Which frequent flyer deal is best?

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Andrew usually chooses his airline based on the best deal, but would he be better off in a frequent flyer program? And, if so, which one is best?

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Q. Andrew
My daughter lives in Brisbane and I live in Melbourne. I usually go and visit her and my grandkids four to six times per year. I normally wait until I see the best deal and book my flights or book based on the best price I can find if I am going up for an event like a birthday or Christmas. Because I don’t generally fly with the same airline on these trips, I haven’t looked into the frequent flyer programs. But would I be better off signing up for one of these and sticking with the same carrier? If so, which one? Qantas or Virgin?

A. Qantas recently announced some changes to its frequent flyer program, which will be rolled out next year.

Qantas claims its revamp will mean 13 million members will pay fewer fees, have access to more seats and the ability to earn extra points while on the ground.

Consumer group Choice investigated the Qantas and Virgin frequent flyer schemes last year.

It found that the Qantas Frequent Flyer scheme had roughly 12 million members, charged a one-off fee of $89.50, and points expired if none are earned or redeemed within an 18-month period.

Virgin Velocity frequent flyer had about eight million members, was free to join and points expired if none were earned, redeemed or transferred within two years.

According to Choice, points in both schemes were worth around one cent each, depending on how the points were used. Using the points for seat upgrades provided the best value in both schemes.

On Virgin, points redeemed for upgrades are worth an average 6.2 cents for domestic flights and 5.4 cents for international. This compares favourably with Qantas, where points redeemed for upgrades were worth an average 4.8 cents for domestic flights and 2.4 cents for international.

One of the only areas where the Qantas Frequent Flyer program offers superior value is if you use your points to book international flights, which doesn’t sound like your major concern.

It should be noted, though, the Choice investigation did find that in many instances you can save more money than the frequent flyer points are worth simply by buying the cheapest tickets, so it sounds like you already have the right strategy.

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