The best frequent flyer programs for Australian travellers

Even if you only travel across Australia and New Zealand, there’s more to points than Qantas and Velocity.

By Chris Chamberlin, June 10 2021
The best frequent flyer programs for Australian travellers

Whether it’s earning rewards from flights and hotels or credit card spend and grocery shopping, Aussies love their points – especially with over half the country enrolled in Qantas Frequent Flyer, and Velocity Frequent Flyer not far behind.

But there’s more to world of frequent flyer points than Qantas and Virgin Australia, even when Australia’s international borders largely remain closed.

Here’s where it makes sense to use those home-grown programs, as well as five other great frequent flyer programs for Australian members.

1. Qantas Frequent Flyer

As Australia’s biggest airline, Qantas offers eligible frequent flyers the largest number of Australian airport lounges – including separate Business Lounges open to Platinum-grade frequent flyers – plus the broadest domestic flight network, countless opportunities to earn points, and a variety of ways to spend them.

As well as piling up points on Qantas flights and eligible Jetstar bookings too, some of those on-ground partnerships include the ability to earn Qantas Points at places like Woolworths, BP and Uber, as well as on a host of Qantas-affiliated credit cards.

Read: Best Qantas credit card sign-up offers

Although the number of Qantas Points needed to book a flight can be higher than via some competing programs, the ability to earn more Qantas Points in more places may offset this imbalance.

Being a member of the Oneworld alliance, Qantas Points unlock travel opportunities around the globe (travel restrictions permitting), as well as on other partner airlines such as Emirates.

Even if you don’t fly regularly, earning enough points on the ground every year can even make your Qantas Club lounge membership free, by qualifying for Qantas Points Club Plus. Points Club members can also earn status credits on Qantas Classic Reward flights, helping them ascent the frequent flyer ranks.

2. Virgin Australia’s Velocity Frequent Flyer

With Virgin Australia’s Velocity Frequent Flyer program being free to join, there’s no reason not to sign up and start building a bounty of points from Virgin Australia flights.

Partnerships such as with Coles/Flybuys, 7-Eleven, Ola rideshare and a host of Velocity-linked credit cards will help boost your balance as you work towards your next free flight or upgrade.

As well as requiring fewer points than Qantas for many comparable flights and upgrades, Velocity members also have access to perks not offered by Qantas.

For Platinum members, this includes four free business class upgrades a year and unlimited Economy X (extra legroom) upgrades, which can be confirmed from the moment a booking is made.

Velocity Gold and Platinum frequent flyers can also request an earlier flight on the day of departure, under a system Virgin Australia terms ‘Fly Ahead’ – and it’s available on all paid tickets and reward flights, with the exception of Getaway economy fares.

Of course, with Velocity continuing to suspend points-based bookings on partner airlines and not rushing to resume New Zealand flights beyond Queenstown later this year, Velocity is a good fit for domestic travellers, but can be less appealing to international flyers when borders are open.

Also read: Earn up to 120,000 Velocity Points on a new credit card

3. Singapore Airlines’ KrisFlyer

Looking further afield, one international frequent flyer program very popular with Australian travellers is Singapore Airlines’ KrisFlyer.

KrisFlyer members can easily earn miles in Australia, including through credit card spend, on Virgin Australia flights, by shopping online, staying in partner hotels and more – and spend those miles on Singapore Airlines, Virgin Australia, other selected partners and across the Star Alliance network.

This includes Air New Zealand and its ‘safe travel zone’ flights within the Australia-NZ travel bubble, where a one-way economy flight starts at just 12,500 KrisFlyer miles plus taxes and fees. Business class is also available on selected flights.

Travel enough with Singapore Airlines and its partners, and the status you unlock provides access to lounge access with those same airlines: including Virgin’s domestic lounges in Australia when departing on a Virgin Australia flight.

Just keep an eye on your KrisFlyer balance, as miles credited to KrisFlyer expire three years after earning them – rather than adopting a rolling expiry period like Qantas and Velocity.

Also read: Pocket 100,000 KrisFlyer miles with a new credit card

4. Cathay Pacific’s Asia Miles / The Marco Polo Club

Being in a similar wheelhouse as KrisFlyer, Cathay Pacific’s Asia Miles scheme offers many avenues to earn and spend miles in Australia, as well as overseas.

This includes an array of partnered credit cards, Qantas flights, hotel stays, and more: with those miles also able to be spent on flight bookings with Qantas, Cathay Pacific, and across Oneworld.

By the end of 2021, Asia Miles members will also be able to use their miles for upgrades to business class on Qantas flights and those of all other Oneworld alliance members.

Read: Oneworld plans rollout of alliance-wide upgrades by end of 2021

However, travellers hoping to unlock frequent flyer perks will also need to join the airline’s separate Marco Polo Club scheme, which can be ‘plugged in’ to your Asia Miles account to provide both miles and status on each flight.

Marco Polo Club’s Silver, Gold, Diamond and Diamond Plus tiers are also on-par with Qantas Silver, Gold, Platinum and Platinum One.

