Maximise your miles with a portfolio of frequent flyer programs

By John Walton, March 6 2012
Maximise your miles with a portfolio of frequent flyer programs

When travelling abroad it can be a challenge to make the most of the miles you're flying by earning frequent flyer points and status.

The global airline alliances -- oneworld, SkyTeam and Star Alliance -- can be useful, but only oneworld has a full Australian partner.

So the obvious question for Australian business travellers is whether you'll earn Qantas or Virgin Australia points, since airlines that have partnerships with Australia's carriers are the best way to keep your frequent flyer account balance ticking along.

But if you're travelling overseas, you often end up on unfamiliar airlines that aren't partners with Virgin or Qantas.

The trick is to keep a mix of other frequent flyer programs that can help you avoid losing out on miles and points.

And remember: most frequent flyer programs are free to join, so you won't be out of pocket.

We've put together a selection of frequent flyer programs that will let you pick up points from a comprensive range of different airlines' programs -- while still allowing you to spend them relatively easily closer to home.

Got a favourite of your own? Let us know which other cards you add to your wallet in a comment at the end of the article.

Qantas Frequent Flyer is one of the best options for international travel.
Qantas Frequent Flyer is one of the best options for international travel.

Qantas Frequent Flyer

Qantas has Australia's most internationally useful frequent flyer program, so it's at the top of the heap.

Qantas Frequent Flyer members can collect points on: Aer Lingus, Aeropelican, Air Niugini, Airnorth, Air Pacific, Air Vanuatu, Alaska Airlines, Alitalia, American Airlines, Brindabella Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific (including Dragonair), China Eastern, El Al, Finnair, Iberia, Japan Airlines (including JALways, JAL Express and Japan Transocean Air), Jet Airways, LAN (including LAN Express, LAN Peru, LAN Ecuador, LAN Argentina, Malev*, Mexicana*, Royal Jordanian, S7 and South African Airways.

* airlines currently out of service

Virgin Australia Velocity Frequent Flyer

Velocity members can collect points on: Air New Zealand, Airlines PNG, Delta, Etihad, Hawaiian Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Skywest, Virgin America and Virgin Atlantic. (The Virgin-Malaysia Airlines partnership ends on 1 April.)

But let's say you're flying on other airlines. What's the next most useful account to pick up? Middle Eastern airlines are a decent choice, since they tend to have partners across the major alliances and opportunities to redeem points for domestic or regional flights closer to home.

Emirates Skywards

Emirates has a fairly extensive network of flights to and from Australia, including across the Tasman, so its Skywards programme is a useful place to stash points from Jet Airways, Kingfisher Airlines, Korean Air and South African Airways, since you can redeem for flights -- or upgrades to business and first class -- relatively easily.

Emirates is also a Japan Airlines partner, though you're probably better off funnelling JAL flights to Qantas Frequent Flyer.

Etihad's ever-increasing range of frequent flyer partnerships makes it a useful card to hold, even though it's a Velocity partner too.
Etihad's ever-increasing range of frequent flyer partnerships makes it a useful card to hold, even though it's a Velocity partner too.

Etihad Guest

Etihad has a remarkably wide range of partners across the major alliances for its Etihad Guest program, and its miles can be spent on Virgin Australia or Air New Zealand flights locally.

Frequent flyers can collect Etihad Guest miles on: Alitalia, ANA, Asiana, Bangkok Airways, Brussels Airlines, Jet Airways, Malaysia Airlines, Oman Air, Sri Lankan Airlines and Ukraine International Airlines, with Air Berlin soon to join.

While Etihad also has partnerships with Air New Zealand and Virgin Australia, it's likely to be a better idea to put those flights towards your Virgin Australia Velocity account.

Similarly, although Etihad partners with American Airlines, Qantas Frequent Flyer is likely a better home for AA flights.

All Nippon Airways (ANA) Mileage Club

For Star Alliance airline flights without local partners, you might be surprised that we recommend ANA.

While Star members Singapore Airlines and Air New Zealand are Velocity Frequent Flyer partners, there's no other really useful option for Star Alliance miles. (And Air New Zealand's Airpoints program is a notoriously poor program, especially if you don't live in NZ.)

