Frequent flyer credit cards offer you points per dollar spent, but do the rewards outweigh the costs?
For many frequent flyer credit cards, spending less than $20,000 a year on the card means you’ll end up in the red. The higher the card’s annual fee, the more you have to spend to ‘break even’, otherwise you’re just handing over money to your bank.
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$50 annual fee for the first year
Offer ends 31 July 2018
Eligibility criteria, terms and conditions, fees and charges apply
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- $50 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($249 p.a. thereafter).
- 20.24% p.a. on purchases
- Cash advance rate of 20.74% p.a.
- Up to 45 days interest free
- Minimum income requirement of $50,000 p.a.
Compare frequent flyer credit cards
How to calculate the required spend to ‘break even’ with a frequent flyer credit card
What does it mean to break even?
When we say break even, we’re referring to the amount you need to spend on the card to get the cost of the product’s annual fee back in rewards. Finder estimates that 5,000 frequent flyer points is worth approximately $100 when redeemed for flight rewards.
Want to know how much you have to spend on the card to 'break even' while comparing frequent flyer products? Here's how we figure it out:
For frequent flyer credit cards, we’ve estimated the value of 5,000 frequent flyer points at $100 when redeemed for flight rewards.
- Step 1: Find out how many points you need to get $100 worth of rewards value.
- Step 2: Divide the credit card’s annual fee by the dollar value of the reward ($100).
- Step 3: Multiply this figure by the number of points needed to redeem $100 worth of dollar value.
- Step 4: Take this figure and divide it by the card's earn rate.
This gives you the annual spend required to earn the product’s annual fee in the chosen rewards format. You can then divide this number by 12 to get to how much you need to spend on the card each month. If your monthly spend is less than this figure, a frequent flyer credit card may not be worth your time and it’s probably a good idea to consider another type of credit card.
Using this formula, let’s have a look at the break even spend on a couple of different types of frequent flyer credit cards:
- The American Express Velocity Escape Card
- Annual fee: $0
- Earn rate: AMEX: 1.00
- Monthly spend required to ‘break even’: $0
- The HSBC Platinum Qantas Credit Card
- Annual fee: $199 p.a.
- Earn rate: VISA/MC: 1.00
- Monthly spend required to ‘break even’: $829.16
- The St.George Amplify Signature - Qantas Card
- Annual fee: $279 p.a.
- Earn rate: VISA/MC: 0.75
- Monthly spend required to ‘break even’: $1,550.00
The rates and fees on this page are correct at the time of writing: 20/06/18.
No bonus point offers have been considered and the full balance is paid off every month.
What is the difference between direct or indirect earn?
Direct earn frequent flyer credit cards
You have two ways of earning frequent flyer points on a credit card. The first is with a direct earn frequent flyer product. This type of credit card generally has the airline in the name, such as the HSBC Platinum Qantas Credit Card, for instance, and any spending on the card will automatically earn points on your frequent flyer account.
The second way of earning frequent flyer points with a credit card is through a non-direct earn product. This type of card earns you points with the card provider’s rewards program, think Altitude Rewards or Commonwealth Bank Awards Points for example. Rewards points are converted to frequent flyer points at the cardholder’s discretion. Non-direct earn products can leave you worse off if you convert your rewards points to frequent flyer points due to the conversion rate between rewards and frequent flyer programs. Furthermore, some providers won't allow you to convert your rewards points to frequent flyer points with certain airlines.
What should I consider when comparing no annual fee frequent flyer credit cards?
No annual fee frequent flyer credit card
- These frequent flyer credit cards don’t charge an annual fee and, therefore, cost nothing to own. There’s no spend required to ‘break even’. Take advantage of interest-free offers to get the maximum value from a no annual fee frequent flyer credit card
- These cards give you return value from the first eligible purchase you make on the account.
- Although no annual fee frequent flyer credit cards give you value from the first dollar you spend, you’ll miss out on value adding features like travel insurance or concierge services
- American Express offer the majority of no annual fee frequent flyer products. Keep in mind that there may be some places where you’re unable to use these cards as American Express cards aren't accepted by some Australian merchants.
What can I expect with most frequent flyer credit cards?
Standard frequent flyer credit cards
Hallmarks of a standard frequent flyer credit card can include: an annual fee, an earn rate of approximately 1:1 and companion accounts — you get an American Express and a Mastercard or a Visa Card (depending on the provider) to use in all situations. Both cards earn points, but the American Express will get you more.
