Frequent Flying and Points Collecting: The Qantas Obsession

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.

Points: 50,000

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!

 

Travel Necessities: Organisation

Travel is the defining hobby of the 21st century; even one of the defining lifestyle paradigms. In a time where we’re shifting our thinking to experiences over things, escaping and broadening our horizons and learning tolerance and acceptance of the fantastical that defines our world, travel has gone from being a luxurious aside to something that defines us.

I tend to have a compulsive urge to dispense unsolicited advice. So I’ve compiled a series of posts setting out my travel necessities – for entertainment, your sanity, staying sanitised, organised and generally surviving time as a nomad (whether for a weekend or a year).

This first instalment addresses my favourite part of planning a trip: organisation. Everyone has their own travel style – some like to have every minute planned before they arrive, and others prefer to turn up and soak up each moment as it arrives. I have tried both, love both and both have amazing benefits. But no matter your approach, you do need to have the most basic of organisation in order to actually get yourself from home to destination, and back again, preferably with all limbs and at least your credit card, if not with a particularly healthy balance.

Passport

If you are travelling outside of your country, you absolutely must at all times have your passport. I’ve been using the same passport holder since I first went on exchange in July 2010. It is small, compact, and silver, so that I can take it everywhere, and find it very easily. While actually on the move (on the way to the airport, leaving the aeroplane, leaving the airport), I check at the start and end of each journey to make sure I have it. When I arrive at my destination, I have one spot where I keep it: in a side secret pocket of my suitcase. I never ever keep my passport in the hotel safe, primarily because I’m extremely likely to forget it (out of sight, out of mind, you know?). At least if it is packed in the suitcase, it’s guaranteed to come with me, even unintentionally.

I highly recommend getting a good quality passport holder that can easily be identified amongst your belongings.

Kikki.K stocks some of my favourite passport holders. But if you are looking for something cheaper and less likely to get dirty (if you’re anything like me, my passport holder has been through the wars), there is this cheaper and really fun option from Asos:

image1xxl

Itinerary

 

 

Knowing where you’re going is kind of a prerequisite to leaving your home – even if it is just knowing the first stop. Having all your booking details is necessary for checking into flights, and generally necessary for being on time to actually get on a flight. Cue, itinerary organisation.

There’s a few ways you can do this. If you use a travel agent, they usually provide you all the info (although I’m morally opposed to travel agents). My dad still subscribes to the old-school method of printing out all of his email confirmations and having them in a document wallet. That’s fine, although it can get bulky carrying that paperwork around, and stressful if you lose it.

If you’re more like me and can’t function without your iPhone in your hand at all times, I recommend a more high-tech method. For a long time, I swore by TripIt, an app that links up with your gmail to incorporate all bookings into a trip. It’s slick, has a great user interface and is relatively hassle-free. It’s accompanied me through many trips abroad, and is generally reliable. The customer service when you had any hiccups syncing your trips was also great. However, on my most recent month-long soiree across the oceans, I found that TripIt had some trouble integrating certain information. For example, when I received an email about minor flight time changes, instead of just updating the flight details, it incorporated the email as a whole new flight path in my trip, so I ended up with three sets of flight details for every flight I took – all of which differed slightly, and  I couldn’t readily tell which flight time was the correct one. It cluttered up the screen, and complicated using the app.

Now I prefer using the Google app. It also integrates with your phone, but your trip appears as ‘cards’ on the home screen, and I find the user interface so much simpler, smoother, and you don’t need a whole separate app on your phone for the same details. It also provides useful updates like what time to leave to arrive at the airport for check in, and whether there are any traffic problems. This app works best if you have a gmail account you use for all of your travel bookings- and honestly, even if you don’t, I highly recommend making the change as it makes your whole travel experience so much more enjoyable.

The best thing about apps is if you’re one of those pick up and go as you please kind of people, if you do your bookings online, it is all automatically integrated for you.

Knowledge of how to get from the airport to your hotel/hostel/beach

Landing at your destination is an amazing feeling. There’s nothing like walking out of the metal tube that was your home for the past while to find yourself soaking up a whole new place: new accents, new people, new landscape, new scent, new sounds. However, I have found along with that is a whirlwind of activity that can distract you from cheaply and safely getting from the airport to your first accommodation location. I cannot stress enough what a relief it can be if yu have pre-planned and pre-researched the transport options and, if possible, pre-booked. Taxis can be tricky with rates, trains may only run at certain hours and to certain places, and when language is a barrier, everything is that much trickier. If you can pre-book a door-to-door shuttle, or organise a driver, or understand the taxi system before arriving, your sanity remains, you arrive safely and you don’t lose a scary amount of money on surprise fares.

Tune in next time for packing tips

E x

[Travel] SCOTUS, Washington DC

I, like every other white millenial, love to travel, and used every cent I earned while at uni on travelling and unnecessary clothes. The reality is that travel is expensive. However, some of the most amazing things you can do in a city are free. I wanted to share some of my favourite free things I’ve done while travelling – and I’m starting with possibly the greatest highlight of my life – seeing a full sitting of the Supreme Court of the United States. I recently got to visit Washington DC, and the day before we were due to fly there from Florida, I had the random thought to check whether the court was sitting. In the greatest joy of my life, we were there for their first two sittings of 2016. The information is relatively limited about how to actually attend – all I could work out from the website was that there were two lines: one for viewing the full sitting, and one for getting a three to five minute seat in the back.

