Whether you’re visiting family, catching up with friends, or jetting away to enjoy some well deserved time off, taking time out to travel after the year that was 2020 sounds pretty great indeed.
However, last minute travel planning can be somewhat hectic. Researching your options, finding the best deal – and booking before that deal disappears – can be stressful. And as tourism operators struggle to keep up with demand, prices are going up, up, up.
Which is where your credit card comes in. While we’re certainly not advising you put charges on there that you won’t be able to pay back, you can use your credit card to your advantage as you book travel. As long as you have funds coming in, you can use your card to book the best deal as soon as you find it – and then pay back what you owe before it starts accruing interest.
With the right card, you can also get something back on your spending in the form of rewards. Yep, you can earn rewards on this trip, which could help cover the cost of the next trip you take. Not only that, you can also benefit from added travel perks, such as the luxury of airport lounge access and the convenience of airport transfers, as well as essentials like travel insurance.
So, what do you need to know as you go about booking last-minute travel with your card? In this post, we’re going to look at each of the biggest travel rewards programs in Australia to find out what they have to offer, and how you can use them to your advantage. We’ll also get into how you can boost your points earn, while benefitting from all those lovely travel perks.
As the loyalty program of Qantas, Qantas Frequent Flyer is the most popular frequent flyer program in Australia. As such, it offers members a number of ways to earn points, which include flying with Qantas and its partners, using Qantas Points earning credit cards, spending with partner retailers and taking advantage of bonus programs.
While you need to pay to become a Qantas Frequent Flyer member, you can save the $99.50 joining fee by taking advantage of promotions, or by signing up for a Qantas credit card where the card provider arranges to waive the fee. Going down this route could also see you getting your hands on a large sign-up bonus to boost your balance.
Climbing the Qantas Frequent Flyer status ladder can offer an easy way to earn more points, as you also benefit from some excellent travel perks on the side. Starting at entry-level Bronze, you can work your way up to Silver, Gold, Platinum and Platinum One levels by earning Status Credits throughout the year (typically on flights).
To give you an idea of how it works, let’s look at what’s on offer on the Gold membership tier:
To achieve this level, you must earn 700 Status Credits within the year. To maintain the level, you must earn at least 600 Status Credits each year. You must also take at least four eligible Qantas, QantasLink or Jetstar flights within that membership year to gain or maintain status. If you fail to earn the required number of Status Credits or take sufficient eligible flights, you will move down a tier.
As an example of Status Credits earn potential, you would earn 80 Status Credits flying Business Class one way from Melbourne to Perth. Obviously, an overseas trip would offer a bigger earn, but that’s off the table for now.
Back to everyday earning. How can you earn Qantas Points day to day?
And remember, you can ‘double dip’ with most of these methods when you pay using your Qantas earning credit card. This allows you to earn a certain number of points for each dollar you spend, on top of the points you are earning via the methods above.
One of the best ways to get value back on the points you earn is to redeem them for travel. You can redeem your points on reward seats, putting down a certain number of points depending on the class of travel and the route you are taking. Business and First Class offer the most value in this type of redemption, but there are good deals to be found in Economy and Premium Economy too.
You will find that as you climb the Status tiers, you have a wider range of reward seats to choose from, making it easier to get value back on your redemption. You can also choose to redeem your points on flights with Qantas partner airlines, such as Qatar Airways, Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines and Emirates, although your opportunity to fly with these airlines is almost non-existent right now.
Other redemption options include upgrades – these can also provide excellent value – and as of this month, you can redeem points on ‘Classic Rail Rewards’ to book Gold Service cabins on The Ghan, the Indian Pacific and the Great Southern. You may also donate your points, use them to cover the cost of transactions with program partners, or swap them for stuff in the Qantas Shopping portal.
While it may have been touch and go for a while there, Virgin Australia and its loyalty program Velocity seem to be back on much firmer ground now. Which is great news for Velocity members both old and new.
Much like Qantas Frequent Flyer, Velocity allows members to earn points in a number of ways, such as purchasing flights, booking and buying through program partners, shopping at the Velocity e-Store, and spending on Velocity credit cards. However, unlike Qantas, there is no joining fee with the Velocity program.
Velocity also operates a membership tier system, allowing members to earn Status Credits and climb the ladder. You can earn Status Credits whenever you fly on eligible flights with Virgin Australia and its network of airline partners. The number of Status Credits you earn will depend on the distance flown, airline booked and eligible fare class.
Within this system, there are four tiers, starting with entry-level Red, and moving up to Silver, Gold and Platinum. You must earn a certain number of Status Credits each year to obtain or maintain each level. With each level earned, the rewards increase.
