The best frequent flyer rewards credit cards


We reveal the Top 20 frequent flyer loyalty credit cards for Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin.

Flying high or spending big?


  • Card issuers now dangle sign-up bonuses of up to 150,000 frequent flyer points
  • But some charge such high fees or give back so little they leave you worse off
  • Make sure you'll be able to use your points once you've collected enough before signing up

When you first picked up that shiny new platinum frequent flyer rewards credit card, did you dream of a holiday on a tropical island, with free flights and perks paid for by the points you earnt? Well, those dreams might have gone up in smoke.

According to Peter Marshall, product data manager for the comparison site Mozo, the average value low spenders get from a rewards credit card has halved over the past five years. In February 2013, if you spent $24,000 per year on your card, you would've received an average rewards value of $82. Now it's just $46.

But there are still some good loyalty schemes out there. This article reveals the Top 20 frequent flyer rewards cards for low and big spenders and looks at the Qantas, Virgin and Jetstar branded rewards credit cards to see how they compare.

Plus, find out which cards leave you worse off, and how to avoid rewards card traps.

Our travel insurance reviews compare more than 140 policies from 62 insurers to help you find the best policy for your travels.

The falling value of frequent flyer points

Last year, many credit card companies announced drastic cuts to their reward programs. For example, some Westpac, Jetstar and Woolworths cards have become less rewarding.

On the face of it, this may seem like bad news for consumers. But we think it's related to the introduction of new laws that ban unfair credit card surcharges – and this has been a hard-fought win for consumers. These laws stop businesses from using blanket card surcharges to offset the cost of expensive rewards programs that only benefit a small number of people, such as Amex card holders or frequent flyers.

With unfair surcharges removed for the benefit of all consumers, those people who take advantage of rewards programs are no longer subsidised. We're not surprised to see that, in these circumstances, airlines are reducing the value of frequent flyer points.

This may be disappointing to frequent flyers, but removing unfair surcharges benefits all of us. This is a great reform for all consumers who don't want to have to pay for someone else's seat upgrade through an unfair surcharge.

Do you want 100,000 points with that?

... but watch out for high fees and interest rates

While rewards credit cards have become less rewarding, a new benefit has emerged. Card issuers now dangle sign-up bonuses of up to 150,000 Qantas points to lure you in. The sign-up bonus alone would pay for an economy return flight to Europe.

But before rushing to sign at the dotted line, be aware of high annual fees on these types of credit cards – those fees can really eat up any benefits you might get, particularly if loyalty point caps and expiry dates stop you earning or using your points.

Along with high fees, frequent flyer rewards credit cards also typically have high interest rates, especially for cash advances. If you're not sure that you'll always pay your balance in full, go for a credit card with a low interest rate instead. And don't fall for a balance transfer credit card from a travel reward card provider – the rate is unlikely to stay low.

Good cards for big spenders

We reviewed 102 travel rewards cards with the help of Mozo and found there are some good loyalty schemes attached to Qantas and Velocity.

We look at two spending levels to find the credit cards that deliver the best value. 

Select the spending level that most reflects your own to jump to a comparison of the top 20 cards:

Good cards for low spenders

With most rewards credit cards, you'll need to spend at least $2000 per month to get any value, but there are a few cards that can suit low spenders, such as:

  • American Express Qantas Discovery
  • American Express Velocity Escape

Both of these cards have a $0 annual fee and no point caps. They earn you one point per dollar spent, which is a lower rate than some other American Express cards, but the fees are low so they're still top cards for low spenders. They even rate in the Top 10 for high flyers who spent $5000 per month.

The trouble with American Express cards is that many shops hit you with credit card surcharges, or don't accept them at all. Any surcharge is likely to eat up the rewards on offer. You can, however, use them at Coles and Woolworths – which don't generally surcharge – and use your weekly grocery spends to collect reward points.

The best Visa and MasterCards for low spenders are:

  • Jetstar Platinum MasterCard, which works slightly differently from other cards.
  • HSBC Premier World Qantas MasterCard. With a $99 annual fee, it's at the lower end for fees and gives you a $1 to 1 Qantas point conversion rate with a point cap of $10,000 per month.

Credit cards that leave you worse off

Some credit cards will cost more in fees than you'll be able to earn in points.

