Credit card frequent flyer rewards
Globetrotters and jetsetters tend to be adventurous and independent sorts, roaming from place to place, following their hearts and experiencing everything the wide world has to offer. But a flexible lifestyle needs flexible finances, and even the most dedicated world traveller must occasionally return home to organise funds for their next trip.
If you spend half your life in airport terminals, or daydreaming about overseas adventures while managing your everyday spending budget, frequent flyer credit cards can prove beneficial. By earning you reward points when you book flights and hotels, or even just when you do your everyday shopping, these cards can make valuable discounts available for flying in style.
Here’s what to look for when choosing a frequent flyer rewards credit card:
Whether a major bank or specialised lender is managing your credit card’s balance and interest, the payment processing will likely be handled by a separate credit provider, with the three most popular of these being Visa, MasterCard and American Express.
Visa and MasterCard credit cards are accepted in most countries. These companies do not issue their own credit cards, but instead offer their card services to other lenders.
American Express (or Amex) issues its own credit cards, though it also provides card services to some lenders. Amex cards are more likely to have higher interest rates and fees than Visa and Mastercard, and due to the surcharges involved, they may not always be accepted by all merchants in all countries. That said, Amex cards are also more likely to offer higher rewards.
Points per dollar
To earn frequent flyer rewards with your credit card, you’ll need to spend money, either by buying flights and accommodation with the partner airline, or by shopping at affiliated retailers. The rate at which you earn these points will depend on your card and the lender providing it, with the number of points you earn being based on the number of dollars you spend. Depending on the reward program, you may earn one or more frequent flyer point per dollar you spend, or need to spend more than one dollar per point.
With some credit cards, you don’t directly earn frequent flyer points by spending money, but instead earn generic credit card rewards, which you’ll need to trade in for frequent flyer points. These rewards may not always trade in at a 1:1 ratio, either – you may need to earn a larger number of reward points to trade them in for a smaller number of frequent flyer points.
Frequent flyer credit cards require a lender to manage the money and count the points, and an airline partner to provide the flights and travel rewards.
If you prefer to fly with a particular airline, such as Qantas, Virgin or Etihad, check the frequent flyer partners on the available credit cards to find an offer that suits your preferences.
Check the terms and conditions of the different frequent flyer deals as well – some airline partners put limits on where and how their reward points can be earned or used. For example, you may earn frequent flyer point by booking flights with the airline, or by shopping at specific retailers – make sure you’ll get the most value from the reward program.
Annual flights earned
Comparing rates and rewards for different credit cards is all well and good, but sometimes it’s useful to have an example of the degree of value offered by different credit cards.
With this in mind, RateCity calculates approximately how many flights from Sydney to Melbourne you could take per year on average, using the frequent flyer points earned with a rewards credit card.
These figures are estimates only, based on the assumption that you’ll be spending $5000 per month using your credit card. The exact number of flights you may earn per year will be determined by your financial situation and how you use your credit card
Just like most other credit cards, frequent flyer cards often involve paying fees to the lender. Because of the additional rewards and benefits offered by frequent flyer credit cards, it’s not uncommon for their fees to be somewhat higher than those for more basic credit cards.
Compare the listed fees against the benefits being offered by each credit card, and decide whether you feel the fees are worth it. Ideally, you’ll want to pay a lower annual fee than the value of the rewards and extras you intend to use, so you’ll ultimately break even and come out ahead.
Do I need to fly frequently to earn frequent flyer points?
Despite the name, it IS possible to earn reward points on a frequent flyer credit card without going anywhere near an airport.
While you will earn frequent flyer points by booking flights with your card’s partner airlines, you can also earn points simply by using your frequent flyer rewards credit card for everyday spending, especially if you shop at partner supermarkets and stores. The more you (responsibly) spend, the more points you earn!
How can you use frequent flyer points?
Did you know that frequent flyer points aren’t limited to just being used to buy flights? It’s also possible to redeem them for:
- Hotel bookings
- Flight upgrades
- Baggage upgrades and priority delivery
- Car hire
- Extended warranty
- Travel and medical insurance
Frequent flyer points aren’t just useful for booking flights, but for managing all of your travel-related expenses.
Some frequent flyer reward cards don’t just offer you frequent flyer points as credit card rewards, but also provide you with access to exclusive offers, including:
- access to luxury airport lounges
- complimentary insurance
- access to invitation-only sporting events and concerts
- Personal concierge service
There may be more benefits than you expected from shopping with your frequent flyer credit card.
Will my reward points expire?
Credit card reward points don’t always have a use-by date, but they sometimes do. If you don’t claim these hard-earned rewards in time, you could end up losing them!
Check the terms and conditions from the different lenders and airline partners to find out if you need to worry about your credit card rewards expiring.
Are there caps on the number of reward points you can earn/save/spend?
While the more you spend with a credit card, the more reward points you earn, there may be limits. Some lender put caps on the number of reward points a cardholder can earn in a month or a year – once you hit this cap, you won’t earn you additional bonus points from any extra money you spend that month or year.
Are there other ways to earn frequent flyer points?
Frequent flyer reward programs aren’t just for credit cards – certain lenders have partnered with airlines to offer frequent flyer rewards with:
- Home loans
- Car loans
- Personal loans
- Savings accounts
- Transaction accounts
- Online share trading
As long as you keep making your repayments, saving money or spending money (depending on the financial product in question), you can keep earning points towards your next travel adventure.
Some frequent flyer rewards programs include several tiers of membership, similar to Standard, Gold and Platinum credit cards. The longer you’ve been with the program, and the more frequent flyer points you’ve earned, the higher the membership level you can attain.
Higher level members may gain access to additional rewards and offers, or upgrades to their standard rewards. For example, low-level members of a rewards program may have a capped limit on the number of reward points they can earn per month by spending money. Mid-level members may have a higher monthly cap, and high level members may have no cap at all, allowing them to earn as many reward points as the number of dollars they spend.
Disadvantages and risks of frequent flyer credit cards
It’s important to remember that to get the most value from any rewards credit card, and especially a frequent flyer card, you’ll need to regularly spend money. Unless you’re in a financial position where you can comfortably afford to spend between $2000 and $5000 per month with your credit card, a frequent flyer credit card could leave you paying higher interest rates and fees without getting many rewards for your trouble.
It’s also important to remember that credit cards offering higher rewards and bonus offers such as frequent flyer points tend to also be the cards with the higher than average interest rates and/or fees. So not only will you need to regularly spend money to earn points, but also regularly pay off your credit card balance and any interest charges that may accrue, to prevent your jetsetting lifestyle from being grounded by debt.