This article is part of our ongoing Business Travel 101 series for newcomers to the world of business travel. Last updated January 2019.
Nobody likes to fly in economy, so how do you go about getting an upgrade to business class?
There are plenty of myths and also misinformation on how to get a free upgrade, including the classic clunker that you should dress up so you look like somebody who belongs at the pointy end of the plane.
Fact is, the most reliable way to get an upgrade from economy to business class is to use your Qantas frequent flyer points.
Even if your budget only stretches to a seat in cattle class, your Qantas Points can make up the difference – and upgrades are considered one of the best ways to use those points.
The number of points you’ll need depends on the fare you’ve purchased and the distance you’re travelling. Premium economy tickets and flexible fares in economy require fewer points, while discounted tickets command extra and flights that were already booked using points need even more.
For example, a business class upgrade from Sydney to Perth could be yours for just 10,000 points on a flexible fare, 25,000 points on a lower-priced economy ticket or 26,000 points on a flight that had been booked using points to begin with (known as a 'Classic Reward' flight).
Heading overseas? You could be relaxing in Qantas business class from Melbourne to Hong Kong for 22,500-54,000 points, or from Sydney to Los Angeles for between 40,500 and 100,000 points.
(To determine exactly how many points you’ll need for a particular route, use the Qantas upgrade calculator.)
Upgrade requests can be made through the Qantas website, over the phone and even at the airport lounge.
Here's what you need to know to turn those spare frequent flyer points into a much better travel experience for your next domestic or international Qantas flight.
Qantas domestic business class upgrades
On flights within Australia, all Qantas economy tickets can be upgraded to business class using frequent flyer points, including rock-bottom fares bought during sale periods and also tickets which were already booked using frequent flyer points.
However, just because there's a business class seat left unsold doesn't necessarily mean you can use points to sit there: Qantas limits the number of upgrades available on each flight, and in some cases no upgrades may be available at all.
Availability of upgrades varies from flight to flight and can often be on a first-come, first-served basis – so you'll want to request that upgrade earlier rather than later to maximise your chances.
Requesting upgrades more than 24 hours before departure
Taking our advice and getting in early? Then jump to the 'Your Bookings' tab on the Qantas website, locate your booking and click the bright red 'upgrade' button next to it. On the next screen, you can confirm how many points you'll need for your particular upgrade – and if you're happy, just click the 'request classic upgrade reward' button:
On the next screen, you can confirm how many points you'll need for your particular upgrade – and if you're happy, just click the 'request classic upgrade reward' button:This can be done from the moment you book up until 24 hours before your flight's scheduled departure time, and if an upgrade is available on your flight you'll be able to lock it in straight away, with the points needed immediately being deducted from your account.
If an upgrade isn't available, you'll be given the option to register your interest on a 'waitlist' – if more upgrades are made available on your flight your upgrade may then be processed automatically, otherwise, no points will be deducted and you'll remain in your original seat.
Upgrading to domestic business class on the day you fly
Couldn't upgrade online or travelling at short notice? If you already have access to the Qantas Club or business class lounge by way of your Qantas Club membership or frequent flyer status, ask at the service desk for an 'on departure upgrade'.
These cost the same number of frequent flyer points as upgrading online and are available between three hours and 20 minutes before your flight's departure time, subject to availability.
It's a good option to have for travellers who frequently change their plans or who simply feel like rewarding themselves at the end of a productive trip, but upgrading before departure day is still the better plan.
That's because you can take advantage of any increased business class baggage allowance – not possible once you've already dropped your bags off and cleared security – along with the priority security screening channel if you're not already entitled.
Note also that as Qantas usually firms-up its inflight catering orders several hours before departure, upgrading at the last minute can sometimes mean there won't be an extra meal loaded for you: so your boarding pass will often be marked 'catering not assured' and your dining order taken last.
Qantas international business class upgrades
Unlike on Qantas domestic flights, upgrades to business class on international journeys are all on a request-only basis, with the outcome of your request made known closer to departure.
