Rewards credit cards come packed with perks and so it pays to brush up on the ins and outs of earning and redeeming rewards. Too many people fall into the trap of going for the biggest bonus point sign up offer but then fail to take advantage of all the other great bonuses that come standard with their card like free wine when they dine, pre-sale tickets to shows and complimentary airline lounge passes.
In this guide, we’ll outline some of the best ways to get bonus value from your rewards card and some of the traps to watch out for.
What types of bonus points are available?
Sign up bonus offers: Many rewards card providers offer incentives for you to choose their card over another banks card and so when you sign up you'll get a block of bonus points for the program. You could get instant rewards points at sign up or sometimes you will need to spend a set amount on your card within the first three months for example to get the bonus points.
Need to know: Not all rewards points are equal. 10,000 bonus points with one rewards card could be worth more than 20,000 bonus points on another card. Look at the points earned per dollar amount and compare what you can buy with those points. Airline affiliated programs tend to offer the best value due to their more favourable redemption rates.
Bonus partner offers: Some cards are aligned with retailers or service providers and when you spend money with them you'll get more points than the standard earning rate per dollar spent.
Need to know: Learn your card's bonus partners so that you can boost your points totals but never spend more than you'd normally would or forgo a cheaper price just to earn bonus points.
What else should I look for in addition to bonus points?
Bonus points are great as they help you to get to the goal of being able to redeem freebies sooner but it's important when choosing a rewards card that you don't only think about the now, you also need to think about the long term. The reality is that for many of the top rewards like free international travel you'll need to accrue points over the long term so you'll need to factor in some other things like:
Annual fee. Rewards cards generally have higher annual fees than standard credit cards so factor this into your ongoing budget to make sure that the cost of the fee isn’t going to outweigh the value of the rewards points you will accrue each year.
Points caps. If you want to accrue points fast you’ll need a card that doesn’t have a cap on the amount of points you can earn in a month or year.
Points expiry. Some rewards programs do have expiry times for points usage so be sure you factor this into your choice of card.
Rewards choice. 50,000 bonus velocity points sounds like a great deal when you’re planning a trip to Hamilton Island this year, but will you always want to redeem your points for flights on Virgin? If you are not going to be an airline loyalist look for a rewards program that has broader options for redeeming rewards.
Insurance extras. If you are in the market for a high end card, many platinum credit cards come with complimentary insurances such as overseas travel insurance, extended warranty and price protection insurance.
Partner bonuses. Visa has its Visa Entertainment program, MasterCard has the MasterCard Priceless Cities program and American Express has exclusive member offers, look for a card program that will best suit your tastes so that you will take advantage of the perks provided.
Are there any traps to bonus point offers?
If you are savvy about using your card, and paying your balance back in full each month, bonus points credit cards can be a great way to getting lots of reward freebies fast.
The biggest traps to watch for are spend requirements needed to get bonus points as it can sometimes mean you put more on your credit card than you have budgeted for and you'll end up in debt. It's important to put the bonus points into perspective. If you have to spend $1000 to get an extra 500 points, ask yourself is it worth it? If those 500 points will get you a free flight then maybe it's worth it, but if you can buy a flight anyway for $500 there isn't any point in overspending to get points.
The other trap to watch is foregoing a sale just to get bonus points. If you see an item on sale at a store for way less than a store where you will earn points, still go for the sale item.
What fees do tebonus points credit cards have?
In addition to the card's annual fee and or any airline membership program fee, there will be standard credit card fees that you'll need to pay if you use your card for overseas transactions or cash advances.
For foreign transactions you will generally pay a foreign exchange fee which is normally around 2-3% of the transaction amount converted into Australian dollars. This will be charged for online as well as in-person overseas transactions. If you travel or shop online regularly, the cost of these fees can add up so you might be better off looking for a travel credit card that doesn't charge these fees.
Cash advance fees are charged when you use your credit card to withdraw cash from an ATM and when you use to card purchase things like gambling chips or foreign exchange. It is best to avoid using your credit card for cash advances, as not only will you need to pay a cash advance fee (normally around 4% of the transaction amount) you'll also start paying interest on the amount immediately.
Some cards will also charge a late payment fee if you are late with a repayment so it is best to set up automatic repayments each month to cover the minimum repayment.
Will a balance transfer count towards the spend requirements for a bonus offer?
No, if you transfer a balance from another card to your new bonus point offer card, this balance would not count towards any spend requirements that are required to earn your bonus points. If the card required you to spend $500 on the card in the first month to get bonus points you would still need to do this in addition to any balance you transfer across.
Just be aware that repayments need to go towards the highest interest accruing debt so if you make new purchases on the credit card, you will pay these off before you start repaying the balance transfer. Be sure to also have a plan to pay back the debt in the balance transfer period or you could find yourself paying high interest.
What’s the best way to compare bonus point card offers?
Because it is just as important to look at the overall value of the card, not just the sign up bonus points Mozo's Rewards Revealer tool should be your first step in narrowing down the choice of credit card for your annual spend.
Once you know the cards that will deliver you good value for the amount of money you'll spend in the year it is time to compare the bonus point offers to find out which one will best suit you. Due to the complexity of bonus points offers (eg, you need to spend $x over 3 months) our Rewards Revealer tool doesn't take into account bonus points offers in its calculations, so you will need to do this manually.
How? You'll need to check the redemption rates for points. This is a huge factor. For instance Card A and Card B might both offer an introductory bonus offer of 50,000 points, but those points may get you 7 Syd to Melb flights on Card A and only 2 flights on Card B.