When to use frequent flyer points for economy bookings

When to use frequent flyer points for economy bookings

Conventional wisdom says that one of the worst ways to spend your frequent flyer points is to book an economy flight, rather than a more comfortable (and otherwise, more expensive) journey in business class.

But while that’s mostly true, it’s not always the case. There are a few notable exceptions to this rule: times when it makes sense to redeem your points on an economy seat.

For instance, using frequent flyer points to book an economy seat can be good value on high-priced short-distance flights, and also when combining multiple flights together as part of a single, same-day journey: especially when two flights can be booked for the price of one.

That’s because many frequent flyer programs – including Qantas Frequent Flyer and Virgin Australia Velocity – calculate the number of points you need for a booking based on the distance of that journey in miles, rather than the normal price of a ticket in dollars.

Accordingly, the shorter your flight, the fewer points you need: even if paid ticket prices on that flight are normally quite expensive.

With that in mind, here are a few scenarios where it does make sense to use your points for an economy ticket.

Qantas flights between Sydney and Lord Howe Island

Purchase a regular fare on Qantas’ Sydney-Lord Howe Island flights and you can expect to pay about $539, one way, for a ticket classed as ‘discount economy’:

That’s an extremely high price for a flight less than 500 miles in length, to a destination that’s technically still in New South Wales, albeit almost half the way to New Zealand:

Here’s where frequent flyer points come in handy. Because Qantas charges only 8,000 points for a one-way economy ticket on all Qantas flights less 600 miles in length (regardless of destination), you can book that same flight for only 8,000 points plus a payment of $84.50, one way.

Under that scenario, spending 8,000 points lessens the sting on your hip pocket by $454.50 – being the normal $539 one-way fare price minus the $84.50 you’re still spending in co-payments – to sit in the same seat on the same flight.

That unlocks an impressive 5.68 cents of value from each frequent flyer point you’ve spent, which even trumps the value of many business class reward bookings.

Virgin Australia flights between Brisbane and Canberra

Despite being a relatively standard ‘capital city’ route, very limited competition from low-cost airlines makes fare prices between Brisbane and Canberra much higher than many other domestic flights, and often twice the price of jetting from Brisbane to Sydney.

For instance, one-way tickets on Virgin Australia between Brisbane and Canberra frequently sell for $201-$231, which is close to half a thousand dollars for a simple return economy trip on a short domestic route:

Use 7,800 Velocity points to book the same flight and you’ll pay just $39 on the side in taxes and fees (being $38.50 plus Virgin’s ‘compulsory’ credit card payment fee added on later)…

… with your points unlocking $192 of value overall, or a reasonable 2.46 cents per point: much better than booking economy on other routes of similar distance where commercial fare prices can be lower.

If you have access to Etihad Guest miles such as through American Express Membership Rewards or Flybuys, the same Virgin Australia flight can also be booked for 6,900 Etihad miles plus $39.60, for a higher 2.78 cents of value per mile, as fewer miles are needed.

Virgin Australia flights between Brisbane and Ayers Rock

Another option for Velocity members is flying from Brisbane to Ayers Rock via Sydney with Virgin Australia, as the airline doesn’t run non-stop flights and can often charge between $342 and $392 each way with a Sydney detour: making a return journey more expensive than a round trip flight to Singapore or Hong Kong!

Rather than paying those hefty fares, you could instead part with 17,800 Velocity points each way plus a payment of $73.70 on the side (credit card surcharge included), making those 17,800 points worth up to $318.30 overall, or 1.78 cents each.

That may not bring as much value per point as a Brisbane-Canberra flight, but keep in mind that flying only from Sydney to Ayers Rock costs the same number of points as flying Brisbane-Sydney plus Sydney-Ayers Rock on the one ticket, so the Brisbane-Sydney leg comes at no extra hit to your points balance.

Have you made a great value frequent flyer booking recently? Share where you’re headed and how many points you paid with other readers in the comment box below!

Chris Chamberlin

Chris Chamberlin (ChrisCh)

[email protected] / @ChamberlinChris

Australian Business Traveller journalist Chris Chamberlin lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, a great latte, a theatre ticket and a glass of wine!
 

14 Comments

  • Warren turner

    Rabtab

    9 Oct, 2017 06:49 am

    Travelling to Broome direct from Sydney with QF in August 2018 for Broome Cup, Economy 18,000 points + $53 as opposed to $532 red e-deal one way
    No member give thanks

  • thelongroad

    thelongroad

    9 Oct, 2017 07:23 am

    Almost any flight in and out of CBR is expensive. The example you gave is about as cheap as it gets. $300-400 one way to SYD/MEL/BNE is fairly common, and I've seen $700-800 fairly regularly.
    Member who gave thanks

    xtfer

  • Chris Chamberlin

    ChrisCh

    9 Oct, 2017 10:00 am

    Hi thelongroad, when fares are higher on Brisbane-Canberra flights than those we've included in the article, the ability to use points normally disappears, so it's unlikely you'd be able to use Velocity points to book a Brisbane-Canberra flight selling for $700-800 in economy.

    We've found that the option to use Velocity points will normally appear when the lowest available fare price on a Brisbane-Canberra flight is $231 or less (unless the allocation of Velocity seats on that flight has already been exhausted). Once the fare increases to the next rung, $261, the option to use Velocity points normally disappears.

