How to get a flight upgrade from your boss

It can be hard enough to get a Cabcharge docket out of the boss, so how do you think you'd go asking for a seat at the pointy end of the plane on your next business trip? In the past, you would be laughed out of their office.

But with Qantas's new business-geared frequent flyer points program, Aquire, hitting the boss up for a free upgrade on your next business trip just got a lot easier.

If you're not familiar with the national carrier's newest incentive scheme, you're not alone.

Steve Hui, a consultant who specialises in maximising his clients' frequent flyer points, says few business travellers have heard of Aquire.

"Aquire was launched in March, but no one has a clue what's going on," says the man known as "the points whisperer" and founder of iFLYflat.

"I speak with the business community every day and most are still totally confused about the benefits, and the fine print."

Well worth it

Hui believes signing up for Aquire is well worth the effort for regular corporate flyers. "I think it's a bloody good program," he says. "If you're going to spend money flying and buying stuff, why not earn these points for free flights?"

The Aquire program allows companies to earn additional points on employee trips that already accrue personal points. The company points can be spent on free upgrades for employees, or even to purchase entire flights.

"One of the best features is that it allows companies to transfer points to anyone they want; they can actually give staff a free business trip flying Business, or even First Class," Hui says.

A company that signs up for Aquire can earn points in two ways. Firstly, when a member of staff takes a flight, they record the company ABN number with Qantas as part of the booking process. This not only earns the employee the usual Qantas frequent flyer points he/she would be entitled to, it also earns points for the company at between 30 to 50 per cent of the normal frequent flyer rate. For example, on a Sydney-Melbourne return business class flight, an employee will earn 2800 Qantas frequent flyer points and the company banks 1120 Aquire points.

Breaking this down, for every 29 Sydney-Melbourne-Sydney flights made by staff, the company can get one flight for free; a saving of $1400.

The second way a company can earn Aquire points is by spending money with one of Qantas's Aquire partners.

Spend to earn

A medium-sized company with regular inter-city travel should not take long to build up quite a stock of Aquire points, to be used by whomever it wishes.

Hui says this is the most powerful feature of the program, and one not actively promoted by Qantas; the ability to convert Aquire points into Qantas frequent flyer points and transfer them to anyone the company nominates.

Companies can use those points to fly business owners, directors, employees and even customers, clients and suppliers.

Alternately, it can utilise the points to reward staff with upgrades to the pointy end of the plane.

The bottom line for businesses with frequent employee travel is that they can save a lot of money on their travel budget, or reward staff at no additional cost.

Hui says companies spending more than $80,000 a year in non-wage expenses would be "crazy" not to sign up for the program.

Aquire points can be earned by any company with an ABN; but certain criteria must be met to convert them to Qantas frequent flyer points, such as the company being based in Australia.

Avoiding FBT

Hui says he sees no downside to the program, except that it may invoke a Fringe Benefits Tax (FBT) payment if Aquire points are used for personal travel. "Companies are not supposed to give things away for free, but nobody has really talked about how that might relate to flights," he says. "Of course when the points are used for business purposes, there is no FBT."

Accountant Paul Mather, owner of FBT Solutions, says there is certainly an FBT risk if a company gives an employee a free flight for personal use. "But to some extent the whole process is one step removed from an employer giving something directly to their employee, because the points have to be transferred," he says.

However, companies may provide points to employees for personal use, as long as they are prepared to pay the FBT accruing.

What's in it for the Flying Kangaroo? The program encourages companies to habitually book with Qantas, rather than rival Virgin Australia. Qantas also charges a fee to become an Aquire partner, and to purchase points to give out to customers.

A 'no-brainer'

Stephanie Tully, chief marketing manager of Qantas Loyalty, says Qantas is working to educate its frequent flyer program members about the scheme's additional benefits on top of personal points accrual, which is unchanged.

"The more people we talk to face-to-face about Aquire, the more who think it's a no-brainer; why wouldn't I want to earn more points for the things that I do already?" she says.

According to Tully, more than 40,000 businesses have already signed up to Aquire.

"We're definitely on track and have members already telling us how much they have benefitted from Aquire," she says.

Top tips to maximise Aquire points

  • If you have an ABN, sign up. You won't earn Aquire points unless you're in the program.
  • When your employees take a flight, make sure they report the company ABN number to earn Aquire points.
  • If you are already using any of the 15 Aquire Partners, make sure you are earning the points.
  • Consider switching business to an Aquire Partner if it offers a similar service and quality of product as the company you're currently using. You earn one point for every dollar you spend with a Partner.

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