Frequent Flyer programs reward you for your everyday spending and help you get where you want to go sooner. Learn the ins and outs of these programs and receive various perks from flight upgrades to retail rewards and lifestyle.
A frequent flyer program is at its most basic, a loyalty program designed to reward those who continue to fly with one airline or partnership of airlines. In Australia there are two major players in the frequent flyer rewards game; The Qantas Frequent Flyer program that lets you earn Qantas Points and The Virgin Velocity Frequent Flyer program.
What is a frequent flyer program?
Members of these programs earn points or miles for each flight they travel on, which can then be redeemed for a range of rewards, including free flights, upgrading to better seats or the ability to use points to purchase items or services from program partners.
Frequent flyer programs can also grant you access to swanky airport lounges and other incredible benefits the higher up the membership ladder you climb, so it pays to know how they work.
What frequent flyer Programs are available?
There are a great deal of frequent flyer programs available to consumers today. Some are based in Australia, and others aren't.
- Velocity Frequent Flyer. Virgin Australia's frequent flyer program, and the 2013 winner of the Freddie Awards' Program of the year, Best Redemption Ability and Best Elite Program in the Middle East/Asia/Oceania region.
- Qantas Frequent Flyer. The most well known Australian Frequent Flyer program, with almost 9 million members and partnerships with Jetstar, Emirates, American Airlines, British Airlines and Cathay Pacific to name a few.
- Jetstar Frequent Flyer. The loyalty program of Qantas' low-cost subsidiary allows you to earn either Jetstar Dollars or Qantas Points if you’re a Jetstar MasterCard holder.
- flybuys loyalty program. One of Australia's largest loyalty programs. Flybuys has a focus on non-flight rewards, but members can still redeem their flybuys points for flights and travel rewards.
- Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer. Singapore Airlines enjoys a reputation as having some of the best service of any airline in the world, so it's no surprise KrisFlyer enjoys the popularity that it does.
- Cathay Pacific Marco Polo and Asia Miles. Many mistake Asia Miles as being Cathay Pacific's frequent flyer program. The reality is that Asia Miles is an unaffiliated program, but it is linked to the Marco Polo program. When you join the Marco Polo club, you'll also get Asia Miles membership. Marco Polo functions in much the same way as the membership tiers of the programs above, whereas Asia Miles work in the same way as frequent flyer points, allowing you to redeem Miles for free flights.
- Emirates Skywards. The frequent flyer program of one of the world's fastest growing airlines, based in Dubai. Skywards frequent flyers enjoy partnerships with Qantas, Japan Airlines, Korean air and more.
- Etihad Guest. Etihad is also one of the world's fastest growing airlines and has its base in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. Partners include Virgin Australia, Korean Air, American Airlines, Air New Zealand and airberlin to name a few.
How do frequent flyer programs work?
As mentioned, the frequent flyer program at its core works on a points or miles system.
You'll typically join the program by visiting an airline's website and filling out an application, or through a credit card which earns frequent flyer points. Signing up to a frequent flyer program can cost you, although if you're joining the program through a linked credit card this is sometimes waived.
You'll then earn points for each eligible flight or transaction you make. For some frequent flyer programs, you'll also earn points for flights carried out with partner airlines. Credit cards which earn frequent flyer points are also a popular way to earn points through everyday spending. These cards will have a list of eligible transactions which will earn points, and those which won't.
Frequent Flyer Credit Card Comparison
Rates last updated October 1st, 2016.
- Virgin Australia Velocity High Flyer Card - 30k Bonus Points offer
Balance transfer offer has been extended until 31 October 2016.
September 26th, 2016
- Bankwest Qantas Platinum MasterCard
Bonus points and balance transfer offer have been extended until 30 November 2016.
September 28th, 2016
- Citi Qantas Signature Credit Card
Bonus points offer has been changed from 70,000 to 50,000 points. Offer ends 30 April 2017.
