Compared: Qantas Classic vs Any Seat Awards -- what's the difference?

By Gary Walter, June 15 2011

So you've been travelling back and forth on business trips across Australia or overseas, flying with Qantas or partner oneworld airlines like Cathay Pacific and British Airways -- and now you have a healthy frequent flyer points balance to show for it.

Over the next few days I will show you how to make the most of those points by redeeming them for free 'award' flights on Qantas.

There are plenty of stories about how hard it used to be to get a 'free' seat on a flight using Qantas Frequent Flyer points. On many popular routes it was virtually impossible unless you booked a year in advance and even then you had to avoid peak and shoulder seasons.

That's because Qantas used to set aside only a limited number of seats on any flight for frequent flyer redemption -- X number of seats in business and Y number of seats in economy. The number varied depending on the aircraft and once those seats were booked they were gone, and you had to buy a ticket at whatever the going rate was.

But a few years ago Qantas changed its award system. The original system with its limited number of seats was renamed as Classic Award and is still available.

Alongside this Qantas introduced a new Any Seat Award system. This lets you 'buy' any seat on the flight seat using Qantas Frequent Flyer points.

As a rule it will always be easier to trade your points in on an Any Seat Award ticket compared to a Classic Award ticket. The downside is that any Any Seat Award will almost always cost you more points.

And unlike a Classic Award ticket, which will always cost the same number of points on any given flight, the number of points you need for an Any Seat Award fluctuates wildly depending on how much someone would have to pay to get the same seat on a flight.

For example, a return economy ticket for Sydney-Melbourne can cost you 16,000 points as a Classic Award but starts from a minimum 21,508 points as an Any Seat Award.

On a business class Sydney-London trip the difference is much greater: 256,000 points for a Classic Award but ay least 1,513,820 points -- yes, that's 1.5 million points! -- for an Any Seat Award.

As a rule of thumb the higher demand for seats on a flight the more the tickets cost. But Qantas also puts a higher price on seats on its Airbus A380s and non-stop flights rather than those with a refuelling stop in them.

(Any Seat awards make good business sense for Qantas, as it makes a billion dollars a year selling points to retailers and banks, and making Frequent Flyer Points a currency that can be used to buy any seat on a flight makes the points even more valuable to consumers. But it also helps the airline sell 'paid' seats on flights.)

Another difference is that the various taxes and surcharges are included in an Any Seat Award. On a Classic Award you can choose to pay those taxes in cash or use more points to cover the difference.

Here are some examples of how many points you need for a Classic Award ticket compared to any Any Seat Award ticket based on a one-way flight.

Sydney to Melbourne (economy)

Classic Award (taxes paid in cash)
8,000 points
+ $23.44
Classic Award (taxes paid in points) 11,000 points
Any Seat Award (taxes included)
from 10,745 points

 Sydney to Perth (economy)

Classic Award (taxes paid in cash)
18,000 points
Classic Award (taxes paid in points) 21,000 points
Any Seat Award (taxes included)
from 21,540 points

Sydney to Los Angeles (economy)

Classic Award (taxes paid in cash)
48,000 points
+ $354.67
Classic Award (taxes paid in points) not possible
Any Seat Award (taxes included)
from 90,012 points

Sydney to London (business)

Classic Award (taxes paid in cash)
128,000 points
+ $369.02
Classic Award (taxes paid in points) not possible
Any Seat Award (taxes included)
from 756,910 points

Although Any Seat Awards are more 'expensive' in terms of points compared to Classic Awards, they have some advantages.

For example, they earn points and status credits just like a paid ticket would.

This is handy if you need to rack up a few more status credits to gain or retain a higher level of Qantas Frequent Flyer membership such as Gold or Platinum. 

Any Seat Award tickets are also eligible for upgrades.

Here's a checklist of how both schemes stack up:

  Classic Any Seat
Availability to Bronze frequent flyers Very limited Not limited (any seat, any flight)
Availability to Silver and above FF Limited Not limited (any seat, any flight)
Airlines available Qantas, Jetstar and 24 partner airlines Qantas and Jetstar code flights only
Points needed Fixed number of points per route Varies according to cost of seat
Taxes and surcharges included? No Yes
Pay for taxes and surcharges with additional points? Yes, only in AU/NZ though Not applicable
Earns points? No Yes
Earns status credits? No Yes
Eligible for upgrades? No Yes
Refundable? Yes - for points (5,000 point penalty fee) Yes - for dollar credit, if fare conditions allow

Despite the apparently higher cost of Any Seat Awards, there are times when it makes more sense to book one instead of a Classic Award. Tomorrow I will crunch the numbers and show you why!

This is the first of a three-part series written for Australian Business Traveller by a professional travel manager on the Qantas' frequent flyer award system and how to make the most of it.

Part 2: Qantas Classic Award vs Any Seat Award: which is the best value for your frequent flyer points?

Part 3: How to save frequent flyer points on Qantas award seats

Gary Walter is a travel manager for a large Australian company, and in his spare time, an enthusiast of squeezing the most out of Frequent Flyer programs.?

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