How to maximise your rewards points

The key to getting the most value from rewards programs is to shop smartly rather than extravagantly.

Supermarkets, airlines and credit card providers use reward points as a way to promote consumer loyalty and encourage extra spending.

These brands like to make consumers think they’re winning by giving them hundreds of points for relatively small transactions. That can tempt people to make unnecessary purchases. But while all those points might seem valuable, they might translate into just a few dollars of rewards.

So the number one rule with rewards programs is to recognise that brands don’t give something for nothing. That means avoiding two traps – buying things you don’t need and paying high annual fees to access a rewards program.

Here are five other secrets to getting the most out of reward programs.

1. Use them more

Many people fail to rack up as many points as they could because they sometimes avoid using their rewards programs – either out of forgetfulness or embarrassment. The way around this problem is not to spend more money, but to use a rewards program every chance you get.

For example, if you have a credit card rewards program, you can maximise your rewards by switching from cash to plastic. That means pulling out your card not just for expensive items like holidays, televisions and insurance but also everyday purchases like meals, coffees and petrol.

Traps to avoid: First, never use the card if the business charges a transaction fee, because that will always exceed the rewards on offer. Second, always pay off your credit card each month, because extra interest payments will also exceed any rewards.

2. Double up

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Following on from the point above, you’ll earn even more points if you get other people to make their purchases through your rewards programs.

For example, if you and a friend go to a restaurant, you can double your points if you pay the bill and your friend reimburses you with cash. Or if you and your partner go on holiday, you can double your points if you handle the bookings and your partner makes an online banking transfer to pay you back.

Traps to avoid: You’ll lose a lot of money if they don’t pay you back!

3. Do your sums

Different brands offer different exchange rates, so make sure you do your maths if you have several options to choose from.

For example, Supermarket 1 might give you 400 points for every $100 you spend and might give you $1 cashback for 1000 points you accrue. So you would have to spend $250 to get $1 back.

Supermarket 2 two might give you 300 points for every $100 you spend and give you $1 back for every 600 points. So you would have to spend $200 to get $1 back.

In this hypothetical example, Supermarket 2 would have the superior rewards program – despite giving fewer points per dollar spent.

Traps to avoid: When comparing supermarkets, the rewards program should be a minor consideration. Location, prices, quality, service and product range are far more important. Similarly, when comparing credit cards, interest rates, annual fees and repayment terms are far more important. Rewards should play only a small part in your choice of brand.

4. Spend strategically

Your airline might give you bonus points if you travel during a specific period. Or your supermarket might give you bonus points if you buy specific products.

To access those extra points, you might have to change your annual leave or switch from one brand of ice cream to another.

Traps to avoid: Only alter your purchase plans if it won’t cause any inconvenience. It’s not worth taking leave at an inconvenient time or buying products you don’t want just for the points. In other words, don’t give up too much for too few points.

5. Cast your net more widely

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Rewards programs sometimes allow you to earn points at unrelated businesses.

For example, if you’ve signed up for Flybuys through Coles, you can also pick up points at Target, AGL, Medibank, OPSM and NAB.

Or you could earn Qantas points by spending money with Woolworths, American Express, Airbnb, Westpac and Vodafone.

Traps to avoid: Don’t use partner businesses if you can get better value elsewhere, because the extra rewards points won’t be worth it.

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Learn more about credit cards

What's the best credit card for rewards?

There is no one-size-fits-all best rewards credit card. It's best you research what type of rewards program you'd like, as well as the fees, interest rate and conditions associated with those types of cards before making a choice. 

Rewards credit cards can also come with high annual fees that may end up nullifying the rewards, so think how often you use the card to decide whether the benefits outweigh the extra cost for you. A card with a lower annual fee might require a lot of spending to get any useful rewards, while another card with a higher annual fee might need fewer purchases to get a reward. 

How do you cancel a credit card?

It’s important to cancel your old cards to avoid any additional fees. Unless you’re doing a balance transfer, you’ll need to pay the outstanding balance before you cancel your credit card. If you’ve opted for a card with reward points, make sure you redeem or transfer the points before you close your account. To avoid any bounced payments and save yourself an admin headache, redirect all your direct debits to a new card or account. Once you’ve done all the preparation, call your bank or credit card provider to get the cancellation underway. Once you receive a confirmation letter, destroy your card and make sure the numbers aren’t legible.

How to get a free credit card

There's no such thing as a free lunch. All credit cards come with associated costs when used to make purchases, even if it’s simply the cost of making repayments.

However, many lenders offer incentives for customers such as a $0 annual fee or 0 per cent interest on purchases during an introductory period. Additionally, paying off your balance in full during an interest-free period means you could only have to pay back the cost of purchases without interest. You could also be eligible for additional rewards such as cashback during that time, saving you more money.

How do you use a credit card?

Credit cards are a quick and convenient way to pay for items in store, online or over the phone. You can use a credit card as a cashless way to pay for goods or services, both locally and overseas. You can also use a credit card to make a cash advance, which gives you the flexibility to withdraw cash from your credit card account. Because a credit card uses the bank’s funds instead of your own, you will be charged interest on the money you spend – unless you pay off the entire debt within the interest-free period. If you pay the minimum monthly repayment, you will be charged interest. There are many different credit card options on the market, all offering different interest rates and reward options.

