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How to pick the best frequent flyer program

How to pick the best frequent flyer program

Many airlines offer a frequent flyer program or a loyalty program to encourage customers to accumulate points that may be redeemed for air travel or other rewards. However, the perks you receive depend on the membership program you enrol for, and also your membership tier.

In Australia, Qantas Frequent Flyer and Virgin Velocity Frequent Flyer are two of the more popular frequent flyer programs. You'll find a number of frequent flyer credit cards linked to these two membership programs to help maximise your reward points. 

Joining a frequent flyer program is usually free, but some airlines may levy a small application fee. For instance, joining Qantas Frequent Flyer costs $99.50. However, if you're applying for a frequent-flyer linked credit card, some cards will waive this application fee. On the other hand, joining the Virgin Velocity Frequent Flyer program is generally free. 

Which airline offers the best frequent flyer program?

Overall, there's no definitive answer to the question of the best frequent flyer program to join, as all programs offer a different range of benefits and features. It’s also possible to enrol in several frequent flyer programs or stick to your favourite airline if you have one. 

If you are confused about which frequent flyer program to join, it could help to compare the basic features and membership costs to determine which program provides more value for your bucks. For instance, you may want to compare the different ways in which you can earn points to maximise your benefits. Generally, all frequent flyer programs allow a number of ways in which you can earn points. These include:

  • Flying with the airline or its partner network
  • Using a credit card
  • Shopping with any of the airline's retail partners 
  • Booking a hotel with an airline partner

All frequent flyer programs offer points for flying with the primary partner airline. However, the number of points you earn might be capped on certain routes or vary according to the distance travelled and fare class. Some frequent flyer programs also have different earning rates for domestic and international flights. Depending on your travel preferences, you may choose a program that gives you the maximum points and redemption options most useful to you.

For instance, some airline membership programs such as Cathay Pacific Asia Miles may offer cheaper redemption options than Qantas Frequent Flyer. Also, if you regularly fly domestically, you might be able to redeem your Qantas Points for the more economical Jetstar flights connecting several exclusive destinations directly within Australia. 

Besides flying with the primary airline and its partners, you can also earn frequent flyer points for your everyday supermarket shopping with some membership programs. 

Apart from flying, one of the fastest ways to earn frequent flyer points is using your credit card. Some cards automatically transfer your points to the linked frequent flyer program, while others allow you to manually transfer points to a frequent flyer program. However, it's worth noting that reward credit cards are often associated with a high fee. While the option of earning flying points or miles on your everyday spend is attractive, it's also important to consider how often you’re going to use those points for travelling and whether you're getting good value compared to the price you're paying. 

While reviewing different programs, another point worth looking into could be the expiration policy for your points. For instance, your Qantas points will expire after 18 months of inactivity, while your Velocity points will expire after 24 months of inactivity. To prevent your Qantas or Velocity points from expiring, all you need to do is earn or spend a few points in the given period, and you'll reset the clock for your points’ expiry. 

Irrespective of your frequent flyer membership, it helps to be money wise by not letting the lure of earning more frequent flyer points sway you from booking the flight with the most competitive rate. If you're planning to spend points, seat upgrades and award flights usually offer better value. You can calculate how much one point will be worth for different redemption options under various membership programs to choose one that suits your requirements. If you’re looking for a frequent flyer credit card, you’ll also want to compare the interest rate and fees before applying for one.

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This article was reviewed by Personal Finance Editor Mark Bristow before it was published as part of RateCity's Fact Check process.

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