What your frequent flyer status is really worth

Access to the best airport lounges, a fast-track for your check-in and luggage, even first shot at upgrades: what's not to like about holding Gold or Platinum status with an airline's frequent flyer scheme?

But few things come free in this world, and that largely includes those shiny cards which bestow top-tier status upon the business traveller.

That status is mostly earned by flying monotonous bum-in-seat miles, although the process is made more enjoyable when you're at the pointy end of the plane.

But how much are those Gold-lined and Platinum-plated perks actually worth – and where should you draw the line, rather than galloping along in pursuit of that next level?

Finding the sweet spot

In Virgin Australia's Velocity Frequent Flyer program the 'status sweet spot' is widely held to be Velocity Gold, which sits a notch below Platinum but still gives you business class check-in and lounge access even when you're flying in economy.

There's also complimentary Gold membership with selected hotel chains for travel-friendly perks such as late checkouts and free room upgrades.

Velocity Platinum bundles up some added benefits such as four free upgrades per year from economy to business class, but many frequent flyers reach Velocity Gold and then swing their flying across to Qantas to chalk up similar status with the Flying Kangaroo.

The golden hop

Gold status with Qantas – especially Lifetime Gold membership – is roughly on par with Velocity Gold for perks, including access to the domestic Qantas Club lounges and international Qantas business class lounges.

But the dark lustre of a Qantas Platinum card is worth chasing, especially if you do a lot of international flying, as this opens the doors to some superb first class lounges – not only those of Qantas but partner airlines such as Emirates and Oneworld members including British Airways and Cathay Pacific.


And of course, Platinum card-holders have a better shot of their upgrade being approved compared to those who are lower down the frequent flyer food chain.

Get status when you shop?

Virgin Australia currently lets Velocity members earn up to 120 status credits a year by shopping through Coles Flybuys, but Qantas says it has no plans to follow suit.

"The way I think about it is that status credits are about recognition for your loyalty, while points are about rewarding (your loyalty)," says Lesley Grant, CEO of Qantas Loyalty.

"From our perspective we think it's not appropriate to link status credits with everyday spend such as supermarkets," Grant tells High Flyer.

"For us, status credits will always be in some way linked to flying, and that will protect and recognise our tiered flyers in the program."

The price of Platinum

So is it possible to put a price on frequent flyer status?

Emirates is currently costing Gold status in its Skywards loyalty program at just over $1000, based on emails the Gulf airline is now sending to some Silver-grade Skywards members.

The Qantas partner is offering a 12 month boost to Skywards Gold for A$1060

Many Qantas frequent flyers, meanwhile, appear to rate Gold or Platinum at well north of $2000.

That's based on the number of travellers I know who opted to do a quick 'status run' from Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane to Jakarta or Bali during Qantas' Double Status Credits promotion earlier this year.

Counting credit

The $2200 price was a typical mid-week business class return fare to either city, which landed a solid 480 status credits (up from the usual half of 240).

That was nearly sufficient to look down Qantas Gold status for another year, and almost halfway to re-qualifying for Platinum status.

The cheapest way to climb the status ladder is of course via a status match promotion, but these are few and far between.

Virgin Australia ran one in the early days of its reboot from Virgin Blue, to tempt Qantas Frequent Flyer members to sample the challenger's new domestic business class seats and airport lounges.

Outside of the loop

At the time of writing the Branson-backed sibling Virgin Atlantic is offering a Gold status match in its Flying Club program – which also lines up against Virgin Australia Velocity Gold – for a handful of competing airlines including British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Emirates and Etihad.

Your gratis status with Virgin Atlantic's Flying Club is valid for a full 12 months, but to qualify you'll need to have a future booking with the airline.

And with Virgin Atlantic no longer flying out of Australia – its main routes these days are between the UK, the USA and Asia – it's a deal which few Aussies can cash in.

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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