Should You Purchase Flights or Use Qantas Frequent Flyer Loyalty Points?

Purchase Flights or Qantas FFI (almost) banged the computer keyboard with frustration.  I was trying to book the best flights for our long awaited family trip to Japan and I had already been searching flight options for over four hours!  We had already thrashed out whether to fly direct or travel via South East Asia, but now it was a question of whether to use our Qantas Frequent Flyer points or to just pay for the flights.

We have just gone through the process to book our flights to Japan for our family holiday in September.  After spending hours looking at multiple different flight options, including direct flights and routes via South East Asia we came up with a somewhat surprising conclusion.  Our local Australian full price airline – ie. Qantas – actually had a pretty good deal!

Flying Time from Sydney to Tokyo

An advantage of choosing Qantas is that the trip consists of only a single flight each way of 10- 12 hours.  By comparison the low cost carrier options which travel to Japan via Kuala Lumpur and Singapore each consisted of:

  • a first flight of 8-10 hours from Sydney to Kuala Lumpur (AirAsia) or Singapore (Scoot), and
  • a second flight of 8-10 hours to Tokyo (both airlines).

And repeat the process to return to Sydney.  With the South East Asia options there is also the temptation to stop over for a few days, however as a family who can only current go on holiday during the school holidays and may only visit Japan once in our lives our preference is to maximise our time travelling in Japan itself.

Airfare Costs from Sydney to Tokyo

While the airfares were nominally a similar cost as the Qantas sale option, the low cost carriers also incur a lot of extra costs to add on meals and checked luggage etc, compared to the Qantas option where these items are all included.  In addition, the low cost carriers also charge an extra fee to reserve particular seats – and some of them will not guarantee that your party will sit together unless you pay this extra fee.  As parents of three young children aged 10, 9 and 6 the only option is for us to all sit together so we can appropriately supervise our children, so we inevitably pay the extra fee.

We managed to find airfares for the September school holiday period at a total cost of $A1250 each for the two adults, and $A996 each for each of our three children.  Note that these prices include all taxes and additional charges.  The flights we chose were direct on the outbound route, and via Brisbane on the inbound route.

The direct flights cost approximately $A400 more, but the advantage was that by booking the direct flight we are able to depart on the Friday evening straight after the school term ends, and arrive in Japan on the Saturday morning.  The other options to save that $A400 meant that we wouldn’t be able to depart until the Saturday and we would lose a day in Japan.  On the return trip we were happy to pay the lower amount to travel via Brisbane as it only added a few additional hours onto our return time.

With my husband’s work we are currently only able to travel during the peak school holiday periods, so inevitably we end up paying a higher price for airfares.  I eye the cheap non-peak airfare options with envy on a regular basis… but those are our options at the moment, and I am looking forward to fast forwarding to four years’ time when my husband starts to be able to access some additional leave options which will then enable us to travel in non-peak periods…

Qantas Frequent Flyer Point Comparison

How Many Points Are Needed?

We are long-term members of the Qantas Frequent Flyer loyalty program, and accumulate points whenever we shop for groceries etc.  Once we determined that Qantas was our preferred airline for our Japan trip, we decided to check whether there could be an option to use Qantas Frequent Flyer points for our trip.

I first checked our points balances (we each have a separate account), then looked up the Qantas Frequent Flyer points calculator and quickly determined that the number of points needed for a similar return trip to Tokyo was 68,000 points – we had enough points for one return flight to Tokyo.  I always get frustrated by this points calculator as it cannot tell you how much the additional taxes and charges will cost, and they are usually a significant additional cost.

What is the ‘Real’ Value of the Qantas Frequent Flyer Points?

To determine the real cost of the fare you to first log in to your Qantas Frequent Flyer account, and then go through the booking process after selecting   the ‘Search Qantas and Partner Classic Reward’ option to determine those extra fees.  After spending yet more time searching I finally worked out that the total cost to book the similar frequent flyer point fare was 68,000 points plus additional taxes and charges of $A424.  After deducting those fees from the $A1250 sale price we had identified means that $A826 was the residual cost of the fare, and therefore it would take 82 Qantas Frequent Flyer points to purchase $A1 of an equivalent airfare.

We often use our Qantas Frequent Flyer points to travel to Brisbane to visit family, so we decided to do a comparison to see what the relative value per point was for those trips.  We similarly chose a representative flight and selected the ‘Search Qantas and Partner Classic Reward’ option, and then determined that a return flight from Sydney to Brisbane would cost 16,000 points plus $A65 in additional taxes and charges, in comparison to the competitive fares in the similar timeframe being a total of $A298.  As a result the residual cost of the fare was $A233, and therefore it would take 54 Qantas Frequent Flyer points to purchase $A1 of an equivalent airfare.

From a value for money perspective you can then see that we get the best value from our points if we retain them for our next Sydney to Brisbane trip.

In addition, while I trialled a few different options on the Qantas website I could not use the online booking tool to book one Qantas Frequent Flyer airfare in conjunction with four fully paid airfares – I would have had to make two separate bookings.  And if you think the Qantas Pay+Points option is good value you are definitely dreaming – it is an even worse points to dollar ratio than those above!  And if anything happened which required any flight changes it would have therefore increased the complexity to make any changes to our flights.  For Qantas, I suggest that you add this issue to your software enhancement list for the future.

We therefore went ahead and booked our flights from Sydney to Tokyo and return using cash only.

In our case we have a good alternative use for the points, but if you are unlikely to use them on a regular basis it may still be worthwhile for you to use them to reduce your direct expenses for your trip.

