The news last week that Qantas is contemplating a new full-service airline based out of Singapore stirred up plenty of comment from financial analysts, shareholders, rivals and unions. But as a passenger, there's one question I want answered before all others: if it goes ahead, what sort of points will I earn on it?
The plans by Qantas seem still very much at a provisional stage and have reportedly yet to receive board approval, but the basic idea seems to be to launch an airline headquartered in Asia which could take advantage of the growth in that regional market, and also take advantage of cheaper labour costs. So far, so Jetstar. The big difference is that the new airline would be a full-service offering with a range of classes and perks, rather than a discount option aimed at attracting a different class of traveller for whom price is the single most important factor.
Presuming the plans do go ahead, the question for existing Qantas frequent flyers (as regular readers will know, I'm a card-carrying example) is simple. Will the rewards we would receive through a new Qantas-associated airline be as good as the ones we can already receive through Qantas when flying in the region? Even Jetstar flights are eligible to earn points if you pay for the expensive JetFlex fares, so it's hard to imagine that an airline aspiring to offer higher value than that wouldn't also become part of the oneworld frequent flyer alliance which Qantas belongs to.
That said, it's also not hard to imagine that the points on offer might not be as generous as they are through Qantas itself. For instance, the Qantas guarantee of a minimum of 1,000 points on any Qantas-operated sector you fly, even if the distance calculations would suggest a lower total, is not something that even its old-world partners BA and American emulate. I wouldn't be surprised if the same minimalism started applying to new Asian routes on a differently-branded carrier, with points assigned purely on distance, and potentially with no extra benefits for higher-tier flyers.
I know: flying purely for points is not the best way to get value out of an airline. If you're paying an extra few hundred dollars for a relatively small number of points, then the benefits aren't likely to be worth it. But if the pricing differential is closer, then those calculations will become an important factor — and it's those details that regular flyers will want if they face a choice.
The reality is that choice might not actually apply anyway, and that the new airline might become the only option offered by the Qantas group for some cities. Again, it's happened before with Jetstar.
It's impossible to fly Qantas to the Gold Coast, for example; it's now purely a Jetstar-only route, which means getting connections is tricky if you want to go on more than one domestic hop. (It also means you have to pay to use the lounge no matter what status you have.) Personally, I'd rather get fewer points but continued access to services such as lounges if a choice had to be made.
Airlines need to evolve constantly: it's a cut-throat sector in which there are very few consistently profitable players. If Qantas feels it needs a second Asian brand to remain viable, it will doubtless pursue that route. I just hope that as well as not screwing over the workers, which is the big issue being debated right now, it doesn't screw over the passengers as well.
Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman still thinks Changi Airport is hard to beat for efficiency. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.