frequent flyer credit cards

How to get a free flight is music to every traveller’s ears! The easiest way I've found is through frequent flyer credit cards. Although airfares are cheaper now than 20 years ago, it’s still incredibly gratifying to get a free flight. Then you can use your savings towards extra spending money while on holidays or upgrading to a nicer hotel.

You may have gasped at how airfares are cheaper than 20 years ago. When I started as a junior travel agent in the 1990s, a Perth to Melbourne airfare was $658 return and it had to be booked at least 30 days in advance. Now you can fly as little as $400 return and book at any time, just as long seats are available. And flying from Australia to Europe for $1500 was unheard of too.

So, even though airfares are more affordable these days, it’s still an awesome feeling to get something for free. Therefore, I explain in detail below my little trick of how I fly for free once every year.

Change your credit card

Most banks in Australia have credit cards that include the feature of accumulating frequent flyer points/air miles according to your monthly spend on the card. Specifically, approximately every  6 months they offer bonus points (40,000 to 120,000 point for Qantas) on their platinum cards if you sign up as a new credit card customer to the bank.

Just a way of drumming up new business for the bank.

As a Qantas frequent flyer member, I know that 90,000 points is a return flight from Perth to Europe. And 40,000 points will give me a return flight within Australia. Hence, a free flight.

But there are two factors to take into account first:

  1. The credit card annual fee. This can range from $200 - $500.
  2. Redeeming your points for flights usually don’t include taxes, so you will still have to pay for the ticket taxes.

As I’m a Qantas frequent flyer member, I’ll be referring to the Qantas frequent flyer credit cards only in this blog.  However, the process can be applied to any frequent flyer program that earns points from credit cards.


The process

1. Analyse the offers

Firstly I take a look at all the offers available to earn bonus Qantas frequent flyer points. I go through the list and select the one with:

  • A high number of bonus points (enough to get a free flight).
  • Low to mid-range annual fees.

You can take a look at all the offers on the dedicated Qantas credit card page here. Or below is a quick overview that I create myself in a spreadsheet.

This spreadsheet lists the top 10 credit cards offering bonus points [last updated 01 April 2020] . Read further below to find out how to gain access to the full list. 

Bank

Card Name

Bonus Points

Annual fees

Min spend/qualifying period

Offer expiry

NAB

Qantas Rewards Signature Card

100,000

+ 30,000 in 13th month

$295 - first year
$395 - thereafter

$3000/first 60 days

Until further notice

ANZ

ANZ Frequent Flyer Black Card

120,000

+ $275 cash back

$425

$4000/first 3 months

Until further notice

American Express

Qantas American Express Ultimate Card

100,000

+ $450 Qantas travel credit

$450

$3000/first 3 months

14 April 2020

Westpac

Altitude Black

90,000

+ 30,000 in second year

$250

$4000/first 90 days

5 Aug 2020

St George Bank

Amplify Signature

80,000

$139 - first year
$279 - thereafter

$6000/first 90 days

2 June 2020

Bank of Melbourne

Amplify Signature

80,000

$139 - first year
$279 - thereafter

$6000/first 90 days

2 June 2020

Bank SA

Amplify Signature

80,000

$139 - first year
$279 - thereafter

$6000/first 90 days

2 June 2020

Qantas Money

Qantas Premier Platinum Credit Card

80,000

$299

$5000/first 90 days

28 May 2020

Westpac

Altitude Platinum

60,000

$150

$3000/first 90 days

5 Aug 2020

St George

Amplify Platinum

60,000

$99

$2000/first 90 days

20 June 2020

[Last updated:  01 April 2020]

As my spreadsheet was too large to show the full table here (plus being a nightmare to view it all on a mobile phone), you can download the full details in a PDF version and save it onto your device.

It will also show if free travel insurance or Qantas lounge access is included.


Benefits of using the credit card comparison table

The credit card comparison table took me 12 hours of research, collating and typing it into a spreadsheet. This made the comparing and choosing so much easier. So to help you save the time I spent, I now share the credit card comparison table with you.

Not only does it contain the full list of 26 Qantas frequent flyer credit card offers (updated 1 April 2020), it also includes other useful information that travellers need to know:

  • How many points you earn per dollar spend while you use your card
  • The foreign currency conversion fee – there are two banks that don’t charge it!
  • What are the overseas ATM withdrawal fees and how to avoid them
  • Conditions you must satisfy to qualify for the free travel insurance

              

2. Analyse the details

In the above table (or PDF full table version) you’ll notice that there are quite a few columns of information. But the following are the major factors I look at:

  • Minimum spend/qualify period.
    This part is crucial to receive the bonus points (ie. your free flight). The qualifying period entails a minimum spend within a specified period (usually 2-3 months).

    So I apply for the credit card the month before my big bills arrive, where I know I don’t have to worry about making unnecessary purchases in order to satisfy this rule.

    If you’re unable to satisfy this requirement, then these credit cards are not for you.

TG Tip:  If you’re the type of person that never pays their monthly statement in full by due date, then I don’t recommend signing up for these premium priced cards. You’re better off continuing with your low fee/interest rate credit cards. Once you’ve mastered the art of paying each statement promptly then venture into these frequent flyer credit cards.

