How Reliable is the ‘Trick’ to Get Qantas First Class Award Availability?

Searching for Qantas first class award availability between the US and Australia is about the only time where it really is the case that you need to grab the space as soon as a flight is loaded into the reservation system.

The problem is that Qantas loads their inventory ~ 3 weeks before American AAdvantage lets you have access to it. (American won’t access schedules more than 331 days out.) So Qantas members — and indeed British Airways and Cathay Pacific members, for instance — can book these award seats that are made available, while American’s members just have to wait and hope.

It used to be the case that Alaska Airlines miles could be used when a partner loaded seats, even if Alaska’s own schedules hadn’t been loaded yet. So say 350 days out you could grab Qantas first class, and call back at 331 days out when Alaska loads its own schedules to add any Alaska Airlines connecting flights you may need. Alaska would even make that change without a fee. The ability to do that ended when Alaska introduced one-way awards on partners and online partner booking about a year and a half ago.

Since premium cabin award seats to Australia are one of the toughest awards to begin with, especially non-stop between the U.S. and Australia (and not transiting Asia), since Qantas isn’t especially generous with those seats, and since Qantas’ and other members get a several week head start, you need a trick if you want to be able to grab them.

The Qantas A380 just launched service to Dallas and flies both Los Angeles to Sydney and Melbourne.

I’ve discussed this in the comments here on the blog, in other forums, in a talk on award booking that I gave with Lucky at Frequent Traveler University last April, and in the comments on other blogs but a search doesn’t seem to reveal having laid it out in its own post here.

Here’s what you can do:

  • You can book Qantas first class award space using British Airways Avios. It’s crazy expensive. For instance, BA charges 150,000 points each way for first class Los Angeles – Sydney, plus fuel surcharges. A roundtrip runs 300,000 points plus ~ $900. Choke.

  • Qantas inventory reliably gets returned to the same bucket when a seat gets cancelled. I can’t promise this will always be true of course, there’s always some risk, but it’s always worked for me.

  • You book with British Airways points, if you have the points in your account to ‘hold’ the seat.

  • When the American booking window opens, you cancel/refund the British Airways award. You will pay the British Airways award cancellation fee.

  • Immediately book the seat at AA.com when it gets returned to inventory.

With most airlines, booking almost a year out, when you cancel award space it will return right back to inventory or at least will do so in a matter of minutes.

This is not a guarantee that it will get returned to inventory. But with Qantas it always has in my experience, and in the experience of others that I’ve talked to. So the trick has worked really well.

But, but, but… Loyal reader Barry P. shared an experience this week that gave me a little bit of pause about the technique. He cancelled Qantas first class award space and it didn’t go right back into inventory. It did not immediately re-appear for booking. He monitored it, and it apparently took over 24 hours to show back up.

Now this wasn’t for a completely empty cabin booking a year out, this was for travel a couple of months out. But it was an interesting data point nonetheless.

I’m looking forward to my own upcoming Qantas A380 first class trip…


About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Neat trick, but seems unrealistic for most. I’m never going to park 600,000 miles into my executive club account to make this work – I don’t fly BA, so the opportunity cost of either crediting my AA flights, or transferring credit card points to Avois, seems far too high, just to snag one reward flight.

    That’s the equivalent mileage of 133 shorthaul domestic flights booked with Avios!

  2. @AJK – I linked to that post in this one, but I did not discuss parking the seats, cancelling, and the inventory re-appearing in order to book through AAdvantage in that post.

  3. Booking a R/T for a couple: Step One, get 600K Avios in your Exec Club account a full year before you want to go. Step Two: get back to me after you complete Step One….

  4. This is precisely how I secured 2 QF94 LAX-MEL seats in F for 12/28 this year. I canx’d my BA Award and about 4 hours later the seats were available on the AA site. Now, I had trouble actually BOOKING the seats on the AA website and ultimately had to call to make the reservations.

  5. @Gary

    You say that, “you’re parking the points for 2-3 weeks.” I’m not that familiar w/ using Avios, so I apologize for the newbie question, but arethere any good options for transferring those hundreds of thousands of points back out of Avios, or would you just have to burn them up on other flight redemptions?

  6. Awesome! Do you know whether the DFW-SYD route offers first class service? I’ve never seen a first class award seat available on that flight.

  7. @Joey now that Qantas is flying an A380, they do have first class seats. The plane they flew before did not.

  8. @NaritaBound – if you do not have BA points already you would need to transfer them in, and then would have to use the BA points later for flights, you could not transfer them back to their source

  9. I would LOVE to see a post on how to search for AA flights to Europe (booked through AA) without AA defaulting to BA metal with HUGE surcharges.

  10. Andrew – You can tell the AA site to search only AA and not partners. That will filter out BA. It will also filter out Air Berlin which you might want, but you can then search those AB flights individually.

  11. Thanks! Not a single seat BOS-MAD in J in June or July! USair points were so much more valuable when you could fly LH to Europe.

  12. Seems like someone with a boatload of Avios sitting in his account could make some good money doing the trick for others. “For a fee, I’ll book these two R/T F seats and release them in 3 weeks. Then you can go ahead and book them.” 🙂

  13. I saw a DFW-SYD for two dates on AA. Probably someone who did your trick. Very dangerous as someone like myself could snap it right up, since its not instantaneous.

  14. Andrew, Check the QF site if you’re looking for BOS-MAD on IB. Usually IB is something you can get way in advance but not close in.

    BOS has gone way downhill since AA pulled out their LHR flights. I also use BOS and my last 6 J awards to Europe were on LX/LH, even though I have a lot more miles with AA to burn.

  15. Thanks Nunn. Last summer I did 4 tix bos-muc-nrt on LH via US in J. Booked at 300 days out. Perfect.

    This summer I can’t find BOS-Connect anywhere on the east coast-anywhere in europe. I’m trying for 4…I can’t even find 2 anywhere OneWorld without paying crazy BA fees.

  16. Picked up the DFW-SYD route today for October next year. Yes it was >$400 in fuel surcharges but the flight (one-way) is selling for over $10K. I’m OK with hanging on to it rather than risking losing it.

  17. ANDREW — You are forgetting the Aer Lingus Bos – SNN/DUB flights that you can use your AVIOS without major surcharges and then from either airport go to the rest of Europe on an LCC or the like.

  18. Please beware before doing this. I attempted it, was extremely diligent about doing everything correctly, and now almost 48 hours later, the seats have not returned to inventory. Perhaps I was simply unlucky and someone got them the split second they returned, but it seems somewhat unlikely with the frequency I was checking. In any event, please be aware that you are bearing the significant risk of paying the BA cancellation fee and having nothing to show for it, as I have.

  19. After you book using BA points and eventually need to cancel so it goes back into inventory, are you refunded the taxes paid when booked with BA ($600+)?

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