Qantas vs Virgin Australia: which is best for frequent flyer award seats?

By Chris C., February 4 2016
Qantas vs Virgin Australia: which is best for frequent flyer award seats?

It's easy enough to earn frequent flyer points with Qantas and Virgin Australia – but when it's time to trade those points in on a free flight, which airline comes out in front?

We've crunched the numbers for these frequent flyer 'reward' seats (set aside on each flight for a fixed number of points) based on the most popular routes flown by both airlines within Australia and overseas.

The winner? Virgin Australia, for the most part.

Not only do you need fewer points to snare a seat on many Virgin Australia flights, but the associated taxes, fees and surcharges – the contentious add-on cost to what people think of as a 'free' seat – are also substantially lower than on the Flying Kangaroo.

Qantas vs Virgin Australia: Australian domestic flights

Whether you're making a quick hop along the east coast or are crossing the continent, Virgin Australia's Velocity scheme requires fewer points in business class or economy (and a slightly lower cash co-payment, too).

That's true whether you're zipping between Sydney and Melbourne, jetting up to Brisbane or even crossing the country on flights to and from Perth: all of which demand fewer points and less cash on Virgin compared to Qantas.

Qantas vs Virgin Australia: Auckland

Virgin Australia is also better value for trans-Tasman flights, again asking frequent flyers to part with fewer points and less cash.

The only caveat is that while both airlines offer comparable business class across the pond, booking a flight on a partner airline can change the 'value' equation.

For example, the same number of Velocity points could get you a fully-flat bed on an Air New Zealand Boeing 777 or 787 flight – although many AirNZ trans-Tasman flights don't have business class at all, in which case economy is your only option.

On the other hand, for the same 36,000 points that Qantas asks for its own trans-Tasman business class flights, you could book yourself into the superior business class of an Emirates Airbus A380.

Qantas vs Virgin Australia: Singapore

On flights to Singapore it's a mixed bag.

Qantas flies its own aircraft and asks for fewer points than Virgin Australia, whose reliance on partner Singapore Airlines commands more points, although the VA/SQ surcharge is substantially less.

Depending on whether your cash or points is in shorter supply, either airline could be the winner here.

Qantas lets you fly Sydney-Singapore return in business class for 120,000 points, which is 40,000 fewer than Velocity, but you'd be up for $625 in fees compared to just $146 with Virgin Australia (the cash component when flying from Singapore to Sydney differs slightly against Sydney-Singapore) – and the $479 you save could get you an extra night in one of Singapore's best five-star hotels.

Of course, savvy frequent flyers know that Virgin Australia's partnership with Singapore Airlines allows you to convert Velocity points into SQ's KrisFlyer miles on a 1.35:1 basis, and that a one-way business class award via KrisFlyer costs 46,750 KrisFlyer miles when booked online.

In other words, you could book the same Singapore Airlines Sydney-Singapore flight by converting precisely 63,112 Velocity points into KrisFlyer miles and booking your journey using the 46,750 KrisFlyer miles you'll get in return – a saving of 16,888 Velocity points in each direction.

Qantas vs Virgin Australia: Los Angeles

Many Australian frequent flyers want to turn their points into seats on flights to the USA – it's one of the routes where reward tickets can be very hard to come by.

But if you can find a spare seat, it'll cost you a few less points points and a lot less money to fly with Virgin Australia in premium economy and business class:

Down the back in economy, both airlines have their merits: Qantas asks for fewer points but more cash, while Velocity needs more points yet less cash – which option suits you best depends on your circumstances.

Qantas vs Virgin Australia: London

As with flights to Singapore, Qantas has its own jets bound for the UK – along with partner Emirates – while Virgin Australia offers flights only in connection with partner airlines Etihad Airways and Singapore Airlines.

For economy travellers there's a similar 'more points, less cash' theme with Velocity booking made on Etihad, commanding 62,500 Velocity points and $85 against 60,000 Qantas points and $236 for a one-way flight.

Business class, however, has Velocity firmly in front, commanding 3,000 fewer points for a one-way flight and over $500 less in fees and charges: enough for one or even two extra nights in London.

