If you’ve ever had a passing interest in frequent flyer programs, then the idea of chasing upgrades has probably crossed your mind at some point. The process of getting upgraded can be a bit complex to understand, especially for rookies.
For example, if there are three people vying for a single upgrade — one who purchased an expensive last-minute fare, one flying on a discount ticket but with Gold status, and one who requested the upgrade months ago on a discount ticket — then who gets the prized upgrade?
This guide will explain how the process works when using Qantas Points to upgrade a Qantas-operated and marketed flight.
COVID-19 Update: Qantas’ international network is severely impacted until mid-2021 at the earliest. This includes suspension of flights and aircraft swaps, including the grounding of a majority of its A380 fleet. Further information can be found in this guide.
What are Qantas Classic Upgrade Rewards?
The most common way to upgrade your Qantas ticket using points is through Classic Upgrade Rewards. This involves putting in a request for an upgrade and agreeing to pay the number of points relevant to your upgrade should it be successful.
However, not all requests will get approved, and whether or not you make the cut depends on a variety of factors.
The way Qantas determines who gets an upgrade is not simple and is the source of much confusion and frustration for those who want to use points to upgrade. In this article, we’ll explain how Qantas decides who gets upgraded and who misses out.
Upgrades are worth seeking out and are a great use of Qantas Points if you (or perhaps, your employer) has already bought a ticket with cash.
Important points to note with Qantas Classic Upgrade Rewards
- These rules only apply for Qantas-operated flights with a QF flight number on the ticket (so not booked through a partner airline) and for upgrades using Qantas Points only
- If you buy a Discount Economy sale fare — called ‘Red e-Deal’ or ‘Economy Sale’ — then you can only upgrade that ticket using points on domestic flights, not international flights. Learn more in our guide on what Qantas fares to book for upgrades
- You can upgrade both from commercial fares and Classic Reward Seats (specific fares paid wholly with points). The upgrade rates vary depending on what ticket is purchased
- Classic Upgrade Rewards are not the only way to upgrade your flight with points — Qantas also has On-Departure Upgrades and Bid Now Upgrades with cash. Classic Upgrade Rewards are the most common, though, and they take precedence over the other methods
How much do Qantas Classic Upgrade Rewards cost?
Your upgrade cost depends on the type of ticket you have purchased, the distance, the cabin you want to upgrade to and whether it’s a domestic or international flight. You can check the upgrade reward table or do a quick calculation for a specific route.
You can upgrade a Discount Economy ticket (Red e-Deal) between Sydney/Melbourne/Brisbane and Perth for 27,200 points one-way. For comparison, an outright Business Class reward booking on the same route costs 41,500 Qantas Points + taxes.
On the other hand, you can make the 17-hour trek between Perth and London more comfortable by upgrading from a regular Economy Class ticket to Premium Economy for 68,100 points, whereas an outright redemption is 94,900 points + taxes.
Finally, if your company (or deep pockets) has bought you a flexible Business Class ticket from the East Coast to Los Angeles and you want to upgrade to First Class, that will set you back just 49,100 points. An equivalent ticket would cost you 162,800 points + taxes from scratch.
Are Qantas Classic Upgrade Rewards worth it?
As a general rule of thumb, the answer is usually ‘yes’. Upgrades are considered one of the most efficient uses of points if you can snag one.
Other factors to consider include how much you’ve already paid for your current ticket, the length of the flight, the comfort of the upgraded seat, lounge access and your points balance.
Are Qantas domestic flight upgrades different to international?
Yes, there are some material differences between Qantas domestic and international upgrades.
- Domestic flight upgrades can be immediately confirmed by any Qantas Frequent Flyer member, regardless of fare or status, if a reward seat in the higher cabin is available (otherwise standard waitlist rules apply)
- Discount Economy fares on domestic flights can be upgraded. However, this is not the case for international flights including those to New Zealand.
So if you want to find out whether or not you will be able to secure an upgrade before you purchase a domestic flight, you can search for Classic Flight Rewards on that flight. If seats in the higher cabin are available, your upgrade request will be approved as soon as you put it in.
This means that when it comes to domestic flights, booking early and being first is key to getting an upgrade.
How does the Qantas upgrade waitlist work?
For all international flights and for domestic requests that cannot be approved immediately, the following rules will usually be applied in order when deciding upgrades.
1. Elite frequent flyer status
Your frequent flyer status is the most important factor. Regardless of when Platinum members put in their requests, all Platinum requests will always be approved ahead of all Gold members. Similarly, all Gold members will be approved ahead of Silver members, and so on.
Here are the waitlist timelines that apply, depending on your status. Note that during peak periods, higher-tiered members may still not get confirmation until closer to the flight.
|Membership tier||Domestic Upgrades||International Upgrades|
|Platinum One||Within 3 days of flight departure||Within 7 days of flight departure|
|Platinum||Within 3 days of flight departure||Within 3 days of flight departure|
|Gold, Silver, Bronze||Within 24 hrs of flight departure||Within 24 hrs of flight departure|
2. Qantas Club Membership
If you are a Qantas Club member, you will be given priority over non-Qantas Club members in your class. For example, a normal Silver member will lose to another Silver member who is a Qantas Club member, all other factors being equal.
But holding a Qantas Club membership will not let you trump someone in a higher frequent flyer tier. Therefore, Bronze Qantas Club members will not be given priority over ordinary non-Club Silver members.
Note that this factor is not relevant with Gold, Platinum and Platinum One flyers, since those frequent flyer tiers automatically come with Qantas Club membership.
