Paying To Upgrade On FlyDubai: My Experience

Paying To Upgrade On FlyDubai: My Experience

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For the next portion of my trip, I flew FlyDubai’s Boeing 737 MAX business class from Dubai (DXB) to Belgrade (BEG). Before actually reviewing the flight, I wanted to talk about how I booked my ticket, which was using FlyDubai’s paid upgrade program. Let’s start with some context.

What is FlyDubai?

FlyDubai is a low cost carrier based in Dubai, exclusively operating a fleet of Boeing 737 aircraft. The airline has a partnership with Emirates, and uses Emirates Skywards as its frequent flyer program. Even though both airlines are owned by the government, they’re two separate companies, and for all practical purposes are run separately.

Nonetheless the two airlines complement one another. Emirates exclusively flies Airbus A380s and Boeing 777s, which are way too big to serve certain destinations (both in terms of airport limitations and demand). Those destinations are largely served by FlyDubai, with smaller Boeing 737 aircraft.

You’ll often find FlyDubai serving airports that Emirates doesn’t serve, and thanks to the codeshare agreement between the airlines, many passengers may have itineraries including travel on both airlines.

Here’s the thing — while FlyDubai claims to be a low cost carrier, FlyDubai’s business class is generally priced really high, in many cases even higher than what you’d expect to pay on Emirates. I can’t really make sense of this, because more often than not it looks like FlyDubai’s business class cabin is far from being sold out.

FlyDubai Boeing 737 MAX

Redeeming Emirates Skywards miles on FlyDubai is a bad deal

While you can redeem Emirates Skywards miles for FlyDubai business class, unfortunately it’s a terrible value. When you redeem Skywards miles for travel on Emirates, there’s fixed cost pricing, assuming there’s award availability.

Meanwhile when redeeming Skywards miles on FlyDubai, pricing is dynamic, and is significantly higher than what you’d pay on Emirates (though without capacity constraints). For example, take the below Dubai to Belgrade one-way business class flights, which cost $1,698 and $2,049.

FlyDubai business class cost with miles

If you wanted to redeem Skywards miles for those flights, you’d pay 93,149 Skywards miles and 116,109 Skywards miles, respectively, plus high surcharges.

FlyDubai business class cost with miles

This is a terrible value. Just as a point of comparison, I recently redeemed 85,000 Skywards miles for Emirates’ A380 first class from New York to Milan.

There’s also no way to efficiently use Skywards miles to upgrade FlyDubai flights from economy to business class.

FlyDubai’s Boeing 737 MAX business class

FlyDubai’s business class upgrade bid program

As I’ve long understood it, the most economical way to score a FlyDubai business class seat is to book economy and then participate in FlyDubai’s upgrade bid program. In my case, I found a reasonable Dubai to Belgrade one-way economy fare of ~$400.

I was booking just a few days before departure, and noticed that all 10 business class seats were showing as unassigned. You can’t get better odds than that for a paid upgrade, so I decided to chance it. I booked an economy ticket, hoping I’d be able to score a paid upgrade.

An empty FlyDubai Boeing 737 MAX business class cabin

Basics of FlyDubai’s upgrade bid program

When you book a FlyDubai economy ticket, you may have the opportunity to bid on an upgrade. This opportunity is facilitated by Plusgrade, a company that offers the technology for this service with many airlines. You can check eligibility at this link by entering your last name and confirmation number.

A few things to note:

  • This is only valid for those who have tickets issued by FlyDubai, so codeshare flights don’t qualify
  • You can place a bid up to 10 hours prior to departure if departing Dubai, and up to 18 hours before departure for all other flights; note that you also can’t submit an upgrade bid after checking in online, so that’s something to be aware of 24 hours out
  • You can change or cancel your upgrade bid while the bidding is still open, assuming it has not yet been confirmed
  • FlyDubai states that upgrades will clear once bidding closes (so 10-18 hours before departure), but based on my experience it can happen earlier than that
  • If you win an upgrade bid, you’ll receive all the standard business class inclusions, including the improved baggage allowance, lounge access, inflight meals, etc.
FlyDubai lets you bid on an upgrade

FlyDubai business class upgrade bid cost

With FlyDubai’s upgrade bidding program, you can choose how much you’d like to bid for an upgrade within a certain range. For context, Dubai to Belgrade is a 2,360-mile flight, and it’s blocked at six hours, so think of it as being roughly similar to a transcontinental flight in the United States in terms of length.

