Your credit card can do a lot for you, or at least it could. So how do you turn it into a travel dream machine? In this blog post, we'll show you how to do it. There are a few surprises and little-known ways to up your travel game.
Sign up bonus points
Undoubtedly, this is one of the fastest ways to boost your total amount of points. Take a look at the frequent flyer comparison table for the latest credit card offers.
Banks and frequent flyer programs compete hard with each other to attract new customers. Usually, you need to spend between $1,000 - $3,000 on eligible purchases within the first two to three months to get the signup points.
Sign up bonus status credit
Airline status credits are only given to frequent flyer members when they fly with the airline. Unlike points, status credits expire each year. The more you fly, the higher your status will be.
To get extra status credits from your credit card is a new development for the Australian market. Not only will you pocket a heap of points just for switching over to a new credit card, but you can now find cards that will give you status credits as well.
These status credits could help you to stay at your current tier for another year or they could be a shortcut to go from bronze to silver, silver to gold or gold to platinum or up to platinum one.
Simple flight vouchers or travel credit
The simplest form of reward from a credit card is to receive a complimentary domestic return flight each year you hold the card, or a travel credit to be spent with a travel booking agency.
For example, the ANZ Travel Adventures Card, American Express Ultimate and Virgin Australia Velocity Flyer Card give cardholders a complimentary return domestic flight each year—the value of which will be determined by where you go (fly Sydney to Perth!). Or in the case of the American Express Explorer Card, cardholders receive a $400 travel credit each year to be spent through the Amex Travel Agency.
This is a well-known addition to your credit card, and saves you from needing to take a standalone travel insurance policy. However, you do need to book your travel using the card in order to trigger the policy.
Generally the credit card travel insurance coverage is quite substantial and covers you in the event of delayed flights, lost luggage, accidents, repatriations and so on. Always read the PDS to make sure that it covers the people travelling, destinations, duration of your trip and your health requirements.
Airport lounge access
Available on the leading frequent flyer credit cards is the complimentary entry to airport airline lounges.
This is especially enjoyable for airports where there's nowhere quiet and comfortable to wait until you board your plane. Even more so when your flight has been delayed or you have a long wait time between connecting flights. It's somewhere to sit down, relax, have something to eat and drink (for free), or even go and take a shower.
Best earn rate
You should aim to get at least 1 frequent flyer point per $1 spent on all the purchases you make. If you’re just starting out with frequent flyer cards or you’re a low spender, you should be aware that some cards place a cap or threshold on the total number of points you can earn through the card per month or per year.
Maximise your spending
The idea is that you should funnel as much legitimate spending through your card in order to maximise your points earning potential.
As long as you manage your credit card correctly and don't spend beyond your ability to pay back then it's a sound strategy. Risky, but sound.
Earning points from unavoidable transactions such as paying your tax at the ATO is no longer an option for most credit cards.
Have a backup card
This costs nothing extra. You can activate your Qantas or Velocity membership card to become a reloadable prepaid Mastercard or prepaid Visa card.
Having a backup card is really useful when you don't want to—or can't—run everything through a credit card, or your Amex isn't accepted. At least you'll be picking up half a point for dollars spent within Australia, and one point when buying things overseas in foreign currencies. You can manage the prepaid card online.
Concentrate on one or two programs
It can be really tempting to sign up for loads of programs here in Australia and overseas too. But this will divide your points earning power and it'll take longer to reach your goals for points and status.
We recommend that you choose one program (or maybe two at most) and stick with it. For travellers in Australia, it’s probably best to just stick to either Qantas and/or Velocity… or make one of them your primary program.
You still get plenty of coverage through all of their alliance airline partners. And if you really aren’t sure then earn points with the American Express Membership Rewards program, which lets you spend or transfer your points to up to nine airline programs as and when you need.
Double dip on promotions
We call it double dipping for points. From time to time, programs like American Express Membership Rewards, Velocity or Qantas will run a promotion with one of their vendors where you can earn extra points i.e. 5 or 10 points for each dollar you spend instead of the usual 1.0 or 1.5.
So if you were in the market for something and there’s a special offer running, then use your card to buy that item to accelerate your points earning. As always, if you’re spending the money to buy something, make sure you are not needlessly buying things you don’t really need just to get the points.
Extra status with SPG
Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) is the rewards program for over 6,000 hotels and properties worldwide across the Marriott, Westin, Sheraton, Four Points by Sheraton, St. Regis, WHotels and The Luxury Collection hotel chains.
If you haven't heard already, the Ritz-Carlton Rewards, Marriott Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest joined forces on 1 August 2018 to become one program that will rival them all. You can read our post about it here.
World Mastercard is the high-end card status for black credit cards issued by Mastercard. Get a black level credit card which has a World Mastercard label on it, and through their tie-up with SPG you'll upgrade your Starwood Preferred Guest status to Gold after a one-night stay (instead of the usual 10 nights).
This unlocks some good kickbacks such as welcome snacks, upgrades to better rooms with good views (when available) and late checkouts.
Use Paypal shopping online
If you're shopping online and the vendor doesn't accept Amex, switch to Paypal. You can get your Paypal account to be funded by your American Express card. And because the shop will only see the Paypal transaction and not your Amex, then you're good to go. Simple.
Recruit your family
Here’s why. When you fly, points can only be earned by the passenger. But if you are in a family, their points can be transferred over to your account (Qantas and Virgin allow family transfers).
You can enlist your family to earn points for you too, then transfer the points over—every point is a step closer to your goal.
Buy points from partner airlines
Qantas Frequent Flyer and Velocity Frequent Flyer allow you to top up your account to get your points total up to whatever is needed for a redemption, but they don't allow you to buy points at any great volume i.e. you couldn't log in to buy 100,000 QFF points.
This is where the partner airline programs come in very handy. It is possible to buy huge amounts of points directly from American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, United, Asia Miles, SPG, Hilton Honors and many others.
Member get member programs
A select few banks, namely American Express, will incentivise you to sign up your friends to a credit card. Let's say your friend can meet the credit criteria for approval then Amex will give you an extra chunk of sign-up bonus points—up to 20,000 points.
- Don't chase points all the way into credit card debt
- Don't squander your points on gift cards or consumer items (toaster or food processor) that you would otherwise be able to purchase using cash/card, especially if they were to go on sale
- Don't let your points expire through neglect.
Get 50,000 Bonus Membership Rewards Points
Get 50,000 Membership Rewards points when you apply online, are approved and spend $3,000 in the first 3 months.
Receive a $400 Travel Credit each year towards any flights, hotels and car hire when you book online with this card.
Smartphone Screen Insurance for up to $500 for screen repairs when you pay for your phone or contract with this card.
Earn 2 pts per $1 spent on eligible purchases, excluding Government spend where you earn $1 pt per $1 spent.
T&Cs and eligibility criteria apply. Available to new card members only.
Entry into The American Express Lounge is governed by the full Terms and Conditions available at amex.com.au/airportlounge.
This credit card offer is subject to change and may not be directly related to the content of this article.
This post was originally published in March 2017 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.