This post is certainly a little different from my usual Marketing or CX (Customer Experience) pieces, but a number of people have asked me about this over the years, so I thought I’d write a post about it.
While I’m certainly no expert in this area, I have earned almost 1,000,000 points to date (and spent most of them, too!) – so I must be doing something right and would love to share my tips with you. Leave a comment at the end if you have questions – and always do your own research, too.
Frequent Flyer Points vs. Status Credits
First things first – let’s look at the key differences between points and status credits…
What Are Frequent Flyer Points?
- These are generally earned through purchases – be it a flight, hotel booking, using a points-earning credit card, signing up to an offer, etc.
- Often, the earn-rate is set as a “points per dollar” figure. For example, using my AMEX I earn 2.5 points per dollar when using the card on flight purchases, and 1.5 points per dollar nearly everywhere else I use it.
- In most cases, frequent flyer points do not expire, so long as your frequent flyer account remains active (through earning or redeeming some points at least once every 18 months for Qantas or 24 months for Virgin Australia)
- Having lots of points won’t do anything to help you move up the ranks from Silver to Gold, Gold to Platinum, etc. Only status credits do this.
What Are Status credits?
- Status credits can generally only be earned by flying.
- That said, there are a few exceptions – such as spending a lot of money on your credit card in a certain amount of time, or through program partnerships like Coles flybuys + Virgin Australia Velocity. However, as a rule of thumb, you won’t climb the tiers solely through your grocery shopping.
- Status credits generally only last 12 months – then they expire. This forces you to keep flying & earning in order to maintain your program status (eg. Gold, Platinum, etc).
In this post, we’ll purely look at frequent flyer points; I’ll leave status credit earn tips for another time.
Earning Points on Everyday Purchases
One of the ways I’ve managed to earn so many points over the years is to focus on earning points on every single purchase you make.
Get a high points-earning credit card (American Express [AMEX for short] cards are usually great for this), and for anything else – or where AMEX is not accepted – get another card (preferably a debit card, so you don’t have too much credit to manage!) and use that.
Personally, my picks are an AMEX Velocity Platinum Card, plus a Velocity Global Wallet Visa debit card. I’ll always grab the AMEX first (it’s points per dollar earn is better), but I will revert to the Visa if the store I’m at doesn’t accept AMEX.
The added benefit of the Velocity Global Wallet Visa debit card is that it’s also a multi-currency travel card, so you can use it overseas in a local currency. It also lets you setup “virtual cards” with different Visa card numbers that you can use online-only, and then cancel them with the click of a button if you need to (without affecting your main card).
Of course, you earn points on all of your purchases – albeit at a lower points per dollar rate than the AMEX I mentioned above. Plus it’s a debit card & not a credit card – so there’s no interest payments or terms to worry about. I’m all for as little credit as possible!
But No One Takes AMEX, Right?
Five years ago I would have agreed, but this isn’t really the case anymore. In 2017, AMEX added over 50,000 Australian retailers to their network. Additionally, all large stores generally accept it – Coles, Woolworths, Bunnings, Kmart, etc. I’d say 8 out of 10 places I go to accept it.
Also, remember that while your favourite online stores might not accept AMEX, they probably do take PayPal as a payment method. Why does this matter? Well – you can very easily set your PayPal funding source to be your AMEX credit card. Perfect – you can now earn maximum points after all!
Earning Extra Points Through Special Websites
Very few people (in my circle, at least) seem to know about this one… but did you know that you can earn points at a number of online retailers, simply by logging into your frequent flyer program’s eStore first?
Let’s take the Velocity Rewards program as an example (though I do know Qantas have this too). By logging into the Velocity eStore and clicking a special link first, your online purchases at eBay, Kogan, iTunes, The Iconic, Asos, Apple, David Jones, Menulog (and many, many more online retailers) are tracked via a browser cookie – and you’ll earn points for every dollar spent on their website.
You’ll also find point multipliers from time to time too. For example, a few years back Velocity ran a Christmas promotion where you could earn 4x the usual points-per-dollar rate with certain online retailers within their network. 8 points per dollar on eBay was great – especially since I did my Christmas shopping entirely on eBay that year!
Upgrade to a Combo!
Want to earn even more points? Combine them! Simply try the eStore tip mentioned above… and then pay for your purchase using your points-earning card. In my case, I was able to earn a massive 9.5 points per dollar on eBay some years back.
