Frequent flyer cards - the highs and lows of miles

Do you spend half your time on planes and running around airport terminals? Have you got packing an overnight bag down to a fine art and know how to say “how much is it?” in at least a dozen languages? Well then, you’re probably a frequent flyer.

And to go with all those handy travelling skills, why not have a credit card that not only makes it super easy to shop for the things you love, but also bags you a free flight every once in awhile? That’s where a frequent flyers credit card comes in, and we’ve collected all the need to know details so you can decide if it’s the right piece of plastic for you.

Check them out below:

What is a frequent flyer credit card?

Essentially, a frequent flyers credit card is one that’s attached to an airline’s rewards program. Some allow you to directly convert your rewards points into frequent flyer points for a specific airline, while others allow you to earn points which can then be redeemed through a number of reward programs.

Direct vs indirect earn cards

There are two types of credit cards you can use to earn frequent flyers points. The first is directly through a card that’s linked to a specific airline rewards program. These cards usually have ‘Velocity’ or ‘Qantas’ in their names, and generally speaking, you’ll get a pretty good earn rate on direct earn cards. But keep in mind, your rewards will be linked to only one airline’s reward program.

The other option is to go for a rewards credit card and earn points which can be transferred to a range of different frequent flyer points. Your earn rate probably won’t be as good with these cards, but you’ll have more flexibility with how you use your points.

Who is a frequent flyer credit card good for?

So is a frequent flyer credit card right for you? Well, it might be a good choice if you…

  • Travel often. If you’re always hopping on and off flights, booking hotels and shopping for new luggage, a frequent flyer credit card can make it super convenient to funnel your rewards points into these areas.
  • Spend a lot. If you’re a big spender who uses a credit card often, then you’re just the kind of person who can get the most value out of a frequent flyers card. The more you spend, the more points you’ll earn, and the better the rewards will be.
  • Always pay your bill. Frequent flyer cards, like most rewards cards, can pack a punch in the interest rate department, but you can avoid that expense if you’re the kind of spender who pays off their credit card balance in full and on time each month.

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Who should steer clear?

On the other hand, a frequent flyer card is not for everyone, and a few warning signs that it might not be your cup of tea include:

  • You tend to carry a balance. If you sometimes forget to make a credit card payment and tend to carry a balance from month to month, a frequent flyers card is probably not for you, thanks to the generally steeper interest rates.
  • You have ongoing debt. If you have existing credit card debt that you’d like to get rid of, a frequent flyers card (or any rewards card, for that matter) is not really a cost-effective way of managing your balance. A better idea might be to opt for a balance transfer card, and then transition to a frequent flyers card once you’ve got your debt under control.
  • You don’t use your card often. As with any rewards card, a frequent flyers card will likely come with a hefty annual fee attached. That means you really want to be using your card regularly, so you can build up enough reward points to offset the cost of having the card. If you only use a credit card every now and then, you probably won’t get enough value out of it to justify the high fee.

Sound like you? Check out some low rate credit card options instead.

Features to consider

So if a frequent flyers card is the right piece of plastic for you, then the next step is to consider what features are available, so you can pick up the best offer out there. Some of the main things to take into account when choosing a frequent flyer card are:

  • Annual fee - If you’re after a frequent flyers card, expect to pay a reasonably high annual fee. The key here is to weigh the fee against the kind of value you’ll get from the rewards program and decide whether it’s worth the cost.
  • Purchase rate - One of the most important things about your credit card is what kind of interest you’re going to be hit with. Rewards cards, including frequent flyer cards, generally come with higher interest than your average credit card, so shop around for an option that will be budget-friendly for all that spending you’re going to do.
  • Cash advance fees and rate - Hitting the ATM with a credit card in hand should really only ever be a last resort, because you’ll be walloped with high interest and a cash advance fee right away.
  • Foreign exchange and fees - If you’re looking at a frequent flyers card, chances are you do a bit of travelling. If that includes jet setting overseas, you’ll want to consider both the foreign exchange margin and any foreign transaction fees applied to your credit card purchases.
  • Partner airlines - Think about how you’re going to redeem all those hard earned points. Maybe you want a rewards program that will allow you to choose between a large range of airlines, or maybe you only ever fly with one airline anyway, so you just want a program affiliated with it. Work out what you need and find a card that will cater to you.
  • Points per dollar - On the other end of things, you want to be getting the best value from your spending, so make sure you find a card with a good earn rate. As a rule of thumb, aim for at least 1 point for every $1 you spend and remember that some cards offer up to 3 points at certain retailers.
  • Bonus offers - Boost your rewards stack by choosing a frequent flyer card with a nice bonus offer attached. Usually this comes in the form of an introductory offer of a few thousand points - but remember to read the fine print, as there may be a minimum spend requirement attached.
  • Extra perks - It’s not all about the points! Your frequent flyer card might offer other cool perks, like complimentary travel insurance, priority check-in or free access to airport lounges. If you travel frequently, these bonuses might help to offset the annual fee and make your piece of plastic an even more valuable addition to your wallet.

