Gold & platinum frequent flyer benefits: Qantas vs Virgin Australia

By danwarne, November 11 2011

This article has been updated to take into account the recent relaunch of Velocity Rewards.


Gold and platinum membership of a frequent flyer program is where the benefits really start to pile up -- but you have to spend a considerable amount with the airline to achieve it.

We're tackling both gold and platinum in this installment of our week-long comparison of Qantas Frequent Flyer and Virgin Velocity Rewards because platinum is really just an incremental improvement over gold -- it's not like the massive jump between silver and gold.

As it requires some concerted loyalty to a single airline to achieve gold or platinum (which may well mean buying more expensive tickets, flying at less convenient times or flying less direct routes), the benefits are important as a form of return on investment.

Virgin has a much lower barrier to entry for Velocity Rewards Gold -- passengers only have to earn 500 status credits to achieve it, against Qantas' 700 status credits.

Both airlines make it a bit easier to retain the gold status in subsequent years -- you only have to earn 600 with Qantas Frequent Flyer or 400 with Velocity.

Qualifying for Qantas Platinum is a tall order -- 1,400 status credits to achieve it in the first year, and 1,200 to keep it in subsequent years. Virgin Velocity Platinum is much easier -- 1,000 status credits in the first year, and 800 in subsequent years.

To get some real life examples of how many flights you'd have to take to achieve gold or platinum, check out our earlier analysis: the fastest path to silver, gold, and platinum.

What you get for going gold

Free lounge access!

Gold membership is the point at which you get the truly valuable benefit of free airline lounge access.

For Qantas, that means access to all Qantas Clubs in Australia, before a Qantas domestic flight, and Qantas International Business lounges worldwide, before flying with any oneworld airline including Qantas.

Since Qantas is a member of the oneworld airline alliance, Qantas Frequent Flyer Gold members also have oneworld sapphire status, which means they can access any oneworld member airline lounge anywhere in the world, whenever they fly with any oneworld airline (doesn't have to be the same one).

Virgin Velocity Gold status gives members access to Virgin Australia lounges in Australian domestic airports (both before departure and upon arrival, provided the lounge isn't too full), as well as 130 lounges with V Australia, Etihad, Delta, Virgin Atlantic and Pacific Blue.

However, you can generally only access them when flying with those airlines. See the full details.

Earn more points

Both Qantas Frequent Flyer gold and Velocity Rewards gold members earn 75% more points.

If you've hit gold, though, chances are that you're taking a fair few business class flights.

Our analysis shows Virgin Velocity is a much more rewarding program for business class domestic flights than Qantas Frequent Flyer, as points are awarded per dollar spent rather than miles travelled.

Take a Sydney to Perth business class return fare in September 2011 for example:

  • Qantas fare $3,040 - 9,186 points
    (4,082 points + 2,042 cabin points + 3,062 gold bonus points)
  • Virgin fare $2,798 - 24,482 points
    (gold members earn 8.75 points per dollar)

Given the number of points needed for award flights is fairly similar between Qantas and Virgin Australia, this difference is striking -- you earn nearly three times more points with Velocity.

For international flights, the two airlines are comparable, as they both issue points based on mileage travelled, rather than dollars spent.

Higher priority for upgrades

As Australian Business Traveller reported yesterday, Qantas Frequent Flyer still has an advantage over Velocity Rewards in terms of upgrades. Virgin has improved substantially since introducing a comprehensive upgrade system, but it still lags Qantas on some important points.

Qantas Frequent Flyer has a very comprehensive system for cabin class upgrades, with an easy online system to do it for both domestic and international flights.

Because Qantas only gives upgrades if seats remain unsold on the plane, it issues them in order of Frequent Flyer status. Gold members are almost at the top of the list, only below Platinums.

Gold members can also make upgrade requests at the airport rather than having to apply for them in advance -- a capability not available to bronze or silver frequent flyers.

Baggage bonuses

Gold members get baggage allowance bonuses with both airlines.

For economy domestic, that means a total baggage allowance of 32KG free with both airlines (and Virgin has the natural advantage of still allowing any number of pieces, while Qantas limits passengers to one bag.)