September 30th, 2016
As you earn more points, you’ll also earn status credits which you can then use to move up the membership tiers. As you ascend the membership levels, you’ll receive extra perks and opportunities to earn more points. Some of the benefits you can expect from membership tiers include:
- Bonus points and offers
- Greater availability of tickets and seats, and in some cases guaranteed seats
- Extra baggage allowances
- Priority check-in or boarding
- Priority customer service phone lines
- Benefits for family and friends
- Waived fees and charges
- Free airport lounge access
- Partner benefits such as late checkouts at hotels or discounts on car rentals
Once you reach a membership tier, you’ll generally need to maintain a certain number of status credits to remain at that level.
Emirates Skywards membership tiers
How do I climb membership tiers?
In addition to rewards points earned for flying, you'll also usually earn separate status points used to calculate whether or not you're eligible to progress to the next membership level. Some frequent flyer programs such as Emirates Skywards will also give you the ability to move to the next membership tier simply by flying a certain number of times in a given qualification period.
Membership tiers come with benefits which get better as you get higher up. These include:
- Bonus frequent flyer point earn rates - these start at 25% for the lower tiers and can rise to over 100% for the top membership tiers
- Greater availability of tickets and seats, and in some cases guaranteed seats
- Extra baggage allowances
- Priority check-in or boarding
- Priority customer service phone lines
- Benefits for family and friends
- Waived fees and charges
- Free airport lounge access
- Partner benefits such as late checkouts at hotels or discounts on car rentals.
Not only do you need status points to get you higher up the membership tier system, but you also need status points to keep you at a tier once you get there.
Airline Partners and Alliances
Part of the appeal of a frequent flyer program is in the partners and airline alliances your chosen airline is a part of. Good partners can mean you can use your points to pay for flights or upgrade your cabin class on flights leaving your home and all the way to your destination, no matter how obscure or far away it is. There are a number of airline alliances, including:
The Star Alliance includes 28 airlines, almost 22,000 daily departures and serves almost 200 countries. Members of the Star Alliance include US Airways, Air New Zealand, Air Canada, Lufthansa, Thai Airways, Singapore Airlines and Air China
The oneworld Alliance includes 15 airlines, visits 1,011 destinations and has approximately 14,313 daily departures. Some of the member airlines include Qantas, Malaysia Airlines, British Airways, American Airlines and Cathay Pacific.
Skyteam has 20 member airlines with a global network of over 1,052 destinations. Carriers include Air France, Alitalia, Delta Air Lines, China Southern and Korean Air.
Virgin Australia’s alliance
Virgin Australia doesn’t currently belong to an alliance, but Velocity Frequent Flyers can still earn and redeem rewards with partners. These partners include Air New Zealand, Delta Air Lines, Etihad Airways, Singapore Airlines, Virgin America, Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Samoa, Air Berlin, Hawaiian Airlines and South African Airways.
There may be some restrictions on the types of flights you can redeem rewards on depending on the alliance and airline, so make sure to check the terms and conditions before booking your flight.
When your flight has been delayed, you have a long layover or you just got to the airport early, trading the noisy public waiting areas for an exclusive airport lounge is the way to go. Many frequent flyer programs allow you to redeem your points for lounge passes or grant you access to particular lounges depending on your membership status. To show you how lounge access works, we’ve highlighted some examples from the Qantas Frequent Flyer program:
- Qantas. Qantas Club members receive complimentary access to Qantas lounges, but frequent flyers’ access will depend on their tier.
- Silver.If you’re a Silver Frequent Flyer, you’ll receive a complimentary single-visit Qantas Club lounge invitation.
- Gold. Gold members can access Qantas Clubs and International Business lounge passes for them and one guest and up to two children (aged between 4 and 17) when flying on eligible Qantas and Jetstar flights. You could also access over 600 oneworld airline lounges around the world when flying on eligible flights.
