Top tips for securing your dream frequent flyer reward flight

Top tips for securing your dream frequent flyer reward flight

Over the Christmas / New Year break, Australian Business Traveller will be revisiting some of our most popular articles of 2017. We’re still around to report on any breaking news during this time, otherwise our regular publishing schedule will resume on Monday January 8, 2018.

Using your frequent flyer points to book a business class flight, or even a first class sojourn, is one of the best ways you can spend those points – but as any experienced points-gatherer will attest, finding a suitable reward flight is often the hardest part.

That’s because airlines restrict the number of tickets that can be booked using frequent flyer points on each flight, especially so at the pointy end where rewards can be snapped up quickly: and on some flights, no points-based bookings may be available at all.

Wherever you’re headed and whichever program your points may be housed in, here are five top tips for turning your pile of frequent flyer points into a frequent flyer reward flight to your dream destination.

1. Be flexible with your dates, routes and travel times

Flexibility is key when it comes to spending your hard-earned points, and the more amenable you can be with your plans, the better chance you’ll have of using your points to book a suitable flight.

For instance, if your schedule allows you to travel on any day in a given week, or even over several days rather than on one specific date, your chances of finding a reward flight will improve immensely.

If you’re able to avoid peak periods such as school holidays, the week before Christmas and Chinese New Year, your chances will again improve: as they will if you’re open to taking a flight at any time of the day, be it early morning, midday, early evening or even a red eye overnight flight.

On longer journeys such as between Australia and Europe, being flexible when it comes to your transit city or stopover point can also open more doors.

2. Consider all your airline options

Qantas Points aren’t just for booking Qantas flights – they can also be used to book journeys with partners like Emirates, American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Finnair and more, plus Japan Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, China Eastern and Jet Airways if you call Qantas and book over the phone.

Similarly, Virgin Australia Velocity points can be used to book flights with Alitalia, Delta, Etihad Airways, Singapore Airlines, Virgin Atlantic and more, along with flights served by Virgin Australia.

Use your Virgin Australia Velocity points to book Etihad Airways flights...

That means you can take advantage of any reward availability offered by each program’s partner airlines, in addition to any flight rewards available on your ‘home’ airline – and although some flights may require more points to book than others, being able to find a suitable reward option may be prize enough.

3. Search for flights into multiple airports and cities

Planning a trip to London? Don’t search only for flights at Heathrow Airport (LHR) – run a separate search for flights at Gatwick Airport (LGW) as well, as this could uncover an ideal frequent flyer reward which may have otherwise been missed.

Ditto for New York: search for flights to JFK, Newark (EWR) and LaGuardia (LGA), while in other cities and in Europe especially, you could also try searching for flights to any airport in your destination country.

For instance, if bound for Italy, you might search for flights to Rome, Milan, Florence or Venice, or for France, to Paris, Nice, Lyon, or even to nearby countries like Germany and Austria – remembering that you can always book a short flight or train ride separately to reach your final destination.

4. Don’t be fussy on the order you visit cities

It’s all well and good to plan your trip a certain way and in a certain order, but if you can’t find a frequent flyer reward flight into your first city and out of your last city, rearranging your itinerary can make the difference between securing that reward booking and not.

For instance, this writer recently planned a trip to Europe, the goal being to visit London, then Paris and finishing up in Venice.

Unfortunately, no frequent flyer reward tickets were available on flights from Venice around the time we needed to depart – but we were able make a reward booking from Paris to Australia instead, so chose to visit Venice earlier and Paris last.

5. Plan your holiday well in advance, and never give up!

The more organised you can be, the better chance you’ll have of nabbing your ideal reward ticket, because most flights open for booking just under a year before departure, which is your first chance to secure a seat using your points.

Qantas opens flights for booking precisely 355 days before wheels-up, while Velocity allows you book flights up to 330 days in advance – and when flights are loaded into the booking system for the first time, they’ll often have frequent flyer reward seats available because nobody else has snapped them up yet.

Use points to book Qantas first class flights up to 355 days in advance

That’s not always the case and some partner airlines won’t unlock their own flights for booking until a month or so later, but if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again: and even if you can’t book a year in advance, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll miss out, either.

