It's easy enough to earn frequent flyer points with Qantas and Virgin Australia – but when it's time to trade those points in on a free flight, which airline comes out in front?
We've crunched the numbers for these frequent flyer 'reward' seats (set aside on each flight for a fixed number of points) based on the most popular routes flown by both airlines within Australia and overseas.
The winner? Virgin Australia, for the most part.
Not only do you need fewer points to snare a seat on many Virgin Australia flights, but the associated taxes, fees and surcharges – the contentious add-on cost to what people think of as a 'free' seat – are also substantially lower than on the Flying Kangaroo.
Qantas vs Virgin Australia: Australian domestic flights
Whether you're making a quick hop along the east coast or are crossing the continent, Virgin Australia's Velocity scheme requires fewer points in business class or economy (and a slightly lower cash co-payment, too).
That's true whether you're zipping between Sydney and Melbourne, jetting up to Brisbane or even crossing the country on flights to and from Perth: all of which demand fewer points and less cash on Virgin compared to Qantas.
Qantas vs Virgin Australia: Auckland
Virgin Australia is also better value for trans-Tasman flights, again asking frequent flyers to part with fewer points and less cash.
The only caveat is that while both airlines offer comparable business class across the pond, booking a flight on a partner airline can change the 'value' equation.
For example, the same number of Velocity points could get you a fully-flat bed on an Air New Zealand Boeing 777 or 787 flight – although many AirNZ trans-Tasman flights don't have business class at all, in which case economy is your only option.
On the other hand, for the same 36,000 points that Qantas asks for its own trans-Tasman business class flights, you could book yourself into the superior business class of an Emirates Airbus A380.
Qantas vs Virgin Australia: Singapore
On flights to Singapore it's a mixed bag.
Qantas flies its own aircraft and asks for fewer points than Virgin Australia, whose reliance on partner Singapore Airlines commands more points, although the VA/SQ surcharge is substantially less.
Depending on whether your cash or points is in shorter supply, either airline could be the winner here.
Qantas lets you fly Sydney-Singapore return in business class for 120,000 points, which is 40,000 fewer than Velocity, but you'd be up for $625 in fees compared to just $146 with Virgin Australia (the cash component when flying from Singapore to Sydney differs slightly against Sydney-Singapore) – and the $479 you save could get you an extra night in one of Singapore's best five-star hotels.
Of course, savvy frequent flyers know that Virgin Australia's partnership with Singapore Airlines allows you to convert Velocity points into SQ's KrisFlyer miles on a 1.35:1 basis, and that a one-way business class award via KrisFlyer costs 46,750 KrisFlyer miles when booked online.
In other words, you could book the same Singapore Airlines Sydney-Singapore flight by converting precisely 63,112 Velocity points into KrisFlyer miles and booking your journey using the 46,750 KrisFlyer miles you'll get in return – a saving of 16,888 Velocity points in each direction.
Qantas vs Virgin Australia: Los Angeles
Many Australian frequent flyers want to turn their points into seats on flights to the USA – it's one of the routes where reward tickets can be very hard to come by.
But if you can find a spare seat, it'll cost you a few less points points and a lot less money to fly with Virgin Australia in premium economy and business class:
Down the back in economy, both airlines have their merits: Qantas asks for fewer points but more cash, while Velocity needs more points yet less cash – which option suits you best depends on your circumstances.
Qantas vs Virgin Australia: London
As with flights to Singapore, Qantas has its own jets bound for the UK – along with partner Emirates – while Virgin Australia offers flights only in connection with partner airlines Etihad Airways and Singapore Airlines.
For economy travellers there's a similar 'more points, less cash' theme with Velocity booking made on Etihad, commanding 62,500 Velocity points and $85 against 60,000 Qantas points and $236 for a one-way flight.
Business class, however, has Velocity firmly in front, commanding 3,000 fewer points for a one-way flight and over $500 less in fees and charges: enough for one or even two extra nights in London.
Velocity is less of a bargain when booking flights directly with Singapore Airlines as you'll be up for 75,000 points for a one-way ticket in economy and 175,000 Velocity points for business class, plus taxes and fees.
But again, the quirky connection between Velocity and KrisFlyer also means you could convert 109,013 Velocity points into 80,750 KrisFlyer miles and book that same business class sojourn for nearly 66,000 fewer points, plus fees and charges.
Frequent flyer award availability
Regardless of where you fly, getting that reward seat can be another matter. It's a common cause for frustration among frequent flyers, even when you're booking almost year in advance of the flight itself.
No matter which airline you prefer, the best chance of finding an available reward set is on flights outside the peak travel periods (mainly school holidays) – around the middle of the week, rather than Fridays through Mondays – and when you're searching just for one or two seats, not for a Brady Bunch-sized family.
In light of that, it's also worth noting that Virgin Australia Gold and Platinum frequent flyers are guaranteed up to four return economy reward seats once a year (Golds are limited to domestic flights while Platinums have access to those seats on domestic and international routes).
Pay with points, or points + cash?
The above calculations have been made using the pool of 'award seats' released by each airline on various flights, which are available for a set number of points (or points + cash).
For example, a one-way economy flight from Sydney to Melbourne can be had for 8,000 Qantas points plus a payment of $30.29 or 12,000 Qantas frequent flyer points outright.
Similarly with Virgin Australia, you could burn 10,200 Velocity points for a Sydney-Melbourne ticket, or mix a lower 6,900 points with $21.11 for the same seat – coming out ahead of Qantas in both cases.
Travellers can of course use their frequent flyer points to book any seat on any flight, but this typically requires up to 10x as many points, making it an option to be avoided wherever possible.
- The five best ways to use your Qantas frequent flyer points
- How to convert Velocity Points into KrisFlyer miles
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About Chris Chamberlin
Chris lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, a great latte, an opera ticket and a glass of wine!