What is the best frequent flyer program in Australia?

there are so many frequent flyer programs to choose from. What is the best frequent flyer program in Australia?
The best frequent flyer program in Australia is a tricky question to answer. There are so many programs to choose from, and every airline is trying to make you join their program. The problem here is if you join all of them and collect points here and there like I used to do when I was younger, you’ll never get enough for a free flight!
It ultimately comes down to what presents the most value to you. Don’t go for the most valuable points currency because it’s worth the most. There are a few things you need to think about when you’re deciding on the best program for you:
  • Where do you want to travel to?
  • How easy is it to collect the points?
  • Are there actually seats available to redeem?

These are the questions we’re going to answer so you can decide what the best frequent flyer program is for you.

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    Points value is important but not the whole story

    The value of a point is a very commonly asked question. While points have an arbitrary value attributed to them, I argue that it’s hard to give them a single value in the context of flights. There are so many variables for instance, time of year, class of travel and, the hassle of transit through certain airports. Let’s start with an example, an economy flight one-way from Sydney to
    London searching six months in advance of when this was written. First up is Qantas Frequent Flyer. You can see that the total cost is 55,200 points and $243 in taxes. There is one available Qantas flight for the day and no seats in other classes available.
    Doing the same search on Singapore Airline’s website shows you can get basically the same flight for 58,500 points and only $102.36 in taxes. Not only this, but there are 15 different variations of flights with Singapore Airlines alone available to redeem on the same day. This gives you much more flexibility and availability to use your points. 
    Based on the above, which points currency is the most valuable to you? One costs fewer points, is arguable easier to earn (in Australia anyway) but also costs you more in taxes, is less flexible in terms of time of travel and class of travel. There isn’t a correct answer here but I suspect most people would pick the latter.
    Now on the same day if you continue to use Qantas’ website to search for flights you will see partner flights appear. Certain airlines have much lower taxes than Qantas themselves.

    Where you want to travel to affects the program you should join

    Mt Kilimanjaro from Amboseli in Kenya. One of the destinations you could visit when you find cheaper flights to africa

    When starting your points-collecting journey and picking a frequent flyer program, it’s important to start with a goal in mind. Where do you want to travel to? It doesn’t have to be very specific. It could be a region, a country, or city you frequently visit. In the end there’s no point collecting these points if they can’t take you where you want to go.

    Every program has its own partnerships and alliances that they allow you to redeem points with. It’s important to consider the partners and their route network. My family is from Kenya, and a priority is to be able to fly regularly from Australia to Kenya to visit family. It is difficult enough finding a short flight to Kenya from Australia without looking for reward seats. If you look at the Krisflyer program, the only partners they have that fly to Nairobi are Ethiopian Airlines and Air India. Both of which have few sensible route options from Australia. On the other hand both Qantas and Velocity frequent flyer programs partner with Middle Eastern airlines which offer an extensive route network into Africa (to multiple cities in Kenya) and are also well connected to Australia, with flights from all the major Australian cities and opening up many opportunities for reward flights.

    If you want to take flights to Europe, while cities like London and Paris are very well connected with most carriers from Australia, some secondary airports like Vienna, Budapest and Madrid are not as well served by the Asian carriers. This makes it much more lucrative to target a program that has access to airlines like the Middle Eastern or European carriers that have much more extensive European networks than Singapore Airlines or Cathay Pacific do.

    How easy is it to collect the points?

    It’s all well and good choosing a cool program like KLM’s Flying Blue to put all your efforts into until you realise how difficult it is to collect points in Australia. The major programs in Australia are Qantas Frequent Flyer, Velocity Frequent Flyer, Krisflyer, and Asia Miles, with others growing in popularity, like Qatar’s Privilege Club and Emirates Skywards. These programs have at least some major banks partnering with them to transfer points to their programs and have frequent bonus point offers to help you get there. While the other programs have the potential to earn points through partners like Citi and Commonwealth Bank, who have a multitude of obscure airline partners, it simply isn’t worth it. This is for a couple of reasons:

    • The limited partner network outside of flying limits how many points you can earn using this avenue. This is compared to the big programs in Australia, which frequently offer bonuses of up to 150,000 points for simply signing up for a credit card or switching a mortgage over to them. They also have no local retail partners, providing another lucrative avenue to earn points you would miss out on.
    • Flights out of Australia are limited through many of these other airlines. While some will provide one or two routes out of Australia, they don’t have the same hub-spoke network connecting to Australia as the Middle Eastern or Asian carriers do, and they don’t have the domestic network of Virgin or Qantas. Even if you get most of your points through flying, you’re better off picking a local program and one with the right partners to help you collect points on these other carriers.

