About six months ago I used American Airlines Aadvantage frequent flyer points to buy our economy class tickets from London to Colombo on Sri Lankan Air. No business class seats were available when I made the reservations. So beginning the next day, I began trying to get upgraded to business class. I checked online every morning — literally EVERY morning — to see if anything was available.
I am the son of a Dutch dairy farmer, and being cheap is one of the primary genetic traits passed down through my dad’s side of the family.
So under normal circumstances, the concept of paying hard-earned American dollars for upgrades is almost physically painful for me. But London-to-Sri Lanka is a ten-and-a-half hour flight, the longest flight on this round-the-world trip, and it’s an all-nighter, so I was willing to pay for the upgrades with points, but certainly not with $5000 in cash it would have cost.
As I said, I checked online every morning to see if business class seats were available, and for the last month or so I’ve been calling American every day — even while we’ve been traveling — and, unfortunately, got the same answer every day:
“No, sorry to tell you, sir, but no business class seats are available.”
Well, we finally found out why when we got to the airport. Sri Lankan Air has just one flight per day from London to Colombo and economy class seats are completely sold out on every flight. But this is where Sri Lankan Air got really smart. Instead of releasing any unsold business class seats to partner airline frequent flyer programs, Sri Lankan Air allows passengers who paid full price for their economy seats to bid on them. Highest bidder moves up to business class.
It’s brilliant, really. Business class seats that would otherwide have flown to Sri Lanka empty get purchased for the highest bid. Let’s say an economy class ticket holder wins a business class upgrade with a bid of $100. That’s $100 the airline wouldn’t have made without the auction. And they’re much more likely to re-sell the now-empty economy class seat than the far more expensive business class seat.
Like I said, brilliant, but it still left us sitting in the cheap seats.
A little earlier I said London-Colombo was the longest flight of this trip. That’s not quite true. Sydney-Los Angeles-Dallas is actually much longer. But we used frequent flyer points to purchase business class seats on that flight, so I didn’t count it.
Don’t feel too sorry for us. The London-Colombo flight turned out to be great. (More details in the next post.)