OK, you have to pay for part of the ticket.
But it's still a good deal. If you're like me and haven't heard of it until now, it's a bid-for-upgrade system, employed by over 50 major airlines--but there's definitely a strategy associated with it all. You can directly Google "bid for upgrade [name of airline]" to see if your airline of choice has a dedicated page.
How it all works
Basically, if upgraded seats are available on a flight you've booked, the airline will auction them off. For a major discount, you could enjoy complimentary food and beverages, extra baggage, and of course, the aforementioned legroom, which is no joke.
Learning about all this did have me wondering something: Who exactly is the scheme for?
On the one hand, the people who rarely fly usually just want to get their ticket and have a headache over with. On the other hand, people who fly all the time are probably so exhausted with the whole process, or else reliant on their employers to book the flights, that they're not likely candidates for this setup either.
No, I think this is for the people who really love flying, the ones who know all the jargon, like fuel dumping, net faring, and the all-important SITI (sold in, ticketed in). You know the type, the ones with special credit cards embossed with frequent flier symbols (we all have that friend who has millions of miles that we wish we had).
But, hey, maybe you want to be a part of that club. It's always nice to belong, and this could be the thing that gets your foot in the door, let alone makes you an earlier adopter of the trend. Next thing you know, you'll be leveraging open-jaw flights and back-to-back ticketing for lowest fare routing (LFR) on round the world (RTW) travel that exploits hidden city faring and interlining--you trendsetter, you.
If knowing what that sentence means is intriguing to you, then you were born to bid on upgrades.
In all seriousness, this is pretty great for everybody. The price difference between fare classes can be huge. Jumps from $500 to $2,500 aren't that uncommon. But the upgrade is nice, and if you could score that ticket for only, say, another $400 to 500, might it be worth it?
If nothing else, knowledge is power. Maybe bidding isn't your bag, but at least now you know it's an option.