Maximising Your Travel Budget: How to Use Points on Budget Airlines

how to use points on budget airlines just like Jetstar
While the points game is mostly about maximising value, flying in business class, visiting lounges and, in general, living the high life, there is another side of the spectrum. These are budget airlines or low-cost carriers, which has made flying and holidaying accessible for so many of us. Budget airlines are a great way to maximise your budget, and especially if you’re a solo or couple, travelling can make much of the world more accessible. Although many budget airlines don’t dabble in points (to keep costs down), a select few airlines that fly to Australia allow you to earn and redeem points as you would on a full-service airline. Is it worth doing, though? Let’s find out how to use points on budget airlines.

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What are the main budget airlines in Australia?

Budget airlines often get a bad rap due to headlines repeatedly calling out their exorbitant fees and how you almost pay the same as a full-service airline. I don’t think this is true at all. Budget airlines have a place in the market and are excellent if you know what to expect. The minute you go in expecting the service of a full-service airline for a budget price, you’ll be disappointed. If you’re someone who feels like they can make do without a lot of things, then this is a great way to save money. For example, I often travel on my own and take trips of around a week or less. With some thought, I can fit all of my luggage in a carry-on bag, and I don’t need to pay for seat selection (as long as, on occasion, I bear the brunt of the middle seat). This means I rarely pay anything extra on top of my fare apart from a credit card surcharge.
Australia is lucky in that several budget airlines are flying out internationally, but mainly from Sydney and Melbourne. The biggest ones are Jetstar (owned by Qantas), Scoot (Owned by Singapore Airlines) and AirAsia, covering a large number of destinations, mainly in South East Asia. This gives you a wide variety of choices and lots of avenues to save money on flights. Another quick highlight is the newest airline in Australia – Bonza. Bonza recently commenced domestic flights to mostly secondary airports and Melbourne. As they recently commenced operations it’s hard to comment on them but it will be interesting to see how the competitive landscape changes with a fifth airline in play.

How many points can you earn flying budget airlines?

Earn and Redeem Qantas points on Jetstar

You can read my other articles on how to maximise Qantas points. Earning Qantas points on Jetstar is reasonably straightforward, and the points earn rate is not as alarming as you would expect. The main catches are that the cheapest flight class cannot earn points. This means you have to be at least flying in ‘Plus’ as Jetstar calls it, which mimics what you might find on a full-service carrier. This includes checked luggage, a snack/meal, and the Qantas points. Upgrading to Plus on a flight from Melbourne to Bali will cost you $70 for each leg – a price that is approaching that of Qantas (on the below example, the Jetstar flight came to $638 with the $70 add-on). This demonstrates that using a budget airline as a no-frills experience offers plenty of savings. Still, the costs are comparable once you start paying for extras (including points). The number of points earned is the same as on Qantas but depends on the fare class, but you get the same minimum 800 points guarantee. Qantas is reasonably generous with status credits on Jetstar flights, earning the same amount as a comparable Qantas flight would earn. It is also important to note that the cheapest business class fare does not earn Qantas points or give you lounge access. This will set you back an extra $200.
Redeeming Qantas points is something I have spoken about in a couple of articles now, but I want to touch on redeeming Qantas points for Jetstar flights. Jetstar flights have Classic Rewards, just like Qantas, and the starting points are much lower than Qantas. For example, a Jetstar flight from Sydney to Bali will cost you 18,000 points and $128 compared to a Qantas flight which would cost you 25,200 points and $159. Both of these are for economy redemptions. Personally, the Jetstar flight to me is excellent value. It includes seat selection and a check-in bag, saving you on paying for those extras as you usually would (making it closer to a Plus fare). The equivalent starter fare on the same date would cost around $400, meaning you’re overall saving about $272 for 18,000 points. You pay slightly more for the Qantas flight, which in cash is worth about $600. The difference between both flights is negligible when flying in economy class. Both will have a similar experience except perhaps in food. But for such a significant saving in points and a relatively short flight, that small sacrifice is worth it for budget-minded travellers!
Where it is not worth redeeming, these points is Jetstar business class. You pay a significantly more considerable amount of points. For example, Sydney to Bali is about 40,000 points for a seat similar to a domestic business class flight and relatively average food. The issue here is you’re paying business class equivalent points value for a sub-business class experience. Here I would advise you to save your points and either book economy or find a Qantas or other airline business reward seat.

