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Why it’s harder than ever to book business class rewards – here’s what to do

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Post-lockdown travel demand, saved-up points and fewer flights have made business class rewards even hotter tickets in 2022.

Australian business class searches on international flights in the first half of the year have increased about 31% on 2019 levels, according to new data from leading online booking service KAYAK.

Its research also shows the average price for a return flight in business class from any Australian destination is around $6,550. That's 33% higher compared to 2019.

For frequent flyers, that makes business class rewards a lot more valuable. But there are 2 big reasons why business class flights are becoming harder than ever to redeem:

  • Demand: After almost 2 years of travel restrictions, more people have had time to save up enough points for these business class redemptions and now they're keen to use them.
  • Supply: There are fewer flights in general. Data and analytics company GlobalData reports international flights are expected to reach 68% of pre-pandemic levels this year, but in the meantime, fewer flights equals fewer business class options.

The good news is that business class reward seats and upgrades are still out there – here are 5 ways to get them.

Now is a great time to build your points for travel in 2023.

1. Plan well ahead of time

Two people sitting on a bed smiling, with maps, documents and a laptop.
Business class reward seats typically open up 11 months before a flight is set to depart. This is the best time to see what's available and snap up the reward seat, especially for popular European or North American routes.

If you have less time before a trip, check what's available, knowing that you'll need to be a little more flexible with dates and times. Sometimes business class reward seats or upgrades are released at the last minute, and some flight routes have better availability.

🔍 Example

When researching this article, I found return Velocity Business Reward flights from Sydney to Fiji (Nadi) in late October – around 3 months from now. I also found a one-way Business Classic Reward Seat from Nadi to Sydney with Qantas Frequent Flyer.

But I couldn't find any business class reward flights to Europe or the US until 2023, and they were very limited. In other words: now is a great time to build your points for business class travel in the second half of 2023.

Tip: Having higher membership status helps.
Most frequent flyer programs open up reward seats to Platinum and Gold members first, including Qantas and Velocity.

Qantas acknowledged this in a 2019 submission to the ACCC (PDF), stating "…members in higher tiers may have access to additional allocations of, or preferential access to, Classic Flight Rewards seats on certain flights that are not available to lower tier members."

2. Be flexible with dates and times

A smiling traveller stretching on a bed with a suitcase nearby.
Less demand for a flight can increase the chance of getting a business reward with your frequent flyer points.

If you have wiggle room, choosing longer travel time and/or flights with stopovers can also help.

🔍 Example

I found a Velocity Business Reward Seat from Melbourne to Los Angeles for Thursday 15 June 2023. It had stopovers in Singapore (SIN) and Tokyo (NRT), with a travel time of 35 hours 25 minutes.

I could not find any Classic Business Reward Seats with Qantas Frequent Flyer when I looked.

Tip: Use online booking tools to check availability.
The Qantas website has a calendar that shows you Classic Reward Seat availability and the Virgin Australia website lets you see the previous or next 7 days. Most other airline websites have something similar.

3. Look at different flight routes

Aerial view of planes waiting at Heathrow airport.
Flights from Australia's major airports are more popular with both frequent flyer members and paying travellers. That typically translates to fewer business class reward seats.

But availability can open up at less busy airports. In Australia, you could try flights departing from Adelaide instead of Melbourne or Brisbane instead of Sydney, as an example. You can have even better luck getting flights that depart from overseas, and may even save some money.

🔍 Example

I couldn't find any business class rewards from Melbourne to London when I was writing this article. But there were some Qantas Frequent Flyer options when I looked at flights departing from Singapore or Tokyo (Haneda) to Heathrow.

In this situation, I'd just book a cheaper ticket to one of those places and enjoy the business class reward.

Tip: Compare fees and taxes for different locations.
These aren't included in the price for most business class rewards and can vary a lot depending on where you're flying from.

In the ACCC's 2019 report on customer loyalty schemes, it noted that fuel surcharges for reward flights were typically cheaper when departing from overseas and returning to Australia. So it's worth checking – and factoring this cost in.

4. Travel solo

A woman talking on the phone while packing a suitcase.
With fewer seats in business class than economy, it's easier to get a single reward or upgrade than it is to find 2 (or more).

It also means you can be as flexible with the flights as you want.

🔍 Example

Across all the flight routes I looked at for this article, it was much easier to find options for 1 person than 2 people.

Tip: Call the loyalty program for other options.
If you're travelling with a friend, partner or your family, the frequent flyer loyalty team may be able to help you find other seats or travel dates. Just be aware that there may be a service fee for phone bookings.

5. Make sure you have enough points

Two women in an airport lounge with a laptop, credit card and phone.
To book business class reward seats or upgrades, you'll need to have all the points so you can snap up an offer as soon as you see it.

In most cases, it takes fewer points to upgrade from an existing flight to business class. But upgrades are even harder to get than a business class reward flight.

🔍 Example

A one-way business class reward seat from Sydney to Los Angeles starts from 108,400 Qantas Points and 95,500 Velocity Points.

An upgrade from economy to business with Qantas would be 98,100 (Velocity only offers international upgrades to Platinum frequent flyers).

Tip: Set your points goal now.
This will help focus your goal. The Qantas and Velocity websites both have calculators and tables to show you how many points you need for a business class flight. Finder's guide to how many Qantas and Velocity Points you need to fly business class also has more details.

How to get more points

Paying for business class flight (or any other flights) now will definitely boost your points balance and your status.

But apart from that, one of the fastest ways to get a lot of points is with a credit card – some frequent flyer cards currently offer up to 100,000 bonus points for new customers.

Some other ways to get more points include:

  • Transferring Flybuys points to Velocity and Everyday Rewards points to Qantas
  • Shopping through the Qantas Online Mall or Velocity eStore
  • Signing up with program partners for essentials like insurance or utilities

Both Qantas and Velocity have plenty of program partners and ways to earn points – you can see more in Finder's guides to Qantas Frequent Flyer and Velocity Frequent Flyer.

Want to keep your frequent flyer points balance growing? Check out the latest credit card sign-up deals.

Images: Getty Images

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