Velocity or Qantas?

There are two main airline rewards programs for Aussies to choose from —  Virgin’s Velocity Frequent Flyers and Qantas Frequent Flyers. Which one you choose will largely come down to which airline you prefer, but there are a few key points to compare them on.

Points redemption value

If you’re planning to use your points for flights, then Velocity generally offers slightly better value than Qantas — at the time of writing, a flight from Sydney to Melbourne was worth 8,000 Qantas Points or 7,800 Velocity Points.

On the other hand, if you’re interested in redeeming points for retail products, merchandise and gift cards, Qantas offers better value. Instead of a flight from Sydney to Melbourne, those points could buy you a $91.95 gift card from Qantas, or $89.66 from Velocity.

Partner airlines

As well as how much value you’re getting from your rewards points, you should think about where you’ll be able to spend them.

Qantas has over 50 partner airlines and affiliates, such as Emirates, British Airways and American Airlines — which is a huge range to choose from when redeeming points. Velocity, on the other hand, has 12 partner airlines, including Etihad, Singapore Airlines and Air New Zealand. This is still plenty of variety to get you where you need to go.

Again, the decision of which program is better may come down to who you like to fly with — Qantas’ 50 airlines won’t do you any good if you only like to fly Air New Zealand.

What rewards are on offer?

Speaking of redeeming rewards points, it’s good to keep in mind the whole range of rewards on offer with your frequent flyers card — although flights are probably the first thing that come to mind, they aren’t the only thing up for grabs! Other rewards you could pick up include:

  • Flight upgrades. Fancy a stint in first class? Use your points to upgrade your flying experience.
  • Accommodation. Your points can help you after you land as well, by bagging you a free or discounted room in a hotel that’s partnered to the program.
  • Car hire. You can also find a set of wheels to get you from A to B using your frequent flyer points.
  • Retail products. If you’re staying firmly on the ground for a while, you can still use your rewards points to bag some cool stuff. Velocity and Qantas both have stores through which you can buy a whole range of things, from kitchen appliances, to luggage, to tech gear.
  • Gift cards. Not sure what you want to spend your points on yet? Convert them into a gift card to spend at your favourite shops.

Tips to maximise frequent flyer points

Before you get carried away dreaming up how you’re going to use all those frequent flyer points, you’ll have to earn a stack of them. Here are some of our top tips for earning as many points as possible:

  • Use your card all the time. Make sure your chosen card will allow you to earn points on things like groceries, petrol and bills, and then spend, spend, spend! Flash your plastic each time you hit the checkout to build up more points — just remember to pay off your bill each month!
  • Sniff out bonus point offers. Usually, you’ll only be able to take advantage of bonus point offers when you first sign up for a credit card, so make sure you pick a good one! These can net you thousands of bonus frequent flyer points, just remember that there might be a minimum spend requirement attached.
  • Spend with program partners. Find out which businesses and services are partnered with your chosen frequent flyer program and try to spend most of your money with them. By doing this, you can sometimes double or even triple your points earn.
  • Grab a supplementary card. Request a supplementary credit card to give to someone you trust — a spouse, child or other family member is a good bet — so their spending can contribute to your frequent flyer point stack as well. Just remember to check if you’ll be charged a fee on supplementary cards and weigh up if the points are worth it.
  • Level up. Premium credit card options like gold, platinum and black cards will often offer better points earning value than their regular cousins — just remember that signing up for one of these high power card means paying an annual fee to match.

Find a frequent flyers card

Ready to pack your bags and jump on a plane with your new piece of plastic? You can compare your options with our frequent flyers credit card comparison table.