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Upgrade through Optiontown

by on December 2, 2012
 

You’ve booked yourself a sweet deal on Air Asia X and are planning your Asian getaway on what is probably your first long haul flight on a low cost carrier, when out of the blue you get an email. These emails are starting to arrive more and more often, and like spam you initially think the content is too good to be true. Upgrade to Premium at up to 75% off? What’s this all about? Air Asia is among a growing list of airlines which are affiliated with an upgrading service known as OptionTown. Essentially, when the airline cannot sell all their premium seats they turn to the upgrading service that collects bids from the economy passengers, even those on the most basic promo fare. The upgrade through Optiontown prices are extremely reasonable, typically $100-$150USD on most Air Asia X routes. When compared to the usual upfront cost of approximately $800AUD of booking premium one-way, it’s a huge bargain.

What you get

Just to get you on to speed on the benefits of flying Premium over Economy; Priority Boarding, Priority Baggage, Complimentary Meal and of course Flat Bed seats are all included. Not to mention your own cabin crew and toilets in a cosy cabin of 12 seats. Make no mistake, it’s not “first class” (no caviar or champagne will be found) but the seat makes you feel about 90% there.

Notification of an upgrade will occur 1-3 days before travel and in some cases as late as 4 hours prior. The good news about this offer is that upgrade prices are fully refundable if not successfully upgraded, expect for the program’s sign up price of $3USD. I can only assume this scheme makes only money of the interest of holding your money for a few months, but that’s for them to worry about.

If you’re flying out of Kuala Lumpur’s KLIA 2, or using the hub as a fly-thru point, if you’re travelling on an AirAsia X Premium ticket, even one you upgrade through OptionTown, you have complimentary access to their recently opened Premium RED lounge in the KLIA 2 satellite building.

The Optiontown Experience

I first experienced an upgrade through OptionTown in September of 2012 when travelling from Gold Coast to Tokyo via Kuala Lumpur. This was a four sector return journey and luckily I was upgraded to Premium on the first two legs. Whilst these were daytime flights for the most part, the flat bed made all the difference. I remember sitting in my comfy 2D seat watching the rest of the passengers board, when a young boy perched himself on an empty premium seat saying “mum this is my seat” followed by a chuckled reply “oh dream on”. But the fact is this scheme makes a standard of travel normally reserved for those who pay several thousand for their fare a reality (again, when it comes to the actual seat).

A Premium Passenger SleepingWhilst fancy cuisine and IFE is nowhere to be seen, the staff seem to really give it their all. Our captain for the OOL-KUL flight was most enthusiastic, wandering about the premium cabin greeting passengers for a short time. The crew were also lovely, full of travel tips for my onward journey and ready at any moments to offer more refreshments. Remember you only share them with 11 others! One other inclusion I haven’t mentioned is a very comfortable, bright red AirAsia duvet and pillow; it really is a bed in the sky.

I have to admit though I never actually slept on either flight because as far as I was concerned I wasn’t wasting the experience in slumber land. The only flight I slept on was my Tokyo to Kuala Lumpur overnight flight, which brings me to my next point. OptionTown offers another service called EmptySeatOption. ESO is where you pay a small upgrade bid (typically $20) to receive 2 spare seats next to you if availability permits this. Whilst I did not actually book this service, coincidence provided me the ESO experience. En route from Tokyo to Kuala Lumpur I enjoyed 6 solid hours of sleep, credit also owed to my blanket and neck pillow comfort kit which I purchased for 30MYR (10AUD).

2 Spare SeatsOne quirk of the OptionTown upgrade system is in the case of when you have to change flights. The upgrade bid price is refundable, but only after you have completed your flight. So if you change your Air Asia X flight you will need to change it with OptionTown as well. I was surprised to learn that it is not automatically synchronised. They will also charge any difference in the bid cost of the new date so you may need pay extra as I have for my flights this January (64MYR – 19AUD). Another issue with the OptionTown website is that I not able to find in any part of the site, instruction on what to do if you do change your flight. All of this information I learnt during a lengthy call to the OptionTown call centre. Whilst I’m not thrilled with their website (my email query returned no response) I must commend their phone service. If you have an issue just call them.

Trip Tips

So what tips could I offer if you’re looking at purchasing an upgrade through Optiontown.

Whilst I have no official information, logic tells me it’s a ‘first come – first serve’ system. The further out from your flight you book your upgrade the better your chances. This was certainly evident when I compared the dates I booked the upgrade for the flights on which I was successfully upgraded and for those where I was not.

Buy the ESO option as well! It’s a soft landing from a declined upgrade when you can at least put your feet up or get some snooze time.

If you have a pending upgrade do not use web check in until you’ve been notified of an upgrade decision as this may affect it.

If you are a fussier economy traveller you will need to decide on whether to purchase your ancillaries (which would be complientary when upgraded) in case your upgrade is unsuccessful. For Example; when my upgrade bid was denied for my overnight Tokyo to KL flight, I sure was glad I’d still purchased a comfort kit and purchased my luggage online. Ultimately I purchase all my extras regarless of whether I have a pending optiontown upgrade because if I do get upgraded to flatbed and those purchases are money lost, I’m still hundreds of dollars in front.

So that’s about all on the subject of optiontown upgrades, my final advice would be – by all means go for out, but just make sure you understand how it works. Happy Travels!

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  • Mia
    June 17, 2013 at 4:55 PM

    Seems worth full.. I will definitely try it once.

