Qantas vs Virgin Australia: how their flexible economy fares compare – Australian Business Traveller

In the world of business travel, as in life, the best-laid plans can and often do go awry. Having a flexible airfare will save both you and your business some significant headaches when there’s the sudden unexpected need for some leeway in your travel schedule.

While we’d all rather be flying up front along with the comfort and flexibility that comes with it, a lot of domestic travel will ultimately be in economy.

But between Qantas and Virgin Australia, which airline is the most flexible when it comes to flexi-economy tickets?

Pricing: Discount economy vs flexible economy

The ability to change and cancel flights more freely comes at quite a hefty cost.

Here’s how the least-expensive and more-restrictive economy fares compared to flexible economy on the popular Sydney-Melbourne route across one week in mid-September 2018:

  Discount economy Flexible economy
Qantas Red e-Deal: $180 Flex: $495
Virgin Australia Getaway: $139 Elevate: $210 Freedom: $440

We ran the same comparison between Sydney and Perth:

  Discount economy Flexible economy
Qantas Red e-Deal: $358 Flex: $750
Virgin Australia Getaway: $310 Elevate: $365 Freedom: $660

Flexible fares commanded a premium of at least twice and up to three times more than the best economy fares of the week.

Changing your flight

If you’re booked on a flexible economy ticket, both Qantas and Virgin Australia let you change your flight up to the day of travel without any specific change fees – you’ll only be up for the fare difference if your new ticket is more expensive than the one you originally booked (and it probably will be).

The cut-off for changing your flight is defined slightly differently between the two airlines: Qantas sets it as ‘30 minutes prior to departure’, whereas Virgin Australia more openly states ‘prior to departure’.

If you have to change your booking, do it online where possible. Qantas and Virgin Australia charge $40 to make, change or cancel a booking at the airport or through their call centre. Fees may be waived if you can’t make the changes online, or for those with top-tier frequent flyer status.

Moving to an earlier flight

‘Fly ahead’ is a very practical perk for business travellers, letting you move to an earlier flight on the same day without any fee. It’s generally only available to top-tier frequent flyers.

Qantas offers fly ahead to Platinum One members booked on a domestic flexible economy or business class fare. They can request to move forward to an earlier flight without any fare difference, as long as there are seats available. Other travellers on a flexible fare can try asking for it, but it won’t be guaranteed.

Virgin Australia allow Velocity Gold and Platinum members to fly ahead unless they are booked on the cheapest Getaway fare type, while Platinum card-holders can also request to Fly Ahead via the call centre on the day of travel.

Flight cancellations and refunds

You can also cancel your ticket with both airlines up to the cut-off point applicable for changing a flight and apply to have the fare returned as either a travel credit or a refund.

Qantas will issue a credit voucher which needs to be redeemed within 12 months of the original ticket being issued (not the date on which you cancel the flight).

This can be problematic if you booked your ticket well in advance, as it may leave you with only weeks or months to use the credit. Cash refunds are also allowed, albeit with a $99 fee, and may be the better option if you have no use for the credit.

Virgin Australia will return the flight value to you through its Travel Bank, an online system where all travel credits can be kept and consolidated. Credit added to the travel bank has an expiry of 12 months from the date of cancellation.

However, if you cancel a flight booked from the Travel Bank, then the credits will keep their original expiry date. A cash refund can be requested with an $80 fee.

No-shows

If for any reason you simply don’t turn up for your flight, and neglect to have it cancelled or changed before the cut-off time, you will forfeit your fare to both airlines.

It wouldn’t hurt to ask to move flights if you turn up to the airport late, but unless there are extenuating circumstances or you have high status with the airline you should hope for the best and expect the worst.

Name changes

Both Qantas and Virgin Australia will let you change the name of the ticketed traveller on a flexible economy fare – handy for when work requirements mean someone else needs to do the trip you’d planned (or vice versa).

Qantas will charge a $99 name change fee, in addition to any fare difference for that same flight. This is because a name change is essentially cancelling an old flight and rebooking a new one, so this rule discourages people from buying airfares when it’s cheaper and only changing traveller names down the track when they know who is travelling.

In comparison, Virgin Australia will charge $90 to change names, with no fare difference mentioned on their website anywhere. However, a closer investigation into the fare rules reveals that the ticket does need to be reissued; thus a fare difference applies as well.

Combining different fare types

When flying out for a meeting you might be tempted to combine a discount economy ticket on the way out with a flexible economy ticket on the way back, all in the one booking for convenience.

On Virgin Australia this isn’t such a flash idea, as the fare rules state: “When bookings are created using a combination of fares from different fare types, the rules of the most restrictive fare will apply to the whole booking”.

This means the extra money spent on a Freedom fare could be wasted when combined with a Getaway or Elevate fare, as their more-restrictive policies would apply for the whole journey. You’d still get the other Freedom fare benefits such as fly-ahead and discounted upgrades though.

An easy fix for this is to book flights in different fare classes separately. Domestic flights are priced per-sector anyway, so it makes no difference in when booking two flights as one-ways or a return.

On the other hand, Qantas maintains individual fare rules for Red e-Deal and Flex flights, even when combined on the one ticket.

Upgrades

One good trade-off for the higher cash price of flexible tickets is the vastly reduced number of points required to upgrade to business class.

Here’s a summary of how many points are needed on either airline to upgrade a Sydney-Melbourne flight and Sydney-Perth flight, on discounted and flexible economy tickets.

  Qantas Discount Economy Qantas Flexible Economy Virgin Discount Economy Virgin Flexible Economy
Sydney to Melbourne (one-way) 10,000 5,000 10,000 4,900
Sydney to Perth (one-way) 25,000 10,000 30,000 9,900

Virgin Australia’s Platinum Velocity members also enjoy four complimentary upgrades a year which can only be redeemed on the Freedom fares, making each one worth up to 9,900 points if travelling to Perth.

Status Credits

A higher serve of status credits is also on the cards with flexible fares, enabling you to reach even loftier heights, quicker.

Here’s a summary of how many status credits you’d earn on either airline, looking at Sydney-Melbourne and Sydney-Perth on discounted and flexible economy tickets.

  Qantas Discount Economy Qantas Flexible Economy Virgin Discount Economy Virgin Flexible Economy
Sydney to Melbourne (one-way) 10 20 5 (Getaway), 15 (Elevate)
25
Sydney to Perth (one-way) 20 40 15 (Getaway), 30 (Elevate)
45

With Qantas offering Lifetime Silver and Gold, every status credit counts.

Which airline do you prefer to fly with under a flexible economy fare, and why? 

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