How to compare and find the best frequent flyer program for you.
Australian travellers have been embracing frequent flyer programs in growing numbers. With great benefits such as flight upgrades, member lounge access and even free flights, travellers are keen to sign up. With the large variety of frequent flyer programs currently available it's important to know what features you want your program to have and the benefits that you want to get out of it.
No one frequent flyer program can be 'the best', because people want different things from different programs. The way to choose the best program for you is to compare the features of different programs and pick the one that best suits your needs.
How to compare frequent flyer programs
The different features of frequent flyer programs can make them difficult to compare, but if you think about what you want you can see what's important to you when it comes to earning rewards.
- Points earned per $1 spent
Finding a frequent flyer program that will maximise your rewards points by providing points for your type of spending and a higher earn rate will mean that you can redeem the rewards you want sooner. Earn rates can vary depending on whether you are using MasterCard or American Express with dual credit cards so be sure to check which card is required in order to earn the higher rewards points.
- Types of rewards available
Even though frequent flyer programs provide the same types of rewards and benefits including travel, retail purchasing and lifestyle rewards the companies and brands who they partner with can widely vary. Taking the time out to compare your options and go through the program information below will allow you to find out how to get the most bang for your buck and get the rewards you want.
- Points expiry
When people sign up for frequent flyer programs they usually like to save up for larger benefits which require more points, such as flights or expensive products. The trouble is most programs have an expiry date on points which can limit your earning potential. If you know it will take you a while to earn enough points to get the rewards you want, then you should opt for a program with no points expiry or one which allows you to extend your points. Qantas and Virgin let you keep your points as long as your account stays active.
- Membership levels or tiers
Frequent flyer programs usually have different membership levels or tiers which depend on how many points you have and how often you fly. As you move up the tier levels your ability to earn points increases and your benefit level may also increase. You can judge a frequent flyer program on how easy it is to move up the tiers and what you need to do to maintain your membership level. Also take into account what each tier grants you in comparison to other programs.
Frequent flyer programs will have a number of partners through which you can earn and redeem points. Partners can be other airlines, linked credit cards, hotels, rental car companies, retail and entertainment stores, telecommunications companies or financial service providers. The more partners a frequent flyer program has the more opportunity you will have to earn rewards points and also greater choice when it comes to redeeming your rewards.
- Credit cards options
Most frequent flyer programs have an option of a linked credit card from a partner provider. These rewards credit cards are a great way to earn frequent flyer points on your everyday purchases. Some frequent flyer programs offer more credit card options than other, so be sure to compare the available cards before you choose a program. Most overseas-based frequent flyer programs usually will have more limited choices when it comes to Australian credit cards which earn points. Find out more about your options here.
- Pooling points with your family
Pooling rewards points with your family is a great way to boost your earning potential. Currently, only a few programs, like Etihad Guest and Virgin Velocity offer this feature.
Compare Frequent Flyer Credit Card Offers
What frequent flyer programs are currently on the market?
Here are some of the more popular programs in Australia.
Virgin Velocity Frequent Flyer
The Velocity Frequent Flyer program lets you earn rewards points and benefits with Virgin Australia airlines. Depending on your level of membership you can take advantage of priority check-in, flight upgrades and VIP lounge access. Velocity's program is also linked to a number of different credit cards to make it easier to earn points. The points on this program never expire as long as you redeem or earn points at least once in a three year period.
- Points earning and expiry: When flying domestically, members earn points per dollar spent, whereas on international fares it depends on the fare class, the distance you travel and your level of membership. Rewards points don't expire as long as you earn more points or redeem rewards them within three years - this just means that they want you to keep your account active by earning or redeeming at least one point.
- Membership fee: Free.
- Pros: Family benefits such as pooling points and the option of taking 'parental leave' which gives members a pause on their membership. Virgin also offers frequent flyer earning for pets. You can also redeem points internationally which gives more earning options for frequent travellers.
- Cons: When flying internationally on partner airlines the earn rates can be confusing as they vary depending on the airline and the cost of the flight. You should also be careful when using family pooling because if somebody pools their points with yours, the person who gets the upgrade depends on your status levels.
Qantas Frequent Flyer
The Qantas frequent flyer program gives you access to a great range of benefits, all with one of Australia's largest airlines. You can earn points by using a Qantas linked credit card, shopping with one of Qantas' many partners or flying with Qantas or a partner airline. Qantas Frequent Flyer gives you a range of ways to redeem your points with travel options, shopping, insurance and gifts cards. Qantas has different membership levels that offer you an increasing range of rewards and benefits as you move up.
- Points earning and expiry: Members earn one points per mile flown with more points earned in higher classes and those with a higher status. Your Awards points don't expire as long as you earn more points or redeem rewards within 18 months. In other words, keep your account active by earning or redeeming at least one point.
- Membership fee: $89.50.
- Pros: There is a wide range of awards available to redeem using your points, including a dedicated Qantas store and numerous Qantas partners. Qantas is also part of the OneWorld alliance which gives you earning and spending options internationally. In Australia, there's also a large number of potential credit cards which earn Qantas Points.
- Cons: Most frequent flyer programs do not charge a joining fee, although this fee is waived when you join through some partner programs, such as a linked credit card. Anecdotal evidence also suggests taxes and fuel surcharges can be quite high when using Qantas Points to pay for flights.
