Both Qantas and Virgin Australia allow travellers to use their frequent flyer points to upgrade to premium economy and business class – and with Qantas, to first class as well – but following Qantas’ hike to its upgrade rates, how do the two airlines now compare?
We pit Qantas and Virgin Australia against each other on key domestic and international routes to find out, while also considering each airline’s upgrade policies (including eligible fares types).
Qantas vs Virgin Australia on frequent flyer upgrades: the basics
Qantas allows all domestic travellers to upgrade using frequent flyer points, including on tickets which were already booked using points (Classic Flight Rewards). If an upgrade is available on these flights, it can be confirmed straight away.
Most travellers on Qantas international flights can also use points to upgrade, with the exception of those booked on rock-bottom Economy Sale tickets and on business class Classic Flight Rewards.
However, Qantas international upgrades aren’t processed immediately: instead, ‘waitlisted’ for consideration within a week of travel for top-tier Platinum One members, or closer to departure day for all other flyers.
Over at Virgin Australia, domestic points-based upgrades are possible from all paid economy fares – although not on frequent flyer reward bookings – and like Qantas, these can be confirmed immediately if an upgrade is available on your chosen flight.
Upgrades using points on shorter Virgin Australia international flights can also be locked in from the time you book and are open to all Velocity members, except when travelling on the lowest-priced Go fares in economy on which upgrades aren’t available.
But on Virgin Australia’s longest flights to Los Angeles, points-based upgrades are only open to Velocity Gold and Platinum members – and even then, only when booked on a flexible economy or premium economy ticket – but can be confirmed immediately if upgrades are available.
Winner: With Qantas offering upgrades to travellers of all tiers and on more fare types, but Virgin Australia providing confirmed upgrades on international flights, we’re calling this one a draw.
Qantas vs Virgin Australia: Sydney-Melbourne flight upgrades
Qantas allows travellers to upgrade to business class for 5,000 points from economy Flex fares, 10,000 points from Red e-Deal tickets and 12,000 points from Classic Flight Reward bookings.
However, the latter isn’t particularly great value: you’d be parting with 12,000 points in addition to the 8,000 points you’d have used earlier to reserve your economy flight, whereas a business class Classic Flight Reward can instead be booked for 16,000 points outright.
It’s for this reason that Classic Flight Reward upgrades aren’t being considered when declaring a winner on each route: only the rates which apply to travellers on paid fares.
Virgin Australia instead permits economy Freedom fare travellers to upgrade for a marginally lower 4,900 Velocity points on these short flights, or an identical 10,000 points from all other paid economy tickets.
Winner: Virgin Australia
Qantas vs Virgin Australia: Melbourne-Brisbane flight upgrades
Prepare to spend 7,500 points for a Qantas business class upgrade from Flex tickets, 17,500 points from Red e-Deals and 18,000 points to upgrade a Classic Flight Reward booking on Melbourne-Brisbane flights under Qantas’ new upgrade rates which now apply.
Through Virgin Australia, you’d instead need a lower 7,400 Velocity points to upgrade from flexible Freedom fares and the same 17,500 Velocity points when upgrading from all other paid tickets (including Elevate and Getaway).
Winner: Virgin Australia
Qantas vs Virgin Australia: Sydney-Perth flight upgrades
Expect to part with 10,000 Qantas Points when upgrading from east to west on economy Flex fares, 25,000 points from other purchased economy tickets or 26,000 points on Classic Flight Reward bookings.
Virgin Australia rivals that with a competitive asking price of 9,900 Velocity points from its own Freedom flexible fares, but commands 30,000 Velocity points for an upgrade from its other paid tickets – 20% more points than via Qantas, even after the Roo’s recent increase.
Qantas vs Virgin Australia: Sydney-Auckland flight upgrades
Fly with Qantas across the Tasman and you’ll burn 11,000 points to upgrade to business class from economy Flex fares, 20,000 points from economy Saver fares and 26,000 points from economy Classic Flight Rewards. Upgrades aren’t offered on economy Sale tickets.
Take the same journey with Virgin Australia and you’d need only 9,900 Velocity points to upgrade from flexible Freedom tickets or 16,000 points from Go Plus and Getaway fares, with these upgrades also able to be confirmed from the moment you book rather than waitlisted as with Qantas.
But like Qantas, Virgin Australia also prohibits upgrades on its lowest-priced economy fares on these routes, sold under the ‘Go’ banner.
Winner: Virgin Australia
Qantas vs Virgin Australia: Sydney-Los Angeles premium economy upgrades
Virgin Australia allows Velocity Gold and Platinum members to upgrade from Freedom flexible economy to premium economy for 18,000 Velocity points between Sydney and LA – and while these upgrades can be immediately confirmed, they’re not possible from lower-priced fares or open to Silver or Red members on any ticket.
Qantas mirrors Velocity in number with upgrades from economy Flex fares likewise priced at 18,000 points to Los Angeles, but also allows travellers on lower-cost economy Saver tickets to upgrade for 56,500 points, or for 70,000 points from an economy Classic Flight Reward.
With Qantas, these upgrades are open to members of all tiers – including entry-level Bronze cardholders and also Silver flyers – and although Qantas makes you sweat it out on a waitlist until closer to the flight, the airline sells a broader range of upgradeable economy fares.
Qantas vs Virgin Australia: Sydney-Los Angeles business class upgrades
Swapping your Qantas reclining seat for a business class bed requires 49,500 points from economy Flex and the lowest-cost premium economy fares, 45,000 points from all other paid premium economy tickets or 67,500 points from a premium economy Classic Flight Reward.
Further down the back, you can also swap 90,000 Qantas Points from economy Saver tickets or 100,000 points from Classic Flight Rewards in economy for the same Qantas business class upgrade.
Virgin Australia again comes to the plate with an identical asking price of 45,000 Velocity points from economy Freedom and the lowest premium economy tickets, but needs only 25,000 Velocity points when upgrading from higher cost premium economy fares.
Just remember that these Virgin Australia upgrades are only offered to Velocity Gold and Platinum members, and that upgrading from anything more affordable than a flexible economy ticket isn’t possible for any member, Red or Platinum.
Winner: With better rates via Virgin Australia premium economy but a broader range of upgradeable economy fares with Qantas, we’re pinning this one as a draw.
Qantas vs Virgin Australia: Sydney-Los Angeles first class upgrades
Move forward from business class to first class with Qantas on flights to Los Angeles for 45,000 points from a flexible business class ticket or 56,500 points from all other paid business class fares. Upgrades to first class aren’t offered on business class Classic Flight Rewards.
On the other hand, Virgin Australia doesn’t offer first class service on these or any other routes, making Qantas the winner here by default.