Can a pensioner get a credit card?

It is possible to get a credit card as a pensioner. There are some factors to keep in mind, including:

  • Annual income. Look for credit cards with minimum annual income requirements you can meet. 
  • Annual fees. If high fees are a concern for you, opt for a card with a low or $0 annual fee. 
  • Interest rate. Make sure you won’t have any nasty surprises on your credit card bill. Compare cards with a low interest rates to minimise risk.

How do you pay off credit cards?

The best way to pay off a credit card bill is to set a realistic spending budget and stick to it. Each month, you’ll get a credit card statement detailing how much you owe and how long it will take to pay off the balance by making minimum repayments. If you only make the minimum repayments, it will take you years to pay off your outstanding balance and add extra costs in interest charges. To avoid any extra charges, you should pay the entire bill. 

Where can I get a credit card?

Looking to get your first credit card? You might be confused as to exactly where to go to apply for one. Here’s where to go when you are ready to put in that application.

The bank: Your bank is a great place to start, provided that you have a good banking history. Since you already have a financial history, you have more chance of your application being approved.

Credit card provider: Another option is to apply for a credit card directly from the issuer, such as Visa, Mastercard or Amex. This will most likely be an online application, so do your research and apply for a suitable card for your circumstances.

Major retailers: Coles, Woolworths, Myer and David Jones all have credit cards available. But watch out for the interest rate and annual fees – these cards are designed to help you spend more in store.

How do you use credit cards?

A credit card can be an easy way to make purchases online, in person or over the phone. When used properly, a credit card can even help you manage your cash flow. But before applying for a credit card, it’s good to know how they work. A credit card is essentially a personal line of credit which lets you buy things and pay for them later. As a card holder, you’ll be given a credit limit and (potentially) charged interest on the money the bank lends you. At the end of each billing period, the bank will send you a statement which shows your outstanding balance and the minimum amount you need to pay back. If you don’t pay back the full balance amount, the bank will begin charging you interest.

How easy is it to get a credit card?

For most Australians, there are no great barriers to applying for and getting approved for a credit card. Here are some points that a lender will consider when assessing your credit card application.

Credit score: A bad credit score is not the be all and end all of your application, but it may stop you being approved for a higher credit limit. If your credit score is less than perfect, apply for the credit limit that you need, rather than the one you want.

Annual income: Most credit cards have minimum annual income requirements. Make sure you’re applying for a card where you meet the minimum.

Age & residency: You need to be at least 18 years old to apply for a credit card in Australia, and most require that you are an Australian citizen or permanent resident. However, there are some credit cards available to temporary residents.

How do credit cards work?

Think of credit cards as a short-term loan where you use the bank’s money to buy something up front and then pay for it later. Unlike a debit card which uses your own money to pay, a credit card essentially borrows the bank’s money to fund the purchase. When you apply for a credit card, the bank assesses your income and assigns you a credit limit based on what you can afford to pay back. At the end of each billing cycle, which is usually monthly, the bank will send you a statement showing the minimum amount you have to pay back, including any interest payable on the balance.

How to get money from a credit card

You can get money from a credit card, but generally it will cost you.

Withdrawing money from a credit card is called a cash advance, as it operates more as a loan than a simple cash withdrawal. Because it is a loan, you may be charged interest on your cash advance as soon as you make the withdrawal. Interest rates are also usually much higher for cash advances than standard credit card purchases.

In addition to the interest rate, you may also be charged a cash advance fee. This could be a flat rate, or a percentage of your total cash advance. If you are considering a cash advance, make sure to add up how much it will cost you before committing.

What should you do when you lose your credit card?

Losing your credit card is a serious situation, and could land you in financial trouble. Here is a simple guide detailing what to do when you lose your credit card.

Lock you card – Contact your provider and inform them about your lost credit card. From here lock, block or cancel your card.

Keep track of transactions – Look out for unauthorised credit card transactions. Most banks protect against fraudulent transactions.

Address recurring charges – If your card is linked to recurring charges (gym membership, rent, utilities), contact those businesses.

Check credit rate – To ensure you’re not the victim of identity theft, check your credit rating a month or two after you lose your credit card.

How long does it take to get a credit card?

There are a few stages you need to go through to get a credit card; each one takes a different length of time.

Applying for the card online, over the phone or in person is the fastest step. This usually takes around 15 minutes, provided you have all of your documents handy.

After submitting your application, it usually takes between one to 10 business days for the lender to assess your eligibility. Some lenders offer instant approval, although you will need to send supporting documents before it is official.

Once your application has been approved, expect to wait between one to 14 days to receive your card in the mail. Keep in mind that delays can happen during busy periods, such as if the lender has launched a special deal.

How to make a credit card online

If you’re wondering about how to make a credit card online application, here are some steps to follow:

  • Test the market. Many credit card options are available online. Compare providers by fees, interest and perks to ensure you’re getting the best deal.
  • Complete the application. Once you’ve selected a card, head to the provider’s website and complete the online credit card application form. Forms vary by providers.
  • Provide details. Most cards require you to meet age, residency, income and credit status condition, and you need to provide details like a bank account statement to prove this.
  • Review details. Ensure the information you’ve entered is correct.