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We’re off to a busy start this April with free lounge access for Virgin Australia travellers both at the airport and at Australian Hilton hotels, a new way to use Flybuys points to book flights and a new way to earn frequent flyer points through Qantas Assure health insurance.
Also on this week’s wrap, we take a look at the ease of booking flights through Singapore Airlines’ KrisFlyer program, the best credit cards for hotel and overall travel privileges and what lies beyond the Platinum tier for Australia’s frequent travellers.
Cost-conscious travellers aren’t forgotten either thanks to AA’s latest ‘buying miles’ promotion that can save you money on Qantas flights and a new tie-up that allows you to use Velocity points to book Tigerair flights, plus, ways to earn points on your next dental check-up.
Rounding out our wrap for another week, we profile the American Express Qantas Premium and Membership Rewards Essential credit cards, the latest changes to Le Club AccorHotels, a groovy status match deal with Hilton HHonors and new Alaska MileagePlan reward rates with Emirates.
Airline frequent flyer programs
Qantas Assure: earn points on health insurance
Frequent flyers can now earn points for walking under a new health insurance scheme hatched between Qantas and NIB, with up to 70,000 Qantas frequent flyer points on offer to new customers.
The Qantas Assure program will also offer travel insurance, which the airline already provides to more than half-a-million customers a year.
Assure policy-holders can download an iPhone 'wellness app' to sync with popular forms of wearable technology to track their steps, with the app setting specific step-count challenges and awarding frequent flyer points as a reward to those who complete them.
Read more: Earning Qantas Points on health insurance
KrisFlyer: best frequent flyer plan for reward flights?
While there's much to be said in favour of both Qantas and Virgin Australia frequent flyer schemes, a key criteria for assessing any 'best' program is the availability and value of reward seats bought using your points.
As it happens, arguably the best scheme on that score doesn't belong to either of the home-grown Aussie airlines. Instead, it's Singapore Airlines’ KrisFlyer.
KrisFlyer boasts generous frequent flyer availability and reward rates and a decent clutch of credit card partnerships through which you can earn points (or miles, in SQ parlance)…
Continue reading: KrisFlyer: the best program for reward flights?
Use Velocity points to pay for Tigerair flights
Virgin Australia frequent flyers can now use their Velocity points to book any seat on Tigerair Australia flights.
It's a new wrinkle to the relationship between Virgin and its low-cost sibling, and covers almost all aspects of a Tigerair booking including inflight meals, additional baggage and seat selection, although not travel insurance.
After visiting the Tigerair website and browsing for flights as usual, when it comes time to pay there’s now an option to use Velocity points in lieu of 'real' money, or in combination with a credit card payment or bank transfer (with a minimum payment of 3,100 points).
Buying AA miles for discount Qantas flights
A new AAdvantage 'buy miles' promotion is underway, this time offering a bonus of up to 115,000 miles on American Airlines mileage purchases through April 29 2016 for use on Qantas, Cathay Pacific and other Oneworld airlines.
Buying the full swig of 265,000 miles – 150,000 miles with the 115,000-mile bonus – sets you back US$4,786.88 (A$6,303.92), or around 2.3 cents per mile..
That's great if you're planning numerous trips, but if a simple return flight from Sydney to Hong Kong, Shanghai or Singapore and back in business class is your goal, spring for just 85,000 miles – bought as 55,000 miles + 30,000 bonus miles – and you'll pay just A$2,336 with 5,000 miles to spare.
Here’s how it’s done: Buying AA miles to save on Qantas flights
Platinum Plus: the next step for frequent flyers
Reaching Platinum frequent flyer status with Qantas or Virgin Australia is a desirable goal in itself, but many travellers are unaware of the additional higher-than-Platinum perks available as your status credits continue to accrue.
It takes 1,400 status credits in a single membership year to earn your Platinum card with Qantas (and 1,200 each year to keep that shiny card in your pocket or purse).
But if you keep flying and reach the 2,400 status credit milestone you'll be offered a choice between several extra perks…
Have a ‘frequent flyer smile’ at the dentist
Virgin Australia Velocity members can now earn Velocity points on dental check-ups at Pacific Smiles Dental: 500 Velocity points after your first eligible appointment and 250 Velocity points per eligible appointment thereafter.
For good measure, you’ll earn Velocity points only on the first two dental bookings you make in a 12-month period, but which covers you for a regular check-up all the same.
Just present your Velocity card to the receptionist when you attend your appointment and points will be credited to your account.
Alaska Airlines cuts award rates with Emirates
Alaska Airlines has taken a leaf from the book of Australia’s Citibank by unilaterally increasing the number of miles needed to book flights with its partner airline Emirates, yet without providing any notice to its members in advance of the changes.
What’s more, first class flights taken with the Gulf carrier now command up to twice the number of miles as before, and immediately prior to the devaluation, Alaska was selling its own miles to members with a 40% bonus to encourage uptake.
That encouraged members to stock-up their account with award miles with the fair goal of using them to fly at the then-advertised redemption rates, so as a result, anybody who purchased Alaska miles on or after March 1 2016 can contact the airline for a full refund and reversal.
