Qantas vs Virgin Australia: how points-based reward seat fares compare

By Brandon Loo, September 10 2018

You’ve earned a bucketload of Qantas or Velocity frequent flyer points thanks to smart credit card spending and lots of travel – now it’s time to treat yourself with a points-based reward seat.

Here's a breakdown of how flight rewards under Qantas and Virgin Australia compare. Points can also be used to redeem seats on partner airlines, but still follow the same fare rules from Qantas or Virgin Australia depending on which program you’re using.

Flight changes

 

Qantas

Virgin Australia

Change fee

5,000 points

4,500 points or $35 (Domestic)
7,500 points or $60 (International)

Service fees

Nil if done online, or for business and first class bookings changed through the contact centre.



Through contact centre (economy and premium economy):

4,000 points (Domestic/NZ)
8,000 points (International)

No fees through Membership Contact Centre, as changes can’t be made online.

Qantas permits most changes up to 24 hours prior to the first flight of the whole booking. For bookings with flights wholly within Australia, you are permitted to make changes up to 24 hours before departure of each flight.

Allowed changes include switching class of travel, as well as any segment routings including departure, stopover or destination cities. You can also change operating airline. These are all subject to availability.

Up to the commencement of travel for each flight, you can also change the date and flight number, but not routing, airline or class of travel.

Virgin Australia allows flight time, date changes and routing changes up to 24 hours before each sector. These are always subject to availability. Changes can only be made via the Membership Contact Centre, but no service fees apply.

Name changes

You can make name changes on Qantas up to 24 hours before departure of the first flight in the whole booking, but only on flights operated by Qantas with a QF flight number. The usual change fees apply.

Virgin Australia does not permit name changes on its Velocity reward fares.

Cancellations

 

Qantas

Virgin Australia

Cancellation fee

6,000 points

4,500 points or $35 (Domestic)
7,500 points or $60 (International)

If you can’t make your vacay with Qantas you’ll have to request to cancel the ticket prior to the commencement of the first flight in the whole booking to get points credited back, minus any fees. Points that would have expired will not be re-credited.

Similarly, Virgin Australia allows cancellations at least 24 hours prior to the first flight, with the cost being the same as changing a booking.

For both airlines, absolutely no refunds or credits will be allowed once travel has commenced, so be sure not to miss any connecting flights in your reward booking.

Upgrades

From a Classic Flight Reward, Qantas permits points upgrades to premium economy and business class. The points cost involved is significantly higher compared to upgrading from a commercial ticket, but at least the option is available.

Virgin Australia does not permit upgrades from a Velocity reward seat.

Taxes and surcharges

Classic Reward Seat bookings on domestic and short international flights with Qantas carry a surcharge of at least $14 per flight, while longer international flights can have extra charges exceeding $400 for each flight. These are in addition to government-imposed taxes.

Virgin Australia does not apply the same surcharge to its own flights, thus the co-payment for Velocity reward seats is generally lower compared to the Qantas equivalent.

Here's a comparison of the co-payments required with Qantas and Virgin Australia-operated business class redemptions 

 

Qantas

Virgin Australia

Sydney to Melbourne

$35.83

$23.39

Sydney to Hong Kong

$190.47

$91.28

When partner airlines get thrown into the mix, things get even more confusing.

Some Qantas partners, such as American Airlines, do not have surcharges so the overall co-payment is low.

Conversely, some Virgin Australia partners including Etihad Airways apply very hefty surcharges for reward seats booked with Velocity points – as high as US$300 per flight, per person.

Combining with commercial fares (Qantas only)

It’s advisable to try to avoid combining a reward flight with a commercial (paid) flight in the same booking. Qantas will apply the most restrictive fare conditions of the commercial fare to your reward fare. This might be fine if the commercial fare is flexible, but if not, you run the risk of incurring some high change and cancellation fees if things go wrong.

Summary

Overall, reward seats on both Qantas and Virgin Australia are fairly flexible. Changes can be made at least a day before departure, and fees are reasonable, maxing out at 6,000 points for Qantas and 7,500 points or $60 for Virgin Australia.

Apart from holiday travel, reward seats can be an option when booking a work trip. If you need some leeway with your plans but don’t want to stump up the cost of a fully-flexible fare, then sinking some points into a flight reward could be the way to go. 

The same is true for last-minute travel – while cash fares might be sky-high, the points cost of a flight reward will always be the same, and availability can often open up just before departure.

Which airline do you rate as the best for points-based reward bookings, and why?

Brandon Loo
Brandon Loo

Brandon Loo

Brandon divides his time between Perth and Launceston, with ample hours spent in airport lounges in between. He recently picked up photography and tries to capture the beauty of Tasmanian landscapes, aeroplane cabins and in-flight food, to varying degrees of success.

comeflywithme

comeflywithme

31 Jul 2012

Total posts 21

Something to add is that service fees on QF aren’t applicable to business or first class redemptions. Change fees still apply.

koji

koji

Cathay Pacific - The Marco Polo Club

11 Jun 2018

Total posts 24

Sometimes I found VA redemption table not applicable, particularly while redeeming syd-hkg flight.

Flying High

Flying High

13 Feb 2015

Total posts 38

The big negative in regards to Virgin is the massive drop in reward seat availability in premium classes. Used to be quite good, but its terrible now. And maybe its coincidence, but the drop seemed to occur with the introduction of the current business class seats.

Brandon Loo

Brandon Loo

10 Jul 2018

Total posts 74

There's definitely a drop on routes such as LAX and HKG, but from a domestic perspective, I've found business class availability to be very good both in advance, and last minute. Better than Qantas in that regard.

New business class means less seats, probably more people willing to pay for it, so then less inventory for flight rewards unfortunately.

cqtiger

cqtiger

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

23 May 2018

Total posts 11

virgin seems to have reward flights with no cash surcharge on taxes but every qantas reward fare I look at has surcharges for the taxes

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