Qantas frequent flyers now get last-minute upgrades

By David Flynn, July 18 2012
Qantas frequent flyers now get last-minute upgrades

Qantas frequent flyers will find it easier to snare an upgrade with today’s launch of ‘at the gate’ upgrades, as the airline aims to fill premium seats left empty due to passenger no-shows and missed connections.

Available for both domestic and international flights, the new system – which the airline began trialling in May – processes upgrade requests almost until the flight itself is closed.

Previously there was a five hour cut-off for international flights, leaving a window in which passengers booked on a flight may not actually check in.

This would leave their seat vacant, much to the chagrin of frequent flyers who’d applied for an upgrade but been knocked back – but then spy those empty seats when they walk on board.

Justin Hyams, Head of Airline Loyalty for Qantas Frequent Flyer, is more than aware this raises the hackles of the frequent traveller.

“We’d previously have customers request an upgrade, we’d say no because we thought the aircraft was full, but they’d get on the aircraft and see an empty seat which they were more than willing to use their points to get.”

“Most no-shows are missed connections and that’s more likely to happen in hub airports” Hyams tells Australian Business Traveller.

“You take Los Angeles, where you have people connecting from American Airlines and many other carriers. You’ve got Singapore and even in Sydney there are domestic transfers connecting through.”

Single-leg upgrades also possible

Another benefit of the new system is that is journeys involving two flights, such as Sydney-Singapore-London, can be handled as two individual segments.

Under the old system, if a Sydney-London travellers puts in an upgrade request it’s only approved if there are seats available on both segments.

“This is a bug bear for our customers, especially where certain segments on the journey are more important” Hyams explains.

“For example, being able to get an upgrade from Singapore to London is more important because it’s the longer leg of the journey, you’re flying overnight to London and you arrive into London very early, so it’s very nice to be able to have a partial upgrade.”

Any seats left vacant after points-based upgrades have been processed are still available for one-off upgrades of high-status passengers, beginning with Platinum One and Platinum frequent flyers.

“Those upgrades will still happen because we still want to surprise and delight out customers” Hyams says.

However, the new upgrade system is clearly aimed at turning empty seats into a commercial gain rather than a freebie.

Streamlined domestic upgrades via SMS

The new system will also let travellers on domestic flights more easily manage their upgrade requests.

“Currently if there’s a domestic business class seat available you’ll get it right away” Hyams says.

“But, if there isn’t a seat available you have to keep going back to request it again, and hope one will come up.”

“Now you can register and you’ll be informed by SMS to your phone when a seat comes up all the way through to departure.”

Solo travellers only, for now...

Under the new system, travellers need to opt in to register for upgrades through to the gate – and Hyams says that, for now, it only caters for single passengers travelling on a single ticket rather than a joint booking of two or more people per ticket.

“For stage one we are focussing on single travellers in the opt-in, because the ones we were missing were mostly single travellers who we can more easily upgrade at the gate” Hyams says.

“We’re working on multiple travellers as a second stage, because we need some new technology to deliver upgrades for multiple passengers in a booking.”

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David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

10 Mar 2011

Total posts 531

Great move forward by Qantas. It is always frustrating when you see empty seats in Business after being turned down for an upgrade and this article clarifies why that happens with the 5 hour cut off and no shows. At least now we are more likely to get an upgrade with the new system. Way to go Qantas and thanks for listening to your passengers.


04 Nov 2010

Total posts 674

Well said AusFlyer. I have flown QF internationally and been faced with the exact same thing, I request an upgrade and happy to hand over my points but it doesn't go through, then I walk onto the plane and walk past several empty business class seats.

At times like that I wish I could do like a 'DIRECT DEBIT' on my FF card, hand it over and have them subtract the necessary points and get an 'on the spot' upgrade! I still think that could be a cool option actually, maybe they could check the manifest and go to Platinums or Golds after take-off and ask if they'd like an upgrade to business class for so many points! Anyway, good move by Qantas!

10 Mar 2011

Total posts 531

You might be onto something here... a FF EFTPOS system!! Love it.

09 Nov 2011

Total posts 88

This is all very well, but often last minute catering is not available, so you have the privelage of a larger seat only

10 Mar 2011

Total posts 531

Not necessarily... If the vacant seat is as a result of a no show, then it is likely that the catering will have been done already so you won't miss out.


15 Apr 2011

Total posts 586

I don't expect there to suddenly be lots of very happy frequent flyers though, given that Qantas is moving towards smaller premium cabins so there will be fewer seats left over on each flight.

A nice upgrade, but by no means a massive act of generosity on Qantas' part. There are going to be even fewer upgrades in the future, despite what they talk this up as.

10 Mar 2011

Total posts 531

Geez am... Why not just take it on face value and look on it positively. It's a good move by Qantas and if it works and you are one of the lucky ones to benefit then you will be a happy Frequent Flyer. If not... then you can continue to wallow in negativity.


15 Apr 2011

Total posts 586

You're seriously advocating for taking a major corporation's announcements on face value? I care more about the reality of this change, and how it is actually going to impact on me as a frequent traveller.

I think Qantas is doing some awesome stuff at the moment, and they are by far my favourite airline to fly within Australia and get most of my overseas travel as well. I'm not looking on this move (or Qantas) negatively, I'm just thinking about it in terms of the real impact it will have on our type of traveller rather than getting all excited by the promise of endless upgrades that is implied in the press release.

30 Sep 2011

Total posts 45

Yes, they finally caught up with Ansett.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

23 May 2012

Total posts 268

Good move! That is definitely a weapon to strike Virgin Australia with. This means Economy passengers won't go snooping into the high-tier cabins which is sometimes the case and I get really told off for that. Now that the top cabins are taken, there is no way bottom class guests will hog seats. It's good it got rid of the 5 hour cut off. This is definitely a better system!

03 Nov 2011

Total posts 35

sounds good, but these days i've signed up with SA's krisflyer and am taking advantage of their incredible recent lon-syd deals. so won't be able to try this for potentially a while.

after all why lock yourself in just one FF system? if it's all to solely save money (it is with me anyway, at this point in my life), may as well do that.

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