Late last month, significant changes were unveiled for the Qantas Frequent Flyer program. At the same time, Qantas announced a range of upcoming improvements to its website.
On the face of it, these website changes are aimed at making it easier for travellers to use and redeem points. Qantas states that the objective is to enable consumers to search, book and manage future flights and hotels with greater ease.
However, I can't help but notice that the Qantas website has been displaying several new features that arguably have a different aim in mind. Namely, Qantas seems to be using tactics to encourage consumers to part with their hard-earned Qantas Points at very low value.
The first issue? Qantas desktop website flight searches appear to be defaulting to a ‘Points Plus Pay' view.
Upon logging in to the Qantas website to book flights, it's possible to select one of two options for a flight search – ‘Use money, points or both’ or simply ‘Book with points'.
When opting to book with money, the Qantas website used to automatically display the cash price of fares, with classic award flight pricing shown to the right.
However, for the past few months, whenever I personally search for cash fares, the Qantas website defaults to displaying the ‘Use points' option first – with the high priced Points Plus Pay options prominently displayed in the first three columns.
‘Points Plus Pay' allows Qantas Frequent Flyer members to convert points into cash value as payment for the cost of a flight.
To demonstrate this, here's what displays when I search an Adelaide to Sydney flight with the ‘Use cash, points or both' option ticked:
And here is the display for the ‘Use cash' option on the same date, which I need to manually toggle to in order to access it. As can be seen, Qantas is inviting me to use 31,200 points for a seat I could outright pay $208 for:
But it doesn't stop there.
Once I've managed to select my $208 Red e-Deal flight and checked ‘continue' to pay for my purchase, I'm helpfully provided with a message from Qantas, suggesting that I might like to upgrade my red e-Deal flight to business class using cash or Points Plus Pay. This message appears on both the desktop website and mobile app.
The price for an upgrade to one hour of business class on the 737? A payment of $717 cash – or an eye-watering 108,231 Qantas points.
Interestingly, there is no mention on the pop up of Classic Reward availability, despite my chosen flight clearly showing a 24,000 Qantas point Business Classic Reward seat at the previous screen.
Most travellers would agree that forking out a six-figure Qantas points sum to upgrade to a one hour domestic 737 business class flight represents very poor value. This is particularly the case where a cheaper Classic Reward seat is readily available for that same flight.
And, when we compare the cash cost against the points cost for the upgrade scenario above, Qantas Frequent Flyer members are being offered just 0.66 of a cent in value for each Qantas Point to upgrade to the business cabin.
Clearly, some consumers will appreciate the convenient nature of Points Plus Pay (it can be used for any flight, and Qantas status credits are earned). However, there are usually much better ways to maximise value from Qantas points.
As an example, until 15 September, a one way Qantas international business class reward flight from selected Australian cities to the USA costs just 96,000 points (excl carrier fees) – arguably providing much greater value.
While most of us are likely to be savvy enough to complete their intended purchase without resorting to a Points Plus Pay options, Qantas may be banking on the fact that less experienced Qantas Frequent Flyers will fall into temptation.
Have you spotted these new ‘features' on the Qantas website?
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