I’m often asked just how much a Qantas frequent flyer point is actually worth. The answer, frustratingly, is “it depends”.
Frequent flyer points don’t have a fixed value. Their worth goes up and down depending on what you buy with them, in effect like an exchange rate for trading your points against products and services in the real world.
However, thinking of frequent flyer points as a currency in their own right – much like the Aussie dollar, but a currency issued by an airline instead of the Reserve Bank – is the first step to spending your points wisely.
Nobody willingly wastes their money, so why throw your points away by spending them on ill-considered purchases?
The price of a point
As it happens, a recent giveaway of 10 million frequent flyer points saw Qantas declare the value of those points at 2.28 cents each.
But that’s a bit of a best-case scenario, because Qantas points can be worth barely 0.5 of a cent each if you buy goods through Qantas’s online frequent flyer store.
A good baseline with a fixed ‘real world’ value is that a $100 gift card for department store Myer will cost you 15,000 Qantas points.
That might be an easy way to burn a relatively meagre points balance, but it also devalues your points to 0.67 cents apiece.
Another popular item, especially among travellers, is a pair of Bose noise-cancelling headphones. But with the Bose QC15 headphones selling for $399 in stores, Qantas’s ask of 58,000 points still pegs each point at barely 0.69 cents.
Why buy when you can fly?
Compare that to a business class return ticket from Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane to Singapore.
Qantas sells those tickets for around $4100 or 120,000 points (plus $622 in taxes), so the purchasing power of your Qantas points jumps to 3.4 cents each (if you pay the taxes using cash). This is also a better deal than using your points to buy an economy ticket.
That’s because economy airfares are subject to much deeper discounting than seats at the pointy end of the plane, meaning the ‘exchange rate’ of your points takes a tumble. Qantas charges around four times as much for business class as economy, but only asks for twice as many points.
Top ways to use your points
So what are my choices for the best ways to use your Qantas frequent flyer points?
For an indulgent experience, 54,000 points will get you a private first class suite on Etihad’s Airbus A380, flying daily from Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane to Auckland.
A ticket for these suites can cost $1440 – an insane amount for a three-hour flight – but it means your points are valued at a decent 2.67 cents each.
More importantly, it’s a treat you might never get on a ‘proper’ international flight to Dubai or London, for example.
If you’re flying from Sydney or Melbourne you’ll also be able to use the Qantas first class lounge to start your journey at the lounge’s Neil Perry restaurant and even snare a bit of pre-flight pampering at the day spa.
Upgrade for some long-haul luxe
Next on my list: if you’re in business class on Qantas’s daily Airbus A380 from Sydney or Melbourne to London, it takes only 60,000 points to upgrade to first class.
That’s well worth it for a trip which totals more than 20 hours of flying, although Qantas upgrades operate on a request-only basis – there’s no guarantee you’ll get an upgrade.
However, if lady luck is flying with you, those 60,000 points will close the $2000 gap between business and first class tickets, which gives the points a value of 3.3 cents each.
An even better value upgrade is from economy to business class, at 96,000 points one-way.
You’ll need to have booked one of the more expensive Saver category fares to be eligible for an upgrade – the cheapest Sale seats don’t quality for a bump – and, of course, if that upgrade doesn’t come through you’ve spent more money than you need for the same economy seat.
It helps if you hold Platinum or Gold frequent flyer status to be at the top of the upgrade pecking order.
But the vast chasm in pricing and the travel experience between economy and business class makes this a high-value upgrade in every sense of the word.
With a Sydney-London economy Saver fare at $1777 in off-peak seasons, and business class starting at $6923, the value of the 96,000 points needed for your upgrade skyrockets to 5.4 cents.
Using points to fly at the pointy end
Finally, consider what for many is the ultimate trip – flying around the world in business class.
This costs just 280,000 Qantas points (plus around $1000 in fees and taxes).
The cash cost of this junket would be north of $10,000, so you're now clocking up close to a solid 4 cents per point.
You’ll be able to fly in business class comfort right around the globe with Qantas and any of its Oneworld partner airlines in the Oneworld alliance, such as British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, American Airlines and South America’s LAN/TAM.
This jaunt is as ideal for a honeymoon as it is for celebrating your new-found ‘empty nest’ status or retirement.
And with the right choice of credit cards to earn frequent flyer points on your spending, you’d be surprised how quickly those 280,000 points come within reach.
How do you use your frequent flyer points?
David Flynn is a business travel expert and editor of Australian Business Traveller.