Nobody likes flying in economy, but just because you’re booked down the back doesn’t mean you have to stay there. Travelers on Malaysia Airlines can use their Enrich miles to swap an economy seat for a business class flatbed or can use money instead: either by submitting an ‘upgrade bid’ or by asking for a paid upgrade at the airport.

Whether you’re a frequent Malaysia Airlines flyer or are making your first journey with MAS, here’s what you need to know to switch your economy ticket for one in business class.

As happens on many airlines, upgrades on Malaysia Airlines are all single-class – so while you can upgrade from economy to business class, you can’t upgrade from economy to first class.

There’s also no guarantee that upgrades will be available on any particular flight: the only way to truly ensure you’ll fly in business class is to purchase a business class ticket outright.

Also, even though you can earn Qantas frequent flyer points on Malaysia Airlines flights and can use them to book flights with MAS outright, you can’t use Qantas Points to upgrade on Malaysia Airlines.

Not every economy class ticket can be upgraded using Enrich miles, and unfortunately the Malaysia Airlines website doesn’t highlight which tickets are eligible during the booking process – but there’s a sneaky way to tell before you pay for your trip.

That’s your fare type. MAS allows points upgrades from Y, B, H, K, M, L, V, S, N and Q economy fare types – so if you spot one of those letters in pole position here, your ticket is eligible for an upgrade, as was ours in the example.

However, if the first letter is O, G, P, U, I, E, X, T or anything else, you won’t be able to upgrade using points this time around. You can consider clicking ‘back’ and choosing a more expensive fare or trying for an upgrade using real money, covered further below.

The number of miles needed for an upgrade varies based only on the distance of your flight, so regardless of which letter your upgradeable fare corresponds to (as above), the number of points needed remains the same.

From Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth to Kuala Lumpur you’d need 30,000 miles to upgrade to business class each way, as you would on Malaysia Airlines’ Perth-Kota Kinabalu route. Between Darwin and KL, it’s a lower 15,000 miles in each direction.

Upgrade to business from Sydney through to London on a connecting journey and it’s 60,000 miles overall – but if you break your journey in Malaysia before flying onward, you’ll have to submit two upgrade requests: one for Sydney-KL and one for KL-London.

Bumping up from economy purely between Kuala Lumpur and London requires 40,000 miles, so adding that to a standalone Sydney-KL upgrade (30,000 miles) puts the total at 70,000 miles for the full journey, rather than 60,000 miles for a single ‘Sydney to London’ upgrade.

Upgrades using Enrich miles can be requested via the airline’s website or the Enrich contact centre (13 26 27 within Australia), and if an upgrade is available on your flight, it can be locked in as soon as your booking is finalized.

There’s no easy way to check if upgrades will be offered on a particular flight – if it’s important to you, we’d suggest contacting Malaysia Airlines for this information and making your bookings accordingly.

No miles? No worries: the ‘MHupgrade’ system allows most passengers to bid for an upgrade to business class, much as happens with Qantas and Virgin Australia.

Eligible passengers will receive an email invitation roughly 48 hours after making their booking – and even if this doesn’t appear, you can check your eligibility to bid by entering your booking details into a special portal on the Malaysia Airlines website.

How much you bid is entirely up to you, within variable minimum and maximum amounts displayed during the bidding process. Higher bids have a greater chance of success although we’ve had luck in offering only the minimum amount.

Bidding closes 72 hours before a flight’s scheduled departure time, and you’ll discover your fate roughly 48 hours before wheels-up.

If you front up at the check-in desks still stuck in economy, you might be able to purchase a cash upgrade to business class as a last resort.

There’s no hard and fast rule as to whether this will be offered on your flight or the cost of that upgrade, so keep your eyes peeled for signage around the check-in area advising that these are available, or simply ask the check-in staff.

Between Australia and Kuala Lumpur, we’ve spotted asking prices from around $500 up to roughly $1,000: whether that represents great value entirely depends on your budget, your travel circumstances and how much you paid for your original economy class ticket.

When departing Kuala Lumpur, if you already have access to the Malaysia Airlines lounges by way of your frequent flyer status, you can also request a paid upgrade from the lounge staff up until 45 minutes before departure.

Just be mindful that unless your upgrade is confirmed in advance – such as when using miles or by placing an upgrade bid – your inflight meal order may be taken only after the other passengers have been served, so don’t expect your first meal choice, but smile if it works out.