While most people fret about whether cheap economy flights will still exist in a post-pandemic era, the world’s Pointy End Enthusiasts have their lumbars firmly in the present: as airlines cut non-essential services and brace for the new (commercial) normal, a small group of business class travellers are booking despicably cheap flights to Europe.
Case in point: Immanuel Debeer, prolific points hacker and founder of Flight Hacks, who first alerted our attention to the perverse opportunities now dotting the skies.
“The best deals can be had from Asia to Europe, Europe to Australia and New Zealand and USA to Europe or Asia,” Immanuel recently wrote on his Instagram story.
Based in Perth, Immanuel was perfectly positioned to make the most of this offer, which consisted of a super cheap, AU$741 (return) flight from Colombo (Sri Lanka) to Muscat (Oman), which he apparently booked for August this year.
Made possible by Qatar Airways’ flexible new booking policies (you can now make unlimited changes with no fees or the need to pay a fare difference on or before December 31, 2020) and 5,000-mile radius rule (which enables you to change your destination city free of charge as long as it’s within 5,000 miles from the original destination), this is how savvy fliers can fly to places like Europe return, in business class, for (relative) peanuts.
First things first: you’re not really going to Muscat. As Immanuel writes on his website, “Once you have your ticket booked, you will need to call Qatar Airways and request for your destination to be changed from Muscat to whatever European city you had in mind. This is possible since they are all within the 5,000-mile radius from Muscat.”
Of course, before doing this, you need the cash (or points) to get to Colombo from where you are right now (which may prove trickier for Australians and Americans than those who live in Asia). Once you’re there though, Europe beckons.
While the aforementioned $741 Colombo to Muscat deal is not available anymore (when we searched for it this morning, we were met with the rather rude price of AU$6,752), Immanuel reckons there will be “plenty” more like it.
“Play around with ranges on Great Circle Mapper and see if you can uncover some deals routes. The key is to find original routes that are cheap to fly in premium classes; once you have those, you can figure out the options based on the original destination.”
“No doubt we’ll see more deals as sales fares are released. Lots of airlines are following suit with flexibil tickets and destination changes but I haven’t seen anything as generous as the 5k miles radius rule from Qatar Airways,” Immanuel told DMARGE via email.
Our two favourite examples? One passenger allegedly booked Philadelphia to Kiev via Doha, and – thanks to the 5,000-mile radius rule – rebooked to Chicago O’Hare (ORD) to Hong Kong (HKG) via Doha.
Another apparently turned a short fifth-freedom route into a flight from East Asia to New Zealand.
All this said, on FlyerTalk, a prominent frequent flyer forum, users have written about mixed results. As The Points Guy reports, “Many users have reported success in changing their tickets, while some have reported being unable to make the change.”
“We’re assuming that this was due to the policy being so new and that many phone representatives aren’t yet aware of the change,” The Points Guy.
On top of that, especially given expert predictions on when we will return to normal, and the throbbing questions currently bobbing around post-pandemic travel insurance, one wonders whether these flights are really worth booking, if you’re not a professional aviation blogger.
We put the question to Immanuel. This is what he said: “It all depends when Australia decides to open their borders. Europe is slowly going back to normal and many countries want to get tourism back up and running for the summer holidays.”
“While popular opinion believes Australians will be locked up until 2021, I highly doubt this will be the case. Time will tell! People who book these kinda deals usually have a good understanding on how to make them work to their advantage, there is a risk vs rewards ratio because so much is unknown.”
“Deals like this aren’t for your average ‘Karen’ as it does take a small amount of skill and patients to understand the booking rules, find the deal and finally change the fare to what you want,” Immanuel added.