How to move to an earlier Qantas, Virgin Australia flight

How to move to an earlier Qantas, Virgin Australia flight

This article is part of our ongoing Business Travel 101 series for newcomers to the world of business travel.

When your business day winds up sooner than planned or your last meeting of the day is cancelled, moving onto an earlier Qantas or Virgin Australia domestic flight is a much-appreciated perk of regular flyers, who’d rather spend more time with family than sit around waiting in airport lounges.

Here’s how you can make that switcheroo at the airport without being stung by an airline’s normal flight change fees.

Moving to an earlier Qantas domestic flight

Switching your seat for one on an earlier Qantas flight isn’t always easy, but there are several ways to make this happen.

The process is smoothest for Qantas Platinum One frequent flyers who, as a published benefit of the program, can change flights at the airport when booked on a flexible business class or economy airfare, without paying any Qantas change fee or fare difference if the new flight is more expensive.

It’s not possible to reroute your journey – so if you were originally connecting from Brisbane to Cairns via Townsville, for example, you can’t change onto a non-stop Brisbane-Cairns flight using this benefit – and all flight changes remain subject to seating availability on the intended flight.

Such requests can be made at Qantas’ airport service desks (including those found inside lounges), which is also where Qantas Platinum and Gold frequent flyers can try their luck.

While being able to change flights at the airport isn’t a set benefit for these travellers, there can be circumstances where Qantas HQ activates ‘flow forwarding’ – that is, where airport staff are encouraged to fly passengers earlier – such as when bad weather is expected later in the day.

This includes travellers booked on Red e-Deal fares which don’t normally permit same-day flight changes, so while it never hurts to politely ask what’s possible, any change at the airport outside the fare rules of your ticket is a courtesy and isn’t to be expected.

Depending on your fare type and whether Qantas is ‘flow forwarding’ or not, checking-in at an airport kiosk may also provide you with the option of switching to an earlier flight, even if you’re a Qantas Silver or Bronze cardholder.

Moving to an earlier Virgin Australia domestic flight

Unlike Qantas, Virgin Australia allows and encourages its Velocity Gold and Platinum members to ‘Fly Ahead’ on earlier domestic flights and makes this a published benefit of its Velocity Frequent Flyer scheme, subject to a few rules.

First up, Fly Ahead is available on all domestic fare types except for the lowest-cost Getaway tickets and on group (G) fares, which means bookings in the Elevate, Freedom, Business Saver and Business fare categories are all eligible, as are points-based reward bookings made in both business class and economy.

Passengers travelling with checked bags can make their request at priority check-in counters or airport service desks before dropping off their suitcase, or at Virgin Australia airport lounges or service desks when flying with only carry-on baggage.

Fly Ahead benefits are also extended to a maximum of three companions travelling with a Gold or Platinum member on the same reservation.

Requests from Gold-grade members (and their guests) can be made for their next onward flight from the same airport, so on a return booking between Sydney and Melbourne, you may be able to secure a Fly Ahead from Sydney to Melbourne on the ground in Sydney, but would only be able to request a Fly Ahead for the Melbourne-Sydney leg after reaching the Victorian capital.

On the other hand, Platinum members can Fly Ahead on any domestic flight the same day, even those departing from other airports: so when checking-in in Sydney on the same journey, a Platinum member may also be able to nudge forward their later flight home from Melbourne.

Additionally, Platinum members can also request a Fly Ahead by calling Virgin Australia reservations on the day of travel, but some additional timing restrictions apply.

Read: You can now 'Fly Ahead' with Virgin Australia over the phone

This can be handy to help plan your evening – for example, if you know you’ll be able to jump onto an earlier flight, you might head to the airport sooner: and if not, you could spend more time in the city itself rather than the airport lounge.

In all cases, Fly Ahead requests are subject to seating availability in the same cabin on the desired flight; cannot be requested at the mid-way point of a connecting journey, such as in Sydney when flying Ayers Rock-Sydney-Brisbane; and rerouting is not permitted.

Passengers with Silver or no Velocity status travelling on a fully-flexible Freedom fare may also be able to switch to an earlier flight at the airport, although a payment for any fare difference may apply.

Chris Chamberlin
Chris Chamberlin is a senior journalist with Australian Business Traveller and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, a great latte, a theatre ticket and a glass of wine!