On the upgrade bidding page, I was given the option of bidding anywhere from $325 to $1,025 in order to get upgraded. With each amount, it lists what it claims the odds are of an upgrade clearing. For example, the default amount was $625, and it stated that odds of getting upgraded with that were “good.”

FlyDubai’s upgrade bid program

With a bid of $445, odds were “average.”

FlyDubai’s upgrade bid program

With a bid of $325, odds were “fair.”

FlyDubai’s upgrade bid program

With a bid of $715, odds were “strong.”

FlyDubai’s upgrade bid program

And with a bid of $885, odds were “likely.”

FlyDubai’s upgrade bid program

To what extent does your bid impact whether or not it gets accepted? If anyone has any insights as to how Plusgrade actually prioritizes upgrades, I’d sure love to hear it. My assumption is that any bid within the range will be accepted on a space available basis, and that the bids are simply prioritized based on how much someone is willing to pay.

In this case my assumption was that there wouldn’t be too much competition for the upgrade, since the seatmap was showing as being totally empty in business class. Nonetheless I wanted to go slightly above the minimum, simply because I had already paid for an economy ticket and really wanted to review FlyDubai’s flat bed business class.

So I decided to bid the lower amount in the “average” range (the second lowest of five “ranges” of upgrades), and that was $445.

FlyDubai’s upgrade bid program

You already submit all your credit card information at this point. Note that Plusgrade only accepts Visa or Mastercard, and not American Express.

FlyDubai’s upgrade bid program

FlyDubai upgrade bid being accepted

Per the terms, I was expecting that my upgrade would only clear 10 hours before departure, since I was departing Dubai. Much to my surprise, I received an email confirming that my upgrade had been accepted 36 hours before departure.

My FlyDubai upgrade bid was accepted

My itinerary immediately reflected that I was upgraded, and would receive all the privileges typically associated with business class. I was also able to immediately assign my seat, and snagged one of the two “throne” seats, in the second row.

My FlyDubai upgrade bid was accepted

For what it’s worth, when I looked at the seatmap after my bid was accepted, there was only one other seat already taken, which was 2B. So I guess one person’s upgrade cleared just before mine. And what a character 2B was, though I’ll save that for a separate post.

In terms of maximizing points for the purchase, I paid with the Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card (review). I was curious how the purchase would code, and whether I would be billed by FlyDubai or Plusgrade. I ended up being billed by FlyDubai, and the purchase was categorized as “travel,” meaning I earned 3x Ultimate Rewards points.

FlyDubai upgrade cost

Bottom line

I had luck with FlyDubai’s upgrade bid program, and it seems that this is the best way to score a FlyDubai business class upgrade. While FlyDubai participates in the Emirates Skywards program, there are no economical ways to score FlyDubai business class with Skywards miles.

Fortunately the upgrade bid program seems to work pretty well. Just make sure you’re booking a flight where business class is pretty open. In the end I spent a bit more than I would have liked to on this flight, but at under $1,000 one-way, it was a decent deal in the end, especially since I could secure a throne seat.

Hopefully this is a useful data point for anyone else considering traveling with FlyDubai.

If you’ve used FlyDubai’s upgrade bid program, what was your experience like?

Conversations (16)
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  1. JS Guest

    What if you book a connecting itinerary with Emirates + some FlyDubai codeshare, in business class, would there be any chance of sensible pricing?