3. Fare bucket of your ticket
The higher the price of your ticket, the more likely you are to get upgraded compared to someone else of equal status or membership. So, a traveller holding a fully-flexible Economy Class ticket will be prioritised for an upgrade over someone with a discounted Economy ticket.
Although you can request upgrades from Classic Flight Rewards (seats booked wholly with points), those are prioritised last after all cash fares, even Discount Economy.
4. Timing of your upgrade request
Finally, if there’s a tie with frequent flyer status, Qantas Club membership and fare buckets, the time you lodge your request will come into play. Of course, that means someone who lodges their request earlier will win over someone who booked last minute.
What are my chances of getting a Qantas points upgrade?
To re-cap the previous section, here is the general pecking order for Qantas flight upgrades using points, and the earliest you could be notified:
- Chairman’s Lounge
- Platinum One | 3 days domestic | 7 days international
- Platinum | 3 days domestic | 3 days international
- Gold | 24 hrs domestic | 24 hrs international
- Silver with Qantas Club | 24 hrs domestic | 24 hrs international
- Silver | 24 hrs domestic | 24 hrs international
- Bronze with Qantas Club | 24 hrs domestic | 24 hrs international
- Bronze | 24 hrs domestic | 24 hrs international
If you are at the lower end of the hierarchy, you might think that these rules will mean that you never get an upgrade. It is true that Bronze and Silver members will usually have worse odds at snagging an upgrade.
But don’t be disheartened. Sometimes, you could have a stroke of luck and still be picked for an upgrade if there aren’t many people in front of you. Here are some tips to make it happen:
- Try to fly off-peak: mid-week, during the middle of the day, away from school and public holiday periods
- Request your upgrade as early as possible: this puts you at an advantage against others in a similar situation
- Pick flights operated by bigger planes: you’ll have a better chance when there are more Business Class seats to go around. For example, prioritise an Airbus A330 flight over a Boeing 737 for domestic and short-range international routes
- If all else fails, try to redeem a ticket with points: booking a Classic Flight Reward in a premium cabin means you get a confirmed seat and don’t have to worry about upgrades
Qantas also tends to not confirm all upgrades immediately and will leave several seats unsold in premium cabins for last-minute travel. You may find that you’ll get an upgrade at the airport, or even at the gate.
A fictional Qantas points upgrade case study
We’ve put together a (fictional) case study to show how the priority rules would apply. Imagine four people put in an upgrade request for the same flights in this order, one international and one domestic:
- Monday: Bronze member Michael puts in the first request
- Tuesday: Bronze member Nicole with Qantas Club membership follows with her request
- Wednesday: Gold member Joanna makes her request
- Thursday: Platinum member Jamie makes the last request
(For both flights, there is one Business reward seat available to all and an additional Business reward seat available for Gold frequent flyers and higher, only).
|International flight upgrade outcome||Domestic flight upgrade outcome|
|1. Jamie with Platinum status will get considered first, despite requesting it last. Her upgrade could clear within 3 days of the flight||1. Michael gets an immediate confirmed upgrade, despite being Bronze|
|2. Joanna with Gold status will get considered second, within 24 hours of the flight||2. Joanna gets an immediate confirmed upgrade from the seat available to Gold frequent flyers and higher|
|3. Nicole with Qantas Club membership comes in third, despite booking after Michael||3. Jamie with Platinum status will now be first in line to be considered for later upgrades. Her upgrade could be cleared within 3 days of the flight|
|4. Michael is last on the list as a Bronze member||4. Nicole with Qantas Club membership will now to be second in line to be considered for later upgrades, within 24 hours of the flight|
From this case study, you can see how the availability of instant upgrades on domestic flights can really throw the pecking order into disarray. Because Michael and Joanna scored instant upgrades, Platinum member Jamie will have to wait her turn on the list, despite having higher status.
Conversely, Jamie’s status is the trump card for international upgrades, where everyone is on the waitlist initially. But had Michael used his points to book the available Business reward seat, he would be holding a confirmed ticket and not be subject to the waitlist.
Want to learn more about this but in a real case study? Read how Gold member Natasha used Qantas Points to upgrade to Business Class to the US.
If you want to guarantee a Business or First Class seat, then you are best off searching for reward seat availability and booking an outright redemption in the cabin of your choice, rather than playing the upgrade game.
It was traditionally very difficult to be upgraded on Qantas’ high-demand international routes, including Los Angeles and London (before COVID-19 grounded all those flights). For future reading, check out our top tips to securing an award seat to the US.
Since most of us will be flying domestically, for now, do try to find flights with Business reward seat availability. It means you can confirm an instant upgrade, regardless of your frequent flyer status.
Frequently asked questions
Generally, no. Qantas states that ‘from time to time Classic Upgrade Rewards may be requested on eligible paid and confirmed tickets on codeshare flights operated by another airline with a Qantas (QF) flight number on the ticket’. But these cases are rare.
If they are an eligible family member and they are travelling on a booking made by you as a higher tier member, their request will be given the priority belonging to your higher tier — whether you are travelling with them or not. This is a perk of Platinum One.
However, for all other status levels (Platinum and below), if that person is travelling by themselves, then it will be their status tier that determines eligibility, not yours.
Emirates has a different upgrade system and, most probably, they had spare First Class seats and/or Business Class was overbooked and they gave an upgrade to a passenger/s who had status with a partner frequent flyer program, i.e. Qantas Frequent Flyer.
If you have had any experiences that do or do not fit with this analysis, please let us know in the comments!
This guide was originally written by Peter R.