    The sole reason to collect points is to redeem them. There’s no point hoarding them or keeping them for your children. You need to earn them as quickly as possible (within reason) and use them on the flights you want as soon as possible. This is much more achievable with local programs with extensive retail, bank and other partners rather than airlines which barely have an Australian presence.

    Are there actually seats available to redeem?

    What if you can’t book flights a year in advance? What if your primary goal is to fly in business class with points? The frequent flyer program you choose will heavily affect the amount of flexibility you have. Some programs like the Qantas frequent flyer program are notorious for poor reward availability. Especially for premium classes of travel. While this is true, keep in mind that Qantas has a number of good airline partners that will offer some last-minute award availability. Take the below flight with Japan Airlines as an example.
    Although Qantas has some last minute award availability, it often isn’t a very convenient route. This one through the US is an example. A US transit requires an ESTA or US Visa as even transit passengers need to pass through immigration. A much more tedious transfer than say Singapore or Hong Kong which are designed as transfer-friendly airports.
    Singapore Airlines presents the same number of available flights as the Qantas one but one key difference is only the higher cost “Advantage” fair is available. But in saying this, the route is much better, offering a seamless transfer, and multiple options in both timing and class. At the same time, with Singapore Airlines, you’re often stuck if there are no Singapore Airlines reward seats available. It can be more challenging to find partner airline awards compared to others like Velocity or Qantas.

    Flexible points currencies open up your options

    Often when you’re starting out it’s hard to know how to direct your points-collecting strategy. You would often start out by signing up to credit card with the highest bonus and then decide after where you want to go. I would encourage you to consider which flights you want to try and redeem and which frequent flyer program might get you there. Signing up to programs is free, meaning you can do dummy bookings to search for flights and determine how many points you need. This means you acquire points in a targeted way.
    One of the best ways to collect points is flexible points currencies. These are points you get from credit card providers, which can later be converted to a frequent flyer program of your choice. This gives you added flexibility to collect points and then convert them once you know the best offer that’s around and that your flight is in fact, available. The most well-known of these is the American Express Membership Rewards Program. In Australia, this lets you convert your points to programs from Air New Zealand, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Etihad, Malaysia Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways, Virgin Australia and Virgin Atlantic. Most banks will have some form of flexible points currency but perhaps not with the same variety of transfer partners.
    Another advantage to carrying points with these other programs is transfer offers. It isn’t uncommon for Velocity, Qantas and sometimes Singapore Airlines to give you bonuses for converting points to their program. This is usually between 15 and 20% and can help your points stretch further. This also takes a lot of the decision making out of the picture and allows you to transfer your points to the best offer at the time, giving you the ability to check availability, routing and costs before you commit to a points transfer.

    My Strategy

    Dubrovnik, the narrow alleyways and tall, narrow streets will leave you wandering for hours
    I think the best way to collect points is to have points in multiple programs. This means that you’re more likely to find flights on the dates that you want and you can combine flights between programs. I have found Qantas frequent flyer points are much easier to redeem for flights originating outside of Australia. For example Singapore, Europe and the US. Most of the flights I tend to take are between Australia and Europe. For this reason I always like to keep some points in my Krisflyer account. It makes it very easy for me to redeem flights between Australia and Singapore. As they fly from multiple cities it means I can often find a flight to Singapore from either Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane quite easily. An added bonus is I don’t need to pay significant additional taxes on these flights.
    While Qantas points are harder to redeem I think there are good opportunities to use them outside Australia. Finding flights from Asia to Europe and Europe to US is extremely easy given the huge number of partners they have. Qantas points are importantly also very easy to collect in Australia. You can get them from almost anything meaning that a lot of people rack up huge balances which they haven’t spent yet. I keep my Qantas points for this reason. I can almost always find flights between Singapore and Europe allowing me to book 2 flights to get me to my destination with a layover in Singapore. I like this because Singapore also facilitates transfers between airlines at their transit desk meaning I don’t necessarily have to pass through immigration.
    Lastly, I will keep a balance of points in my American Express account. This means that at the last minute if I require some extra points to redeem the flight, it’s easy for me to transfer them and not miss out on a flight because I’m 5,000 points short. So what is the best frequent flyer program in Australia? For me personally my favourite frequent flyer program is the Krisflyer program. It gives decent value and you can book flights when you want to. This may change in the future and I’m always on the look out for better deals.

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