How To Make Australian Frequent Flyer Programs Work For You

Aussies love frequent flyer programs, but far too few know how to make these loyalty schemes work in their favour. It's time to change that.

How To Make Australian Frequent Flyer Programs Work For You


Aussies love a loyalty program, and airline frequent flyer programs are no exception. Over 15 million people are members of the Qantas Frequent Flyer (QFF) program, while Virgin Australia’s Velocity program has signed up almost 12 million customers

But let’s not beat around the bush here: these programs are not created to benefit customers. They are designed to drive business and revenue to the airline. To claim otherwise is just marketing spin, pure and simple.

There is a lot of consumer anger about the difficulties of redeeming flights and some of the prices charged, especially for premium cabin redemptions into markets like Europe and North America. Some of this aggro is valid, while some of it is misplaced…

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The three-hour jaunt in first class between Sydney and Christchurch (or vice versa) on the Emirates A380 for the widely touted price of 64,500 points (plus about A$200 in charges) is an example of a really well-advertised deal in the QFF program. 

The problem is that QFF members have Buckley’s chance of actually picking up a ticket at this price, with Qantas consistently pricing its first-class redemptions on this sector at over 280,000 points for the remainder of 2024. Unsurprisingly, this doesn’t go down well with customers.

Steve Hui from iFLYFlat, a points redemption concierge service, told DMARGE that redeeming points is like going fishing: you cast the net out and see what gets caught. He says you need to be flexible and start searching for flights as early as possible.

We can’t recommend Singapore Airlines’ business class highly enough. Image: Singapore Airlines

Working about six months out, this author has recently obtained business class flights on Qantas between Sydney and Jakarta for the advertised lead-in price of 68,000 points plus around A$200 in fees. There is also an upcoming business class redemption on a Singapore Airlines A380 from Hong Kong to Sydney via Singapore purchased for 78,000 Velocity points plus around A$400 in charges.

Velocity boss Nick Rohrlach told DMARGE that its partner airlines, including Singapore Airlines, Qatar Airways, and ANA, deliver very good reward seat availability. “That’s something we are really proud of,” he said.

One of the quirks of frequent flyer redemptions everywhere is that a simple point-to-point redemption on a busy truck route, say Melbourne—Singapore, may be difficult to source or only available at a ridiculous price. But if you start the trip in a regional port such as Launceston or Newcastle, availability can open up. Equally, if you tap in Kuala Lumpur or Penang as the destination port rather than Singapore if chasing a Velocity redemption, reasonably priced fares may also mysteriously materialise.

Displaying NickRohrlach_Velocity_VirginAustralia_26thOctober2021_DK-5.jpg
Nick Rohrlach, Velocity CEO. Image Virgin

If you find the Qantas search engine laughing in your face when you try to redeem a Sydney—London flight, starting the trip in a QantasLink port such as Orange or Bendigo can sometimes produce more satisfactory results. Or tell it you want to go to Birmingham instead of Heathrow.

The general rule is the shorter the sector, the poorer the redemption value. It’s why most potential passengers want to redeem their points for expensive long-haul flights. But there are exceptions. The cash price for the short flight between Sydney and Lord Howe Island is notoriously expensive.

However, the sector is less than 600 miles, meaning you can redeem flights from 8,000 QFF points (plus around A$150 in charges). Are there any available, or is this just another Christchurch jig? The Qantas search engine shows selected dates in June when you can jag the lead in fare, with availability becoming more common after that. As Hui says, get in early.

New Qantas Group CEO Vanessa Hudson says QFF members should start to see some changes later this year. DMARGE also asked the boss of Qantas Loyalty to contribute to this article. However, she did not respond.

Alan Joyce’s replacement, Vanessa Hudson. Image: LiveMint

Hui says even if frequent flyer members get frustrated with a lack of fairly priced redemptions, they should resist the urge to waste points on poor-value redemptions like hotel stays or points plus pay redemptions, which he describes as lousy value for money.

He says Velocity members looking for long-haul premium cabin redemptions should look at Singapore Airlines and Qatar, while Qantas frequent flyers may need to think outside the box and look at partner airlines such as the surprisingly good China Eastern and Cathay Pacific for availability. If you are sitting on a pile of points and eyeing a trip somewhere nice, iFLYFlat can help you find the best value redemption opportunities in all cabin classes.

Rohrlach says if you are new to the points game, work out how to earn points on everyday spending:

“We have had many members fund around-the-world trips exclusively by transferring their Flybuys points to Velocity.”

Nick Rohrlach, Velocity CEO. Image Virgin

He also advises people to set redemption goals. If you want to fly business to Japan in 2025, work out how much it will cost and how you can earn those points. Break the target down into smaller goals, like earning 10,000 points per month.

Of course, if neither program floats your boat, there are alternatives. Two of the better ones for Australians include Singapore’s Krisflyer program, which allows you to tap into redemptions across the Star Alliance network. Qatar’s Avios-based Privilege Club offers the same benefits across the Oneworld alliance.

The downside of both programs is neither has the number of local partners and, therefore, point-earning opportunities that Velocity and QFF have…