The battle for business travellers and frequent flyers is heating up, with elite members of 31 airline loyalty programs currently able to bring their status to Qantas or Virgin Australia, unlocking perks like airport lounge access and more.
Until 11:59pm (AEDT) on Friday December 18, Qantas is inviting high flyers from 16 rival frequent flyer programs – including Virgin Australia Velocity – to express their interest in a fast-track to Qantas Gold.
Similarly, Virgin is tempting travellers from Qantas, as well as all other Oneworld member airlines plus Air New Zealand, Emirates and Fiji Airways, to register for Velocity ‘Discover Gold’ status: a springboard into a full year of Velocity Gold after a small amount of flying.
But handing out status isn’t the only way that airlines are trying to land your business.
Fare prices are another motivator – not only to entice travellers back into the skies, but also to encourage people to book an airline that they mightn’t otherwise consider.
The status war is prelude to a fare war
Earlier this year, Jetstar trotted out $19 fares between Sydney and Melbourne when domestic borders first came down, followed later by Regional Express (Rex) with $79 flights for travel from March 2021: inclusive of checked baggage, as well as an inflight snack and drink.
More recently, Jetstar has started pulling aircraft from its Australian international arm and repurposing them for domestic travel.
A surge in local demand has seen some planes brought down from Jetstar Asia's Singapore hub, with more from Singapore and Japan likely to follow.
“Those international services won't be flying straight away so we can utilise those aircraft back in Australia to boost capacity,” Jetstar CEO Gareth Evans told The Sydney Morning Herald.
With more capacity comes cheaper prices, as airlines work to fill planes with people.
Price wars aren’t limited to economy – at the front of the plane, Virgin Australia is bringing down the price of business class, with fares between $449 and $599 on the Sydney-Melbourne route for travel in January 2021, versus Qantas fares starting at $900.
“I'm sure Qantas fully intends to hang on to its market share, so it's going to be very competitive, which is fantastic for Australians,” Virgin Australia CEO Jayne Hrdlicka observed at CAPA Live this month.
“It will never have been cheaper to travel in this country, right? And that's great, because it gets everybody back and flying.”
Looking forward to March 2021, Regional Express has gone one better, with business class tickets starting at $299 one-way, including airport lounge access.
Also read: Your guide to Rex Boeing 737 business class
The dogfight for frequent flyers
Although Qantas has previously unlocked some shorter paths to status – such as temporary offers of status credits on groceries and fuel purchases, and with certain credit cards – never before has the airline run a ‘status challenge’ so publicly.
Past iterations – under the banner of a ‘Qantas Tier Accelerator’ – were normally given only by invitation or special request.
Direct status matching, such as Velocity Gold to Qantas Gold, was also generally seen only when Qantas won a major corporate travel contract, with the company’s travelling employees offered an equivalent Qantas Frequent Flyer tier as part of the move.
While this isn’t the first time that Virgin Australia has publicly matched Qantas’ elite travellers to Velocity, it’s certainly the airline’s inaugural status match for other Oneworld frequent flyers.
Here’s a look at what status matching options are currently available with both Qantas and Virgin Australia, based on your current tier.
Status matching for Australia Pacific frequent flyers
As you’d no doubt expect, the Qantas status match has Virgin Australia’s Velocity Gold and Platinum members in its cross-hairs.
Similarly, Virgin Australia is targetting Qantas Gold, Platinum and Platinum One frequent flyers.
But there are many other paths to fast-tracked status with an Australian airline.
Air New Zealand’s Airpoints Gold and Elite members are spoiled for choice, being the only frequent flyers who can register for both the Qantas and Virgin Australia status challenge offers from a single card: so take your pick, or even sign up for both.
Members of the Fiji Airways Tabua Club Plus scheme – the ‘earned’ tier of the otherwise-paid Tabua Club program, achieved after flying often with Fiji Airways – can also register for Virgin's Velocity fast-track.
Status matching from Asian frequent flyer programs
Travellers toting frequent flyer status with airlines based in Asia may again be eligible for either the Qantas or Virgin Australia status shortcuts.
