I’m often asked about award space on Qantas between the US and Australia. They’re one of only two airlines offering a first class product between the US and Australia, and there’s no doubt their product is heaps better than United’s. But is finding award space on them in first class downright impossible?
I just did a quick little test and searched award space on them in first class between Los Angeles and Sydney/Melbourne, which are their two A380 routes to the US. Here are the dates I found available (and only two of those dates had two first class seats):
Los Angeles to Melbourne: August 13, March 4
Los Angeles to Sydney: none
Melbourne to Los Angeles: none
Sydney to Los Angeles: February 19, March 11, March 12, March 18, March 19, March 27
So is first class award availability on Qantas a myth? There’s no doubt it’s really, really difficult to come across, but I’d go with no, based on the above.
There are a few things to understand about how they release award space, which make them quite different than other carriers. First of all, unlike many other carriers they won’t release award space close to departure just because their cabins are empty. Many carriers, like Cathay Pacific and Lufthansa, release almost all their first class seats close to departure. Not Qantas. For example, take a look at tonight’s Los Angeles to Sydney flight:
Even though it has at least nine first class seats left for sale, there’s no award space. The same goes for the flight on Monday, which also has at least nine first class seats left for sale:
So unlike with other carriers there’s no hope in “holding out” and hoping they release more space.
Does that mean it’s impossible to find award space less than 11 months out (and we’ll get into actually finding award space 11 months out in a moment). In my experience, no. If somebody cancels an award seat with them it always goes back into award inventory, in my experience. This means that if somebody snagged an elusive first class award seat and decides to cancel closer to departure, I find that the seat goes back into award inventory, even if other factors have changed (unlike other airlines, where that often doesn’t happen, especially if there’s a long period between when you book and when you cancel). And that’s the reason it’s probably worth monitoring for availability almost up until the departure date, because if someone cancels an award, that seat will more than likely go back into inventory.
But how do you snag seats when the window opens? Are they in reality releasing first class award seats a year out, and people are just snagging them at midnight the night they become available? The short answer is no. They’re not releasing first class award space on a majority of their flights, though when they do, they’re almost always snagged within hours of being released.
But if you’re redeeming American miles you’re at a bit of a disadvantage to begin with. American only has access to Qantas award space ~331 days out, while members of other programs, like British Airways and Qantas, get access to space earlier.
For example, Qantas has already released award space for two between Los Angeles and Melbourne on April 7, 2014 (as shown below on both the British Airways website and ExpertFlyer), though it’ll be over a week before AAdvantage members can snag that space.
The problem is that it’s a lot more expensive to book through British Airways or Qantas than through American. For example, a one-way first class award between Los Angeles and Melbourne would cost you 72,500 AAdvantage miles plus $2.50, while the same award would cost you 150,000 British Airways Avios plus $430.50 in taxes/fuel surcharges.
So if you do have hopes of snagging Qantas first class using American miles the key is to start looking more than 331 days out. Use ExpertFlyer, the Qantas website, or the British Airways website to look at availability. If you find it, cross your fingers and hope that members of other programs don’t snag it. Then exactly 331 days out be there the minute the space is released to American. I don’t know at what time that is, but refresh your screen every five minutes that day if you have to. I’ve found this to be just about the only award in the world where it’s crucial to book the second it becomes available.
And if all else fails, keep in mind that ExpertFlyer will let you set availability alerts for Qantas first class award space, if you want to hold out hope…