August 18, 2020

The new route to loyalty-based upgrades

Louise Naqvi
PR Manager

With the onset of summer just in sight, thoughts are turning to the summer holiday season.

When flying, especially long-haul, an upgrade is something many travellers dream of and - given the number of articles out there offering ‘tips’ to get one – something that’s well searched online.  After all, who doesn’t want to spend six hours-plus with extra space, quiet and legroom, drinking fine wine, with better food than you might get on the ground?

But for those in pursuit of the mystical free upgrade, looking to the Web for advice is also like opening Pandora’s box, with varying (sometimes conflicting) pieces of advice. Some frequent flyer experts suggest booking what looks to be a busy flight in order to increase your chance of an upgrade. Others say show up at the gate quite early and politely ask/enquire when the agent isn’t trying to board 200 people in 10 minutes. Others still say the exact opposite - and that being late (risky) increases your chances. Of course, the caveat of ‘no guarantees here’ applies in all cases, which may help airlines in managing expectations, somewhat.

We even conducted research on the subject ourselves, and found that 40% of Brits would happily try to ‘blag’ themselves that free pass into Business Class (with fake marriages, bogus birthdays and phoney anniversaries among the top tactics).

First of all, a reality check: free upgrades are very rare these days. The times when dressing up nicely for a better chance of turning left when boarding are pretty much gone (Cathay Pacific are asked this so often they even clarified things in a recent YouTube video). And when there are travellers (usually very loyal customers of the airline) who are paying for that seat, either outright or using loyalty currency such as air miles, that airline, understandably, needs to protect their premium product. So, you really do need to be super lucky to be upgraded for free on a flight. And even then, those who fly most frequently with the airline are likely to be offered one before anyone else.

Airline loyalty schemes and points are a great initiative, especially if you’re a frequent flyer. But until now, for those who are serious about upgrading, or don’t fancy leaving it to fate, collecting points and miles has been the main direct ‘currency’ to a premium seat, without purchasing it outright at a price that, depending on the class, is prohibitive to many. If you have enough points, you can easily save hundreds of pounds on an upgrade. But, like many things in life, redemption will have certain conditions or exclusions which vary by airline, and you may still need to pay some cash on top. So while a great deal is definitely attainable, it often takes time to get the best one aligned to your travel plans, or otherwise some flexibility to those plans.  

But what if someone really wants to upgrade their flight for a special occasion but doesn’t have enough loyalty points? Or what if they don’t fly enough with the same airline for collecting their miles to be of real value. What if a points scheme is not right for some, but other options, such as bidding platforms where they are happy to pay, leave them disappointed?

There is another way.

We created Upgrade Pack to provide just that; a unique platform that doesn’t rely on points, or fate, for travellers who want, and are willing to pay, for a desired upgrade, at a price that works for both the airline and their (existing) customer.

We help our clients such as banks, credit card issuers and employers to reward and retain their loyal customers and employees with a travel-related benefit that they really want - through access to our platform for exclusive offers on flight and hotel upgrades.

Accessed via a handy app the platform gives our users (being our clients' valuable customers) the ability to search for and purchase available upgrades on their existing flight booking, without relying on points, an elaborate ‘blag’ at the gate, or a financial windfall. Upgrades are purchased at a discount that's not available publicly and are paid for using the card of our participating clients (increasing their incremental card spend). Our airline partners remain in control of the customer's original booking through the airline, as well as direct processing of their extra payment for their upgrade.  

This represents a win-win situation for all the involved parties: Our clients get a highly differentiated, high-perceived value customer reward, our airline partners get controlled distribution and profitable revenue from upgrades that might otherwise go unsold, and our users get a great deal and feel more engaged with their bank, card issuer or airline as a result. 

For more information about how we can help strengthen your loyalty or employee benefits program, please email our commercial team

For more information on becoming an airline partner, please email our partnerships team

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