How To Make Your Flight Even More Rewarding

18 April 2015
Read Time: 4.7 mins

Many leisure travellers won’t spend too much time considering which frequent flyer program to use, but paying a little attention to the options might have a real impact on how soon you can use those hard-earned points.

First, a question: you do tie a frequent flyer program to your flights, right? If not, let’s stop right here and get you sorted. Signing up for frequent flyer membership is usually free (with the exception of Qantas, which charges around $90 for membership).

Membership details for all the programs in the region are just a quick Google away.

Adding a frequent flyer membership number to your booking is as simple as going online and ‘managing your booking’, or sitting down and seeking advice from your Flight Centre agent. Eventually, the points you earn will be worth something.

No loyalty program ever publicly gives the value of their points, but in my book, each point is always worth at least a solid cent or more.

Not much, sure, but for virtually no work on your part, why miss out?

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Save Your Cash First

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Frequent flyer programs are mainly put in place by airlines to encourage loyalty and drive repeat business. In my opinion, the value of the points earned on your flight will rarely outweigh even a relatively small difference between ticket prices.

In other words, you will be better off in most cases if you save the cash by booking the cheaper fare.

There are occasions when it might be worth booking a more expensive option, such as a better routing, shorter duration of a long-haul flight, or if you are looking for a more “elite” frequent flyer status where some extra benefits for flying more often will become available.

 It's often a better bet to use your points to upgrade

All that said, I would argue that, rationally, flight choice should rarely be driven by earning points.

This means it is helpful when you do eventually take that flight, and have the opportunity to earn some points, to possess a basic knowledge of which frequent flyer program to use. A little knowledge may help you get greater benefit from the points you earn.

When it comes to comparing frequent flyer programs, it’s worth understanding that the value of points is driven both by how many you can earn and by how many points you may need to book a flight.

For best value, you should try and use points earned to pay for future flights and, if you can earn and save enough, for seats or seat upgrades in premium economy, business, or even first class.

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Move Up To The Pointy End

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Many people understandably use their points for physical rewards such as computers, luggage, or for gift cards.

In almost all cases these are poor value compared with redemption for airline travel. This is because the airline generally has to purchase the physical reward before offering it to the frequent flyer.

On the other hand, flights “bought” with points essentially represent an internal cost absorbed by the airline.

Why use your points for flights nearer the front of the plane if you have accumulated enough? For a couple of reasons: firstly, the taxes and fees that accompany most points redemption tickets these days wipe out a good chunk of the value of points used for an economy ticket. Second, there’s the simple fact that the pricing of most frequent flyer points flights is more generous than pricing for purchase.

 Use your points to avoid waiting in long queues (Image: Getty)

Business class fares for points, for example, are twice that of economy. You’ll rarely find that same multiple when paying for a fare in business class – often three or four times the cost of economy.

As a result, your points deliver a better yield when used at the front of the plane.

Qantas Frequent Flyer and Virgin Australia’s Velocity programs are the best-known in Australia but there are now a small number of overseas frequent flyer programs nipping at their heels.

Two prime examples are Cathay Pacific’s Asia Miles and Singapore Airlines' KrisFlyer.

Qantas is a member of the oneworld alliance, meaning it partners with British Airways, American Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Qatar Airways, Malaysia Airlines, Japan Airlines and many others – and it also partners separately with Emirates.


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More Points To Consider

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This wide selection of partner airlines means you don’t have to fly with Qantas to earn Qantas Points. If one of the partner airlines goes where you need to go, then you may be able to credit those flights to your Qantas Frequent Flyer account.

It pays to check with your Flight Centre agent when you book.

In my opinion, the most appealing and best value use for Qantas Points (if you have enough) is for upgrades from economy into premium economy or business class. To upgrade using your points online, just log on to your Frequent Flyer account, click through to ‘manage your booking’, and follow the prompts.

 An upgrade can also give access to the premium airport lounges

If you do fly with Qantas and some of their partner airlines on a more frequent basis – say, a few times a year – it could well be worth considering Asia Miles, the Cathay Pacific frequent flyer program.

For international travel, the ‘cost’ of redeeming Asia Miles for flights is generally good value – and you can redeem them for travel within the oneworld alliance.

Asia Miles also often make more points seats available to their members.

The only downside? It’s harder to earn Asia Miles in Australia from non-travel partners, such as from your phone bill, or shopping, or restaurants, and in many cases you will need to call Asia Miles to book your flight when it comes time to use your points.

The Qantas online booking tools are usually more effective.

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Transfer Your Points Across Airlines

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So to Virgin Australia’s Velocity program. Virgin Australia has fewer partners in total than Qantas Frequent Flyer, but still has a wide network from which you can earn Velocity points. This includes Delta, Singapore Airlines, Air New Zealand, and Etihad.

Velocity points offer great value for redemption on Virgin Australia-operated flights, domestic and international. Virgin Australia also appears to make more points seats available than competitors.

Velocity and frequent flyer partner airline Singapore Airlines recently announced an industry tie-up allowing for transfer of points between Velocity and Singapore’s KrisFlyer.

Velocity members can now transfer points to KrisFlyer at the rate of 1.35:1, opening the door on award bookings and flight upgrades across the wider Star Alliance network.

 Upgrades make everything go smoothly (Image: Getty)

Likewise, KrisFlyer miles can now become Velocity points at the same 1.35:1 ratio, allowing Aussie travellers to indirectly earn Velocity points with airlines such as Thai Airways, United, Air Canada and Lufthansa by first crediting points to KrisFlyer and then moving them across to Velocity.

KrisFlyer has excellent redemption rates for flights on Singapore Airlines, so if you are thinking of using your points for a trip to Asia or Europe, KrisFlyer could be a fast way to get there.

Finally, what about Emirates? Emirates has its Skywards program, but unless Australian-based flyers plan to use Emirates exclusively, it makes more sense to stick with the frequent flyer program from partner airline Qantas.

You may not realise it, but points for all of the frequent flyer programs covered in this article can be earned through day-to-day credit cards use.

For example, American Express Membership Rewards, ANZ Rewards, Westpac Altitude and Citibank Rewards in Australia all offer options to transfer points to Asia Miles and KrisFlyer.

There are also Qantas Frequent Flyer and Velocity branded cards that will help you earn points towards that trip away.

To sum it all up: don’t let points sway your flight purchase decision, but do consider the frequent flyer program that best delivers your points “reward”. You might find yourself able to use the points sooner, and that, after all, is the goal.

At the end of the day, if you feel you need further advice, speak with your travel consultant. Airline alliances, partnerships and codeshares may appear complicated to even the most seasoned travellers.

There is no substitute for expert knowledge.

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Visit your local Flight Centre or call 131 600 for more advice and the latest travel deals.

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Keith Mason

Keith Mason, head of online platforms at Bauer Media Australia, offers a wealth of frequent flyer information through his website at www.pointhacks.com.au.