Velocity is less of a bargain when booking flights directly with Singapore Airlines as you'll be up for 75,000 points for a one-way ticket in economy and 175,000 Velocity points for business class, plus taxes and fees.

But again, the quirky connection between Velocity and KrisFlyer also means you could convert 109,013 Velocity points into 80,750 KrisFlyer miles and book that same business class sojourn for nearly 66,000 fewer points, plus fees and charges.

Frequent flyer award availability

Regardless of where you fly, getting that reward seat can be another matter. It's a common cause for frustration among frequent flyers, even when you're booking almost year in advance of the flight itself.

No matter which airline you prefer, the best chance of finding an available reward set is on flights outside the peak travel periods (mainly school holidays) – around the middle of the week, rather than Fridays through Mondays – and when you're searching just for one or two seats, not for a Brady Bunch-sized family.

In light of that, it's also worth noting that Virgin Australia Gold and Platinum frequent flyers are guaranteed up to four return economy reward seats once a year (Golds are limited to domestic flights while Platinums have access to those seats on domestic and international routes).

Pay with points, or points + cash?

The above calculations have been made using the pool of 'award seats' released by each airline on various flights, which are available for a set number of points (or points + cash).

For example, a one-way economy flight from Sydney to Melbourne can be had for 8,000 Qantas points plus a payment of $30.29 or 12,000 Qantas frequent flyer points outright.

Similarly with Virgin Australia, you could burn 10,200 Velocity points for a Sydney-Melbourne ticket, or mix a lower 6,900 points with $21.11 for the same seat – coming out ahead of Qantas in both cases.

Travellers can of course use their frequent flyer points to book any seat on any flight, but this typically requires up to 10x as many points, making it an option to be avoided wherever possible.

Also read:

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Chris C.

Chris is a a former contributor to Executive Traveller.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

19 Mar 2014

Total posts 569

Good synopsis Chris. Exactly what I've observed over the years. VA are great for domestic redemptions when travelling out of your own kick or when flights are expensive but the lack of international destinations leaves them wanting.

Qantas upgrade from full fare economy seems to be a bit of sweet spot in my experience.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

04 Nov 2011

Total posts 362

You mention a few times converting Velocity points to KrisFlyer which can be a good use of points, however the taxes and charges they apply are right up there with QF. Worth noting.

24 Apr 2012

Total posts 2476

As this article is primarily Qantas vs Virgin Australia, we chose not to zoom in to KrisFlyer's full rates to keep everything on-track, otherwise it would become a broader QF vs VA vs SQ. As indicated above, some options require more points and less cash while for others it's fewer points plus more cash: just pick the option that best suits your needs.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer Platinum

07 Feb 2013

Total posts 550

You forget to mention that when transferring to krisflyer from velocity the taxes are about in line with what qantas charge 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

25 Jan 2013

Total posts 241

Nice article Chris. Two quick questions:

For me and the other 20 million Australians who don't live in Sydney, is there much of a difference in points when you are leaving from near by capitals such as Melbourne? (My home port is MEL).

I'm curious as to why there is a difference in the taxes + charges, as all comparison tables are showing the same destinations. There seems to be no difference between VA economy and business, but QF differs between economy and business. Perhaps the airlines have different fuel deals?

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Oct 2014

Total posts 685

"I'm curious as to why there is a difference in the taxes + charges"

Jono, let me fix that for you ..

"I'm curious as to why there is a difference in the taxes + carrier-imposed surcharges"

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

26 May 2014

Total posts 469

On the QF website they refer to "taxes, fees and carrier charges".  Would be intereting to see the split of these for a $467 clssic award for SYD-LAX in J.  I would suggest that the components are stated in the reverse order of significance.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

12 Jan 2013

Total posts 6

Would you please pose to both QF and VA questions around fees and charges?  It would be intersting to see a detailed break down of the above that mirrored the compairison tables used in your article.  

24 Apr 2012

Total posts 2476

Hi Bruce, for this you'll need to contact the airlines directly as it's not something we'd write a story about on its own.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

25 Mar 2014

Total posts 220

Very interesting article

Chirs maybe do a points compare app!