    (This varies from route to route and as always, there may be exceptions, but it's what we've observed on BNE-CBR flights in particular.)

    Member who gave thanks

    xtfer

  • thelongroad

    thelongroad

    9 Oct, 2017 08:25 pm

    Yes, correct. It was just that as a CBR resident, I felt like moaning about the prices we pay!
    No member give thanks

  • Chris Chamberlin

    ChrisCh

    10 Oct, 2017 02:48 pm

    Oh, I agree with you 100% on Canberra fare pricing... I'm visiting regularly these days and it certainly isn't cheap to do so (thus breaking my usual "don't use points for economy" rule)!
    No member give thanks

  • Anthony Walters

    frost6

    11 Oct, 2017 10:10 am

    I paid $800 once for a flight home to Canberra that was delayed 4 hours at last minute.

    But I found sometimes when it was high I could use points or made my sense to book a business class rewards seat than pay that outrageous amount.

    Getting out of Canberra was always reasonable especially the mail flight on QF at 10pm but from 12pm Sunday through to 11am Monday most flights were 400-800 (except when they put the ATR-72 on the route for a while there no one was booking seats on that plane)
    No member give thanks

  • S

    S

    9 Oct, 2017 08:28 am

    I've found this is the case with SilkAir.
    Fares on some very short monopolized routes are around $500 each way.
    The Krisflyer Miles needed for an award seat is nothing in comparison.
    No member give thanks

  • James Deck

    webguy

    9 Oct, 2017 09:23 am

    Another use case - I wanted to book in a European trip for a holiday with my wife next year, but needed the ability to cancel it. With points, the penalty isn’t that bad, and they even refund all the fees and taxes (or so they say, anyway).
    No member give thanks

  • Jon W

    Jon W

    9 Oct, 2017 01:10 pm

    I've known about the Lord Howe Island hack for a while. It's theoretically possible, but practically impossible to find a workable return itinerary using points

    No member give thanks

  • silvyvc

    silvyvc

    9 Oct, 2017 01:28 pm

    Anywhere regional (dubbo, armidale) is probably a good idea to use points in economy. At times when there are no sales, it's pretty much the same price than flying somewhere in SE Asia
    No member give thanks

  • Nick Keith

    NQPsych2U

    9 Oct, 2017 04:27 pm

    Very valid points Chris.

    Fortunately work covers the cost for me to see clients in regional/remote locations.

    However at the prices QANTAS charge to connect to places like Mount Isa or Karratha it makes sense to use points if you are personally covering the fees.

    Townsville to Mount Isa return can easily equate to more than $1,000.

    Perth to Karratha can also stitch you up for more than a trip to Jo Burg!

    No member give thanks

  • Kin Ho

    KinHo

    10 Oct, 2017 02:21 pm

    I fly internationally more than domestic.
    Whenever I look into booking flights, I will do a lot of comparing between points, $, and mileage earn. My decision will usually be based on consideration for my other future flights.
    If a flight earns more mileage points than one of my future flight that I can use points to redeem, I will most definitely purchase that longer flight instead of redeeming by points.
    For example,
    MEL-SIN-MEL Economy fare cost approx $1100
    MEL-FRA-MEL Economy fare cost approx $1900
    Mileage earn is at least 3 times more for the longer flight, So in this case, I'll purchase the MEL-FRA-MEL, and get the mileage towards a MEL-SIN-MEL flight.
    No member give thanks

  • Steve987

    Steve987

    11 Oct, 2017 09:05 am

    Extracting maximum value from points is a valid focus.

    For many people though, having the thousands of dollars that were spent on flights to protect their points balance in their offset account, or spending it on family time (or a myriad of other ways), instead would have been the better option if a holistic view was taken.
    No member give thanks

  • Dundas

    Dundas

    11 Oct, 2017 02:52 pm

    I want to visit the Qantas museum in Longreach. Last time I looked, Brisbane to Longreach was 12,000 points O/W, and Sydney to Longreach (via Brisbane) the same (plus a different cash co-payment, obviously). I don't know if that makes Sydney-Longreach a bargain on points, but I think it's good value.
    No member give thanks

  • jpk77

    jpk77

    11 Oct, 2017 04:16 pm

    Also can be good value if you need a positioning flight to somewhere else to launch from, eg: HKG/SIN/BKK. Buying these as a one way can be very expensive.
    No member give thanks

  • Neil Beverley

    NB

    11 Oct, 2017 09:56 pm

    I wonder if it helps to factor in to the equation what it costs to earn the points that are used for short haul economy flights. Some 'conventional wisdom' might suggest to always pay for the short haul in order to gain the extra points (at least with Qantas).
    No member give thanks

  • points only

    points only

    13 Oct, 2017 05:39 pm

    I am planning on using my valuable points on an economy return Perth to Singapore to position for a cheap business ticket to Europe - saving approx $2000 on a return business ticket from Perth
    No member give thanks

  • Russjking

    Russjking

    14 Oct, 2017 11:57 pm

    I seem to buck the trend. I get so many points from flying business class internationally that I rarely need to pay for domestic flights. I also get Gold membership easily this way so always have lounge access flying economy. To me lounge access is the only real benefit from being a Goldie as I get it anyway when flying abroad.

    No member give thanks

Guest

24 Oct, 2017 12:57 pm

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