Caveat: if you're flying more than 20,000 miles in a year, Aegean may be a good option -- see below.

ANA has a very useful mileage redemption booking engine, and is a favourite of several in-the-know frequent flyers for that reason. (Korean airline Asiana comes a relatively close second.

Mileage Club is a good place to stash flights on most Star Alliance airlines: Adria Airways, Aegean Airlines, Air Canada, Air China, Asiana, Austrian Airlines, Blue1, bmi, Brussels Airlines, Continental Airlines, Croatia Airlines, EgyptAir, Ethiopian Airlines, LOT Polish Airlines, Lufthansa, Scandinavian Airlines (SAS), South African Airways, Spanair*, Swiss, TAM, TAP Portugal, Thai Airways, Turkish Airlines, United and US Airways.

* airline currently out of service

Star members Air New Zealand and Singapore Airlines are also ANA partners, but it's likely better to funnel those points to Velocity.

ANA Mileage Club is also a useful program for Air Macau, Eva Air, Jet Airways, Qatar Airways and Shenzhen Airlines. ANA also partners with Etihad, Hawaiian Airlines and Virgin Atlantic, but those are probably better put towards Velocity as well.

Aegean Airlines

The exception to the ANA-for-Star-Alliance recommendation comes if you're planning to fly around 20,000 miles (or just 10,000 miles in business class) with Star Alliance airlines, because Aegean will give you a superbly quick route to Star Gold status.

So check out our guide to the Aegean Star Alliance Gold shortcut for the benefits to Gold status and how to snag it. 

Despite heaps of member airlines, the SkyTeam alliance isn't a great proposition for Australians.
Despite heaps of member airlines, the SkyTeam alliance isn't a great proposition for Australians.

But where's SkyTeam?

The big problem with the SkyTeam airline alliance is that there isn't really a compelling program for Australians, and several key SkyTeam players will allow you to earn on other programs.

Delta flights get you Velocity points, China Eastern and Alitalia can be funneled to Qantas Frequent Flyer, Korean Air will earn Emirates Skywards miles, and that doesn't leave a lot of SkyTeam members you can't earn on.

If you're flying enough on SkyTeam members that won't earn you points elsewhere, you're probably best off picking the frequent flyer scheme from your most frequently travelled airline -- or feel free to ask a question below and see if your fellow AusBT readers have suggestions!

What's in your wallet?

Does that look like your frequent flyer wallet? What's your portfolio? Share your tips, tactics and strategies in a comment.

John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.

21 Feb 2012

Total posts 40

My Portfolio looks like this:

Qantas Platinum (through status runs and flying CBR-PER), Velocity Platinum, Air New Zealand Gold Elite (Both through Status Match)

I've got a Qantas Ultimate AmEx (Free Flight and 1.5/2.5 pts per $) and Citibusiness Gold (1.25 QFF per $ for Visa to avoid AmEx Surcharge).

Am flying to the US and internally this month, can't wait to check out the lounges (have been to the Syd QF F Lounge, hopefully the Mel QF F Lounge is as nice).

Qantas - Platinum

18 Jan 2011

Total posts 84

Thanks for this article - it's very interesting to read, as the Qantas offering is getting a little stale for my liking (qualify each year for Platinum in about 3 months and don't get any value beyond that...).

One thing that would be really helpful, though, is to look at how these programs cater for upgrades with points - as this is my preferred method of spending points (I almost always prefer to book Premium Economy for my self-funded international flights, then upgrade to business).

I know that Qantas FF really only supports upgrades with points for Qantas operated flights (not other OneWorld airlines) - are the other programs the same for other alliances?

03 Jan 2011

Total posts 673

Most programs allow upgrades with points, and the majority of them allow confirmable upgrades in advance. (Qantas is quite unusual in its "late-confirming" upgrades here; Air NZ is also following suit with slashing confirmable upgrade benefits for frequent flyers.)

A comparison is a great idea -- we'll put it on the list!

Qantas - Platinum

18 Jan 2011

Total posts 84

Thanks - it's not so much the upgrades with the airline itself, but upgrading with partner airlines - for instance, I can't upgrade a Cathay Pacific or British Airways flight with my Qantas FF points.

