Frequent Flyer Fun – Using Points

So after last week’s post about my frustrations with Qantas’s Frequent Flyer programme, I thought I’d write a post about earning and using frequent flyer points, because I do love to collect and use the points, even if sometimes there are headaches associated with the programs.

Here in Australia Qantas probably is the program with the most members. Velocity Points is the program run by Qantas’s chief competitor here, Virgin. I’m a member of both programs, although I have never really sort to boost my Velocity points before. However, that is changing although I only have a meagre balance in that account right now.

Earlier this year I took the Trans-Mongolian train to Moscow from Beijing. I flew to Beijing from Melbourne, from Moscow to London, Paris to Tokyo and home again from Tokyo to Melbourne. And I got all these flights on my frequent flyer points.

Yes it was a lot of points, over 100,000 in total. However, one thing Qantas do around once a year is sell flights with a points discount, although not all airlines they partner are included. To Beijing it was around 36000 points or so, something similar, a little less because it was on Qantas and I got the points discount (in fact I think it was around 24,000 points in the end).

All I had to pay was the taxes. So here’s my first tip in booking via Qantas frequent flyer – check all options before choosing. This paid off for me. When you put your route into the search if often gives you various options. Direct will usually use the least points. But that’s not always available. From Paris to Tokyo I had a number of options, none direct.

I could take FinnAir via Helsinki, but that added a huge wad of points to the bill. There was Emirates, a fantastic airline, and there was Cathay, also a very good carrier. Emirates was slightly faster, but the tax on that was over 200 Euros. I’d booked my wife on a fight with Etihad for $370 one way, not much more than my taxes would have been.

However, when I checked the Cathay alternative, the taxes were only 69 Euro, and so it became well worth taking the flights through Hong Kong. So there are tricks to make it worthwhile because sometimes the taxes can be so high it really isn’t worth taking the frequent flyer flight!

One issue I’ve found with the Qantas site is that unless you want to go to well-travelled destinations, you can often find your destination isn’t listed on their website. It doesn’t mean you can’t book a flight there, but you’ll need to use their chat feature (poor) or phone service where you wait for 1-2 hours and then they will deduct extra points (6000 or more) for the booking. Which to me doesn’t seem fair if they haven’t listed the destination and there’s no choice to use the website without using points.

I’ve had a look at Velocity and it looked (from a very small sample) that the taxes are not quite as steep as through Qantas. Qantas does have a pretty extensive network, whereas Velocity is Virgin and they are teamed with Etihad and I’m not sure who else. Teamed with Qantas you have LAN, Aerolineas Argentinas, British Airways, Jet Airways, Malaysian Airways, Emirates, Cathay, JAL and they are only the ones I can list off the top of my head.

So, it’s best to use the website and to try out a few options to the point that you can see the taxes. Also I always recommend saving those points up for longer flights, as you can find for short flights the taxes hardly make it worthwhile sometimes – this all depends on who you fly, where you fly and possibly most importantly – which airports you fly through. Experimentation when booking a trip and you can work out which flights to buy outright and which ones to use your points on.

Also – if you’re doing a return flight it may not pay to pay one way and use points the other (presuming that’s all the points you have). Booking a full price fare one way, depending on the airline, can often be only slightly more than the return fare. When taxes are factored in to the frequent flyer leg, it could be MORE expensive. Unless you are able to take a seriously cheap fare (eg Tiger Air, Air Asia etc).

Haneda Airport

The best use of frequent flyer flights I’ve found is when you have multiple destinations and you have to hop around from one to the other. Especially when you leave a destination overland to another and then fly out of there – ie Fly to Beijing, Train to Moscow, fly to London, train to Paris, fly to Tokyo. Which is how I used my points earlier this year.

I am only speaking of Qantas though – so I’d be interested to know if any other FF programs are significantly different. Next week I will do a post on actually earning the points, which actually can be a lot of fun! Thanks for reading! May the Journey Never End!

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