Is Cathay’s New Upgrade Bid Program All That?

Cathay Pacific has announced that they are going to allow passengers to bid for one-class upgrades to its Premium Economy and Business Class on selected flights in a second scheme, branded as “Upgrade Bid”. I thought I would take a look at the program and offer some… umm… critiques on it.

IMG_7103.jpgCathay Pacific Boeing 777-300ER Premium Economy 

1. Putting In Your Bid

You can bid for an upgrade if you are:

  • Traveling to Adelaide, Amsterdam, Bangkok, Brisbane, Cebu, Chiang Mai, Chicago, Colombo, Bali, Dubai, Kathmandu, Rome, and Seoul on Cathay Pacific or Cathay Dragon
    • Cathay hasn’t actually published who is eligible to bid for an upgrade. I was able to enter the system with an Economy Standard ticket (fare class V). Economy Save and Supersave passengers, along with Premium Economy and Economy redemption passengers (fare classes S, N, Q, O, X, T) may not be able to bid for a seat.

You are not eligible to bid for an upgrade if you have:

  • Booked your ticket in India or China
  • Not confirmed or issued your ticket
  • Booked your ticket on a different airline (duh?)
  • Booked the highest cabin class available on your flight

Head to this link and enter your last name and booking reference in the indicated area if you are an eligible passenger. If you are accepted into the system, you’ll see this page.

Screen Shot 2017-07-18 at 8.49.37 PM.png

As you can see, there’s a slider where you can pick the amount that you’re going to bid for an upgrade. For each flight, there’s a minimum amount which you can bid, and you’ll be notified of the strength of your bid by a meter beside the slider. For a flight from Hong Kong to Seoul from Economy to Premium Economy, the minimum bidding amount was HKD1200 while for a flight from Seoul to Hong Kong from Economy to Regional Business, the minimum bid was at around HKD4500.

img_2539Cathay Pacific Airbus A330-300 Regional Business Class 

The upgrade prices represent pretty poor value. While it’s a way to get premium seats on the cheap, I think HKD4500 is pretty ridiculous to be upgraded to regional Business Class, which, let’s face it, is nothing special. HKD1200 might represent good value if you’re looking for some better rest, especially on regional red-eye flights, but it’s not like you’re getting much other than a more comfortable seat. It’s worth noting that the amounts I’m noting here are the minimum amounts, so realistically you’re going to have to pay much more if you want to stand a chance of scoring that upgrade.

Your bid will be sent into the system and will be “judged” based on a variety of factors including the amount of money in your bid, ticket class and Marco Polo status – among other things.

Remember that your bid must be submitted 50 hours before departure.

2. Okay. My Bid Is In. What Next?

You’ll be notiflied (haha, get it?) 48 hours prior to departure about whether or not you have been successful in your bid. If so, you’ll be given all of the perks of your upgraded class of travel, but you’ll be stuck with the miles and club points of the original class of travel.

3. Goodbye, Last Minute Asia Miles Redemptions…

Cathay Pacific states the following in their FAQ’s section of the Upgrade Bid page.

“Other upgrades such as Bookable Upgrades and redemptions will not be affected, as they will be confirmed before the bidding is opened.”

I call absolute BULLSH*T on that. 

Many travelers – like myself – rely on last minute Asia Miles upgrades in order to give themselves a more comfortable flight. My flight from Hong Kong to Newark in Business Class last year is an example of a super last minute upgrade. I once upgraded myself into Premium Economy 10 hours after online check-in had opened, and I’m not the only one who has been there. Others hope for the best and dump their redemption tickets on the waitlist in hopes that it’ll clear right before departure when Cathay releases most of the remaining seats.

IMG_6359.jpgCathay Pacific Boeing 777-300ER Business Class

Typically, Cathay Pacific opens all but a few remaining award seats for last minute redemptions – just to allow space for the select few who need (and can afford) a last minute ticket. I find it hard to believe that Cathay is going to give up a seat which has the potential to earn big bucks to a person trying to get an upgraded seat on the cheap, so they’re likely going to be taking from the pool of available last minute Asia Miles redemption tickets. This means less award seats for people to redeem their miles on, something which will anger many members who are finding it more difficult to redeem flight awards. 

While this may seem like good business sense for Cathay Pacific to gain more revenue, this may actually hurt their bottom line. Many Cathay elites are based in Asia and have plenty of other choices of other airline programs in the region.  A recent study actually found that Cathay’s (sort-of) recent Marco Polo devaluation resulted in a loss of around 10% of elite members.

Bottom Line

I commend Cathay Pacific for offering more options to non-elite travelers wishing to upgrade their travel class at a discounted rate. Despite this, the starting rates for the bids are still a little on the pricey side. HKD4500 at the minimum to upgrade to a recliner with nicer food for a 3-hour long flight? No thank you.

The problem that will ultimately arise from this is that this means that more elites and Asia Miles passengers won’t be getting their flight and upgrade redemptions cleared. This is disappointing but continues to follow the trend of management not bothering to think about their elite passengers.

Any thoughts?

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