    Reply

  • Kate
    February 3, 2014 at 3:24 PM

    Dont waste your time, I purchased the upgrade option in October 2013 for travel on 04/01/2014, Optiontown claim they will refund you within 5 days of your return flight, today is the 3rd of Feb 2014 and I still dont have the money back ($415 USD) from my credit card that I am having to pay the interest on.
    Emails back and forth from Optiontown, who have been absolutely no help, just keep saying “sorry for the inconvenience” I just want my money back – Seems they must keep the money and accrue interest, and dont upgrade (there is only like 9 Bed seats on most of their flights so the likelyness of the upgrade is actually UNLIKELY)

    Reply

    • February 4, 2014 at 5:10 PM

      Hi Kate, thanks for your comment. It’s always good to hear others’ experiences of the services we discuss. I’d be interested to know if your upgrade request was for one or two passengers, as you’ll find that this may influence the odds of securing an upgrade. The timing of your flight during peak season may also have had an impact on the availability of premium seats. Outside of these times, my personal experience has been quite good as I have been successful in my request on two occasions out of three. However your experience with the refund differs from mine – I received my refund within 5 business days as promised. I have another upcoming OptionTown bid and will be sure to report on my experience. Best of luck.

      Reply

  • February 5, 2014 at 2:18 PM

    Dear Kate

    I apologize for any inconvenience caused to you. I just checked with our team and it seems like you made several transactions and your refunds were processed successfully. There were 3 refunds made to you — one was made 1 day after flight departure, second refund was made 2 days after second flight departure, however, one refund got delayed for a few days due to some technical issue, but was finally processed successfully. Also, it may take a few days to reflect the amount refunded in your bank/credit card provider. Please note that the refund process does not entirely depend upon Optiontown systems as it involves payment processing companies and intermediary banks (several sometimes). We do take pride in successfully processing almost all refunds within the specified 5 day time window. Thanks for your business and let me know if you have further questions. SG

    Reply

    • Jayne
      June 3, 2015 at 10:31 AM

      I was charged 344 dollars for an up grade I never received still waiting for my refund Charged. SEptember 1st no response from them despite numerous phone calls

      Reply

  • Tanya
    March 12, 2014 at 12:44 PM

    Great blog Cam…
    We have also upgraded with optiontown for our Thailand /Vietnam trip in April/May. There are four of us, so I’m praying booking so early (booked flights & upgrade in January) May work in our favour. I should have booked us separately to improve my chances of an upgrade. Haha
    I’ll keep you posted to see if we are lucky or not.
    Tan x

    Reply

  • Raymond
    March 24, 2014 at 8:12 PM

    I agree with Kate. I am in the process of trying to get my refund which have taken a month now. I DO NOT RECOMMEND option town.

    Reply

    • Profile photo of Cameron
      March 24, 2014 at 11:33 PM

      Hi Raymond, sorry to hear about your negative experience with Optiontown. I would recommend you contact OptionTown’s call centre as I have found them extremely helpful in the past. I welcome you to update when have a resolution as I’d be interested to hear the outcome.

      Reply

  • David Knudsen
    April 20, 2014 at 10:37 AM

    In February, I booked AM flights from JFK to MEX and MEX back to JFK for travel in Sept. When I booked, the outbound JFK-MEX flight in Sept. was scheduled to be flown on a 787, the return on a 737. I went to Optiontown, and was offered an upgrade to Clase Premier on the 787 flight at $250, and on the 737 flight at $102. Even though the outbound upgrade option on the 787 was more than twice the return option on the 737, I decided it was worth it because of the aircraft and the lie-flat seat. So I bought both options.

    Since then, AM has downgraded the outbound 787 to a 737 (they’re pulling the 787 off of the JFK-MEX route as of Jul 21.) I contacted Optiontown to request either an adjustment in the $250 option for that flight (since what I paid to option, an upgrade to a 787 with a lie flat seat wasn’t what would now be delivered if the option clears) or a cancellation and refund of the option on that flight.

    I’ve had multiple conversations with Optiontown, and they refuse to make any adjustment or cancel the option. Their position is that I bought an option for an upgrade to Clase Premier, with no guarantee about aircraft type. I’ve talked myself blue in the face that the $250 option I accepted was based on an upgrade to a lie-flat bed international product, and now it was just a regular single aisle ‘domestic first’ product. My position is that the option should be priced similarly to the $102 I paid for the option on the return 737 flight. I doubt I would have paid $250 for an upgrade option on a single-aisle 737.

    No give on Optiontown’s part at all. They say they can’t do it, but I confirmed that Optiontown and not Aeromexico was holding my money, so they could do it. I’ve gotten all of this gobbleyspeak about dynamic pricing and terms of service. I said let me take my chance that the option isn’t pricing lower, refund my option cost on that flight and let me retry for it — at whatever the current ‘dynamic’ pricing is. I expect it’s lower, because the higher price offered was most likely due to it being a 787. No dice.

    I’m outside the 60 day window to dispute the charge with my credit card company. I guess my next course of action is to file a consumer complaint with the Mass. Attorney General’s office (since they’re headquartered in Mass.)

    Reply

    • Profile photo of Cameron
      April 21, 2014 at 8:33 PM

      Hi David. Sorry to hear about your negative experience with Optiontown. I’m not sure if things work differently in North America, but certainly here in Australia, airlines are not obligated to compensate customers for an equipment change as customers purchase tickets based on fare class and such occurrences are regular. Anyway I am interested to hear the end result of your complaint and I will request comment from Optiontown.

      Reply

  • Jayne
    June 3, 2015 at 10:35 AM

    I am still owed $344 from option town they charged my credit card in SEptember 1st 2014 and still waiting. For response or refund. Just string you along with excuses and. Do not refund money

    Reply

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