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.
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.
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.