Frequent flyer cards with the best perks revealed

If you allow for averages, there's likely to be at least one card-carrying frequent flyer in every Australian home.

Most of those cards come from the Qantas Frequent Flyer scheme, which has around 11 million members, or the competing Virgin Australia Velocity program. (That said, I'm always surprised at how many regular travellers don't belong to a frequent flyer scheme: when the points come at no cost, it's almost as good as getting free money.)

However, there's more to the world of airline loyalty programs than this home-grown duo – and that can translate into more perks, especially if most of your travel is overseas.

Here are some alternative frequent flyer schemes Aussie travellers should know about.

Emirates Skywards

Emirates' Skywards scheme stacks up with similar tiers and baseline perks to Qantas Frequent Flyer, topping out with Gold, Platinum and an elite level called I/O (which suitably stands for Invitation Only).

Due to the Qantas-Emirates partnership, your Qantas Frequent Flyer card offers roughly similar perks to the equivalent Skywards tiers.

So why wouldn't you keep waving the Qantas plastic on Emirates flights?

First up: unless your Emirates ticket was booked under a Qantas QF flight number, you could end up earning only a fraction of the Qantas points you might expect. And you'll score absolutely zero status credits, which means no progress on that road to Qantas Gold, Platinum or Platinum One.

Many travel agents default to booking Emirates flights under the airline's native EK code, so with every Emirates flight you're losing out.

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On the other hand, sign up for the Emirates Skywards scheme and you'll pocket a full serve of Emirates' Skywards Miles and Tier Miles (think of the former as points, the latter as status credits).

Another reason to start stockpiling Emirates Skyward Miles: you can use them to apply for an upgrade to Emirates business class or first class, something which can't be done with Qantas points.

Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer

While Singapore Airlines is one of Virgin Australia's international partners, there are some good reasons to consider joining SQ's KrisFlyer plan.

Those mostly circle around your travel habits: the more you fly business class with Singapore Airlines, and the higher your annual spend, the better your chances of climbing the status ladder to the elite PPS Club and Solitaire PPS Club levels, which rank far above the ordinary KrisFlyer Gold tier.

If your jaunts on SQ are relatively few, and in economy, then it'll probably pay to have points credited straight to your Virgin Australia Velocity account.

(There's also the option of having KrisFlyer miles converted into Velocity points at an exchange rate of 0.70, but much of the time you'll be better off skipping the KrisFlyer part of that process and getting a straight 1:1 Velocity earn rate.)

Cathay Pacific Marco Polo Club

While Cathay Pacific is part of the Oneworld alliance and thus a frenemy of Qantas, recent changes made to both airlines' reward schemes make it sensible to join the Marco Polo Club if you're regularly flying to Hong Kong (and beyond) with Cathay Pacific.

You'll still be able to use a Qantas Gold or Platinum card to access Cathay's airport lounges – including its clutch of flagships at Hong Kong – while working your way towards the ranks of MPC Gold or Diamond.

Even MPC Silver members can visit Cathay Pacific and Dragonair lounges whenever flying with either airline – a one-up on Qantas's Silver members, who receive just a single lounge pass every year.

That's bound to be handy if you're making economy-class hops between Hong Kong and China.

AirBerlin TopBonus

AirBerlin – Germany's Lufthansa challenger – holds a unique position.

It's a member of the OneWorld alliance, making it a de facto Qantas partner. That means your AirBerlin Gold or Platinum frequent flyer card has the same perks of lounge access, priority check-in, extra luggage and other niceties on Qantas, Cathay Pacific, British Airways and other Oneworld airlines.

At the same time, AirBerlin is also a partner of Virgin Australia – indeed, Etihad Airways holds a sizeable financial stake in both airlines.

So that shiny TopBonus card also delivers similar travel treats as a Velocity Gold or Platinum card, and you can also earn TopBonus status credits on Etihad flights.

How to make this work for you? Selectively crediting some international flights to your TopBonus account can unlock lounge access for Qantas and other OneWorld airlines as well as Virgin Australia.

This can take a little savvy, which is where online communities like Australian Frequent Flyer can provide expert guidance.

However, if your travels are mainly with Qantas and OneWorld airlines but you also fly Virgin Australia and Etihad from time to time, Topbonus can be one card to rule them all.

What are your top tips for getting best value out of your airline loyalty programs?

Few people spend more time on planes, in lounges or mulling over the best ways to use frequent flyer points than David Flynn, the editor of Australian Business Traveller magazine. His unparalleled knowledge of all aspects of business travel connects strongly with the interests of Executive Style readers.

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