If that’s you, here’s where your current status can be matched, and which frequent flyer card you’ll need to hold:
- Air China, to Qantas: PhoenixMiles Gold, Platinum
- Air India, to Qantas: Flying Returns Golden Edge Club, Maharajah Club
- ANA, to Qantas: Mileage Club Platinum, Diamond
- Asiana Airlines, to Qantas: Asiana Club Diamond, Diamond Plus, Platinum
- Cathay Pacific, to Virgin Australia: Marco Polo Club Gold, Diamond
- EVA Air, to Qantas: Infinity MileageLands Gold, Diamond
- Japan Airlines, to Virgin Australia: JAL Global Club Crystal, Sapphire, Premier and Diamond; JMB Sapphire and Diamond
- Korean Air, to Qantas: Skypass Morning Calm Premium Club, Million Miler Club
- Malaysia Airlines, to Virgin Australia: Enrich Gold, Platinum
- Shenzhen Airlines, to Qantas: PhoenixMiles Gold, Platinum
- Singapore Airlines, to Qantas: KrisFlyer Elite Gold, PPS Club, Solitaire PPS Club
- SriLankan Airlines, to Virgin Australia: FlySmiLes Gold, Platinum
- Thai Airways, to Qantas: Royal Orchid Plus Gold, Platinum
It's quite a lengthy list, but all you need is one eligible card from the options above to get started.
Status matching from North American frequent flyer programs
Australian travellers holding status in one of the ‘big four’ North American frequent flyer programs can bring that lofty elite tier across to Qantas or Virgin Australia, as below.
- Air Canada, to Qantas: Aeroplan 50K, 75K, Super Elite
- American Airlines, to Virgin Australia: AAdvantage Platinum, Platinum Pro, Executive Platinum
- Delta Air Lines, to Qantas: SkyMiles Gold Medallion, Platinum Medallion, Diamond Medallion
- United Airlines, to Qantas: MileagePlus Premier Gold, Premier Platinum, Premier 1K
As expected, Qantas and Virgin Australia aren’t accepting status matches from their own partner frequent flyer programs.
For example, American Airlines’ AAdvantage members can match that status to Velocity, but not to Qantas – as AA members already enjoy perks on Qantas flights like airport lounge access.
The reverse is true for tiered members at Delta, who continue to get Virgin Australia lounge access and more on domestic flights, but can match that status to Qantas for a similar raft of benefits with the Roo.
Status matching from UK, European and Russian frequent flyer programs
If your status is normally a little further flung, you may still qualify for a fast-track to Virgin Australia Velocity Gold, as below.
- British Airways, to Virgin Australia: Executive Club Silver, Gold
- Finnair, to Virgin Australia: Finnair Plus Gold, Platinum, Platinum Lumo
- Iberia, to Virgin Australia: Iberia Plus Oro, Platino, Infinita, Infinita Prime
- S7 Airlines, to Virgin Australia: S7 Priority Gold, Platinum
Notably, Qantas is not currently status matching any airlines from these regions, but already counts the four airlines above as Oneworld alliance partners.
Although Australian residents can’t technically join British Airways’ Executive Club, Virgin Australia is still accepting status match requests from these members, who may have been able to join BA originally by listing an overseas address.
Status matching from Middle Eastern and African frequent flyer programs
Frequent flyers of the Middle East’s three largest airlines have a chance to bring their status Down Under, as do travellers with a fourth Middle Eastern carrier, plus two in Africa.
- Emirates, to Virgin Australia: Skywards Gold, Platinum
- Etihad Airways, to Qantas: Etihad Guest Gold, Platinum
- Qatar Airways, to Virgin Australia: Privilege Club Gold, Platinum
- Royal Air Maroc, to Virgin Australia: Safar Flyer Gold, Platinum
- Royal Jordanian, to Virgin Australia: Gold Sparrow, Platinum Hawk
- South African Airways, to Qantas: SAA Voyager Gold, Platinum
All six of these airlines have an Australian partner, with the rival of that partner being the one offering a status match.
For instance, Emirates, Qatar Airways, Royal Air Maroc and Royal Jordanian are all partners of Qantas – thus, Virgin Australia is matching their status.
Similarly, Etihad Airways and South African Airways are aligned with Virgin Australia, which sees Qantas targeting these travellers.
Act fast to bring your status home
If you’re hoping to bring your frequent flyer status to Qantas, you’ll need to be quick.
The airline’s offer closes at precisely 11:59pm on Friday December 18 2020. To be in with a chance, you’ll need to complete an ‘expression of interest’ form on the airline’s website before this time, to get the process started.
Virgin Australia’s offer gives you a bit more time to get your paperwork together and apply online, being open until Monday January 4 2021.
That deadline was previously December 21 2020, but this was pushed back when the initial fast-track offer for Qantas Frequent Flyer members was broadened to target travellers of Oneworld, Air New Zealand, Emirates and Fiji Airways.
Either way, “it's a Merry Christmas for Australians who love to travel,” quips Virgin Australia’s Jayne Hrdlicka.