There’s a frustratingly common scenario playing out for travellers right now. Borders are open, so it’s time to tick off a few long-delayed visits to family, friends, or business partners around the globe.
And you’ve got plenty of points, yet you can’t find any decent ‘reward’ seats – without paying over a million points, that is. Where have all those reward seats all gone?
This is a ‘perfect storm’ situation. While demand to fly internationally has certainly taken off in recent months, the number of flights remains largely the same: and it could be some time before it truly improves.
During a recent press conference to announce non-stop Project Sunrise flights to London and New York, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce revealed international capacity for the Qantas Group is expected to sit at just under 50% by June 30, rising to about 70% by the end of September 2022.
Many international airlines have yet to return to full pre-pandemic strength in the number of flights to Australia, while fewer Airbus A380s means fewer seats in the sky.
Cathay Pacific, along with Japanese carriers ANA and JAL, remain hammered by strict Covid restrictions.
What’s driving the drought?
There are a few compounding issues, yet the biggest is simply a case of low supply and high demand.
‘Visiting friends and relatives’ (VFR) travel currently makes up for the highest demand, although general tourism and business travel are slowly catching up too.
Many travellers also have banked travel credits with firm expiry dates that need to be used.
This high demand, at a time when flights are limited, means seat availability is very low.
There’s also gravitation towards premium seats, as passengers seek guaranteed space by opting for the larger business and first class cabins.
This is anecdotally supported by reports that premium cabins are flying full, while empty seats remain in economy.
Zoom fatigue has also kicked in for many corporate travellers, who are increasingly opting to get back on the road – or in the sky, as the case may be – and are doing so at the pointy end of the plane
Customers with accumulations of points sitting in frequent flyer programs such as Singapore Airlines’ KrisFlyer, Emirates’ Skywards and Cathay Pacific Asia Miles are also staring down the face of points expiration soon, so it’s a case of ‘use them or lose them’.
All this combines to see demand outstripping the current supply of business class seats.
For the peak European summer season of June to September, my iFLYflat Flight Concierge service – which is on track to redeem 50 million points for clients across the first half of 2022 – is seeing all carriers booked out, with no likelihood of random points seats popping up at a later date.
Tips for finding those frequent flyer seats
First, understand that airlines have not changed their frequent flyer redemption rates.
The number of points to fly in the Qantas Classic Reward category, Virgin Australia’s Velocity Reward seat, or Saver award seats as other airlines may call it, has not gone up.
This lowest points category – which is the smartest way to use points to fly – has not changed. The big points price tags you see are for the Points+Pay method of redeeming points against the current cash price of the airfare.
Second, remember that your points continue to be very valuable. Just aim to avoid the current peak of June to September 2022.
If you use your points for travel in 2023, as the airlines move towards resuming their full flight schedules, the availability of points redemption flights will significantly improve.
Thirdly, with points, you can book almost a full year in advance (around 350 days, if you want to get specific) – so plan well ahead and lock in that future trip.
If a cancellation is later needed, the points and taxes will be refunded, less a small penalty.
As with many aspects of life at present, it’s important to remember nothing is set in stone – it’s a fluid situation. Reward seat availability will improve, it’s just going to take a bit of time. Until then, all we can do is go along for the ride.
Better known as ‘The Points Whisperer’, Steve Hui is one of Australia’s foremost authorities on frequent flyer points. Through his unique iFlyFlat.com.au service, Steve advises individuals, small business owners and companies on the best strategies to maximise their points and turn those points into business and first class seats on airlines and flights all over the world.