What are frequent flyer status points? How to earn status points with airlines

Want to boost your status when you fly? Perhaps join those privileged people who disappear through the doors of business class lounges even when they're slumming it in economy class? What gets you inside is status credits.

Status credits 101

Status credits are what determine your frequent flyer membership tier. As well as getting you into business lounges, you get a suite of other perks that get ever more desirable as you climb the membership ladder.

Qantas has five membership tiers, one more than most airlines. Sign up for the Qantas Frequent Flyer program and you're a bronze member by default. Earn 300 status credits and you graduate to silver, which gets you more frequent flyer points each time you fly with Qantas, one complimentary lounge invitation, preferential access to Classic Flight Rewards seats, priority check-in, extra baggage allowance and a complimentary bag tag. Next up is gold, which gives you access to 600 Oneworld lounges around the globe and a better chance of scoring those elusive flight reward seats which you buy with frequent flyer points. Make it to the heady heights of platinum one and you get all that plus the highest upgrade priority, complimentary platinum status for a friend or family member and bonus Qantas points with every flight.

Virgin Australia has four membership tiers: platinum, gold, silver and red (the default). Rewards are similar, thought platinum status entitles you to four free upgrades to business class on domestic flights each year.

Frequent flyer points vs status credits

Buy a new fridge from a retailer or sign up for an airline-affiliated insurance policy and you might collect a swag of frequent flyer points, but there are far fewer opportunities for earning status credits. Also, unlike frequent flyer points, you can't buy anything with status credits, including flights aboard the airline you've earned them from. What they buy you is a chummier relationship with the airline. Beyond the basic level membership you get more frequent flyer points when you fly, lounge access which becomes more liberal as you climb the status ladder, improved access to frequent flyer seats and preferential upgrades.

Frequent flyer points don't have the same cachet with airlines since they do not necessarily reflect how often or how far you've flown with a particular airline. You can harvest 150,000 frequent flyer points just by signing up for a high-reward credit card – and you can have a million points and still languish on the lowest membership tier. While you can earn status credits without leaving the ground, airlines make it a condition that you must fly with them at least once per year to maintain your membership tier.

Airlines sell their frequent flyer points to merchants, which use them to attract buyers, and for some airlines that's a lucrative revenue stream. But the airline is the de facto exchange bureau which decides what its frequent flyer points are worth. As people accumulate more and more points, airlines can adjust how many flight miles those points are worth and restrict what seats they'll buy. During peak times airlines typically strangle their reward seats since they can fill those seats with fare-paying passengers. That's not the case with status credits. The number of credits required to maintain your membership tier or to graduate to the next tier is fixed. Once you've attained a membership tier the privileges are locked in, at least until it comes time to renew membership the following year.

Earn status credits without leaving the ground

As well as flying, it's possible to earn status credits by shopping. However the opportunities to earn status credits without leaving the ground are limited.

Until the end of September Qantas frequent flyers who have joined BP Rewards can earn 50 status credits by filling up or buying merchandise at a BP service station five times with a minimum spend of $50 each visit. Even better, sign up for a Qantas premier platinum Mastercard, make an eligible purchase by October 31, 2021, and you score 80 status credits, the best-ever offer from the airline.

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Meanwhile, members of Virgin Australia's Velocity frequent flyer program can earn status credits each time they shop at Coles, Coles Online, Liquorland or First Choice Liquor Market. Simply scan your Flybuys card and one status credit is added to your Velocity membership for every $100 spent. That might not sound like a great deal, but you need only spend $500 on groceries and alcohol per month to earn 60 status credits per year, and that's not a big ask for a family, or even a couple.

As a rule the deals that earn you status credits tend to come and go. At the beginning of August Virgin Australia announced double status credits on eligible flights booked before August 10, barely a week after the deal was announced. If you want to generate maximum status credits you need to pay attention to the offers as they appear.

How many status credits do I earn per flight?

The number depends on the distance travelled, the class and the fare type. A one-way Virgin Australia flight from Melbourne to Brisbane is a distance of 874 miles, which will get you 10 status credits if you're flying the cheapest Getaway fare, 30 on an economy class Freedom fare and 70 credits on a full business class fare. Attaining silver membership with Virgin Australia requires 250 status credits plus two eligible sectors flown within the past year.

If you plan to travel overseas more than once per year it might be worth signing up for an overseas carrier's membership program and earning their status credits. For example you can earn status credits in Cathay Pacific's Marco Polo club every time you fly with Qantas, Qatar Airways, British Airways and several other Oneworld carriers. Similarly, fly with Qatar Airways and you can earn Qantas status credits on eligible fares and flights.

A return economy ticket from Sydney to Rome with Qatar Airways earns anything from 56 to 138 Qpoints – the airline's status credits. In business, the same flight would earn you between 170 and 272 Qpoints. That would automatically qualify you for the airline's Silver membership.

To keep your membership tier you need to fly at least once per year with your airline, and for many flyers that's been a tough call during the pandemic. Airlines have no interest in losing their most loyal and valued flyers and they're cutting them some slack. Qantas recently announced a 'retention lifeline'. All members silver and above whose membership ends up to June 2022 can maintain their status until mid-2023 simply by booking an eligible flight for travel up until June 2022.

Virgin Australia earlier this month offered double status credits on bookings from August 2 to August 10.

See also: Emirates' new frequent flyer program costs up to $1355 to join

See also: Qantas frequent flyer spends millions of points on used A380 seats

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