Better for upgrades: Qantas Frequent Flyer or Virgin Velocity?

By danwarne, November 9 2011
Better for upgrades: Qantas Frequent Flyer or Virgin Velocity?

Business travellers know that an important part of their frequent flyer program is the opportunity to upgrade from one class to another: economy to business domestically, or between economy, premium economy, business and first class when flying internationally.

Australian Business Traveller has pored over the in-depth workings of Qantas Frequent Flyer and Virgin Australia's Velocity Frequent Flyer (the new name for Velocity Rewards) to figure out which is easier and better value for upgrades.

Upgrades are often the best dollar-to-point value in a frequent flyer program, so this is an important criterion for weighing up the two main Australian airlines' programs.

(Note that we're not talking about which airline puts you higher in the queue for free upgrades here -- these are the upgrades that you buy with the points you've amassed from flying or partner services like car rentals, credit cards and so on.)

Qantas has the advantage of allowing you to easily spend points to apply for an cabin class upgrade when you fly with the airline either domestically or internationally. Upgrades can be applied for on paid tickets, or any Frequent Flyer award tickets including "Classic Awards" or "Any Seat Awards".

This is one of the most popular uses for Qantas Frequent Flyer points, as business travellers who can only travel economy under corporate rules can use points accrued from other business trips to upgrade to business or first class for long-haul trips.

It's a particularly important perk of joining Qantas Frequent Flyer, because unlike many other airlines, Qantas does not allow passengers to pay for upgrades -- the only way to upgrade a seat is through points. Otherwise, the passenger's original booking has to be cancelled and new seats purchased.

Qantas has a good online system for applying for upgrades, so you can do it all yourself quickly. However, you can't confirm upgrades in advance -- you can only apply for them, and if there are unsold seats available on the plane, Qantas will advise you shortly before boarding (or, for certain top-tier flyers, in advance) whether your upgrade has been approved.

Virgin Australia offers upgrades on domestic routes and international routes with V Australia, Polynesian Blue and Pacific Blue.

Upgrading to 'premium' from Sydney to Melbourne costs 4,900 points. On Qantas, it's a similar amount - 5,000 points.

From Sydney to Perth it's 9,900 points. Again, Qantas is similar, at 10,000 points.

However, there are still some significant limitations of Virgin Australia's upgrades:

  • There is no online system for upgrades; you still have to call Virgin to arrange them.
  • Upgrades are only available from "flexi ticket" fares, not discount economy.
  • On-departure upgrades are not allowed; you must apply no later than 24 hours prior to a flight
  • Flights with Virgin's partner airlines such as Singapore, Etihad, etc, cannot be upgraded
  • Virgin won't promise business class catering if you've upgraded to business class
  • No changes or cancellations are allowed - points you've spent on your upgrade will be forfeited

Verdict: Although Virgin Australia is becoming competitive with Qantas on upgrades, it is still well behind Qantas' comprehensive and easy-to-use upgrade system.

Qantas Frequent Flyer vs Velocity: the in-depth analysis 

  1. Which program gives more points for domestic flights?
  2. Which program earns the most points for international flights? 
  3. Which program gets you to silver/gold the fastest? 
  4. Ease of getting upgrades [you are here]
  5. How paid lounge membership compares
  6. How silver perks compare
  7. How gold and platinum perks compare

Virgin Australia - Velocity Frequent Flyer

28 May 2011

Total posts 81

Being user friendly is the key! 

09 Nov 2011

Total posts 88

Dan, interesting article. Some things that you have included here need correcting. Qantas will not allow upgrades on Classic Award tickets. Qantas Redi Deal tickets are not upgradable either as you have pointed out with lower cost Virgin tickets. Virgin actually do on departure upgrades as I arranged one in The Lounge from Flexi to Business. Qantas was unable to provide my travel companion and myself ANY meal (even economy meal) on a flight we upgraded to Business a few months ago from Adelaide to Melbourne as catering were not informed in time so we were told on the aircraft. On the Qantas website now (go take a look for yourself) select say a flight in Business class from Melbourne to Hong Kong (Feb or March) and go to the 'Review' section where you will find that the International leg is in economy in most cases. I called Qantas FF about this and they said that there were no Business class seats available  -  not answering my question. Virgin will release a seat for points readily, where Qantas will hold off until the last few weeks before releasing International Business class seats.

22 Jul 2011

Total posts 96

Now on to the good stuff - who dishes out the free upgrades more readily. I have flown lots of international sectors with Qantas, without even a bump to premium economy (and that was as a Platinum for 5 years). Just recently downgraded to Gold, so don't like my changes with Qantas. Keen to hear how others have gone, particularly with Virgin.

14 Nov 2011

Total posts 11

Qantas domestically beat Virgin by a country mile when it comes to ease of upgrading. Corporate travellers forced to fly on "saver or sale fares" are very common (not that many on here would like to admit it) and the ability to upgrade these to business is a feature Virgin does not do. Furthermore you can do this online no hassle with Qantas and I have always had success and confirmation early. If they matched Qantas by allowing their customers to use their points on any ticket upgrade via a simple online system they would win across a multitude of corporate flyers.

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