Earning Extra Points Through Offers or Pooling
Another way to earn points is through sign-up offers. Some credit cards will have promotions for new customers, refer-a-friend promotions – and I’ve also seen several program partners offer sign-up rewards in the form of frequent flyer points from time to time – e.g. signup to XYZ electricity supplier and get 20K points.
Often you’ll have to stay with that company for a certain period to keep the points too; you can’t just sign-up, get the points then switch back to your original supplier (though that wasn’t always the case!).
However, always do the maths. If their services cost more than another provider, don’t switch providers simply for the points if it’s not worth it in the end.
As I touched on earlier, Coles flybuys also has a partnership with Velocity Rewards, allowing you to earn status credits on your grocery shopping & transfer your flybuys points into Velocity points – which I’d recommend doing.
Family Pooling is also available with some programs, allowing family members to pool points into one main account, thus helping one primary person progress up the tiers. Besides – if you all fly together on a holiday anyway, that one primary person can then bring the other family members into the lounge & share the same perks anyway, as part of their program benefits.
Some of the higher point per dollar cards have high interest rates and / or annual fees. In the case of the AMEX Velocity Platinum card, there’s an annual fee of several hundred dollars – however, you do get a free return flight once a year, free lounge access, travel insurance and a number of other benefits.
In my case, these benefits outweigh the annual card fee – but do the maths, and always pay off your card quickly. Also note that while some cards give you sign-up bonuses (such as 50,000 free Velocity points), you need to spend a certain amount of money in order to get this offer. In the case of the aforementioned AMEX card, you need to spend $3,000 on the card in the first three months to get the offer.
That said, regardless of whether you meet the card issuers spending goals or not, you will still earn points on your purchases – so look at it purely from that point of view first, before considering whether the sign-up bonuses are achievable or even worth going with one card over another.
What Can I Do With Points?
You can redeem points for hotel stays, flights, flight upgrades, gift vouchers and a whole raft of stuff on your points earning program’s online redemption store.
For me personally, I generally use my points on rewards seats (flights), or flight upgrades. For example, a random search of the Virgin Australia website shows a Brisbane to Sydney reward seat costing just 13,000 points… or 7,800 points +$38 for taxes.
Further, a business class upgrade from a non-discounted economy class fare can be as low as 9,900 points if you’re lucky (when requested in the lounge before your flight). Not bad for a big reclining chair up the pointy end with some delicious drinks and meals* to boot! Business class reward fares are also usually a great way to use points (with Virgin’s point value being slightly more competitive than that of Qantas in these instances …with lower taxes, too – so further savings with Virgin on the cash component as well).
Saving up points to fly with a partner airline is another way to bring down the cost of that overseas holiday – with plenty of options with both major carriers hee in Australia. Virgin often has great deals to Hong Kong thanks to its recent alliance with Hong Kong Airlines, as well as Singapore (with its Singapore Airlines partnership) and sub $1K return economy flights to Los Angeles.
(* last-minute business class upgrades do not guarantee a meal service given the meals will have already been packed by the crew)
TL;DR – My Picks
While I’m not a financial planner and you shouldn’t take anything I say as financial advice, I am certainly happy to share what’s worked for me. In my case here in Australia, I use and recommend the Velocity Rewards program – as the program tiers are more achievable than Qantas, purely from a status credit point of view.
However, in terms of points earn – well, to be honest I don’t know which program is better as I only use one of them.
Points Earning Cards
My personal picks are a Velocity Global Wallet Visa debit card for stores that don’t take AMEX, coupled with a Velocity AMEX of some kind for all the stores that do (and the list is growing).
As for the AMEX there’s two cards at the time of writing – a red Velocity Escape card with no annual fee & no sign-up bonuses and a decent points per dollar earn rate, OR the black Velocity Platinum card with the annual fee, free flight + 2x lounge access, sign-up bonuses and a higher points per dollar earn rate. You can explore the various AMEX options here.
By the way, all of the cards mentioned here are bank-agnostic, so if you change banks it doesn’t matter as they aren’t tied to any particular one. Transferring money onto them is done via BPAY or a bank transfer.
So there you have it – some handy tips to help you make the most of your frequent flyer program and points earning ability. Did you find this article useful, or do you have any comments & tips to add? Please leave me a comment below!
Disclaimer: Details posted here are correct at the time of writing. Some links contained within this article may earn me (and you) a referral bonus if you sign-up; this does not cost you anything. Always do the maths and seek financial advice before signing up for new products.