I'm interested in whether, for example, I could be a Star Alliance member with, say, ANA, but use the ANA points to upgrade a Singapore Airlines or Air New Zealand flight, etc...

03 Jan 2011

Total posts 673

On Star Alliance, the answer is yes (but beware the incredibly irritating autoplay music on that site).

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

19 Nov 2011

Total posts 246

Majority of Frequent Flyer programs have miles expiry. The most common is 3 years. For Australian programs, they points remain active if there is at least a transaction within18 months for QFF and 36 months for Velocity.

If you do not earn and use your miles from foreign carriers' program, you're losing them, so, I do not see the point of having them unless you earn enough to redeem for something you want. I might as well suggest that when you travel abroad, try looking for Oneworld Partners and Velocity Partners even if it means having to transit. Another annoying point about having foreign program membership is that you are limited to earning points by flying with them and their partners only. You can't really earn through other means like credit card redemptions or shopping portals as they do not partner with Australian financial institutions nor our shopping portal scene.

Foreign carriers e.g. Etihad, Emirates, Virgin Atlantic, Malaysia Airlines, Singapore Airlines and Air New Zealand have credit card partners in Australia e.g. Amex, Westpac, Citibank, CBA, ANZ

I did some research and put it in my blog.

For SkyTeam, probably Delta SkyMiles which valid for life.

Understand that this article applies to Business Travellers where you're probably going to benefit from these foreign carriers' programs if you actually fly with them often. For non-frequent travellers, probably a little bit of research is needed to investigate on joining a Star Alliance and Sky Team appropriate points earn and validity.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

21 Feb 2012

Total posts 30

I fly about 25,000 actual miles per year internationally and most recently have put all flights (Star Alliance) on my SQ Silver Kris account.  I have done this because I use SQ most of the time to fly ex Australia and can book the redemption flights online.  Very simple.   The number of miles required for redemptions on SQ website is generally less than other Star Alliance carriers ex Australia  BUT I notice I only get 125% miles on Kris Flyer whereas, for example,  LH Miles and More I get 200%.  Maybe one balances out the other. On SQ, you need less miles but you got less miles in the first place.

Any comments/suggestion on this?   Would the Aegean program help here?    

03 Jan 2011

Total posts 673

I think the answer depends on what you want to do with your miles and how else you're acquiring them. If you've got a stack of points coming in from credit cards, that's one thing.

Similarly, if much of your flying is domestic Australia on Virgin, then you're almost certainly bound to be better off with Velocity, especially in terms of status credits.

D'you want to say a little more about what you want and how you're racking up the miles so that our guru readers can lend a hand?

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

19 Nov 2011

Total posts 246

I say stick with SQ since you have the option to earn with Virgin Australia and also own a SIA KrisFlyer Westpac Credit Card or Amex whilst living in Australia. I think there are more options to earn miles with SQ while living in Australia as well. May need to check their website for the miles earning potential.

With Aegean, you will probably be limited to earn points to flying and renting vehicles.

22 Jul 2011

Total posts 19

My recommendations would be:

 - pick a program in each alliance and credit all alliance flights to that program so that you earn status on each alliance. Crediting partner flights to programs where you only earn points to me is a waste of a flight (especially the example of crediting Alitalia or China Eastern to as poor a program as Qantas FF, when they could be earning you miles AND status on a SkyTeam carrier).

 - if you think you can get there, pick programs which offer some form of lifetime membership after you have accrued certain lifetime status thresholds

 - pick programs where earn activity extends the life of your points. For this reason I avoid Singapore and Cathay where your points expire after three years regardless of how many you have credited, especially if you are trying to build up for long haul business or first class redemptions

- I personally fail to see the appeal of the Middle Eastern carrier programs given their lack of alliance membership, and crediting their partners usually doesn't earn you status with them

 - pick at least one US carrier in your mix (which this analysis omits), as those programs have more earning options (such as buying miles, bonuses, online shopping malls, much greater range of program partners) than do Australian or Asian programs

- disagree on the assessment about "no compelling Skyteam" program for Australian travellers. Delta now allows you to credit miles and earn status credits from Virgin Australia flights, they have the additional mile earning opportunities of a US program, they have their own shopping portal with Australian retailers (https://asiashopping.delta.com/en/) and whilst redemption rates on their own metal can be high, their partner redemptions Australia-Europe are much better than the woeful QF program.

