A comprehensive guide to how Qantas upgrades work

GUIDE: Using Points
DIFFICULTY: Intermediate
TIME TO READ: 8 minutes
POSTED: May 10, 2018
UPDATED: October 9, 2018
LOYALTY PROGRAMS: Qantas Frequent Flyer

If you bought a more expensive ticket, the person next to you has status and the person next to them put in their request first, who gets the upgrade?

In this guide

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 amount of points relevant to your upgrade.

However, not all requests will get approved, and whether or not your request will 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 a decent use of Qantas Points if you have already bought a ticket with cash.

Important notes

  1. These rules and insights apply only for Qantas-operated flights, where your ticket shows a QF code on the flight (so not booked through a partner airline) and for upgrades using Qantas Points (not other frequent flyer program currencies)
  2. If you buy the cheapest Economy sale fare—called Discount Economy—then you can only upgrade that ticket using points on domestic flights, not international flights
  3. Classic Upgrade Rewards are not the only way to upgrade your flight with points—Qantas also has On-Departure Upgrades and Bid Now Upgrades. Classic Upgrade Rewards are the most common, though, and they take precedence over the other methods
  4. Most of the specifics in this article came from research and discussions with Qantas Reservations

How much do upgrades cost?

It depends on the type of ticket you have purchased, the distance, the cabin you want to upgrade to and if it is a domestic or international flight—phew! You will want to check the award chart but here are a few examples to get the ball rolling.

You can upgrade a Discount Economy ticket between Sydney/Melbourne/Brisbane and Perth for 25,000 points one-way (compared to an outright Business Class award costing 36,000).

Qantas-new-A330-Domestic-Business-Class-11.jpg

Qantas A330 Business Class

50,000 points will upgrade a regular Economy Class ticket to Business Class flying between the East Coast and Hong Kong (outright redemption = 60,000 points).

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 62,500 points (outright redemption = 84,000 points).

Qantas 787 Premium Economy

Finally, if your company 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 45,000 points (outright redemption = 144,000 points).

Qantas A380 First Class

Is it worth it?

That is up to you to decide, depending on whether you have already bought the ticket (or had it purchased for you), the length of the flight, the comfort of the seat, lounge access and your points balance.

Domestic versus international

Domestic and international upgrade requests are treated differently.

If you put in an upgrade request for an international flight, you will automatically be put on the Wait List. Once you are on the Wait List, particular rules will determine who is given priority for upgrades. These rules are covered below.

If you put in an upgrade request for a domestic flight, your request might be approved immediately but only if there are upgradeable seats available at that time. If there are no upgradeable seats at that time, you will be added to the Wait List, from which upgrades will be dished out later according to the same Wait List rules that apply to international flights.

So how do Qantas determine whether there are upgradeable seats available?

Domestic availability

Whether or not upgradeable seats are available on your domestic flights depends on whether there are any Classic Flight Rewards left on that flight.

That is, if there are Business Class seats available to be booked on your flight through Classic Flight Rewards, you will be able to grab these same seats using Classic Upgrade Rewards.

So if you want to find out whether or not you will be able to secure an upgrade before you purchase your flight, you can search for Classic Flight Rewards on that flight. If they 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.

Melbourne Qantas Domestic Business Lounge

Domestic upgrades will also get you access into domestic Business Class lounges, which are a cut above Qantas Clubs

Once the seats that have been allocated for Classic Flights Rewards are gone, no other requests will be able to be approved immediately and will have to go to the Wait List.

Having said that, although timing is key in domestic flights, status still has its part to play. That is because the availability of Classic Flight Rewards seats will depend on your status, with more seats being set aside for higher tier members.

But if Classic Flight Rewards are not available in your tier at the time that you put in your request, you might still have the opportunity to be upgraded through the Wait List.

Wait List rules

For all international flights and for domestic requests that cannot be approved immediately, the following priority rules will be applied when distributing upgrades.

1. Status

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.

So, Platinum One > Platinum > Gold > Silver > Bronze.

2. Qantas Club Membership

If you are a Qantas Club member, you will be given priority over non-Qantas Club members in your class. So a Silver member will lose to another Silver member who is a Qantas Club member.

But Qantas Club membership will not let you trump someone in a higher class. So Bronze Qantas Club members will not be given priority over ordinary non-Club Silver members.

Note that this factor will not be relevant in Gold, Platinum and Platinum One, since those classes automatically come with Qantas Club membership.

So, we can expand to: Platinum One > Platinum > Gold > Silver + Qantas Club > Silver > Bronze + Qantas Club > Bronze.

