Qantas to allow upgrades on frequent flyer award bookings using points

As Qantas frequent flyer members know well, snaring a business class or premium economy award seat booking can be difficult because of their scarce availability relative to economy class.

Or sometimes flyers don't have enough points for an award seat in a premium cabin upon booking but accumulate them by the time they actually fly through credit card spending or from other flights.

For the first time, the airline will now give customers who book a "classic flight reward" seat in economy class a shot at an upgrade to business or premium economy using points.

Those with premium economy award bookings can use points to upgrade to business class.

"We're constantly evolving our offer based on the feedback our members provide us and this is another example of how we've responded to their requests for more ways to use their points on flights," a Qantas spokeswoman said.

The new option won't be a bargain – it will require more points than an initial award booking in premium cabins.

For example, an initial Sydney-Los Angeles business class award booking would require 96,000 points.

Booking an economy award would require 45,000 points plus 100,000 more for a later upgrade to business class: a total of 145,000 points. 

However, the flyer would save more than $200 cash in the latter scenario because there are no additional cash taxes or fees payable with the points upgrade.


On the Sydney-Melbourne route, an initial business class award booking would require 16,000 points, whereas an economy booking upgraded later to business would require 20,000 points in total. 

The availability of points upgrades from classic awards will also be limited, just as they are for customers who have booked economy class seats with cash and are looking to upgrade. 

Status still key

Qantas processes upgrades based on the frequent flyer status of the member, with Platinum One members given top priority and bronze members the lowest priority. That system will remain in place with these upgrades, and at peak times of the year the availability is slim, even for top-tier members.

​Flight upgrades or premium cabin bookings tend to provide the best value redemptions in frequent flyer programs globally.

Many Qantas frequent flyer members choose to redeem their points for international flights or upgrades, with Sydney-Los Angeles the most popular route for upgrades.

In the first half of the financial year Qantas reported a 7 per cent increase in the number of points redeemed for international classic reward seats and a 17 per cent rise in the number of points redeemed for international upgrades from the previous year.

In January Qantas cut the cash carrier charges required for international economy class redemptions. The airline on Tuesday said that move had driven a further significant increase in flight award bookings.

The new points upgrading option from Qantas was announced a day after rival Virgin Australia announced the first changes in its Velocity frequent flyer program redemption prices in more than five years.

The Virgin changes are a mixed bag for members depending on the destination and class of their bookings.