Hi Frugalistas! I’ve been writing a bit lately about using frequent flyer miles. Both my Singapore Airlines Business Class flight and my wonderful foie gras lunch were completely free, courtesy of frequent flyer miles. I haven’t written about earning frequent flyer miles since 2012. For Australian readers, our world is changing as the Qantas and Woolworths frequent flyer points program closes at the end of this year. Yes, rules around earning frequent flyer miles do change. So keeping up to date is key. Here is an update on what I’m doing to earn points, and what you (yes, you!) can start doing today to maximise your points too.
How I have my frequent flyer accounts set up
I have membership of three programs: the Qantas Frequent Flyer program, the Virgin Australia Velocity program and the Etihad Guest program. Because I can earn and redeem Velocity points on Etihad I tend to not use the Etihad program these days, so that the points from those airlines are consolidated. You can’t switch points between the two.
I have a credit card that is linked to my Velocity account. So anything I spend automatically generates Velocity points. Then I have an American Express card with a Membership Rewards program. My Velocity, Etihad and Qantas memberships are all registered with this program. Regular readers will know that I like to keep these points sitting in my American Express account. That way I can transfer them as I need to top up points if I’m just short for a trip.
Then I have a Woolworths Everyday Rewards card that will earn me Qantas points every week when we do our supermarket shopping. But as we Aussies all know, that program finishes at the end of 2015. I’ll be talking about some specific Qantas strategies for 2016 later in the post.
Earning frequent flyer miles without traveling
I earn most of my frequent flyer miles without flying.
I rarely pay cash for any purchases. I use my cards (and then make sure I pay them off so I don’t pay interest.) Without having do anything special, different, or conscious, that earns me thousands of points every month. And I don’t step on a plane.
Keep an eye out for special offers on your credit card. As I write this, the Virgin Australia Velocity program has a 15% bonus on all points. Depending on how many points you are earning on other cards, it may be worth swapping as many purchases as possible onto that card to maximise your earnings.
There are two critical things to remember with earning points from credit card purchases: don’t spend money just to get the points, and always, always, always pay your card off at the end of the month. Otherwise you are just wasting money.
When choosing a card that is linked to a frequent flyer program, there are some important things to consider. Firstly, look carefully at the points earned per dollar spent. Some cards have capped earnings per month or per annum, so make sure you are not going to exceed that limit, or you are spending money you are not earning points on. And therefore foregoing precious points. Similarly, some cards have lower earnings per dollar spent than others. You want to look for a card with 1 point per dollar (at least) if you can find one. Finally, make sure you are clear about any annual fees and interest rates, and that you are comfortable with them.
There are many premium travellers out there who fund their travel entirely via credit cards. In fact there are entire websites dedicated to credit card deals for frequent flyer miles programs. Often card companies will offer great sign up bonuses (think 20, 50 or sometimes even 200 thousand points) in return for a minimum spend. If you want to, you can sign up, meet the minimum spend, pay the card off and cancel the card. Then repeat. Sometimes over, and over and over again. Churning credit cards is not something I personally do. I just don’t have the time. Check out some of the specialised travel hacking websites below for more info if you are interested.
How to earn frequent flyer miles without credit card points
I know that in many countries credit cards just don’t offer linkages with frequent flyer programs. I also know that not everybody wants to use credit cards, or have multiple cards. So how do you earn points?
This is where I turn to the airline frequent flyer program website. Spend a little time cruising around your program’s website.
There will undoubtably be opportunities to earn points via hotels and car rentals. There will probably also be some sort of online store, where you can use your frequent flyer login to buy online – and earn points while you do it. Some airlines will also offer points for using services such as online takeaway food ordering sites, wine clubs and plenty of other goodies. Personally, I use the Velocity eStore often to buy goods and services that I would buy anyway. By going through the Velocity eStore I earn points on every purchase, without spending any more money than I would normally. And of course, pay with your program linked credit card to maximise your earnings!
As always, do not spend more than you would normally just to get points. But if you would buy the goods, or use the services anyway, reap the rewards.
How to earn Qantas Frequent Flyer points in 2016
So now, Australian readers. What are you going to do about that Qantas Frequent Flyer program? Realistically, you’ve got two options – fly Qantas or a partner airline, or get smart.
Personally, I’m in a bit of a pickle. We don’t fly Qantas anymore, so we can keep our points and, more importantly, our status credits, consolidated on our Virgin accounts. And Qantas has a rule that you need to have activity on your account every 18months, or you forfeit the lot (reputedly without notice). Up till now I’ve treated our Qantas accounts as something of an investment. As part of our pension plan for Mr frugalfirstclass and I. And as a nice little nest egg for Miss G for when she turns 18. Mr frugalfirstclass has a credit card that pays points directly into his Qantas account, so he’s not a problem. But Miss G and I both relied on Woolworths Every Day rewards cards for our points growth, and to keep our accounts active.
But I have a plan.
Qantas has what it refers to as an online mall. It’s where all its retail partners are found. While it is not as extensive as the massive Virgin Velocity online store, it does have some interesting options. Like David Jones for example. And the Apple Store. Or if they don’t work for you, what about iTunes (yes, iTunes!), or Bonds, or Priceline or Smiggle. These are all stores we use. These are all stores we are currently not earning points from. That will be changing. I’ll alternate between Miss G and my accounts to keep them both ticking over.
Then there’s wine via the Qantas Epicure program (although the wine is fairly expensive to my eye), there’s iTunes and JB Hifi digital gift vouchers. All sorts of options you may not have considered…….
A new Qantas initiative that I’m already using is the new Qantas Bing desk top tool. Download the Qantas desk top tool to your PC browser and search via Bing. Earn 1 point per eligible search, up to a maximum of 150 points a month. Be aware they will be enabling cookies, so you can anticipate they will be using your search history.
Remember too that you can share points with other family members on the Qantas program. Great for topping up before you make a booking, or for keeping a dormant account active.
Woolworths say they will be passing on additional savings to shoppers in light of the Qantas program ceasing. Whether that happens will obviously remain to be seen. And then there are those $10 redemptions for buying the orange tagged products. I’ve already started buying products with the orange tags that I would buy normally and are non-perishable in extra quantities. Once I get my $10 redemption, it’s going into a “travel fund” to go towards hotel accommodation, meals when traveling etc. I’m also keeping track of the savings I’m making by buying items on sale (and yes, I buy up on those too while they are on sale). That’s going in too. And of course, I’m paying with my American Express card.
I’ve never counted how much travel I have funded with frequent flyer miles. Given I fly Business or First Class, it is clearly in the tens of thousands of dollars over the years. And you know what? I haven’t spent a single extra dollar to get it. I’ve learned to be an educated and savvy consumer of frequent flyer programs. And I genuinely believe you can do that too.
Maybe it won’t be a First Class flight to Europe and back, but even if your dream trip is more humble, these are all achievable strategies, regardless of your income, where you live, or your budget.
If you want to find out more about earning points with credit cards, travel hacking and card churning strategies, check out:
Or search for “travel hacking” (set up the Qantas desk top menu and you’ll earn a point!)