Earn Krisflyer miles on Scoot

Singapore Airlines also provides a way to earn Krisflyer miles on Scoot flights. This works slightly differently from the Singapore Airlines flights. You earn miles depending on how much the ticket cost at a rate of 1 Krisflyer mile per dollar (SGD) spent. You also earn elite miles at 2.5 miles per dollar. This earning rate excludes taxes and credit card fees. This makes Singapore Airlines slightly less generous when it comes to points earned. For example, if you paid for a Jetstar Plus fare, you would get 3900 points if flying from Melbourne to Singapore. This is regardless of how much you pay for the flight. A sale Scoot fare from Melbourne to Singapore might be about $350, which would net you just 350 Krisflyer miles. Of course, a significant advantage is earning points here regardless of which class you buy. So while a Jetstar Starter fare will always give you 0 points, you would still get some Krisflyer miles if flying Scoot.
The same situation applies to elite miles (Krisflyer’s equivalent of status credits). Krisflyer, in the above example, would give you 875 elite miles for a flight from Melbourne to Singapore, while a Singapore Airlines flight would give you at least 3,700 in discount economy. On the other hand, Qantas will provide you with the same number of status credits on both Qantas and Jetstar (but again, you wouldn’t earn any on the cheapest fare).
Redeeming Krisflyer miles for Scoot is also relatively straightforward. On the surface, the system is easy, but the value it gives you is variable. You can use a slider when you pay for your Scoot flight and use miles to offset the ticket price. One thousand points are worth about $11, although this rate depends on the AUD to SGD exchange rate, so to be more precise, 1000 points are worth SGD10. This means that Krisflyer rewards are all fixed-price, and Scoot redemptions are not. They are dynamically priced based on the airfares and add-ons you select. This can vary between okay value and relatively poor value. You can imagine on a popular day, while wanting to add on a bag and seat to your flight; the flight might come to about $500, meaning you would pay 47,000 miles for this seat! This would almost get you a premium economy flight from Melbourne to Singapore – a much more sensible redemption. If you decide to go down this route, please check what a comparable fare would cost on other airlines and look at the Krisflyer redemptions on Singapore Airlines before booking.

AirAsia has its own rewards program...which you shouldn't bother with

And it is honestly tough to work out how to earn and use miles. Whilst this is not a rewards program I have ever used, I’ve signed up for an account to work it all out. Unfortunately, I still have not been able to. There is a single points redemption table; at no point does the website clarify how many points you will earn, and while there are plenty of references to redeeming points, there seems to be no natural way to do so (or easy way to find flights). In summary, I would stay away from this program until the redemption pathways become clearer. After all, there’s no point in having something you can never use.

Is it worth flying budget for the points?

Overall I would say that Jetstar and Qantas points would have decent value but you are forced to pay for many extras essentially making it equivalent to a full-service carrier level of product. I would ask if you were going to go down this route, there may not be a significant price difference between Qantas and Jetstar. On Scoot you should look at them as a ‘nice to have’ thing. By no means will you earn a significant amount of points or elite miles flying on Scoot. You might get a nice bonus on top of a cheap flight.
Budget airlines are great. They give you cheap flights to popular destinations, but for actual savings, you need to be prepared for the no-frills experience. Once you go down the road of adding on many extras, you may as well pay a standard fare for another carrier. Points are rarely worth using on these airlines, but surprisingly, Qantas points on Jetstar aren’t bad if you’re redeeming economy seats. If you want to fly business class on these airlines, think of it like premium economy on other airlines and judge the price accordingly. I don’t think these seats are worth redeeming for because most of the time, the points cost is the same as a business class fare on standard airlines.
Another trick I’ve discussed before is if you’re booking a long flight to Europe or North America, fares from most of South-East Asia are drastically cheaper than those from Australia. You can use a budget airline to get you to one of these hubs, i.e. Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Jakarta and find cheaper flights in both economy and business class originating from these destinations. This can save you a lot of money, so it’s worth considering. Look at the above fare as an example. This is a business class fare on Qatar Airways from Bangkok to London for the equivalent of $2500 (less than half the price of an equivalent fare from Australia).
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