I’m often asked about award space on Qantas between the US and Australia. They’re one of only two airlines offering a first class product between the US and Australia, and there’s no doubt their product is heaps better than United’s. But is finding award space on them in first class downright impossible?

I just did a quick little test and searched award space on them in first class between Los Angeles and Sydney/Melbourne, which are their two A380 routes to the US. Here are the dates I found available (and only two of those dates had two first class seats):

Los Angeles to Melbourne: August 13, March 4
Los Angeles to Sydney: none

Melbourne to Los Angeles: none
Sydney to Los Angeles: February 19, March 11, March 12, March 18, March 19, March 27

So is first class award availability on Qantas a myth? There’s no doubt it’s really, really difficult to come across, but I’d go with no, based on the above.

There are a few things to understand about how they release award space, which make them quite different than other carriers. First of all, unlike many other carriers they won’t release award space close to departure just because their cabins are empty. Many carriers, like Cathay Pacific and Lufthansa, release almost all their first class seats close to departure. Not Qantas. For example, take a look at tonight’s Los Angeles to Sydney flight:

Even though it has at least nine first class seats left for sale, there’s no award space. The same goes for the flight on Monday, which also has at least nine first class seats left for sale:

So unlike with other carriers there’s no hope in “holding out” and hoping they release more space.

Does that mean it’s impossible to find award space less than 11 months out (and we’ll get into actually finding award space 11 months out in a moment). In my experience, no. If somebody cancels an award seat with them it always goes back into award inventory, in my experience. This means that if somebody snagged an elusive first class award seat and decides to cancel closer to departure, I find that the seat goes back into award inventory, even if other factors have changed (unlike other airlines, where that often doesn’t happen, especially if there’s a long period between when you book and when you cancel). And that’s the reason it’s probably worth monitoring for availability almost up until the departure date, because if someone cancels an award, that seat will more than likely go back into inventory.

But how do you snag seats when the window opens? Are they in reality releasing first class award seats a year out, and people are just snagging them at midnight the night they become available? The short answer is no. They’re not releasing first class award space on a majority of their flights, though when they do, they’re almost always snagged within hours of being released.

But if you’re redeeming American miles you’re at a bit of a disadvantage to begin with. American only has access to Qantas award space ~331 days out, while members of other programs, like British Airways and Qantas, get access to space earlier.

For example, Qantas has already released award space for two between Los Angeles and Melbourne on April 7, 2014 (as shown below on both the British Airways website and ExpertFlyer), though it’ll be over a week before AAdvantage members can snag that space.

The problem is that it’s a lot more expensive to book through British Airways or Qantas than through American. For example, a one-way first class award between Los Angeles and Melbourne would cost you 72,500 AAdvantage miles plus $2.50, while the same award would cost you 150,000 British Airways Avios plus $430.50 in taxes/fuel surcharges.

So if you do have hopes of snagging Qantas first class using American miles the key is to start looking more than 331 days out. Use ExpertFlyer, the Qantas website, or the British Airways website to look at availability. If you find it, cross your fingers and hope that members of other programs don’t snag it. Then exactly 331 days out be there the minute the space is released to American. I don’t know at what time that is, but refresh your screen every five minutes that day if you have to. I’ve found this to be just about the only award in the world where it’s crucial to book the second it becomes available.

And if all else fails, keep in mind that ExpertFlyer will let you set availability alerts for Qantas first class award space, if you want to hold out hope…

  1. May 2nd, 2013 at 2:50 pm

    Duncan said,

    I think you answered your own question apart from UA that’s only 24 seats in F per day. Most of those shown will be upgrades as that’s the way they do it. Being Platinum + makes a big difference they will release seats upon request but any lower status good luck hehehehe!

  2. May 2nd, 2013 at 2:53 pm

    Duncan said,

    Also look at their points plus pay system this will often get you a seat even if the amount you pay is the fees and charges plus you earn mileage and status for your flight.

  3. May 2nd, 2013 at 2:55 pm

    AC said,

    We were able to book 2 QA First from MLE to LAX 6 months out..by booking at Thanksgiving day since no one wants to travel on that day!

  4. May 2nd, 2013 at 3:02 pm

    Paul said,

    Since I’m a United guy (and truly hate American Airlines), what are the Star Alliance options for flights to Sydney?

  5. May 2nd, 2013 at 3:03 pm

    Gene said,

    Nice. Good to have BA Gold and lots of AA miles. ;)

  6. May 2nd, 2013 at 3:04 pm

    lucky said,

    @ Gene — Hah… ;)

  7. May 2nd, 2013 at 3:05 pm

    lucky said,

    @ Paul — Sadly United is the only nonstop option. The alternative is to route through Asia either on Thai or Asiana. If you don’t mind taking the scenic route it’s not a bad way to go.

  8. May 2nd, 2013 at 3:07 pm

    Lantean said,

    @Duncan

    but you’d need Qantas points for that, no? Is there an easy way to earn those?
    thank you.

