Frequent flyer schemes, which started out as a way of ensuring customer loyalty to a single airline, have become a giant revenue earner for airlines. Major carriers now have divisions whose sole purpose is to monetise their frequent flyer program by selling points to third parties who want to use those points to attract business, and it's highly lucrative. Were it not for the revenue they derive from selling reward points to financial institutions and merchants, some airlines would vanish in thin air.
For the savvy consumer, it's not just a tank of petrol, a cup of coffee or a new washing machine that will boost your frequent flyer account. Payments for power bills, phone, gym membership and even pet insurance can put your points account on steroids, and wings on your holiday dreams.
Airline co-branded credit cards, the points tsunami
Co-branded credit cards are those that allow you to collect points – airline points in this case – when you shop with a particular group of merchants. Since they're eager to get you spending, the financial institutions behind these cards are prepared to tip of swag of frequent flyer points into your account just for signing up, provided you comply with the conditions. That usually means a hefty spend in the first few months of ownership. For example the Qantas American Express Ultimate Card gives you 100,000 bonus Qantas Points when you spend $3000 on your new card in the first three months. The ANZ Frequent Flyer Black card puts even more points in the tank – 120,000 Qantas points, provided you spend $7500 on eligible purchases in the first three months.
Virgin Australia's Velocity High Flyer Visa Card gets you 30,000 Velocity points for each month in which you spend $3000 on eligible transactions in the first three months, and a sign-up bonus of up to 90,000 points, although you'd need to spend at least $9000 to get that.
Co-branded cards are also one of the most generous when it comes to earning points. While most credit cards give you less than one point for every dollar spent, co-branded cards typically offer one-for-one, or even better. With a few exceptions, the Qantas American Express Ultimate Card gives you 1.25 Qantas points for every $1 spent on card purchases.
On the flipside, cards that offer a big bonus on sign-up also come with a stiff annual fee. In the case of the Qantas American Express Ultimate Card that's $450 per annum. For the ANZ Frequent Flyer Black card, which has a one-for-one points reward rate, the annual fee is $425. Virgin's Velocity High Flyer Card has an annual fee of $289, also with a one-for-one reward rate. That's a high fee if you're just collecting points for purchases at the supermarket, fill-ups at the petrol station and the occasional air tickets and holiday. After you've shelled out for a few years, it might not seem like such a bargain.
Buy a house, or sell one
Points on a home loan? Organise your mortgage with a Macquarie Bank Flyer Home Loan and you could earn up to 250,000 Qantas points. List and sell with L.J. Hooker and you'll earn 20,000 Qantas points.
Private health cover is one of those big-ticket expenses that most of us bear, so why not earn some points? Until April 7, Qantas is offering up to 120,000 instant points for couples who sign up for its branded health insurance. On top of that you'll get two Qantas points for every dollar spent on your premium in the first 12 months. Couples get more points, as do those who opt for a higher level of cover. Families who choose top-level cover and who lead an active lifestyle as defined by the Qantas Wellbeing app could earn almost 175,000 points in year one, plus 40,000 points for every subsequent year.
Virgin has partnered with leading health fund Bupa to offer a sign-up bonus of up to 80,000 Velocity points for families and couples or a maximum of 40,000 for singles. Join and pay your Bupa health insurance premium by direct debit and provide your Velocity number when joining.
Sign up for a policy with petinsurance.com.au and Virgin will tip three points into your Velocity account for every dollar spent on your premium.
Want to earn points while you sweat, swim or spin? Join a Virgin Active health club, make regular visits and pack on the points while you pound off the pounds. As many as 10,000 points for members who sign up for a Collection Membership and visit a Virgin Active health club at least three times per week during the first 12 weeks.
Mobile phone plans
Sign up or upgrade to a Vodafone Plus Plan, selected Red Plans with a new phone and selected 12-month SIM Only plans and you could earn up to 20,000 Qantas Points. Virgin Mobile is offering two Velocity Points for every dollar spent on eligible postpaid mobile phone, mobile SIM or mobile broadband plans until October 31, 2019, but Virgin Mobile will be phased out by early 2020.
Every dollar you spend in a Hoyts cinema earns Qantas points. That's tickets, popcorn, choc-tops and anything else bought in-cinema. Hoyts Rewards Bronze membership, which comes free of charge, gets you one Qantas point per $2 spent, Silver members pay $13 per annum and get two points for every dollar spent.
Choose Red Energy as your electricity and gas supplier and you could earn seven Qantas points for every dollar on your electricity and gas bills. That's on top of 10,000 bonus points for starting a new electricity contract plus 5000 points for a new gas contract. Virgin has a similar deal with Energy Australia.
Qantas pop-up store
Qantas has opened its first pop-up store, at Melbourne's Domestic Terminal One, and members can collect 100 Qantas points just by walking in the door and giving their Qantas Frequent Flyer ID. The bounty doesn't stop. Members also get six points for every dollar spent in the store when paying for purchases with a credit or debit card. Use a Qantas co-branded card and earn even more points.