A lot has been written on the Internet about Frequent Flyer programs and the usefulness of one over the other. What I thought might be interesting is a practical comparison or review if you will of two popular Australian Frequent Flyer programs, Qantas Frequent Flyer and Virgin’s “Velocity” Frequent Flyer program.
Currently I hold Gold status on both Frequent Flyer programs and I often get asked the question “why bother with both, why not go for Platinum on one or the other?”. The answer for me is simple, variety. By holding Gold status on both programs I have a number of airlines in the Qantas Frequent Flyer and Velocity Frequent Flyer networks and affiliations.
Affiliated airlines and frequent flyer programs
The Qantas Frequent Flyer program is part of the OneWorld Alliance, which includes: Air Berlin, American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Iberia, Japan Airlines, LAN, Malaysia Airlines, Qantas, Qatar Airlines, Royal Jordanian, S7 Airlines.
In addition, Qantas recently added the Emirates partnership into the mix, which has opened up European routes via the Dubai hub.
Conversely Virgin Australia has affiliations with Etihad, Hawaiian Airlines, Delta, Virgin Atlantic, Singapore Airlines, Air Berlin, Virgin America and Virgin Samoa.
Both carriers cover the field in terms of being able to pick some great planes and routes to travel, whether it’s Asian Pacific, North America, South America or Europe.
My experience is mainly drawn from domestic travel – in fact last year alone between the two airlines I flew over 60 times domestically (Australia) with a split of roughly 30% Virgin Australia to 70% Qantas. The choice in split is largely due to work, so I wouldn’t take that split as my “money where my mouth is endorsement” over one provider or the other.
On the times I travel internationally for leisure I have chosen to do so with Virgin Australia, in part because the airfares have been consistently more economical i.e. cheaper, the service is excellent and I have seen them as a better option for placing myself in the best possible situation for obtaining an upgrade (more on this later).
Access to airline and airport lounges on both is very good as Gold status will get you into either. Both Qantas and Virgin Australia have excellent domestic lounge facilities. The point of difference here for Gold Status members is that the Virgin Australia lounge is a fully integrated lounge i.e. it does not discriminate between status tiers, whereas Qantas domestic lounges have the traditional Qantas Club lounges for Qantas Club members and Gold Status Frequent Flyer’s and a separate lounge for Platinum, Platinum One and Business class travellers.
All lounges offer barista made coffee in the morning and the Qantas Club Melbourne has a barista on duty that always remembers my order – that’s something you can’t beat in terms of excellent service.
There are a few things I value most from my lounge: decent food, fresh coffee in the morning and clean amenities (nothing really beats having a clean toilet!). Virgin Australia lounges’ amenities are stocked with fancy soaps and moisturizers whilst the Qantas Club has your standard fare.
As for food, Virgin’s domestic lounge certainly wins here. I find the ingredients on offer to make fresh sandwiches are always a little better than Qantas (Qantas even cut their bread slices in half which really irritates me!). Qantas offer what they call hot “comfort food”, which leaves a lot to be desired. Virgin on the other hand opt for fun “hot dogs” and party pies as their hot food options – not a healthy hot option but by that time of the evening I’m rarely thinking healthy and little party pie treat mostly lightens my mood. Particularly on winter nights I find it comforting to get something warm into my tummy, which on either airline may not be a given with the in-flight meal. Both airlines now offer cold meal options of sandwiches or salads – I actually found myself on a recent Qantas flight from Sydney to Melbourne missing my affectionately termed “Qantas surprise” hot meal!
Food offerings in the Qantas Business lounges are vastly improved, however for the purpose of this article I will stick with what Gold status gets you.
Internationally lounge access and amenities vary on whether it’s an affiliate lounge or not. For example in Los Angeles the Qantas Club is a co-shared lounge with American Airlines, called the Admirals Lounge. This lounge does not serve food, you can purchase food from a menu but there is no buffet like you will see in a Qantas Club lounge domestically. Beverages are also pay as you go, although you will generally receive some drink vouchers to get you started. Mind you, I still can’t believe that there is no food on offer and there is no open bar. Take away the amenities and you may as well sit in a restaurant down on the concourse.
