- There are heaps of factors that may affect your decision about which of Australia’s two frequent flyer programs you should focus on.
- We examine those factors one-by-one, to assist you in making your choice.
- Work through our decision tree with your personal needs and preferences, to find out which airline’s points are best for you.
‘To be, or not to be?’, pondered Hamlet. Would a 21st Century Price of Denmark (perhaps Frederick, the one married to an Aussie) be more likely to wonder ‘To sign up with Qantas Frequent Flyer or Virgin Velocity? That is the question.’ Because for the rest of us, not born to wear a crown, it’s quite a dilemma.
But there is a way to compare the two frequent flyer programs side-by-side and logically work your way through the ways in which they are similar, and where the real differences lie, to decide which is the best choice for your personal situation and lifestyle.
First up, we can dismiss comparing the cost of flights paid for in cash. When you pay for your seat with cash or a credit card, you have a choice of all airlines flying in Australia for domestic flights, and all the world’s airlines flying to your destination for overseas journeys. You can decide whether to opt for lowest cost or best quality and convenience. Virgin Australia usually has the cheaper domestic flights in dollar terms, but our concern is not with dollars but with points, and the best ways to collect and use them.
So let’s consider the factors that might sway your decision:
- Is there a program joining fee?
- How easy is it to collect points via a credit card?
- How easy is it to collect additional points via shopping?
- Can other rewards program points be converted into frequent flyer points?
- Is it difficult to stop points expiring?
- Where can I fly using an award seat?
- How easy or difficult is it to secure an award seat?
Answer these questions, and you might find that one airline stands out as the obvious choice for you. But to make things simpler, we’ve created a decision tree.
It looks pretty straightforward, but in order to steer your way through the tree you might need a little more information. We’ve got that covered too.
Is there a program joining fee?
Virgin Australia’s Velocity Frequent Flyer program is free to join. Qantas ostensibly has a sign-up fee of $99.50.
If the presence of the sign-up fee is a deal-breaker for you, by all means choose Velocity. But in practice, it’s easy to avoid the Qantas joining fee. Many credit cards linked to the Qantas Frequent Flyer program will waive the fee for you. Other ways to avoid the fee include getting a Qantas Travel Money Card, joining Deliveroo, signing up with Dimmi, or simply using a regularly available free joining offer from Qantas.
How easy is it to collect points via a credit card?
The Qantas website currently lists 41 personal credit cards linked to direct earning of Qantas points on purchases. Cards earning Velocity Points are only available from Virgin Money, American Express and Westpac, and there’s a total of six personal card options. So if you want lots of card choices for direct earning of frequent flyer points on purchases, Qantas is a clear winner.
Since Qantas has more card options, the chances are that you’re more likely to find one that suits you. But there’s more to it than just the number of cards. Look carefully at cost features like the annual fee, the interest rate if you miss a payment, and other fees such as foreign transaction fees. Also consider each card’s points earning rate, and any included benefits such as travel insurance, airport lounge access and other travel perks.
Finding out which credit card suits you best will probably have the greatest impact on your decision regarding which frequent flyer program to concentrate on.
Can other credit card rewards program points be converted into frequent flyer points?
While the sheer number of Qantas-linked cards puts it ahead in the direct points earning battle, there can be no doubt that Velocity offers more flexibility when it comes to converting other rewards program points into Velocity points.
Westpac and its stablemates St.George, Bank of Melbourne and BankSA all offer cards where it’s possible to switch between earning Qantas Points and the banks’ own rewards points, although converting points from one program to the other is not allowed. Similar options and conditions apply to American Express David Jones-branded cards.
The American Express Platinum Card allows cardholders to convert their Membership Rewards Ascent Premium points into Qantas Points if they wish to do so (but also allows conversion to Velocity Points).
But Velocity points win the day here, with credit cards from all of Australia’s major banks, plus American Express and Diners Club, offering a range of cards – more than 40 in total – where the bank’s own rewards points can be converted to Velocity frequent flyer points.
Receive up to 120,000 bonus Qantas Points!
Receive up to 120,000 bonus Qantas Points (20,000 points per month for the first 6 months) when you spend at least $1,500 each month.
Reduced annual fee of $199 p.a. in the first year ($299 p.a. thereafter).
Enjoy 6 months interest-free on your first purchase of selected Qantas products and services.
2 complimentary Qantas Club lounge invitations per year.
Citigroup Pty Limited ABN 88 004 325 080 AFSL No. 238 098 Australian credit licence 238098, is the Credit Provider and Issuer of the Qantas Premier credit cards on behalf of Qantas Airways Limited ABN 16 009 661 901.
This credit card offer is subject to change and may not be directly related to the content of this article.
How easy is it to collect additional points via shopping?
