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Qantas v Virgin: Which is the better frequent flyer program?

Virgin chief Paul Scurrah and Qantas chief Alan Joyce. (Images: Getty)

Frequent flyer programs have become big business in Australia. But which of Qantas Frequent Flyer and Virgin Velocity schemes is better for consumers?

Loyalty program expert and spokesperson for Point Hacks, Daniel Sciberras, told Yahoo Finance the answer depends on the customer's travel habits.

"Generally, the points requirements between both airlines were almost identical."

"However with [this year's] changes, some economy redemptions on Qantas will be less than Velocity, while premium seat redemptions are likely to be more expensive with Qantas. And Velocity will still have a slight edge in regards to carrier charges."

Both airlines have a "generous" number of seats on domestic flights available for frequent flyer points spending, for both economy and business class. 

Qantas does, however, have better availability for international flights because of its membership in the OneWorld airline alliance and other bilateral partnerships. Only this week Virgin Australia announced the termination of some routes.

"So if you find yourself frequently travelling internationally, you may wish to consider Qantas over Velocity," said Sciberras.

"Another weak spot for Velocity is redeeming for travel to South America. Neither Virgin Australia nor its partner airlines service South America directly from Australia, so you will need to transit through the USA first, which increases the points and time cost."

Virgin Velocity's advantage over Qantas

While Virgin falls behind in international flight availability, it has an important advantage for families. 

"It allows for family pooling, that enables family members to pool their points and status credits to one family member, allowing them to reach a much higher status level than they would otherwise," Sciberras told Yahoo Finance.

This means, for example, if a father, mother and daughter had 6,000 points each – it would not be enough to for any one person to redeem a seat on their own. But if they pooled their points together, 18,000 is enough to redeem one or even two short flights.

Qantas has no family pooling, but does allow one-off transfer of points. This is a clunky way to share points, especially with the restrictive 5,000 minimum point requirement for the destination account and no reversal allowed.

Virgin also offers better points bonuses when transferring credit card loyalty points into Velocity.

"And their list of on-the-ground partnerships is very extensive, meaning that Velocity members have ample opportunities to earn points into their program."

The best strategy, according to Sciberras, is to choose the airline that meets your usual travel needs the best.

"For example, if you live on the Gold Coast and travel to Canberra frequently, then you may prefer Velocity Frequent Flyer, as Virgin Australia is the only airline to fly direct between these two cities," he said.

"But join both programs, as there will always be an occasion where you will need to fly the alternate airline."

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