Thanks to the previously-mentioned long distance boyfriend (now fiance!), I spent many uni holidays ferrying myself across the world, hopping from Perth-Sydney-LA-Detroit-Ann Arbor-Petoskey-Detroit-New York-Dubai-Perth (amongst other flight variations). Unfortunately, there is just no quick way to get yourself from very remote Perth to very remote Petoskey. I don’t regret a single flight I took (and there were many), but what I do regret is taking until now to start to care about collecting frequent flyer points. I think how much cash I could have saved myself if I capitalised on those points… but that’s neither here nor there. What’s important is now I have developed an absolute obsession with collecting rewards for spending money (on things I am already buying), and particularly how to maximise those rewards to my benefit.
The obsession was triggered after a weekend-er to Melbourne last year, where I remembered to enter my Velocity frequent flyer number. I had also finally remembered to use it on a code-share flight I took when we did an epic Perth/Caribbean/Florida/Washington DC/Trinidad vacation. I checked my letterbox and Velocity had kindly sent me a letter and a card saying I had been upgraded to silver status – and alongside that, I would be getting two guest passes to the Velocity frequent flyer lounge and the ability to earn bonus points per flight. Now that I felt like a special silver-class snowflake, I started to aggressively chase racking up my Velocity points (noting Velocity is the frequent flyer program linked with Virgin Australia), and am excitingly waiting for my next Virgin trip to waltz into the lounge and get a free lunch.
However, I have always maintained a Qantas frequent flyer card, and when American Express released their latest bonus offer with the American Express Ultimate card, I’ve now redirected my interest to Qantas and will secure my focus there for the next little while. For an annual fee of $450, the Amex Ultimate card was offering a potential 102,500 bonus Qantas points plus a return domestic flight between enumerated capital cities.
I agonised over whether this card was worth it. I detest annual fees at the best of times, so a very hefty $450 was very off-putting. I also read every single term and condition, which I highly recommend. This fine print exposed that the 102,500 bonus points would only come about in the following way:
- 5,000 points on your first spend with Amex
- 95,000 points if you spend $1,500 in the first three months
- 2,500 upon your first Qantas spend (being a flight with a QF code, through the Qantas site)
In addition, you only enliven your right to a domestic flight after you have already made a Qantas purchase. Now armed with all those facts, I could make a much more informed decision as to whether this card was right for me.
Importantly, I never accrue debt on my credit card – it is always paid off in full at the due date. So, it is worthwhile finding a way to maximise the rewards I can get from a credit card, since the banks aren’t rubbing their hands together over the interest I’m unnecessarily paying.
My key consideration was that we are going to be travelling quite a bit this year. I have already made two Qantas flight purchases in March, enlivening access to the domestic flight without having to make an unplanned purchase (as an unplanned purchase is not beating the system). I also had planned to visit my childhood bestie and maid of honour in Melbourne this year, meaning the domestic flight was not just for the sake of it – it really was a savings, in that I would typically spend between $550 – $700 on flights, resulting in a saving of $100 – $250 (since the annual fee of the card is $450).
Finally, there is a tiered point reward system, where you get extra points to the dollar for attending restaurants and booking Qantas flights.
So, with all of that in mind, I applied, got the card, got approved, re-directed all my direct debits and re-allocated my Paypal account’s primary card, and got excited when I saw my points balance tick to 5,000 when I made my first purchase (a $4 cup of coffee), then quickly 107,500 (since I buy everything on credit and pay it back).
With that in mind, I decided to dedicate myself solely to building up my Qantas frequent flyer point balance. I found accounts at Bankwest that allow me to earn Qantas points on a Mastercard and a debit account, so I continued my new-card rampage and signed up for those too. I now know that every cent I spend will be building up to the same unified goal.
And I can confidently say that I have gotten back the value of my annual fee in spades. I have booked a return flight from Perth to Petoskey, composed of the following legs: Perth to Sydney, Sydney to Dallas, Dallas to Chicago, Chicago to Traverse City and then a 90 minute drive home; then Traverse City to Dallas, Dallas to Sydney, Sydney to Perth. All up it is around 30 hours of travel and it is some hard work. First thing is to buy yourself a good set of noise-cancelling headphones (more on that in a future post). Second thing is to cash those points in.
Using my Qantas points, I’ve upgraded my domestic flights (Perth/Sydney and Sydney/Perth) to business class, giving me priority boarding, priority check in, priority security and lounge access- as well as fancy service and champagne on arrival for the approximate 5 hours in the air. This will be invaluable when I’m kicking around Sydney airport for five hours waiting for my flight back to Perth.
Cost if I were to have booked this flight with dollars: $4484.
Screenshot of search of the Qantas website for the flights on the same dates I am flying is below to back up what appears to be an outrageous claim:
Unfortunately I wasn’t able to upgrade my international flight, but I got the next best thing: a guaranteed exit row seat for my Sydney/Dallas long hauls. I’ve only managed to score myself an exit row without paying once, and it makes an enormous amount of difference to the enjoyability of a 16 hour flight. You don’t need to climb over or be climbed over at various intervals, you don’t have someone lower their chair back while you’re eating, you can stretch your legs out obnoxiously in front of you. You are also conveniently located to bathrooms so you can pick the best times to freshen up. Typically selecting an exit row costs you $180 each way for international flights.
Cost if I were to have paid for the exit rows: $360
Total points: 45,000
So, I paid $1746 for a return flight to Perth to Traverse City, Michigan, USA on super saver fare. I also used 95,000 Qantas Frequent Flyer points.
Total dollar value of points used: $4844
Total spent to get card: $450 (annual fee)
Total dollar gainz: $4394
So if that isn’t some proof that the time spent investigating and selecting a credit card with bonus points is worth it, then I don’t know what is.
There are billions of points programs and of course there are many ways to earn frequent flyer points. For Qantas, there’s online shopping through the Qantas store portal, there’s credit cards (like the bundle I have), there’s the Woolworths loyalty scheme, there’s the online booking of selected restaurants which gives you 100 points per person booked to dine, there’s bonus points for particular health insurance funds – and of course, there’s flying on a Qantas or Qantas partner airline. And this is far from a comprehensive list. Of course, you are trading valuable information about yourself, so if you’re concerned about privacy and big data … you know, have a think. But if, like me, you’re unfussed, well, go for your life. It isn’t a huge amount of work for the pay off. Just assess what you want to collect your points for: a flight, an upgrade, something in a particular store (remembering this is the worst or lowest value trade you can make for your points, but if you aren’t planning a trip but need a KitchenAid, well… consider your personal needs). Definitely checkout http://www.pointshacker.com.au for inspiration and advice, as well as recent deals and specials. And happy business class travels!