Strengths of Qantas for AA redemptions

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Last year, I wrote a post about a sweet-spot that had been hiding in plain sight on me in the Iberia award chart (See: From 11K RT on American: A sweet spot for North American flight redemptions). At the time, I was pretty excited about using Iberia for award flights on American Airlines flights because of the fact that they price flights based on cumulative distance rather than pricing each segment separately (the way that British Airways does). That’s really advantageous for those of us stuck at a non-hub airport who find ourselves needing to book short but expensive flights. I still like Iberia for that situation, but I’ve found myself liking Qantas (a Citi transfer partner, Capital One transfer partner, and Marriott transfer parter) quite a bit lately as well for short domestic AA itineraries that require a connection or two. Here’s why.

American Airlines Planes.

Qantas strength mostly limited to itineraries under 1200 miles each way

It’s worth starting this off by saying that the strength of Qantas Frequent Flyer (at least in terms of booking US domestic flights) is mostly limited to itineraries of 1200 miles or less each way. Here’s the relevant award chart for reference:

When your one-way trip falls within Zone 1 (600 miles or fewer one-way) or Zone 2 (1200 miles or fewer one-way), you’ll generally get a better deal with Qantas than what American would charge for a standard SAAver ticket (YMMV somewhat as American does offer some unannounced specials these days that result in cheaper prices). Remember that a program like British Airways charges separately for each segment.

For example, consider an itinerary like:

Albany, NY (ALB) -> Philadelphia, PA (PHL) -> Chicago, IL (ORD) -> Peoria, IL (PIA)

Let’s say you had to book that for travel next week. Here are some examples of what you could pay for that:

  • British Airways would charge 22,500 Avios + $5.60 if you could find it available (since you would be charged 7,500 Avios per segment at minimum).
  • American Airlines would charge 12,500 miles + $80.60. (Since American charges an additional $75 fee for travel booked within 21 days of departure)
  • Qantas would charge 12,000 points + $5.60 since the cumulative distance of those flights is 1,020 miles.

Note that if you booked ALB -> PHL -> CLT -> PIA (connecting in Charlotte rather than Chicago), your total one-way distance would be 1,268 miles, bumping up the cost to 18,000 Qantas points one-way.

Again, your cumulative one-way distance is what counts. While itineraries requiring 2 connections certainly aren’t the norm for everyone, those who fly between small markets know that these are sometimes the types of itineraries we have to consider — so paying fewer miles and/or saving cash is helpful.

Strength 1: Qantas charges no close-in booking fees

As previously noted, American Airlines charges a fee of $75 for travel booked within 21 days of departure. Qantas doesn’t. Neither do British Airways or Iberia (or many other foreign programs). Often, the best-value uses of miles are for last-minute unplanned travel, so being able to avoid the close-in fee certainly increases the value of the miles used. I’d much rather pay 12K + $5.60 with Qantas that pay an additional 500 miles plus an additional $75 with American.

Strength 2: Qantas charges fewer miles than AA charges on many itineraries under 1,200 miles one-way

Again, whereas the “standard” American Airlines economy class domestic SAAver award costs 12,500 miles one-way, Qantas charges as few as 8,000 miles one-way (for itineraries covering a distance of less than 600 miles each way). Again, American has been toying with variable SAAver pricing for a while now, so there are times when you’ll find even better mileage deals with AA — like Philadelphia to Los Angeles for just 5,000 miles one-way.

However, I haven’t seen many deals like that when originating in small markets apart from lower pricing on short nonstop flights. You’ll of course need to shop around and compare, but there are plenty of instances where Qantas’s 8K / 12K pricing will beat out what AA is charging — and that’s without considering occasional transfer bonuses from Citi (since expired).

Strength 3: Complex itineraries you can’t find on British Airways / Iberia

The example itinerary noted above from Albany, NY to Peoria, Illinois (via connections in Philadelphia and Chicago) is an actual itinerary I searched and found through Qantas.com. I could not find the same itinerary on the same date through searches at British Airways or Iberia. I’ve run into a number of instances lately where Qantas shows options with longer layovers and/or more connections that I do not see in searches through British Airways or Iberia.

Furthermore, Qantas can be useful for more complex itineraries such as open-jaw trips. For example, let’s say that I needed to book the itinerary shown above to get from Albany, NY to Peoria, IL:

Albany, NY (ALB) -> Philadelphia, PA (PHL) -> Chicago, IL (ORD) -> Peoria, IL (PIA)

However, let’s say that I need to book my return flight to Syracuse rather than Albany. While Iberia requires round trip travel (starting and ending at the same airport) and British Airways lacks a multi-city tool for Avios bookings (to my knowledge), Qantas would allow that itinerary via its multi-city tool:

Since the cumulative mileage flown is under 1,200 miles each way, that itinerary would price at 12,000 Qantas points each way (24K total round trip plus $11.20). While that is only a savings of 1,000 miles over American Airlines (which would charge 25K round trip), it would also represent a savings of $75 for travel booked within 21 days of departure. The same itinerary would not be possible through Iberia since the starting airport (Albany) is not the same as the ending airport (Syracuse). If I could book those flights as separate one-ways through British Airways, they would cost 22,500 Avios each way since British Airways would price it by segment. Qantas represents the best value in that type of situation.

