Dear Lifehacker, I am starting to collect points from different airlines. I am starting to sign up to credit cards as a part of my effort to do so — Amex has been rewarding because we can transfer the points to Singapore Airlines, Etihad, and so on. Do you have any tips to earn more points? I know buying wine from the Qantas online store is one of the best ways, but I don’t spend on wine. Thanks, Rena
I fly a lot on other people's dime, so I'm lucky enough that I get most of my frequent flyer points directly from air travel rather than the ancillary spend or from other bonuses. Being a frequent flyer of high status also multiplies how many points you earn, so the system is rigged in my favour already.
But that doesn't mean I don't try to earn points every other way I can, too. Basically what I do to max my points earning is to keep track of every potential way I could be earning points, and take advantage of it — as long as doing that wouldn't cost me more than the points themselves are worth in free flights or upgrades or other potential uses.
I funnel all my points earning into two places — Qantas Frequent Flyer and Virgin Australia's Velocity. That combo covers pretty much any flight I could really want to take, because the two major Aussie airlines have partnerships that span the entire planet, and you can earn and use those points on a bunch of different carriers.
Here's what it comes down to, though: every single thing that you pay for, try to pay for it in a way that earns you points. I'm that annoying person that asks everywhere if they take American Express, and whether there's a surcharge. Amex has become a lot more reasonable with its interchange fees with some banks recently, so there are more and more places that will let you use Amex without a surcharge.
Choosing a good points earning credit card for all of your everyday spending is important. As well as a good sign-up bonus, you want a card that will give you as many points per dollar as possible, and on as wide a range of purchases as possible too. Then you have to use it.
If you did drink wine and enjoy it enough to not buy the $5 a bottle Aldi stuff, buying a case from the Qantas epiQure store would be a great way to earn Qantas points — especially with all the promotions they always have going on. If you do end up at Aldi with a dozen bottles of 'dry white blend', though, the Aldi credit card fee might not be offset by the number of points you'd earn from that purchase.
If you have private health cover, look for one that gives you a sign-up bonus and the opportunity to keep earning points as you pay. If you rent, see if you can pay with your credit card. If you catch the train to work, top up your Opal card from credit. If you buy groceries, make sure you swipe your loyalty card and your credit card and earn twice.
There's a lot of synergy (ugh, that word) between different groups of businesses, too. If you want to earn Qantas points, shop at Woolworths and buy booze at BWS and buy petrol at Caltex. If you want to earn Velocity points, shop at Coles and book restaurants through OpenTable and buy petrol at BP. That kind of thing stacks up quicker than you'd think.
It's a whole lot of number crunching and back-of-the-napkin paperwork, but if you're not actively losing out on a good deal somewhere else, I tend to choose the points-earning option whenever I can, even if it costs a tiny premium. That way I can keep earning points and not waste any money, as I see it.
Plenty of credit cards offer sign-up points bonuses that you can directly transfer into Australia's most popular frequent flyer services. My American Express Velocity Platinum card, for example, got me 100,000 Velocity points as well as a good ongoing rate — as well as a couple of free flights, which for me is worth the annual fee.
Signing up to new cards for the points bonus, getting those points, and then cancelling the cards later is the best way to do it (as long as you don't do it enough to impact your credit score!), but so time consuming.
By the way, there's a US practice called 'manufactured spend' that doesn't really exist in Australia these days, but you can take some inspiration from. The idea of manufactured spend is to basically use your credit card to buy currency — prepaid Visa cards, for example — and then get the points for that transaction, then use the card itself to pay off your credit account balance.
It doesn't work in Australia, but the idea of using your credit card for everything within reason makes sense. Link it to your PayPal if you're doing online shopping, or just pay for your online shopping using the card directly. I only use my savings card as an absolute last resort.
If you're travelling, use a competitive way to earn points on the purchases you make there — cash is tempting when you're out of the country, but if you do your research, you won't be losing that opportunity to earn. I have a Velocity Global Wallet card as well as Qantas Cash, and, if the conversion fees and exchange rates are favourable, that can be a good backup to your main card.
By the way — just make sure you pay off your credit card balance well in advance of any interest period. Once you get to that point, you're throwing money away, and no amount of points is worth that wasted cash.