Qantas epiQure vs Virgin Wines: flogging fizz to frequent flyers

By Chris Chamberlin, March 24 2014

Want to top up your wine cellar and your Qantas or Virgin Australia frequent flyer balance at the same time?

Both airlines tempt travellers with online wine stores - badged as Qantas epiQure and Virgin Wines – where you earn three points for every dollar spend.

So which provides the best drop in a sea of points?

Joining fee

Virgin Wines is a simple online wine store where anybody can place an order.

Qantas epiQure is more of a 'wine club' which you have to pay to join – annual epiQure membership costs $99 or 13,000 Qantas Points – with a social aspect incorporating fine dining and other events.

To offset that joining fee, new epiQure members are given the choice of an 'exclusively blended' Seppeltsfield Rare Tawny or a bottle of Taittinger Brut Reserve NV Champagne (below, valued at $59.99 if ordering a case).

EpiQure members can also buy wine using Qantas points instead of cash.

Ordering and delivery

Both the Qantas epiQure and Virgin Wines websites have a reasonable interface, although in terms of functionality, Virgin Wines needs to work on its search options – selecting “sort by price: low-high” displays products out of pricing sequence.

Qantas epiQure provides free delivery on all orders, while Virgin Wines charges $9.99-$14.99 per order depending on your location.

In addition to retail wine purchases, both companies also offer wine subscriptions – known as the Discovery Club with Virgin, or simply a Wine Plan with epiQure – which automatically sends you a mixed case of wine every three months.

This keeps a supply of vino on tap and also lets you sample a variety of drops.

Reds

With 81 reds in the cellar, Virgin Wines isn’t to be sniffed at – prices begin at $16.99/bottle for the Saturday Night Special Shiraz Cabernet, and max out at $40 for a bottle of Peter Lehmann’s ‘The Antiquus’ Shiraz 2011.

On the other hand, Qantas epiQure boasts 200 red selections – including the affordable Brokenwood Cricket Pitch Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2012 for $14.99/bottle in a case of six.

If you’re after that all-elusive Penfolds Grange 2008 Shiraz, you’ll find it here for $729 per single bottle – although thrifty wine buffs could buy a case of 6 for $4,314, saving $60 over six bottles.

Whites

Virgin Wines boasts a respectable list of 50 whites, ranging from an $11.99/bottle Fat Hen Single Vineyard Sauvignon 2011 through to a Cloudy Bay 2012 Sauvignon Blanc at $35.99/bottle.

Qantas epiQure members can choose from 80 white wines – from the 2013 Squealing Pig Sauvignon Blanc at $16.99/bottle (in a case of six) right through a case of six Chateau d'Yquem 2004 bottles for $1,500 – or nearly 1.3 million Qantas Frequent Flyer points if you have no better use for them.

Sparkling & Champagne

Unlike the red and white wine offerings, the Virgin Wines selection here is remarkably poor… only six products are listed, with one being a gift pack devoid of any description or imagery:

At the upper end of Virgin’s limited range is Veuve Clicquot Brut NV (Yellow Label) at $80/bottle, with Bollinger Special Cuvée for $67.99/bottle, plus delivery charges.

Oddly enough, these top drops are not available from Qantas epiQure!

On the Qantas side of the vine there are 31 sparkling wine and champagne varieties – ranging from a Taittinger Brut NV gift pack for $79.99 (including two champagne flutes), right up to the $1,299/bottle Krug Vintage 1995 Magnum.

In between the two extremes is a more realistically priced Dom Pérignon Brut Vintage 2004 – it’s a lovely drop for special occasions at $199.99/bottle, while the award winning Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs 2000 from Qantas’ first class cabin can be had for $265/bottle.

Qantas epiQure: more than a wine club

Setting Qantas further ahead from Virgin Wines is the focus on food events – naturally, with matching wines.

Over the next month, there are dining and tasting events in Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and Melbourne, with ticket prices of $50 to $170 per person.

Also available are tickets to events in conjunction with the Noosa International Food & Wine Festival in Queensland, including a Taittinger champagne breakfast ($112 p.p.) and a seafood feast with Neil Perry ($175 p.p.) – both of which are taking place on the gorgeous beachfront.

Wine club pricing vs the real world

But how do those prices compare against a buying from a chain such as Dan Murphy's?

Using a delivery address in Sydney, Virgin Wines' Veuve Clicquot Brut NV (Yellow Label) would cost $89.99 including delivery. However, Dan Murphy's will deliver that same bottle for $61.95, or even has it available through 'click and collect' for $54.95.

Assuming you prefer delivery, are those 269 Velocity points really worth the extra $28.04 outlay on a single bottle? Probably not.

The situation is reversed if you're hunting a Dom Pérignon Brut Vintage 2004 – Dan Murphy's has this for $236.99 including delivery (or $229.99 in-store), while the same bottle can be found on Qantas epiQure for just $199.99 with free delivery.

The take-out here is to compare before you click: prices may or may not be cheaper online or in a bottle shop.

The winner? Qantas epiQure

All things considered, the crown goes to Qantas epiQure.

With a more comprehensive wine list, free delivery, fine dining events and a welcome gift in exchange for the membership fee, it’s the clear winner.

Can’t decide?

If you’re about to flip a coin to decide where to place your next wine order, perhaps sample a taste of Qantas epiQure before doing so.

Qantas Frequent Flyers who aren’t epiQure members can sample a limited selection of wine without fronting for the membership fee, including a case of the sumptuous Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve NV.

Although available for the same price with an epiQure membership, non-members can only earn one point per $1 – if you were going to join anyway, you may as well do so before ordering, as you’ll earn three points per $1 spent from the onset.

Prices referenced in this article were correct as at March 20 2014.

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Chris Chamberlin

Chris Chamberlin is the Associate Editor of Executive Traveller and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, a great latte, a theatre ticket and a glass of wine!

12 Jun 2013

Total posts 744

Wine clubs seem like an incredible ripoff most of the time. I pay a membership fee, and in return I get the right to buy a limited selection of wine for a price that may theoretically be, but usually isn't, lower than what I'd get at my local bottlo? Whoop de freaking doo! 

But wait, I get three frequent flyer points for every dollar spent, which comes out to... well, about 3% if you're lucky. Yee-haw.

So you have to wonder why both airlines bother, given how limited the market is. Surely the only reasonable answer is that they have to be extracting a *lot* of money from the pocket of each member.

Virgin Atlantic Airways - Flying Club

11 Apr 2011

Total posts 30

To be fair, Virgin Australia doesn't actually own or operate Virgin Wines Australia.

Virgin Wines Australia is part of the Virgin Group, hence the tie in with Velocity in the form of earning points, but Virgin Australia doesn't have any say in the running of, or products sold by, Virgin Wines Australia.

I'm not trying to rebut what you're saying, but it's not a clear comparison.

A good point willygee, although I doubt your average traveller would be concerned by the differing ownership structures... as a consumer, if I wanted three Qantas points per $1 I'd order from epiQure, or if I preferred three Velocity points per $1, I'd use Virgin Wines (Velocity is even promoted on the Virgin Wines homepage).

Either way, we're just comparing how things look on both sides of the fence. :)

am
am

15 Apr 2011

Total posts 586

1.3 million points for a $1500 case of wine :o

Those same points could be redeemed for 4-5 First Class round the world tickets, worth at least $30-40k. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

18 Feb 2013

Total posts 3

^ In which you would get wine anyway!


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