- Platinum. Platinum members can access Qantas First Lounges in Sydney and Melbourne, Qantas Business lounges in more than 28 destinations, oneworld lounge access in over 600 oneworld airline lounges and International lounge access for you and a guest. Plus, you can access Qantas Business Lounges in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Canberra plus Qantas Clubs located around Australia.
You can usually only take advantage of lounges if you’re flying with the airline that day and may only bring a guest depending on your membership level. Make sure to read the terms and conditions for your loyalty program to see whether you can access your lounge. Compare some of the world’s top airport lounges.
They come in a few different flavours, including basic, business and first class lounges. From putting greens, 98-foot indoor gardens and purpose-built sleeping rooms, to complimentary buffets designed by award-winning chefs, airport lounges have a lot to offer.
Business travellers can also get access to office work spaces and meeting rooms so they can minimise any downtime caused by their travels.
Different frequent flyer programs and membership levels grant you access to different lounges, so do some searching on Google to find out how you can get access to the lounge of your choice if this is a major attraction for you.
How do I earn frequent flyer points?
There are many ways to earn frequent flyer points.
Flying. The original way to earn frequent flyer points involves you simply taking a flight and being rewarded for it. Flights will earn more or less points depending on a number of factors, which may change depending on the program. These include:
- Distance travelled
- Dollars spent
- Fare type (business and first class passengers normally get bonus earn rates)
- Membership level
Airlines have a number of partners which you can also fly with and earn points. It's wise to know what these carriers are and how likely you are to use them in the future.
Credit card spend. One of the most popular ways to earn frequent flyer points apart from flying is through a credit card with a rewards feature. The premise is simple: pay for your everyday expenses with your credit card and get a certain number of points per dollar. There are two types of these credit cards.
Direct earn cards. These cards will earn a certain number of frequent flyer points for each eligible dollar spent. If you're a member of the Qantas Frequent Flyer program for example, and you use a card such as the ANZ Frequent Flyer Credit Card, where each dollar you spend will earn you a maximum of one Qantas Frequent Flyer point which goes directly into your account.
Rewards / indirect cards. Many card providers, realising that spenders enjoy being rewarded, have developed their own rewards programs. An example of this is HSBC's Platinum card. This card earns a HSBC reward point for every dollar spent.
Most of these types of programs allow you to transfer your rewards points for frequent flyer points, and will have different transfer rates. This can be useful if you have memberships with more than one frequent flyer program. It's important not to confuse this with transferring points from one frequent flyer program to another. This isn't possible.
If you already have a frequent flyer membership, check out our guide to find out what cards will allow you to transfer to them.
Bonus offers. Frequent flyer programs also offer bonus points promotions that allow members to pick up extra points. Sometimes these bonuses are offered to new members on signup or when you shop with partnered retailers or fly with associated airlines. These bonus offers usually come with terms and conditions, such as you have to sign up for the program before a set date or meet a spend threshold, to it’s important to confirm what these conditions are before applying.
Missing points. If you forgot to quote your membership number when booking your flight or want to collect points on flights you took before you joined the program, you’ll need to submit a submit a missing points or retrospective points form. The title of the form will vary between providers, but you’ll need the details of your flight (including your membership number, electronic booking ticket and boarding pass). There's usually a time limit on when you can claim missing points.
Partners. Most frequent flyer programs will have a network of partners. If we use Qantas as an example, you can also earn points with airlines within the oneworld Alliance (such as Emirates and American Airlines) and when you spend with retailers such as David Jones. You can also earn frequent flyer points with your phone plan, with current partnerships between Qantas and Vodafone or Virgin Velocity and Virgin Mobile. If you belong to the Velocity Frequent Flyer program, you can earn points when you’re filling up your petrol tank at BP petrol stations. A full list of partners should be available on your frequent flyer program’s website.
How can I redeem frequent flyer points?
The best feature of a frequent flyer program is the ability to cash your points in for a variety of rewards. The following are general ways you can redeem frequent flyer points. Be sure to research a frequent flyer program before signing up - know what options you have and if they suit your lifestyle.
