Frequent Flyer Programs: How to choose an airline?

According to news reports, Qantas has lowered the cost of international flight redemptions on some of its popular routes. This will no doubt be good news to rewards addicts who enjoy collecting Qantas Frequent Flyer points – and potentially help to pacify those shopping at Woolworths.

How many Frequent Flyer points could you earn?

Canstar recently crunched the numbers on 180 credit card rewards offered by 42 providers. As part of that we took a look at how much in dollar terms you might be rewarded with, at three different levels of annual spending. The return on spending in the table below is based on the average of our five star products in each rewards category.

Annual Spend Frequent Flyer Rewards
$24,000 $386
$60,000 $910
$120,000 $2,045

Source: Canstar Credit Card Rewards Star Ratings 2015 – based on products assessed for ratings. Rounded to nearest dollar.

It’s worth noting that when we rate frequent flyer point cards, we are comparing them based on the price of tickets on full service airlines – Qantas, Virgin Australia, Air New Zealand and Singapore Airlines, among others. These airlines all have frequent flyer programs, unlike the low cost carriers such as Jetstar and TigerAir –  but they are also more expensive to fly on. If you are only interested in getting from A to B at the lowest cost, these rewards may only be worth to you what you would pay to travel on a budget airline.

Qantas would seem to have recognised that fact, and have reduced some of their redemption rates accordingly.

The changes, which will reduce the number of points needed by up to 10% and other charges by an average of 40% on its economy class rewards, are effective immediately for destinations including Asia, the Americas, Europe and Africa.

“We’re always looking at new ways to help our members use their Qantas points and this is great news for our frequent flyer members, who will save up to 6000 points and around $190 on a [return] flight between Melbourne and Los Angeles,” a Qantas spokesman said to Fairfax Media.

So which airline to choose?

When we consider which frequent flyer rewards cards offer “outstanding value”, we look at redemption for both Australian and international airlines. Some credit and charge card rewards programs can transfer points to multiple airline frequent flyer programs, so we look at which ones represent the best value redemptions. The international routes we look at are Sydney-Singapore, Sydney-London, and Sydney-Los Angeles. Based on Qantas’ new redemption rates, here’s how they stack up against some main competitors flying to some popular destinations…

Points + Taxes for Sydney return flight to:
  London Singapore Los Angeles
Cathay Pacific 110,000 + $449 45,000 + $210 60,000 + $295
Malaysia Airlines 76,500 + $744 38,250 + $385
Qantas 120,000 + $700 56,000 + $294 90,000 + $431
Singapore Airlines 42,500 + $493
Virgin Australia 207,500 + $0 97,500 + $0 117,200 + $0

Malaysia Airlines certainly appears to represent good value for money on the Sydney-London route, with a redemption cost of 76,500 points plus a payment of approximately $744 in taxes and airline charges. Despite there not being any Malaysia Airlines branded cards in the Australian market, points in Malaysia Airlines’ Enrich program are surprisingly easy to earn. You can transfer your points to them from American Express Membership Rewards, Westpac Altitude rewards, or Amplify Rewards from Bank of Melbourne, BankSA, and St. George Bank.

Cathay Pacific also has stand-out redemption value on the Sydney-Los Angeles route, with redemptions from 60,000 in economy plus $295 in taxes. These points can be transferred from some American Express, HSBC, and Westpac credit cards.

Should you go for luxury?

Rather than redeeming frequent flyer points for economy flights, some travellers prefer to squeeze extra value out of their points by using them for more opulent experiences.

Both the Virgin and Qantas Frequent Flyer programs offer members the ability to use their points to upgrade from economy to business class. Upgrades on Virgin start at 10,000 points on domestic routes, but they don’t allow discount economy bargain hunters to upgrade from their Saver Lite fares. Qantas, on the other hand, allows discount economy travellers to upgrade to business class for the same starting amount of 10,000 points.

Qantas also offers its oneworld® Classic Flight Reward, an around-the-world flight redemption starting at 140,000 Frequent Flyer Points (plus taxes) in economy and including up to 5 stopovers. The same trip in business class would use 280,000 points – and considering business class fares are usually much more than twice the price of an economy fare, to some people this redemption represents better value than it might seem.

Photo: iStock – winhorse

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