What is a reward seat and how does it work?

Air New Zealand airplane on tarmac
GUIDE: Using Points
DIFFICULTY: Easy
TIME TO READ: 7 minutes
POSTED: May 22, 2019
UPDATED: July 18, 2019
LOYALTY PROGRAMS: Relevant to Multiple Programs

In theory, reward seats sound great, allowing you to redeem flights with an airline using your frequent flyer points and only a small cash payment, if any at all. However, due to reward seat availability being limited in number, booking a reward seat can often be easier said than done. This guide takes a look at the various types of reward seats that are offered by the Air New Zealand Airpoints, Qantas Frequent Flyer and Virgin Australia’s Velocity Frequent Flyer programmes.

There are multiple ways to find reward seats, each with their advantages and disadvantages. Most often, it is best to search for reward seats using the airline program you want to redeem your points with, as they should have the most reliable information. For example, if you want to redeem Qantas Points, search with Qantas. However, in some cases partner airlines or third-party search engines can be useful.

Air New Zealand

There are four redemptions options available to Airpoints members:

  • ‘Any seat’ Awards
  • Partner Awards
  • Discounted Business Award fares
  • Companion Awards

We summarise what these are below.

‘Any seat’ Awards

Air New Zealand allow all their seats to be booked as an award. It is simple to understand – one Airpoints Dollar is equal to one New Zealand Dollar when redeemed for these ‘any seat’ awards.

In practical terms, this means:

  • For Air New Zealand Domestic flights, whatever the cost of the flight, that is how many Airpoints Dollars you will need to make a redemption
  • For Air New Zealand International flights, whatever the cost of the flight less taxes, that is how many Airpoints Dollars you will need to make a redemption. Taxes will be paid separate with cash
Air New Zealand Any Seat Example

A seat on this flight from Auckland to Wellington costs $89, or 89 Airpoints Dollars

Simply sign in to your online account with your Airpoints details before or while you are booking your flight and select to pay with Airpoints Dollars at the payment stage.

Other flights that can be redeemed in this way include:

  • United Airlines operated flights between Auckland and San Francisco
  • Air China operated flights between Auckland and Beijing
  • Cathay Pacific operated flights between Auckland or Christchurch and Hong Kong
  • Qantas operated domestic Australia flights purchased in conjunction with an Air New Zealand international flight

If you are short on the number of Airpoints Dollars required for the award, you can either use Airpoints Flexipay, or top-up using your Air New Zealand Airpoints credit card (the latter is my preferred option).

Partner Awards

You can use your Airpoints Dollars on a range of flights with Star Alliance partners and other Air New Zealand partner airlines.

Some of these redemptions can be great value- for example, flights in Japan with ANA, or short-haul Business Class.

Airpoints members based in New Zealand can book partner reward flights on Star Alliance partners through their online web portal.

Air New Zealand Star Alliance Partners

There will be limited availability of Partner Awards seats available on each flight, and some flights have no seats available. You will also not earn Airpoints Dollars or status points on these bookings, but will be subject to taxes, fees and carrier charges.

Air New Zealand Star Alliance Partners

Partner Award availability will be shown for the day that you search for

Air New Zealand Star Alliance Partners

If there is no availability, use the vertical calendar search to jump to other days. If the day is clickable, awards are available for that day, but you will not know which class until you click through

Air New Zealand Star Alliance Partners

Once you select a flight, the number of Airpoints Dollars and taxes payable will display

For reward flights on other partners (e.g. Virgin Atlantic and Etihad), you will need to call the Airpoints contact centre at 0800 247 764.

To work out how many Airpoints Dollars you need for your Partner Award redemption, check out the Partner Award Chart, and confirm segment distance using Gcmap.com

Discounted Business Award Fares

One-way discounted business award fares are available on Air New Zealand on selected routes:

  • Auckland-Honolulu: 1,830 APD
  • Auckland-Tahiti: 710 APD
  • Auckland-Asia: 1,980 APD
  • Auckland-North America: 2,790 APD
  • Auckland-London: 3,190 APD

These fares are available to Elite, Gold, Silver and Koru members only.

If you are starting your journey from outside Auckland, an additional fee of 75 Airpoints Dollars will apply. If a flight to Auckland can be had for less than $75 (or 75 APD) it may be worth simply paying for this separately to save (in part) on the fee.

Note that these award tickets are limited in availability. Air New Zealand do not publicly advertise what class these seats fall under, but presumably if a standard award appears on any of these routes via a search on the United MileagePlus award search platform, then it will be bookable with Air New Zealand as a discounted award.

The fares shown also exclude all applicable taxes, levies and surcharges, which must be paid for in cash.

Unlike partner awards, these rates are for the route, not per segment. This means that 3,190 APD is the total cost to fly from Auckland to Los Angeles, and then onwards to London with Air New Zealand. Though as an aside, if you booked a partner award on this route with only two segments, it would still only come to 3,200 APD in Business Class, and would open up the opportunity to fly with partner airlines like Air China, United, Air Canada, or Thai Airways.

Call the Airpoints contact centre at 0800 247 764 to check for availability and/or make a booking.

Companion Awards

These awards are tricky to navigate— in short, if you have purchased a fully flexible Tasman, Island or long-haul Business Class fare, then you could then book a seat for a companion at a cheaper cost than buying them a fare outright.

Economy and Premium Economy companion fares are also available on select routes.

Unlike Discounted Business Award Fares, companion awards are available to all Airpoints members.

