Maximise your points and redeem your dream rewards with your favourite airline’s frequent flyer program.
Imagine if your next flight or purchase got you one step closer to your dream trip. With a frequent flyer program, this could become a reality. So, how does it work?
This guide explains how frequent flyer programs work, including how you can earn points and redeem them for your ideal rewards. We also look at how you can maximise your rewards by ascending different membership levels and how to compare these programs to get the most out of your frequent flyer membership.
How do frequent flyer programs work?
Frequent flyer programs offer points or “frequent flyer miles” for flights with the associated airline and select airline partners. The number of points earned is determined by a few factors including the airline, ticket price, fare class and distance travelled. Usually, you can also earn points for spending with program partners such as hotels, car hire companies and credit cards.
When you have enough points, you can redeem them for rewards such as flights, flight upgrades, other travel services or merchandise. The other benefits available through frequent flyer programs vary but could include:
- Priority boarding
- Airline lounge access
- Complimentary flight upgrades
- Exclusive offers from program partners
Usually, you enjoy the most benefits and points when you travel with the airline directly linked to a frequent flyer program. For example, Qantas Frequent Flyer members get the most benefits and rewards when flying with Qantas, and Velocity Frequent Flyer members enjoy the most benefits when flying with Virgin Australia.
What frequent flyer programs are available?
The two major frequent flyer programs based in Australia are Qantas Frequent Flyer and Virgin Australia’s Velocity Frequent Flyer. There are also many other frequent flyer programs based overseas, such as Emirates Skywards, Etihad Guest and Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer.
Data from the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (BITRE) shows that there are 11 major international airlines that Australians fly with. Each of these airlines also has an associated frequent flyer program, so there are plenty of ways for Aussies to pick up points when in the air.
Key details of popular frequent flyer programs in Australia
The more you fly with an airline, the more likely you are to be aware of its frequent flyer program. So, based on BITRE’s information on airline market share, here are summaries for the frequent flyer programs that are popular in Australia.
|This program offers minimum point guarantees for flights with Qantas and Jetstar and has a large number of program partners that allow you to earn more points, including many credit cards. Qantas Frequent Flyer has a standard joining fee of $89.50, although there are sometimes offers that waive this fee.|
|The Skywards rewards program is focused on earning and redeeming points for flights and other travel. It is also one of the only international loyalty programs linked to an Australian credit card: the Emirates Citi World Mastercard.|
|Jetstar is linked to the Qantas Frequent Flyer program. It also has a credit card that offers Jetstar Dollars you can redeem for flights or other airline purchases.|
|This is the official frequent flyer program for Singapore Airlines and Silk Air and has over 200 partners, including Star Alliance airlines, hotels, car hire companies and credit cards.|
|As Virgin Australia’s official loyalty program, Velocity offers a wide range of ways to earn points both in Australia and overseas. Like Qantas Frequent Flyer, there are a range of Australian credit cards that earn Velocity points. But unlike Qantas, this program has no joining fee.|
|The frequent flyer program of Air New Zealand is focused on flight rewards, allowing you to earn Airpoints Dollars that you can spend on flights, upgrades, hotels and rental cars.|
|The loyalty program for Hong Kong-based airline Cathay Pacific offers Marco Polo points for flight benefits and Asia Miles that you can redeem for rewards including flights, upgrades, other travel, entertainment and even merchandise.|
|The Enrich frequent flyer program offers points for flights with Malaysia Airlines and its partners, including oneworld Alliance members, hotels and car hire companies.|
|This frequent flyer program allows you to earn points for flights with Etihad Airways and a wide range of other partners, including Australian American Express Membership Rewards credit cards and the flybuys rewards program.|
Other travel and loyalty reward programs
The popularity of frequent flyer programs has helped fuel many other loyalty schemes for travel and everyday spending. Many of these programs are also linked to frequent flyer programs, allowing you to earn more points. Some of the most popular reward programs in Australia include:
- flybuys. Owned by Wesfarmers, this loyalty program offers points for spending with brands including Coles, Target, Kmart and Liquorland. It has its own travel booking service, and rewards ranging from flights to cash back, merchandise or frequent flyer points for Velocity or Etihad Guest.