For business domestic, Velocity Gold is surprisingly unrewarding -- there is no extra baggage allowance, just the 69KG that is already included with a business class ticket. Qantas gives gold members flying domestic business a second 32KG bag. That being said, Virgin's 69KG total for business class is still more than Qantas' 64KG total for gold members, so it's hard to find fault with Virgin's lack of additional baggage for gold members.

For international economy, Velocity Gold has slightly better benefits than Qantas: an extra bag with V Australia to the USA with the same weight allowance as the class booked, 10KG extra to other destinations and 15KG extra with Etihad. Qantas only provides one extra bag to the USA, or 9KG extra to other destinations.

For international business, Qantas Frequent Flyer Gold has more benefits: an extra 32KG bag to the USA and an extra 32KG weight allowance for other international destinations (but no extra bag). Velocity Gold provides an extra bag with V Australia to the USA, 10KG extra to other destinations, 15KG extra with Etihad.

However, Qantas gives gold members international priority baggage handling, whereas Virgin Australia doesn't -- and this can make quite a difference to how long you have to stand at the baggage carousel while dog-tired at the end of a long flight.

Jump the queue

Gold status gives you the ability to jump the queue as often as possible at the airport.

Virgin Velocity Gold has the benefit of kerbside access to the Virgin Lounge in Sydney Airport, which means you can go straight into the airport lounge, including private security screening. (See our review).

Qantas has the advantage of dedicated security lanes for gold and above frequent flyers in many Australian airports, though, which can be a big time saver. Virgin is phasing these in, beginning with Melbourne Airport.

Both airlines give you domestic priority check-in, but only Virgin gives priority aircraft boarding to gold members (in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth).

Qantas offers gold members international priority check-in too, at Qantas Club or business class counters, while Virgin only provides this to V Australia passengers.

Qantas also offers gold members its chip-embedded plastic card for one-touch check-in at an airport terminal, and two electronic permanent wireless bag tags, allowing bag-drop without printed labels.

Side-by-side:
Qantas Frequent Flyer Gold vs Velocity Gold

  Qantas Gold Virgin Gold
Status credits to achieve 700 500
Status credits to retain 600 400
Status credits lifetime membership 14000 No
Other airline status recognition oneworld sapphire yes, with Virgin
Australia international
partner airlines
THE BASICS
How points are earned with flights 1.75 points per mile flown (both domestic and international), minimum 1000 points per flight.

Earning rates vary on partner airlines. See full explanation
8.75 points per dollar spent on domestic flights.

1.75 points per mile flown on V Australia full economy tickets.

Earning rates vary on other partner airlines. See full explanation.
BOOKING, UPGRADES AND SEATING
Priority phone assistance Yes Yes
Free seat selection on international flights Yes (Virgin does not charge for seat selection on any flight)
Advance booking of the best seats Yes Yes
Access to best seats 24 hrs before flight Yes Yes
Maximum access to award flights Yes (Virgin does not restrict access to award seats)
Priority waitlisting for flights Yes Yes
Pre-departure upgrade request (points) Yes Yes (domestic and international but only on Virgin Australia group airlines)
On-departure domestic upgrade request (points) Yes No
LOUNGE ENTRY
Free use of lounge for you and a guest when flying Yes Yes
Free use of lounge for you and a guest upon arrival No Yes - if lounge is not too full
Access to airline partner lounges Yes, oneworld lounges when flying Qantas or a oneworld partner airline. 130 lounges with V Australia, Etihad, Delta, Virgin Atlantic, Pacific Blue. Access only when flying with those airlines. Full list
Kerbside lounge entry including security No Yes (Sydney only)
Access to business lounge No N/A
Access to international first class lounge No N/A
BONUSES
Bonus on points earned on flights 75% (already included in calculations above)

75% (only on Virgin Australia group airlines. Already included in calculations above).

50% points bonus on Etihad.