  • aniljak


    24 Oct, 2018 07:09 am

    Everything changed when airlines stated charging fares based on the time you fly! Peak time equals higher fares. No way will they change you to a flight that would have cost you more. If they brought back standby fares and could resell your seat then maybe they might allow you to fly earlier
    Member who gave thanks


  • Dean


    24 Oct, 2018 12:27 pm

    You really have no idea what you're talking about there. Velocity fly ahead has been a thing for years, and Qantas often (but not always, in my experience) will move you to an earlier flight too, especially if they're wanting to make room on the later flights.
    No member give thanks

  • Stm Aus


    24 Oct, 2018 02:38 pm

    Aniljak: Virgin Australia does this for me on a regular basis.
    No member give thanks

  • Greg84


    24 Oct, 2018 06:58 pm

    My experience is they will generally move you (QFF Gold) particularly when done in the lounge. I have had the odd one where they refuse even though on a flexi ticket, but not the right flexi ticket which I find frustrating...
    No member give thanks

  • CWT Traveller

    CWT Traveller

    28 Oct, 2018 02:31 pm

    Sorry mate, peak time actually means more demand, so cheaper seats sell out quicker. Your premise is incorrect.
    No member give thanks

  • UpUpAndAway


    19 Dec, 2018 06:51 am

    Last week, I had a business ticket, no seats left on an earlier Virgin flight so they downgraded me to economy and gave a large dollar credit back as well. Nothing like getting home earlier rather than sitting in a lounge.
    No member give thanks

  • John Harley


    24 Oct, 2018 07:32 am

    I used Fly Ahead last week to get back to Sydney from the Gold Coast. For some reason the Elevate fare was $50 cheaper than the Getaway out of Brisbane. Virgin were able change from 7pm to 2pm so was home by 5.30. As a platinum also got Economy X so not squeezed in somewhere down the back last minute.

    Customer service said something about a limit which sounds like the Gold restriction mentioned above which he said he was waiving. But the way he said it sounds like an exception rather than the rule.

    No member give thanks

  • rob1984


    24 Oct, 2018 11:23 am

    When VA brought in Fly Ahead you could book a cheap fare knowing that the flight you actually wanted was more expensive and eg. 9pm flight and turn up at 8am and ask to fly ahead. People abused this and they now have limits on the timing, its either the next earliest flight if there are only a few a day or if its like the SYD-MEL shuttle its a time limit which i think is 2 hours.
    No member give thanks

  • reeves35


    24 Oct, 2018 09:16 am

    I'm sort of bemused that QF are so prickly about fly-ahead. Surely, it makes more sense to fill a seat that will otherwise go empty and have the potential to sell a seat later in the day. It is always on an available seat basis anyway, so if there is no seat available the fly-ahead isn't given.

    Virgin's approach seems more logical and is a benefit that pax will appreciate that really doesn't cost the airline anything anyway.
    No member give thanks

  • Mike K


    24 Oct, 2018 09:18 am

    I have status with neither airline (SQ Gold) and have never been denied a fairly regular “fly ahead” request with either airline.

    Just last week I walked up to a QF gate for an earlier flight MEL-CBR and they changed it for me, no questions asked, and I arrived three hours early.

    Ask nicely, SMILE, treat people with respect, don’t be a turd - and people respond to that.
    Member who gave thanks


  • Galwaygirl


    24 Oct, 2018 11:43 am

    I had no problem moving to an earlier flight last week in the lounge despite having no FF status with Virgin Australia, only gold with Etihad. (Syd - Brisbane, Elevate fare).
    No member give thanks

  • Lps988


    24 Oct, 2018 12:16 pm

    I think Mjkcan summed it up perfectly. I'm not a premium flyer on any airline but I've been successful many times going up to a customer service desk and asking politely if there was chance of jagging an earlier flight. I've been unsuccessful a few times to so no drama I'll go and have a beer somewhere.
    No member give thanks

  • Lindsay Wilson

    QF WP

    24 Oct, 2018 01:30 pm

    It has to be an emergency for me to use Fly Forward - I'd rather sit in the Lounges, catching up on meeting notes, having an extra wine and something to eat.
    No member give thanks

  • aggie57


    24 Oct, 2018 01:46 pm

    Can’t say I’ve ever been denied a request to catch an earlier flight than the one booked. More often when I check in I get asked if I’d like too.
    No member give thanks

  • douglas gibson


    24 Oct, 2018 02:41 pm

    Try getting a fly ahead out of Karratha or Port Hedland back to Perth. If you haven’t forked out $800 plus for a flexi ticket for a 2 hour flight you aren’t their friend and will go on your booked flight.
    No member give thanks

  • Marks2


    24 Oct, 2018 03:40 pm

    I ask if I can fly ahead without paying extra. If the answer is negative, I head to the Qantas lounge and eat and drink for the extra time.

    I'm sure it would be cheaper for them to put me on the earlier flight, have a seat available to sell for the later flight, and have me scoffing less of their food and drink, but I guess they've thought of all that.
    Member who gave thanks


  • Otto Van De Velde


    24 Oct, 2018 05:32 pm

    Flying from Melbourne to Sydney to catch a flight to Dallas, wonderful Q staff suggested that a fly ahead option was available Without Being Asked. Jumped at it as a delayed landing time and a slow transfer to international can be nerve wrecking. A great start thanks to wonderful client service by Qantas staff in Melb.
    No member give thanks

  • worldwanderer


    24 Oct, 2018 06:31 pm

    I don't have enhanced "status" with either airline, but a QC member.