That means you can't book an international economy ticket months in advance and have an upgrade instantly confirmed, as you can within Australia – instead, you can still request your upgrade as early as you like, but it won't be considered until the week you fly.
You also can't upgrade at all from the lowest-priced international economy 'Sale' fares, so while you may spot a bargain and snap it up, know that you won't be able to use points to upgrade unless you purchase one of the higher fare types.
Another critical note: upgrades using Qantas Points are only possible on flights operated by Qantas – that's a Qantas aircraft with a kangaroo on the tail – and on selected LATAM flights between Sydney, Auckland and Santiago when booked under a Qantas QF flight number.
That means it's not possible to upgrade using Qantas Points on Emirates flights or indeed on any other Qantas partner airline including Cathay Pacific, American Airlines and China Eastern, even if you book and fly under a Qantas codeshare flight number.
So then, how does an 'upgrade request' work?
Simply put, Qantas allows frequent flyers of all status levels (including entry-level Bronze) to request upgrades on international flights, but processes those requests in a particular order.
Platinum One flyers are the first to have their requests considered with international upgrades granted up to seven days before departure.
As an added bonus for the airline's top flyers, upgrades requested by Platinum Ones for family members (whether travelling together or separately) also receive the same priority as though the other travellers were Platinum One members too.
Next comes any requests from Platinum members which are approved up to 48 hours before their flight, while Gold, Silver and Bronze frequent flyers follow (in that order) with upgrades confirmed within 24 hours instead.
Again, these upgrades are all subject to availability, so remember that upgrade requests are simply that: a request, which may or may not be successful each time.
Increase your chances with Qantas international business class upgrades at the airport
When requesting your international upgrade through the Qantas website, you’ll notice a checkbox labelled "Please register me for an upgrade at the airport":
While that doesn't increase or decrease your chances of having an upgrade approved within the time frames above, it gives you a second chance if your original request wasn't successful and an upgrade later becomes available.
That covers scenarios such as another passenger cancelling their trip at the last minute, missing their connecting flight or not turning up at all, in which case Qantas may process another points-based upgrade to fill their place in business class.
This is only available to solo travellers but may be granted right up to the boarding gate – in which case you won't be able to enjoy some creature comforts like business class lounge access or an increased baggage allowance, yet the number of points needed is the same as though you were upgraded earlier.
For Qantas Club members and Gold or Platinum frequent flyers who already enjoy lounge access among other privileges, that's probably not a concern, but if you're a Bronze or Silver flyer, it's something you'll want to keep in mind.
You also won't have any say as to where you're seated in business class if you upgrade only comes through at the boarding gate, but if you’re bumped up earlier, the lounge or check-in staff may be able to help you find a better seat.
Bidding real money for a Qantas business class upgrade
Don't have enough frequent flyer points for an upgrade but still want a comfy seat at the pointy end?
You may also be able to pair as few as 3,000 points for domestic flights and 5,000 points for international flights with an offer of actual money for a better seat.
That's done via Qantas' Bid Now Upgrades system – only some bookings are eligible, but if yours is, you'll receive an email from Qantas before you travel with an invitation to make your bid.
Upgrade bids are considered only after all traditional frequent flyer upgrades have been processed, although do trump passengers relying on an 'upgrade at the gate', as above.
A few tips…
If you’re lucky enough to land an upgrade, take note that special meals (such as vegetarian, kosher and halal) aren’t guaranteed on your upgraded ticket, so there’s a chance you’ll be stuck enjoying your special economy meal on business class tableware.
You’ll also only earn points and status credits as per the fare you originally paid for – so if you’re bumped from premium economy to business class, your frequent flyer haul would be as if you’d actually flown premium economy.
One final tip – if you’re waitlisted for a domestic or international upgrade but change your Qantas Frequent Flyer PIN before that upgrade has been approved, you must call Qantas on 13 13 13 and ask the operator to manually update your existing upgrade requests with the new PIN – if you don't, you'll be stuck down the back!
Have you used points or cash to upgrade to Qantas business class? If so, where were you flying to and how early did your upgrade clear?