  2. Lost traveler Guest

    For what it’s worth, Hawaiian Airlines has the same “bid up” to first class for North America and international destinations. I’ve had successful bids at the “lowest” bid amount.

  3. TheBestBlackBrent Gold

    Check-in seatmaps are not a reflection of the airline's inventory, this is always posted here but in no-way reflects the actual inventory situation (especially far out).

    1. Schar Gold

      if it doesnt reflect the inventory then why have it? of course it has to reflect it lol otherwise they'd be selling ghost seats? come on

  4. Omar Guest

    I think your intuition is correct and a minimum bid would have been successful in this case.

  5. Wilson Guest

    I used to work at Plusgrade.

    Once you submit the bid, Plusgrade apply several factors based on the airline's rules behind the scenes to actually evaluate the bid. This can (but does not necessarily) include: a minimum accepted bid higher than the minimum bid amount, a multiplier for loyalty status or booking class, a negative multiplier for having received an upgrade before, a positive multipler for having bid unsuccessfully before, a conversion rate for points/cash/cash+points...

    I used to work at Plusgrade.

    Once you submit the bid, Plusgrade apply several factors based on the airline's rules behind the scenes to actually evaluate the bid. This can (but does not necessarily) include: a minimum accepted bid higher than the minimum bid amount, a multiplier for loyalty status or booking class, a negative multiplier for having received an upgrade before, a positive multipler for having bid unsuccessfully before, a conversion rate for points/cash/cash+points bids for those that allow it, etc.

    Also, the thermometer is tied to absolutely nothing, most especially historical data on bid outcome likelihood. It's just intended to get people to bid higher.

  6. Christopher Guest

    Hello, I think you are pretty much spot on with this post. The only thing that I think might also factor in is not only the number of available premium seats, but how full the plane is overall (ie: your bidding competition).

    During the pandemic I flew a nearly empty 787 Canada to South America. Before bidding the plane had about 5 people booked in first and 50 or so in economy. I figured...

    Hello, I think you are pretty much spot on with this post. The only thing that I think might also factor in is not only the number of available premium seats, but how full the plane is overall (ie: your bidding competition).

    During the pandemic I flew a nearly empty 787 Canada to South America. Before bidding the plane had about 5 people booked in first and 50 or so in economy. I figured odds were in my favour but I bid slightly over the minimum, especially since the minimum bid was very low.

    My bid was accepted - but the once-empty 15 first class seats were now full, while economy remained empty. Given the amount of selfies taken I presume it was many people's first time in First (mine too - just getting further into the points game beyond hotels - so no shame) also winning with their bids. I'm pretty certain my flight had a high uptake on the bidding system - but again likely due to the travel situation at the time, the minimum bid was low on tickets that were already pretty cheap. I am glad I bid the extra 20 bucks over the minimum as I am sure some people got denied.

    Now my problem is that I never want to go back to economy and the points offers aren't as generous up here in the great white north :(

  7. Nika B. Guest

    flydubai (not FlyDubai), as it is properly spelled, is not a low cost carrier by any definition. For starters, it's expensive. On routes where it replaced Emirates, the flights cost as much as they did or would with Emirates, if not more. It provides business class with proper lie flat seats, which is better than any business class on European national airlines and an airport lounge. It provides proper meals and in-flight entertainment in economy,...

    flydubai (not FlyDubai), as it is properly spelled, is not a low cost carrier by any definition. For starters, it's expensive. On routes where it replaced Emirates, the flights cost as much as they did or would with Emirates, if not more. It provides business class with proper lie flat seats, which is better than any business class on European national airlines and an airport lounge. It provides proper meals and in-flight entertainment in economy, as well as decent luggage allowance (included in higher economy fares, at additional cost in basic economy). It earns you Skywards miles. It flies into main airports complementing Emirates network (and sometimes overlapping with it). It rarely cancels flights.

