The official Qantas guide to the life of a frequent flyer point was a bonus filing along with its full year to 30 June results documentation to the ASX yesterday morning.

The presentation has not been filed on qantas.com, and is accessed at the ASX by searching all filings relevant to QAN for today’s date.

The complete document is of course nothing like the “something for nothing” hype that occasionally settles over frequent flyer schemes. Nor is it something that would discourage travellers from being in these programs, apart from reminding them that a lot of the competition to redeem points earned by flying using the ‘classic’ version of the program comes from people who didn’t necessarily fly on Qantas to earn them.

Qantas points can be earned by buying groceries, paying bills, even buying tickets on competing airlines, on a credit card that directs the points you earn from using it into your Qantas frequent flyer account.

The value of points for Qantas is that they are created on demand for third parties, like banks and their cards, or retailers, as a reward for doing business with them, not the airline, and they collectively pay Qantas at least several hundred million dollars a year for the privilege of leveraging its brand power to their own ends.

In the year to the end of June, the Qantas brands lost $77 million. Yet the profit before tax earned by the loyalty scheme rose 64% to $384 million, and the earnings before interest and tax rose 142% to $310 million. All in a group where the collective profit before tax was held back to $181 million compared to $1.4 billion in the previous financial year.

The frequent flyer program is the gold mine Qantas needs in a crisis.

It contributed even more to the group results than Jetstar, which lifted its earning before interest and tax by 18% to $137 million.

A frequent flyer point sold in a block of points to a third party is nearly pure profit in that it doesn’t involve paying pilots, buying fuel or financing fleet.

The points awarded to Qantas flyers, and the status credits awarded per sector and by class of ticket, are valuable to the airline in a different way, as the tools for retaining the loyalty of those who do fly frequently, and are able to choose who they fly with.

Not surprisingly Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said this morning that the sale of the Qantas loyalty program into a separate company, as Air Canada did with Aeroplan, is no longer on the agenda.

It was too valuable to the company to sell off, a point painfully obvious in Air Canada, where a cash generating, minimal cost program like the Qantas Frequent Flyer would be incredibly useful to a balance sheet under siege.

Peter Fray

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