My main programs are:

Oneworld - Qantas - approaching lifetime Silver and credit card spend and domestic flights are easily credited and redeemed there (although I now wish I was closing in on Lifetime with AA, which is a much better Oneworld program for redemptions)

Star Alliance - Asiana - Star Gold for 2 further years after flying 40,000 miles over 2 years, and lifetime Star Gold after 500,000 miles of Star Alliance carriers (I don't fly Star much and I think redemptions on US Airways program are much better)

SkyTeam - Delta - As well as SkyTeam carriers, Virgin Australia flights now earn you miles and status credits with them, Plus it has the additional earning options of a US carrier.

03 Jan 2011

Total posts 673

Thanks for the comprehensive recommendations! That's a great portfolio for the seriously frequent flyer, a good step above the traveller I had in mind when writing this, who's just looking for a place to stash some miles from an unusual airline and getting pretty good coverage.

The problem with US programs (especially oneworld) is the lack of domestic lounge access on United and US Air, which is pretty poor. I miss Continental OnePass...that was a useful program.

I have been known to take advantage of the US Air "buy all the miles you need" option, though...

(We'll have to disagree on Delta SkyPesos -- I still struggle to find a seriously good redemption opportunity, although those partner redemptions you mention aren't half bad!)

22 Jul 2011

Total posts 19

In regards to "SkyPesos", the easiest comparison for me is looking to redeem in Business SYD-JFK return:

 - Delta wants either 120,000 (Low, rare), 240,000 (Medium) or 370,000 (High, or last seat availability). So even at the last minute, maximum is 370,000 plus c. $150 in taxes.

 - Qantas Classic Awards are minimum 256,000 points, more if the seats go through HKG on Cathay, plus much higher taxes. If Classic availability doesn't suit (and it generally doesn't), your only other option are Any Seat Awards which will come to around 1,000,000 points at least.

Nevertheless, happy for other to focus exclusively on the Qantas Frequent Shopper Program!

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

21 Feb 2012

Total posts 30

Gentlemen,   perhaps in my haste, I didnt give more details of my travel etc. for a more focussed response from you all.  Apologies.

I am a retired person now so my travel is usually restricted to family visits to Sydney with Virgin and the once per year trip to Europe, and possibly US next year.   Business class internationally.  Saver on Virgin.

I have Amex Platinum for Membership Awards also a Velocity card (basic).Plus a Westpac Amex.

Should I put my mileage earned on my Star Alliance international flights,  almost always SQ from Australia, to my SQ card or Velocity card?    Remembering that SQ asks for less miles to redeem flights than Velocity on SQ.

I also have a Qantas card, with some 50,000 points.   Probably use them one day for an upgrade, as Qantas deserted the Gold Coast some years ago and left us with that awful Jetstar instead.

I really appreciate your comments.   

Reg
Reg

American Airlines - AAdvantage

20 Jun 2012

Total posts 25

I have used Delta for 2 US / Central America trips over 2 years and plan one each year. This has given me a silver medallion status, but I don't gain enough points per year to jump to the next level. I travel to Europe and the UK as well - any tips on credit card affilliations that could earn me Skyteam points? Somewhat disillusioned with Qantas valus-for-money points redemptions at present and don't use qantas enough to get a meaningful status

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

13 Apr 2013

Total posts 3

Is there a way to transfer points from ANA to Velocity?

Reg
Reg

American Airlines - AAdvantage

20 Jun 2012

Total posts 25

SkyTeam perks are excellent - automatic queueing for free upgrades on Silver and above. Flights with Virgin Aus get you status credits and miles, as with a number of others such as Airfrance and KLM - good for Europe and Caribbean (if you want to stop in Paris on your way to Caribbean) and Flying Blue equivalent to Skyteam membership. Silver upwards get you an extra piece of luggage (23 kgs) at no charge.


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