Howdy all. Well, this is the year where your frequent flyer points aren’t going to do much for you, are they? Personally earlier this year I took out a new Amex card which gave me a reward of 100,000 bonus Qantas points, and now my points balance for Qantas is looking ‘pretty okay’ shall we say? Helped no doubt by the fact that I haven’t had any flights to spend my points on. But the questions are raised – what’s the point to all these points? Should I be saving points and still activity trying to gather them? How has the pandemic impacted frequent flyer programs and when will be able to start spending them on flights again? Should I just bite the bullet and spend my points on whatever product offers the airlines have for me? So in today’s post I want to delve into these, and other questions about points, and I also want to take a look at the Flybuys and Everyday Rewards programs here in Australia, who have taken different approaches during the pandemic.
Is there still a Point to Points?
So firstly, is it still worth earning points? I would say surely it is. And I will tell you why – and also I should preface that today’s post is certainly coming from an Australian perspective, because I live in locked-down Melbourne and my principle programs are with Virgin and Qantas. As you accumulate and don’t spend, you’ll find yourself with a bigger pool of points to use when we can use them on flights. And when we can use them on flights, expect that that takeover and near-extinction of Virgin Airlines Australia coupled with the likelihood that less people will be wanting to hop on an aeroplane will lead to more expensive flights, especially internationally. Just do a little search today on international flights (not out of Australia, that will not give an accurate picture because we can’t leave Australia without special authority) and you will see flights are significantly more expensive than 12 months ago.
What does this means for your points? Well, it may mean they change the system of points – again – as they did last year. Last year’s changes meant that we needed less points on average for popular long haul routes. However, they might go the other way but I don’t see any indication at this stage that the airlines are going that way. Which means if points are worth what they were worth beforehand in terms of cost per distance travelled, then they could save you a lot of money if the general cost of the flights are significantly more expensive.
Earning Qantas points opens you up to using your points on a range of other things too such as hotels, but I’m not sure, even though I have used them on hotels before, that they represent such good value for money. And hotel prices I expect may actually be lower than 2019 for a few years now as demand dips. As for using your points on retail items, well I would never recommend that as I just don’t think, with perhaps the odd exception, that that ever equates to value for your points. However, it might be different over at Velocity/Virgin.
What about my Velocity Points?
As with the airlines in general, I feel better about my Qantas points compared to my Velocity/Virgin points. I’ve always felt that Velocity Points (Velocity for those who don’t know is the points program for Virgin Australia) didn’t take you as far as Qantas points did for starters. Virgin Australia does seem to have a future as I write this post, a month or two ago it looked possible we might lose the airline all together, so you should still be able to use these points to fly Virgin in the future.
Having said that, Virgin Australia’s restructure is looking at halving its fleet and it is unlikely to fly internationally for one or two years at least. So your options become less. The program sent its members an email out months ago assuring us our points were safe and that the program was actually separate from Virgin and if the airline went under our points would be safe. So in that case I guess I would advise to spend the points on whatever you could get for them.
As I have mentioned before, I actually prefer to transfer my points to KriFlyer, the Singapore Airlines program. Yes, you lose a chunk of points when you convert, but I feel that the program is more extensive, and gives you better bang for your buck. It’s also much easier to navigate. However – they put a freeze on this function when Virgin went into receivership back in April. They say it will be back up again when flights resume, not sure exactly what they mean as both airlines are flying at the moment. I am not 100% confident that I will be able to convert my points over to KrisFlyer in the future, and am taking a wait and see approach. I’m certainly not spending any points at the moment on any of the three programs I am a member for. As for advice – keep your ear to the ground on Velocity and see what happens, and if it looks like things are going belly up, and right now I think things are okay – then look to use your points in any way you can. But at the moment I am sitting tight and if your preference is to only use points for flying, then ‘hold’.
I think I was a little suckered into getting my latest credit card back in April, with suggestions that bonus points offers would disappear as the pandemic took its grip on the economy and the aviation industry in particular. I’ve just checked Point Hacks (pointhacks.com.au) which is a go-to website if you’re searching for a new credit card that gives you points and has bonus offers, and there are still some bonus offers there. Having said that, it boosted my balance by 100,000 points and is a handy card. It also has $450 a year to spend on travel (through their website) so that’s something that’s useful, although obviously I haven’t used it as yet!
I’ve still managed to add 2000-3000 points to my Qantas balance a month, I don’t hold credit cards attached to Velocity and probably wouldn’t consider one at this time. The real point here is that at the moment I have the points for two economy return fares to Europe, with some spare change left over too. What has been annoying though is building points has been slowed right down comparatively with the last few years. Firstly I’m not spending as much – my Amex gives me 1.25 points per dollar spent and yet I’m getting less than last year per month in points. Secondly though, and this is going to be a new sub-heading – Woolworths are not coming to the party in their slightly revised points scheme.
Everyday Rewards fails compares to Flybuys
So, I’ve talked about the two reward programs here in Australia before attached to supermarkets – Flubuys attached to Coles, which is mostly unchanged, and Everyday Rewards (formerly Woolworth Rewards) which seems to have really tightened its belt. Everyday Rewards converts to Qantas – 2000 points gets you 1000 Qantas points (up from 850) and for Flybuys you get 850 Velocity points for 2000 Flybuys.
To earn points simply through shopping on a $1=1 point basis takes a hell of a lot of time. But both programs, in a bid to outdo each other, came up with a multitude of bonus offers, the most profitable ones being 10,000 bonus points for shopping 4 weeks in a row and spending x amount of dollars (usually $70 – $100 depending on how generous they were feeling). Since the pandemic began in March, Woolworths/Everyday Rewards has ceased this kind of bonus. There are smaller incentives here and there, but they usually centre around Big W or another one of the retail outlets in the group. In the last six months I don’t think I received any bonus points from Everyday Rewards.
Flybuys did halt these offers too initially but by May or June it was business as normal. And as such I currently have 33,000 points in my account, which I haven’t transferred yet to Velocity because I’m waiting to see what happens with the programs, but plan to eventually and if they allow us to convert to KrisFlyer I’ll do it in the blink of an eye. My balance for Everyday Rewards is a little over 1000 points in the same time period.
Supermarkets in Australia have had to employ extra staff over the pandemic period. They are the one place that hasn’t closed down in any way. Business appears to be booming and at times they couldn’t restock the shelves fast enough, and Australia is a country that produces way way way more food than it consumes. Having said that I did hear that Woolworths is financially struggling a little which didn’t make a lot of sense to me.
Obviously they feel they have enough customers (and both supermarkets are as full as they are allowed to be when you shop, if not over capacity I would say but that’s my interpretation of the numbers in stores when I shop – they don’t seem to be counting shoppers any more despite still being in stage four lock down). Perhaps Woolworths feels that why give out something for free when people are going to shop anyway? Still, I find it very disappointing.
The Path Forward
So, if you’re an Australian, I don’t know when you will be able to reward yourself with a flight to an interesting destination just yet, but I hope that it’s sometime before June next year. But perhaps not, we sure have some nervous governments compared to Europe when it comes to lockdown, but then I also am sure we have saved a lot of lives by taking this path.
I think a ‘wait and see’ approach is prudent, and I wouldn’t be rushing to use your points on purchases, although points may be of value coming up to Christmas, a Christmas which is going to be very tight for so many families this year. In Victoria, we’re just hoping we can see our families for Christmas!
As for international readers – how have your frequent flyer programs been affected? Is it easy enough to use your points on flights where flights are running? Always love comments and discussion so please do!
Thanks for reading – May the Journey Never End!