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Frequent flyer programs: which is best, Qantas or Virgin Australia?

By danwarne     Filed under: Qantas Frequent Flyer, Virgin Blue, points, rewards programs, upgrades, frequent flyer points, Virgin Australia, Get the Points, mileage, miles, Velocity Rewards, Qantas Frequent Flyer bronze benefits, Velocity Rewards Red benefits

Over the previous week Australian Business Traveller has compared the Qantas Frequent Flyer and Virgin Australia Velocity Rewards programs in minute detail.

If you haven't had time to read all seven parts of the series, here's our executive summary.

Earning points

If you fly domestic economy a lot, Qantas Frequent Flyer is by far the better value program. This is because Qantas allocates points based on the mileage flown, and gives all flights a minimum 1,000 points for each one-way flight.

Virgin Velocity Rewards issues points based on the number of dollars spent on the ticket. Since a lot of fares around Australia cost less than $200 each way, it's likely that the number of points you'll earn for domestic economy flights with Virgin will be smaller.

However, this dollar-based earning works in favour of people who fly domestic business class, where short mileage fares are routinely more than $200 (Velocity provides 5 points per dollar, so the one-way fare only has to cross the $200 threshhold to earn more points than Qantas Frequent Flyer for a low mileage trip like Sydney-Melbourne). If you're flying business class east coast to Perth regularly, Velocity Rewards crushes Qantas Frequent Flyer.

For international economy flying, Qantas is a better program than Velocity. Points on both programs are earned based on the miles flown, but Virgin's international arm, V Australia, only issues fractions of a point per mile for discount economy fares, whereas Qantas always issues one point per mile no matter how cheap a fare is.

Qantas' status bonuses for silver, gold and platinum flyers are also better -- 50%, 75% and 100% more points respectively, whereas Virgin Velocity only gives silver and gold members 25% and 50% more points respectively.

Qantas has a better array of retail partnerships to earn points from grocery shopping -- its deal with the Woolworths Group provides a way for members to earn more points that Velocity Rewards currently can't match.

More on earning points from domestic flights, and earning from international flights.

Burning points

The number of points required to redeem award flights with Virgin and Qantas are similar, so with the earning differences outlined above, the difference in how many free flights you get can be stark between the programs. That being said, Virgin's award flights usually have much lower cash surcharges payable compared to Qantas classic award flights.

Which program gets you to silver/gold the fastest

It's much easier to achieve silver and gold membership status with Virgin Velocity Rewards, due to the much lower status credit earning requirements than Qantas.

How benefits compare

Silver

At the silver level, they're both very competitive. Virgin provides discounted lounge membership for silver members which is a very nice perk, whereas Qantas still charges the full fee to join Qantas Club.

Qantas' killer feature for silver members is 50% more frequent flyer points compared to Virgin's 25%. This only really applies to longer flights (e.g. Sydney to Adelaide), not single state hops, but even so, Qantas still gives more points for short hops than Virgin does due to its 1,000 point minimum guarantee.

That being said, the caveat about domestic business class flights applies -- Velocity is far more rewarding for them than Qantas Frequent Flyer.

If affordable lounge access is important to you and you mainly fly domestically, Virgin's discounted lounge membership is very attractive. If earning more points for awards is more important to you, Qantas is the way to go.

More detail on Qantas Silver vs Velocity Silver

Gold

The gold tier is all about free lounge access -- and both Qantas Frequent Flyer and Velocity Rewards offer that.

It's undeniable that Qantas Gold lounge membership is more valuable than Virgin's, though, because Qantas has lounges in small airports as well as big ones, and around the world.

Frequent Flyer Gold members also have access to oneworld airline lounges worldwide, when flying any oneworld airline, whereas Virgin only provides access to its partner airline lounges when flying with one of those airlines.

Qantas gold has a few perks that Virgin really should offer, and doesn't, such as international priority baggage handling. On the other hand, Virgin offers domestic priority boarding to gold members, which Qantas doesn't -- and given the rush to get a spot in the overhead lockers, this can be a valuable benefit.

The 75% points earning bonus for Qantas Frequent Flyer Gold members is a lot better than Velocity's 50%, especially for international flights where both programs are calculated on mileage.

Qantas also always issues one point per mile as a minimum, whereas V Australia can offer as little as a quarter of a points per mile for discount economy fares.

For people flying domestic a fair bit, the fact that you can get to Velocity Gold status a lot quicker than Qantas Gold is, in itself, a valuable perk of Velocity Gold. That's free lounge access for more of the year than Qantas, or with less flying, since the status credit earning between the two airlines is similar.

More detail on Qantas Gold vs Velocity Gold

Platinum

Qantas Frequent Flyer's platinum tier offers some benefits that Virgin simply cannot offer, such as use of the Qantas International First Class Lounge -- Virgin doesn't have a lounge of a similar calibre.

Qantas Platinum also allows passengers access to domestic business lounges, which are a cut above the standard Qantas lounges, with better food and facilities.

The 100% points bonus for platinum members is compelling, against Velocity's 50% gold bonus (there is no Velocity Platinum level).

If you can get to platinum, it's certainly a worthwhile membership tier. With Qantas' flexible domestic fares recently slashed in price and earning twice the status credits, it's no longer as hard as it once was to get there.

More detail on Qantas Platinum vs Velocity Platinum

Getting upgrades

Qantas beats Virgin Velocity Rewards hands-down when it comes to getting upgrades in exchange for points. From July 9, all Qantas tickets are eligible to be upgraded (even basic award tickets) and this can be done using an easy online system. Upgrades are available on domestic and international flights.

Virgin has a good value promotion running at the moment called the Premium Economy Taste Tester, which can provide an upgrade from full economy to premium economy from $35 or 3,900 Velocity points. However, it can only be arranged over the phone, three hours before a flight, and it doesn't allow for upgrades to business class at all.

More detail on getting upgrades

The winner is... Qantas Frequent Flyer!

Overall, Qantas Frequent Flyer pips Velocity Rewards on most fronts. Its biggest strengths: a comprehensive cabin class upgrade system and higher points-earning bonuses for silver, gold and platinum members. Qantas also offers even Bronze (joining-level) members more points for domestic economy flights, and discount economy international flights than Velocity Rewards.

That's not to say Virgin Velocity Rewards doesn't have some excellent aspects that may work better for you, depending on your travel patterns. Discounted lounge membership for Velocity silver members is particularly handy if you fly a lot but not often enough to qualify for gold. Velocity is also far more rewarding for domestic business class than Qantas Frequent Flyer.

We're looking forward to later this year when Virgin relaunches its frequent flyer scheme entirely -- and we'll re-visit this comparison to see which airline offers the best deal to Australian business travellers.

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About danwarne

Dan is a tech enthusiast who frequently qualifies for enhanced airport security screening due to the number of cords and gadgets stuffed into his cabin bag.

 

Have something to say? Post a comment now!

1 on 5/9/12 by Koru17

Why is Air New Zealands Airpoints not mentioned. Status Points can be earned on DJ/VA flights as well as the rest of the Star Alliance and DJ's Partners like Etihad, Virgin America and Atlantic

1 on 6/9/12 by John

Short answer: it's a bad deal for anyone not in Australia who can't take advantage of co-branded cards, and as a program it seems to be in the process of being stripped of value through removal of upgrade privileges.

2 on 28/2/13 by Daniel

Has there been an updated article released comparing the new Velocity program?

 

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