In most cases, a partner redemption will offer better value. However if you already find yourself with a flexible fare—say you are travelling for work—and you decide that you’d like your friend, husband, or wife to come along as well, then these companion fares can be a cheaper option of securing said seat, than booking it outright.

Key things to know:

  • Companion tickets are only available on Air New Zealand ticketed and operated international flights
  • Companion tickets are not available in conjunction with Smart Sale, Smart Saver or Global Saver Max fares, Airpoints award tickets, travel industry fares, prize/promotion tickets and upgrades or Seat Only or Seat + Bag products
  • Companion fares are for the entire one-way route, not per segment
  • All long haul companion ticket prices are exclusive of a NZD $60 / 60 APD service fee (per one-way journey)
  • Short haul companion ticket prices are exclusive of a NZD $35 / 35 APD service fee (per one-way journey)
  • The fares shown exclude all applicable taxes, levies and surcharges. Taxes, levies and surcharges must be paid for with cash, not Airpoints Dollars

Qantas

There are three ways to book flights with Qantas Points, ‘Classic Flight Awards’ and ‘Points Plus Pay’ and ‘Any Seat Award’. Points Plus Pay can be thought of as a hybrid between an Any Seat Award and paying for the fare fully by cash.

A summary of the Classic Flight Award and Any Seat Award can be found here.

Classic Flight Rewards

Classic Flight Rewards require a set number of points per flight, based on the distance of travel. They are available with Qantas and Jetstar as well as their partners shown below.

Qantas Partners

To book a Classic Flight Reward, simply log in to your frequent flyer account and select ‘Use points’ on the booking window.

Qantas Award Redemption Booking

Remember, there is limited availability of Classic Flight Rewards seats available on each flight, and some flights have no seats available. You will also not earn Qantas Points or status credits on Classic Flight Rewards, but will be subject to taxes, fees and carrier charges.

Booking Qantas Award Seat

Classic Flight Reward availability will be shown over a month

Booking Qantas Award Seat

After selecting a date available flights are shown on the next page

Qantas Classic Award Seat Redemption

Once flights are selected, you should be able to see the points required

You can calculate the number of points you need for your Classic Flight Rewards redemption using Qantas’ own Points Calculator.

Points Plus Pay

Points Plus Pay is available on Qantas, Jetstar and some of their partner airlines. Points Plus Pay requires you to have a minimum of 5,000 points for Qantas flights or 3,500 for Jetstar flights.

‘Points Plus Pay’ sits as a hybrid between an ‘Any Seat Award’ and paying for the fare fully by cash in that you can book any available seat using all points (that is, an ‘Any Seat Award’), or a combination of points and cash. You will earn Qantas Points and status credits just as if you had paid for your ticket with cash.

The Points Plus Pay window is shown after you have selected flights and have proceeded to the next page.

Although easier to book, Points Plus Pay does not often provide good value for money, and where possible, look to redeem for a Classic Flight Reward or purchase a fare by cash and save those points for a later redemption.

Any Seat Award

‘Any Seat Awards’ are award seats made available so long as there is seat available for purchase on your desired flight. To book an ‘any seat award’, you will need to use the ‘Points Plus Pay’ function and move the slider to set the co-cash payment to zero.

The points pricing for these seats are based on the cash fare of the seat and generally estimated to be 0.7c per point. For example, return Business class flights that retail for $3,366 were priced at 481,000 points for an any seat award with no cash co-payment.

Qantas Any Seat Award Points plus Pay booking

While the availability of ‘any seat awards’ is fantastic, it too does not represent good value and for most people, the points required for these types of awards is in excess of most’s people balances, especially for long-haul premium cabins.

Virgin Australia

There are two ways to book flights with Velocity points, ‘Velocity Reward Seats’ and ‘Any Seat’. Both are available for flights on Virgin Australia and their partner airlines including Air Canada, Delta, Etihad Airways, Hawaiian Airlines, Hong Kong Airlines and Singapore Airlines (though the latter only on a VA codeshare, or in conjunction with a Virgin Australia flight).

Velocity Reward Seats

Velocity Reward Seats rewards require a set number of points per flight, based on the distance travelled. There is a limited amount of Velocity Reward Seats available on each flight, and some flights have no seats available. You will not earn Velocity points or status credits for flying, and in addition to the required points, taxes, fees and carrier charges are payable.

To book Velocity Reward Seats simply select ‘Use Points + Pay” on the booking window.

Any Seat

Like Qantas, Any Seat is easier to book as it is always available (as long as the flight is not sold out). If you are looking to book a specific flight or you can’t find Velocity Reward Seats you may choose to book Any Seat, however it will cost considerably more points. For example, the flight below costs 51,100 more points to book Any Seat as opposed to a Velocity Reward Seat. You are able to pay entirely with points, or with a mix of points and cash (minimum 2,500 points) and you will earn Velocity points and status credits just as if you had paid for your ticket with cash.

Again, although easier to book, Any Seat does not often give good value for money. We suggest trying to book velocity reward seats if possible.

Velocity Award Booking

Velocity Reward Seat and Any Seat are shown on flights page

Summing Up

Searching for award seats can be a time-intensive and sometimes confusing process given the different award seat types. Knowing these different types will help to ensure that you are searching for award seats that meet your needs and frequent flyer points balance. If you’re looking for the more restrictive ‘Classic award seats’, it does sometimes take patience and flexibility in terms of dates and flight routes but in the end, it is often one of the best uses of frequent flyer points.

What is a reward seat and how does it work? was last modified: July 18th, 2019 by Daniel Kinnoch