- Access to frequent flyer benefits without breaking the bank
- Earn points on everyday purchases as well as travel costs, so infrequent flyers even have the chance to make the most out of a frequent flyer credit card.
- Most standard frequent flyer products come with an annual fee which is comparable to a platinum frequent flyer credit card. When we had a look at the difference between the ANZ frequent flyer credit card and the HSBC Platinum Qantas Credit Card, even though the HSBC Platinum has an annual fee of approximately $100 more, you only had to spend slightly more on the platinum account to ‘break even’.
What are the perks of going platinum?
The next ‘tier’ of frequent flyer credit card are platinum accounts. Platinum frequent flyer credit cards offer more than 'no annual fee frequent flyer credit cards', there’s usually an insurance package and a higher earn rate. However, the extra benefits come at the price of an annual fee.
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Offer ends 30 June 2018
Eligibility criteria, terms and conditions, fees and charges apply
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- $199 p.a. annual fee.
- 19.99% p.a. on purchases
- Cash advance rate of 21.99% p.a.
- Up to 55 days interest free
- Minimum income requirement of $40,000 p.a.
Platinum frequent flyer credit card comparison
- Platinum credit cards offer cardholders a number of benefits like complimentary lounge access, travel and purchase protection insurance
- Platinum frequent flyer credit cards often come with a higher earn rate, allowing you to get more for your dollar.
- Some of the features included with platinum frequent flyer accounts can go to waste. If you pay for the benefits that come with these accounts, make sure you use them
- The benefits usually come at a cost, whether it be higher interest rates or an annual fee.
How can big spenders benefit from black frequent flyer credit cards?
Black frequent flyer credit cards
A relatively new product offering, black credit cards represent the highest tier or frequent flyer product. Cardholders benefits from the highest possible earn rates with the promise of the largest range of rewards on offer. Remember, these features come at a price. Black credit cards are for big spenders and high-income earners, which is reflected in the product’s minimum income requirements.
Black frequent flyer credit card comparison
- Black credit cards offer the full package of travel-centric credit card benefits, making them handy travel comparisons while venturing overseas
- Black frequent flyer credit cardholders have access to everyday extras such as concierge services, complimentary lounge access and complimentary insurance.
- Although the benefits offered with black credit cards may be enticing, these accounts are not for everyone. The annual fee and minimum income requirement make these products inaccessible to people on a low or average income
- Like platinum frequent flyer credit cards, if you don't make use of all of the extra features and services on offer, you will be wasting money in the long run.
Considerations when choosing a frequent flyer credit card
Looking at the earn rate and the annual fee is a simple way of determining whether a product is going to be worth your while; however, this calculation doesn’t look at the entire picture. The following points should also be considered in your comparison of frequent flyer credit cards.
- Are there any sign up bonuses? Some accounts will give you a number of frequent flyer points when you first apply for the card or when you spend a certain amount after you apply. Bonus frequent flyer points go some way towards minimising the break even spend on the product in the first year. If you plan on keeping the credit card for longer than one year, be careful, in the second year you have the account, you’ll need to spend more on the card to make up the value of the bonus points.
- Insurances and perks. Frequent flyer credit cards are aimed at people who like to fly. And insurance is pretty much a necessity for anyone who wants to head to foreign shores. Complimentary international travel insurance, which comes as a perk with most premium frequent flyer credit cards represents a saving of a few hundred dollars. Also consider extra cardholder benefits like airport lounge access. Anyone who has had a 10 hour stopover in a foreign airport will appreciate this perk.
- Increased earn rate. You should also consider that once you have reached the break even spend on your credit card, cardholders who have gone for a black or platinum credit card will rack up points quicker due to their card’s increased earn rate.
- Redemption options. Another point to consider is the frequent flyer program’s redemption options. Using your points for a flight means you have to play by the airline’s rules, which can change at any time, and with little prior warning from the carrier. Qantas changed the way Qantas Frequent Flyer members could redeem their points for flights not too long ago, which saw the value of a Qantas Point drop in value.
There’s a lot to think about when you’re comparing frequent flyer credit cards and it’s all important. In the end, it’s your money, right? Why bother with a frequent flyer product that’s going to drain your bank balance? Compare your options and find a frequent flyer credit card that's going to help you take to the skies sooner.Back to top