Bonus on points earned with travel partners No Yes, 75% more with Hertz, Europecar, Thrifty, HotelClub, Allianz Global Assistance, Airport Parking, Brunel Limousines, Blue Holidays and Cruisepilot.
Loyalty points bonuses 5000 bonus points every 450 status credits until 30 November 2011, then 8000 points every 500 status credits, up to four times a year. No
Free elite membership with hotel/car hire partners No Yes, IHG/Hilton Hhonors, Europcar/Hertz
Guaranteed reward seats for annual family holiday Yes, but only through "Any Seat Awards" which are extremely costly Yes, if booked six months in advance.
Free membership with Secure Sentinel  No  Yes
Ability to "pause" airline status for parental leave  No  Yes
Ability to pool points and status credits for No Yes
Free lounge passes for guests not travelling with you No Yes - one for every 100 status credits accrued
BAGGAGE
Baggage tags Yes Yes
Domestic baggage bonus (economy) Extra 9KG, No Extra Bag Free 32KG bag
Domestic baggage bonus (business) One extra 32KG bag No
Domestic priority baggage handling Yes Yes
International baggage bonus (economy) Extra 23KG bag to USA. Extra 9KG to other destinations.  One extra bag (same wieght allowance as class booked) with V Australia to USA, 10KG extra to other destinations, 15KG extra with Etihad.
International baggage bonus (business) Extra 32KG bag to USA. Extra 32KG (in same bag) to other destinations. One extra bag with V Australia to the USA, 10KG extra to other destinations, 15KG extra with Etihad.
International priority baggage Yes Yes (Virgin Australia group airlines only)
CHECK IN AND BOARDING
Domestic priority check-in Yes Yes
Domestic priority security queue Yes Yes (Melbourne only)
Domestic priority boarding No Yes (Syd, Mel, Bne, Per only) 
International priority check-in Qantas Club/Business Counters Yes (Virgin Atlantic and Etihad only)
International priority security queue Yes No
International priority boarding Yes Yes (V Australia only)
One-touch check-in, plastic card as boarding pass Yes No

Verdict: Qantas Frequent Flyer Gold has terrific benefits for international travellers. There's no question that if you fly internationally, the oneworld sapphire status is more valuable than Velocity gold, as you'll be able to get into an airport lounge as long as you are flying with a oneworld alliance airline. Velocity gold membership will really only be useful while flying on a Virgin-marketed flight.

Qantas Frequent Flyer Gold is not the most rewarding program for domestic business class flights, though, which is quite a problem considering people who attain gold will probably be flying business class at least some of the time. For people flying domestic business class often, Velocity Gold is a much better value program than Qantas Frequent Flyer Gold.

It's also worth bearing in mind that Velocity Gold has a lower barrier to entry than Qantas Frequent Flyer Gold. If your travel is mostly domestic, you'll be able to enjoy gold benefits sooner with Virgin than Qantas.

Platinum perks

Platinum status is an incremental benefit over gold with both Qantas and Virgin Australia.

Qantas Platinum members get all of the gold benefits above, plus:

  • 100% points earning bonus rather than 75%
  • oneworld emerald status (all sapphire benefits plus first class check-in with any oneworld airline)
  • Access to domestic business class lounge (better food and decor than the standard Qantas Club)
  • Access to international first class lounges where available
  • Use of the lounge on arrival, not just pre-departure
  • At 2,400 status credits, choice of a gold membership to give to a friend, three valet parking or chauffeured transfer vouchers, or 50,000 points.
  • For domestic economy and business flights, two 32KG bags free
  • Extra 23KG bag to USA, 41KG extra to other international destinations.
  • Use of first class counters to check-in

If you've skipped reading the gold section above, do go back and read it, because the same caveats that apply to Qantas Frequent Flyer gold largely apply to platinum as well.

Velocity Rewards Platinum provides the above benefits of Velocity Gold plus:

  • 100% points bonus rather than 75% on Virgin Australia group airlines
  • Free upgrades from time to time
  • Priority economy seat purchase
  • Free gold membership to give to a companion at 1,500 status credits, and then free platinum membership at 2,000 status credits.
  • A higher level of Membership with IHG/Hilton Hhonors, Hertz/Europcar

Gold better than platinum?

The most important one to bear in mind is that Velocity Rewards provides far more points for domestic business class flights than Qantas.

