Coronavirus: Qantas and Virgin frequent flyer points and domestic route changes

The past few weeks have been monumental for the travel industry, as the coronavirus pandemic spreads, governments around the world enforce travel bans and airlines slash flights.

Australia has not been immune, with Qantas and Virgin announcing massive cuts to domestic flights schedules while our overseas borders closed completely to foreigners on Friday.

While the aviation industry fights to remain viable, there were some other interesting changes this week, including to airlines' frequent flyer programs.

Loyalty programs

After slashing substantial flight capacity, Qantas and Virgin Australia have also made changes to their loyalty programs to preserve the status of their frequent flyers.

Both companies will offer a 12-month status freeze for loyalty program members, while Virgin's Velocity is also adding a further three months' worth of bonus credits to silver, gold and platinum members.

Qantas' loyalty extension applies to members with gold status and above, while Virgin's offer includes silver and above.

New Qantas Points Club

Last week Qantas launched its new Points Club which promises to reward frequent buyers as well as frequent flyers. The program was announced in June last year but the rollout was delayed until last week.

Airline loyalty schemes were initially designed to reward passengers for actually flying, but Qantas says only a third of its members' points are earned in the air. The rest are accrued through partnerships with supermarkets, banks and insurance companies among others.

Points Club has two tiers. Members must earn at least 150,000 points in a year to qualify for the base level, and 350,000 for the 'plus' tier. Rewards include lounge passes for the base tier and a Qantas Club membership for those who reach 'plus'. Other benefits include earning bonus points on hotel bookings and travel insurance, earning status credits on Classic Reward flights, and getting a free upgrade when on car hire with Avis.


Route changes

Australia's major airlines have also revealed which domestic routes will be affected after slashing capacity as demand for flights shrinks and international travel is shut down completely.

Last week Qantas and Virgin both announced swinging cuts to domestic flight schedules as advance bookings for corporate and leisure travel collapsed.

As a result, Qantas will fly between Sydney and Melbourne 88 times each week, down from 250, a reduction of 65 per cent. The Sydney-Brisbane (65 per cent) and Melbourne-Brisbane (62 per cent) routes have also been heavily reduced.

Jetstar flights between Sydney and Melbourne have been slashed even further, down 70 per cent to just 28 return pairs a week, or an average of four per day.

Qantas will suspend flights from Melbourne to Alice Springs, Darwin, Gold Coast, Hamilton Island and Hobart. The airline will also suspend flights from Sydney to Broome, Hamilton Island, Sunshine Coast, Hobart, while delaying planned launches to Ballina, Mildura and Orange.

Jetstar has withdrawn almost completely from Perth, with only seven weekly flights from Perth to Melbourne remaining. Sydney, Adelaide, Gold Coast and Cairns have all been pulled.

Virgin did not publish the exact reduction in flight numbers, but will suspend flights from Sydney to Cairns, Darwin, Hobart and Hamilton Island. Flights from Melbourne to Cairns, Darwin and Launceston were among those cut.

Tigerair will cease flying to Perth from Sydney and Melbourne, as well as suspending Brisbane-Cairns and Melbourne-Hobart flights.

Lounge closures

Finally, Qantas announced on Monday it is closing access to all airport lounges across Australia, following its decision to shutter its international lounges and the Qantas Club on Friday.

The lounges are not considered "essential" under the government's new restrictions which have forced pubs, clubs and cafes to close.

See also: Airlines change cancellation policies in wake of travel bans

See also: Emirates to halt almost all flights