Qantas Points Plane: How Quickly Did Seats Sell? – One Mile at a Time

Airlines are increasingly looking for ways to engage with loyalty program members in non-traditional ways. This week Qantas announced their first ever “points plane,” where they’d fly an A380 from Melbourne to Tokyo on October 21, 2019, and would exclusively make seats available using points.

While this seems like a great way to engage people in general, it’s worth noting that they had an ulterior motive. The whole reason for this flight is that Qantas has a charter customer for the Tokyo to Melbourne flight shortly thereafter, so chances are that they would have otherwise flown the plane empty, or if they had sold it, wouldn’t have been able to maximize the potential of the flight.

Chances are that the charter customer is incurring the cost for both directions here.

My prediction for the Qantas “points plane”

Well, seats for the Qantas “points plane” went on sale Thursday morning (7AM AEST), and even though I had no plans to take this flight, I was curious to see how quickly seats would sell. I predicted that seats in first class would sell out within seconds, while seats in economy would be readily available.

Some readers disagreed with me, and raised good points. For example, one reader said the following (much of which I agree with):

Not sure I agree with you that the premium seats will sell out “in seconds”. Even if a Qantas loyalty member is eager to experience business or first class, why would they prefer this flight in particular:

  • They would have no flexibility around travel dates and destination
  • They would need to find return flight as well, which may not be available for redemption and expensive if booked as a cash one-way ticket
  • They don’t get any discount versus the miles needed for a standard “classic award”
  • They would have to fork out to cover the substantial carrier charges

How quickly did Qantas’ “points plane” sell out?

So, how quickly did seats sell on Qantas’ points plane?

  • First class sold out basically instantly
  • Business class sold out within minutes
  • Premium economy sold out within a day
  • Economy continues to be readily available

Not that a seatmap is ever a fully accurate indicator of availability, though it often does give you a sense of how full a flight is, especially given that all passengers can assign seats for free, given that there are no group bookings, and given that those engaged in the loyalty program are also more likely to select seats.

Here’s the economy seatmap as of now:

Doing some rough math

Like I said, I suspect Qantas’ charter customer from Tokyo to Australia is more or less covering the cost of the roundtrip flight (since positioning expenses are usually factored into charters).

I still think it’s interesting to look at how many Qantas points and how much in taxes, fees, and “carrier imposed surcharges” Qantas is potentially getting from a flight booked entirely with points:

  • 14 first class seats are bookable for 108,000 Qantas points plus 272AUD in taxes, fees, and carrier imposed surcharges
  • 64 business class seats are bookable for 72,000 Qantas points plus 272AUD in taxes, fees, and carrier imposed surcharges
  • 35 premium economy seats are bookable for 54,000 Qantas points plus 257AUD in taxes, fees, and carrier imposed surcharges
  • 371 economy seats are bookable for 35,000 Qantas points plus 182AUD in taxes, fees, and carrier imposed surcharges

That means if the flight were to sell out, Qantas would be looking at collecting:

  • 20,995,000 Qantas points
  • 97,733AUD in taxes, fees, and carrier imposed surcharges

Let’s assume that each Qantas point is worth about a penny (in USD), which is definitely on the high side. If so, we’d be talking about ~210K USD in points, plus ~67K USD in taxes, fees, and carrier imposed surcharges, for a total of ~277K USD in “value” from this flight.

Again, I think that’s way too aggressive — I doubt all economy seats will sell out, and I also doubt they’re accounting for the value of their points that highly. But just doing some general rough math here is interesting, in my opinion.

Are you surprised by the way in which the “points plane” has been booked? 

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