Five credit card strategies to maximise your frequent flyer points

By Chris Chamberlin, May 20 2014

There's no such thing as having too many frequent flyer points. So why not make the most of every opportunity to pick up more points and keep your Qantas or Virgin Australia balance looking healthy?

Here are five simple but little-used strategies to build up your points.

Use your frequent flyer credit cards for every purchase, every day

This may seem like an obvious one, but don’t just settle for using credit most of the time. Instead, swipe that card every time you make a purchase.

Whether you’re grabbing a drink from a vending machine or buying an Express Post envelope at Australia Post, these small amounts all add up over time.

Sure, it’s a minor hassle to hunt down smaller retailers with no EFTPOS minimums (and American Express merchants), but you’ll find many businesses are just happy to take your money, regardless of how you pay.

Things get even easier when a merchant uses a 'tap and go' terminal for card payments.

In fairness, you may encounter the odd credit card surcharge, so you’ll need to decide if the extra fee is worth the points.

And of course, you’ll also need to stay on top of your payments.

This is the cardinal rule of using a credit card to maximise your points: any interest fees and charges will negate your frequent flyer bounty.

Avoid using BPAY

Most banks don’t pay any points on BPAY transactions, including those funded by frequent flyer credit cards, so pay each bill with your credit card – whether that’s over the phone or through the biller’s website.

Your payment will then be treated as a ‘regular’ transaction, and you’ll find the points hitting your account in no time.

If you’re a little time-poor, set up direct debit for your regular payments, but use your credit card as the finance source – things like gym memberships, telephone accounts and health insurance lend themselves well to this.

Pay the tax man with plastic

If you lodge your income tax return and wind up with a tax debt, do the smart thing and pay the ATO by credit card.

This isn’t limited to personal tax – credit cards can also be used to pay off HECS debts and to cover business tax obligations:

Capped at $50,000 per transaction, larger debts can be broken down into a number of smaller payments – although you’ll want to use your business or corporate card for this, or risk having your personal card cancelled for inappropriate use.

(You may even be able to claim the ATO’s credit card surcharge as a tax deduction, but we’ll leave this one for your accountant.)

Even if making a personal tax payment, be sure to check that your particular card pays enough points on tax transactions, as some cards don’t earn points at the usual rate.

Set your Opal, Myki or Go Card to auto top-up

For convenience and points, set your public transport card to automatic top-up, again with your credit card as the source.

Not only can you ‘set and forget’, you’ll never need to scrounge for change for the bus or train again!

Of course, if you want to squeeze every possible point from your public transport fares, you won’t find American Express or Diners Club card accepted through these online interfaces… don’t fret, there’s a workaround:

Head to a participating 7-Eleven with your AMEX or Diners card and top-up your Opal, Myki or Go Card manually. Simple!

Use American Express through PayPal where AMEX isn’t otherwise accepted

Let’s face it – while American Express is generally accepted by most large companies, you’ll still encounter many retailers that haven’t signed up to the idea, particularly online.

Fortunately for us, many of these businesses accept PayPal in addition to Visa and MasterCard.

But because PayPal accepts AMEX, you can set up your AMEX card to fund your PayPal account.

So, next time you’re shopping online and can’t spot the AMEX logo, look for a PayPal icon instead!

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Chris Chamberlin

Chris Chamberlin is the Associate Editor of Executive Traveller and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, a great latte, a theatre ticket and a glass of wine!



08 Apr 2014

Total posts 15

I think you need to work out if a point is worth more than the surchage!

I worked it out with my cards, I get 0.90% back in rewards points with my Amex, so if I get hit with 1.43% surcharge as the ATO does, I'm actually better off keeping my dollars, it's a false economy.

Wasn't the RBA talking about making credit card surcharges illegal at one point?



24 Apr 2012

Total posts 2917

Hi davidmk,

I suppose it depends on the value that you can get back from your points – but it's worth noting that some (but not all) AMEX cards pay out significantly less points on ATO transactions, which could affect the cost/worth equation of the points being earned.

By redeeming for business or first class flights (or upgrades), I can routinely get 6-7c worth of value from each point – and when it's possible to earn, say, 2 points per $1 when travelling, a 3% foreign transaction fee is nothing when compared with a return of 12-14%.

Of course, those ridiculous 11% credit card surcharges in taxis really push it...



11 Mar 2012

Total posts 285

Probably good to avoid direct earn credit cards as well.  Keep your points stockpiled with the credit card provider, not with any one particular airline.



Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

20 Mar 2014

Total posts 33

I think that more depends on your strategy. If your strategy and goals are skewed towards accumulating for one (or two) airlines, then direct earn is not such a bad thing if it helps you better than some of the banks' programmes.

Some direct earn cards will offer better earn rates than a bank programme followed by a sweep.

If diversification or flexibility with your points is desirable, then of course your advice is well heeded. An American Express card with Membership Rewards is especially useful in my experience.

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