3. Fare bucket

The higher the price of your ticket, the more likely you are to get upgraded. So, a fully-flexible Economy Class ticket will be prioritised for an upgrade over a discounted Economy ticket.

4. Timing

Finally, after status, Qantas Club membership and fare bucket have been taken into account, timing will determine who gets their upgrade request approved.

Wait List Availability

If you are at the lower end of the hierarchy, you might think that these rules will mean that you never get an upgrade.

However, it seems that that is not the case. Remember that Qantas has a number of upgrade programs including On-Departure Upgrades and Bid Now Upgrades. All of these only get considered after all, Classic Upgrade Rewards requests have been approved.

The very existence of these programs indicates that it is not uncommon for all Classic Upgrade requests to be approved and for there still to be leftover upgradeable seats.

Speaking of leftover seats, a lot of people have reported that their upgrade requests were not approved but that there were Business Class seats available when they got on the plane.

This is due to a few different reasons:

  1. Commercial purchases: it is Qantas policy to leave some Business Class seats available for commercial purchase—we do not know how many. The idea is that if someone wants to buy a last-minute Business Class seat, they should be able to
  2. Last-minute changes: similarly, if you have a Business Class ticket and you want to change onto a flight at the last minute, Qantas wants to make sure that you can
  3. Last-minute cancellations: finally, it is not uncommon for Business Class passengers to cancel their flight or switch onto another at the last minute, creating empty seats

These factors mean that it is quite common for there to be empty Business Class seats despite the fact that there were upgrade requests which were refused.

Case study

We’ve put together a case study to show how the priority rules would apply. Imagine four people put in an upgrade request for the same flight in this order:

  1. Monday: Bronze member Barry puts in the first request
  2. Tuesday: Bronze member Yuki with Qantas Club membership follows with her request
  3. Wednesday: Silver member Sylvia makes her request
  4. Thursday: Gold member Gary makes the last request

International flight

On an international flight the upgrade priority would be:

  • Gary first (Gold)
  • Sylvia second (Silver)
  • Yuki (Bronze + Qantas Club) next, despite booking after Barry
  • Barry (Bronze) will be last on the list

Timing does not play a part at all in this scenario because it is an international flight that follows the Wait List rules, where status trumps timing.

Domestic flight

Conversely, if this were a domestic flight, timing would be key and each request would be assessed in the order in which it was received.

But who gets a seat would depend largely on the availability of Classic Flight Rewards. Let’s say there were three Classic Flight seats available but two of those were reserved for Gold and Platinum members only.

The upgrades would go like this:

  • Barry (Bronze) would get his upgrade immediately since he was first!
  • Yuki (Bronze + Qantas Club) would get assessed next but she will be put on the Wait List since there are no more ‘available’ seats for her tier
  • Sylvia (Silver) would also be put on the Wait List for the same reason
  • Gary (Gold) would be upgraded immediately since there are Classic Flight Rewards seats available in his tier

But there would still be one empty seat left, which was initially reserved for Gold and Platinum members to book only. As the flight time approaches, this seat could be awarded to someone on the Wait List, according to the Wait List rules.

This would mean it gets awarded to Sylvia (Silver) because, although she was after Yuki (Bronze + Qantas Club), the Wait List rules put status above timing.

Upgrading flights that were bought with points versus cash

You can request a Classic Upgrade Reward even when you are travelling on a Classic Flight Reward, allowing you to upgrade a ticket that you purchased with points.

Tickets purchased with cash have priority for upgrading over those redeemed with points.

Also note that the number of points needed to request a Classic Upgrade Reward will differ and flights which are booked with cash will cost less to upgrade than those booked with points. You can find out exactly how much more by using the upgrade calculator.

Frequently asked questions

Can I use my Qantas Points to upgrade a flight on Emirates or another partner airline?

In short: unlikely.

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’.

If I am a Platinum One member and request an upgrade on my partner’s behalf through family and friends eligibility, how will they be prioritised?

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. It is the tier of the person booking and not of the person travelling that is important in this case.

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.

I know someone who has Silver status and was upgraded on an Emirates flight to First Class without having requested an upgrade. Why did that happen?

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.

Summing up

If you want to guarantee a Business or First Class seat, then you are best off searching for award space and booking an outright redemption rather than playing the upgrade game.

If you are travelling to the US, it is very difficult to get upgraded—read more in our top tips to securing an award seat to the US.

However, if you already have a cash ticket in hand and determine that an upgrade using your Qantas Points balance would be worth it for you, go for it!

If you have had any experiences that do or do not fit with this analysis, please let us know in the comments!

A comprehensive guide to how Qantas upgrades work was last modified: October 9th, 2018 by PeterR