Looking again at Gold Status, as a Gold tier member you could benefit from:
To gain Gold Status, you must earn 500 Status Credits and fly four eligible sectors (any flight that begins with a VA flight number) within the year. To maintain Gold Status, you must earn 400 Status Credits and fly four eligible sectors each year. If you don’t earn the required number of Status Credits or travel the required eligible sectors, you will move down a level of membership.
Note, due to COVID, Velocity extended most frequent flyer status memberships by one year, and also gave out bonus Status Credits to affected individuals.
Like Qantas, Velocity makes it pretty easy to earn points on both travel spending and day to day. You can earn Velocity Points:
And again, like Qantas, you can ‘double dip’ on your Velocity Points earn when you use a Velocity credit card. If you haven’t got one yet, check out the options – and keep an eye out for bonus points intro offers that could boost your balance.
As with almost any frequent flyer or rewards program, you will get the best value on your points redemption when you redeem your Velocity Points for flights and upgrades. International flights – especially Business and First Class seats – offer the best value, but as these aren’t readily available, you may either want to wait to redeem your points or opt for a domestic trip.
As for upgrades, if you have membership status, you will find it easier to get the upgrades you want. Upgrades for non-status members are very limited. It’s also worth noting that you can only book upgrades on domestic flights at the moment.
Other redemption options offering a lower value return include charity donations, and shopping via the Velocity e-Store, where you can choose from a wide range of items, including tech and gift cards.
Unlike the Qantas and Velocity programs, which are offered by airlines, American Express Membership Rewards is offered by American Express itself. As such, it has a broader focus on the travel rewards it provides. And, while it is great for frequent travellers, it also offers alternative redemption options with partners David Jones and Ticketmaster, and the option to redeem points for gift cards.
To earn points on the American Express Membership Rewards program, members must choose from the range of points-earning American Express credit cards. Unlike certain other rewards cards that have heavily scaled back their offering, American Express cards can still provide excellent points earning potential. Although, of course, the value on offer really depends on how you use the card.
Like most rewards cards, American Express credit cards are tiered in their offering. That means, with classic, entry-level cards, you will usually pay a lower annual fee for fewer perks and a lower earn rate. Moving up the ladder to Gold, Platinum and beyond, annual fees tend to rise with the number of perks and the earn rate on offer.
The key to making this work for you is to look at how much you will spend each year, and what that spend will equate to in dollar value when you redeem your earned points for rewards. With a smaller spend, you will likely get more value from a card with a lower annual fee and lower earn rate. While, with a bigger spend, you should get more back in rewards to make paying a higher annual fee worthwhile.
It’s worth pointing out that with so many cards in the American Express range, each one offers something slightly different. While some focus on certain loyalty programs, such as Qantas and Velocity, others focus higher earn rates on certain types of spending, such as spending in David Jones or in supermarkets. It’s a good idea to think about the type of spending you’ll do most, in order to get the most out of the card.
As a cardholder, you can also take advantage of bonus points and cashback offers through Amex Offers and Amex Connect when you spend with partner retailers. These change all the time and are regularly offered by American Express.
One of the great things about American Express Membership Rewards points is that they never expire – as long as your Membership Rewards account with American Express is active. That means you can keep on banking points to redeem them for the reward you really want. Even if you are a smaller spender/slow earner, you can take your time knowing your points will be there when you need them.
Let’s look at travel redemption options first. Using your points, you can book direct with American Express Travel Online to cover flights, hotels, cruises and car rental. All you need to do is select your destination and dates, search the options available, and book using your points. You have the option to pay with points only, or with a combination of points plus card payment.
Alternatively, you can use your points to cover the cost of travel when you book with Webjet or Helloworld Travel. This obviously provides plenty of flexibility, using points either to book online or in person, with a vast range of airlines and travel groups to choose from.
With AmEx, you also have the option to transfer your points to airline and hotel partners. While the partners you can transfer points to will depend on the card you hold, you may have the option to transfer to Air New Zealand Airpoints, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, Emirates Skywards, Etihad Guest, Malaysia Airlines Enrich, Singapore KrisFlyer and Velocity.
Most transfer options currently offer a transfer rate of 2 to 1 (for example 2 Membership Rewards points for 1 KrisFlyer Mile), apart from Air New Zealand Airpoints, which offers a rate of 200 Membership Rewards points to 1 Airpoints Dollar.
As for hotel partners, you can transfer points to the Hilton Honors program or Marriot Bonvoy.