Credit cards, shopping loyalty cards
Review: Qantas American Express Ultimate Card
Piling up an impressive three Qantas frequent flyer points per dollar, the Qantas American Express Ultimate card has the potential to skyrocket your points balance in no time, and what's more, new cardholders can earn up to 50,000 bonus Qantas Points just for signing up and meeting the spend criteria.
Also thrown in is a free return domestic flight each year with Qantas between selected cities, and both domestic and international travel insurance: automatically activated when booking each journey with your card.
Read more: Review: Qantas AMEX Ultimate Card
The best credit cards in Australia for travel perks
These days you’d rightly expect to find travel insurance included with any respectable Platinum or Black credit card, but a few choice cards don’t stop there: promising everything from free flights and airport transfers through to airport lounge access and hotel loyalty boosters.
Choose your cards wisely and you could also be on the receiving end of free CBD parking in London, room upgrades and breakfast for two at luxury hotels the world over and substantial savings on paid Qantas Club membership: here’s what’s on offer from some of the nation’s top travel cards.
Keep reading: The best Australian credit cards for travel perks
Flybuys Travel: earn, redeem points on flights, hotels
Flybuys members can now earn and burn Flybuys points on flights plus hotel bookings and hire cars through a new Flybuys Travel website, in addition to the frequent flyer points usually earned in the air.
That means you could book a domestic or international flight with Qantas, Virgin Australia, Singapore Airlines and the like via Flybuys Travel for much the same price as you’d pay directly via the airlines’ websites to scoop up both Flybuys points and frequent flyer points.
You’ll earn one Flybuys point per dollar spent on travel bookings after your journey is completed, and when you’ve built up at least 2,000 Flybuys points in the kitty, one Flybuys point returns 0.5 cents of value towards a future reservation…
The top five credit cards for hotel perks and privileges
Many credit cards offer predictable perks like travel insurance and airport lounge access, but a select few also make sure you’re taken care of after your flight through great hotel benefits like free room upgrades and breakfast for every day of your stay.
Some cards achieve this by unlocking elite status in the various hotel loyalty programs, others provide similar perks when booking via the bank’s concierge service, and the best combine both benefits for a well-rounded ream of extras.
Whichever your pick or preferred hotel chain, here are the top five Australian credit cards for hotel perks and privileges that frequent travellers can use to improve their journeys or slash their travel costs by taking advantage of those included freebies.
Continue reading: The top five cards for hotel perks
Review: American Express Essential credit card
Fancy a credit card that can earn frequent flyer points with eight different airlines including Virgin Australia and Singapore Airlines, has no points capping, boasts insurance cover for your smartphone and other purchases and even offers a $50 account credit for new customers who spend $50 within the first two months?
Meet the American Express Essential credit card, for which you won't pay $200/year, or even $100 – this card is completely free of annual fees, and with low minimum income and minimum credit limit requirements, could easily be slipped into your wallet.
Hotel loyalty programs
Hilton HHonors offers Gold, Diamond status match
Want to enjoy precious perks like free room upgrades, hotel lounge access, free breakfast with every booking and bottles of water with every stay at hotels like Hilton, Conrad and DoubleTree by Hilton?
If your wallet already packs a shiny hotel loyalty card from any other chain including Accor, Hyatt, IHG, Marriott and Starwood, you can, thanks to a generous ‘status match’ deal from Hilton HHonors.
It works like this: you send Hilton proof of your elite status and at least one recorded stay with a competing chain and you’ll be quickly bumped up to the HHonors Silver, Gold or Diamond level through March 2018.
Get yours today: Hilton offers status matches up to Diamond
Le Club AccorHotels tweaks loyalty tiers, points
Members of the Le Club AccorHotels loyalty program will qualify for the elite Silver, Gold and Platinum tiers status through new ‘status points’ from 2017: comparable to Qantas and Virgin Australia ‘status credits’.
Distinctly different from ‘rewards points’ which you can swap for discounts on future hotel stays or can transfer to airline frequent flyer partners, these new status points are solely used to determine your level with the program and will be earned in addition to traditional rewards points.
Other changes on the horizon include fixed calendar year membership periods, new tier qualification levels and digital membership cards: here’s what it all means for you, the traveller.
Read more: Le Club tweaks tiers, loyalty points
Hilton Executive Lounges for top Velocity flyers
Throughout April, Virgin Australia Velocity Gold and Platinum frequent flyers can relax and unwind in Hilton hotel Executive Lounges throughout Australia when staying in any room type, even those which don’t typically include lounge access.
Valid at Hiltons in Sydney, Melbourne South Wharf, Brisbane, Adelaide, Darwin, Surfers Paradise and Cairns, eligible Velocity members can simply present their Velocity card and provide their room number to Executive Lounge staff for access during their stay.
Inside the lounges you’ll find complimentary breakfast in the mornings, snacks throughout the day and evening drinks and canapés, of which you’re free to indulge at no charge.
Keep reading: Hilton Executive Lounge access for top Velocity flyers
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