When to use frequent flyer points for economy bookings

By Chris C., December 26 2017
When to use frequent flyer points for economy bookings

Over the Christmas / New Year break, Australian Business Traveller will be revisiting some of our most popular articles of 2017. We’re still around to report on any breaking news during this time, otherwise our regular publishing schedule will resume on Monday January 8, 2018.

Conventional wisdom says that one of the worst ways to spend your frequent flyer points is to book an economy flight, rather than a more comfortable (and otherwise, more expensive) journey in business class.

But while that’s mostly true, it’s not always the case. There are a few notable exceptions to this rule: times when it makes sense to redeem your points on an economy seat.

For instance, using frequent flyer points to book an economy seat can be good value on high-priced short-distance flights, and also when combining multiple flights together as part of a single, same-day journey: especially when two flights can be booked for the price of one.

That’s because many frequent flyer programs – including Qantas Frequent Flyer and Virgin Australia Velocity – calculate the number of points you need for a booking based on the distance of that journey in miles, rather than the normal price of a ticket in dollars.

Accordingly, the shorter your flight, the fewer points you need: even if paid ticket prices on that flight are normally quite expensive.

With that in mind, here are a few scenarios where it does make sense to use your points for an economy ticket.

Qantas flights between Sydney and Lord Howe Island

Purchase a regular fare on Qantas’ Sydney-Lord Howe Island flights and you can expect to pay about $539, one way, for a ticket classed as ‘discount economy’:

That’s an extremely high price for a flight less than 500 miles in length, to a destination that’s technically still in New South Wales, albeit almost half the way to New Zealand:

Here’s where frequent flyer points come in handy. Because Qantas charges only 8,000 points for a one-way economy ticket on all Qantas flights less 600 miles in length (regardless of destination), you can book that same flight for only 8,000 points plus a payment of $84.50, one way.

Under that scenario, spending 8,000 points lessens the sting on your hip pocket by $454.50 – being the normal $539 one-way fare price minus the $84.50 you’re still spending in co-payments – to sit in the same seat on the same flight.

That unlocks an impressive 5.68 cents of value from each frequent flyer point you’ve spent, which even trumps the value of many business class reward bookings.

Virgin Australia flights between Brisbane and Canberra

Despite being a relatively standard ‘capital city’ route, very limited competition from low-cost airlines makes fare prices between Brisbane and Canberra much higher than many other domestic flights, and often twice the price of jetting from Brisbane to Sydney.

For instance, one-way tickets on Virgin Australia between Brisbane and Canberra frequently sell for $201-$231, which is close to half a thousand dollars for a simple return economy trip on a short domestic route:

Use 7,800 Velocity points to book the same flight and you’ll pay just $39 on the side in taxes and fees (being $38.50 plus Virgin’s ‘compulsory’ credit card payment fee added on later)…

… with your points unlocking $192 of value overall, or a reasonable 2.46 cents per point: much better than booking economy on other routes of similar distance where commercial fare prices can be lower.

If you have access to Etihad Guest miles such as through American Express Membership Rewards or Flybuys, the same Virgin Australia flight can also be booked for 6,900 Etihad miles plus $39.60, for a higher 2.78 cents of value per mile, as fewer miles are needed.

Virgin Australia flights between Brisbane and Ayers Rock

Another option for Velocity members is flying from Brisbane to Ayers Rock via Sydney with Virgin Australia, as the airline doesn’t run non-stop flights and can often charge between $342 and $392 each way with a Sydney detour: making a return journey more expensive than a round trip flight to Singapore or Hong Kong!

Rather than paying those hefty fares, you could instead part with 17,800 Velocity points each way plus a payment of $73.70 on the side (credit card surcharge included), making those 17,800 points worth up to $318.30 overall, or 1.78 cents each.

That may not bring as much value per point as a Brisbane-Canberra flight, but keep in mind that flying only from Sydney to Ayers Rock costs the same number of points as flying Brisbane-Sydney plus Sydney-Ayers Rock on the one ticket, so the Brisbane-Sydney leg comes at no extra hit to your points balance.

Have you made a great value frequent flyer booking recently? Share where you’re headed and how many points you paid with other readers in the comment box below!

Chris C.

Chris is a a former contributor to Executive Traveller.

09 Oct 2017

Total posts 6

Travelling to Broome direct from Sydney with QF in August 2018 for Broome Cup, Economy 18,000 points + $53 as opposed to $532 red e-deal one way

14 Nov 2015

Total posts 42

Almost any flight in and out of CBR is expensive. The example you gave is about as cheap as it gets. $300-400 one way to SYD/MEL/BNE is fairly common, and I've seen $700-800 fairly regularly.

24 Apr 2012

Total posts 2482

Hi thelongroad, when fares are higher on Brisbane-Canberra flights than those we've included in the article, the ability to use points normally disappears, so it's unlikely you'd be able to use Velocity points to book a Brisbane-Canberra flight selling for $700-800 in economy.

We've found that the option to use Velocity points will normally appear when the lowest available fare price on a Brisbane-Canberra flight is $231 or less (unless the allocation of Velocity seats on that flight has already been exhausted). Once the fare increases to the next rung, $261, the option to use Velocity points normally disappears.

(This varies from route to route and as always, there may be exceptions, but it's what we've observed on BNE-CBR flights in particular.)

14 Nov 2015

Total posts 42

Yes, correct. It was just that as a CBR resident, I felt like moaning about the prices we pay!