Qantas Payment Options

Qantas offers a large range of payment options, which come with an associated wide range of fees.  We managed to avoid paying any booking fees by using the BPay option to pay for our airfares.  Other payment options would have incurred a fee – debit cards used for international airfares incur a fee of $A10 per passenger per booking ($A50 for us), while payment with a credit card would have incurred fees of $A30 per passenger per booking ($A150 for us).  Ouch.

The BPay option has zero fees, and once you have completed the initial booking process you immediately receive an email with instructions on how to make the payment, which must be completed by midnight on the day of booking.  We apprehensively pressed send on the funds transfer – a rather large sum of $A5,489 – and as per the instructions two days later our booking confirmation arrived in our Inbox.

Heading to Japan!

It feels great to finally be booked in for our Japan trip, but after completing the booking I actually felt a bit numb.  I had spent around 6 hours researching options before actually proceeding with booking the flight!  But the flights are now locked in, we are all really excited about our trip, and we have now moved on to the next stage which is working out just how many theme parks we really want to visit while we are there (along with many other activities…).

I plan to write a series of articles to detail each step of planning our trip, so please sign up to the Pretraveller Email list to follow our travel preparation journey.  My travel philosophy is that half the fun is getting there and I have already had a great time learning more about our options in Japan, and starting to prepare our itinerary in consultation with my family.

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Have you visited Japan with kids?  Or have you recently gone through a similar process to book a flight?  Please share your experiences in the comments below.

30 thoughts on “Should You Purchase Flights or Use Qantas Frequent Flyer Loyalty Points?”

  1. Great post Anne. Sometimes those “cheap” flights aren’t actually cheap at all – whether it’s the extra time of an indirect flight, or those little extras that keep adding up.

    • Jo, thanks for your comment. I agree – that is why I was pleasantly surprised to see that Qantas was providing a competitive option for our trip. And I already travel on Qantas regularly for work so I am very comfortable with what they do and don’t provide with their airfares.

  2. Thanks for this analysis. Now that my husband’s frequent flyer points are dwindling, we have to be more critical of when to use and when not to! Although we use Alaska Airlines FF program.

  3. Great post! There’s always so much research that needs to be done prior to booking a flight and joining frequent flyer programs. Always pays to read the very small print.

  4. Great post, the legwork behind all the options when it comes to flying is intense! I didn’t have the miles but we flew Qantas once and it was wonderful!

    • Mary, thanks for your comment. I agree that looking at all of the different options does take much more time than you realise. But I am happy with our final option as being Australian I have flown Qantas many times before so I am very comfortable with the services they provide. Although I will have to get used to flying international in economy class – for work I travel business class which is much more comfortable to get a good night’s sleep!

    • Thanks for your comment. I agree that it can be tricky – I was amazed to see what a difference there was in terms of the actual dollar ‘value’ of each point. it definitely pays to do your homework!

  5. I always find that a little time spent online researching flights ends up to a cost saving somewhere down the line. That applies for most other things such as hotels etc as well.

  6. I’ve looked into using my Avios in different ways and its easier to use them to cover a full return trip in Europe (where I live) than to try to do it over longhaul and I just save up points from longhaul. Upgrading doesn’t seem worth it either. It looks like a good option until you logically go through it. Your Japan trip will be fantastic anyway! It’s a place I would love to go eventually. Thanks for sharing this post, its really informative

  7. I always prefer flying the big carriers because of exactly what you said: no hidden fees at the end. Call me crazy but I love this part of travel too, the planning and research so this post was a great read for me. Thanks for in-depth analysis.

    • Brenda, thank you for your comment. I also enjoy the travel planning process – for me half the fun is getting there! I am really enjoying currently working out how to best spend two weeks in Japan with my family – there are so many different options and only a limited amount of time…

  8. Booking anything is fraught with traps to look out for if you are looking for the best deal – we recently booked some flights for an interstate trip, and also determined that Qantas was our preferred provider after a lot of looking around. We don’t have frequent flyer points because we don’t fly that often (except on the road!!!!) so that didn’t affect our decision, but the service and ease of use of the website were a consideration for us. Looking forward to seeing your Japan trip down the track!!

    • Red, thank you for your comment. We mostly accrue our frequent flyer points via our weekly grocery shopping, so it takes a while to accumulate. We are really looking forward to visiting Japan as we have been saving for this trip for quite a while!

  9. I’m with you – I use my credit card for weekly expenses that have to be paid for anyway to build up my Frequent Flier points –
    And you’re so right, that certain routes are definitely far more favourable in value of points to $ worth –
    I’ve just flown from the UK back to Oz via Canada business class on my points, that was to my mind an absolute bargain!

    • Linda, thank you for your comment. It is great that you were able to get a business class flight with your points – I have certainly watched your expedition with interest and agree that it is difficult to get back into things when you return home.

  10. There’s a lot to put in mind and do when your pursuit is to get cheap flights. Though I’ve had travelled to various places in the world, both domestic and international, but until now I admit that Im still seeking for more good tips how to make a trip much more economical than typical. I thank you for this post, as I learned new things.

  11. Thanks for a thorough post, Anne. I’m in the process of working out whether or not I use frequent flier miles for next year’s trip to Europe. I have both Qantas and Virgin Australia miles so fingers crossed I can put some of them to good use! Your step-by-step guide to the Qantas system will come in very handy.

    Enjoy your trip to Japan – it’s fast approaching!

    • Carolyn, thank you for your comment and I am glad to hear that my process may be of assistance for you to work out a similar ‘value for money’ approach to using your loyalty points.

      We are definitely looking forward to our trip (less than two weeks to go!) and are in that phase where we have now checked all of our luggage requirements and are currently finalising our plans for mobile phones and data.

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