Business travellers know that an important part of their frequent flyer program is the opportunity to upgrade from one class to another: economy to business domestically, or between economy, premium economy, business and first class when flying internationally.
Australian Business Traveller has pored over the in-depth workings of Qantas Frequent Flyer and Virgin Australia's Velocity Frequent Flyer (the new name for Velocity Rewards) to figure out which is easier and better value for upgrades.
Upgrades are often the best dollar-to-point value in a frequent flyer program, so this is an important criterion for weighing up the two main Australian airlines' programs.
(Note that we're not talking about which airline puts you higher in the queue for free upgrades here -- these are the upgrades that you buy with the points you've amassed from flying or partner services like car rentals, credit cards and so on.)
Qantas has the advantage of allowing you to easily spend points to apply for an cabin class upgrade when you fly with the airline either domestically or internationally. Upgrades can be applied for on paid tickets, or any Frequent Flyer award tickets including "Classic Awards" or "Any Seat Awards".
This is one of the most popular uses for Qantas Frequent Flyer points, as business travellers who can only travel economy under corporate rules can use points accrued from other business trips to upgrade to business or first class for long-haul trips.
It's a particularly important perk of joining Qantas Frequent Flyer, because unlike many other airlines, Qantas does not allow passengers to pay for upgrades -- the only way to upgrade a seat is through points. Otherwise, the passenger's original booking has to be cancelled and new seats purchased.
Qantas has a good online system for applying for upgrades, so you can do it all yourself quickly. However, you can't confirm upgrades in advance -- you can only apply for them, and if there are unsold seats available on the plane, Qantas will advise you shortly before boarding (or, for certain top-tier flyers, in advance) whether your upgrade has been approved.
Virgin Australia offers upgrades on domestic routes and international routes with V Australia, Polynesian Blue and Pacific Blue.
Upgrading to 'premium' from Sydney to Melbourne costs 4,900 points. On Qantas, it's a similar amount - 5,000 points.
From Sydney to Perth it's 9,900 points. Again, Qantas is similar, at 10,000 points.
However, there are still some significant limitations of Virgin Australia's upgrades:
- There is no online system for upgrades; you still have to call Virgin to arrange them.
- Upgrades are only available from "flexi ticket" fares, not discount economy.
- On-departure upgrades are not allowed; you must apply no later than 24 hours prior to a flight
- Flights with Virgin's partner airlines such as Singapore, Etihad, etc, cannot be upgraded
- Virgin won't promise business class catering if you've upgraded to business class
- No changes or cancellations are allowed - points you've spent on your upgrade will be forfeited
Verdict: Although Virgin Australia is becoming competitive with Qantas on upgrades, it is still well behind Qantas' comprehensive and easy-to-use upgrade system.
Qantas Frequent Flyer vs Velocity: the in-depth analysis
- Which program gives more points for domestic flights?
- Which program earns the most points for international flights?
- Which program gets you to silver/gold the fastest?
- Ease of getting upgrades [you are here]
- How paid lounge membership compares
- How silver perks compare
- How gold and platinum perks compare