Qantas and Virgin Australia count around 23 million members in their respective loyalty programs: and while plenty of people belong to both schemes, there's constant competition between the airlines to win the hearts and wallets of frequent flyers.
It's instructive, then, to look at what innovations can be borrowed and adapted from the rewards programs of other airlines around the world.
This week, Air Canada pulled back the curtain on a sweeping revamp of its Aeroplan frequent flyer program and revealed some fresh thinking on areas such as elite benefits and using points.
Although Canada and Australia are distinctively different markets, here are three highlights of Air Canada’s Aeroplan overhaul that Qantas and Virgin Australia should also consider.
Give the gift of status, one journey at a time
Both Qantas and Virgin Australia allow their most highly-travelled frequent flyers to gift Gold or even Platinum status to another person of their choosing, but that reward only comes after earning a significant number of status credits.
Air Canada’s new Aeroplan program takes a different approach. Top-tier members (equivalent to Gold and Platinum status with Qantas and Velocity) can assign a Status Pass to any other Aeroplan member, giving them a one-off boost to the equivalent of Silver status for that person's next trip.
This goes beyond the scope of a complimentary lounge pass: it includes priority check-in, three complimentary checked bags with priority handling, priority security clearance and priority boarding for the entire journey, including the return leg.
Those are all very practical benefits for anybody who's booked into economy without status.
We're not suggesting that the status pass approach should replace year-long partner status – that's a hard-earned prized perk for people who spend a lot of time travelling and away from their family – but temporary status on a per-trip basis has plenty of appeal too.
It's ideal for a partner, family member, friend or work colleague, and may even encourage that person to begin building towards their own frequent flyer status.
(Air Canada isn’t the first loyalty program to offer something like this: Hyatt hotels offers a similar ‘Guest of Honour’ system for its highest-ranking Globalist members, who can book hotel stays for other people with all their usual Globalist benefits attached, even when not travelling together.)
Earn frequent flyer status on the ground
Under the revamped Aeroplan program, members won’t only earn status by flying: they can also unlock the Silver-grade Aeroplan tier by earning points on the ground via credit card spending, booking hotels and so on.
While Qantas and Virgin Australia offer some opportunities in this regard, most are one-off boosts, and those that aren’t are capped at relatively low levels.
For instance, via the Qantas Premier Platinum Mastercard, eligible new members can currently pocket 75 bonus Qantas status credits, but only once – taking the member a quarter of the way from Qantas Bronze to Qantas Silver, with the need to fly as well.
Virgin's Velocity members can earn up to 10 status credits per month via the Flybuys program on purchases such as groceries from Coles, but which is again normally capped at 120 status credits per year: still less than half the number needed to move from Red to Silver, with at least two eligible flights required, too.
Qantas has countered this somewhat with the launch of Qantas Points Club, whereby members can earn treats like one-off airport lounge passes, or even full airport lounge membership, by earning a certain number of frequent flyer points on the ground: but Points Club levels aren’t the same as frequent flyer tiers.
Book frequent flyer reward flights at half price
Every year, Air Canada’s Aeroplan elite members will receive up to 11 ‘Priority Rewards’ vouchers. Each allows them to book a journey using points at half the usual rates: so if a flight would typically cost 100,000 points, the member would need only 50,000 to secure their seat.
From time to time, Qantas and Velocity do offer ‘sales’ of sorts for travellers booking flights with points, but discounts tend to be in the region of 15-30%, are valid for a short time only, and most often only cover economy class travel.
Air Canada Priority Rewards, on the other hand, are valid up to business class – depending on the member’s status and journey type – and can be used as desired throughout the year, providing more freedom for members and making the points members earn more valuable, by being able to stretch them further.
What's your take as a frequent flyer: how appealing would you find these ideas if adopted by Qantas or Virgin, and what other small improvements could they make to boost the practical appeal of their loyalty programs?