In a move designed to sell otherwise empty premium class seats on select routes, Air Canada has launched a new program that offers ticketed passengers the opportunity to bid on Premium Economy or Business Class seats.

A number of airlines including WestJet have upgrade offers presented to passengers at time of online check-in 24 hours prior to departure but this AC Bid Upgrade initiative differs in that it allows passengers to submit their bid any time up until 96 hours prior to take off.  If accepted, the airline notifies the passenger by email 48 hours prior to flight at which time the payment is applied to the credit card provided in the bid while unsuccessful bids are advised their offer was not accepted and no payment processed. As the notice goes out 48 hours prior to departure it’s too late for unlucky bidders to resubmit another offer.

Before submitting a premium seat upgrade bid it would be worth looking at what the normal price difference between the economy and premium seats is so the bid is at least realistic and more likely to be accepted. Also worth noting is that a bid accepted by the airline becomes non-refundable and that while passengers may receive the perks of flying in a premium seat such as priority check-in and boarding or business class lounge access, Aeroplan miles are only earned on the original economy fare and not on the successfully upgraded seat class. A full list of FAQ on the AC Bid Upgrade program is here.

Having an upcoming Air Canada reservation I entered my confirmation number and after a short search the first of my four flights was displayed.

Sliding the bid amount will move the strength meter showing the chances of your bid being accepted. Bids may be made for one or all segments on a reservation as long as the flights are operated by Air Canada and the flight on one of the select routes.

I passed on submitting a bid on my upcoming Edmonton – Vancouver flight as flying in a premium seat on a short 90-minute flight isn’t an investment I would make but might consider it on future longer flights.

This isn’t Air Canada’s only way to upgrade as there are options for elite frequent flyers to use eUpgrade credits they’ve earned on premium seats as well as last minute upgrade offers given to passengers at time of check-in. This new auction program however is likely to reduce the number of premium seats available for last minute upgrade but for the airline that is a good thing as it may find it earns more revenue from bids further in advance than it had previously from lower last minute upgrade offers.