24 Apr 2012

Total posts 2482

Oh, I agree with you 100% on Canberra fare pricing... I'm visiting regularly these days and it certainly isn't cheap to do so (thus breaking my usual "don't use points for economy" rule)!

11 Oct 2017

Total posts 1

I paid $800 once for a flight home to Canberra that was delayed 4 hours at last minute.

But I found sometimes when it was high I could use points or made my sense to book a business class rewards seat than pay that outrageous amount.

Getting out of Canberra was always reasonable especially the mail flight on QF at 10pm but from 12pm Sunday through to 11am Monday most flights were 400-800 (except when they put the ATR-72 on the route for a while there no one was booking seats on that plane)


13 Sep 2013

Total posts 115

I've found this is the case with SilkAir.

Fares on some very short monopolized routes are around $500 each way.
The Krisflyer Miles needed for an award seat is nothing in comparison.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

09 Oct 2017

Total posts 1

Another use case - I wanted to book in a European trip for a holiday with my wife next year, but needed the ability to cancel it. With points, the penalty isn’t that bad, and they even refund all the fees and taxes (or so they say, anyway).

25 Feb 2013

Total posts 62

I've known about the Lord Howe Island hack for a while. It's theoretically possible, but practically impossible to find a workable return itinerary using points

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

19 Jun 2017

Total posts 41

Anywhere regional (dubbo, armidale) is probably a good idea to use points in economy. At times when there are no sales, it's pretty much the same price than flying somewhere in SE Asia

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

11 May 2017

Total posts 14

Very valid points Chris.

Fortunately work covers the cost for me to see clients in regional/remote locations.

However at the prices QANTAS charge to connect to places like Mount Isa or Karratha it makes sense to use points if you are personally covering the fees.

Townsville to Mount Isa return can easily equate to more than $1,000.

Perth to Karratha can also stitch you up for more than a trip to Jo Burg!

03 Sep 2017

Total posts 50

I fly internationally more than domestic.

Whenever I look into booking flights, I will do a lot of comparing between points, $, and mileage earn. My decision will usually be based on consideration for my other future flights.
If a flight earns more mileage points than one of my future flight that I can use points to redeem, I will most definitely purchase that longer flight instead of redeeming by points.
For example,
MEL-SIN-MEL Economy fare cost approx $1100
MEL-FRA-MEL Economy fare cost approx $1900
Mileage earn is at least 3 times more for the longer flight, So in this case, I'll purchase the MEL-FRA-MEL, and get the mileage towards a MEL-SIN-MEL flight.

23 Feb 2015

Total posts 262

Extracting maximum value from points is a valid focus.

For many people though, having the thousands of dollars that were spent on flights to protect their points balance in their offset account, or spending it on family time (or a myriad of other ways), instead would have been the better option if a holistic view was taken.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Nov 2012

Total posts 25

I want to visit the Qantas museum in Longreach. Last time I looked, Brisbane to Longreach was 12,000 points O/W, and Sydney to Longreach (via Brisbane) the same (plus a different cash co-payment, obviously). I don't know if that makes Sydney-Longreach a bargain on points, but I think it's good value.


29 Oct 2012

Total posts 17

Also can be good value if you need a positioning flight to somewhere else to launch from, eg: HKG/SIN/BKK. Buying these as a one way can be very expensive.


11 Oct 2017

Total posts 8

I wonder if it helps to factor in to the equation what it costs to earn the points that are used for short haul economy flights. Some 'conventional wisdom' might suggest to always pay for the short haul in order to gain the extra points (at least with Qantas).

Jetstar Airways - Qantas Frequent Flyer

13 Oct 2017

Total posts 3

I am planning on using my valuable points on an economy return Perth to Singapore to position for a cheap business ticket to Europe - saving approx $2000 on a return business ticket from Perth

12 Aug 2017

Total posts 76

I seem to buck the trend. I get so many points from flying business class internationally that I rarely need to pay for domestic flights. I also get Gold membership easily this way so always have lounge access flying economy. To me lounge access is the only real benefit from being a Goldie as I get it anyway when flying abroad.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

19 Feb 2014

Total posts 445

Easter is also a good period to use points...

Some fares with Qantas and Virgin are as much as $1,500 one way from Perth to Brisbane if you're booking a few days prior.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 May 2012

Total posts 137

I bought return Sydney - LAX for 45,000 points + $400 tax in the recent Qantas 1/2 price classic award sale. Thought that was good value.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

06 Nov 2014

Total posts 361

If you had redeemed it during peak season when the ticket is about $2000 then certainly good value.

But at low season's when SYD-LAX can sometimes go as low as $900 rt, that 45000 QF points only saved you $500, and missed out point earning ~10000 points (I can't recall the exact point earn on this. But SYD-LAX rt should earn you about that much even on discount economy). Overall for 55000 points for $500 saving isn't good value, that's less than 1c per point.
Always compare what's available revenue wise before using points to redeem. That's my approach in using points to redeem economy class.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 May 2012

Total posts 137

Thanks Michael, it's good value to me as I have over 1,000,000 point but a small cash flow problem! LOL

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer Platinum

07 Feb 2013

Total posts 551

Disagree, using velocity points for SIA redemptions is great value for economy tickets. Almost all tickets require double the points for a J class ticket from Y so dont see the real disadvantage booking the Y ticket on points. Especially seeing as they don't charge fuel surcharges you come out way on top.

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