Using Qantas Points to upgrade vs. booking flights with points

By Chris C., March 22 2019
Using Qantas Points to upgrade vs. booking flights with points

TALKING POINT | Business travellers clock up a lot of frequent flyer points, and when it comes to spending those hard-earned Qantas Points, they often come up against a common quandary: should they use them to book a flight outright, or funnel them towards applying for an upgrade?

Upgrading a paid ticket can cost fewer points than the alternative. However, on international routes, most travellers only learn whether their upgrade offer was successful within a day or two of departure – resulting in disappointment and a less comfortable journey if you remain stuck down the back.

Read: Qantas business class upgrade guide

In favour of making a firm points-based booking? Yes, it requires more points up front, but you know that your travel class of choice is locked in.

It also provides the opportunity to travel with many of Qantas’ partner airlines – such as Cathay Pacific, Emirates and Qatar Airways – where upgrading using Qantas Points isn’t possible.

Which approach is best? That depends on the individual, and to an extent their indulgence in 'risk factor'.

While one could do the maths on the ‘value per point’ that each option generates, there's a far simpler approach which I've long since adopted: upgrades are for business trips, points-based bookings are for holidays.

My philosophy is that a leisure trip is about relaxing and unwinding from the moment you leave home until you return. Using points to secure a business class (or even first class) flight provides that certainty up to a year before the journey, rather than rolling the dice in the ‘upgrade lottery’ in the hours or days before heading to the airport.

A points-based booking also lets you cherry-pick where and when you fly, based on the best airline for the journey or which flight provides the best opportunity for using points. As a result, you won't be bound flying with only one airline in an attempt to secure an upgrade which may or may not eventuate.

On business trips, I find I'm more focussed on work and spend much of the flight typing away on my laptop – so an upgrade from business to first class, for example, simply doesn’t offer as much time to enjoy the experience as on a holiday.

Using your points wisely is key to getting the most from what you've got – so it can make more sense to spend more of your points towards booking flights, with an occasional upgrade put through for good measure.

Do you regularly partake in the Qantas international ‘upgrade lottery’, use your points to secure firm domestic business class upgrades, or spend those points securing your preferred flight from the onset, taking chance out of the equation? Share your strategy with fellow readers via the comment box below.

Chris C.

Chris is a a former contributor to Executive Traveller.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Jan 2014

Total posts 318

Great advice Chris and I agree with your theory regarding business v holiday, business is a destination, a holiday is a journey and prefer to use my points to buy a seat outright.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

27 Jun 2013

Total posts 24

Completely agree with you Chris. I always use the points for reward tickets for holidays for the certainty of securing business class for each flight & to really enjoy the journey

The majority of my travel for work is domestic with the trans-continental route appearing 3-4 times a year. I also will end up on a Hong Kong or Singapore assignment once or twice a year. My wife an I pool our QFF points with the view of redeeming up to 700k each year for our annual holiday to various parts of the world in Business - we haven't yet had a First reward seat come available for the times we have wanted but will jump at the opportunity if it were there. My wife imposes a policy on using points to upgrade similar to my employers travel policy "premium cabin only on flights 5 hours or more - subject to managers approval" which really is a hit and miss depending what side of the bed he got up on. I would redeem anywhere between 40,000 and 70,000 points for an upgrade to J, usually on an old a330 for a very familiar and un-inspiring service up front and a few extra hours of sleep (maybe). Don't get me wrong, sleeping flat on the way home from a busy week in Perth or Hong Kong to launch into the next business day has it's benefits. However we have worked out over the years that those points are far better enjoyed to maximise redemption on better quality products with JAL, Emirates and Cathay for our hard earned breaks rather than giving them back to QF. We have travelled for business in Economy for years and really, it's not that bad for us knowing that every time we fly we're accruing currency for something better to come and that can be enjoyed for what we intended premium cabins to be. So I now avoid upgrades on my business trips for that reason.

05 Dec 2018

Total posts 146

Love the sound logic on when to use reward flights.

Great write up and refreshing from reading point breakdowns into per mile $ value.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

22 Mar 2019

Total posts 1

The article represents my sentiment exactly with points application. I have had friends miss upgrades on important occasions like honeymoon’s etc where they definitely regretted an outright premium award booking and gambled on an upgrade that didn’t come to fruition. In regards to rewards flight availability, pick up the phone and call a consultant especially if a premium member such as QFF Platinum, they can open availability especially if booking with some lead time to travel. The phone call has been a game changer for me as online shows limited availability usually.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

08 Jul 2017

Total posts 27

Agreed. Some of the cash upgrades are cheap anyway so it’s often better to save ur points for a flexible rewards flight.


19 Apr 2012

Total posts 1435

A good discussion. It depends on the stage in life. As one gets older an upgrade for work trips is nice given the work load pressures at the other end. But I try to balance it so some are saved for holiday upgrades as well.

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