Qantas to Make Major Program Changes in September 2019

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On June 19th, 2019, Qantas announced a multitude of changes to its frequent flyer program. We are accustomed to seeing purely negative changes from airlines (i.e. extra fees, higher award prices). However, in this case, the changes announced from Qantas are a mix of positive and negative. The award-chart updates took effect on September 18, 2019, so we are now working with the new rules and prices described in this post.

Qantas Frequent Flyer Program Overview

Qantas is the official airline of Australia and is part of the Oneworld Alliance. As far as reward tickets go, Qantas is known for having high carrier-imposed surcharges, steep award redemption rates, and limited award seats available in premium cabins. Overall, these characteristics don't bode well for reward flights. However, given that Qantas is the primary carrier servicing Australia, those living in or flying to Australia often have no choice but to travel with Qantas. Coupled with the relatively long distance that needs to be flown to reach Australia, award costs with Qantas can add up rather quickly.

In addition to earning Qantas points by flying, Qantas is a transfer partner of Citi ThankYou, American Express Membership Rewards, Capital One, and Marriott Bonvoy. Depending on your travel plans, there are still situations where Qantas can be a solid option for award bookings. These transfer partners make it easy to top up your account to the exact number of points needed for an award. In some cases, transferring to Qantas can be a good value—especially when a transfer bonus sweetens the deal.

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Qantas Changes Overview

Positive Changes

  • Reduced carrier surcharges by up to 50% on international bookings, resulting in potential savings of $200 per return trip.
  • More than one million additional award seats on Qantas and partner airlines.
  • Four additional airline partners: Air New Zealand, China Airlines, Bangkok Airways, and Air France/KLM.
  • Up to a 10% reduction in the miles needed for redeeming International Economy Classic Rewards.
  • Establishment of a new “Points Club” program to reward members who earn a significant amount of points through on-the-ground transactions.
  • Introduction of a Lifetime Platinum status to reward Qantas' most loyal flyers.

An interesting new development is the creation of a “Points Club” meant for members who earn a lot of points through non-flying-related transactions. The club will include two tiers with entry gained based on a member passing an annual points-earned criteria and will be launched in late 2019. Members will be able to earn flight and travel benefits such as lounge access, bonus status credits, and member-exclusive discounts on Qantas and partner airlines. Access to the initial tier is reached by earning 150,000 points. The more exclusive “Points Club Plus” tier will include more lucrative member benefits. The threshold to reach the higher tier has not yet been announced.

If you love Qantas and rack up a lot of points (and boy do we mean a lot), you can now look forward to achieving Lifetime Platinum status. This status level launches in September 2019 and can be reached by earning 75,000 status credits. For reference, you need 1,400 credits to earn Platinum status, and 1,200 credits to maintain it. That means you'd need 63 years of hitting the minimum number of credits to qualify for Platinum status before you'd be off the hook for life! With such a huge requirement, the lifetime status is an undertaking only for perennial status overachievers.

Negative Changes

  • Up to a 15% increase in the number of miles required for domestic and international premium awards.
  • Up to a 9% increase in the number of miles needed for upgrade awards.

Qantas claims that the increase in miles required is justified given that it is the first increase in 15 years, and the new price better reflects the upgraded experience. Although price increases are unfortunate, Qantas did announce these changes three months in advance, allowing flyers to lock in award tickets at lower-priced tiers.

Before and After Price Comparison

The good news is that the reduced taxes and fees took immediate effect, while the increases in points required were delayed until September 18th. For business and first-class flights booked after September 18th, the higher number of points required will generally cancel out (or in some cases far outweigh) any gains from reduced out-of-pocket costs. For the three months after the announcement, frequent flyers got the best of both worlds—paying the old award prices and benefiting from the reduced fees.

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Redeeming Qantas Points

Similar to other foreign carriers, Qantas has a distance-based award chart. Until September 17th, 2019, redemptions on Qantas were governed by the award chart below.

