Searching for Qantas first class award availability between the US and Australia is about the only time where it really is the case that you need to grab the space as soon as a flight is loaded into the reservation system.
The problem is that Qantas loads their inventory ~ 3 weeks before American AAdvantage lets you have access to it. (American won’t access schedules more than 331 days out.) So Qantas members — and indeed British Airways and Cathay Pacific members, for instance — can book these award seats that are made available, while American’s members just have to wait and hope.
It used to be the case that Alaska Airlines miles could be used when a partner loaded seats, even if Alaska’s own schedules hadn’t been loaded yet. So say 350 days out you could grab Qantas first class, and call back at 331 days out when Alaska loads its own schedules to add any Alaska Airlines connecting flights you may need. Alaska would even make that change without a fee. The ability to do that ended when Alaska introduced one-way awards on partners and online partner booking about a year and a half ago.
Since premium cabin award seats to Australia are one of the toughest awards to begin with, especially non-stop between the U.S. and Australia (and not transiting Asia), since Qantas isn’t especially generous with those seats, and since Qantas’ and other members get a several week head start, you need a trick if you want to be able to grab them.
The Qantas A380 just launched service to Dallas and flies both Los Angeles to Sydney and Melbourne.
I’ve discussed this in the comments here on the blog, in other forums, in a talk on award booking that I gave with Lucky at Frequent Traveler University last April, and in the comments on other blogs but a search doesn’t seem to reveal having laid it out in its own post here.
Here’s what you can do:
- You can book Qantas first class award space using British Airways Avios. It’s crazy expensive. For instance, BA charges 150,000 points each way for first class Los Angeles – Sydney, plus fuel surcharges. A roundtrip runs 300,000 points plus ~ $900. Choke.
- Qantas inventory reliably gets returned to the same bucket when a seat gets cancelled. I can’t promise this will always be true of course, there’s always some risk, but it’s always worked for me.
- You book with British Airways points, if you have the points in your account to ‘hold’ the seat.
- When the American booking window opens, you cancel/refund the British Airways award. You will pay the British Airways award cancellation fee.
- Immediately book the seat at AA.com when it gets returned to inventory.
With most airlines, booking almost a year out, when you cancel award space it will return right back to inventory or at least will do so in a matter of minutes.
This is not a guarantee that it will get returned to inventory. But with Qantas it always has in my experience, and in the experience of others that I’ve talked to. So the trick has worked really well.
But, but, but… Loyal reader Barry P. shared an experience this week that gave me a little bit of pause about the technique. He cancelled Qantas first class award space and it didn’t go right back into inventory. It did not immediately re-appear for booking. He monitored it, and it apparently took over 24 hours to show back up.
Now this wasn’t for a completely empty cabin booking a year out, this was for travel a couple of months out. But it was an interesting data point nonetheless.
I’m looking forward to my own upcoming Qantas A380 first class trip…