  8. Edgar Guest

    The option to redeem miles is an utter joke with Flydubai and I really wonder who would even do that in his proper state of mind. I used the bid for upgrade option on my flight from Tel Aviv to Dubai and pushed the slider to the lowest value and it was accepted 36 hours before departure. My business class upgrade gave me a flatbed and some of the grumpiest crew I ever met and...

    The option to redeem miles is an utter joke with Flydubai and I really wonder who would even do that in his proper state of mind. I used the bid for upgrade option on my flight from Tel Aviv to Dubai and pushed the slider to the lowest value and it was accepted 36 hours before departure. My business class upgrade gave me a flatbed and some of the grumpiest crew I ever met and a very average meal. In any case, I was happy my bid was accepted bearing in mind I opted for the lowest value.

  9. FlyerGuy10 Guest

    Honest question, it seems like you’d never fly economy on a flight of this length - what was your plan b if the bid wasn’t accepted? Use miles and fly a different carrier? Or cancel this ticket and repurchase a biz class ticket outright on FlyDubai? Curious your strategy in these scenarios. Thanks

    1. Mick Guest

      I had the same qn! Was the backup to sit in economy for 6 hours? I can’t remember the last flight you took over 2hrs in economy. No shaming but if the bid had been rejected then what? Seems even for small flights in the USA you pay up for first. Again all credit to you!!! No blame! I love the reviews

    2. Mick Guest

      Incidentally we are now catching trains rather than planes around Europe. So much easier. How about some intra europe train reviews? I can provide some family reviews :))))

  10. Jimmy’s Travel Report Gold

    Flew FlyDubai in March DCB - MCT, and also bid for business class. Flight was $500 in coach (I thought that was expensive) and then a $100 for bid upgrade, which two of us got. It was the old 737-800 recliner style cabin, similar to domestic F. I thought the flight was pretty good for an hour long Middle East itinerary.

  11. GoAmtrak Gold

    It should be noted, generally speaking Plusgrade can be programmed to decline your bid outright, even if you're not outbid and the space ends up going out empty. It's a crappy practice but some carriers may set a reserve bid that's actually higher than the minimum bid.

  12. Stvr Guest

    Sweet lord you spent how much money on a flight from Dubai to Serbia?

  13. Pavel Guest

    Have experienced a FlyDubai operational upgrade on a flight from Dubai to Tbilisi 2 days ago, I have a silver Skywards membership.

    There were only 4 other people in business cabin, seems like at least one more of them got upgraded as well. The economy cabin was full.

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FlyerGuy10 Guest

Honest question, it seems like you’d never fly economy on a flight of this length - what was your plan b if the bid wasn’t accepted? Use miles and fly a different carrier? Or cancel this ticket and repurchase a biz class ticket outright on FlyDubai? Curious your strategy in these scenarios. Thanks

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Wilson Guest

I used to work at Plusgrade. Once you submit the bid, Plusgrade apply several factors based on the airline's rules behind the scenes to actually evaluate the bid. This can (but does not necessarily) include: a minimum accepted bid higher than the minimum bid amount, a multiplier for loyalty status or booking class, a negative multiplier for having received an upgrade before, a positive multipler for having bid unsuccessfully before, a conversion rate for points/cash/cash+points bids for those that allow it, etc. Also, the thermometer is tied to absolutely nothing, most especially historical data on bid outcome likelihood. It's just intended to get people to bid higher.

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Nika B. Guest

flydubai (not FlyDubai), as it is properly spelled, is not a low cost carrier by any definition. For starters, it's expensive. On routes where it replaced Emirates, the flights cost as much as they did or would with Emirates, if not more. It provides business class with proper lie flat seats, which is better than any business class on European national airlines and an airport lounge. It provides proper meals and in-flight entertainment in economy, as well as decent luggage allowance (included in higher economy fares, at additional cost in basic economy). It earns you Skywards miles. It flies into main airports complementing Emirates network (and sometimes overlapping with it). It rarely cancels flights.

2
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