Qantas has upgraded its website with a fresh design to streamline flight searches, although it seems that no amount of searching will reveal the full array of award seats available to Qantas Frequent Flyers.
As part of the refresh, the airline has pulled several of the most appealing Any Seat Award packages from online availability and restricted them to telephone sales – and hinted that they may eventually be axed altogether.
It's one of the few downsides to the overnight overhaul of Qantas.com.au, which delivers a cleaner look which the airline says is also ‘optimised to work better on tablets’.
Qantas has also reduced the cost of paying for online or telephone bookings with your credit card, and introduced a seven-day 'no fee' period for debit cards.
The buffed-up booking engine
After searching for a flight – either as a paid or points-based booking – travellers see an improved layout that’s easier to read, although the larger fonts and increased white space may also make for more scrolling when it comes to putting your itinerary together.
Frequent flyers can instantly switch between cash and Any Seat Award fares, with Jetstar flights more prominently flagged on the schedule – although there’s no way to remove them from the search results page.
According to Qantas, the ‘Points Plus Pay’ option can now be used for any cash or Any Seat Award booking. A large pop-up window reminds you if the booking session will soon time out and makes it easy to keep browsing with the click of an oversized button.
Classic Award options can be displayed by selecting a checkbox on the search pane, although Qantas says that integrating these into the website’s ‘commercial engine’ – so they can be booked alongside flights sold for cash – will follow later this year.
But back to that wrinkle among the shiny-shiny: some of the better-value Any Seat Awards can no longer be booked online.
'Marginal' Any Seat Awards – going, going, gone?
Qantas has removed what it classifies as ‘marginal Any Seat Award’ – these being Any Seat Award bookings which can be purchased at the same rate as Classic Award seats – from the website.
The ASA seats provide benefits such as frequent flyer points and status credits which are not available under Classic Award deals.
While Qantas hasn’t specified which types of seats fall into that category, pundits suggest they include first class and business class Any Seat Awards.
Those award seats can still be purchased, but only by contacting the Qantas call centre, albeit without attracting the standard telephone booking feee.
The reason for this? Qantas says those specific classes of Any Seat Awards are being “reviewed”, so the decision was made not to build them into what it calls Phase 1 of the new website due to their "uncertain future".
Whether they exist at all when Phase 2 rolls around in three months remains to be seen...
"With careful planning and research, Any Seat Award flights in business and first class can be booked at a cost that was very near to the Classic award levels" explains Nick La Galle, from The Frequent Flyer. "It's a very clever way to gain or retain status on Qantas."
Clifford Reichlin, from the Australian Frequent Flyer community, agrees.
"ASA seats in business and first class can deliver a relatively low cost per status credit" Reichlin told Australian Business Traveller.
"It looks to me like this is the first step in eliminating these ASAs completely."
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About David Flynn
David Flynn is the editor of Australian Business Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.