Qantas Frequent Flyers are finding it almost impossible to use their points on international flights for up to a year because of a surge in redemptions ahead of controversial changes made by the airline last, a consumer group told the Australian press.
Frequent-flyer.com.au principal Clifford Reichlin earlier this month warned the airline’s 4.1million members to book award flights ahead of the increases in the number of points needed to claim many long-haul tickets.
But now Reichlin says the cupboard is bare.
“All I can tell you is that there are people who actually can’t get any international flights for the next 12 months,” he told reporter Steve Creedy.
Qantas confirmed there had been a rise in award bookings and inquiries ahead of the changes. Members had redeemed 1.3 million sectors since the changes were announced in November. But it denied international Frequent Flyer tickets were no longer available.
Qantas executive general manager John Borghetti said there were more than 200,000 award seats available system-wide over the next three months and others were being constantly added to the inventory. But he conceded the majority of these would be for domestic flights and he was unable to give a breakdown on international seats for “commercial reasons.”
“We gave warning about this change some six months ago and we did so deliberately so that people would be able to access the seats,” he said.
Borghetti said some of the increase in member activity was due to people taking advantage of improvements to the program. These included the ability to book one-way, transfer points to family members and a reduction in the points needed for short flights, from 20,000 to 16,000.
He said Qantas’s program remained highly competitive in terms of available seats and points required to redeem a trip when compared with other international carriers.
Australian Consumers Association spokesman Norm Carruthers said the argument demonstrated the need for greater transparency in the frequent flyer scheme.
“It’s all part of the whole structural problem in that they never, ever give out how many seats are actually available,” he said.
“When you’re part of the program, you can’t even inquire what’s the likelihood of going or how many seats are available in the period in which you wish to travel.
“Lack of transparency in the scheme has always been a big problem and this is a good example of what happens. If it is booked up solid, then that’s pretty poor.”
The program changes made it harder for Qantas Frequent Flyers to get upgrades and will raise by between 20 and 40 percent the points required to redeem tickets on many longer routes.
A roundtrip economy-class seat from Melbourne to London, for example, rose from 100,000 points to 128,000, while a business-class ticket jumped from 220,000 points to 256,000.
Qantas does not say how many seats are available on flights but said in its annual report that frequent flyer redemptions accounted for 7.8 percent of available capacity in 2003-2004.