  9. May 2nd, 2013 at 3:09 pm

    Joey said,

    @Lucky, does Air New Zealand have a first class product?

  10. May 2nd, 2013 at 3:10 pm

    Jorge said,

    How is the business class availability? That would a very good option and seems like it is a very solid product.

  11. May 2nd, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    Amol (@PointsToPointB) said,

    So if awards return to inventory, just book with BA Avios when they show up, then cancel at 330 days and book with AAdvantage? Just pay the $40 cancellation fee

  12. May 2nd, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    lucky said,

    @ Joey — They don’t, and they virtually never release business class award space out of the US. They have better business award space out of their Asian gateways, especially Shanghai, Osaka, and Tokyo.

  13. May 2nd, 2013 at 3:12 pm

    lucky said,

    @ Jorge — Not very good. Certainly better than first class, though nowhere even nearly as readily available as Virgin Australia, for example. Business class award space tends to be best between Dallas and Sydney as well as Los Angeles and Brisbane.

  14. May 2nd, 2013 at 3:13 pm

    lucky said,

    @ Amol — If you have enough Avios sitting around that’s certainly an option…

  15. May 2nd, 2013 at 3:14 pm

    mike said,

    You can book it on brithish airways and when it becomes less than 331 days cancel on ba and it will become avalible and then book it on american airlines

  16. May 2nd, 2013 at 3:29 pm

    eponymous_coward said,

    Doesn’t AS have availability as soon as QF loads?

    (I dimly recall them letting folks book the LAX-Australia segments and add USA-LAX segments later.)

  17. May 2nd, 2013 at 3:32 pm

    Bob said,

    Excellent use of the Aussie-ism “heaps” when describing these Australian flights.

  18. May 2nd, 2013 at 3:48 pm

    Mike Smith said,

    I don’t know why anyone would want to fly Qantas FC. Their hard product is good, their soft product ex-Australia very, very sub-par in FC. Feels like you’re flying United BC, including galleys that shut down for hours during the flight (in FC!!).

    Ugh.

  19. May 2nd, 2013 at 3:56 pm

    lucky said,

    @ Mike Smith — Interesting, as my experience with them was top notch. The hard product was amazing and bedding the most comfortable in the sky. I thought the food was excellent as well — not as “refined” as other airlines perhaps, though I’ll take their signature steak sandwich over caviar any day. And I also found the service to be quite good.

  20. May 2nd, 2013 at 4:24 pm

    gba said,

    Don’t forget about Alaska! They will let you book qantas 365 days out iirc

  21. May 2nd, 2013 at 4:26 pm

    frequent churner said,

    Stock up on Alaskan miles, folks. They have access to the seats with no delay.

  22. May 2nd, 2013 at 4:34 pm

    Andrew said,

    We managed to book MEL – LHR – JFK – LAX – MEL all in F (except JFK/LAX in J) on QF & BA sector by sector 11 months out. Lots of change fees but I had budgetted them in…

  23. May 2nd, 2013 at 5:00 pm

    Mrtudball said,

    I was able to get QF F LAX-SYD RT A380 at 350 days out using AS Mileage Plan. That was two years ago, when availability was better. AS will allow you to book outgoing when the window opens, and add the return when that opens. Pretty hard to find now, but it does sometimes appear.

  24. May 2nd, 2013 at 6:53 pm

    Lil Cheney said,

    We were able to get two QF first seats for May ( just returned on Wed. With them) by booking on AA site over New Year’s week. So less than five months out. Seats were nice but CX first class is still better!

  25. May 2nd, 2013 at 7:50 pm

    LisaJ said,

    I’m heading Down Under in August, heading over the Pacific from LA to Sydney in Qantas business class. I’ve been checking the return to see if I could extend a day or so and just saw a first-class seat available on the A380 on August 5. It doesn’t do me any good, but at least it exists. I originally had booked my departure from Melbourne and actually had snagged a first-class Airbus seat. It pained me to give that up, but I needed to leave from Sydney.

  26. May 2nd, 2013 at 7:52 pm

    LisaJ said,

    Oops, correction. The August 5 ticket is the other direction, LAX–>SYD.

  27. May 2nd, 2013 at 10:43 pm

    Simon said,

    2 x F SYD-LAX 4/16/14

  28. May 2nd, 2013 at 10:44 pm

    Simon said,

    I meant 2 x F (P) SYD-LAX 4/16/14

  29. May 2nd, 2013 at 11:53 pm

    Justin said,

    Regarding your comment about LH, it seems that they’re getting stingier–especially on flights with new F. 419, for example, goes out half empty almost every day and rarely opens up for awards. I’ve been watching it like a hawk for a few weeks and only one time when it was F7 the day before departure did they open up 2 F seats for awards. It’s been F7 again since then and not opened up, though, so it’s a little confusing.

  30. May 3rd, 2013 at 1:59 am

    Duncan said,

    @lanteam
    Earning the points is the ready bit as you don’t have to fly to earn them. The Status only comes with flying and QF has the lowest earn for any airline I know of, please correct me if I’m wrong, maybe ANZ?