    Always buy the cheapest fare I can:
    - 70/30 success rate with QF on being granted a flyahead if I ask nicely, be respectful and smile.
    - zero success with Virgin.
    No member give thanks

  • Sam Wardill


    24 Oct, 2018 09:00 pm

    I am on a Getaway VA Fare from MEL-SYD this Friday on last flight of the evening. I am Platinum Velocity. Are they likely to allow me to fly ahead despite the fact I am in cheapest fare class?
    No member give thanks

  • Joe Finnigan

    Thai Traveler

    24 Oct, 2018 09:11 pm

    I Fly both Qantas and Virgin business and never had a problem when flights are not fully booked.
    No member give thanks

  • Jonno


    24 Oct, 2018 09:36 pm

    Question on this for those in the know.....I’m on a QF classic reward ticket next Tues arvo from Launceston through to Perth. Have a 4 hr wait in MEL then I’m on a 7pm flight to Perth. What do you think my chances are of getting a free change onto domestic seat on QF9 so I can get back to Perth earlier? QF9 shows available for fares to purchase for the sector but not in reward seat options....
    No member give thanks

  • Richard Burgess


    19 Dec, 2018 10:24 am

    This is very common practice on high frequency routes e.g. between cities like SYD/MEL/BNE/ADL as if they can move enough people around they will make economical/weather related/incident recovery cancellations. Especially VA & JQ!!!! You know it's happening when you use self-service kiosks and it asks if you'd like to move to an earlier service.
    No member give thanks

  • silvyvc


    19 Dec, 2018 10:36 am

    I've found sometimes when going to the kiosk to print my boarding pass, when I click change flight, it gives me the option to move to an earlier flight if available. It wasn't suggested by the machine, but I'd initiated it. I've done a couple of times, mostly successfully which has been great.
    No member give thanks

  • James O'Mahony


    19 Dec, 2018 02:19 pm

    I have often found that going up to the customer service desk and simply asking politely if there’s any chance has yielded pretty good results. This includes airlines where I don’t have status. I’m OW Emerald (BA) and Star Alliance Gold (SQ), so on flights with them that can help. I know every airline publishes its own criteria and Chris has done a great job outlining the rules for QF and VA above, but asking the right way can help. Enormously. I remember a couple of years ago checking in on a flight from Melbourne and the guy in front of me wanted to move flights. He had the full on “do you know who I am?” tantrum. Although if you’ve got to ask that question you could probably guess the answer!!
    No member give thanks

  • thelongroad


    19 Dec, 2018 03:22 pm

    About 9 months ago the wife (QF platinum) and I were booked on the 4pm departure SYD-BNE on a Sunday afternoon. The QF J lounge attendant refused a move forward to a 2pm or 3pm. Sure enough, our half-empty flight was cancelled. Then they couldn't get us on the 5pm, and the 6pm we did get on was late.

    Don't really understand why they didn't move us in the first place, Sunday afternoons are peak travel periods, if they can move people out of the way earlier, don't know why they wouldn't. Pretty sure we'd have been moving from a more expensive flight to a cheaper one too.

    The aircraft was also in terrible condition, and we had terrible seats. We both were and still are VA Platinum, and haven't flown QF since.

    I have massively stepped back from QF since they swapped out with no notice a then shiny new business suite A330 for a 7-abreast J class A330 on a trancon redeye a few years ago and basically told me to go jump when I sent a polite letter of complaint. This was right in the peak of both airlines putting on and widely advertising top quality J product on transcons.
    No member give thanks

  • Stm Aus


    20 Dec, 2018 11:11 am

    Good to see that you saw the light (eventually)! VA's Fly Ahead is fantastic.
    No member give thanks

  • AussieOpenFan


    20 Feb, 2019 02:21 am

    Don't fly VA expecting customer service. We upgraded to premium Economy with the bid option for the Aussie open. Huge RIP off, they are so backwards with their computers it ended up messing up the online check in reservation number and they could not find it on the system.
    It ended up delaying me at MEL gate 20 which is 2 miles walk and enough so that I literally watched my plane close gates and depart while the VA attendant told me, sorry it would take too long to let you on.
    Worst is they void your whole flight back to LAX! Refused to put me on the next available flight And stole the whole premium Economy cost. I had to rebook on another airline on my dollar.
    Call for support and you get transferred to call centers in Indian.

    Do not fly VA Premium Economy! It will take you More time to check in, not Less!
    No member give thanks


20 Jul, 2019 01:40 pm


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