- Woolworths Rewards. This loyalty program allows you to earn points for your spending with Woolworths supermarkets, BWS and Caltex Woolworths service stations. Points can go towards money off your next shop with a program partner, or be converted into Qantas Frequent Flyer points.
- Hilton HHonors. This hotel loyalty program offers points for stays within the Hilton portfolio. It also allows you to earn frequent flyer points for over 65 different programs including Qantas Frequent Flyer, Velocity, Emirates Skywards and Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer.
- Marriott Rewards. This program allows you to choose between earning and redeeming Marriott Rewards points or frequent flyer points when you stay with Marriott hotels and associated brands.
- IHG Rewards Club. The InterContinental Hotel Group rewards program allows you to earn either IHG Rewards Club points or frequent flyer points for stays at over 5,000 properties across 12 brands including InterContinental, Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza.
How do I earn frequent flyer points?
The ways you can earn points vary between frequent flyer programs based on the membership structure and various partners. Here, we’ve included details for the most common options.
Flights and airline spending
All frequent flyer programs offer points or miles for flights and other eligible airline spending. The amount of points available depends on a range of factors, usually including:
- Flight route. Points are usually calculated based on your flight route, the distance flown (miles or kilometres), or a combination of these factors.
- Price. Sometimes, you may earn points per $1 spent on your ticket or other eligible spending. For example, Velocity members are offered 5 points per $1 spent on all eligible domestic fares. This is less common than flight route calculations.
- The airline. Frequent flyer programs offer the most points for flights and spending with the associated airline. You can also earn points with partner airlines, usually at a lower rate.
- The fare class. Higher fare classes, such as business or first class, usually offer the most points.
- Eligible flights. There are some flights and fare classes that may not be eligible to earn points. Common exclusions are restricted economy fares, promotional flight deals and tickets you have paid for with frequent flyer points.
To earn frequent flyer points for your flights, you need to provide the relevant membership number before your flight. You can do this during the booking process, or by updating your travel itinerary online or over the phone. If you forget to add your frequent flyer membership number, or if you join after the flight, you may also be able to retroactively claim points for your most recent flight.
Reward credit cards are a popular way to earn more frequent flyer points, with two different options available on the Australian market.
- Direct earn cards. These cards are directly linked to a frequent flyer program and earn points per $1 spent on everyday purchases. In Australia, there are credit cards directly linked to Qantas Frequent Flyer, Velocity Frequent Flyer, Jetstar and Emirates Skywards.
- Indirect earn cards. These credit cards usually have their own rewards program, such as American Express Membership Rewards, CommBank Awards and Westpac Altitude Rewards. These programs allow you to transfer the points you earn to frequent flyer partners, and may offer transfers to several programs.
Frequent Flyer Credit Card Offer
The American Express Explorer™ Credit Card offers bonus points, up to 2 Membership Rewards points per $1 spent, $400 travel credit each year and Smartphone Screen Insurance of up to $500.
- Earn 100,000 Membership Rewards Bonus Points when you apply online, are approved and spend $1,500 within the first 3 months.
- Receive $400 travel credit each year.
- Earn up to 2 Membership Rewards points for every $1 spent on eligible purchases (uncapped).
- Transfer your points to 8 Airline Rewards Partner Programs including Emirates Skywards and Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer.
Frequent Flyer Credit Card Comparison
Rates last updated April 29th, 2017.
- American Express Platinum Edge Credit Card
First year annual fee waiver, 0% balance transfer and 5,000 bonus points offers have been extended.
March 28th, 2017
- Virgin Australia Velocity High Flyer Card - 30k Bonus Points offer
30,000 bonus points and 1.9% balance transfer offers have been extended until 15 June 2017.