The sitting on our first day began at 10am, and I saw that the seating for those wanting to view the entire sitting began at 9.30, and the 3 minute viewing at 10, so we naively turned up at 9.30. It was a chilly January day, and there were protests and music and signs and news cameras – and a very very long line of people. Turns out we had long missed the ability to view the entire sitting, so waited an hour and twenty minutes for our chance to view the court for 3 minutes.

While the line was long, it didn’t seem that long, so I was surprised that it didn’t move quicker. However, you actually go through two sets of security scanning, and are required to put all your belongings (no phones, bags, coats, anything) in lockers, with a 25c charge, before lining up again to get your three-minute moment.

The three minutes was the shortest three minutes of my life – I was so overawed watching the bench, the interchange, and making sense of the fragment of argument I heard that I felt like I barely got to absorb what I was seeing before we were being ushered out the door again. I’ll admit I got teary afterwards, much to my boyf’s embarrassment. The taster wasn’t enough, so I spoke to information about how to get a seat for the full sitting.

The man was lovely, but I could also tell thought I was a bit insane since I’d already seen it once. He recommended arriving at 7am, and explained that the police will provide you a ticket, after which you are allowed inside and can access the cafeteria and bathrooms, before being seated in the courtroom at 9.30am. Since there was a sitting the next day, we decided to just go for it.

Since we were staying in Vienna, we had the delightfully early start of 5.30am to shower and layer up for the fresh 0 degree Celsius morning, before taking the metro into DC. We arrived at the Supreme Court right on 7, and received this amazing view:

img_1092-1
I know. You can hardly believe it. A small line had already started to form, so I wouldn’t really arrive any later than 7 if you’re planning on attending. We were 11th & 12th in line. I went over to the shops to get coffees and use the bathroom. At around 7.45 we were taken from the street sidewalk outside the building to form a line right outside the steps, were given a numbered green ticket and directed in small groups through the security entrance. The numbered ticket is the reason it is absolutely worth turning up early, as it guarantees the order you will be seated – particularly as they can’t guarantee how many seats will actually be available at the hearing, as different cases attract different levels of interest from the public, and guest passes and media passes may take up the majority of the seats.

You go through the first bout of security scans, much like an airport scan although you can leave your shoes on, after which we lined up in numerical order. This guaranteed you could use the bathroom or the cafeteria without losing your spot. Then you move to another area for lining up, before heading to lockers to put everything away (we found out later you are allowed a notepad and pen, but I was glad to not have the distraction), go through security and then into the most wonderful courtroom in the world.

Cost breakdown:

  • Metro tickets: $10.40 for a return trip (a lot less if you’re staying in DC itself, I normally prefer to walk to these attractions)
  • Entry: free
  • Coffee: $1.80
  • Locker: 25c

Total cost: $12.45

That truly is the best part about the experience – you are allowed access to the highest court in the land, at no cost, to see the best advocates and the greatest legal minds combine. Even if you don’t have a legal background, it is one of the cornerstones of a democratic country, and your right, to be able to views he creation of law and legal rights of the people. Even as an Australian, I felt proud that this country has, despite barriers, continued to honour free and open access to the people’s buildings.

Enough of my pontificating. Below are my tips for visiting the court, which I wished I could have found in one cohesive spot before I visited. I hope they help!

Tips for visiting the Supreme Court:

  • Check the schedule online to see if there is anything on – days circled in red are sitting days. Typically the court has two hearings, at 10am and 11am.
  • Arrive very early (try look at how popular the matter is beforehand to guide your arrival time – but when you hear them say arrive at 7, they aren’t joking, and that isn’t the even too early – the numbered ticket system honours your commitment to an early arrival).
  • Dress warmly for the wait outside.
  • Bring as little as possible with you, as the lockers are quite small – and don’t forget to have a quarter handy, although there are change machines.
  • That said, bring breakfast with you, because it’s a long wait, and if you stay for both hearings, a long time until lunch. There are plenty of bins to discard your rubbish, and you can buy food from the cafeteria (may as well bring it from “home” though).
  • Read up on the matters beforehand for the background (I’m so glad I consulted scotusblog the night before, it made the day a lot easier to follow, particularly as I haven’t done any US law before).
  • Be patient – there’s a lot of waiting and no free wifi.
  • Be nice to the police – they were extremely patient and accommodating, and even brought me my glove I’d dropped outside, which I thought was far too kind.
  • Read up on court layout – there’s a really useful brochure you can get on arrival called “Oral argument in the Supreme Court” which tells you which judge sits where, in addition to other important court officer roles, and generally provides some more background that enhances your trip.
  • Remember to stand when the judges enter and exit (slight etiquette deviation from Australia, where we bow upon the entry and exit of judges).