Qantas frequent flyers will find it easier to snare an upgrade with today’s launch of ‘at the gate’ upgrades, as the airline aims to fill premium seats left empty due to passenger no-shows and missed connections.
Available for both domestic and international flights, the new system – which the airline began trialling in May – processes upgrade requests almost until the flight itself is closed.
Previously there was a five hour cut-off for international flights, leaving a window in which passengers booked on a flight may not actually check in.
This would leave their seat vacant, much to the chagrin of frequent flyers who’d applied for an upgrade but been knocked back – but then spy those empty seats when they walk on board.
Justin Hyams, Head of Airline Loyalty for Qantas Frequent Flyer, is more than aware this raises the hackles of the frequent traveller.
“We’d previously have customers request an upgrade, we’d say no because we thought the aircraft was full, but they’d get on the aircraft and see an empty seat which they were more than willing to use their points to get.”
“Most no-shows are missed connections and that’s more likely to happen in hub airports” Hyams tells Australian Business Traveller.
“You take Los Angeles, where you have people connecting from American Airlines and many other carriers. You’ve got Singapore and even in Sydney there are domestic transfers connecting through.”
Single-leg upgrades also possible
Another benefit of the new system is that is journeys involving two flights, such as Sydney-Singapore-London, can be handled as two individual segments.
Under the old system, if a Sydney-London travellers puts in an upgrade request it’s only approved if there are seats available on both segments.
“This is a bug bear for our customers, especially where certain segments on the journey are more important” Hyams explains.
“For example, being able to get an upgrade from Singapore to London is more important because it’s the longer leg of the journey, you’re flying overnight to London and you arrive into London very early, so it’s very nice to be able to have a partial upgrade.”
Any seats left vacant after points-based upgrades have been processed are still available for one-off upgrades of high-status passengers, beginning with Platinum One and Platinum frequent flyers.
“Those upgrades will still happen because we still want to surprise and delight out customers” Hyams says.
However, the new upgrade system is clearly aimed at turning empty seats into a commercial gain rather than a freebie.
Streamlined domestic upgrades via SMS
The new system will also let travellers on domestic flights more easily manage their upgrade requests.
“Currently if there’s a domestic business class seat available you’ll get it right away” Hyams says.
“But, if there isn’t a seat available you have to keep going back to request it again, and hope one will come up.”
“Now you can register and you’ll be informed by SMS to your phone when a seat comes up all the way through to departure.”
Solo travellers only, for now...
Under the new system, travellers need to opt in to register for upgrades through to the gate – and Hyams says that, for now, it only caters for single passengers travelling on a single ticket rather than a joint booking of two or more people per ticket.
“For stage one we are focussing on single travellers in the opt-in, because the ones we were missing were mostly single travellers who we can more easily upgrade at the gate” Hyams says.
“We’re working on multiple travellers as a second stage, because we need some new technology to deliver upgrades for multiple passengers in a booking.”
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