Follow our comprehensive guide to make an informed choice.
You'd think collecting Qantas Frequent Flyer points was Australia's national pastime. With 14.7 million members, the airline's rewards program is bigger than any supermarket's, says Finder. "Australians can earn Qantas points at Woolies, hotels, BP service stations or through certain credit cards," Matt Graham, editor at Australian Frequent Flyer tells Explore.
But the popularity of Qantas Frequent Flyer is also a downside.
"There are many members chasing a few reward seats so there's always going to be disappointed people," Steve Hui of iFLYflat tells Explore. "That's a good reason to consider other airlines."
Other strikes against Qantas's loyalty program include poor customer service, comparatively high prices and taxes, and the steep $99.50 joining fee, though this can be avoided. "People sign up to Qantas's rewards program because it's the largest airline, but it doesn't mean it's the best," Hui says. Here are some other programs to consider.
FOR DOMESTIC TRAVEL
If you only fly within Australia it's worth considering Virgin Australia's Velocity program or Rex Flyer.
Virgin's free-to-join Velocity rewards program offers points through Coles, 7-Eleven and Kmart, but the airline's 33 Australian destinations are significantly fewer than Qantas's 65.
Partnering credit card applicants can also earn 100,000 bonus points.
"Both Qantas and Virgin offer benefits like lounge access and number of upgrades, and both allow you to nominate someone to pass your points to when you die," Hui says.
Virgin Australia also seems to have more reward seats available than Qantas.
But Virgin also offers family pooling, allowing Velocity members to share points with other members at the same address.
"Virgin Australia also seems to have more reward seats available than Qantas," Graham adds.
Rex caters to 56 destinations around Australia and launched the free-to-join Rex Flyer program in October. One key advantage is the ability to redeem Rex points at the last minute to book remaining seats.
"It's a promising option for people who regularly fly regional," says Amy Bradney-George at Finder. "But it doesn't have any supermarket or credit card partnerships, so the only way you can really earn points is by flying Rex."
FOR INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL
There are three major international airline alliances: Oneworld, Star Alliance and SkyTeam.
Velocity may have limited appeal for those flying overseas, with only six international destinations: Fiji, Queenstown, Bali, Samoa, Vanuatu and Tokyo. Furthermore, Virgin Australia is not part of an alliance.
Velocity members can redeem points with a number of partner airlines, including United, Air Canada, Singapore Airlines, Qatar and Etihad, though these will prioritise their own members for reward seats.
The benefits offered by each partner airline is also inconsistent, Graham adds. Some offer Velocity members priority check-in, priority baggage and extra baggage allowance, while others do not.
"By contrast, Qantas Frequent Flyer members receive consistent benefits when flying with any Oneworld airline."
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The free-to-join KrisFlyer program is an attractive choice, flying out of eight Australian cities with easy connections to every continent.
Points are also relatively easy to accrue in Australia through credit cards. Other advantages boost their value, adds Graham.
"The airline tends to have lots of reward seats available for frequent flyers and does not add any carrier or fuel surcharges."
As part of Star Alliance, KrisFlyer points are redeemable with 26 airlines, including Air Canada, Air India, Air New Zealand, Thai and United.
But you won't earn as many points with other members in the alliance as with your own airline, and KrisFlyer points expire after three years, even in an active account.
Star Alliance member Air Canada also has partnerships with about 40 different airlines, including Virgin Australia, Etihad and Emirates.
The free-to-join Aeroplan program's points are good value, Graham says.
"Taxes and fees on reward flight bookings are low, plus you can add a stopover to Aeroplan award bookings for just 5000 points."
The HSBC Star Alliance credit card converts purchases to points across participating frequent flyer programs, including Air Canada.
But the airline only services Sydney and Brisbane, and it can be tough to accrue enough Aeroplan points, which expire after 18 months of inactivity, Hui adds.
As a part of Oneworld, Qantas Frequent Flyer members can redeem points and enjoy benefits with 13 airlines, including Cathay Pacific, American Airlines, Qatar Airways, British Airways and Japan Airlines.
Many Oneworld programs are free to join, with Hui singling out Cathay Pacific's Asia Miles program as a good option for Australians. The airline services five Australian cities, offers relatively cheap flights and offers points through select Australian credit cards.
American Airlines' AAdvantage program benefits travellers heading to the US from Sydney, while the British Airways' Executive Club is good for those frequenting the UK.
However, Bradney-George says, it can be difficult to earn enough points in Australia for international flights with airlines other than Qantas without significant credit card purchases. "The interest could actually outweigh the benefits of those points."
It can also be hard to earn enough points to use before they expire, she adds.
A common mistake I see is people collecting points blindly when they don't know what the price is going to be.
This alliance has 19 members, with those flying to Australia including Delta, China Eastern, Korean Air, Garuda Indonesia and Vietnam Airlines. Hui says they're not the best option for Australians.
"No Australian credit cards can transfer to Chinese airlines or Delta so you never accrue enough points to use."
One SkyTeam program worth considering is Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, says Graham.
"It partners with Virgin Australia, has a competitive loyalty program and it's possible to transfer Amex Membership rewards into Virgin Atlantic points, which you can use to book SkyTeam flights."
So what's the best option?
Hui says the best frequent flyer program "gets you where you want to go". He also advises people to consider fares before deciding which points to collect.
"You might be getting points towards a certain airline, but actually another airline can get you there cheaper."
Then calculate exactly how many points you need, he adds.
"A common mistake I see is people collecting points blindly when they don't know what the price is going to be.
"You need to match the right program with your needs."