If reward flights aren’t available when you search, they may be released throughout the year at the discretion of the airline, with some airlines including British Airways and Emirates routinely releasing seats at the pointy end in the week before departure: great if you can only plan your getaway last-minute.

For example, we spent a good six months searching for Emirates first class rewards on a specific flight (after well and truly missing that year-in-advance window) and none were appearing – until a few days before departure when two popped up, which we promptly booked.

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!


  • Satoshi Takayama

    Michael Kao

    28 Aug, 2017 08:29 am

    I would add to point 3, not only the destination, but also be flexible with origin. I live in BNE but I have used SYD/MEL several times as my departure city (or port of entry on the return ticket) as SYD/MEL has more airlines and hence improve the chance of finding awards. Conversely, sometimes smaller cities like ADL/CBR may have more award spaces as the demand from these cities is smaller. Then I buy a cheap economy ticket to position myself to those cities. 

    Just gotta make sure you leave plenty of time for transit with 2 separate tickets in case if there is delay with the position flight. 
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  • Chris Chamberlin


    28 Aug, 2017 09:20 am

    Usually the booking engines will suggest a 'city detour' which keeps all your travel on the one ticket, and usually doesn't need any extra points (at least with Qantas, and sometimes also for Velocity). For example, when searching 'Dubai to Brisbane', the Qantas website often suggests Dubai-Perth on Emirates and Perth-Brisbane on Qantas (when there's no availability on a non-stop Dubai-Brisbane flight), and the number of points needed is the same for both options as both Qantas and Emirates are on the same reward table.
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  • elchriss0


    28 Aug, 2017 08:53 am

    No. 5 is my top way of doing it then followed by being flexible with dates and was able to secure SQ MEL-LHR return over the 2 week christmas / new year period.
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  • Victor Teng


    28 Aug, 2017 08:56 am

    Also when considering EU - you don't even have to land in the country of your final destination as internal EU flights are very, very cheap plus other options such as rail. Eg. Going to London? - try searching for routes to AMS - you're more likely to find award availability. It's only a 1hr flight to LHR and less than $50 via any LCC.
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  • jf80


    28 Aug, 2017 12:20 pm

    I agree with this.  I am MEL based and my partner recently flew PER/VIE on EK in F. We had no intentions going to VIE, but it was the only way we could get 2 seats.  Paid $200 on QF MEL/PER in Y and upgraded with 20000 points.  Even coming home we could only get seats as SIN on AY and bought JQ J for SG$700 one way.
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  • mviy


    28 Aug, 2017 12:49 pm

    If you have high QF status (Platinum or above) you may have some success ringing up and getting a seat or two released on QF operated flights if you're flexible.

    If you can't get a reward seat you could go in the upgrade lottery but it's certainly a much nicer feeling knowing you've got a business seat locked in rather than sweating as you wait to hear if you'll get an upgrade or not.
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  • Teejay Cal


    29 Aug, 2017 10:13 am

    Have yourself, or anyone actually had much luck getting Qantas to release an award seat via phoning them (as a platinum?) I'm hoping to travel with my partner in First, and while there are a couple award seats around for a single traveller, Getting two seats on any given flight appears to be difficult at best.
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  • Aleks


    28 Aug, 2017 07:54 pm

    Great post team! Just on that, if I was to make an Award Booking through Qantas for a Classic Award (operated solely by partner airline British Airways), how do I add an Infant to that booking? Also, what would be the cost for that? Would it follow Qantas infant policy or BA infant policy?
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  • Chris Chamberlin


    28 Aug, 2017 08:36 pm

    Hi Aleks, these are questions you'd need to ask Qantas as you're using Qantas Points.