April 3rd, 2017
- Virgin Australia Velocity Flyer Card - Balance Transfer Offer
1.5% BT fee has been added to the existing balance transfer offer which is valid until 15 June 2017.
April 3rd, 2017
Hotels and accommodation
Frequent flyer programs usually include hotel partners that allow you to earn points for your accommodation bookings. With these partners, you either earn points per $1 spent or a set number of points per stay. Other eligibility requirements vary depending on your frequent flyer program and the hotel, but often include:
- Direct hotel booking. You may need to book directly with the hotel and provide your frequent flyer number in order to earn points.
- Frequent flyer booking services. Some frequent flyer programs, including Qantas and Velocity, have their own accommodation booking services that allow you to directly earn points on your stays.
- Hotel rewards membership. For major hotel brands, you often have to join a hotel loyalty program and link it to your frequent flyer account so you can earn frequent flyer points for your stay. This is the case with Hilton, InterContinental and Marriott hotels.
Most frequent flyer programs also allow you to earn points for other travel expenses. Common options include:
- Car hire. Earn points per $1 spent or points per car hire with partners of your frequent flyer program.
- Cruises. Earn points for spending on cruises when you book with a cruise partner or through a frequent flyer travel booking service.
- Travel packages. Some frequent flyer programs offer travel packages or travel booking services you can use to earn points per $1 on most of your trip.
- Travel insurance. Earn points per $1 or per policy with travel insurance partners.
In addition to frequent flyer credit cards that offer points per $1 spent on everyday shopping, the following options may be available through your frequent flyer program:
- Online shopping. Some frequent flyer programs have online stores where you can shop with a range of retailers and earn points for your spending. For example, Qantas Frequent Flyer members earn points per $1 spent at the Qantas Online Mall, and Velocity members earn points per $1 spent at the Velocity eStore. Both of these shopping hubs have hundreds of retail partners, with categories including fashion, health, books, gifts and dining.
- Shopping loyalty programs. If you’re a member of a retail rewards program, you may be able to transfer the points you earn to a frequent flyer program. In Australia, the flybuys rewards program lets you transfer points to Velocity or Etihad Guest and Woolworths Rewards gives you the option of earning Qantas Points.
Other ways to earn points with program partners
Depending on your frequent flyer program, you may be able to earn points through program partners in a variety of other categories. Popular options include:
- Travel money cards. Both the Qantas and Velocity frequent flyer programs have membership cards that double as travel money cards that allow you to load and spend in up to 11 currencies. Known as Qantas Cash and the Velocity Global Wallet, these cards are linked to your frequent flyer account and earn 1 point per $1 spent in a foreign currency and 1 point per $2 spent in Australian dollars.
- Other financial products. If your frequent flyer program has partnered with a bank or other financial institution, you could be able to earn points for specific insurance policies, transaction accounts or even your home loan.
- Household essentials. This could include point offers for signing up to a specific energy provider or for your phone plan.
- Dining. The most common option in this category is an offer to earn points for dining reservations booked through your frequent flyer program.
- Health partners. Options could include earning points for fitness gear purchased through a frequent flyer online store, for your health insurance policies or for gym memberships. Qantas Frequent Flyer even has a dedicated app that allows you to earn points for your activity when you have a health insurance plan with Qantas Assure.
How can I redeem frequent flyer points?
Frequent flyer programs usually offer redemption through your online account or a dedicated phone service. Specific steps may vary between programs, but generally involve the following:
How to redeem frequent flyer points
- Log in to your frequent flyer account online.
- Check that you have enough points to make a redemption. Note some programs have minimum point requirements.
- Select the “redeem points” option from your frequent flyer account.
- Browse rewards and follow the prompts to use your points for a redemption.
