Earn points as you spend to get free flights, upgrades, free gifts, shopping vouchers, cash back and more with rewards cards.
A rewards credit card gives users something extra for spending money they would have spent anyway. Competition among banks means there are many such cards to choose from. Of course, for something extra, the banks also expect something in return.
The types of rewards include points per dollar spent that can be redeemed for flights, hotel stays, merchandise, gift cards and cash back. The cards vary in what they offer, and you should consider your habits when deciding on the right one. If you don’t travel often, for example, there is little point in getting a card that awards points toward miles on a particular airline. In addition, the value of award points can be deceiving: even if you do get 2 points per $1 spent on a certain credit card, you may need three times as many points for, say, a flight, than on a card that only awards one-for-one. The best way to understand what you get is through maths: calculate the worth of each point in dollar terms. And keep in mind that plenty of reward programs, particularly the ones that sound too good to be true, are actually betting that consumers will not redeem the rewards at all because of cumbersome restrictions they impose on redemption. Then there’s the fine print – on some cards, points will expire due to inactivity, for example.
Banks do consider rewards programs an added feature, so the annual fee and the purchase rate on a rewards card could both be higher than on a standard card. But with the variety of rewards programs and constant competition, there is probably a card that will suit you. Many cards listed in this table also offer sign-up bonus points, some offer programs that can be redeemed on any airline, and a few have added benefits for travellers, such as complimentary travel insurance. If there is something you are looking for in particular, the Smart Search tool can help you winnow your choices down.
If you travel a lot, for business or pleasure, you’ll be spending enough on flights and hotels and other things to earn good points toward more flights and hotel stays. Keep in mind that not all reward points programs give you the option of redeeming points for travel, but most do. On the other hand, if you’re spending more than, say, $2,000 per month, you’ll be able to earn good points whether you travel or not. If you don’t use a credit card often, you won’t be earning many points unless you’re happy to change your lifestyle and use your credit card for everything, making sure you pay back the balance on time each month of course.
To qualify, you’ll need to be over 18 and an Australian resident. If you have a poor credit rating, or your income is very low, you might have trouble getting approval for a new rewards credit card and the rejection could damage your credit rating, so be careful.
There are a host of programs with which you can redeem your points for flights. Make sure you check whether they’re just redeemable with specific airlines, like Qantas or Virgin, or whether you can choose between a good selection of reputable airlines.
Other cards allow you to redeem points for things like hotel stays. Sometimes you have to book through certain partner travel agencies or with certain hotel brands, so check to see how much freedom you actually have. If you’re a traveler, you might also want to check if you get complimentary travel insurance included in the features of the card.
If travel isn’t your thing, you’ll be looking for other ways to redeem points. Many programs have online stores where you can purchase a range of products and merchandise – everything from watches, to technical gadgets, to cologne. Have a look at the store before you sign up and make sure they sell things you’d actually want or need and that items are a good deal.
Fourthly, you can redeem points for gift cards or cash back. Sometimes it is more efficient to do one rather than the other so you want to read the fine print.
There are several factors to consider:
Points are not equal across programs: You usually earn 1 point per $1 spent, but sometimes this goes as high as 3 points. But a point with one program is not equivalent to a point with another program – it depends on what those points actually buy.
Points capping, points expiration: Most programs limit the amount of points you can earn in, say, a year. For the big spender particularly, this can be limiting and frustrating. Secondly, some points expire. This is a frustration for the lower spender who might take a while to build up enough points to get anything of real value. Both capping and expiry information will be found in the small print of the program.
Annual fees and interest rates – You should see whether there are annual or start up fees involved in signing up for the reward program and for the credit card. In addition, rewards points credit cards often come with both higher fees and interest rates.
Flexibility – Some cards only allow points for flights on one airline; others allow users to exchange them for flights on several airlines, or redeem them for cash back, merchandise or gift certificates.
Ease of points redemption – Unfortunately, some companies make it quite difficult to redeem points in the hope that people won’t bother. You might have to squint through the depths of the fine print to find out how on earth to get something back for your points. Look for a rewards points program that makes redemption simple and straight forward. Some even offer automated redemption, where cash back goes straight into your account at the end of the month based on the points you’ve earned.
Bonus points – As an introductory offer, many reward credit cards will offer you the opportunity to earn bonus points. Sometimes to get them you have to spend a lot of money or shop in a particular store.
They do not. And, in fact, a rewards credit card may have higher interest rates on these transactions than a regular card.