How Chris Park earned 3 million frequent flyer points in three years

Chris Park has earned 3 million frequent flyer points in the past three years. Those points have enabled the 42-year-old finance professional to enjoy experiences straight from the Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous playbook. Such as a first-class suite, complete with shower, on a return flight from Melbourne to Auckland for Park and his partner. That cost just $142 in taxes and charges.

Yet this awesome points balance has been achieved without dramatically altering his spending patterns. "It was dramatically altering the way I was spending," says Park. "It's taking your everyday spending and trying to make sure you're earning points doing it. So my car registration, my insurance, my water bill, my rates, my everything – basically I'm looking at a card to put it on that will earn points."

The key is points hacking. "Points hacking is about translating your everyday spend into points without increasing your spending or having to change your lifestyle. In 2016, I needed a new credit card, so I did some research, which led me to the Point Hacks website." Just for signing up, Park earned a bonus of 100,000 Qantas Points. "When I got a points-earning credit card, I asked myself what everyday transactions I can shift to my card to maximise the points."

The Point Hacks website is the gateway for anyone looking to earn maximum frequent flyer points. While there are plenty of websites that do the same, Point Hacks is dedicated to an Australian audience. That makes a difference because airlines, retailers, hoteliers and anyone else looking to attract business tailors their strategy to a unique market. For Australians looking to take advantage of the deals that will allow them to maximise their points, and make the best use of those points, Point Hacks is an essential addition to the bookmark toolbar on their browser.

The Big Win

The way to earn a tsunami of points is via credit card sign-up bonuses. Currently on the Point Hacks website there are credit cards that can earn you anything from 40,000 to 150,000 points – just for signing up.

"That won't work for everyone," says Daniel Sciberras, frequent flyer expert and Point Hacks' spokesperson. "There are requirements that need to be fulfilled to get these bonus points but there's a plethora of cards in the market for different income ranges. So most people should be able to find a credit card that will earn them some bonus points."

Some cards, such as the David Jones Amex Platinum card, offer a choice on sign-up – either 22,500 Qantas points or 45,000 membership reward points. What's the smart choice?

"In effect you're either locking yourself into the Qantas frequent flyer program or, if you go for membership rewards, American Express has nine airline partners where you can use those membership reward points," says Sciberras. "Probably the most useful for the Australian market is Virgin Australia's Velocity program. Individual preference for one airline over another might make your decision for you. Another key question is which airline flies the route you most want to fly? There's no one answer that works for all."

Some of these cards have high annual fees but as he points out, "Sometimes you can offset that, for example the card might come with free travel insurance or free lounge access so at least you're getting a benefit from it".


The trickle-in strategy

Both Park and Sciberras emphasise you don't have to spend big to earn big.

"I'm with Qantas insurance," says Sciberras, so I'm earning points on my monthly fee. I'm also earning points by using the Qantas insurance app and I'm using the Qantas Wellbeing app, which earns points just by taking steps. You can get points from restaurants, from gym workouts, even from sleeping. There's no excuse not to earn at least one frequent flyer point per day."

Sciberras also points out the advantages of using online shopping portals to earn points. "You can be earning six, seven or 12 points per dollar spent if you buy during the promotions. For the past four or five years I can't think of a time when I've bought an Apple product without buying it through the Velocity e-store. And you can also do it through the Qantas shopping portal as well. It could be a MacBook Air, which could earn you 6000 or 10,000 points during a promotion. All you do is log in and it'll then track your purchase and show you the options available as if you went straight to the Apple online store in the first place."

Buying Points

Alaska Airlines is one of the best performing.

Photo: iStock

One strategy that Park has used to top up his points balance is buying them. About 250,000 of his 3 million points have come from programs such as Alaska Airlines' Mileage Plus. "I only buy points to top up my points balance for an award flight or upgrade," says Park. "The vast majority have been bought with a specific reduction in mind, meaning within the next couple of days I will book the flights, I've already done the research."

Buying points is a strategy that Sciberras also advocates. "The key is don't buy them speculatively. Make sure you have a redemption in mind. The two flyer programs that we really like when it comes to buy-points promotions is Alaska Airlines Mileage Plus and the Avianca LifeMiles programs. Alaska Airlines miles will cost you around two cents per mile and you can redeem them for a Qantas flight."

"Right now for example it'll cost you 96,000 Qantas points to fly one-way to LA business and that's going up to around 114,000 points with the September 18 devaluation. With Alaska Airlines, you only need 55,000 Alaska miles to get on the exact same flight in the exact same seat. So if you're flying to LA and you were looking to purchase a business-class seat with cash, if Alaska Air comes up with a buy-miles promotion, then you'd be better off using that cash to buy those air miles and using those to by that seat. You have to make sure that the seat is available but you'd be able to see that through the Alaska Airlines site anyway."

"Avianca is another one we like because that's a member of Star Alliance and once again you can purchase miles and redeem them very cheaply on any Star Alliance flight."

When to book

Airlines generally open flight bookings about 11 months in advance. Given that they will have only a limited number of reward seats on those flights, is that the time to book?

"You may have to book well in advance particularly on popular routes and I'll certainly try to," says Park. "It's a case of being flexible around when you fly. For example, you might have to change the day of the week, or take a night flight instead of daylight departure. That also applies to the routing. Instead of a non-stop from Melbourne to LA you might go Melbourne-Hong Kong, Hong Kong-LA."

Sciberras agrees. "The general rule is get in as early as you can because that's when you've got the greatest chance of getting seats for points, but we've also been noticing a change. For example, even at the 12-month mark, there are times when Virgin Australia will not release any award seats. Instead they release those seats in the last week before departure. That can be quite risky for anyone depending on points redemption for flights. So for example I'm going to Hong Kong in October and I've bought an economy ticket with Virgin but I'm constantly looking at the award availability to upgrade."

It might be tempting to believe that a multi-million points balance is going to open the doors to first class travel anywhere in the world free of cost, but that's not the right approach according to Park.

"My point-hacking philosophy is that, rather than giving you free travel – nothing is free – it allows you to travel in a level of comfort most people cannot afford. It's about how you can earn points by doing what you've always been doing."

And what's next on his agenda? Another oneworld round-the-world trip purely on points, this time incorporating two vacations. Scuba diving in Egypt's Red Sea, plus South Africa, Tanzania or even Iceland. When you can get there in style, just by paying more attention to the way you spend, there's plenty to like about that.

See also: Why travellers shouldn't fall for 'cash passport' money cards

See also: The worst thing that can happen to business class passengers