Take a Sydney to Perth business class return fare in September 2011 for example:

  • Qantas fare $3,040 - 10,206 points
    (4,082 points + 2,042 cabin points + 4,082 platinum bonus points)
  • Virgin fare $2,798 - 27,980 points
    (10 points per dollar)

For international flights, the two airlines are now more or less equivalent. Take Sydney to London return economy as an example:

  • Qantas ($2720, direct): 42,344 points
    21,172 mileage points, 21,172 platinum bonus points
  • V Australia ($2739 via Abu Dhabi): 43,962 points
    21,846 mileage points, 21,846 platinum bonus points

Qantas Frequent Flyer Platinum vs Velocity Platinum

  Qantas Platinum Virgin Australia Platinum
Status credits to achieve 1400 1000
Status credits to retain 1200 800
Status credits lifetime membership N/A N/A
Other airline status recognition oneworld emerald yes, with Virgin
Australia international
partner airlines
THE BASICS 
How points are earned with flights 2 points per mile flown, minimum 1000 points per flight 10 points per dollar spent on domestic flights.

2 points per mile flown on V Australia full economy tickets.
BOOKING, UPGRADES AND SEATING 
Priority phone assistance Yes Yes
Free seat selection on international flights Yes (Virgin does not charge for seat selection on any flight)
Advance booking of the best seats Yes Yes
Access to best seats 24 hrs before flight Yes Yes
Maximum access to award flights Yes (Virgin does not restrict access to award seats)
Priority waitlisting for flights Yes Yes
Pre-departure upgrade request (points) Yes Yes (domestic and international but only on Virgin Australia group airlines)
On-departure domestic upgrade request (points) Yes No
LOUNGE ENTRY 
Free use of lounge for you and a guest when flying Yes Yes
Free use of lounge for you and a guest upon arrival Yes Yes - if lounge is not too full
Access to airline partner lounges Yes, oneworld lounges when flying Qantas or a oneworld partner airline. 130 lounges with V Australia, Etihad, Delta, Virgin Atlantic, Pacific Blue. Access only when flying with those airlines. Full list.
Access to business lounge Yes N/A
Access to international first class lounge Yes N/A
BONUSES 
Bonus on points earned on flights 100% 100%
Bonus on points earned with travel partners No Yes, 100% more with Hertz, Europecar, Thrifty, HotelClub, Allianz Global Assistance, Airport Parking, Brunel Limousines, Blue Holidays and Cruisepilot.
Loyalty points bonuses 5000 bonus points every 450 status credits until 30 November 2011, then 8000 points every 500 status credits, up to four times a year. No
Other special rewards At 2,400 status credits, choice of a gold membership to give to a friend, three valet parking or chauffeured transfer vouchers, or 50,000 points. At 1,500 status credits, a gold membership to give to a friend. At 2,000 status credits, a platinum membership upgrade for that friend.
Free elite membership with hotel/car hire partners No Yes, IHG/Hilton Hhonors, Europcar/Hertz
Guaranteed reward seats for annual family holiday Yes, but only through "Any Seat Awards" which are extremely costly Yes, if booked six months in advance.
Free membership with Secure Sentinel  No  Yes
Ability to "pause" airline status for parental leave  No  Yes
Ability to pool points and status credits for No Yes
BAGGAGE 
Baggage tags Yes Yes
Domestic baggage bonus (economy) Extra 9KG + 1 extra 32KG bag Free 32KG bag
Domestic baggage bonus (business) Extra 9KG + 1 extra 32KG bag No (but standard 69KG baggage allowance is bigger than Qantas' 32KG standard + 32KG bonus)
Domestic priority baggage handling Yes Yes
International baggage bonus (economy) Extra 23KG bag to USA, 41KG extra to other destinations. One extra bag (same weight allowance as class booked) with V Australia to USA, 10KG extra to other destinations, 15KG extra with Etihad.
International baggage bonus (business) Extra 23KG bag to USA, 41KG extra to other destinations. One extra bag with V Australia to the USA, 10KG extra to other destinations, 15KG extra with Etihad.
International priority baggage Yes Yes (Virgin Australia group airlines only)
CHECK IN AND BOARDING 
Domestic priority check-in Yes Yes
Domestic priority security queue Yes Yes (Melbourne only)
Domestic priority boarding No Yes (Syd, Mel, Bne, Per only)
International priority check-in Qantas Club/Business/First Class counters Yes (Virgin Atlantic and Etihad only)
International priority security queue Yes No
International priority boarding Yes Yes (V Australia only)
One-touch check-in, plastic card as boarding pass Yes No

Verdict: Qantas Frequent Flyer Platinum has some great status benefits -- access to first class lounges before international flights is a real pleasure, and the domestic business class lounges are a cut above the Qantas Club, too.