- Free flights. Flights are one of the more popular and valuable ways to redeem your rewards. You can usually only redeem rewards for eligible flights with your airline and its partners. How many points you’ll need to redeem the flight will vary depending on the route, the seat and airline. Most airlines have points calculators that allow you to determine how many points you’ll need before flying. See how you can use your Velocity Points to book flights with Virgin Australia or your Qantas Points to book flights with Qantas or Jetstar.
- Upgraded seats. If you didn’t have enough cash to pay for a business flight, you can use your points to make up the difference to upgrade your ticket. Upgrading your flight with points is subject to availability and may not be available on flights with partner airlines.
- Rewards from the frequent flyer store. Most frequent flyer programs have stores where you can use points to buy a range of items. One glance at the Asia Miles iRedeem store shows the thousands of rewards on offer including electronics, appliances, apparel, beauty and entertainment. In most cases you simply call or make the transaction online, and wait for your reward to be sent to you.
- Vouchers. One of most effective ways of using points is to redeem them for vouchers from department stores, hotels, supermarkets and more, which can then be used to purchase items at your leisure. Vouchers for Myer, David Jones, Kmart, Woolworths, Westfield, Cruisepilot, iTunes, Harvey Norman, Dymocks and many more can be bought.
- Online store. Redeem your points for everything from fashion and beauty or gadgets and tech to homewares and entertainment packages through the online store for each frequent flyer scheme. Be warned though that redeeming your points for products from the online store usually has less value than when you use your points for rewards such as flights. If you’re unsure, have a look at the item on the online store and compare how much you’d have to spend with cash and in points to determine which option is of greater value.
- Car rentals. If your frequent flyer provider is partnered with a vehicle rental company, chances are that you’ll be able to redeem your points for car rentals as well. For example, Qantas Frequent Flyers can redeem car rentals rewards with Avis and Budget car rental and Velocity members can use their points with Hertz, Europcar and Thrifty.
- Partner services. You can also spend points with partners. This means you could use your points to pay for a hire car on arrival at your destination, get tickets to a theme park, buy a bottle of wine, pay for a hotel stay and more.
- Other. The wonderful world of frequent flyer points includes the ability to use points for travel insurance and charities or donations, so investigate your potential frequent flyer program to see how flexible they are with point redemption options.
- Points plus pay. If you don’t have enough points in your frequent flyer account, many providers will allow you to use cash to make up the difference so you can still redeem your reward.
- Status credits / points. Status points accrue automatically, and are automatically used to get you to the next level of membership, so frequent flyers shouldn't have to worry about redeeming these.
- Transferring points. Points can also be transferred to different family members, and although some carriers such as Qantas have a limit of how many can be transferred per year (100,000), it can be carried out via telephone or online.
How do you compare frequent flyer programs?
There are many great frequent flyer programs available, but here are some of the questions you can ask to determine which one is right for you:
- Who do you usually fly with? If you usually fly with one airline, it only makes sense to join their loyalty program. Consider which program will allow you to earn the most points without veering from your regular travel or spending routine.
- What’s the earn rate? How many points can you earn per dollar? Calculate how much you’ll have to pay to reach the number of points you need for your preferred reward, and this will help you decide whether the program is of value to you.
- How can you earn points? Compare the different ways you can earn points or miles and consider whether they correspond with your regular spending habits. As well as the airline, it’s also smart to consider the partnered airlines and retailers that you could also earn points with. Plus, can you earn bonus points on sign up or when shopping with partners? Taking the time to think about these factors can help you maximise your rewards in the long run.
- How can you redeem rewards? There’s no point belonging to a frequent flyer program if you don’t like the rewards on offer. See what flights you can book with points, browse the products on the online store and determine which partnered airlines you can also redeem rewards with. Plus, how many points do you need to redeem your reward? You’ll want to make sure you get the most out of your hard earned points, so it’s important to consider these before signing up.
