Qantas Award Flights Were Incredible Value in the 1990s

Qantas 767
Photo: Sheba_Also via Wikimedia Commons.

Redeeming Qantas Frequent Flyer points for a Classic Flight Reward might seem like good value in 2021 – and it usually is. But the value of Qantas points in 2021 is nothing compared to the way things were 25 years ago!

These days, for example, it costs 57,000 Qantas points + $80 in taxes & carrier charges to fly from Melbourne to Broome via Perth in Business Class.

QF MEL-PER-BME award screenshot
Qantas itinerary from Melbourne to Perth in 2021.

But if we step back in time to 1996, when Qantas Frequent Flyer was in its relative infancy as a loyalty program, it cost just 37,500 Qantas points (and no taxes) to fly up to 11,000km around Australia in Business Class with unlimited stopovers. For example, for just 37,500 Qantas points, you could have flown an itinerary such as:

Map of 1996 Qantas award itinerary
In 1996, you could fly from Melbourne to Perth, Broome, Uluru, Alice Springs, Cairns and Brisbane, with stopovers in each city, for just 37,500 Qantas points and no taxes in Business.

This isn’t just theoretical. Several AFF moderators used to book itineraries such as these back in the 1990s. These days, this itinerary would cost 197,900 Qantas points and around $300 in taxes & charges!

Qantas Frequent Flyer award charts in 1996

Back in the 1990s, Qantas Frequent Flyer still mailed out brochures with the program rules and award charts to members. Here’s an excerpt from the 1996 membership guide with the Qantas Frequent Flyer award chart from the time:

QFF award chart 1996
The Qantas Frequent Flyer award chart in 1996. Image courtesy of serfty.

It’s difficult to do a like-for-like comparison with the current Qantas award charts because the current charts are only for one-way journeys, and distances are now calculated in miles instead of kilometres. But, except for short one-way flights in Economy, almost everything required considerably fewer points in the 1990s. The award routing rules were also a lot more generous.

25 years ago, Qantas could legitimately advertise that “the world is yours for free” when redeeming points, since there were no taxes. Back then, you could even call the Frequent Flyer Service Centre and expect a competent agent to answer promptly and be able to help you with a complex award booking. (Now, not so much… unless you happen to have Platinum One status…)

Here’s another excerpt from the 1996 Qantas Frequent Flyer membership guide showing the award routing rules:

Qantas Frequent Flyer award routing rules in 1996. Image courtesy of serfty.
Qantas Frequent Flyer award routing rules in 1996. Image courtesy of serfty.

So, under the 1996 Qantas award flight routing rules, you could add as many free stopovers as you liked. You just couldn’t return to your city of origin mid-way through the trip, or pass through any city more than twice during the same trip.

To calculate the number of Qantas points needed, you would simply add up the distance of all the flights on the itinerary (in kilometres) and check which award chart zone it fell into.

Nowadays, it’s not possible to add a free stopover on a one-way Qantas Classic Flight Reward booking. The only exception in 2021 would be with the Oneworld Classic Flight Reward. This allows a maximum of 5 stopovers, although you could not use this on a domestic itinerary because you would need to have at least two Oneworld airlines other than Qantas on the booking.

One thing that you can still do in 2021 is change your travel dates for no penalty – although this is only a temporary measure due to COVID-19.

An obvious loophole in the 1996 award chart was heavily exploited

Under the old Qantas award routing rules, you could add almost unlimited sectors and stopovers to your award booking, as long as you didn’t pass through the same city more than twice or return to your origin mid-trip. This presented an obvious opportunity for people commuting regularly between major cities like Sydney and Brisbane.

So, back in the 1990s, it could have been possible to book a ticket such as:

  1. Wollongong-Brisbane
  2. Brisbane-Sydney
  3. Sydney-Gold Coast
  4. Gold Coast-Newcastle
  5. Newcastle-Gold Coast
  6. Gold Coast-Sydney
  7. Sydney-Maroochydore
  8. Maroochydore-Newcastle
  9. Newcastle-Brisbane
  10. Brisbane-Wollongong

If you didn’t mind using alternate airports every now and again, you could have squeezed five weeks’ worth of return trips into a single award booking. This would price as a Zone 4 award costing 30,000 points in Economy, 37,500 in Business or 45,000 points in First Class.

This and some other loopholes were closed a few years later. By 1999, for example, Qantas Frequent Flyer was treating Brisbane, Maroochydore and Gold Coast as the same city. There was also a new limit of 5 stopovers per award booking on Australian domestic itineraries (or 10 on international bookings).

QFF award routing rules 1999
Qantas Frequent Flyer award routing rules in 1999. Image courtesy of serfty.

The introduction of taxes, fuel & carrier surcharges

Sadly, the lack of taxes & carrier surcharges on award bookings was also too good to last.