For big spenders, these two cards will deliver no points value if you spend $60,000 in a year on the credit card:

  • Citibank Prestige – $700 annual fee 
  • Citibank Qantas Prestige – $749 annual fee

There are many more frequent flyer rewards credit cards that leave low spenders in the lurch. All of the following cards will cost you at least $100 more in annual fees than the value of points earned, if you spend $24,000 a year on your card:

  • Citibank, Qantas Signature – $444 annual fee
  • Citibank, Signature – $395 annual fee
  • Westpac, Altitude Black – $395 annual fee
  • Commonwealth Bank, Diamond Awards – $349–$379 (Qantas option) annual fee
  • David Jones, American Express Platinum (Membership Rewards) – $295 annual fee
  • Commonwealth Bank, Platinum Awards (Qantas Awards) – $249–$279 (Qantas option) annual fee
  • Bankwest, More World – $270 annual fee

That said, some cards with high fees offer other benefits such as a concierge or insurance, which can make them worthwhile if you use those services.

The best cards from Qantas, Virgin and Jetstar

Qantas, Virgin and Jetstar also have their own branded rewards credit cards that offer special perks, but the offers can be a bit wobbly.

Jetstar

The low-cost airline has two cards:

  • Jetstar Platinum MasterCard
  • Jetstar MasterCard 

With both cards you can choose either Qantas Frequent Flyer points or "Jetstar dollars". At first look the "Jetstar dollars" program gives you better value than the Qantas program, but there are some unique conditions that limit its value.

  • Instead of withdrawing the points when you need them, a voucher is automatically emailed to you as soon as you accrue $100 with Jetstar MasterCard or $200 with the Jetstar Platinum MasterCard.
  • You need to book your travel within six months.
  • If you book flights or accommodation that costs less than the voucher, the rest of its value goes down the drain as you can only use it for a single transaction.

So, it's not possible to save your points for that special trip.

Virgin

Virgin cards don't fare as well as Jetstar in the comparison, but there's an extra benefit. While Virgin's four free flights offer no longer exists, Virgin will send you a travel voucher for $129 each year on top of any rewards you get. To use the voucher, you need:

  • to make an online request
  • have used your card at least once in the previous two months
  • book within six months.

Qantas

Offers two cards and its platinum card has some perks attached:

  • Two free lounge passes per year. 
  • A discounted domestic companion fare once a year for you and up to eight of your mates on the same booking. (However, this offer is of questionable value as it's only a 10% discount on economy fares and up to a 20% discount on business class fares. Plus, discounts are only applied on the base fare, not taxes and fees. Qantas admits that its sale fares may be cheaper than the discounted companion tickets.)

Other rewards cards also come with perks such as airport lounge passes, chauffeur-driven rides to the airport, complimentary accommodation and even free flights. But conditions often apply, so it pays to read the fine print, check the annual fee and understand what's really on offer.

And before getting a frequent flyer rewards card, make sure you'll actually be able to use your points once you've collected enough.

Are frequent flyer points worth the effort? We look at how much your points are really worth and how to get the best value when redeeming them.

Rewards credit card traps

  • Rewards credit cards only make sense if you always pay your card off in full, as they usually have higher than average interest rates. The interest can negate any value you get from the rewards.
  • Frequent flyer loyalty credit cards may leave you worse off if you want to use them for an international flight, as your points could expire before you've banked enough to book the flights. 
  • If your rewards credit card also offers cashback and gift-card rewards, check before converting your points. Flight rewards are likely to be better value.
  • Some credit cards reduce your points for certain types of purchases, such as for insurance and utilities payments.
  • Monthly point caps can prevent you from making use of that big one-off purchase, like buying a car, to boost your points balance.

