Qantas faces scrutiny over frequent flyer bookings
YOU'VE spent years building up your frequent flyer points, using carefully selected purchases to boost your balance.
Finally, the moment you've been waiting for with much anticipation has arrived; you're about to cash in. Hello, Hawaii!
But don't get too excited yet.
You may think you're scoring a free flight when using your air miles, but it turns out you could be getting slugged for the privilege. Especially if you're flying Qantas.
That's according to points experts the Australian Frequent Flyer which has called for greater transparency about the "excessive" charges the Flying Kangaroo levies on some frequent flyer redemption bookings.
The travel experts are warning unsuspecting passengers to look at the fine print, because the airlines are definitely not equal when it comes to value for your miles.
"Millions of Australians are Qantas Frequent Flyer members," Australia Frequent Flyer editor Matt Graham wrote. "We save up our Qantas points in the hope of one day redeeming them for a free flight. Unfortunately, Qantas Classic Flight Rewards are not as rewarding as the name might suggest."
Mr Graham said that while government taxes and airport fees are out of the airline's control, Qantas' "carrier charges" are discretionary and aren't charged when booking a normal Qantas airfare. And they can add up quickly.
"When redeeming points for reward flights, airport and government taxes must be paid in addition to the points," he said. "But Qantas Frequent Flyer also adds its own 'carrier charges' on top of this. Qantas carrier charges can add as much as $1080 to the cost of a round-trip Classic Flight Reward booking, and in some cases these charges are even higher than an equivalent airfare.
"This is extremely frustrating for frequent flyers trying to redeem their hard-earned Qantas points, especially as carrier charges are not genuine taxes."
He is quick to point out that Qantas isn't the only airline to impose surcharges on award flight bookings, stating that Emirates, Etihad Airways, British Airways, Lufthansa and Turkish Airlines and many other airlines do the same thing. However, Qantas' surcharges are "particularly high on some routes".
"Many airlines do not impose any surcharges on award bookings." Mr Graham said. "These include Virgin Australia, Singapore Airlines, American Airlines, United Airlines, LATAM Airlines and Thai Airways. Other airlines, such as Cathay Pacific, impose fuel surcharges but at much lower rates."
Ultimately, such bookings can end up being "an extraordinary waste of points".
Mr Graham points out this recent example, where using points would have resulted in additional costs greater than the price of buying the ticket outright.
"During a recent sale, Jetstar tickets from Darwin to Singapore were available for $236 return. The same flights would have cost 28,200 Qantas points and $266 in additional fees if booked as a reward ticket. That's not very rewarding."
In another example, a Qantas customer redeeming points for a round-trip business class ticket from Sydney to London would have to pay 256,000 Qantas points and $1584 in taxes and charges. A whopping 68 per cent of this amount - or $1080 in total - comprises of Qantas carrier charges.
Meanwhile, there are no carrier charges when redeeming Velocity Frequent Flyer points for Virgin Australia flights. A return Virgin Business class flight from Melbourne to Los Angeles costs 191,000 Velocity points and just $140.55 in taxes. By comparison, it would cost 192,000 Qantas points and $851.94 in additional charges to fly Qantas Business on the same route.
Australian Frequent Flyer is calling on Qantas to be more transparent about these fees and to publish a full list of the charges on its website.
"Many Qantas Frequent Flyer members don't realise just how much they'll have to pay in additional charges when redeeming their points," he said. "I would encourage Qantas members to find out how much these carrier charges are, and to consider whether another frequent flyer program might be a better option for them."
Here's a list that the Australian Frequent Flyer has compiled showing carrier charges payable on most Qantas routes departing from Australia. The same carrier charges are applies to Emirates award bookings, when a route is shared by Emirates.
BE CAREFUL WHICH AIRLINE POINT PROGRAM YOU CHOOSE
Points expert and chief executive of iFLYflat Steve Hui has also delved into this issue.
"Airlines offer unique strengths in their routes and reward partners. To get the best value for your points, get familiar with which airline is best for your destination," Mr Hui wrote in an article for news.com.au in January about maximising your points.
For example, flying to London in business class return with Qantas (from Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane) will cost 256,000 points and about $1581 in taxes. But if you fly with Singapore Airlines' reward program, it could cost you less - just 210,000 Krisflyer points and about $486 in taxes for the same trip.
"In another example, Qantas requires 60,000 points for a one-way business class flight from Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane to Hong Kong, whereas Cathay Pacific requires only 45,000 Asia Miles points.
"The key is to be earning the right points in the first place so you can use them, as you can't swap Qantas points for Cathay Pacific Asia Miles later."
'A FARE REFLECTION OF THE COST'
A Qantas spokesperson said carrier charges "reflect amounts determined by the airline that form part of the fare, adjusted and monitored to reflect market conditions and varying demand, and mean the number the points required for Classic Reward seats can remain consistent."
The spokesperson told news.com.au: "Classic Flight Rewards and Upgrades are highly valued by members and they're the most popular way for them to use their Qantas Points.
"There are more than 220 partners in the program so there's lots of different ways members can earn points, which can then be used to make reward bookings and pay for all of or part of the taxes, fees and carrier charges."