- What are the costs? Some frequent flyer programs will charge a joining fee, annual fee and other maintenance costs. Make sure that these fees don’t outweigh the value you’ll get from your rewards, otherwise you won’t be getting enough return to justify belonging to the program.
- Points expiry. Points expire at different rates depending on the program. Qantas Frequent Flyer points will expire after 18 months unless you keep your account active, which can be done by earning even one point (Virgin's Velocity Program is similar but gives you three years before you lose your points).
Considerations when choosing a frequent flyer program
Do you fly often?
If the answer is yes, it may be better to look for a program which has excellent rewards for those in a high membership tier, as you'll more than likely be enjoying the benefits of these additional levels. Some programs also make it easier to progress these tiers.
Do you make a large number of short flights or long flights?
Certain programs give you competitive rewards for shorter flights which get less generous the longer the flight is.
Membership fees. Different programs have different fees. The Qantas Frequent Flyer program costs $89.50 to join, although it's usually free if you apply for a direct earn credit card. The Cathay Pacific Marco Polo club is $50 USD to join, whereas the Virgin Velocity, Emirates Skywards and Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer programs on the other hand are free to join.
Perks for different types of travellers
Share the rewards around and take advantage of some of the following family perks:
- Transfers. If a family member is also a member of your loyalty program, you might be able to transfer your points to them. This way, if you’re planning a family holiday, but one relative doesn’t have enough points, you can transfer some of the points to them to increase the overall savings.
- Family pooling. Some frequent flyer programs allow you to pool your points with your family members. This means that when you all earn points individually, they’ll pool collectively into one account. Again, this can come in handy when you’re trying to increase the savings on your next family holiday. The terms and conditions of the pooling system will vary from program to program, but some only allow up to a set number of members and only accept family members living at the same address.
Many frequent flyer programs cater to business travellers directly. Some of these allow not only individuals travelling on business matters to reap rewards points, but also the business itself.
This means that regular business travel could see your small or medium business amass points and then redeem them for a variety of rewards.
Examples of this type of program include the Emirates Business Rewards Programme, British Airways On Business programme and Delta Air Lines Sky Bonus programs.
Each program works differently, with some giving both the business and individual the same number, and others giving the business a lower number of points. Businesses can also earn bonus points for joining and making use of other incentives.
Extra benefits for Business customers
If you travel a lot for business, you could enjoy extra benefits with your frequent flyer airline. Some of the airlines who offer business perks include:
- Qantas Aquire. Qantas’ business rewards program provides travellers with bonus points, savings on airfares and other benefits. Aquire Points are calculated using the base Qantas Points earned by your travellers, so you’ll earn Qantas Frequent Flyer points and Aquire points when you fly. All you need is the frequent flyer number and ABN when you book.
- Virgin Australia Accelerate. Accelerate is Virgin’s corporate air travel program, which rewards companies who spend a minimum of 20,000 on Virgin Australia flights. Such rewards include fare savings, annual travel credits, discounted annual membership to the Virgin Australia lounge and other exclusive offers. Travellers also continue to earn Velocity Points and Status Credits when with the Accelerate program.
Other international business programs include Emirates Business Rewards Programme, British Airways On Business programme and Delta Air Lines Sky Bonus programs.
Frequent Flyer pros and cons
- Get something for nothing - Getting a free flight means you'll see parts of the world you might not have been able to afford to see previously.
- Get points for everyday spending - Gone are the days where you could only earn frequent flyer points for flying. With the frequent flyer credit card everyone can earn points, although be sure you get the right card, or you may spend more in fees than you receive in rewards.
- Travel like the rich and famous - Business and first class seats, access to lavish airport lounges and priority treatment are just the tip of the rewards iceberg.
- Can pay expensive fuel charges which may lessen value of rewards - One of the major complaints when it comes to frequent flyer programs such as Qantas' is that the fuel surcharges applicable to free flights are too expensive.