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 1195

The fees charged by Qantas are often ridiculous.  It makes you wonder if the oints have any real value at all.  It explans why the FF scheme is so profitable and make you wonder why the ACCC have not asked a few questions particularly as VA's fees differ so markedly.

18 Apr 2015

Total posts 67

Great article. I personally hope that the disparity between the programs actually encourages people to fly Virgin. As a QFF, I have to question my loyalty when it is so hard to redeem FF points and then to add insult to inury - having to pay fees which for an O/S business class flight is equivalent to some bargain economy airfares. If you're going to charge so much for fees (and recoup the variable costs of flying) then at least have the decency to have a decent amount of availability!!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Jan 2014

Total posts 319

When you add in the fact that your status bonus kicks in at a much lower rate with Virgin , 400 Gold v 600 for Qantas that would also compound the advantage for Virgin also.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer Platinum

07 Feb 2013

Total posts 550

That's like comparing apples and oranges

30 Jun 2011

Total posts 49

Sure is.  Like comparing a juicy Fuji apple (Virgin) with a mouldy Navel (Qantas)


23 May 2014

Total posts 120

Thanks Chris, really useful article. Confirms suspicions that Velocity is a better value FFP (and hence fly Virgin, earn on Virgin credit cards, fuel at BP etc.) particularily re the surcharges. I'm unhappy with the VA Platinum program but this is definitely something to consider before switching back to Qantas.

15 Oct 2015

Total posts 6

Re: The comment on Sweet Spot (Y-Flex, U/G to J/C), I was considering this for a AU-EUR fare, but what are the real chances of getting the UG as a QF Gold?

Have the points for 2 x J/C LHR returns on QF metal, but alas, the availability is practically nil. Best options seem to be on QR or EK via PER. 

24 Apr 2012

Total posts 2476

It depends on how full your flight is – I once managed to get a two-person upgrade from economy to business on the Qantas A380 to London back when I was only Bronze... this would have been 5-6 years ago, but I'd like to think as a Gold you'd have an even better chance!

05 Feb 2016

Total posts 1

These must be "reward" seats are they? I was quoted 350,000 point for SYD to LAX in busniess, one way.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

29 Jan 2016

Total posts 10

Ignorant (but obvious) question...

Comparing QFF and Velocity points side by side assumes that they have equal value. Are the earn rates comparable?

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

15 Jul 2015

Total posts 2

Last year i took a return business class flight to Dublin via Sydney from Canberra and home via KL for 300,000 QF points and $1,260 taxes while my brother flew Etihad economy from Melbourne return for $1,119.  We both flew directly via the Middle East into Dublin and he returned the same route to Melbourne.  Mine was longer via London, KL and Melbourne to Canberra.  While my flight was far more comfortable in travel conditions it was not on costs.  My return route was dictated by available seating not desire to go any other way.  I have found many time I can get business seats if I am prepared to take a roundabout route between my destinations.

06 Feb 2016

Total posts 1

Great article Chris.

What is fabulous with VA, upgrading from a paid international flexi fare with points to business or premium can be confirmed instantly - a winner in my books :)

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Mar 2013

Total posts 134

Great analysis Chris. With VA's membership rapidly increasing over recent times, I wonder at what point they'll start 'Qantas-ifying' their taxes. I imagine there's a point they'll need to focus on sustainability rather than growth. 

12 Jan 2016

Total posts 13

Qantas must reduce their disgracefully high carrier fees to stay competitive. I wouldn't be surprised to see an official investigation into the false advertising of 'free' flights. (Disclosure: QFF Gold here).

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

12 Jan 2013

Total posts 6

Another thing to factor into the equation is how and at what rate one earns FF points.  e.g.  Flying miles; retail purchases; credit card use.

With the latter in particular it is vital to consider at what rate points are earned (e.g. 1pt/$ or 0.5pt/$).   If, as in my case, it's the former (and at even higher rates depending on the purcghase) then using slightly more points on QF is not an issue vis-a-vis VA.  If it's the latter then using more points on QF merely multiplies ones problem.  

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