the Mainland after winning an auction, they may still have to fly back home in economy class, and therefore be subject to economy class baggage restrictions for this return trip.

Also, frequent flier miles can only be earned for the original economy class ticket, not for the auctioned upgrade. So even though auction winners are sitting in business class, they won’t be earning business class mileage.

Also, winners are not able to pre-select their seat. They can choose where they sit during online check-in, but their options will be limited to the seats that have not already been chosen by full-fare business class fliers.

Frustrated frequent fliers?

One final drawback: Hawaiian’s frequent fliers who usually travel in economy class will have less chance of getting a free upgrade because more business class seats will be reserved for auction. Selling upgrades in this way is good for the airline's bottom line, but it could frustrate frequent fliers who have, until now, been able to use their status to request and occasionally receive free upgrades. 

Bidding could be a way to score cheap business class seats on trips to and from Hawaii, but people who participate should be aware of the potential drawbacks before they submit a bid. 


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