As much as Chris and I love travel, and try to travel frequently, we never thought we would earn enough frequent flyers points to make even a dent in our next flight. Big Mistake. We weren’t even signed up to an airlines frequent flyer program… which is free?!
But desperate times call for desperate measures. So at the end of last year, when I knew I was on the brink of quitting my job, the one thing that was really important to me, was making sure I could still afford to travel. Priorities :)
That’s when I decided to look into getting a travel credit card that could help me earn some frequent flyers points, and finally join a frequent flyer program. And you are about to find out exactly how that all went, and our results after the past year.
Three Common Misconceptions With Frequent Flyers Points
The amount of points I had missed out on, for falling for these misconceptions, well, I don’t want to think about. So here they are so you don’t need to miss out too:
1. You have to be a frequent flyer
I’m not saying this won’t help, it will. But you can earn points on anything from your rent to your dinner. If you can pay for it with a card, you can earn points on it. On top of that, you can shop through frequent flyer program partners and earn bonus points even without a credit card.
2. You have to be a points or travel hacking genius for it to be worthwhile
Based on the fact that it took me so long to even sign up for a free frequent flyers program, you can see that I was no expert. But over the last year I’ve learnt enough to reap the rewards. If you learn a few basics, then you can earn frequent flyers points and save on flights too.
3. You need 1000 credit cards or giant sign up bonuses to get anywhere
This was a big one for me. Lots of “travel hacks” are based in the US, where they also have giant sign up bonuses for credit cards and the system works a little differently. I live in Australia, and although the occasional points bonus comes with a credit card sign up, the best ones are usually for the cards that are for people already earning a lot of money, and they come with hefty annual fees. I also didn’t want to have too many credit cards, because debt sucks and I didn’t want a bad credit rating. But you will see below how I have earned points even without the giant sign up bonuses, and all with two credit cards between Chris and I.
4. Credit Cards = Debt
As I mentioned, I was strongly against ever having a credit card, or so I thought. But what I was really strongly against was getting into debt and spending money that I didn’t have. Then I realised the two are separate.
I would never advocate someone who was not good with their money to get a credit card. If you can’t afford to pay it off each month in full, then you can’t afford a credit card. I’m not saying you need a certain amount of money to get a credit card, only that you need to know you won’t spend more just because you have one. If you are paying your living expenses now out of your money, then you may as well pay for it with a credit card and earn points for those expenses. Making a credit card work for you rather than the other way around. It also means that your actual money can stay in a savings account for the month and earn interest, until your bill is due. We have not paid one cent of interest on credit cards since we got them.
Frequent Flyers Program
We joined two frequent flyers programs; Singapore Airlines Krisflyer Program and Virgin’s Velocity. We love both these airlines, had flown both before, and they have a partnership program between the two of them, meaning you can transfer points to either program. I really don’t think you need to be too concerned about which one, just make sure if you fly with an airline, you join their program. Yes, there are differences between program to program, but if you’re just starting out, pick an airline you will fly often, and that’s it.
We then joined Aegean Air, as we were flying on a couple of flights with them, they are part of the star alliance along with Singapore airlines, which meant we could transfer our points to our Krisflyer program.
Joining all three programs is free and simple, just sign up online.
There are definitely some higher level actions you can take with joining frequent flyer programs to maximise your points, but our main goal was to keep it simple even if that meant not getting as many points or benefits as we could. This might change later, but for now it’s not our focus. You might be wondering what I mean, so I’ll give you an example. At the time of joining, I researched the best programs to maximise points, and at the time, Aegean Air had a lower number of points you needed to reach “gold status”, which also entitles you to gold status on other star alliance airlines (including Singapore Airlines). Once you reach gold status on Aegean, to renew, you need less than 50% of the points required to renew on Singapore Airlines, which means you could retain your gold status (which has many benefits including earning more miles per flight), with less points. Ultimately, this will earn you more points and save you more money. But it’s a little too much time and effort then I’m willing to put in at the moment. And I’m hoping I will fly so much that it won’t matter :)
Choosing The Right Credit Card
One thing I never use to compare or choose credit cards is interest rate for outstanding balances. Why? Because you should never have to pay it.
So to choose a credit card in Australia, I looked at these main things:
- First I narrowed the field to credit cards that provided travel benefits. One of my favourite sights for research was www.pointhacks.com.au
- Then I narrowed even further for credit cards I was eligible for.
- Then I looked for any that had bonus points for signing up.
- How many rewards points per dollar you would get.
- What the conversion rate was for a specific frequent flyer program.
- How much the annual fee was.
- I compared each cards pro’s and con’s and made a judgement call, based on my circumstances and priorities.
And this is what ended up being my top two:
- Citibank Platinum Rewards Card
- American Express Platinum Edge Card
Now I’ll show you the specifics of each one:
Citibank Platinum Rewards
Points Per Dollar | 1.25 points per dollar in Australia, 3 points per dollar overseas or on international purchases
Conversion to Singapore Airlines Krisflyer Miles | 2 rewards points = 1 Krisflyer Mile
Bonus Points for Sign-up | Nil
Annual fee | Nil (usually $199)
Worth Noting | I received a “no annual fee for life” promotion Citibank had for family and friends. The points per dollar and conversion rate are both now a lower value compared to when I first signed up.
