What Qantas’ Massive Frequent Flyer Changes Mean For Australian Ticket Prices

Qantas has rolled out a major change to its frequent flyer program.

What Qantas’ Massive Frequent Flyer Changes Mean For Australian Ticket Prices

Image: Guardian

Qantas has rolled out a major change to its frequent flyer program. The launch of Classic Plus Flight Rewards meets frequent flyers halfway — it opens up more redemption seats but at a higher price than the standard but often elusive Classic Rewards price.

Ticking off a checklist of customer pain points earlier this week, Qantas Group CEO Vanessa Hudson said frequent flyers had told her that the (un)availability of reward seats was “an ongoing pain point.”

“Classic Plus is in addition to Classic Rewards, which will not change — we remain committed to a minimum of five million Classic Rewards seats per year with fixed pricing that has not changed since 2019. Classic Plus will unlock 20 million more reward seats.”

Classic Plus reward seats are now available on Qantas international flights departing Australia for travel from July 1, 2024, with expectations that it will be fully launched across the entire international and domestic network by the end of the year.

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Once fully rolled out, Hudson said Classic Plus seats will be available to every Qantas destination, in every cabin class, all year round. “Classic Plus will provide four times as much access to seat redemptions as Classic Rewards,” she said.

So, what’s the catch? Classic Plus uses dynamic pricing, like normal airfares. They’ll be lower during off-peak or when booking early. Qantas suggests they may drop below the cost of Classic Rewards seats on certain occasions. But mostly, Classic Plus seats will be more expensive, and often way more expensive.

Using the last fortnight of October 2024 as a sample period, Qantas has ample Classic Reward seats available in economy class on its popular Sydney—London QF1 service but zero Classic Reward premium economy, business, or first class seats.

Hudson made the announcement earlier this week. Image: The Australian

However, the airline does have Classic Plus redemptions available at 151,400 points (plus $341 in fees and taxes) in premium economy, 501,300 – 516,000 points (plus $636) in business class, and 816,300 points (plus $636) in first class.

Business class Classic Reward seats between Sydney and London cost 144,600 points (plus fees and taxes), while first-class Classic Reward seats cost 216,800 (plus fees and taxes). But on this route, they are remarkably hard to find.

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In the same period, things are looking brighter on the Melbourne—Hong Kong QF29 service, with ample economy class Classic Rewards availability at 25,200 points (plus $140) and good business class availability at 68,400 points (plus $150 ). However, on some dates, the business redemptions revert to Classic Plus mode and go as high as 310,900 points (plus $233 in fees).

On the QF15 service between Brisbane and Los Angeles over the same two weeks, there is excellent Classic Rewards economy and business class availability from 41,900 (plus $215) and 108,400 points (plus $340), respectively. The A330-200 operating this flight doesn’t offer first class.

Qantas’ A330 business class. Image: Qantas

If you are after that experience, you’ll need to go through Sydney to connect to the A380-800 operated QF11, which still has some first class seats available for 162,800 (plus $396) on a couple of days over the fortnight, but the Classic Plus rate of 1,096,300 points (plus $676) applies on most dates.

The Classic Plus rate will see the going cash price converted to points at about 1.5 cents per point. When the cash airfare drops, so will the Classic Plus redemption rate. Given that the median value of a single QFF point is around two cents, redeeming points at 1.5 cents is not good value. But everyone’s circumstances are different, and perceptions of value will vary.

As Hudson said, the trade-off of making more seats available for redemptions is that passengers will pay more for them. Making the 20 million seats available for redemptions will cost Qantas around $120 million annually in foregone ticket revenue.

Qantas also made headlines this month for completing the second research flight for its ultra-long-haul ‘Project Sunrise’. Image: AV Web

Another winning, albeit unpublicised, aspect of the Classic Plus seats is that Chairman’s Lounge and Platinum QFF members won’t get first dibs on them, as is the case with Classic Rewards seats. Instead, Qantas will make Classic Plus seats available to everyone on the same day, regardless of status.

Top-tier Qantas elites hoovering up all the Classic Rewards seats, particularly on flights to European destinations, is one of the less attractive attributes of the QFF program, even if the 99.9% of passengers who aren’t Qantas elites can’t figure out why they are being royally rogered and why they can never find the entry-level price for a business class points redemption to London.

Classic Plus also represents a better deal than the Points Plus Pay redemptions, which have always been terrible value. On the flipside, Classic Plus redemptions won’t be available for use on partner airlines. Nor can you use it to ferry your sprogs to Bali this summer on Jetstar. Classic Plus redemptions are a strictly Qantas-only deal.