  • Points Earned by monthly spend
    There’s been a lot of changes lately, by Australian federal law. Consequently, the amount of points earned by spend has reduced. I find that the lower the credit card annual fee, the less points you earn.
  • Free travel insurance
    Most of these premium credit cards also include travel insurance, helping you save even more money. As a traveller, make sure you're familiar with the requirements necessary in order for the free insurance to apply. For example, maximum stay, ticket purchase requirement (most won’t accept travelling on a one way ticket) and if it will cover travel on a ticket that was redeemed on points. Also check the insurances list of benefits to ensure that you will be adequately covered for the activities you’ll be engaged in.

3. Check the ticket taxes

If you know where you will be flying to, check out what the ticket taxes will be.

For example, I went through the process for my up coming holiday to Greece and Croatia. I logged into my Qantas account, searched flights Perth/Athens/Perth for my desired dates and checked the total taxes in the fare calculation box.

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4. Calculate total expenses

Next add up your total expenses. 

Credit card annual fee

$197

Perth/Athens/Perth ticket taxes

$185

MY TOTAL OUTLAY 

$382

5.  Determine the current airfare

By using Skyscanner or other airfare search engines, search for the cheapest airfare to your destination. For instance, in my example, the cheapest Perth/Athens/Perth airfare with Qantas is $1620, including taxes.

Check your airfare by plugging in the details in Skyscanners search box below.

6. Compare and apply

So we can see from the above two steps, it is in my best interest to apply for a credit card with bonus Qantas points., as it will be cheaper than buying a ticket outright ($382 compared to $1620). Plus, I get free travel insurance.

Now you simply follow the prompts by clicking on the online application links.

7. Make a debtors list

In addition to the above steps, it will be really handy to make a list of all the payees you currently have on automatic direct debit via credit card.

Therefore once you receive your new credit card, you will have your checklist ready to inform all relevant parties of your new credit card details.

Having this list streamlined my change of credit card notification process from one day down to one hour.

Getting the points

Once you’ve satisfied the minimum spend requirements (excluding refunds) within the specified time period, each bank has a different time limit of when the bonus frequent flyer point will be credited to your account. Some banks are instant, while others you may have to wait for a month or two after the initial qualifying period finishes.

Now you’re ready to book your free flight to your dream holiday.

What happens after 12 months

Well nothing. The bonus points are for your first year only. At the end of year one, you will be charged the annual credit card fee again for the following 12 months.

Now what I do is cancel the credit card before the 12 months is up. But before I do that, I go through the whole process of steps 1 – 6 again, to determine if it’s worthwhile the effort.

If it is, then I apply for the selected credit card with a different bank and start collecting bonus points again.

Important Notes:
  • Apply for the new credit card with a different bank at least one month before expiry as the whole application process can take up to two weeks. Then cancel the current credit before they charge the next annual fee.
  • You can’t apply to the same bank or same credit card as the requirement is that you are a 'new customer'. This means you can’t have held a credit card with them for the previous 12 months (some banks are 18 months).
  • This is where Step 7 comes in handy. If you already have your list of auto debit payees, then it will only take you one hour to notify them all of your new credit card details either by phone or online. Therefore, it’s important to always keep this debtors payee’s list up-to-date to make your life easier.

Why change credit cards?

Now some of you may not feel like changing credit cards every year. Perhaps every two years is your preferred style. Maybe you like the service you’re currently receiving and want to continue with that bank. Or perhaps you find another bank that offers more frequent flyer points on your monthly spend, enabling you to rack up points quicker. No matter the reason, it’s your choice.

I’ve used credit cards with four different banks now. Each year I thoroughly check out their services and fees (especially for international spending). As a result, I now know which bank I’m going back to, mainly for their exceptional security service. They knew exactly when to block fraudulent/suspicious activity before it landed on my statement. Saved me a lot of stress in having to prove it wasn’t me who made the transaction.

Summarising the process of using frequent flyer credit cards:

In conclusion, here is a quick revision of the process to get a free ticket using frequent flyer credit cards:

1.

Analyse all the bonus frequent flyer offers.

2.

Analyse the finer details, such as;
- qualifying period and minimum spend
- points earned for monthly spend
- free travel insurance requirements

3.

Check the ticket taxes of the flights you want to book.

4.

Add up your total expenses = credit card annual fee + ticket taxes.

5.

Use Skyscanner to search for the cheapest fare that is currently available to your next holiday destination.

6.

Compare the costs then select the best bonus deal for you. Go ahead and apply.

7.

Create a master list of all your direct debit payees – and always keep it updated.

If credit cards is not for you, then check out my blog on how to book the cheapest flight like a pro and fly cheaply instead. Also, you don't have to travel with a credit card either when there are other options to travel with money.

So, as long as you are responsible with credit card spending, then this is one sure way to get a free flight on your next holiday. Where would you go with your frequent flyer credit card free flight?

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About the author

Lisa is a travel gypsy by heart, having already been to over 70 countries and still counting. Founder of Travel Groove, to share travel tips, tricks and knowledge with other travellers.

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