Australian travellers are familiar with both Qantas Frequent Flyer and Virgin Australia's Velocity Frequent Flyer, but there’s more to the world of airline loyalty programs than just this home-grown duo.
In fact, with Qantas overhauling its frequent flyer program from July 1, many travellers are looking closely at their options.
Here's our pick of the top five frequent flyer schemes of international airlines which Aussie travellers should know about.
1. American Airlines AAdvantage
As a member of the global Oneworld airline alliance, American Airlines’ AAdvantage program allows members to both earn and redeem miles on Qantas and other Oneworld flights.
AA’s top travellers have lounge access and priority check-in benefits with Qantas – as do eligible members of Qantas Frequent Flyer.
At the Gold, Platinum and Executive Platinum tiers (likened to Qantas Silver, Gold and Platinum, respectively) travellers enjoy more generous loyalty bonuses than Qantas Frequent Flyer, and do so across most of AA’s partner airlines.
While the earning rates on some Qantas flights aren’t as high as in Qantas’ own program, fewer points are needed when it comes time to redeem them.
Read more: What’s next for Qantas frequent flyers? AAdvantage.
2. Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
Frequent international travellers often find KrisFlyer useful for snapping up award seats in Suites – Singapore Airlines’ ultra-luxe first class.
As both a Star Alliance member and a partner to Virgin Australia, KrisFlyer members have lounge access and other benefits when travelling with the likes of Thai Airways, United Airlines, and of course, Virgin Australia and Singapore Airlines.
One significant caveat is that Elite Miles – the KrisFlyer equivalent to status credits – can only be earned on Virgin Australia flights when booked as part of an overseas trek with an SQ flight number.
That makes the program great for frequent international travellers, but less so for those who rarely have their passport stamped.
On the other hand, if you often travel on paid business or first class fares, a $25,000/year spend is enough to grab uber-elite PPS Club status, which ranks above the ordinary KrisFlyer Gold tier.
Read more: Singapore Airlines' KrisFlyer scheme for Aussie travellers
3. Emirates Skywards
While not aligned to Oneworld, Star Alliance or SkyTeam, Emirates’ raft of partners includes Qantas, Japan Airlines, Korean Air and Virgin America, on which travellers can both earn and redeem Skywards miles.
Qantas Frequent Flyer dishes out those all-important status credits when booking codeshare flights with Emirates, but by booking EK-coded flights, you’ll be able to earn Skywards tier miles instead.
That includes sectors on Qantas’ own aircraft booked through Emirates, so you can still use Qantas to boost or maintain your Emirates frequent flyer level.
On the domestic front, both Skywards miles and tier miles can only be earned on Qantas flights booked as part of an international itinerary.
Read more: Emirates Skywards frequent flyer scheme for Aussie travellers
4. Cathay Pacific Asia Miles and the Marco Polo Club
Cathay’s programs are a slightly complex arrangement – everyone can earn points through the Asia Miles program, but only paid-up members of The Marco Polo Club have a shot at elite status.
Like American Airlines, Cathay Pacific’s Oneworld membership sees perks like lounge access, priority check-in and boarding available to eligible Marco Polo Club members on Qantas and other Oneworld flights.
Silver members can visit Cathay Pacific and Dragonair business class lounges whenever flying with either airline – a one-up on Qantas’s Silver members, who receive just a single lounge visit every year.
On Qantas flights, Cathay doesn’t award anything on the cheaper economy seats, so the program is best suited to business class passengers or those travelling on flexible fares.
That said, the Asia Miles program is terrific for business class upgrades – 22,500 Asia Miles is enough for a return upgrade from premium economy to business class when flying from Sydney to Hong Kong.
Read more: Cathay Pacific business class upgrade guide
5. Aegean Airlines Miles&Bonus
This one comes out of left field – Star Alliance member Aegean Airlines doesn't even fly to Australia.
But there's a canny reason it makes our top five list. Aegean's Miles&Bonus frequent flyer program has a very low threshold for earning Gold status, which then delivers Gold-grade perks across all other Star Alliance airlines such as Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways, Air Canada, Air New Zealand, Asiana Airlines and United.
Earning just 20,000 ‘tier miles’ is enough to net you Aegean Gold, and you can do that with a single flight from Melbourne to New York.
Read more: How to get Star Alliance Gold frequent flyer status with one flight
Follow Australian Business Traveller on Twitter: we're @AusBT
Hi Guest, join in the discussion on Five other frequent flyer programs you should know about
17 Feb 2012
Total posts 121
One significant minus for the EK & SQ FF programs are the expiry of points after three years. Yes you can extend once but it is a major deficit if you are stockpiling points for a decent trip.
12 Dec 2012
Total posts 1017
Problem with the AA program (and US based programs in general) is they limit lounge access for their members.
While a QF Platinum member can use an AA Flagship lounge before any oneworld flight (eg, the lounges at LAX, ORD and JFK), an AA Executive Platinum can't access that same lounge unless in F on a 3 class JFK-LAX/SFO flight, or flying outside North America.
19 Jun 2013
Total posts 60
Another FF program which has potential for Oz travellers would be Delta Skymiles. Local VA customers get miles & tier credits (MQMs in Sky-speak) in nearly all VA fare classes at min. 100%, and the upper tiers also get the same perks as VA's own Gold & Plats when travelling on VA. This effectively makes VA a de-facto Skyteam member from the customer's point of view.
Finally, a comment regarding gaining Star Gold status via Aegean Airlines scheme... my understanding is that many of the other Star carriers with more conventional tier-level earning thresholds, do not readily or happily recognise or accept Aegean Gold status, which may result in undignified scenes at priority check-in counters or lounges.
For what it's worth, my next-best pick for low thresholds to obtain *Gold would be Turkish A/L, at just 40K miles with a 2-year card status validity.