  31. May 3rd, 2013 at 2:52 am

    Gil said,

    I was lucky (!) enough to nab two F seats last September on the LAX-MEL A380 service on 28th of July. No F seats on AA JFK-LAX on 28th, so flying that leg on the 27th and overnighting at an airport hotel. Any suggestions? Coming back I could find no F award space at all, so flying J on the QF 107 SYD-LAX-JFK.

  32. May 3rd, 2013 at 5:35 am

    Kevin said,

    The past two years I’ve had reasonable luck finding the Australia-US (MEL/SYD-LAX) segments in F about 330 days out, but terrible/no luck finding the US-Australia legs. I’ve been “forced” to get from the US to Australia via Cathay Pacific. Can’t say I’ve minded spending the extra miles for that experience and the extra few hours!

  33. May 3rd, 2013 at 6:57 am

    bobgilbert said,

    @Kevin – What route are you taking with Cathay? Thanks

  34. May 3rd, 2013 at 7:58 am

    Vishal said,

    Great article! Thanks.

  35. May 3rd, 2013 at 10:48 am

    lucky said,

    @ bobgilbert — Can’t speak on behalf of Kevin, though you can book two separate awards if you want — one from the US to Asia and one from Asia to Australia. Cathay Pacific is great about releasing first class award space, in particular between the US and Asia. They release usually two seats per flight between San Francisco and Hong Kong and Chicago and Hong Kong, and space is quite good from their other gateways as well.

  36. May 4th, 2013 at 5:23 pm

    TomTTravel aka ThunderStorm said,

    Yo B,
    When exactly had you taken those screenshots. Feb. 19th was my day for LAX-SYD and I jumped out of bed to go check availability as I had been all last month since I I had been following a FC seat on BA and QF websites for the last two months, but then lost out on the seat due to misinformation by an AA Exec Plat rep, by going to the kitchen for a few minutes.

    I looked immediately after I saw your email and nothing had changed since the day before. Ironically, my return is already ticketed but now waiting for an outbound :(

  37. May 4th, 2013 at 5:32 pm

    TomTTravel aka ThunderStorm said,

    …I meant I jumped out of bed to check as soon as I saw your email come in and saw the screenshot in disbelief…

  38. May 4th, 2013 at 5:37 pm

    lucky said,

    @ ThunderStorm — Hah, I checked availability just before I posted. There was one seat on the 19th at the time.

  39. May 4th, 2013 at 5:46 pm

    TomTTravel aka ThunderStorm said,

    This sucks. I’ve been checking every single day :(

    What time exactly was this on May 2nd?

    I even have ExpertFlyer Pro Availability set-up with -/+3 days and they never even sent me an alert on it.

  40. May 4th, 2013 at 6:55 pm

    lucky said,

    @ ThunderStorm — Don’t remember exactly what time, but some time in the morning. ExpertFlyer only checks periodically, so it could be that it was during a gap.

  41. May 4th, 2013 at 10:25 pm

    David said,

    Hello.

    QF does sometimes release seats on lax-SYD/Mel in F. Seems to be variable by month and day. And not that frequent. Seems to be about 24 hours prior. I picked up an award this way last year.

    Also, on HKG-SYD, at least last year, they were pretty consistent for opening up p seats about 23 hours prior. Seems to be tue wed and thurs though.

  42. May 7th, 2013 at 6:58 pm

    TomTTravel aka ThunderStorm said,

    On a different note, how does one sign up to be your travel companion? :)

  43. May 13th, 2013 at 2:26 am

    The Coolest Thing You Can Do with 130k American Airlines Miles (Soon) or 280k Now | milevalue.com said,

    [...] this would be to start with the hardest segment to find, which would by Qantas First Class by far. There are only a handful of days in the next 11 months with First Class space on a Qantas A380 that are available to AA [...]

  44. May 14th, 2013 at 2:16 pm

    Simon said,

    I just cancelled MEL-LAX 9/11 this year – in F (fare class P). It’s now showing on qantas.com. Hope someone out there has the ability to jump on it!

  45. September 10th, 2013 at 4:06 pm

    TN said,

    Total luck of the draw. Found LAX SYD today in F A380 using AA miles 72,500. Trip is in 2 weeks and it’s the day I wanted to travel anyway. I suppose I need to play powerball now.

  46. September 10th, 2013 at 4:23 pm

    lucky said,

    @ TN — Lucky indeed. Congrats!

  47. September 19th, 2013 at 6:37 pm

    mangoceviche said,

    My friend was able to snag 2 seats in F and 2 seats in J from mel to lax for next summer. She’s redeeming miles from 2 AA accts so she’s putting herself and child1 on 1 reservation and her hubby and child2 on the other. the two kids (very well behaved 9 and 11 year olds) want to sit together in the upper deck. Are they allowed to sit separate from their parents?

  48. September 19th, 2013 at 9:41 pm

    lucky said,

    @ mangoceviche — I don’t think there’s a rule against that, so that’s probably fine.

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