If you’re redeeming points via a phone service, you will need to provide your frequent flyer membership number and details, as well as information on your chosen reward. Most frequent flyer programs give you the option of using points or a combination of points and cash for your chosen reward. Some programs also allow you to buy more points so you have enough for your chosen redemption.
What rewards are available?
The ways you can use frequent flyer points differ between programs, but some of the most popular reward categories include:
- Flight rewards. These rewards are often available with the frequent flyer airline partner (or partners), and include flight reward tickets and upgrades to a higher fare class such as business or first class.
- Other travel rewards. Options range from luggage to car hire, hotel stays, day tours and other experiences.
- Merchandise. If your frequent flyer program has a rewards store, such as those available through Qantas or Velocity Frequent Flyer, you could redeem points for items such as jewellery, tech gadgets, homewares and gift cards.
- Transferring points to another member. As well as using points for your own benefit, many programs allow you to transfer points to a family member or friend that also has a frequent flyer account. This can help you or someone else get enough points for a flight, upgrade or other reward.
Frequent flyer membership status
Frequent flyer programs include different levels of membership as a way of rewarding loyalty. The higher your membership status, the more benefits you get, such as additional points, priority boarding, airport lounge access and complimentary upgrades.
Usually you will earn points or status credits towards your membership by flying with the associated airline. To give you an idea of how this works, here’s a summary of membership status levels for Qantas and Velocity.
- Qantas Frequent Flyer membership status. Qantas has five membership tiers or status levels: Bronze (basic), Silver, Gold, Platinum and Platinum One. Your membership tier is determined by Status Credits that you earn for eligible flights. For example, you need 300 Status Credits to move from Bronze to Silver membership.
- Velocity membership status. Velocity has four membership levels: Red (basic), Silver, Gold and Platinum. Similar to Qantas, you earn Status Credits for flights. You also need to fly in a specific number of Eligible Sectors before you can reach a higher membership level. For example, to progress from a standard Red membership to Silver status, you need to earn 250 Status Credits and fly in at least 2 Eligible Sectors within a year.
Most frequent flyer programs have similar membership status levels and earning options to Qantas and Velocity. The specific frequent flyer activity requirements (i.e. earning of status credits) and the benefits will vary based on your membership level and your chosen program.
Other frequent flyer benefits
Depending on the frequent flyer program and your membership level, you could enjoy a range of other complimentary benefits when you travel, including:
- Complimentary baggage
- Sharing points with family members
- Express check-in and security screening
- Priority boarding
- Priority seat allocation
- Airport lounge access
- Flight upgrades
- Exclusive booking offers
- Complimentary in-flight services
Airport lounges are exclusive areas that provide a higher level of comfort and convenience for travellers. These private lounges often include more comfortable seating, complimentary refreshments, Wi-Fi and business facilities. They may also offer showers, beds and spa facilities.
It’s common for frequent flyer programs to provide complimentary airport lounge access to their higher status members. For example, Qantas and Velocity frequent flyer members with gold status or higher get complimentary lounge access. Silver members of these programs also get single-entry passes once per year.
While lounges are popular for frequent travellers, the standards and facilities are variable. Just check out our guides to some of the best airport lounges and the worst lounges around the world to see the differences between some of these locations.
Extra benefits for business frequent flyer customers
If you travel a lot for business, you could enjoy additional benefits through a business frequent flyer program. In Australia, there are two services available that offer unique frequent flyer services and features for businesses.
- Qantas Business Rewards. The Qantas Business Rewards program provides businesses and sole traders with savings on airfares, as well as Qantas Points for flights and other business spending. The amount of points earned per flight is calculated as a percentage of the Qantas Points earned by your travellers. When you have at least 3,000 points in a Qantas Business Rewards account, you can transfer them to any individual Qantas Frequent Flyer membership. If you’re a business owner, this membership can be a way to earn more Qantas Points or offer your employees and associated frequent flyer incentives.