Top 20 cards for a $2000 monthly spend

Company Ranking Card Type Interest (%)* Annual fee ($)** Program Value Syd–Mel flight($)# Pts per 1$ ## Points cap
American Express 22001 Qantas Discovery Amex 20.74 0 Qantas 408 1 No cap
American Express 21902 Velocity Escape Amex 20.74 0 Velocity 345 1 No cap
Jetstar 21803 Platinum MC 19.99 169 Jetstar Dollars (B) 311 0.02 0.02pts up to $2500/mth; 0.01pts > $2500/mth. (max 2000pts/yr.)
HSBC 21704 Premier World Qantas (F) MC 19.99 99 Qantas 309 1 $10,000/mth
American Express 21605 Qantas Premium (Gold card) Amex 20.74 249 Qantas 261 1.25 No cap
American Express 21506 Essential Amex 14.99 0 Membership Rewards (C) 258 1 No cap
Qantas Money 21407 Qantas Premier Everyday MC 19.99 49 Qantas 257 0.75 0.75pts up to $3000/mth; 0.4pts > $3000/mth
HSBC 21308 Platinum Qantas Visa 19.99 199 Qantas 209 1 1pt up to $2500/mth; 0.5pt > $7500/mth
David Jones 21209 American Express Amex 20.74 99 Qantas 207 0.75 No cap
Coles 11010 Rewards MC 19.99 99 Flybuys (C) 201 2 No cap
HSBC 10911 Platinum Visa 19.99 129 (A ) Rewards Plus (C) 172 1 10,000pts/mth
HSBC 10812 Premier World (F) MC 19.99 0 Rewards Plus (C) 172 1 10,000pts/mth
Jetstar 10713 MasterCard MC 14.99 69 Jetstar Dollars (B) 171 0.01 $50,000/year (500pts)
ANZ 10614 Rewards Platinum Visa 18.79 95 ANZ 163 1.5 1.5pts up to $2000/mth; 0.5pts > $2000/mth
American Express 10515 Qantas Ultimate (Platinum) Amex 20.74 450 Qantas 162 (D) 1.5 No cap
Qudos Bank 10416 Platinum Visa 18.99 249 Qantas 159 1 2pt up $2500/mth; 0.5 > $2500/mth
American Express 10317 Platinum Edge Amex 20.74 195 Membership Rewards (C) 150 (D) 1 No cap
American Express 10218 Velocity Platinum Amex 20.74 375 Velocity 142 (D) 1.5 No cap
St George/Bank SA/Bank of Melbourne 10119 Amplify Qantas Visa 19.49 79 Qantas 125 0.5 No cap
American Express
10020 Explorer AMEX 20.74 395 Membership Rewards (C) 122 2 No cap

Other popular rewards credit cards for low spenders

Company Card Type Interest (%)* Annual fee ($)** Program Value Syd–Mel flight($)# Pts per 1$ ## Points cap
NAB Qantas Rewards Visa 19.99 95 Qantas 109 0.5 300pts/mth
CBA Awards MC & Amex 20.24 89 Qantas 86 1 (E) $50,000/yr
Virgin Money Velocity Frequent Flyer Visa 20.74 129 Velocity 85 (D) 0.66 0.66pts up to $1500/mth; 0.5 > $1500/mth
Woolworths Qantas Platinum Visa 20.49 169 Qantas 35 0.5 No cap
Westpac Altitude Platinum Visa 20.24 150 Altitude (C) 22 1 No cap

Source: mozo.com.au, April 3, 2018

Top 20 cards for a $5000 monthly spend

Company Ranking Card Type Interest (%)* Annual fee ($)** Program Value Syd–Mel flight ($)# Pts per 1$ ## Points cap
AMEX 22001 Ultimate - Platinum AMEX 20.74 450 Qantas 1080 (D) 1.5 No cap
AMEX 21902 Qantas Premium (Gold card) AMEX 20.74 249 Qantas 1026 1.25 No cap
AMEX 21803 Qantas Discovery AMEX 20.74 0 Qantas 1020 1 No cap
HSBC 21704 Premier World (F) MC 19.99 99 Qantas 921 1 $10,000/mth max
AMEX 21605 Velocity Platinum AMEX 20.74 375 Velocity 917 (D ) 1.5 No cap
AMEX 21506 Explorer AMEX 20.74 395 Membership Rewards (C) 897 2 No cap
AMEX 21407 Velocity Escape  AMEX 20.74 0 Velocity 862 1 No cap
Jetstar 21308 Platinum MC 19.99 169 Jetstar Dollars (B) 731  0.02 0.02 up to $2500/mth; 0.01 > $2500/mth (20,000pts/yr max)
Qantas Money 21209 Qantas Premier Platinum MC 19.99 299 Qantas 721 1 1 up to $10,000/mth; 0.5 > $10,000/mth
AMEX 11010 Platinum Edge AMEX 20.74 195 Membership Rewards (C) 667 (D) 1 No cap
David Jones 10911 American Express AMEX 20.74 99 Qantas 666 0.75 No cap
Coles 10812 Rewards MC 19.99 99 Flybuys (C) 651 2 No cap
AMEX 10713 Essential AMEX 14.99 0 Membership Rewards (C) 646 1 No cap
NAB 10614 Qantas Rewards Signature Visa 19.99 395 Qantas 625 1 1pt < $5000/mth; 0.5pts < $20,000/mth
Macquarie 10515 Black Card (Qantas) Visa 20.7 299 Qantas 619 1 1pt up to $4000/mth; 0.5pts > $4000/mth
G&C Mutual Bank 10416 Platinum Visa 18.74 249 Qantas 618 0.85 No cap
ANZ 10317 Frequent Flyer Black Visa 19.99 425 Qantas 595 1 1pt up to $7500/mth; 0.5 > $7500/mth
Bank Australia 10218 Platinum Rewards Visa 18.24 189 Qantas 576 0.75 20,000pts/mth max
Qantas Money 10119 Qantas Premier Everyday MC 19.99 49 Qantas 573 0.75 0.75pts up to $3000/mth; 0.4pts > $3000/mth
Virgin Money 10020 Velocity High Flyer Visa 20.74 289 Velocity 573 (D) 1 1pt up to < $8000/mth; 0.5pts > $8000/mth

