Why use frequent flyer points?

While frequent flyer points have an obvious selling point – free/cheap flights. There are a number of advantages you may not be aware of which move away from just this simple premise. So why use frequent flyer points if you haven’t already started? Let’s see some of the benefits.
Why use frequent flyer points? To travel in business class on the cheap maybe

Cheaper flights in both economy and business class

I have written a more comprehensive article on the amount that frequent flyer points can save you. But essentially the summary is that while you do often pay taxes on the flights that you book with points, most of the time you are still saving significant amounts of money compared to the cash fare – even in economy class.

Most people can’t afford to pay for business or first class flights from their own pocket. But who hasn’t wanted to try having a good night’s rest on a long flight and arrive refreshed on the other side. This is especially true for Australians who endure long flights to basically anywhere in the world. Using your points to pay for flights puts premium class flights in reach for anyone. I’ll warn you now though, once you’ve had a taste you’ll struggle to go back.

The savings are even more evident in the last year where airfares have skyrocketed in all classes and it becomes more costly and often unaffordable to take journeys that previously were very reasonably priced. I would hope that those of you in this position are able to play this points game and use it to your advantage like I have on countless occasions.

Flexible flight conditions

This is one of the main reasons I got into points flights and have loved them even more since COVID disrupted the travel world. If you book a flight with points they are generally some of the most flexible bookings you can make. The penalty for flight changes and cancellations are very low compared to cash tickets (Qantas charges 6,000 points for the privilege – which is nothing). Say you’ve booked flights a year in advance, suddenly a project at work comes along and you are no longer able to take leave during this time. You can cancel the flight and get basically all of your points AND the taxes refunded to you with very little hassle. I’m sure anyone chasing refunds for flight cancellations and changes over the last few years would appreciate this benefit very much.

I’ve summarised some of the flight change and cancellation charges for the popular programs here just to give you an idea of how much of a benefit this really is especially when compared to the price of a fully flexible cash fare. While Cathay Pacific errs on the expensive side, I think all the other programs have very reasonable charges and the benefit is certainly very clear when you compare them to discount economy tickets.

Airline Flight Change Flight Cancellation
5,000 Points
6,000 Points
Singapore Airlines
Virgin Australia
4,500 Points / AUD35
4,500 Points / AUD35
Cathay Pacific
7,500 Points / USD 50
17,000 Points / USD120

Consistent Pricing and Benefits

Getting last minute and peak fares can be expensive. Not if you’re using points. Although some programs are shifting away from this model, the popular frequent flyer programs in Australia have not gone down this road yet. If there is availability, the cost of the flight remains the same in terms of points. For example, a flight booked for next Christmas compared to a flight booked in the middle of April will cost the same amount of points and taxes. This means you don’t need to be prepared to pay a premium for flying when everyone else is (as long as you plan ahead because these seats are popular) meaning you can save even more money using points. In addition a lot of reward seats even include baggage where the regular cash fare wouldn’t. For example if you book a British Airways reward seat as a Qantas classic reward then you get a checked-in bag and seat selection included while British Airways will charge you for this privilege in the cheapest economy class.
A caveat to this is some airlines are starting to make peak and off-peak pricing different. This applied to US airlines as well as British Airways and Air France-KLM and it looks like this is the way other programs will head for in the future. Thankfully this isn’t something we’ve seen yet with the popular Australian programs – Qantas, Velocity, Krisflyer and Asia miles. Let’s hope they don’t go down this direction as this may wear away at the benefit of using points.

Cheaper One-way Flights

Another less well known or thought about benefit is the cost of one-way flights.In some cases such as permanent relocation or an extended break, you may want to book a one-way flight instead of a return ticket. If you’ve had a look you may have seen that the cost of a one-way ticket is almost as much as a return ticket meaning your savings are minimal. Well, an added positive of having fixed pricing with reward seats is that you can book a one-way flight for the same price as a return flight.

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