Every business traveller should belong to at least one frequent flyer program – but making that choice isn't as straightforward as you may think.
While the Qantas Frequent Flyer and Virgin Australia Velocity Frequent Flyer schemes are almost a reflex action, there are solid reasons to cast your net wider and consider the loyalty schemes of some overseas airlines.
One strategy is to designate an international program as your primary frequent flyer account, while still keeping Qantas or Velocity on the side to hoover up points earned from everyday shopping, filling up the car or paying bills.
With that in mind, here are some factors to consider when sizing up the best frequent flyer program for you.
1. Earn, not just burn
The frequent flyer programs of some overseas airlines have more generous points redemption rates than Qantas or Velocity – they ask for fewer points or miles to book a 'free' flight – but before you spend those points you of course need to be able to earn them, and that's where Qantas and Velocity can have the edge.
For example, consider Cathay Pacific’s Cathay program (which can be used on Oneworld partner airlines), and Singapore Airlines’ KrisFlyer, a long-time favourite for Star Alliance.
You have limited options for earning miles in these programs in Australia as there are only two main ways to increase your balance – fly a lot within their alliances, and transferring points from other sources (more on that later).
Qantas and Velocity, however, make it easy to earn frequent flyer points in many different ways, including a wide variety of competitive credit cards, while the points and status credits you can earn from flying on them can be very high, especially for high-status passengers on international premium cabins.
The following table compares what you could earn flying Sydney to London on Cathay Pacific and Qantas business class while crediting points to either Cathay or Qantas Frequent Flyer.
|Sydney to London business class||Crediting to Asia Miles and Cathay||Crediting to Qantas Frequent Flyer|
|Qantas via Singapore||13,219 miles & 135 Club points||18,600 points & 280 status credits|
|Cathay Pacific via Hong Kong||16,000 miles & 160 Club points||13,000 points & 180 status credits|
In this example, a Qantas frequent flyer in Qantas business class would net the most points and enough status credits to potentially almost make Silver status in one trip. When flying Cathay Pacific, you would barely be halfway to Silver status in either Cathay or Qantas Frequent Flyer.
So if your main intent was to earn or maintain status as quickly as possible, it makes sense to fly Qantas and credit to the Qantas Frequent Flyer scheme. And if you already hold status with Qantas, your loyalty bonus would also see your points earning skyrocket – Silver members would net 24,800 points while Platinum One members would earn a whopping 31,000 points from the same flight.
If status is not a priority and you just wanted to maximise your stash of valuable Asia Miles, then flying Cathay Pacific and crediting to its program would probably be the best way to go.
Virgin Australia's Velocity has a unique feature called Family Pooling, where points and status credits can be pooled from eligible family members into one person's account, sending them on an express path to Velocity elite status.
If you will travel a lot with your partner and kids on Virgin Australia's network and partner airlines, then sticking with Velocity might be best in the long run, as you'll be able to provide lounge access for everyone.
It’s important to factor in what you could earn from each frequent flyer program. If you have plenty of upcoming travel planned, then go to each program’s ‘earn calculator’ to see what works for you.
Also read: Why Qantas Lifetime Silver is worth having
2. Plan around lounge access rules
The best airline loyalty program for you might not necessarily be in the region you’ll be jetsetting around. The generous lounge access rules we've become accustomed to in Australia are not the same abroad.
For example – within Skyteam, even having Skyteam Elite Plus status with any airline won't unlock any lounges on domestic journeys on any continent, as an alliance-wide rule.
Likewise, lounge access within the USA is not usually granted on purely domestic or North American itineraries, even if you’re in ‘first class’ (our equivalent of business class) or hold elite status with American Airlines, Delta or United.
However, partner airline status usually will get you through the frosted doors on domestic itineraries. So if you’re going to be stateside for a while, try and notch up Sapphire status with any other Oneworld airline (such as Qantas Gold) for American Airlines lounge access.
Delta Sky Clubs can be accessed with LATAM Platinum or higher, but not through partner SkyTeam Elite Plus status as previously mentioned. United Club lounges are open with Star Alliance Gold status, such as KrisFlyer Elite Gold.
If you don’t have partner Gold status or would rather credit your earnings to other airlines, then perhaps look at investing in a US airline lounge membership, which would cover domestic access.
Alternatively, a Qantas Club membership would unlock American Airlines Admiral Clubs within the US, even on itineraries that don't involve Qantas at all.
3. Perks for sticking with one airline
If you’re going to be taking multiple flights on one airline, it’s worth looking into what additional benefits you might get as their own frequent flyer, which can often be more than those of a partner airline frequent flyer program.
For instance, Cathay Pacific's Cathay program allows Silver members to access the airline's business class lounges prior to Cathay Pacific flights, a rare perk that’s usually reserved for Gold-grade flyers.
Hong Kong-based travellers would get the most use out of this, including at the elegant flagship ‘The Pier’ lounge (below).
Australian domestic travellers will undoubtedly look to Qantas and Virgin Australia.
Our airlines reward high-status members with plenty of benefits, including boosted guesting allowances into lounges, the ability to move ahead to earlier flights, and points bonuses ranging from 50% to 100% extra on their own flights. Qantas also offers lifetime status, in the hopes of keeping your business for many years to come.
Also read: How to get Qantas Lifetime Gold status
4. Converting points from partner programs
It’s a world of points out there, and many of the points you can earn can be swapped for frequent flyer miles.
Cathay and KrisFlyer are two of the best frequent flyer programs in this regard, as you can transfer across points from lots of outside sources such as credit cards, use them for great value flight bookings, and continue to earn miles and status credits through flights on their global alliance partners (Oneworld and Star Alliance, respectively).
American Express Membership Rewards Points convert 2:1 to those two programs, for example, along with others including Etihad Guest, Velocity and Thai Royal Orchid Plus.
It’s also possible to transfer points from bank programs, such as ANZ Rewards, where you can choose from KrisFlyer, Asia Miles, Velocity and Air NZ Airpoints Dollars.
Velocity points themselves can be switched for KrisFlyer miles, at a rate of 1.55:1.
Don’t forget hotel points either, such as Marriott Rewards and Hilton Honors, which can be converted to over 40 airline frequent flyer programs at different rates.
5. Consider reward flight availability
It’s important to think about what you intend to do with all the frequent flyer points you will gradually accumulate. Generally, you’ll find the best value using them on reward flights, rather than retail store purchases.
Pick out some destinations you might want to visit on a reward flight and search for reward availability, to see how easy it is to get to your desired place by spending those hard-earned points.
A frequent flyer program within a large alliance or with multiple partnerships to other airlines will also give you the most flexibility when redeeming your points, as you'll have more airlines and potentially more routes at your doorstep.
Be aware that different frequent flyer schemes apply different fees and surcharges when booking reward flights, which may also change from airline to airline and could add hundreds or thousands of dollars to the cost of a flight booked with points – which gives you plenty of things to consider when choosing your best-fit frequent flyer scheme.
6. The destination matters
Finally, another important factor to consider when choosing a frequent flyer program is where you'll be flying to. Even if a particular airline program appears attractive, it’ll be of little use if it doesn’t offer flights to your desired destination.
For instance, if you frequently travel between Asia and Australia, the Emirates Skywards program may not be the best option as they offer limited routes between these regions. It would make more sense to choose airlines like Cathay Pacific or Singapore Airlines instead.
Which frequent flyer programs work best for you, and why? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.