Qantas or Virgin Australia: which airline offers the best flight redemption deals for frequent flyers?

In previous columns we've offered solid advice on earning frequent flyer points and some of the best ways to use those points – as well as some of the worst ways to spend them.

But with two virtual currencies dominating Australia's frequent flyer market – Qantas points and Virgin Australia points – whose coin should you be collecting, in the hope of turning it into a free ticket?

As a rule, it turns out those frequent flyer points will generally fly you further on Virgin Australia.

Crunching the numbers

At Australian Business Traveller we recently crunched the numbers on the most popular domestic and international routes flown by Qantas and Virgin Australia (although several of these relied on Virgin's partners such as Singapore Airlines and Etihad Airways).

The calculations were based on the limited number of 'reward' seats set aside on each flight for a fixed number of points.

On the whole, booking a frequent flyer seat with Virgin Australia generally requires fewer points than Qantas.

And when the points fall in Qantas' favour, Virgin's cost-extra surcharges added to each frequent flyer ticket are significantly cheaper than those of the Flying Kangaroo, resulting in a saving of hundreds of dollars on overseas flights.

The difference on domestic flights is fairly small. Let's take Sydney to Melbourne in economy class. Qantas asks for 8000 points and a $30 co-payment, while Virgin Australia wants only 6900 and $21.

Neither the points nor cash payment are deal-breakers, but it turns out that on all domestic plus Trans-Tasman routes, Virgin Australia frequent flyers come out marginally ahead.

Heading stateside

There's only 2000 points' difference between Qantas and Virgin Australia on the popular Sydney-LAX route (the scales tip in Qantas' favour for economy, but in Virgin's for premium economy and business class).

However, Virgin Australia charges a flat $108 in add-on fees while Qantas starts at $252 for economy and hits $467 for business class.

Make that a round trip and you're looking at a $700 saving on the surcharge.

And while you can opt to pay those surcharges with points instead of cash, it's far from the best value for your precious points.

Singapore: points vs pay

Qantas has a clear points edge for trips to Singapore. The Flying Kangaroo asks for just 120,000 points for a business class return fare against 160,000 on Virgin Australia, via partner Singapore Airlines.

But once again, those cost-extra charges come into play. The Qantas business class return trip would come with $625 in fees compared to just $146 with Virgin Australia, which equals an extra night in one of Singapore's best five-star hotels.

Bound for Blighty? While the 3000-odd points difference is minimal, frequent flyer bookings with Qantas pack a surcharge up to $623 in business class, while booking through Virgin Australia partner Etihad Airways it's just $85.

You can have it both ways

The take-away from all this is that savvy travellers should look at what they want to get from a frequent flyer scheme and adjust their loyalty accordingly.

Of course, there's nothing to stop you earning points on both airlines.

Some travellers prefer to do just that, for maximum flexibility when it comes to planning their points-based travel.

You can also make use of points transfers and, with Virgin Australia, 'family pooling' to automatically funnel the points and status credits of other family members into your own account.

Using a portfolio of credit cards to spread your points-earning spend across several airlines is another easy tactic.

Which airline do you think has the best frequent flyer program? Let David know in the comment section. 

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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