In October 1995, the first of many new taxes on award bookings was introduced in the form of a $3.40 Sydney Airport noise levy. This applied to all flights arriving at Sydney Airport (excluding propeller aircraft or any flight from Canberra) and was added to the cost of awards as well as regular tickets. By the early 2000s, Qantas was adding other government taxes and airport charges to the cost of award bookings as well.

Then, in May 2004, Qantas first introduced fuel surcharges – supposedly due to rising oil prices. These were initially $6 per domestic flight and $15 per international flight. This was the first time Qantas added its own fees on top of the third-party taxes charged on top of the points for an award ticket.

Fuel surcharges, which no longer have much to do with the price of fuel, were renamed as “carrier charges” in July 2015.

The inflation of frequent flyer points

Clearly, Qantas points were much more valuable on a like-for-like basis 25 years ago than they are now. But this doesn’t account for the fact that points are also now a lot easier to earn in large quantities than they were back then.

In the 1990s, you would typically earn fewer Qantas points for a flight than you would now. There was no minimum points guarantee or status bonus, and the earn rate was based on the kilometres flown:

  • First Class earned 1.5 points per kilometre flown
  • Business Class earned 1.25 points per kilometre flown
  • Full “Y” Economy Class earned 1 point per kilometre flown
  • Anything less than full Economy Class earned 0.7 points per kilometre flown

More to the point, it’s now very common to see Qantas credit card sign-up bonuses of up to 150,000 points. Qantas Frequent Flyer is no longer just for frequent flyers, with many opportunities to earn points on the ground. You can even earn points for buying wine or paying your taxes. This wasn’t always the case.

So, there’s been substantial inflation on both the “earn” and “burn” sides. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you’re constantly earning and burning points. But if you accumulated lots of points in the 1990s, they would now be worth relatively little compared to what they were worth then. And unlike money, you don’t earn any interest on frequent flyer points sitting in your account.

This is why Australian Frequent Flyer has long said that it’s a bad idea to hoard points. Even in just the last 4-6 years, Qantas points have lost a noticeable amount of value.

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Matt Graham
The editor of Australian Frequent Flyer, Matt's passion for travel has taken him to over 60 countries… with the help of frequent flyer points, of course!
Matt's favourite destinations (so far) are Germany, Brazil, New Zealand & Kazakhstan. His interests include economics, aviation & foreign languages, and he has a soft spot for good food and red wine.

You can contact Matt at [email protected]

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Stuart Kaye

Qantas didn’t serve Wollongong in the 1990s. The service began in 2005 (to Melbourne only) and ended in 2008. From 1998-2000 Impulse operated in Wollongong, but that was before Qantas acquired it. Since then JetGo (now Jetgone) and Link (formerly Fly Corporate) provided the service to Wollongong to BNE and MEL, although during 2020 when the shutters were up interstate, they went to some unusual places in NSW, including Orange.

That said, love your work generally and looking forward to flying again and incorporating your tips.

George Kikiros

Matt. Well put about the ‘gradual’ devaluing of Qantas FF programme. I certainly took advantage of the benefits during 2001 with my late Wife just before a devaluation of the programme (and 911) at that time flying from Perth to Townsville in ‘J’ via Adelaide and Brisbane and via Brisbane (stopover) and Melbourne (stopover) in ‘J’ return to Perth. However, while even I ‘grumble about the devaluation of the programme, I would be interested in a points/dollar comparison between 1996 and 2021 as you must expect inflation (that is devaluation of the dollar) between those years to affect the number… Read more »

Craig

Points are both earned and redeemed based on distance, not spending, so the devaluation of the dollar over time should have no effect. (The time-based effect you’re seeing is lack of competition. When Ansett went under, Qantas massively devalued its points.)

David

Ahh yes, remembering the good old days. Being short notice busy Christmas period booking I used 300,000 points for F class round the world. The helpful agent reminded me I could use Concorde for the trans-Atlantic leg with no additional points or fees. Thank you very much!!

ozstamps

Yes that was a great award, and I can confirm Ansett had pretty much the same award options on their own rather extensive route network. I took one of those round Australia flights with an even more exotic add on of Cairns to BAMAGA, right at the very tip of Cape York and a short ferry ride then to Thursday Island. Then Qantas Airlink flew you to Darwin or Goote Eyandt, cannot recall which now, and back on that anti-clockwise around Australia route. The last flights only had coach seating as i recall as a very small, fokker type flying… Read more »

ozstamps

”The helpful agent reminded me I could use Concorde for the trans-Atlantic leg with no additional points or fees.” There was a nice variant of this. The following cost only 125,000 QF miles and if you had none you could buy them for US$1256. Flyertalk had a weird deal early 2000s where if you took a paid sub to their ”Inside Flye”r magazine they gave you X1,000 Starwood miles. Each sub cost something tiny like $US50 as I recall. There was no limit on how many you bought. Must have cost Starwood a bomb! Starwood let you transfer those miles… Read more »