Old Qantas Award Chart (through September 17, 2019)

Current Qantas Award Chart (after September 18, 2019)

Qantas is now using the following award chart:

Increases/Decreases in Awards:

Based on a comparison of the two award charts, we've assembled a quick-reference guide to increases and (decreases) in award costs. For the economy awards, Qantas has not published the updated award levels, so we've taken them at their word on a 10% reduction for international economy prices. Domestic-award prices may not end up getting a discount, so the values may be slightly different—particularly in zones 1-4.

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Best Awards

Short-haul flights on American Airlines within the Continental U.S.

Distance-based award charts tend to be most advantageous on short-haul flights. When the competition uses a zone-based chart, they're forced to settle on a single price for travel within an entire region. Since they don't want to make a transcontinental flight too cheap, prices for short flights are inflated. For example, an economy award flight from New York to Charlotte (529 miles), costs only 8,000 Qantas points. In comparison, the same flight costs 10,000-12,500 miles with American or United.

Zone Arbitrage on International Flights

A similar zone-vs-distance arbitrage is possible when two cities in different regions are relatively close. For example, a flight from Boston to Amsterdam (3,457 miles) costs only 25,200 (~23,000 after the change) Qantas points. With United and American Airlines, an award flight is 30,000 miles from anywhere in the continental U.S. to anywhere in Europe. On the other side of the equation, a flight from Los Angeles to Moscow still costs 30,000 miles with American while Qantas would charge 37,600–41,900 depending on where you make your connection.

If you want to fly a route like Boston to Amsterdam in business class, the new price is 57,000 Qantas points (previously 50,000). This puts the route on par with booking business class on American Airlines (57,500) and slightly cheaper than the 60,000–70,000 points charged by United. Since distance traveled is the key factor, booking a direct routing is critical. If you connect in Philidelphia instead of London, you'll end up in a higher zone. Great Circle Mapper is an ideal tool to find out how many miles you'll fly on a given route.

An economy flight from Miami to Tel Aviv (6,603 miles) costs only 37,600 Qantas points with the new chart vs. 40,000 with American Airlines and 42,500 with United. An economy flight from New York to Tel Aviv (5,692 miles) is an even cheaper 31,500 (~28,500 after the change) Qantas points. In business class, Qantas is back on par with the competition with the ticket costing 82,000 points vs. 85,000 points with United.

Qantas flights within Australia

Given that Qantas is the domestic carrier, it dominates flights in Australia. Again, distance-based awards can work to your advantage here. Remember, Qantas uses the total miles traveled for the entire itinerary. This is significantly different from fellow Oneworld member British Airways, whose distance-based chart makes a separate calculation for each flight on the itinerary. With Qantas, a connection doesn't necessarily cost you more miles, as long as the total mileage doesn't fall into a higher pricing zone.

Our Take

One thing to be thankful for is that these changes aren't overwhelmingly negative. The reduction in carrier surcharges is a positive development. When coupled with using Qantas points on zone-based award sweet spots, a good redemption is possible. The Points Club provides an innovative way to pick up some extra flying perks with Qantas and I'm interested to see how it will develop. The addition of partner airlines is a good move and it will be interesting to see how many award seats are actually available for booking. Qantas' promise of adding an additional one million award seats includes these partners, so hopefully, redemption opportunities will improve. I am cautiously optimistic that these claims behind these changes actually result in some positive benefits to fliers.

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Qantas to Make Major Program Changes in September 2019
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Comments

  • Lowering fuel surcharges is always welcome.

  • These changes are negative for anyone who wants to fly business class from LAX/SFO to MEL/SYD . How many individuals want to sit in coach for 16 hours?

  • Steven William Van Meter says:

    Nothing worse than steep award redemption rates. I do see some very positive aspects here though.

  • For me the interesting aspect of the changes is the four additional airline partners: Air New Zealand, China Airlines, Bangkok Airways, and Air France/KLM since they are outside of oneworld and have the potential for good reciprocal opportunities.

  • It was big news across Australia weeks ago.

