When booking flights, you can normally just choose the flight you want and book it. But when redeeming points for award tickets, things aren’t quite that simple. That’s because you’re restricted by the limited availability of award seats, as well as the rules governing frequent flyer redemption tickets.
Unfortunately, not all flights have available award seats in every class of travel. In fact, very few flights tend to have award availability on busy routes and during peak periods. That’s why it’s important to be flexible and plan ahead when redeeming points for award travel!
Since launching Award Flight Assist in 2016, we’ve noticed some common mistakes that lots of Australians are making when trying to redeem their points for award flights. Here are 8 of the most common errors… and how you can avoid them.
1. Lack of flexibility
When redeeming points, you really do need to be flexible with travel dates, airlines and routings. Keep an open mind; the more flexible you are, the more likely you’ll be able to find a suitable flight. If you’re only willing to fly on a certain date and/or on a certain airline, you’re probably better off paying for a regular ticket.
2. Trying to book at the last minute
Award seats often sell out months before the flight – especially for travel during peak periods like school holidays, Christmas and around major sporting events. That’s why we generally recommend booking around 11 months before you wish to travel. All too often we receive requests from clients that want assistance with booking last-minute flights on premium routes during school holidays. In these cases we’re often unable to help.
3. Only searching for award availability on your airline’s own website
Many people don’t realise that your airline’s own website probability doesn’t show you all your award flight options! Many websites omit results on certain partner airlines. They often also only show you certain connections. You may need to search sector-by-sector, use a third-party website or call the airline to get a more accurate picture of award flights that are actually available.
4. Making other travel arrangements before booking the flights
Award availability is limited, so you won’t always be able to get your first choice of flights. That’s why we always suggest locking in your flights before booking hotels, hire cars, tours or other travel arrangements. You may need to fly on a different date than you originally planned.
5. Earning points with only one airline
If you only earn Qantas points or Velocity points, you’re limiting your options. These programs will get you where you want to go some of the time, but every frequent flyer program has its limitations. By keeping a balance of points with more than one program, you’ll have access to more options when you wish to redeem the points. If you earn points through your credit card spend, try to accumulate points with a flexible rewards program that allows you to transfer the points to multiple airlines as required (e.g. Amex Membership Rewards).
6. Assuming that points & status credits will be earned on award bookings
Clients occasionally request flights on a specific airline so they can earn status credits. Unfortunately, you won’t earn any points or status credits for any award booking. If status is important to you, you’ll have to pay for flights or use Points+Pay. The good news is that you’ll receive most of the benefits of status (such as lounge access and priority check-in) anyway if you’re flying in Business or First Class on points.
7. Overestimating the value of points
Our Award Flight Assist team are experts at finding award availability. But they can’t magically reduce the cost of your award ticket. We sometimes receive requests for help from clients that are well short of the points required for the reward they wish to book. In these cases, we usually can’t help. If you have a reward in mind, it’s a good idea to check the number of points required well in advance so that you can plan accordingly.
8. Assuming upgrades are good value
To be clear, upgrades can be great value! But it rarely makes sense to upgrade when you can book outright Business Class award seats instead. On most airlines, award and upgrade availability is exactly the same. So if there’s a Business Class upgrade available, you would also have the option of just redeeming for an outright award seat. This is typically much better value as it only requires a slightly higher number of points – but you’ll save hundreds or even thousands on the Economy airfare. Upgrading with Qantas points on Qantas international flights makes even less sense because upgrades are never confirmed in advance, and cost almost the same amount of points as an outright reward seat.