Has the Trick to Book Qantas First Class Awards Become Less Reliable?

In my post this morning introducing my trip report flying Virgin Australia business class I wrote,

the ‘trick’ to book Qantas first class awards hasn’t been 100% reliable lately, with held and cancelled segments not always going back into inventory immediately

Jonathan then wrote,

Woah. Can you elaborate on the Qantas trick not being as effective?

Indeed, I suppose it does deserve some elaboration.

Qantas A380 first class is the most desirable way to get between the US and Australia. Only United and Qantas offer a first class cabin non-stop between the two counties, and United’s doesn’t count.

Unfortunately, Qantas first class awards are one of the toughest redemptions in the world. There’s been a trick to it that I’ve employed in the past, though, that makes it easier.

Here’s the trick, and why it worked:

  1. Award availability with most airlines – contrary to popular wisdom – isn’t actually best when the airline’s schedule loads

  2. With Qantas, though, especially for first class awards – it is.

  3. Qantas allows bookings 353 days in advance of travel

  4. American AAdvantage only allows bookings 331 days in advance of travel

  5. But American miles are much more desirable to use for long haul Qantas flights than Qantas miles, British Airways points, or other currencies. That’s because American charges 145,000 miles roundtrip for first class non-stop between the US and Australia. British Airways, by contrast, charges 400,000 miles roundtrip just for Los Angeles – Sydney – Los Angeles, not counting additional flight segments to get to and from the international gateway. And British Airways adds fuel surcharges to these award tickets, too.

  6. Historically, though, there’s been a trick. British Airways has access to Qantas award seats as soon as the schedule loads. Qantas award inventory would always always always be immediately available once an award ticket was cancelled. So you could book with British Airways miles (if you had enough in your account!), pay the taxes and fees, and then cancel and get your miles back once American’s booking window had opened. The BA miles just ‘held’ the award, once you cancelled you could immediately re-book and grab the same seats.

The problem is that the part where Qantas award space goes right back into inventory has not uniformly held in recent months. I’m aware of several cases where the inventory did not immediately become bookable by American as soon as the British Airways award ticket was cancelled. Sometimes it would take a few hours. Sometimes it would take as much as a day. There’s one report, that I didn’t independently verify, of the space not materializing again. The person said they cancelled the award, it was 331 days prior to travel, and American never saw the seat (indeed, it didn’t appear to Qantas members either).

I suspect that this still works more often than not, but you shouldn’t assume – at least for the moment – that it’s guaranteed.

Most people won’t find this all that useful anyway, they have to have 200,000 British Airways points in their account if they want to hold a single one-way Qantas first class US-Australia award. If they want two, that’s 400,000 miles they have to have available… just to book a one-way. I happen (sadly, I suppose) to have more than that .. so it was useful to me.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I wonder how ‘ethical’ is this vis a vis the trick of person booking first class cancelable tickets on american and canceling it so he had better chance of an upgrade- the hoopla that surfaced couple of weeks ago and everybody inclusding Gary phoo phooed it and AA blacklisted the person from aadvantage. To me looks like a variation of the same trick . no?

  2. @Justlooking – this doesn’t hold back inventory from sale, it doesn’t keep the airline from selling a seat, it holds onto an award seat and indeed you book and travel on an award.

  3. I tried this trick a couple months ago for a January 2016 F award. Booked two awards, one for me and the other for my friend. Same day two different flights, I booked syd-lax, my friend did syd-Dfw. At the 325 day mark, I canceled my BA Syd-lax award and the space immediately went back to inventory. Like in seconds. I then proceeded to book the award with my AA miles.

    I told my friend to do his, he waited about 6 weeks though to do it. So he goes to into his BA account to cancel the Syd-dfw award, he cancels, then we wait…and wait and wait. The seat never went back to inventory. We were really bummed since I figured he’d experience the same thing I Did. But no. Thankfully my friend made a backup booking just in case.

  4. It may be of interest to someone that I will be (sadly) cancelling a seat in Business from JFK to SYD on the July 27 flight QF18 – contact me if you want to synchronise my cancellation with your redemption (which I guess can be done as a name change).

  5. @gary @stvr That’s not strictly true. Unsold space gets allocated as upgrades to QFF elites through a bidding process. Unsold inventory is allocated this way as late as the gate. It’s a way of rewarding their own elites over those of other airlines.

  6. @Ed that’s completely consistent with what I wrote, which is that they tend not to open up inventory as reward seats close to departure

  7. i take it Virgin is still the best bet for availability to Aus from the US? Has anyone flown with them recently, re quality, i have five pax, naturally, it’s always a challenge to get on the one flight.

  8. @Tim O’Brien – yes, I have a trip report coming up on Virgin Australia business class. Four seats is much more doable than 5 though for the same flight. Consider splitting up 3+2.

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