The Virgin affiliated lounge in Los Angeles has been the Virgin America Loft. This too is nothing to write home about. You can get a free drink here though, but food, whilst free is really nothing to be excited about. Since my last trip to LA this has changed and Velocity members now have access to a new Star Alliance lounge, you can check out a review here at Jaunted.com and the Star Alliance website.
Hands down Virgin Australia has the best in-flight service of the two. I would be interested to hear the views of people who disagree as I rarely have anyone say Qantas in-flight service is superior. Granted Qantas have improved its service significantly in the recent couple of years, particularly since its industrial disputation in 2012 – but too often I come across a grumpy flight attendant who could care less with helping you put your luggage in the overhead.
At the airport I have had a mix of good and bad service from both. Overall I find both carriers have good customer service at the airport. Additional services that differ slightly are the access to priority boarding lanes at the gate. Frustratingly Qantas removed the ability for Gold Status members to board using priority boarding lanes when they introduced the additional tier of Platinum One. That really annoys me. The Qantas Frequent Flyer Gold Status privileges can be found on their website.
Virgin’s Velocity Frequent Flyer program on the other hand allows Gold Status to priority board, which takes the hassle out of stressing over whether you will have any over head bin space or not. Both carriers allow you to utilize business check-in counters for international flights, which is brilliant and saves time when you are an economy flyer lining up with the hundreds of other people. You should also receive priority or express security and customs passes, but sometimes I find this is inconsistent for both. If you don’t, just ask – I find a generally nice demeanour and attitude at the airport goes a very long way.
But what about luggage you say? Well each allow an additional piece of checked luggage. This meant on our return from Los Angeles we could effectively check 5 pieces of luggage between the two of us! Handy indeed.
To be clear there are two forms of upgrades: paid (points) and free! I have never received a free upgrade on a domestic flight. I have used the Qantas upgrade system utilizing points and upgraded on a couple of occasions to Business Class. Specifically, I have used this service on a flight Perth to Melbourne and Auckland to Melbourne. The amount of points needed varies on the class of fare you have and distance, but is generally 10,000 to 16,000 points for these flights.
Qantas has a fantastic Upgrade Calculator tool on their website. Further Qantas have the superior upgrade request feature on their website. To request an upgrade is as simple as selecting an option next to your booking. Upgrading with Virgin Australia is harder, you need to call them and can only request an upgrade if you have a Flexi-Fare ticket. Recent changes were made to their upgrade policies, but I still find it too confusing to make it worthwhile to look into further. I’m busy, so the ease of being able to select a button online next to my actual booking is perfect.
Internationally, I have received one free upgrade with Virgin Australia on a Melbourne to Los Angeles flight last year for me and my partner. Given we paid the exceptional discounted rate of $500 each for our one-way tickets in Economy; the upgrade to Premium Economy was fantastic! We almost emulated this luck on the way home, had it not been for so many Platinum Frequent Flyers travelling on the same flight that night. What was clear from that trip is that free upgrades can and do occur on Virgin Australia, provided of course your travel cabin and class of ticket is over sold. It then comes down to your Velocity status level and where you may sit on the list of other Velocity members on the flight.
Sadly, I have had no such luck with Qantas international flights.
Maintaining your status level
This is easy, Velocity wins here. Maintaining Velocity Gold only requires 400 status credits in your membership year. Qantas Frequent Flyer Gold requires 600 in your membership year. Status Credits accumulate much the same way for each program i.e. generally it’s 10 status credits for a sale fare Melbourne to Sydney and 20 status credit for a flexi fare Melbourne to Sydney.
It is less status credits overall to maintain Gold Status on both carriers than to reach Platinum Status on Qantas (1,400 Status Credits). It’s 1,000 Status Credits to attain Platinum membership on the Velocity Frequent Flyer program. Velocity has some neat features to remember, such as family pooling and parental pause. These can help you reach your status goals quicker with the help of a family members travel or pause your membership if you cease flying for a while due to parental leave commitments.
Overall both programs have a lot on offer. If you ask me to choose the simple answer is, I can’t and I haven’t yet. I will continue to maintain both as long as I can and keep my options open. Happy travels!!