- Can be difficult to redeem points - The usual bugbear of the free flight is seat availability. Many frequent flyer programs will allocate a certain number of seats per flight which can be bought using frequent flyer points. This means it can get hard to book a seat on popular flights using your points.Before signing up to any frequent flyer program, do your research: check out traveller forums, frequent flyer blogs and news sites and get feedback from others about how easy it was to book free flights, and any problems they experienced.
- Programs lack transparency - One of the major complaints when it comes to frequent flyer programs is that finding the best way to use points isn't clear. Luckily there's a wealth of information regarding this on the web.
- More expensive - This relates to credit cards which earn frequent flyer points, which can have higher annual fees than cards without rewards programs.
Things to avoid with your frequent flyer program and how to best use frequent flyer points
There are many debates raging within the internet about how to best use points. Here are a few general tips on how to get the most out of them.
- Don't use points for discounted economy flights. According to industry experts, economy seats are in the most frequently discounted part of the market. Point values for free flights don't tend to change, whereas discounts for flights are always present, and get lower as competition increases. So on a flight that's cheaper, you could end up spending the same number of points, decreasing how much each point is worth.
- Avoid using points at the frequent flyer stores. Online frequent flyer stores can have inflated prices, again meaning your points get you less. If you choose to redeem your points at the store, it's usually wise to get vouchers. This way you can chose to use them at an opportune time such as during sales - increasing what your points are worth.
- Always keep your eyes peeled for bonus offers at your frequent flyer store. You may find you earn a large number of bonus points for making a purchase.
- Consider using your points to upgrade your seat rather than to get a free flight. It may seem like a silly idea at first - why pay money for a business or first class seat when you can just get an economy class seat for free? The argument is that business and first class seats are less frequently discounted, and more expensive, so when points are used to buy them they yield more value.
- Points expiry. Some frequent flyer points are restricted by an expiry, so it’s important to understand how long your points are valid for to ensure you don’t waste them. For example, Qantas Frequent Flyer points will expire if your account isn’t active (meaning if you don’t earn or redeem any rewards) within 18 months. Once your points expire, you can’t get them back. If you plan to save up your points for an extended period to redeem a larger reward, you might want to look for a program that doesn’t have an expiration date on points.
- Points cap. Some points are also limited by a points cap. Some frequent flyer programs or frequent flyer credit cards will only allow you to earn up to a set number of points per year. Others may reduce the earn rate after you reach the points threshold. Consider your travel and spending habits to determine whether the points cap is lower than the number of points you’d regularly earn. If so, you might want to consider a program with lower or no capped points.
- Don't get addicted. Many forums exist on the internet with thousands of people trying to get the best out of their points. Earning points and redeeming them for rewards can be addictive, especially when you're able to see the world for little or no money. Just be sure you're earning points on flights and purchases you'd be making anyway. The last thing you want is to be spending needlessly just to earn points - your points will be worthless if this is the case.
Frequent flyer programs can be a great way to reward the loyalty you show your preferred airline. As there are many frequent flyer options available though, you’ll benefit from comparing your options to determine which program offers the greatest value before you sign up.
Questions about Frequent Flyer programs from our users
How can I become a member of a frequent flyer program?
You can usually sign up to a program online.
Do I need a credit card to join a frequent flyer program?
No you don't need a credit card to join a frequent flyer program. They are standalone programs, although some credit cards offer a frequent flyer membership.
Does it cost to join a frequent flyer program?
As mentioned, this depends on the program. The Qantas Frequent Flyer and Cathay Pacific Marco Polo program cost to join, whereas the Emirates, Singapore Airlines and Virgin Velocity programs are free.
Can I earn points for a transaction or flight made before I joined?
Most programs give you a window of time after a flight or transaction in which you can do this, so be sure to enquire. This means if you take a flight and then later wish to join that airline's program, you may be able to have the points credited to your account rather than lose them.