  • This makes using my small balance of QF miles even harder…sigh…

  • Overall not a bad change, I expected it to be much worse.

  • Looks like before and after the change, fuel surcharges are still higher than other non-qantas redemption alternatives .

  • I hope this ends up being a good thing.

  • Bogus fuel charge reduction is welcome though the increase in mileage is a big disappointment.

  • Quite disappointing. Qantas business and first class awards were already very high. It’s getting easier to earn Qantas points in Australia but really difficult to redeem for any worthwhile long haul flight.

    • I just flew a roundtrip business class ticket this weekend and booked with BA miles (transfer from Chase) and got over 10 cents per point from it.

      The point is Qantas is expensive both cash and (Qantas) points but you can get around that fairly easily.

  • Be sure to redeem before devaluation at Sept if you can to lock in the lower rates.

  • at least more partners got added

  • The Arts Traveler says:

    The fuel surcharge reduction puts this back in play. I can put down under back on the list.

  • Overall, considering what have done the other airlines these changes could be quite positive especially for people travelling in economy when redeeming flights.

  • I definitely appreciate the reduction in fuel surcharges. There are lots of ways to earn points for free but the fuel surcharges are real money. Thanks for the update on this program.

  • Predominant carrier of Australia is correct: they hold s monopoly on many segments and their prices on those specific routes reflect that. They offer GREAT service on every route (I’ve flown on) but they most certainly price-gouge.

  • I’m fairly new to Qantas and really only started to look their way because I have quite a few TYPs that I need to get rid of as I’ve moved my ecosystem over to Amex. Nice to see that the changes aren’t terrible. One thing that I don’t understand (again I’m kinda new to this) is that I can see all of AAs MileSaver seated when booking via BA Avios but not all availability shows up for searching via Qantas. Just wondering why British can see it but Qantas don’t. Any idea?

    • I’m not sure they’re related. When I booked my tickets awhile back BA showed 3 business class seats available for all flights and now they only show two so I think something changed there. I don’t have a Qantas account to look for seats through them directly.

  • The changes aren’t as bad as I expected. I’m just hoping when American decides to pull the trigger on dynamic pricing that the pain isn’t too bad. Here’s to hoping…

  • Thank you for this very comprehensive review of the Qantas FF changes. I’ve seldom if ever, had any problems redeeming points for domestic travel on Qantas, so the 1 million extra seats is a bit of a furphy in my opinion. The higher number of points required for the premium cabins is disappointing, to say the least. I’m a Qantas Club member and the lounges in the major domestic airports are already too crowded in my view. Giving free access to people with more than 150k points will only add to the congestion and devalue my Qantas Club membership. As you say, there are some positives and some negatives to the Qantas changes.

  • Look’s like lots of changes. Although there are ups and downs, there are still sweet spots within these changes. The carrier surcharges reduction is quite solid for fee saving.

  • Andrew Choi says:

    reduction in fuel surcharges is a good indicator, as fuel surcharges give big boost your financing. Appreciate the update for this program.

  • Don’t love this but not as bad as some are making out!

  • This is so exciting to me because Qantas just launched a Chicago to Brisbane route and I will definitely be on that flight in the near future, using my AA miles!

  • With my use Id say slightly positive overall. And with due notice.

  • More negatives than positives here unfortunately.

  • Wow ok this will be taking into consideration for our Australian trip. Hmm.
    All good to know. I will have to take a closer look at being able to get a first class seat with miles on Qantas.
    I wonder if you have no miles and then transfer Amex points, do they have issues with this?

    • I made a first time transfer to QF recently and didn’t have any issues. You might consider making a 1K transfer as a test before you move all the points you need for your redemption. Just remember transfers take around 48hrs. We haven’t heard anything about problems redeeming when miles are transferred in from partners.

  • Perhaps Quantas are adjusting their business to their long travel plans of up to 20 hours and many miles more. I think they are thinking of something different from traditional competitors. This is welcome although there are always inherent risks to innovation. Is it or not? Future will answer, but if you have a hint…

  • Tracey Banks says:

    The additional award seats being made available on Qantas flights will be good, assuming that you can use your AA miles to book a Qantas award seat!