Again, that’s also helpful for overnight / long layover itineraries. For instance, Qantas shows many available options from White Plains, NY to Myrtle Beach, SC on Friday April, 26th — some of which have long daytime or overnight layovers:

Meanwhile, British Airways shows no availability on the same date:

While British Airways is known to sometimes have issues showing available American Airlines award space, I’ve been completely unable to find award space with long/overnight layovers via Iberia. Qantas consistently returns those bookable results.

Strength 4: Qantas awards can be changed / canceled

It ain’t cheap, but you can change or cancel a Qantas award. It’ll cost 5K Qantas points to change or 6K to cancel. That’s ridiculously expensive for cheap AA awards costing only 8K or 12K Qantas points each way. It further looks terrible in comparison to the American Airlines policy allowing free date/time changes as long as the origin and destination stay the same or the British Airways policy of forfeiting the taxes in order to get a redeposit of Avios.

However, the Qantas cancellation fee beats Iberia’s policy of no changes or cancellations of most partner awards (including flights booked with American Airlines). And in the case of multi-segment journeys that are prohibitively expensive through British Airways and/or can not be booked via their online tool, I guess I’d rather pay Qantas’s 6K cancellation fee over American’s $150 redeposit fee or being forced to lose my miles altogether as would be the case with Iberia.

Strength 5: Book a lap infant online…for free

If you try to book a lap infant on a British Airways award, the online tool will charge you 10% of the Avios required for an adult ticket. While that can be a great deal for international travel, it isn’t a deal at all on domestic US itineraries, where lap infants are allowed free of charge on American Airlines (and other major US airlines). In the past, I’ve simply booked the adult fares through British Airways and then added the lap infant at the airport with an American Airlines check-in agent.

However, Qantas allows you to book the lap infant online for free on a domestic US itinerary.

That may not seem like a big deal, but I recently got push-back from Delta when trying to add a lap infant to a domestic US flight booked with Virgin Atlantic miles (Delta told me I needed to contact Virgin Atlantic). A check-in agent was eventually able to get the lap infant added, but when I recently booked with Qantas for travel on American, the process was much more seamless since I added him at booking.

Strength 6: Add your AAdvantage number right in the booking process

A final huge advantage of Qantas bookings is that Qantas will allow you to remove your Qantas frequent flyer number and add your American Airlines number during the booking process.

This is in contrast to British Airways, which does not allow you to change the FF# of the primary traveler. Furthermore, American Airlines now refuses to change the frequent flyer account number on a flight booked with partner miles.

The aadvantage here is that American Airlines credit card holders can get their free bag and priority boarding when adding their AAdvantage number to the reservation or AAdvantage elite members can access preferred seating, etc. Whereas I could save on the $75 close-in booking fee when booking via British Airways Avios, I’d lose out on a checked bag fee since American wouldn’t let me add my AAdvantage number. With Qantas, I can save $75 on the close-in fee and get my free checked bag.

But the one huge disadvantage: transfer times

All the positive that there may be going for Qantas, one huge disadvantage is that transfer times are not instant. In fact, I recently made a transfer to Qantas from Citi ThankYou points and the process took 3 or 4 days. That feels like an eternity in a day and age where most transfers to airline programs are instant (and especially since Qantas points are most useful for close-in travel, where 3 or 4 days of waiting could mean losing availability while you wait). I am in fact traveling on an American Airlines itinerary today that I’d have rather booked via Qantas as it is a trip booked literally at the last minute (for a funeral, unfortunately). I ended up having to pay the $75 close-in ticketing fee with American as my itinerary includes 2 connections each way (which would cost too many British Airways Avios), needed to be open-jaw (so I couldn’t use Iberia Avios) and I had to book it last night for travel today — not enough lead time to transfer to Qantas. That’s unfortunate. It means I almost need to be willing to accept a speculative transfer to Qantas since it’s hard to know that availability will stick around long enough to wait for a transfer and/or I don’t have the time to wait in a situation like this.

Bottom line

Those who mostly book nonstop award travel between major cities may not find Qantas to be the most useful program for booking AA awards. However, those who have to book award travel between small markets that require short connections may find good value in Qantas awards. For those shorter itineraries requiring a connection or two, you avoid the close-in booking fee and get both cumulative distance based pricing (like with Iberia) combined with some measure of flexibility (not losing all your points if you need to cancel) and the ability to add your AAdvantage number at booking (saving you on checked baggage fees and/or availing you of elite benefits). The key disadvantage is the slow transfer time, making Qantas awards nearly useless for truly last-minute travel unless you’re willing to transfer speculatively. While I generally don’t like the idea of speculative transfers, I’ll probably make one the next time Citi offers a transfer bonus. Living in a small market, I should expect the unexpected and be prepared to take advantage of booking American Airlines travel with Qantas points in the future.

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