American Express Platinum Edge Card
Points Per Dollar | 3 points per dollar spent at major supermarkets, 2 points per dollar at petrol stations, 1 point per dollar for most other items, 0.5 points per dollar on utilities
Conversion to Singapore Airlines Krisflyer Miles | 1 rewards point = 1 Krisflyer Mile
Bonus Points for Sign-up | 15 000 points
Annual fee | $195
Worth Noting | We got an extra 5000 bonus points by signing up through a referral link through www.pointhacks.com.au. You receive 1 x return domestic flight per year.
So as you can see above, for everyday purchases in Australia, the American Express Platinum Edge card is probably the most valuable for us to use for the majority of items. However, for utilities, online international purchases and purchases whilst overseas, the Citibank Platinum Rewards Card still works out better. As mentioned, when I first signed up for Citibank, the value was higher, but unfortunately over the course of the year this has decreased. It is nice knowing it is Annual Fee Free for life, and is still the winner overseas.
Could I have got more valuable cards with higher conversions? Probably, but I chose the cards with other things in mind like airline partners and numerous other personal things. And I also chose these cards a year ago, and as you can see, rewards can change in value. So these two cards are not the best cards for everyone, but they were the best for us, with our circumstances, at the time of researching.
How We Earned Frequent Flyer Points
- Small credit card sign up bonus + extra bonus for referral from www.pointhacks.com.au (this specific referral bonus is not available at the time of writing this article)
- Paying every expense possible with credit card, including rent, phone bills, food, entertainment, gifts, clothes, medical bills etc (and paying it off in full at the end of each month)
- Using Citibank Platinum Credit Card to pay for online international purchases and expenses whilst overseas
- Joining free Airline Frequent Flyers Programs and putting membership number in when buying plane tickets
- Booking/paying for things through Frequent Flyer Program Partnerships (some things we accrued points on include Europcar car hire, Agoda hotel bookings)
- Using the most valuable cards for the right situations to maximise points
These are the main ways we accrued Frequent Flyers points, and as you can see, none of them are out of the ordinary, none of them require you to be an expert travel hacker, and we did not spend anything more than normal. Did some of them require a little bit of research and planning, sure, but it’s something that anyone can do.
How Many Frequent Flyers Points Did We Earn And What Does That Equal In Travel?
Now for the juicy stuff. When I first signed up for Frequent flyer programs and travel credit cards, I thought at best, I would love to have one return ticket from Sydney to Bali, or somewhere in Asia, by the end of the year. That way, Chris and I could go on a holiday to Asia and only pay for one flight. Did we reach our goal? Take a look at the table below for our results. I have converted all points and results into Krisflyer points, as this is the main frequent flyer program we use.
Citibank Platinum Rewards Card = 65,845
American Express Platinum Edge Card = 43,224
Mandy’s Krisflyer Membership = 29,465
Chris Krisflyer Membership = 24,585
Total Krisflyer Miles = 163,119
So what does all this mean for travel? You can use your miles for many things, but we will probably use ours for flights with Singapore Airlines, so we will show you what flights we could get with these miles.
On Singapore Airlines Krisflyer program you can buy your tickets online and save another 15% in miles for doing so. A return trip from Sydney to London would be 80, 750 miles using this system. Therefore we could get 2 x return flights from Sydney to London (with a little left over). Or we could get 2 x return flights to Hong Kong, 1 x return flight to Bali and 1 x one-way flight to Bali (with a little left over). Or many other combinations. This can also include one free stopover too.
Is this ground breaking? Maybe not. Is it pretty fantastic that for not spending any more money this year, we now have a minimum of 2 x return international flights…..? Absolutely! And to think we could have been doing this for the last few years, spending the same amount, we could have easily had 4 times the amount of points. The beauty of hindsight.
How Can You Do The Same? (And you can)
The point of this article was to show you how two people, with a little bit of research and planning, were able to get enough frequent flyer points for a Sydney to London return flight each, in less than one year, without going credit card crazy, without living in the US where there is huge frequent flyer promotions, and without spending more money than usual. The point is, it can be done. Now you have seen exactly how we did it, but we wanted to emphasise some important tips:
- If you do get a credit card, make sure you pay it off in full each month. If you don’t, you will pay hefty interest, and although you are earning points, you are now paying for them too (and maybe paying more than they are worth).
- Join a frequent flyer program for free
- Always see if your frequent flyer program has partnerships were you could get bonus points. Only use these partners if you actually need to buy something from them, and keep in mind that not all partners have to do with travel (so you can earn points without travelling).
- Look out for credit card deals or extra referral bonus points, as well as points deals. In Australia, www.pointhacks.com.au is great for this.
- It pays to do a little research to maximise your points. Here is a link to travel hacking resources on Chris Guillebeau’s website (a travel hacking expert)
Do you save money on travel with frequent flyers points?
If you have any questions, or any tips to share, we would love to hear from you in the comments below….