Over the weekend, I got a call from the very friend I referenced in last week’s article about flying Singapore First Class Suites with Virgin Velocity Points. He said, ‘It’s a new year, and it’s time to sort this out, what credit card should I choose?’. My answer was the same one I give to everyone who asks me what credit card they should choose, ‘who do you do the most flying with, Virgin (and their partners) or Qantas (and their partners)?’ Like many corporates, Pete’s decision is made all the more difficult by the fact that he’s often forced to fly both carriers, as he makes trips to various destinations spotted around the country, and his work is happy to book either carrier, prioritising flexibility over cost.
As I’ve told him, and many other others, you have to choose! Being a part of both Australian programs, and separating your Status and Points earning between them, is counterproductive. You need to pick one, set goals, and stick with it. You should be aiming to get as much value from your points as possible, using them for Premium Economy, Business or First Class redemptions on medium to long haul flights. Don’t waste them on domestic Economy flights, unless they are last minute and prohibitively expensive.
So, being the start of a new year, I thought I’d take this opportunity to put together an article about why I chose to focus on Virgin over Qantas, because it’s not just who you with the fly most, but also who you want to fly with in the future. Hopefully this information will help you decide which program to focus on, and which will aid you in achieving your travel goals in 2016 and beyond.
I want to clear up one thing quickly, I don’t dislike Qantas. In fact, I think they’re a great airline, and have impressed me both domestically from Armadale recently, with free flowing wine on a Friday evening, and Internationally, on the 747 in Business Class to Hong Kong. I’m also a huge fan of their Hong Kong Business Lounge – in my opinion, one of the best lounges in the world.
My decision to focus on Virgin Velocity Frequent Flyer over Qantas comes from a host of reasons, and it’s important you consider these when deciding who to choose.
Elite Status/Lounge Access:
This first one is pretty simple. It takes 500 Status Credits to reach Gold Status on Virgin, and 700 to reach Gold Status on Qantas. Your Gold Status is your golden ticket to the lounge and priority boarding, the best perks of flying. Both carriers award the same amount of status credits (dependent on how much you paid for your flight) to reach Gold, but Qantas make you earn 200 more (equivalent to 5 full fare return trips to Melbourne). Another frustrating thing about Qantas is you have to achieve Status before your membership anniversary. Virgin allows you to hit your Status within a year from a specified point on your activity statement. Also those who only achieve Silver Status will be offered two complimentary Lounge passes from Virgin, but just one from Qantas.
Premium Lounge Entry:
My most frequented airports are Sydney and Melbourne. In Sydney, you can get dropped off at the front door of the Virgin Lounge, avoiding security in the Terminal. I rarely travel domestically with more than carry on, and being able to pass through uncrowded security, straight through the Premium Entry is game changing. Furthermore in Melbourne, the Virgin Lounge has a Premium Exit, also allowing you to avoid general security and increasing your time relaxing before your flight.
Now we’ve touched on a couple of top line reasons we’re going to dive into the details.
Lets start by looking at the four major players for both airlines, for Virgin: Singapore Airlines and Etihad, for Qantas: Cathay Pacific and Emirates. Now have a think about your travel goals, which airlines out of the four do you prefer? Which ones have the dream product you’d love to experience at some point in your life? For me it was 16 hours in Etihad’s First Apartment, followed by Singapore’s First Class Suite.
One of the biggest advantages of Virgin is you earn Status Credits on both Singapore and Etihad, helping you achieve Elite Status (and consequent perks) much quicker. There aren’t as many partners as Qantas, which is a Oneworld member, but unlike Qantas you can earn Status Credits on all eligible fare classes from all Virgin’s partners. Singapore Airlines and Virgin also let you link your accounts and transfer points instantly from Virgin to Singapore KrisFlyer and vice versa, making booking on Singapore Airlines an absolute breeze.
Etihad, Singapore and Air New Zealand all own considerable stakes in Virgin Australia, no doubt strengthening the partnership between each. I must admit I was also somewhat enticed by witnessing a former work colleague of mine, that held Virgin Platinum Status, always getting upgraded on Etihad flights to Europe due to his Status. Here’s Virgin’s earnings table below.
This is where the nail goes into Qantas’ coffin. Halfway through 2014 Qantas slashed Status Credit earnings by as much as half for travellers booked on Oneworld carriers British Airways, Cathay Pacific and Malaysia Airlines. As described above, Qantas does have a partnership with Emirates, who remain independent of all three major airline alliances, but Qantas Frequent Flyers cannot earn Status on Emirates flights, only miles. If you want to keep your Status on Qantas, the easiest way to do so is to fly Qantas, and if you’re like me, and enjoying trying a host of different products, then this is a big issue.
What’s even more devastating to the Qantas case is the value of American’s Airlines frequent flyer program AAdvantage. After choosing Virgin for all of my domestic travel, I’ve begun to attribute Qantas travel to my AAdvantage account. American require you to fly a minimum of four segments on American to hit Platinum Status, but that’s not a big issue if you travel to the states once a year. I recently completed a five segment return trip to LA from NYC and was awarded my Platinum Status (Oneworld Sapphire status) after allocating all of my Oneworld alliance travel over the year to AAdvantage.
American Airlines also sell miles to their AAdvantage members, something neither of the Australian programs do. Throughout the year they will offer tiered bonus miles with miles purchases. Currently you can buy 100,000 miles with a 50,000 mile bonus for $2,950 US ($4223 AUD) which is enough for a round trip from JFK to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific First Class (135,000 miles), a trip that could cost you as much as $29,197.16! Even if you’re not buying miles from American, the redemption of miles earned, presents far better value than Qantas’ program.
Finally I thought it was necessary to address the new planes and updated cabins each carrier currently utilises or is adding in the future. Virgin last year unveiled a new long haul domestic business class on its A330 (Qantas did the year before), and will launch the same cabin this year for their International service to the US. Qantas is retiring its 747 fleet in the not so distant future and we’ll most likely see Dreamliners with brand new cabins, which will impressive. Meanwhile Etihad and Air New Zealand are already flying Dreamliners into Australia. I can’t pick a winner in this department, and I don’t think it’s worth prioritising this until we see aircraft like the 777-8X doing Sydney direct to NYC, a service Qantas are speculated to roll out which we covered late last year.
If you’re a stalwart supporter of Qantas, and you only fly to Melbourne or Hong Kong for work, as well as the occasional trip to Europe, and you dream of one day being invited to the Chairman’s Lounge then perhaps Qantas is the right choice. I however, opted to take advantage of what I perceive to be, Virgin’s superior partnerships and status earning potential. I’m very much looking forward to trialling Virgin’s new long haul business class to the the US this year, but in the meantime I’ll make the most of Air New Zealand’s excellent business class to America, Singapore Airlines to Asia, and Etihad to Europe later this year. I hope this information helps you to make an informed decision about the best program for you. Feel free to leave any comments with additional info or corrections below.