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  • Donald Noble


    30 Aug, 2017 12:54 pm

    Yes, being flexible is the key. In saying that, whenever I have gone to book 2 award seats for our journeys, I have never had an issue getting basically the dates I wanted through Qantas Classic Awards (and/or using their partners). I tend to plan ahead & look for/book seats 8-10 months ahead of planned travel dates
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  • Selwyn


    30 Aug, 2017 04:02 pm

    If you are on the Air NZ frequent flyer program, you earn air dollars, not points, and you can use these dollars on ANY AirNZ flight, with no limits such as 'available frequent flyer seats'.  If there is space, the seat is yours.
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  • Veeb QF


    30 Aug, 2017 06:14 pm

    Qantas Points aren’t just for booking Qantas flights – they can also be used to book journeys with partners ... if you call Qantas and book over the phone. How does that work? Do you need to be a member of a partner FF program and therefore able to search for awards availability on that airline before calling Qantas?
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  • Mark


    31 Aug, 2017 11:06 am

    Is it possible to book 4 Business class RTW fares (2 adults, 2 kids) on points, even whilst taking the above advice into account?
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  • Pointsnerd


    1 Sep, 2017 11:51 am

    I would say it is almost impossible. I just booked 2 Qantas oneworld RTW tickets for my inlaws (2 tickets using the oneworld 280,000 point fare). This was doable but it is rare to get more than 2 award seats (especially on the leg to and from Australia). It could be done if you were prepared to travel separately on some flights but would be very difficult. The exception can be when new routes open up and there is multiple seats opening up.

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  • Rotate


    8 Jan, 2018 01:33 pm

    Not impossible. Just difficult. We're doing it with our 3 kids in tow in July, taking in Japan, USA and the Med. All the places on our bucket list.
    As the article says, takes planning. Be prepared for lots of calling Qantas at midnight or close to it as the wait times are <1min, staff are happy to chat away with helpful alternatives and suggestions (my last call to them went over 90mins) etc etc.
    I also booked the legs in parts (that blows the points out at the start but needed the AU depart and return legs booked asap as inventory is tiny and Qantas releases ticket 355days out- which is earlier than anyone else) but when the whole RTW locks in place, you get the points back and it evens out at 280k each. There's a 5k per pax everytime a change was made. We made about 3 changes, so it was 295k points per pax in total.
    To be fair- we couldn't have done it without AwardsNexus. Worth the money in spades. Has CX, JL and QR all showing (ExpertFlyer doesn't do CX and QR) which really was made the whole thing work.
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  • Kin Ho


    8 Sep, 2017 05:36 pm

    Whenever in strive to get what you want, try calling directly. I did with SQ and was surprised with the options that I don't see online, but they were able to offer me on the phone. 

    On another point, with SQ I have done one-way to a destination city, and return from another city but not all the way to home base. For example, MEL-SIN-LHR then CDG-SIN all on points. And that all the points I can afford at that time. So I purchased a one-way fare for SIN-MEL, and believe it or not, it was on MH, where they had a ridiculous one-way fare that was cheaper than if I flew KUL-MEL. Must be some sort of market grabbing stint that year. 
    There are many options and combinations to go about this bizzo of award redemption. Just need to do some "exploration" and be flexible as ChrisCh advised. 

    For a flight out of Aus to Europe, sometimes I find purchasing a ticket for the SIN to Europe sector is more worth it than using points, as you will earn more points for that distance traveled. Then use points for the Aus to SIN. 
    Or even more so from Aus to Europe for that matter.  
    On EY class return airfare from MEL to Europe is about $2000 and the MEL-SIN is about $1200. In comparing the 2 for per $ to points earned, it's a better deal for the Europe league. 
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  • Kelvin Lai


    24 Jan, 2018 02:27 am

    Hi there

    I am planning to fly back from Athens/Rome back to Perth Australia in First Class on Emirates for redeeming 2 award seats in September and the choices seem to be limited. Do you think if I keep refreshing the search everyday eventually it may pop up? I do realise a lot of first class award bookings are available around March/April time (now it's January), do they open more up when it gets closer to the date?

    Or am I just wasting my time?
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  • Kelvin Lai


    24 Jan, 2018 02:39 am

    Also, further to my above posts. I find that a lot more reward options are available if I'm searching for 1 person instead of for 2. I was wondering what happens if my partner and I book them individually at the same time?
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  • dbain03


    18 Apr, 2018 09:57 am

    We are looking at using our Qantas points for the very first time flying business class home from Singapore to Sydney this time next year. Do I only look in the Qantas rewards site or do I also look in the individual partners of Qantas rewards too. I apologise in advance for my complete ignorance regarding this process as we have never been in the position to use our points for such a flight. There are 2 couples in total, both with enough points. What are the chances of us all 4 getting seats?

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17 Feb, 2019 05:26 pm


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