Maximise your points in the Commonwealth Awards credit card program

By Chris Chamberlin, April 20 2015
Maximise your points in the Commonwealth Awards credit card program

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You should seek independent advice and consider your own personal circumstances before applying for any financial product.

Whether you’re chasing frequent flyer points with Qantas or Virgin Australia, the Commonwealth Bank Awards program gives you the flexibility to earn with either airline without having to switch credit cards if your preferences change.

CBA customers can swipe their Awards credit cards to earn Commonwealth Awards points on their everyday transactions, which can then be converted into Virgin Australia Velocity points or automatically shipped across to Qantas each month.

But there are few quirks to the program that can both help and hinder your points haul – here’s what to look out for.

Commonwealth Awards 101

Points can be earned on the bank’s range of Awards-branded credit cards, including Diamond Awards, Platinum Awards, Gold Awards and basic, entry-level ‘Awards’ cards.

All new accounts feature both an American Express card and a MasterCard which can be used in tandem to maximise your Awards balance.

For every dollar spent, that MasterCard scoops up one Awards point for base, Gold and Platinum members, and 1.25 Awards points if your wallet packs the Diamond card.

Yet we’d suggest keeping the MasterCard only as a backup for when American Express isn’t accepted, as the AMEX reels in 1.5 Awards points per dollar with the basic card, two points with the Gold, 2.5 points via Platinum and three points for Diamond Awards customers.

In short: By being savvy and using a Diamond Awards American Express card wherever you can, you’ll earn three times as many points as the average punter who whips out their entry-level Awards MasterCard.

Commonwealth Awards: earning frequent flyer points

“Three points per dollar” sounds great on paper, but if Qantas or Virgin Australia frequent flyer points are the goal, the earning rates are a little more ambiguous.

Diamond cardholders need to divide the CBA Awards earning rate in half to calculate what they’d actually earn in frequent flyer currency – that’s 1.5 Qantas or Velocity points per dollar on the AMEX and 0.625 points on the attached Diamond MasterCard.

The same goes for Platinum, with 1.25 frequent flyer points up for grabs on the AMEX, and a lower 0.5 points per dollar on the MasterCard.

Here’s where things get even more confusing – the conversion rate from Awards points to frequent flyer points differs for basic and Gold cards: you’ll instead need to divide the Awards figure by 2.5, rather than 2.0.

That means that while the basic, Gold and Platinum MasterCards all earn the same one Awards point per dollar, Awards and Gold Awards customers net just 0.4 frequent flyer points on their MasterCards – making them Australia’s worst credit cards for earning frequent flyer points.

Over on the AMEX, you’re looking at 0.6 points per dollar with the basic card or 0.8 points per dollar through Gold Awards.

Converting Awards points to frequent flyer points

It’s easy to swap your Awards points for Velocity frequent flyer points: just access NetBank, click the Awards icon next to your credit card and select Virgin Australia:

You’ll need to transfer a minimum of 3,600 Awards points at a time – that’s 1,800 Velocity points for Platinum and Diamond cardholders or 1,440 for Awards and Gold Awards customers – and then beyond that in increments of 1,000 Awards points.

Rather than transferring them every time you have enough for a free flight, it’s worth considering that Virgin Australia tends to run a 10-15% bonus on CBA Awards transfers roughly once a year, so unless you need those points now, there’s no harm in holding out for a better deal.

Or to earn Qantas Points, you’ll need to call the bank on 131 661, opt-in to ‘Qantas Frequent Flyer Direct’ and pay an additional $10/year in fees, which sees your Awards points automatically converted into Qantas Points every month.

This is the only way to earn Qantas points via the CBA – you can’t transfer them manually to Qantas as you can with Velocity, and if you opt-in with an existing Awards balance, that balance will remain in your Awards account rather than also being transferred across to Qantas.

Commonwealth Awards: earning bonus points

Using either your CBA Awards American Express or CBA Awards MasterCard at a number of bonus partners nets one extra Awards point per dollar spent, including with Bob Jane T-Marts, Crown Towers, Prouds the Jewellers, RedBalloon and Thrifty.

You’ll collect a higher two Awards points per dollar at Marque and Rendezvous Hotels in Australia atop your usual haul, and if you’ve opted-in to earn Qantas Points, these bonus points are also converted over to Qantas at your card’s usual conversion rate.

But keep an eye on your credit card statement to ensure you actually receive those bonus points – if they’re not awarded and clearly labelled as such, phone the bank to submit a manual points claim.

Disappointingly, there are also no airline partners on that prized list, which has also shrunk in recent times to now exclude businesses such as Roses Only and the Sony Centre online store.

CBA Awards: other ways to use your points

Beyond the expected toasters, iPhones and other appliances, your Awards points can also be used to cover your credit card’s annual fee with a value per point of roughly $0.0051, requiring 68,000 Awards points to cover the $349 Diamond annual fee.

Points can also be redeemed in-store at Myer at the rate of 186 points = $1. If you’ve opted-in to Qantas Direct but still have some Awards points to burn, it’s a great way to clear your ‘trapped’ balance without affecting your Qantas setup.

Flight Centre is also an Awards partner, with every point yielding roughly $0.0054 towards your next flight with most major airlines worldwide.

But for the best bang for your buck, look to redeem your Commonwealth Awards points with Qantas or Virgin Australia, where frequent flyer points can be worth upwards of five cents each when redeemed in the right way.

Also read: CBA Diamond Awards credit card review

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Executive Traveller may receive a commission when you apply for these credit cards via our links.

You should seek independent advice and consider your own personal circumstances before applying for any financial product.

Chris Chamberlin

Chris Chamberlin is the Associate Editor of Executive Traveller, and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins not just with a single step, but also a strong latte, a theatre ticket, and later in the day, a good gin and tonic.

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26 Mar 2015

Total posts 4

Great article on the CBA credit card.  Is there any chance you will be doing a similar expose on Citibank cards.  I’m especially interested in the prestige card and how the high points earning capacity ranks when using the card overseas compared to cards such as 28 Degrees with no points and no currency exchange fee.

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