Virgin Australia scores high in reward seat availability survey

By David Flynn, May 13 2013
Virgin Australia scores high in reward seat availability survey

Virgin Australia has taken second place in a global survey of the availability of reward seats available to frequent flyers, with Qantas sitting in sixth position.

The fourth annual Switchfly Reward Seat Availability Survey, conducted by the IdeaWorksCompany, measures the number of times that 'free' seats were available using frequent flyer points for two passengers travelling during specific dates and routes.

Virgin Australia yielded free seats using Velocity points 98.6% of the time, bested only by the 100% availability of the three airlines to tie for first place: AIrBerlin, Brazil's GOL and US carrier Southwest.

Qantas' score was 86.4%. Both Virgin Australia and Qantas improved their standings over the 2012 survey.

The survey also revealed a higher reward seat availability on what IdeaWorks terms as 'value-oriented' airlines rather than 'traditional' full-service carriers – the first of which, Singapore Airlines, was the eighth airline on the ladder.

Only three full-service airlines – Singapore Airlines, Qantas and Lufthansa – made it into the top ten, allowing for tied positions in first and fifth place.

"The continuing presence of Air Berlin, Southwest, GOL, and Virgin Australia as top reward seat availability performers is no accident" the report concludes. "These programs obviously treat reward travel as a priority and management allocates meaningful inventory to the effort, incurring an opportunity cost for the seats not sold for cash fares."

The survey's results are drawn from 7,560 booking queries using the websites of 25 airline's frequent flier programs during March 2013, using the top routes for each carrier with with 280 specific travel dates from June 2013 to October 2013.

However, The IdeaWorks Company notes that reward availability was "traditionally lower for intercontinental routes because of the lower frequency of operations and lower seating density."

While available rewards were found for 84.7% of queries for flights up to 2500 miles, this dropped to 42.7% for longer flights.

Last month saw Virgin Australia's Velocity program pick up three Freddie Awards in the Middle East & Asia/Oceania region for Best Redemption Ability, Best Elite Level (for Velocity Platinum) and Program of the Year.

Click here to download the full Switchfly Reward Seat Availability Survey results, methodology and observations [240Kb PDF]

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David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

10 Mar 2011

Total posts 527

Does it differentiate between domestic flights, where there is a much higher frequency of flights daily and therefore much higher chance of getting a seat,  versus international flights where there is a lower frequency and subsequently a lower chance of getting a seat?

Isn't the survey a bit skewed if it doesn't take these kinds of details into account? 

I never redeem my points on domestic flights since it is often cheaper to buy a ticket, so Virgin is useless for me because they hardly fly anywhere internationally. So putting them higher on the list than Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines and Qantas is deceiving because they Virgin don't offer the international destinations.

15 Aug 2011

Total posts 33

Ausflyer this is an untrue statement from you as Virgin do offfer international destinations to there velocity members with V Australia and there partner airlines.

10 Mar 2011

Total posts 527

Nothing I said is untrue... Virgin fly to hardly any international destinations on their own metal... Nothing untrue about that. This survey is about award seat availability.. So if I want to redeem Velocity points on Singapore Airlines then I would think this survey would measure the availability of Singapore Airlines award seats not Virgin. Therefore if the measurement is for award seat availability then the measurement for Virgin is primarily on domestic. I'm sure the measurement for Qantas doesn't include all of OneWorld plus Jetstar. 

So johnnysfo... Which part of my statement isn't true??

11 Mar 2012

Total posts 181

The method that IdeaWorksCompany follows in this survey is highly questionnable. They do not mention the class of travel but I am assuming it's economy only. They don't mention the route selection for this search nor justify it. Had they included business/first in their searches the resulting table would have been quite different. We all know how difficult it is to score a transpacific seat in J or F on QF, let alone for 2. It's a similar story for LH where they block off F seats up to 2 weeks prior to departure. And ditto for EK where now it's almost impossible to find a vacant F reward seat between AU and the UAE.

Personally I fing redeeming on a short/domestic sector better value than on a long/medium haul flight. For example compare MEL/SIN/MEL and MEL/SYD/MEL.

For MEL/SIN/MEL a return classic redemption in Y would cost you 60,000 points. A commercial booking would cost you $844.

Since, you're able to buy points from a range of rates from 500 points for $20 to 20,000 points for $557.5; the average rate per point works out to be about $0.034.

Consequently the opportunity cost of redeming your points for the MEL/SIN/MEL sectors is $2,040. That is $1,196 more than the cost of a commercial booking.

On the other hand with MEL/SYD/MEL, a return classic redemption in Y would cost you 16,000 points, with a commercial booking costing $260. The opportunity cost for that would be $544 i.e. only $284 more.

Upshot is, it's actually more cost effective to redeem on short haul flights.


Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 May 2011

Total posts 732

I do not get your calculation, but that might just be me. Regarding your "buying points" it is not really a fair point to throw into the equation ans buying points outright is alwyas very expensive, unless you take advantage of bonusses. Most people eearn their points flying or with cc purchases. Having said that, I personally never redeem points for Y, the best value one will get for points is by redeeming for C or F, as the premium on those tickets is sky high as compared to economy.

To calculate the opportunity cost of redeeming points for a flight, you need to assign a value to each point. The logic being, squandering your points on a long haul flight is much more of a waste than on a short haul one, since the dollar value of points required for the flight ($2,040) is a lot more than the cost of the flight ($844).

This logic is based on the assumption that you have a finite number of points (as most people do) and aims to find the most cost effective way of spending those points.

Having said that redeeming in a premium cabin is better value, assuming you can find availability. I have not done the maths for that but you have piqued my interest…watch this space.


Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 May 2011

Total posts 732

If buying 20.000 points costs $544 and in my book to get to 60K points for the redemption you pay $544x3 is $1632 to buy a MEL-SIN rtn in Y on points as opposed to $844 outright (which is still way cheaper than paying with points) Of course there will be some charges on top of the $1633. Average cost per point would be $544 / 20K makes 0.0272 cents per point. In any case, value of points fluctuates, depends on how you obtain them. SOmetimes you can get 50K points when siging up for a CC and paying 99AUD fee for a year and spend 1000AUD in the first month.

Best value most definitely redemptions in F class (or C), even better if you snag an Anytime Award.

To stick to the topic of the post on VA award flights, i am yet to find any good redemption opportunity with them. Have not been able to find anything decent in premium cabins.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer Platinum

07 Feb 2013

Total posts 550

This maybe the case for domestic legs, but if any of you have tried using velocity points to get etihad / singapore flights it is the most painful process in the world. As the availability is not online, the customer service rep needs to first check availability, and then call the partner airline to check for availability of rewards seats, spent an hour on the phone one day checking out options for about 3 weeks worth of dates with 0 availability

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

23 May 2012

Total posts 268

Congratulations Virgin Australia! This is the outcome of the competition between the two airlines in Australia. It is very good for commuters of both Qantas and Virgin Australia.

I am very surprised of the lack of full-service airlines in the top ten, more shocked at my some of my favourite airlines, Cathay Pacific 56.4% and Emirates 45%.

Again, well done to Virgin Australia, four awards in two months.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Jan 2013

Total posts 699

Geez, some people need to relax! It's clear from the article that the survey is looking at the availability of any seat - to see how easy it is to redeem points for a seat. It doesn't make any statement beyond that remit, so not much point reading in conspiracies (let's face it, the survey is based on a point in time that is now in the past, which has no influence on whether the reward seat you want today or into the future will be available - it's just indicative of how easy or hard it *might be*). 

Re: Virgin Australia reward seat availability on their international services - I didn't find it very hard at all to score a Business MEL-LAX seat, they seem to fairly generous with reward seats, including on domestic flights (on some flights I noticed they offer as many reward seats as there are actual free seats!). Yes, some international partner airlines rewards need to be booked over the phone (just like with Qantas) but more than a few (Ethihad in particular pretty integrated) can be searched and booked using Virgin's Velocity website (although I find its better to redeem rewards directly with the airline you are searching - Singapore Airline reward flights are cheaper and more available to book directly through KrisFlyer for example). 

Qantas Classic Reward Seats are much harder to find, but yes they more of their own metal flying to more destinations overseas, so if that's a key factor for you then that may influence your preferred choice of Frequent Flyer Program. They also have the draw-back in they cost more points for the same zone 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Jan 2013

Total posts 699

Re: Qantas and Virgin Classic Reward Seats and difference in minimum redemption costs, here's a comparison (I won't do all, but three typical long flight distances):

Zone Three (1,201 - 2,400)   Business  QF  36,000   VA  33,800 

Coast to Coast                       Economy  QF  18,000   VA  16,900

Zone Six (4,801 - 5,800)        Business.  QF. 72,000.  VA  70,000 (on Virgin Atlantic)

MEL to Hong Kong.                Economy.  QF  36,000.  VA.  35,000

Zone Eight (7,001 - 8,400).    Business   QF 96,000.  VA  94,000

MEL to LAX.                           Economy.  QF 48,000.  VA 47,000

Not to mention, with Virgin as a Platinum member you earn 10 points per dollar spent domestically - which for a MEL-SYD Business return flight you earn 10,590 points compared to just 4,296 Qantas Frequent Flyer points earnt for the same MEL- SYD Business return flight as a Qantas Platinum / Platinum One member. (Internationally Virgin also rewards with a 100% cabin bonus in Business compared to only 50% cabin bonus for Business with Qantas). It's therefore quicker to earn rewards with Virgin.

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