Collecting frequent flyer points has become something of a favourite pastime for many Australians. But with travel restrictions limiting where we can travel, you may find it harder to keep your existing points active for use in the future.
Here we look at how 10 airline frequent flyer programs have changed since COVID-19 – and provide expert advice on how to keep your points from expiring.
Tip: When the COVID-19 pandemic grounded most air travel, most airline loyalty schemes offered extensions or a pause on points expiring. But this is subject to change as global restrictions on travel evolve. Always check the terms and conditions of the program you are enrolled in.
Read the fine print on each promotion and check your loyalty program's terms and conditions.
Frequent flyer points have an expiry date. Your whole points balance will disappear if you don't add to your points or use some of them within a specified time period.
It's important to stay on top of your points and take action before they expire.
"Customers should be aware of their points situation and what the possible expiry might be," says Ian Jarratt OAM from the Queensland Consumers Association. "They need to be active and not leave these things to the last minute."
Don't think that all airline loyalty programs operate the same way. What you can and can't do to extend the life of your points really comes down to the policies of each program.
For example, one airline may allocate you points on the same day you buy a flight. Yet another may not apply your points or recognise your 'account activity' until after you've taken that flight, making it impossible to achieve valid 'account activity' at short notice.
It's important to read the fine print on each promotion and check your loyalty program's terms and conditions.
"Consumers need to be very clear what they have to do and what's regarded as a 'qualifying transaction' to be able to get points that will keep their existing points alive," says Jarratt.
You don't have to spend big on flights
For some loyalty programs, earning points regularly to ensure account activity is easier than you think.
"There are some simple ways that you can get or spend just a few points, if you want to hang onto your points," says Jarratt.
Rewards credit cards usually have higher than average interest rates, so if you don't pay them off in full, you'll end up paying more than the value you get from the rewards.
For example, depending on what program you're with, you can earn points by using an app, swiping your membership card while buying petrol, or transferring points from other programs like Everyday Rewards or Flybuys.
You can also use a frequent flyer credit card to earn points, but not every card delivers great value. Rewards credit cards usually have higher than average interest rates, so if you don't pay them off in full, you'll end up paying more than the value you get from the rewards.
What you decide to do with your points right now really depends on your circumstances.
Should you be spending your points during this time of flux, or leaving them to sit in your account, waiting for the resumption of international travel?
"It's hard to know which is better," says CHOICE travel expert Jodi Bird. "The risk of locking away points for future use is that even if the airlines don't expire the points, they could still devalue them by changing those points to buy less value."
If you do want to use your points before they expire, Bird says your options may be limited. "If they're due to expire before the end of this year, then it's unlikely you'll be able to use the points on international flights," he says.
It's widely agreed that the greatest value is using points for high-cost international and domestic flights and seat upgradesIan Jarratt OAM, Queensland Consumers Association.
So, what you decide to do with your points right now really depends on your circumstances.
"In terms of the monetary value of various uses of points, it's widely agreed that the greatest value is using points for high-cost international and domestic flights and seat upgrades," says Jarratt.
"But, when travel gets back to some sort of 'normality', if I can't use them for those things I'll likely look at using them for other things, including gift cards to use to buy groceries."
Frequent flyer credit cards let you earn points for every dollar you spend and some even offer sign-up bonuses of up to 150,000 frequent flyer points.
But not every card delivers great value and some even leave you worse off (this was true even before the COVID-19 crisis). So if you can't spend the points because of the current travel restrictions, should you hold onto your card?
If you have an existing rewards card for which you've already paid the yearly fee, it might be worth hanging on to it rather than cancelling early if it means you'll end up paying another yearly fee for another card.
While the cash rate is at historic lows of 0.25%, there is no justification for the big banks to continue charging interest rates of frequent flyer cards in excess of 20%CHOICE banking consumer advocate, Patrick Veyret
But this advice only applies if you pay your card off in full each month. Rewards credit cards usually have higher than average interest rates, so if you don't pay them off in full, you'll end up paying more than the value you get from the rewards. If you've been affected by the pandemic financially and are struggling to make repayments, you might be better off switching cards to one with a lower interest rate.
"Banks market their rewards programs to lure people into purchasing expensive credit cards, often using the trap of 0% balance transfers. However, be careful. As the balance transfer period ends, the interest rate of these cards often skyrockets above 20%," says CHOICE banking consumer advocate Patrick Veyret.
"It's simply unfair the rates banks charge people on frequent flyer credit cards. While the cash rate is at historic lows of 0.25%, there is no justification for the big banks to continue charging interest rates of frequent flyer cards in excess of 20%."
What can I do if I think my points have been unfairly devalued?
"The first thing you should do is contact the airline or hotel group directly," says Ian Jarratt OAM from the Queensland Consumers Association.
"Do it in a professional, non-aggressive way – always try to be an assertive rather than an angry consumer."
If you don't have any luck and your complaint relates to an Australian airline, you could try contacting the Airline Customer Advocate, which offers a free and independent service for eligible customers who have unresolved complaints with the major Australian airlines.
If your complaint relates to a hotel, contact your state or territory consumer protection agency or the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).
We've provided links to each loyalty program's terms and conditions so you can check which rules apply to you.