- Virgin Australia Accelerate. Accelerate is Virgin’s corporate air travel program, which rewards companies that spend at least $20,000 per year on Virgin Australia flights. The benefits of this program include fare savings, annual travel credits, discounted annual membership to Virgin Australia lounges and exclusive offers. Travellers also continue to earn Velocity Points and Status Credits for their individual Velocity memberships.
Other international business programs include Emirates Business Rewards, British Airways On Business and Delta Air Lines Sky Bonus.
How to compare frequent flyer programs
With so many frequent flyer programs available, it’s important to choose one that suits your lifestyle and travel goals. Considering the following questions for each program you’re interested in will help you maximise your points and benefits.
- Which airline or airlines do I usually fly with? If there is one airline you prefer over others, joining its frequent flyer program will enhance your travel experience and allow you to earn points that could go towards your next trip.
- How many of the program partners do I already spend with? Frequent flyer program partners give you opportunities to earn points on everyday spending. If you already spend a lot of money with program partners of a particular frequent flyer program, you’ll be able to earn points faster when you join.
- Could I use a credit card to earn more frequent flyer points? With introductory bonus point offers and points per $1 spent, credit cards are one of the fastest ways to earn frequent flyer points outside of travel. But a card can end up costing more than it’s worth if your current spending habits don’t include a credit card, or if you regularly carry a balance. Make sure you consider this when choosing a program, and also look at the range of credit cards to decide if there is an affordable option for you.
- What are the costs? Some programs have a joining fee. For example, Qantas Frequent Flyer charges a fee of AUD$89.50 for Australians and NZ$50 for members in New Zealand. Also be aware of costs that come with a frequent flyer credit card, such as interest charges and annual fees.
- How often do I actually fly? If you don’t fly regularly, it could be years before you earn enough frequent flyer points for a free flight or other reward. Make sure you consider this in terms of the value of the program so that you don’t end up spending more time and money on it than it’s worth.
Other factors to consider
Remember to check the following details when you're looking at different frequent flyer programs:
- Point expiry. Some frequent flyer programs have set expiry dates for points, such as three years from when they are earned. Other programs allow you to keep points as long as your account is active. For example, Qantas Frequent Flyer points only expire if you don’t earn or redeem them at least once every 18 months, and Velocity points expire if you don’t earn or redeem them at least once every 24 months.
- Point caps. There may be limits to how many points you can earn through frequent flyer partners. For example, many credit cards have caps on the number of points you can get for your monthly or annual account spending.
- Point value. There is no fixed value for frequent flyer points, with earn rates and redemption requirements varying significantly. In general, you’ll get the most value out of points when they’re redeemed for flight rewards (fares or upgrades). You can also weigh up the value of points earned through a credit card by comparing your average spend with the points earned, minus card fees.
- Bonus point offers. Frequent flyer partners, particularly credit card partners, sometimes have huge bonus point offers for new customers. These promotions can be a great way to boost your frequent flyer balance, as long as hefty fees or restrictive terms and conditions do not offset the value of the points. Always read the fine print for bonus point offers so you can decide if a deal is worth it for you.
How do I join a frequent flyer program?
You can usually join a frequent flyer program online. Just go to the airline or frequent flyer website, click on the “sign up” or “join” option and follow the prompts to complete the registration form. You may need to provide the following details:
- Your full name
- A valid email address
- Your country of residence
- The last flight you took with the airline
- A chosen password for your account
If there is a joining fee, you will also have to provide payment information. A verification email is usually sent once you have filled out the form (check your junk mail if it’s not in your inbox). After verifying this, you should be ready to start earning and using frequent flyer points, as well as other benefits of the program.
Frequent flyer programs provide unique benefits for travellers, including the ability to earn and use points for flights and other travel plans. Increasingly, you can also earn points for everyday spending with a frequent flyer credit card or other program partners. The other benefits and the reward options differ between programs, so make sure you compare frequent flyer programs to choose one that suits your needs and travel goals.
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