Score a free return flight every year with these six credit cards

By Chris Chamberlin, November 17 2016
Disclaimer

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.

Many credit cards in Australia offer frequent flyer points on your everyday spend, but six choice cards go above and beyond by offering you a free return flight every year: no points required.

You’ll still earn frequent flyer points on these cards, of course, but here’s what’s on the table to get your next holiday off to a flying start, even when leaving your points at home.

American Express Explorer Card

Sign up for the new American Express Explorer Card and you’ll pocket a $400 ‘travel credit’ every year to spend on airfares with the airline of your choosing: either towards the cost of a business class ticket or by taking advantage of lower-priced economy fares on a return journey.

There’s an annual fee of $395 to pay – more than offset by that $400 travel credit – and you’ll also enjoy two visits to the American Express Sydney Airport Lounge each year when flying overseas, plus up to 50,000 Membership Rewards Gateway points for eligible new cardholders.

In short, if you’re already shopping for a credit card and are willing to pay an annual fee, it makes sense to consider a card that literally transforms that fee into travel, over one that doesn’t.

American Express Platinum Charge Card

The top-of-the-line American Express Platinum Charge Card instead delivers a $300 travel credit aside a host of other perks and a $1,200 annual fee.

Again, you can use that credit towards flights with any airline, or even towards the cost of hotels or car hire: perfect when extending a business trip with a little leisure time if you’re already in your favourite city.

Cardholders also receive unlimited access to Virgin Australia domestic lounges when travelling onward with the airline – plus American Express, Delta, Plaza Premium and Priority Pass lounges across the globe – with up to 100,000 Membership Rewards Ascent Premium bonus points on offer for eligible new customers.

American Express Platinum Edge credit card

Taking a nod from the Explorer Card’s book, the American Express Platinum Edge credit card serves up a $200 travel credit each year against a $195 annual fee (waived in the first year): so before you’ve earned any points, you’re already ahead.

Use that credit to snap up some great economy fares and take a return trip, or towards the cost of a more expensive ticket on the route and with the airline of your preference.

New cardholders can also earn 5,000 bonus Membership Rewards Ascent points by signing up and spending at least $750 on the card within the first three months, although airport lounge access isn’t a perk offered via this card.

American Express Velocity Platinum Card

Forget the idea of buying your free flight using ‘travel credits’: the American Express Velocity Platinum Card keeps things simple by offering a free Virgin Australia return economy flight on selected routes after you first spend on the card, and again every year thereafter.

For Sydney residents, that could take you as far north as Cairns or as far west as Adelaide, although cross-country flights aren’t part of the deal unless you live in Perth and begin the journey there: in which case, you can use your flight to fly return from Perth to Sydney.

The card carries a $349 annual fee, which also gets you two free visits to Virgin Australia domestic lounges each year, two further visits to the AMEX Lounge at Sydney Airport and up to 50,000 bonus Velocity points as a new customer after spending at least $1,500 within the first three months.

ANZ Rewards Travel Adventures cards

Like flying with Virgin Australia but prefer a little more variety? Then check out the newly-launched ANZ Rewards Travel Adventures cards, which also offer a return economy flight but which can be taken on almost any domestic Virgin Australia route.

After spending $500 on eligible purchases within the first three months, you could opt for a return jaunt from Sydney to Perth, or indeed zip about on other long flights like Melbourne-Darwin and Brisbane-Hobart. Naturally, short hops like Sydney-Canberra are fine too.

With a $225 annual fee, you’ll also receive two Virgin Australia lounge passes to use every year – either on that free trip or at your leisure – and you won’t be charged any international transaction fees when spending abroad, either on the AMEX or the accompanying Visa.

Qantas American Express Ultimate Card

Last but certainly not least in our line-up, the Qantas American Express Ultimate Card and its free return Qantas domestic economy flight each year.

You’ll get that flight after you first spend with Qantas, both in the first year and every year thereafter, whether that’s paying for a separate trip or to cover your annual Qantas Club membership.

Also thrown in are two visits each calendar year to the AMEX Lounge at Sydney Airport to help offset the card’s $450 annual fee, plus a bonus of 50,000 Qantas Points for eligible new applicants who spend at least $1,500 within the first three months.

Disclaimer

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 with a single step, a great latte, a theatre ticket and a glass of wine!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

25 Jan 2013

Total posts 246

Nice review. Is the $200 credit on the Platinum Edge card new? It looks like they've swapped it in and ended the simple 'free domestic return flight every year' thing which is a shame. I suppose it is still there as you could cash in the $200 for the flight you would have used for the freebie and that would also mean more ariety in destinations then the freebie.
Hi Jono, yes, AMEX changed the Platinum Edge offer for new customers last week, although I believe existing customers who signed up during the 'free return flight' offer will continue to receive that benefit.

QANTAS

12 Jun 2014

Total posts 23

Do we earn status credits when we book using the free tickets? Thank you 
Hi Richard, when you use the 'travel credit' included with some of the AMEX cards above, you'll earn status credits on those flights as though you'd purchased the ticket with your own money, as you're using that value to purchase a paid fare.

However, status credits aren't normally earned on the 'free return flights' included with the other AMEX and ANZ cards.

QANTAS

12 Jun 2014

Total posts 23

Thank you Chris

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 May 2012

Total posts 140

One thing to note about the Amex Platinum Charge Card -  if you sign up a supplementary cardholder, the 2nd card gets a completely free return flight (just like the Qantas Amex Ultimate Card). And a supplementary card doesn't cost anything. So you get the $300 for lights + a free return flight. 

05 Aug 2014

Total posts 9

I recently applied for this card, after AMEX relaxed the bonus point eligibility rule. However, I am not aware of this free flight for supplementary cardholder thing. What I am aware of, and hoping for, is the complimentary Platinum Reserve Credit card, which is available ONLY upon specific request, which comes with an annual free flight offer. Not sure if we are looking at the same "benefit/feature".

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 May 2012

Total posts 140

Gilbert - no. It's a different benefit. Just ring up AMEX and ask about a Supplementary Card and you can ask about the free Australian domestic return flight per year.

Aegean Airlines - Miles & Bonus

15 Jun 2016

Total posts 19

Hi Chris, I currently have the Platinum Edge - do you know if the process is relatively simple to swap over to the Qantas Ultimate? I'd like to take advantage of the bonus rewards on sign-up and accrue points for Qantas which I can't currently do with the Platinum Edge.
Hi Yanni, you'll need to contact American Express directly to discuss this one.

11 Mar 2012

Total posts 294

Yanni, be aware these offers are generally for "new customers."  As you already have an AMEX card you may not be considered new. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer - Chairmans Lounge

01 Sep 2011

Total posts 364

Just to check something - ive had an AMEX Platinum charge card for a very long time and every year they always did a free Y class domestic return ticket. I only used it once. Has that changed? Above its suggesting its a $300 travel credit.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 May 2012

Total posts 140

Crosscourt, I recently signed up or the AMEX Platinum charge card, and yes, the deal i got as no only the $300 credit. But I as told if I took a supplementary card (or my wife), teh 2nd card would get the free domestic return. The 2nd card comes fee free so it's a no brainer really.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer - Chairmans Lounge

01 Sep 2011

Total posts 364

ok thanks then that has changed because I was always offered a free return ticket on my own card (don't have a supp one for anyone) rather than a $300 travel credit.

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