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
Singapore Airlines has become an increasingly popular option for Australians travelling overseas. The KrisFlyer program gives you access to benefits such as priority boarding, lounge access, increased baggage allowance and upgraded fares. Singapore Airlines has a range of partner credit cards which help you to earn points, along with hotel partners, rental car partners, telecommunications partners and cruise holiday deals. There are some limits to this program, as Singapore Airlines does not offer a store where you can redeem items using points. Also, your points only have a three year life.
- Points earning and expiry: You can earn KrisFlyer Miles by flying with Singapore Airlines or by making purchases with one of their partners. The amount of points you earn on flights will depend on your booking class and the distance travelled, but some flights are exempt from earning points. KrisFlyer Miles expire after three years unless they are earned in a contest and then they last one year.
- Membership fee: Free.
- Pros: It is easier to climb status levels than other frequent flyer programs and anecdotal evidence suggests better seat availability when redeeming KrisFlyer Miles for flights.
- Cons: KrisFlyer members miss out on some of the options which are offered by other similar programs, so be sure to check your options before choosing this program. There are also limited credit card options available if you'd like to directly earn KrisFlyer Miles on everyday purchases; however, if you're willing to use a bank rewards card and then convert these points to KrisFlyer Miles, there are more choices.
Cathay Pacific Marco Polo Club and Asia Miles
The Marco Polo program is Cathay Pacific's dedicated frequent flyer program and when you join you also get membership to Asia Miles. The Marco Polo club earns status points to help you get to a higher status tier, whereas Asia Miles get you rewards such as flights, items and more. You have the option of earning Asia Miles through partner airlines, hotel partners, linked credit cards and other dining and shopping partners. You can use your points to redeem flights and upgraded fares, as well as shopping for products and services through Asia Miles iRedeem and iAuction.
- Points earning and expiry: Asia Miles are earned at a rate which is based on your status level and can be earned on flights, partner airlines, hotel partners, linked credit cards or retail partners. When you fly economy you can earn 50% to 100% of your actual miles flown and 0.5 to 1 Club sector for every sector flown. Marco Polo club points last for one year and miles collected through Asia Miles are valid for three years.
- Membership fee: USD 50.00.
- Pros: There are numerous options to choose from when it comes to redeeming rewards because you earn rewards through Air Miles rather than directly with Cathay Pacific. Members also have the option of extending the validity of their miles.
- Cons: Cathay Pacific charges a joining fee whereas most Airlines programs do not, although this fee is waived when using a linked credit cards. The points expiry can also limit your rewards earning-potential.
Emirates Skywards lets you earn points to spend on flights, upgrades, rewards, car rentals and hotels. Membership is free and points last for three years and there are no blackout dates so you can spend your points whenever you choose. This program still has limited benefits for Australians, with only one Australian credit card partner and limited Australian retail and lifestyle partners, but if you are a frequent flyer and prefer to fly with Emirates then this may be a good program for you.
- Points earning and expiry: Members earn Skywards points through car rental partners, hotel partners, linked credit cards, airline partners or retail and lifestyle partners. Points will expire after three years with no offer for extension.
- Membership fee: Free.
- Pros: Generous rewards structure compared to other programs. Emirates also organises your points to expire after your birthday month which gives you a great excuse to spend your points before they expire.
- Cons: There are limited benefits for Australians because there's only one linked credit card option. There are also limited rewards benefits aimed at Australians. Emirates also does not offer benefits at the same status level as other programs - for example there's no priority phone service and only 25% points bonus with their Silver tier, compared to a 50% bonus with the equivalent tier in Virgin or Qantas.
Etihad's Guest program offers you three different tier levels that offer you options for earning and spending rewards points. Etihad has a range of partners through which you can earn points, including linked credit cards (including Velocity earn cards), hotels, car hire, financial service providers, retail, entertainment and telecommunications. You can spend your rewards points on travel benefits such as seat upgrades, flights and excess baggage, or other benefits such as raffle tickets or the at the rewards store.
- Points earning and expiry: Earn rates for points depend on the membership tier you belong to, with your ability to earn points increasing as you move up the levels. Earn rates on flights depend on the factors such as the route flown and the cabin class. The earning ratio also depends on the type of fare you have purchased.
- Membership fee: Free.
- Pros: You can pool your Guest Miles with your family and as one of the largest airlines in the Middle East you have a lot of flight availability. Etihad Guest also offers free membership.
- Cons: Moving up the membership tiers requires more flying than with other frequent flyer programs. There are also no credit cards available in Australia which allow you to directly earn Guest Miles, so members will have to opt for a bank rewards card instead.
There is a huge range of frequent flyer programs currently on the market and the way to choose the best program is by comparing them online. Here are some other programs which you might want to consider:
This program gives you access to both Jetstar and Qantas rewards program which gives you increased access to travel benefits.
The Malaysia Airlines rewards program helps you to earn great rewards and travel benefits and also gives you the ability to earn Velocity rewards points.
As the second largest air carrier in Europe, membership to the British Airways rewards program gives you access to a huge range of travel benefits and ways to earn points.
If you regularly fly with American Airlines or their partner airlines, which includes Qantas, you can have access to some great reward options.
JAL is one of Japan's top airlines and as a member of their rewards program you can have access to some great travel benefits.