It's not the most rewarding program for domestic business class flights, though, which is quite a problem considering most people who achieve platinum will be flying business class often.

For people flying domestic business class often, Velocity Gold is actually a better choice than Qantas Platinum.

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 
  5. How paid lounge membership compares
  6. How silver perks compare
  7. How gold and platinum perks compare [you are here]
danwarne
danwarne

danwarne

TomM

TomM

23 Jun 2011

Total posts 2

Hate to burst your bubble, but its pretty rare (apart from the Perth to east coast flights, and even then only for the red eye) for people to be in paid business class. I got to Platinum status last year from domestic full fare economy fares only flying to MEL / BNE / ADL from Sydney. A lot of flights, but it does happen when you have weekly face to face client meetings. Usual path for Platinum members is a healthy mix of full fare domestic plus a couple of business class international trips. Clients or businesses will usually not pay for domestic business (apart from the red eye above) but will pay for the full fare domestic.

danwarne

danwarne

Qantas

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 177

Good point, thanks! Amazing that you achieved platinum from domestic economy flights -- to get to 1400 status credits that'd be 70 full economy Sydney-Melb flights -- a return trip 35 weeks of the year. You must have become verrry familiar with the inside of the airport and Qantas' aircraft!

It really does highlight the benefit of flying full economy, though... the doubling of the status credits. If flying discount economy, it'd be 140 Sydney-Melb flights -- a return trip 70 weeks a year. 

(Of course, you were sometimes flying to ADL so you'd have got more status credits for those flights..)

It'd be even easier for people to achieve Platinum under this sort of regimen now that Qantas has slashed its prices for flexible fares so much (which include full economy status credits). $200 Syd-Mel fares vs $117 for economy... the gap is nowhere near as big as it used to be.  

sdwylie

sdwylie

Qantas - Platinum

18 Jan 2011

Total posts 84

Perhaps it's a little unfair to suggest Virgin Australia offers upgrades from Economy to Premium Economy in your comparison table, when this is clearly a limited time (2 month) promotion.

danwarne

danwarne

Qantas

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 177

Yes, possibly... though I expect that from August onwards there will be a formalised upgrade system as part of their new frequent flyer program. But a very valid point nonetheless. I've updated the table accordingly.

AlG

AlG

04 Nov 2010

Total posts 674

Wow, there's a lot of reading here so I now how I will be spending my weekend, LOL! Thanks for this article and the others this week, I started a new job in March and will be doing a lot of business travel in Australia and Asia in Q3-Q4 so this article is going to be very helpful in working out who I should be flying with. Any chance you can also look at some of the Asian airlines and how their reward programs compare?

avi8or

avi8or

08 Nov 2011

Total posts 1

Qantas now allows 2 pieces @ 23KG each for their Gold frequent flyer's when travelling domestically.

John Kelly

John Kelly

09 Nov 2011

Total posts 1

It is possible to get to and maintain QFF Platinum on a mixed domestic and international discount economy (I have not bought a Business or Premium Economy or Full Fare on any of my travels). I've been QFF Platinum for last 6 years and just requalfied for next year with a month to go.

My sister was a flight attendant and told me that they tell Platinum FF's they should get a life.

To switch to Virgin they would need to make a good offer - Instant Gold for example.

BradRyan

BradRyan

01 Jun 2015

Total posts 1

Perhaps it's time to do an update to this article. There have been a number of changes (in Qantas' case, deteriorating) to earning scale, and for me in particular, Platinum benefits. I'm a 30 year Qantas loyalist (although only 20 year Frequent Flyer), and even I'm considering my options.


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