American Express regularly offers transfer bonuses with both its airline partners and hotel partners, so it can be a good idea to wait for one of these bonuses to get more from your transfer. As an example, American Express is currently advertising:
Outside of the world of travel, you have the option of redeeming points when you shop at David Jones or Ticketmaster, or alternatively, to buy gift cards, or cover transactions on your card with points.
Altitude Rewards is Westpac’s rewards program. As you might expect, it allows users to earn points when using one of the Altitude credit cards within the bank’s range. It’s worth noting that the Amplify Rewards program, offered by St.George Bank, Bank of Melbourne and Bank SA (all within the Westpac Group) is very similar to Altitude, but with different affiliate partners.
Using your Altitude Rewards card, you can earn points on everyday spending – to then redeem those points within the program. When booking travel, you can use points to cover the cost of flights, hotels, car hire and activities, or create your own travel packages via Altitude Travel.
You also have the option to transfer points to partners Velocity, Malaysia Airlines Enrich, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer and Air New Zealand Airpoints. If you want to earn Qantas Points direct, you can sign up for a Qantas branded Altitude card. There is also the option to opt in to Velocity auto redemption.
Outside of travel, redemption options include using points to pay for merchandise and gift cards in the online Altitude Store, using points to pay for purchases made using your card, and redeeming points for cashback.
As another big bank rewards program, ANZ Rewards allows cardholders to earn points on their spending on ANZ Rewards credit cards. Those points can be redeemed when shopping online in the ANZ Rewards Store for the usual gift cards, tech and beauty items – or for travel via the ANZ Rewards Centre.
On its site, ANZ notes that it is now accepting redemptions of rewards points for domestic travel bookings on flights, accommodation, car rental hire and activities. However, international travel bookings are still off the table.
Transferring points provides another alternative, with the option to transfer to Velocity, Air New Zealand Airpoints, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer and Cathay Pacific Asia Miles.
With CommBank Awards credit cards, cardholders can accrue points on their credit card spending within the CommBank Awards program. And turning those points into travel? As a CommBank Awards member, you can redeem points when booking at Flight Centre, with the option to use Points Plus Pay if you don’t have enough points to cover your booking.
CommBank Awards also allows for transfer to partner frequent flyer programs, which include Velocity, AirAsia BIG, Air France-KLM Flying Blue, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, China Eastern Miles, Etihad Guest, EVA Air Infinity MileageLands, IHG Rewards Club, JAL Mileage Bank, Lufthansa Miles & More, Malaysia Airlines Enrich, Qatar Airways Privilege Club and United MileagePlus.
Again, there are cards within the CommBank range that allow you to opt in to earn Qantas Points direct, but this comes with an additional annual fee.
Moving away from travel, there is the option to redeem points direct when shopping at Myer, or when shopping the CommBank Awards online store. You may also redeem points for cashback to pay down your balance.
Like each of the other bank rewards programs we’ve mentioned so far, NAB Rewards offers points earning when spending on NAB Rewards credit cards. Using those points for travel, you can book flights, hotels and packages on Webjet – again with the option to use Points Plus Pay on bookings you don’t have enough points to cover in full.
Transferring points to frequent flyer partner programs is also on the table with NAB Rewards, with the option to transfer to Air New Zealand Airpoints, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer and Velocity. Auto redemption to Velocity is offered to those who only want to earn on the Velocity program.
The NAB Rewards online store offers further opportunity for points redemption, with the usual line-up of gift cards, homewares and electronics to choose from.
Moving away from the Big Four, Citibank has its own rewards offering in the form of Citi Rewards. Using one of the bank’s two Citi Rewards credit cards, cardholders can earn points on their spending – while taking advantage of some nice perks along the way.
When it comes to travel redemptions, Citi Rewards is pretty darn flexible indeed. Aside from allowing cardholders to book travel via Citibank Travel, Citi Rewards offers points transfers to partner programs (which vary according to the card you hold). With the Citi Rewards Card, you could transfer your points to:
With the Citi Prestige Card, you can also transfer points to:
Outside of travel, you can redeem points for digital gift cards, or use your points to get credit back on transactions made using the card.
As you can see, each program offers something different. So, if you want to choose the right program for both your spending style and your travel aspirations, you will need to dig a little deeper into each of the programs – and their affiliated credit cards – to really get the most out of what’s on offer.
Here are some important things to look out for as you compare options:
Founder of Creditcard.com.au. Roland has extensive knowledge about credit cards in Australia. Known as a credit card expert, he has been featured on tv and in various publications. Some popular offers on our site right now include the ANZ Low Rate. This special offer has no annual fee first year, a low purchase rate and long 0% balance transfer. Have a look also at the huge 0% for 30 months balance transfer from Citi with no balance transfer fees.
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