International points redemption options are slowly shrinking
Choices with Qantas and Virgin are becoming more limited.
On 6 August, Qantas Frequent Flyer revealed that it was dropping its redemption partnership with Air Niugini, the main airline for Papua New Guinea. From that date, you'll no longer be able to book flights on Air Niugini using Qantas Points.
The change (first reported by Australian Frequent Flyer) might not seem that big a deal. Firstly, international travel is all but banned in Australia right now anyway.
Secondly, Papua New Guinea is not at the top of many bucket lists. I flew to Port Moresby last year and frankly, I'm in no rush to repeat the experience.
But the Air Niugini shift symbolises a broader change we're seeing during the coronavirus pandemic era. Redemption partnerships are disappearing, and it seems likely they won't return even when border controls are eventually lifted. Our choices in the future will be more limited.
The Virgin Australia/Singapore Airlines partnership is the other key local example. Using Velocity Points to book on Singapore Airlines has long been one of the most appealing options, especially if you're keen to fly First Class. But that option was suspended just before Virgin went into administration, and it's not clear that it will ever return. Given that Singapore Airlines has also dumped similar partnerships with Virgin Atlantic, I'd suggest the odds are low.
Airlines that are members of alliances (such as oneworld and Star Alliance) aren't where the problem lies. It's the one-off partnerships, like Air Niugini, that are at risk. When airlines globally are struggling to survive, those kinds of deals will always be a low priority.
So what's a frequent flyer to do? In the near future, if you are looking to redeem flights, then domestic is the only game in town. The news there isn't all bad. Qantas has increased domestic reward seats by up to 50% across 2020. The states you can fly to remain fairly restricted depending on where you live.
Longer term, it may prove more challenging to assemble reward flights involving multiple airlines. That's not necessarily cause for massive panic. The ultimate use of points for Qantas flyers remains the oneworld classic reward, and that has only ever worked with oneworld alliance airlines anyway.
When choosing rewards flights, you need to be flexible and understand that the rules change all the time. That's the one constant for frequent flyers.
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