This means when a Marco Polo Club Gold member travels with Qantas, they can use domestic Qantas Clubs and international business class lounges – and when a Diamond or Diamond Plus flies, they can use Qantas domestic business class lounges and international first class lounges as standard.

Also read: Secure up to 100,000 Asia Miles with a new credit card

5. Air New Zealand’s Airpoints

Among frequent flyer circles, Air New Zealand Airpoints is often regarded as a poorer choice of frequent flyer program, given the way members earn ‘Airpoints Dollars’ to spend on flights (much like a cash voucher), as opposed to frequent flyer points.

However, some travellers will find this to be an advantage, as those Airpoints Dollars can be used to book any seat on any Air New Zealand flight – offsetting the asking price of the cash fare – which means being able to fly whenever and wherever suits your schedule, rather than the airline’s.

For those who value this flexibility, Airpoints Dollars can be scooped up via many Australian credit cards, with some even offering bonuses of up to $1,000 in Airpoints Dollars to eligible new customers.

Read: Best AirNZ credit card sign-up offers in Australia

Many Qantas and Velocity frequent flyers are also now enjoying four months of Airpoints Gold status, courtesy of the airline’s recent ‘Touch of Gold’ status match.

This provides not only the expected frequent flyer perks like priority check-in and lounge access, but also unlocks complimentary extra legroom seating on AirNZ flights in designated ‘frequent flyer zones’, plus a boosted cabin baggage allowance, and extra checked baggage on fares where a bag is included.

Speaking of lounge access, this extends to domestic Qantas lounges across Australia when travelling on an NZ codeshare flight operated by Qantas, such as in connection with an AirNZ international booking.

6. Delta SkyMiles

As a member of the global SkyTeam alliance, Delta Skymiles provides an array of opportunities for earning and spending miles – especially overseas, once broader international travel returns.

Beyond Delta, miles can also be earned and spent on carriers like China Airlines, Garuda, Korean Air and Vietnam Airlines, along with Virgin Australia, on which long-distance bookings such as Sydney-Perth provide the best value, being the same rate as short hops like Sydney-Melbourne.

That said, Delta miles are much harder to earn in Australia than via other programs – particularly as Delta isn’t partnered with any Australian credit cards, so this is a program to keep up your sleeve for when your passport can next get a workout.

If you do build status with Delta, Gold members and above can also access Virgin Australia lounges prior to domestic Virgin flights.

7. Etihad Guest

Unlike the airlines above, Etihad Airways doesn’t belong to one of the three major alliances, but does have an array of partnerships in the air and on the ground, which makes it worth a look.

As a points transfer partner of American Express and counting Virgin Australia as a partner airline as well, savvy travellers can use Etihad to book Virgin flights: often for fewer points than required through Virgin’s own Velocity program.

For instance, book a Virgin Australia business class flight from Melbourne to Perth and you’d need 35,500 Velocity Points for a one-way ticket, whereas the same flight booked through Etihad requires just 21,800 Etihad Guest miles.

Given AMEX Membership Rewards points convert to both programs at the same 2:1 rate, this represents a significant saving for regular travellers – stretching your credit card points further.

Should you reach Gold or Platinum status with Etihad Guest, you’ll also enjoy Virgin Australia lounge access when travelling domestically, as well as to eligible international lounges when travelling with Etihad and its eligible partners.

Also read: How to get an airline status match

Chris Chamberlin

Chris Chamberlin is the Associate Editor of Executive Traveller, and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins not just with a single step, but also a strong latte, a theatre ticket, and later in the day, a good gin and tonic.

06 Jun 2017

Total posts 45

Worth noting that higher tier DL SkyMiles members don't actually get SkyClub access included (this is the same for AA and UA access in their respective lounges), while if you opted for VA you would get DL SkyClub access included.

Delta's inclusion here was primarily as a member of SkyTeam, allowing those travelling on airlines outside the partnerships of Qantas and Virgin Australia to credit their miles to a program that in turn, allows its miles to be spent within Australia.

While Delta flights can be credited to Velocity, the same can't be said of the other SkyTeam airlines named in the article (China Airlines, Garuda, Korean Air and Vietnam Airlines, along with many others), and that's where Delta primarily provides value for Australian members.

Worth noting as well that Delta lounge access is indeed available to Skymiles elite members connecting to or from an international flight (for example, upon arrival from Australia at LAX with an onward connection elsewhere, even in economy), and that Velocity Points cannot currently be spent on any Delta flights - or on any other partner airline, for now.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 455

Quite correct.  Not publicised very well by Virgin, but an article here in 2019 was put to good use when passing through LAX in early 2020.  

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Jan 2018

Total posts 2

No mention of Emirates?

There are lots of great frequent flyer programs out there, Skywards being one of many. However, travelling on Emirates is largely covered by Qantas Frequent Flyer for most Australians, and Skywards miles are generally much harder to earn than Qantas Points in Australia. Of course, there are certain things that can make an airline's 'home' frequent flyer program best for regular travellers of that airline, but that's also true of most other airlines not listed.


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