Both Qantas and Virgin have online stores offering frequent flyer points earning on purchases. The Qantas Mall and Velocity eStore are quite separate from the airlines’ websites for spending frequent flyer points on merchandise. Instead they provide a shopfront for well-known online shopping brands (like David Jones, Myer, eBay, Catch, Woolworths and Country Road). Start your shopping journey at the Qantas Mall or Velocity eStore, click on your desired brand to be transferred to their website, and any purchases you make will be tracked and earn you frequent flyer points.
Although both airlines’ online stores have a large number of partner brands, earnings at the Velocity eStore tend to be limited to one or two points per dollar, with only a few bonus points options, while the Qantas Mall regularly offers much higher rates on selected brands, sometimes as much as 15 points per dollar spent.
There’s a lot of brand overlap between the two stores, but you may find that your favourite online store has a partnership with one airline but not the other, and that is likely to be the major influence on your decision if you want to earn points in this way.
On a similar note, Qantas has partnered with Woolworths Rewards, and Velocity with Coles group flybuys, to allow conversion from each supermarket’s loyalty points into the respective airline frequent flyer points. So if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool Woolworths shopper you’re more likely to opt for collecting Qantas points, while for Coles diehards Velocity points would make more sense.
Is it difficult to stop points expiring?
Qantas Points will not expire provided you earn or use points at least once every 18 months. Transfers of points between family members, or conversion from Qantas Business Rewards to standard personal Qantas Points, do not count as expiry-preventing activity. But even if you’re saving points for a long-haul overseas flight and rarely earn points by flying Qantas domestically, you’re almost certain to earn points reasonably regularly via a credit card, or conversion from Woolworths Rewards, or from Qantas Mall online shopping.
Velocity Points have more forgiving expiry rules. They will not expire provided points are earned or redeemed at least once every 24 months, which allows a rather longer period of inactivity. As with Qantas Points, family transfer and points pooling arrangements do not count as activity, but there are plenty of points earning options via credit cards and shopping.
If you think there will ever be a long hiatus in your points earning, Velocity would be a safer bet. Otherwise, there’s little in the points expiry situation to influence your decision.
Where can I fly using an award seat?
Qantas has over 50 oneworld and other partner airlines, flying to over 1,200 destinations globally (including 49 domestic destinations) where Qantas Points can potentially be used to book seats.
Choices are more limited with Virgin, which has only nine international codeshare partners. There are 41 Virgin Australia domestic destinations, and Virgin or partner codeshare flights to around 190 overseas airports. There are no options for flying to South America.
Technically it should be possible to secure an award seat booked with points to any of these destinations, although just because the airline or one of its partners flies there it does not automatically mean that award seats will be available. But if you’re looking for much more choice in where you can fly internationally, you’ll need to choose Qantas Points.
How easy is it to secure an award seat?
Securing an award seat (i.e. one that you pay for with points) can be a hit-and-miss affair with both airlines. There isn't an obvious winner between the two airlines, depending on the route, class of travel, and how far ahead of the travel date the search for a seat was conducted. Overall, Economy seats are much more available than Premium Economy or Business Class seats on both airlines, especially when it comes to longer flights, and premium seating is almost non-existent for long-haul overseas travel.
Qantas releases award seats 353 days ahead of flights for higher status frequent flyer members (Bronze and Silver members usually have to wait longer, especially for premium long-haul seats), while Virgin Australia releases its seats 330 days ahead of travel.
Planning well in advance for your overseas trip will clearly pay dividends, whichever airline you choose, because there’s lots of competition for long-haul award seats. Qantas probably has an advantage here, since it’s possible to find award seats on its many partner airlines’ websites – seats which may not feature on the Qantas website but which can be booked by phoning Qantas on 13 13 13, requesting the specific seat and paying a phone booking assistance fee, currently 6,000 points per passenger.
If you plan to use your points mainly for flights within Australia, Virgin’s seat availability is just as good as that of Qantas, and you’ll need fewer points. But for those collecting points for a long-haul overseas trip, Qantas offers more choices of destination.
The bottom line
In the end, choosing between Qantas and Virgin frequent flyer points may largely depend on how you plan to collect your points.
When you find a frequent flyer credit card with all the features you’re looking for, it may not come in both Qantas and Virgin flavours, so you may decide to go with one program rather than the other just because a particular card suits you. Or even because you shop at Coles rather than Woolworths. Perhaps you can earn points making purchases from your favourite retailer via the Qantas Mall, but can’t find a link at the Velocity eStore.
And there is one final option: make sure you’re a member of both the Qantas and Velocity Frequent Flyer programs. This will allow you to concentrate on one program via your credit card, while making sure you don’t miss out on shopping opportunities to collect points in the other one.