Why it’s almost impossible to book a flight with points right now

A ‘perfect storm’ has seen the supply of seats bookable with frequent flyers points falling well short of skyrocketing demand.

By Steve Hui, June 7 2022
Why it’s almost impossible to book a flight with points right now

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.

iFLYflat

Executive Traveller points specialist Steve Hui is the founder and CEO of iFLYflat, and when he's not helping business professionals maximise their reward points he's flying flat in business or first class himself!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

06 Oct 2016

Total posts 126

I had 400000 asiamiles expiring October (twice extended form 2020) in the old scheme. So have been playing forward in anticipation of this, and potentially a big point loss

Had some trips cancelled under Covid but there is no fee for cancellations. Few extra points and I have 2pax times 2 business to Europe, 1 August 22 and the other April 23… (plus a leg in first to look forward to)

07 May 2020

Total posts 153

I would hazzard a guess that the airlines are more interested to see fresh cash in their bank account rather than pay out on an IOU. The IOU is after all only that, and doesn't pay bills.

QF

04 Apr 2014

Total posts 205

We have been able to book classic reward tickets Australia / US on Qantas…..8-9 months out.  Needs planning but doable.  

31 Dec 2014

Total posts 39

This is so true. Although based in Australia I normally buy my return tickets originating I’m Europe because they’re much cheaper. So after being stranded in Australia during covid I had to take a one way positioning flight to Europe to restart the cycle.

I’m Turkish Airlines Gold and there was some economy partner availability but I’m 6’4” so that wasn’t going to work. Thanks to the usual search engines by booking class I managed to get a Thai award flight from SIN-BKK-ARN and I had to purchase premium economy on SYD-SIN.

Perfect solutions are like hen’s teeth right now so it pays to investigate all other options.

22 Oct 2014

Total posts 15

Searching for J class seats to any destination in the USA from any Australian destination for April  2023 on QF. Bronze status doesn't give any options

QFF

03 Sep 2014

Total posts 13

there also seems to be limited Emirates seats / flights for QF members. Qatar have economy seats available on most bookings, limited premium seats.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

02 May 2014

Total posts 14

Biggest problem I have found for Reward Seats to / from Canada (Ski Season) in J is you might snag one leg out but find it impossible to find a return reward leg. Stuck with an OK outbound flight and no Inbound flight available either cancel the reward outbound flight and book a normal $ fare or pay for a one way flight at huge cost.

27 Dec 2011

Total posts 2

Booked BNE/DOH/SFO J for 2 Just before Easter next year using Avios. Certainly the long way round but needed to burn the miles. Returning SFO/SIN/BNE J for 2 April Next Year using KrisFlyer before they expired. The secret was book as soon as seats released - and think outside the box :)

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Jul 2013

Total posts 35

It amuses me that this is seen as a current issue due to the world situation. It has always been thus. 

With a normal annual balance of ca. 800,000 QF points, my ability to use them over many years, other than on internal Australian hops, has always been absurdly limited. The whole QF FF scheme has always smelt like a scam to me, rather than a genuine "loyalty" program. We have been loyal to Qantas for decades and use them or their affiliates for large amounts of travel, internationally in Business, and often at inflated QF fares, but we receive SFA in terms of loyalty payback. 

Eventually we started to look around for the best biz class international fares for our annual European trips because of these factors and because using QFF "loyalty" points is almost impossible. I say "almost" because my wife, due to her incredible persistence and devotion to the task, actually managed to score the Holy Grail, a QF Business class return MEL-LHR about 9 months ahead of travel dates. That was in 2019, then Covid arrived and that was it. Points were reimbursed after 3 or 4 months, but what use are they? And to add insult to injury my Gold status was lost due to QF's Covid era policies, when my normal travel would have retained my status. 

Interestingly, I am also a member of United's Mileage Plus, and although the scheme seems to promise less than Qantas, it is actually usable with much less fuss. Add in the questionable morality of Qantas's use of the Jobkeeper fund and we will definitely go elsewhere in future. And those QF points will be gifted to our kids for their Oz holidays.

29 Jan 2012

Total posts 118

Rambler,

Can't agree with you more, QF's FF reward system, especially in it's international division, is one of the worst and should be called to account on how it has managed, and is managing, customers refunds and FF accounts over the past 2 yrs, and Covid is not an excuse! It's simply greed.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

04 Aug 2014

Total posts 9

I am not a big defender of Qantas but in reply to rambler I was in same situation and managed to book J class to LA in April and London in December. I am Platinum and QF have maintained over the last 2 years so no complaints although recent business travel will likely see me retain this year. I am surprised you lost Gold when you only needed to make one flight to retain.

If you apply morality filters there aren't many airlines you can fly on.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

31 Jan 2016

Total posts 84

Will be in UK/EU later in the year and just booked J class fares with QF points to a number of different cities on airlines including BA and AF.

While I'm at it I've have had some awesome discussions with the QF call center crew, fixing my stuff ups and flight changes, and the wait times have decreased significantly.


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