travel

"My family and I flew to four countries in two years. Most of the flights were free."

Over the last two years my daughter, wife and I flew together to New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore and Bali. We also travelled within Australia four times. On each of those flights, we all flew for free or at a fraction of the price. Here’s how we did it.

Frequent Flyer Points.

Most airlines have a frequent flyer program. In Australia, the two big ones are Qantas and Virgin. The basic idea is that if you sign up to their frequent flyer program, you can start earning points that can be used to pay for or subsidise flights on their airline.

Once you’re a member of their frequent flyer program, the most straightforward method to earn points with these airlines is to pay for flights with them. Every flight will earn a certain number of points. The more expensive the flight, the more points you earn.

More tips from savvy travellers here. Post continues after video. 

Video by MMC

Another way you can earn points with these airlines is through buying products or services from stores who have an affiliation with the airline. For example, at the time of writing, you can earn Qantas frequent flyer points by shopping at Apple.

The challenge with these two methods is that it’s a slow burn. A one-way economy flight to Sydney with Qantas is 8000 frequent flyer points. Using the example of Apple, currently, you get three points for every one dollar spent at Apple. That means you need to spend $2667 at Apple to get a flight that costs around $200.

If you’re spending a lot of money at these stores already, you could take the view that you may as well get some frequent flyer points out of it. That being said, it’s clearly not a fast track to flying anywhere you want for free.

Credit Card Points.

You can go a step further and start using a credit card that has a rewards program. The way this works is a credit card provider gives you points when you spend money on your card.

American Express is one of the most well-known credit card rewards providers, but there are plenty out there. Most financial comparison websites like Finder.com.au or RateCity.com.au will offer a huge list of credit cards with rewards programs.

The requirement here is that the rewards program needs to either be a frequent flyer program, or you need to be able to convert any points you earn from your credit card rewards program to frequent flyer points.

Family of three travel
"For $200 you could get return flights on Qantas for a family of three to Sydney." Image: Getty
ADVERTISEMENT

Avoid the slow burn.

Just like with the Qantas points earned at certain stores, building up your frequent flyer points through spending money on a credit card rewards program is a slow burn.

A quick look at the Westpac Altitude Platinum – Qantas Credit Card shows that you get 0.5 frequent flyer points for every one dollar spent on the card.

Based on this, you would need to spend $6000 on the card to earn the 8000 frequent flyer points for an economy flight to Sydney with Qantas worth around $200.

(As a side note, I want to clarify that I am not an advocate for credit cards as a way of enabling day-to-day personal spending.)

Maximising points.

We’ve covered two ways to earn frequent flyer points that are slow, expensive and ultimately not worth your time. Now let’s look at how you can really maximise your points in a fast, effective and worthwhile way. By using credit card bonus point deals.

At any point in time, there will be a bunch of credit cards offering a huge amount of bonus points for signing up with them. For example the Westpac Altitude Platinum – Qantas Credit Card. Westpac is offering 60,000 bonus Qantas frequent flyer points for signing up to their card as a new member.

As with a lot of financial products, there are conditions and eligibility criteria you need to meet. In this example, to get the bonus points, you need to spend $3000 on the card within 90 days of card approval. There’s also a $200 annual fee that comes with the card.

This means that for $3200 you would get 18.75 points per dollar. That’s a huge improvement on the 0.5 frequent flyer points you get for every one dollar spent on the card. It also gets you a quick 60,000 Qantas frequent flyer points which could comfortably fly a family of three to Sydney return (48,000 points).

Wait for the right opportunity.

To be clear, this isn’t a great deal dollar for dollar. That’s because the value of those 60,000 points is only around $1500. I’ve calculated this by using the example of a one-way economy flight from Melbourne to Sydney. The cost of the flight is 8000 points or around $200.

For this reason, I’m not suggesting it’s worth signing up to credit cards and spending the money required just to get the points.

ADVERTISEMENT

What I am suggesting is that you wait for opportunities where you are going to spend $3000. When those opportunities arise, consider whether these are things that could be paid for using a credit card.

Mamamia's Holly Wainwright speaks to minimalist traveller Lexi Connors to find out how to travel with nothing but carry on. Post continues after podcast.

Finding Opportunities.

The trick to maximising frequent flyer points effectively is signing up to credit cards that offer new customer bonus points. Then, use the card to spend the minimum amount on purchases that you were already going to make.

For example, I’ve previously signed up for credit cards and used them to pay for major bills, new home appliances or furnishings, and holiday accommodation. These were all costs that were happening anyway. I knew they were coming up. I also knew they would be enough to cover the minimum spend required for a credit card offer. So, I took advantage of the opportunities.

Doing it this way, you really only pay the credit card's first-year annual fee for the points. In the example of the Westpac card I used above, the annual fee is $200. At 60,000 bonus points, this works out to be 300 points per dollar.

Consider the return.

This is a great deal dollar for dollar. It’s a great deal because, as we uncovered, the value of those 60,000 points is $1500. So you get $1500 worth of frequent flyer points for $200.

This means for $200 you can get return flights on Qantas for a family of three to Sydney. If you wanted to buy these flights without the help of frequent flyer points, they would cost around $1,200.

Some credit cards actually waive the first year annual fee for new customers. Others offer a bonus item that offsets the cost of the annual fee - for example free passes to Qantas or Virgin airport lounges.

Even without the bonus item, the points alone mean that you’re well ahead financially.

Cancel the card.

The potential trap to avoid is using the credit card for anything else other than to get the initial bonus points.

Lenders run these promotions in the hope you’ll start using the credit card as your regular spending card. That’s how they start making money off you. You want to avoid this.

To avoid it, once I’ve spent the minimum amount required and received my bonus points, I pay the card off. I then go online and cancel the credit card.

Cancelling the card once you’ve got the bonus points means you’ve truly got the most out of the opportunity while spending the least amount possible.

For all the reasons above, I’m always looking for opportunities to grow my frequent flyer points. Because of this, I have a very healthy points balance. I’m using some of those points to fly my wife, daughter and I to Noosa for a holiday next month.

And yes, we’re flying for free.

This post originally appeared on the blog, Money and My Daughter. It has been republished with full permission.

00:00 / ???