Have a chunky points balance? Check. Picked out the latest First Class suite you want to fly? Check. That’s the easy and fun part done! Now you need to get to work and start searching for those highly sought-after reward seats.
Ever since international travel came back on the agenda in 2022, travel demand has rocketed. It’s hard enough finding paid seats on flights, let alone reward seats. You’ll quickly find that flexibility in your timing is key. If you have some leeway with your destination airport (and even your point of departure), then your booking experience should become easier.
‘The Basics of Points’ is our introductory series into the world of frequent flyer programs. Check out our other beginner’s guides for earning points and for using points on your next luxurious adventure!
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Keep your travel options open
Think about your next European getaway. Where would you fly to or from? Many people may automatically gravitate to London, but that also means that reward seat availability is at a premium.
If you broaden your horizons to many European cities nearby, such as Rome, Paris, Madrid or Berlin, then your options will really begin to open up, particularly with airlines that fly to many major cities such as Emirates, Qatar Airways, Etihad, Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific.
Your wallet might also thank you. The UK has one of the highest departure levies in most premium cabins – £185 (A$352) per person since April 2022. That’s a big hit to the hip pocket! It’s cheaper to fly out of any other European port.
In September 2022, I flew from Perth to Dubai to Vienna in Emirates First Class. To be honest, I was completely open to flying into any European port, especially as I hadn’t visited most of the continent yet. So when a reasonably-priced First Class reward seat to Vienna popped up, I jumped on it.
Each destination and airline will have its own quirks when it comes to timings and onboard services – these will become apparent as you start your planning and research.
Of course, there will be some times when you can’t afford to be flexible. This could include emergency trips or business travel. Or for something less drastic, perhaps you’re after a new airline product that’s only available on limited routes and/or days.
In those instances, then you’ll need to try your best to search for seats within your parameters. But if it turns up empty, then you won’t have many other options left except for potentially paying for the fare.
From personal experience, it’s always a good idea to hope for the best and to expect the worst. But if you successfully land that reward seat booking you’ve been after, then that’s a reason to celebrate.
Be part of different loyalty programs
If you’re in a position of being able to earn points in different frequent flyer programs, the definitely embrace the variety. Being locked into one program can be limiting, especially if there are issues with reward seat availability.
For example, Qantas Frequent Flyer members are currently finding it very difficult to redeem Qantas Points for reward seats to Europe. Emirates has next-to-no availability and Qatar Airways Business and First Class rewards aren’t even showing up at the moment. It’s also difficult to get seats on Qantas’ own flights, outside of one-off releases.
Luckily, Cathay Pacific has released a bunch of availability for 2023, but it shows how constraining it can be to have multiple airlines not having any seats available.
In contrast, Velocity Frequent Flyer is enjoying a resurgence. It’s far easier to use Velocity Points on Qatar Airways, for example. It also helps that one of its major partners, Singapore Airlines, also still maintains decent levels of reward seat inventory out of Australia and onwards across the globe.
Personally, I always keep a stash of Qantas Points, Velocity Points and KrisFlyer miles. Doing so affords me wonderful flexibility when it comes to finding reward seats for my next adventure.
Reward seats are inherently flexible
So, the lesson in all of this? In your planning, try and be as flexible as you can, and start early. Yes, you can usually book reward seats for last-minute travel too, but chances are you won’t have much choice. Booking as far out as possible will give you the best chances.
Another concept to understand is that reward seats are generally more flexible than commercial cash fares. You can usually change flights or cancel outright for a reasonable penalty, usually paid in points or a small amount of cash.
That means, it could be possible to lock in a particular flight now, even if it’s not 100% what you’re after. Say you want to fly Singapore Airlines Airbus A380 Suites (First Class), but only found Business Class availability.
One idea could be to snag the Business Class seats now (because that’s still much better than Economy, right?), and then change over to Suites class if availability pops up later on.
That’s totally doable. You’ll only pay US$25 per person extra in change fees – and the fare difference in miles – once the cabin upgrade is confirmed. Plus, you still have Business Class as a viable backup option if Suites Class remains unavailable.
Having said that, the chances of getting a Suites redemption to/from Australia is currently next to nothing, unless you pay the expensive Advantage rate. Singapore Airlines tells us that the six-seat cabin is usually quite heavily sold on commercial fares, so there isn’t much availability for reward seats.
Book early and be as flexible in your thinking as you can. In some cases, you may need to be happy with ‘close enough’ if you can’t get the perfect itinerary.
Maybe it’s not the perfectly timed layover or departure time. Maybe you can only get two reward seats on two sets of flights, instead of all four on one — splitting your family across two itineraries might be the compromise you need to make to fly Business Class during a peak holiday period.
You may well get that perfect flight closer to the date, but at least you can rest happily knowing you’re definitely going on that trip, one way or another.
Who knows, something better might just pop up when you least expect it. And because you booked a reward seat, it will be relatively simple to switch your bookings with little time and cost, compared to a commercial fare.
Still learning? Level up your points game in 2023 with our beginner guides:
- Getting started with frequent flyer programs →
- Earning points and miles by flying →
- Earning points and miles with credit cards →
- Earning points and miles on the ground →
- Why being flexible is crucial for using points →
- The benefits of flexible rewards programs →
- How to search for reward seats →
- How to plan a trip with frequent flyer points →