What if a single frequent flyer card could land you frequent flyer perks with Qantas, Virgin Australia and Etihad Airways?
What if this card also unlocked priority check-in, extra luggage and premium lounge access with all Oneworld member airlines such as American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Malaysia Airlines and Qatar?
That magical card exists: it's the Topbonus frequent flyer card from German airline Airberlin.
Airberlin occupies this unique space due to a peculiar three-way relationship: the airline is part-owned by Etihad, it's a partner of Virgin Australia, and is also a member of the Oneworld airline alliance.
This makes Topbonus a canny addition to your frequent flyer portfolio if you're looking to enjoy status benefits with more than one airline.
It's not for everybody, but savvy travellers who book on the right flights with the right fares can weave their business travel pattern into Topbonus Gold or Platinum status as a backup to their current Qantas or Virgin Australia status.
Over the next three days we'll explore how Australian travellers can make the most of Airberlin's versatile Topbonus frequent flyer scheme.
Today’s focus is how to fly with Qantas but credit your flights to Topbonus.
Qantas and Topbonus
Qantas and Oneworld passengers can credit their flights to Topbonus, where a frequent flyer tier is assessed through ‘status miles’ – the total distance flown that year with Air Berlin and its eligible partner airlines.
What's the strategy for switching from your Qantas Frequent Flyer to Airberlin's Topbonus when it comes to crediting points (or miles) for Qantas flights?
Perhaps you’ve retained your Qantas Platinum status relatively early in your membership year, but won’t come close to reaching Platinum One, and might not even reach the ‘additional Platinum privileges’ level of 2400 status credits.
Rather than effectively tossing those extra status credits aside, consider crediting the rest of your flights to your Topbonus account.
This trick works best if you make plenty of international flights. Given that Topbonus' status calculation is mileage-based, frequent domestic hops between Sydney to Melbourne won't cut the mustard unless you're taking more than two flights each week all year round.
If your international schedule could see you earning at least 50,000 status miles annually, you’ll qualify for Topbonus Gold, which equates to Oneworld Sapphire tier and thus lines offers similar benefits to Qantas Gold.
What about my lounge access in the meantime?
While working towards Topbonus elite status, don’t forget that your Qantas Gold or Platinum benefits are still valid – even if the membership number or status isn’t indicated on your ticket.
Provided you're carrying a valid Qantas membership card, simply flash it to gain entry into a Oneworld lounge or a frequent flyer priority queue... although when it comes to additional baggage, things can require a little more patience.
Check-in agents may find that their computer demands an excess luggage charge when a non-elite membership number is on file (say, Topbonus), even with a shiny Qantas card in front of them.
If you run into this situation, have the staff add your Qantas number to the booking (replacing Topbonus) before depositing any bags.
(Don’t fret, you can always switch back to Topbonus straight after dropping your bags off, or even in the lounge before departure.)
A slight drawback for Topbonus Gold members is that no additional baggage allowance is officially provided with other airlines –excluding American Airlines, which waives standard baggage fees for all Oneworld status passengers.
On the other hand, Topbonus Platinum members can take advantage of their alliance-wide Emerald luggage allowance – either an extra checked bag or an extra 20kg, depending on whether the ‘piece’ or ‘weight’ concept is used for your particular flight.
Travelling through Dubai and Europe
Given Qantas’ partnership with Emirates for European flights, Topbonus members need to be careful which flights they select when travelling through Dubai, as status miles and elite benefits aren't available when flying with Emirates – even when booked on a Qantas (QF) code.
While Oneworld elites are able to use the Emirates lounges in Dubai, access is only granted if flying onwards on a Qantas marketed and operated flight – that is, a flight on a red and white Qantas aircraft with a QF flight number.
Put simply, Topbonus members should book QF1, 2, 9 or 10 (from Dubai to Sydney, Melbourne or London) if lounge access and other perks are desired.
Lifetime Silver and Gold
Naturally, your lifetime tally of status credits can only be boosted when earning Qantas Frequent Flyer points on your travels – so sending flights to Topbonus won't help you here.
However, if you've already reached Lifetime Gold or Silver status with Qantas, the benefits can still be used when building up your nest egg in Topbonus.
Making the most of Topbonus Miles
Before you make the switch, it pays to research how many miles you could earn with your particular travel habits.
Regular economy travellers don’t fare as well in Topbonus when travelling on cheaper tickets, with many Qantas domestic sale fares (in the E ‘bucket’) ineligible for any status accrual or mileage credit.
Of course, we’d give the same advice to travellers considering American Airlines’ AAdvantage, which also has lower earning rates on some economy fares.
Also, look at how you typically spend your points – Topbonus miles can be traded in for free Oneworld flights, but can’t be redeemed for Emirates flights or for Qantas upgrades to premium economy, business or first class.
Qantas Gold and Platinum members have lounge access before Jetstar flights wherever there's a Qantas lounge available and open for business.
As Jetstar isn't part of the Oneworld alliance, Topbonus members aren't allowed through the front door when travelling with the low-cost airline – even if the ticket shows a Qantas flight number booked as part of a Oneworld fare.
On that basis, if you frequently travel with Jetstar, you'll need to either rely on your Qantas status or find a nice seat at the airport coffee shop.
Continuing the Topbonus series
Tomorrow we'll examine the perks of Topbonus apply when travelling on Virgin Australia flights.
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