Over the Christmas / New Year break, Australian Business Traveller will be revisiting some of our most popular articles of 2017. We’re still around to report on any breaking news during this time, otherwise our regular publishing schedule will resume on Monday January 8, 2018.
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!