  • Pass. Qantas is a quality airline with some shady tactics (price gouging when there’s no competition and undercutting until the competition backs off; rinse and repeat) and their rewards are terrible. I’ve had many flights with them and there’s a reason I chose to use my AA account rather than my Qantas account.

  • Thank you for a comprehensive review of the QFF program changes.
    I’m still undecided if this is a good thing thing for the QFF members or just another piece of QF’s marketing hype.
    The reductions in the co-payment (fuel fines) are welcome and long overdue (these have been a well discussed rip-off on Australian flyer forums for years). I have checked the availabilty of some of QF’s routes since the announcement for flights after October and have not seen any noticeable increase in premium seat availability on most of their popular routes. This could be because of a high uptake of forward redemption bookings being made to get the lower number of QFF points required or there isn’t anywhere near a 30% premium seat availability increase. I would suspect that many of the extra seats are in Y and Y+ and are coming from QF’s new tie-ups with NZ / PG / KL and AF on their flights.
    You should be aware that the QFF Award redemption accessibility is QF status based. A QFF Platinum (OW Emerald) will have earlier availability to reward seats by quite a few days before the seats are opened to QF Gold (OW Sapphire) and so on down the status ladder. This equates to about 60 days between the top tier and the bottom tier, in which most of the premium seating on QF metal has disappeared.
    Time will tell if this is a win for the members or another QFF program “enhancement”.

    • Hey Brent, thanks for the comment. I wasn’t aware of the status-based inventory release dates. Our info says that QF opens the award calendar 354 days out. Are you saying that award inventory is only released to QFF Platinums at the 354 mark and lower-status members won’t see those seats until a few days later?

      In other words, QF fares are on sale for revenue tickets, but the award seats drop in at 354 only for elites?

      Thanks!

      • Hi Erik,
        I am not the QFF guru, but to my understanding, QF opens ALL flight bookings (award and revenue seats) at 353 days out.
        All cabin reward seats are released to the higher status FF’s at this time, and only the lower cabins are made available to the lower status tiers,

        This is taken from QFF Status Benefit’s Web Page:
        Preferential access to selected Qantas Classic Flight Reward seats
        On selected flights, preferential access to Qantas Classic Flight Reward seats for Platinum members may be above the access available to Gold, Silver and Bronze members.
        Note the “may”. In practice, this is generally the case, along with preferential seat selection.

        This is taken from Point Hacks web page:
        Program Days before departure Notes
        Qantas Frequent Flyer 353 Reduced to 297 days for Bronze & Silver members in premium cabins on most Qantas
        long-haul flights
        300 days for travel on Jetstar
        330-339 days for travel on Emirates

        I have just checked and the last available departure date on QF93 (MEL-LAX) is showing as Sept 04 2020. QFF Platinum (and above) and Revenue have J seats available, whist QFF Bronze (colleague at work) has only Y seats available for the same flight on this date.
        I am not sure how many days out other program partners have availability from, it may be the same, or status levels in their awards bookings affects their availability.

        I do not have any high level status with any other OW carriers to be able to compare.

        BTW, with the changes to the QFF redemptions coming into effect on Sept 18, on some of the more popular routes there is very little award seating available, especially in premium cabins, showing on the QFF booking site.

        Hope this helps.

  • Happy to help Erik,
    Just to put something else into the mix, I saw this today on an Australian frequent flyer site;

    Will the 297-day rule continue?
    There is currently an unwritten rule that Qantas won’t release Premium Economy, Business or First Class award seats on Qantas long-haul flights to Bronze or Silver members until 297 days before departure. That’s 56 days after the seats are made available to Gold, Platinum and Platinum One frequent flyers, who get first pick of the seats.

    However, we have recently found long-haul award seats that were only being made available to Gold and higher members around 220 days out from departure. So, it is possible that this rule has been or will be changed.

    As if it wasn’t already confusing enough…

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