With a 100,000 Qantas Points sign-up bonus running until 2 October and the following upcoming change coming from 31 October, it is worth analysing whether you can get more value from the current free flight benefit that comes with the Qantas American Express Ultimate, or its successor, a $450 Qantas travel credit.
Hint: it depends on where you live and when you want to fly.
The current situation: free flight benefit
Both existing and new cardholders of the card can, up until 31 October 2017, claim a free Qantas domestic return flight in Economy Class between a select range of Australian capital cities.
Travellers in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide can fly return between each other; travellers in Perth are significantly advantaged, being able to fly to Sydney, Melbourne or Adelaide return; and those in Canberra can fly to Sydney or Melbourne return.
Only certain city pairs are eligible for the free flight benefit
Due to the select routes eligible for this benefit, the best value is found by using it on routes which are relatively more expensive, e.g. Perth to the East Coast rather than Melbourne to Sydney, which we explain more fully in the guide below.
Note that in order to access this benefit, you must make a first eligible card spend on “selected Qantas products and services”. What does that include? From Qantas:
Selected Qantas products and services are the following items purchased directly from Qantas: Qantas passenger flights (with a QF flight number), Qantas Frequent Flyer and Qantas Club membership joining and annual fees. Excludes Jetstar, Qantas Holidays, Qantas branded non-airfare products and any Qantas products and services not purchased directly from Qantas
So, you must first purchase a Qantas flight or purchase a Qantas Frequent Flyer or Qantas Club membership before you can use your free flight benefit.
The upcoming change: $450 travel credit
From 31 October, a new benefit will come into effect, giving cardholders $450 towards the purchase of a Qantas domestic or international flight through American Express Travel.
Note that you must use the travel credit in just one booking – the balance doesn’t carry over if you don’t use all of it – and you can’t double dip – you can only use either the free flight benefit or the travel credit.
However, you will have the option to redeem the free flight up until 30 April 2018, after which, only the travel credit will be available each cardholder year.
American Express is promoting this change as a positive one, as it will allow cardholders to use the credit more liberally, including for:
- one-way or return travel;
- flights in any class (Economy right through to First Class); and
- domestic or international flights
as opposed to the restriction of the current free flight benefit, which has to be for a return trip in Economy but only between certain cities.
You’ll be able to use the travel credit for travel in any cabin, including First Class
While the free flight benefit is only available after you’ve made an eligible Qantas purchase, the travel credit is easier to access, just needing you to pay the annual fee have your account “current and in good standing”.
Plus, as long as you book a flight with the travel credit in a fare class that would normally earn points and Status Credits, then you will get the points and SCs, which is an advantage over the free flight which does not allow this.
So I thought it would be important to test their claim and see if there were any cases where the free flight benefit actually trumped the $450 travel credit and, thus, be able to recommend to readers whether to use the free flight before it expires, or hold off for the travel credit to replace it.
Basically, I wanted to know when a return trip in Economy between the most expensive city pairs allowed with the free flight benefit would actually cost more than $450.
As November is one of the cheapest months of the year to travel, I tested prices on the Qantas and American Express Travel websites for a two-night getaway from Friday to Sunday on the second weekend of November.
- Travellers based on the East Coast and in Adelaide will probably benefit from using the travel credit rather than the free flight (mostly true)
- Conversely, travellers based in Perth will get more value out of the free flight benefit (not always true)
- Travellers with a preference for one-way, international and/or premium cabin travel will benefit from the travel credit (definitely true)
- Travellers based near airports other than the six eligible for the free flight benefit will benefit from actually being able to use the travel credit (definitely true)
|Route (return)||Sample cost|
|Melbourne - Brisbane||$289|
|Brisbane - Adelaide||$299|
|Adelaide - Brisbane||$299|
|Canberra - Melbourne||$310|
|Sydney - Adelaide||$342|
|Perth - Sydney||$431|
|Perth - Melbourne||$516|
As you can see, in the vast majority of cases for this particular weekend, the free flight benefit is worth less than $450. In the case of Perth to Melbourne, the price is elevated above that amount and, therefore, the free flight benefit is more valuable than the travel credit.
It is worth noting that for all routes tested, the price through American Express Travel was within $1 of the price booking direct through the Qantas website.
The bigger picture
That wasn’t quite enough proof for me, as it is only one specific weekend, so I used the graph feature on Google Flights to look at those same city pairs for three-day trips across the whole year.
If we look at the example of Perth to Melbourne return, the highest price in Qantas Economy across the next year is $889, with the lowest being $359:
By sliding through the whole year, the average price is below $450 on this route – and on all of the others tested.
There are three exceptions when the prices tend to be elevated above $450 on some routes:
- during school holidays;
- when major events are on; and
- for last-minute travel.
Basically, if you are based in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide or Canberra, you’ll probably get more value from the $450 travel credit (being introduced from 31 October) rather than being forced to use the free flight benefit for a return domestic trip between a limited range of cities, which would usually cost less than $450 in cash anyway.
If you are based in Perth, however, you have a bit of a heavier decision to make:
- if you plan to fly to Sydney, Melbourne or Adelaide during school holidays or a peak travel weekend (think: Australian Open), then chances are flights will cost more than $450, so using your free flight benefit before 30 April 2018 might make sense for you; otherwise
- if you are travelling outside of those times, flights are usually under $450 anyway and you may be better saving your travel credit for a more expensive trip.
If you are based in any other city or town, then it goes without saying that the travel credit will probably be more valuable to you, and the same goes for travellers who would prefer to use the credit on a one-way, international and/or premium cabin flight.
Plus, you’ll be eligible for points and Status Credits earn on the flight booked with the travel credit but not the free flight benefit.