Recent and far-reaching changes announced to the Qantas Frequent Flyer scheme unleashed an outcry from Australian travellers who feel short-changed by the airline’s loyalty program.
Under the new rules, which take effect from July 1, Qantas passengers will earn points based on the type and cost of their ticket rather than the distance flown.
For example, the cheapest economy ticket from Australia to London will earn just 6,200 points while the more expensive ‘flexi-saver’ economy fare will net 12,400 points.
Qantas is also slashing the number of status credits earned when flying on partner airlines such as British Airways and Cathay Pacific, making it harder to get that silver, gold or platinum Qantas card.
Of course, just as Qantas is not the only airline in Australian skies, its frequent flyer scheme is just one of many which travellers can choose between.
Each lets you earn points or miles to trade on free flights and upgrades, although the value of those points – in effect the ‘currency’ of a frequent flyer program – vary too much to make for a meaningful direct comparison.
If you’re thinking of switching your frequent flyer allegiance, or simply examining the alternatives, we’ve scoped out the schemes of Australia’s most popular airlines.
With over 10 million members on its books, the Qantas Frequent Flyer scheme is a juggernaut in its own right.
The program carries a nominal $90 joining fee but the airline constantly wheels out free membership deals. Membership is also included when you join the free Woolworths Everyday Rewards scheme through which you can earn points shopping for groceries.
In fact, you can rack up Qantas points doing almost anything thanks to the airline’s extensive network of partner credit cards, restaurants and hotels. Even its own prepaid Qantas Cash travel money card earns points at home and overseas. Those homeground advantages keep Qantas in front as the best frequent flyer scheme for the average Australian.
Overseas your Gold or Platinum Qantas frequent flyer card unlocks equivalent perks on partner airlines belonging to the the Oneworld group, such as British Airways, Cathay Pacific and Malaysia Airlines.
However, recent changes by Qantas have stacked the deck against Frequent Flyer members who choose to travel with those partner airlines instead of the Flying Kangaroo.
For most Australian travellers, Virgin’s Velocity frequent flyer program will be the default alternative to Qantas.
While Virgin lacks the Red Roo’s international scope, partnerships with the likes of Air New Zealand, Etihad, Singapore Airlines and Virgin America broaden the scope for earning Velocity points abroad and also trading them on ‘free’ award seats with those airlines.
On the home front there are more than enough credit cards, shops and services through which you can earn Velocity points without actually flying.
Velocity also offers a few traveller-friendly features which the Qantas scheme lacks, such as ‘family pooling’ for sharing points and status credits among family members and business class upgrade certificates for Platinum-grade frequent flyers.
Emirates Skywards is free to join but makes limited sense for Australians unless the majority of your flying is with the Gulf airline itself.
After all, if you book that flight under its codeshare Qantas QF flight number – available as part of the Qantas-Emirates alliance – you’ll earn as many Qantas points and status credits as if you were travelling the Flying Kangaroo.
And those are far more valuable, not just for flights within Australia but for enjoying status-related perks on other Oneworld airlines.
By comparison, Emirates’ only airline alliance of note is with Qantas.
It’s also worth noting that while you can book a free Emirates seat using Qantas points, those points can’t be used to request an upgrade.
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.
The Singaporean flag-carrier is Australia’s third most popular international airline, trailing Qantas and Emirates.
Its KrisFlyer rewards scheme earns miles for flights on Singapore Airlines, SilkAir and partner airlines such as Virgin Australia and members of the Star Alliance group (including Air New Zealand, United and Thai).
However, the KrisFlyer Silver tier offers relatively few benefits for the traveller compared to KrisFlyer Gold – and it takes a lot of flying to reach that rung on the frequent flyer ladder. (There is, however, a savvy shortcut which can land you Gold status with just one flight).
Although you can earn KrisFlyer miles flying with Virgin Australia, the rates are fairly miserable – you’d be better off crediting VA flights to Virgin’s own Velocity scheme.
Cathay Pacific’s loyalty program comes in two parts: Asia Miles and the Marco Polo Club.
The former 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. However, those partners are naturally skewed towards Hong Kong.
The Marco Polo Club, which costs US$50 (A$54) to join, is how travellers earn the frequent flyer status which provides access to airport lounges, priority check-in, additional luggage and a better shot at upgrades.
As Cathay Pacific is a partner in the Oneworld airline alliance, your Marco Polo status provides roughly equal perks to Qantas Frequent Flyer, such as access to Qantas domestic and international lounges.
Marco Polo is best suited to travellers who’ll be making plenty of trips not just to and through Hong Kong but also into China and Asia using Cathay’s regional offshoot Dragonair.
Etihad’s Guest frequent flyer program enjoys partner status with Virgin Australia, providing a handy way for Virgin travellers to rack up extra miles on domestic and international flights.
And as with VA partner Singapore Airlines, you can redeem your Velocity points for a free ticket on an Etihad flight, although point-based upgrades – such as bumping from economy up to business class – are out of the question.
Joining Etihad Guest could be a smart choice as the Gulf airline boosts its presence in Australia, with daily flights beginning from Perth next month and an Airbus A380 coming to Sydney in the middle of next year.
With its only Australian flights leaving from Sydney, BA’s Executive Club frequent flyer program has limited appeal to Aussie travellers.
That appeal is further tarnished by the airline not even allowing Australian residents to enrol in the Executive Club membership, although reliable access to a UK mailing address can get you around that hurdle.
If you fly to the UK and Europe often enough, and do so at the pointy end of BA’s aircraft, you can earn lifetime Gold status and enjoy all the perks and privileges through to your retirement and beyond.