Other popular rewards credit cards for big spenders

Company Card Type Interest (%)* Annual fee ($)** Program Value Syd-Mel flight($)# Pts per 1$ #
#
Points cap
St.George,Bank SA,Bank of Melb Amplify Signature Visa 19.49 279 Qantas 486 0.75 No cap
Westpac Altitude Black Qantas MC 20.24 395 Qantas 465 0.75 No cap
Woolworths Qantas Platinum  Visa 20.49 169 Qantas 341 0.5 No cap
Commonwealth Bank Awards MC, AMEX 20.24 59 CBA awards 228 1(E) $50,000/yr 

Source: mozo.com.au, April 3, 2018

  • MC = MasterCard
  • *Purchases, cash advances and balance transfers after any promotional period usually attracts a higher interest rate.
  • **Some cards waive or reduce the annual fee for the first year.
  • #See How do you calculate a rewards card's value?
  • ##Standard domestic purchases, some cards give extra points for international purchases and bonus points for purchases with partners (such as Qantas cards for purchases with Qantas). Some cards give higher points for purchases with major supermarket chains and some cards give no points for payment to government agencies or insurance and utility payments.
  • (A) No annual fee if you spend $6000/yr.
  • (B) $200 flight voucher (Platinum) and $100 flight voucher (MasterCard) sent automatically when earned. Must be used within three months.
  • (C) These rewards programs allow you to exchange rewards points for frequent flyer points. Exchange rates for frequent flyer points vary.
  • (D) These cards offer specific travel rewards: American Express Qantas Ultimate (Platinum) – $450 travel credit with Qantas per year. American Express, Platinum Edge – $200 travel credit per year. American Express, Velocity Platinum – free return domestic flight with Virgin. Virgin Money, Velocity Frequent Flyer – $129 gift voucher for flights per year.
  • (E) This card offers American Express and MasterCard companion cards. The points earn rate is higher for MasterCard, so we assume all spending is done on MasterCard. American Express rates are 1.5pts in major supermarkets, department stores and petrol stations, 0.5pts in other stores.
  • (F) This credit card is part of a package offering other benefits and only available for HSBC customers with loans of >$500,000, deposits of >$200,000 or a mixture of those. A $35 monthly package fee applies.

How do you calculate a rewards card's value?

We reviewed 102 travel rewards cards with the help of Mozo. To calculate the scores, they:

  • calculated how many points you'd receive over the course of a year based on spending $2000 per month or $5000 per month
  • used the points for the purchase of "classic" or "reward" economy seats with restricted seat availability
  • calculated what the points are worth to you in dollar terms based on the value of the flights, excluding taxes and charges. Values used were: Sydney–Melbourne one-way: Qantas $136; Virgin $112; Jetstar $98
  • subtracted the annual fee from that dollar figure to show what the points are actually worth.

Bonus points you may earn for using your card at specific merchants or any introductory or special offers are not included in the calculation. There is also no value assigned to instant discounts, insurance, ticketing and concierge services or other such benefits.

Make sure the wheels don't fall off when you're travelling. See our carry-on luggage reviews.


Leave a comment

Display comments