Words by Tara Young
For the First and Business Class Australian travellers, the airlines want you and they want you bad. As a result, they have created a raft of benefits and value-adds to their Frequent Flyer programs to draw you in and keep you.
Also, at the end of the day when comparing frequent flyer programs even if the majority of your travel is either First or Business Class, there are fundamental principles that are the same across all classes that you need to consider – things like achieving membership or tier status, expiry periods, credit-card options and partners.
In addition to considering where you're likely to travel the most, think about how you want to earn points and what you actually want your program and reward points to deliver. We have done a quick overview of the six major international airlines that depart Australia and what their programs offer the First and Business Class traveller.
The Qantas Frequent Flyer scheme, as the nation’s iconic carrier, has an understandably big footprint here in Australia.
Chalking up Qantas points can be achieved by doing a lot of everyday type purchasing through the airline’s extensive network of partner credit cards, restaurants and hotels. The prepaid Qantas Cash travel money card also earns points at home and overseas.
More points can be earned overseas with your Gold or Platinum Qantas frequent flyer card and equivalent benefits on partner airlines belonging to the Oneworld group, such as British Airways, Cathay Pacific and Malaysia Airlines.
Note, however, the recent changes by Qantas who have limited the bonuses if you choose to travel with those partner airlines rather than Qantas.
For Australian travellers, Virgin’s Velocity frequent flyer program is the other obvious alternative to Qantas for domestic and international travellers, particularly if you do a lot of domestic travel.
Virgin does not have the international reach of Qantas, but its partnerships with Air New Zealand, Etihad, Singapore Airlines and Virgin America certainly broadens the scope for earning Velocity points abroad, and also redeeming them for award seats with those airlines.
Earning Velocity points through on-the-ground purchasing is also fairly easily done throughout Australia with many big retailers offering attractive options.
Velocity also has ‘family pooling’ for sharing points and status credits among family members as well as business class upgrade certificates for Platinum-grade frequent flyers.
Singapore’s KrisFlyer program earns miles for flights on Singapore Airlines, SilkAir and partner airlines such as Virgin Australia and members of the Star Alliance group.
The first tier- KrisFlyer Silver only offers a few benefits compared to KrisFlyer Gold; however, achieving this status can be quickly done with only a couple of First or Business fares. You can also earn KrisFlyer miles flying with Virgin Australia, but the rates are negligible so it is more advisable to credit them to Virgin’s own Velocity scheme.
The big bonus for earning miles with this program is that it gives you access to the Suites, First and Business Class seats that are usually only available to its own members. Low fees and one-way bookings add to the appeal. Also a Krisflyer account is great for transfers from American Express Membership Rewards.
The Emirates Skywards is free to join but really is only worth considering if you are going to do be doing a lot of flying on that airline.
Note that under its codeshare Qantas QF flight numbers – available as part of the Qantas-Emirates alliance – you’ll earn as many Qantas points and status credits as if you were flying Qantas.
Should you choose to chase Skywards miles instead of Qantas points, your best Australian credit card companion is the Emirates Citibank Platinum card, which earns one Skywards mile per dollar spent in Australia and 1.5 miles per dollar overseas.
Also Emirates allows you to use Skywards Miles to pay for a flight up to 12 months away. Alternatively, if you can't find a flight or item at the store to buy, why not donate the points to a charity – they will be sure to find them a good home.
Cathay Pacific’s loyalty program comes in two parts: Asia Miles and the Marco Polo Club.
Asia Miles is an independent travel reward scheme through which you can clock up miles, not only on Cathay Pacific but through a number of other airlines, hotel and retail partners.
The Marco Polo Club, will be the key for First and Business Class to earn sufficient frequent flyer status quickly, allowing you to access the airport lounges, priority check-in and additional luggage allowances.
Cathay Pacific is in the Oneworld airline alliance and Marco Polo targets travellers to and through Hong Kong. Cathay has great direct routes for visitors to US and Canada but also into China and Asia using Cathay’s local carrier Dragonair.
Etihad’s Guest frequent flyer program has partner status with Virgin Australia. This is a great and easy way for travellers on Virgin to earn plenty of extra miles on domestic and international flights.
Velocity points can be redeemed for a free ticket on an Etihad flight, although point-based upgrades are not allowed.
Etihad are really leading the pack as far as fantastic “experiential” flying for First and Business Classes; and in Australia, Etihad is increasing its presence, with recent introductions of daily flights from Perth and an Airbus A380 coming to Sydney in the middle of this year.
Four don'ts for your points no matter what class earned them
- Consider using your points to upgrade. Always make this your first consideration to use the points as across most frequent flyer programs, this gives the most value. This is because business and first class seats are less frequently discounted, and more expensive, so when points are used to buy them they yield more value.
- Don't use points for discounted economy flights. Discounted flights usually are so inexpensive that if you decide to use points rather than pay, you will devalue the large number of points that you would have to use.
- Avoid using points at the frequent flyer stores. Online frequent flyer stores tend to have inflated prices. If you do redeem your points at a store, get vouchers, then you can choose to use them during sale times, increasing what your points are worth.
- Make use of expiring points. Always keep an eye on expiry periods as you can invest a long time earning them but run out of time to use them.