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How good a deal are Qantas economy reward seats now?

Here at The High Life we mostly focus on using points to fly at the ‘pointy’ end of the plane, and for good reason: it’s how you get the most ‘bang’ for your points ‘buck’, plus it’s obviously a much more fun way to travel than economy!

Still, we do know that lots of readers use points to fly economy, and that’s fine of course. For many people, points are the gateway to travelling more often, and if that means landing somewhere with a slightly numb bum, so be it!

If you’re an economy traveller, you’ve probably heard the good news that Qantas has reduced the cost of reward seats. You now need 10% fewer points on most routes, and the associated taxes and fees have been slashed by up to several hundred dollars.

For example, a return economy flight from Melbourne to Los Angeles with Qantas now costs 83,800 points plus $393, down from 90,000 points plus $513. That’s a saving of 6,200 points and $120.

Great news, right? Shall we book??

Well, it depends.

Let’s stay with this Melbourne-Los Angeles example. You can often buy an airfare on this route during a sale for $1,000 or less. In fact, there’s a sale on right now with fares priced at $949. This booking will also earn at least 9,000 points and 90 status credits.

So what’s the better choice, spending 84k points + $393 on a reward seat, or $949 for a paid fare that comes with 9k points and status credits?

You can flip this equation another way: is saving $556 in cash with the reward booking ($949 – $353) worth the cost of the 93k points (84k for the booking + 9k forfeited)?

You’re getting around 0.6 cents of value per point here ($556/93,000). That may sound like a good deal to you, but it pays to compare your options.

It’s certainly better value than using the points for gift vouchers (there the value is as low as 0.5 cents per point). However, you’d get more than 2 cents of value per point by booking a reward seat in a premium cabin or getting an upgrade.

But assuming you really want to travel and are happy to stay in economy, you should also consider the option of “paying” for a cash fare using points. This is different to booking a reward seat, which has limited availability. Rather, in using points this way, you can purchase any published fare on Qantas’ site using points, where the points will be converted to dollars at a fixed rate.

For example, the $949 Melbourne-LA airfare above can be purchased with 141k points. You’ll also earn 9k points with the booking, so the actual cost is 132k points. That means you’d get around 0.72 cents of value per point ($949/132000), which is 20% better than with the reward booking.

Of course, if you value status credits (which you’d earn on the ‘pay with points’ option but not a reward booking) it skews the value even further.

Another way to reduce travel costs with points is to use them for a hotel booking, either by ‘paying with points’ or by getting a “classic hotel reward”. The latter will be better value, but availability is more limited.

Again, you’ll need to crunch the numbers to see what best works for you. One classic hotel reward I looked at earlier came in at around 0.8 cents of value per point.

Here’s what that means in real dollar terms. If you have 150,000 points to spend, you could cover as much as $1,200 of hotel costs. If you were to use the points to ‘pay’ for an airfare, you’d get about $1080 worth, whereas with an economy flight reward, you may only get $900 of value.

It really does pay to compare your options.

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