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.
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.