Frequent flyer credit cards vs. debit cards

Want to earn more frequent flyer points? Compare credit cards and debit cards that reward you for your everyday spending.

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There is a wide range of credit cards that earn frequent flyer points per $1 spent and offer other benefits such as introductory bonus points, airport lounge access and complimentary travel insurance. But credit cards are not the only way to earn more points, with a small selection of debit cards also offering frequent flyer points for transactions and account activity.

Here, you can compare both frequent flyer credit cards and debit cards to learn more about how each type of account works. We’ve also included a comparison of key features to help you decide which type of card will work best for you when it comes to earning rewards for your purchases.

What you'll find in this guide

Key differences between frequent flyer credit cards and debit cards

While the features of frequent flyer cards vary, here are the key details to keep in mind when you’re comparing credit card and debit card options:

Credit cardsDebit cards
  • Earn points per $1 spent on eligible purchases
  • Allow you to spend up to a set limit and then pay off purchases over time (with minimum payments)
  • Charge interest when you carry a balance
  • Usually have high annual fees
  • Often include thousands of bonus points on sign-up
  • May offer extra perks such as airport lounge access, travel insurance and flight vouchers
  • Require a credit check and lender approval
  • Earn points per $1 spent on eligible purchases or on account activity
  • Allow you to spend your own money
  • No interest charges
  • Don’t charge annual fees, although some may have monthly account fees
  • May allow you to spend in foreign currencies
  • Can be linked to your everyday banking account or preloaded with funds
  • Don’t have an impact on your credit score

This is just a snapshot of the features of frequent flyer credit cards and debit cards. We’ve gone into more detail for each type of card below so that you can choose options that work for you.

Frequent flyer credit cards

ccf-frequent-flyer-cards-250x250Frequent flyer credit cards earn points per $1 spent on eligible purchases. If you have a direct-earn card, such as the Qantas American Express Ultimate or Velocity High Flyer, the points you earn will be credited directly to your frequent flyer account.

Other credit cards let you transfer points into an eligible frequent flyer account, such as those linked to American Express Membership Rewards or Amplify Rewards. Often you’ll need a minimum number of points for the transfer or be required to opt-in to earn frequent flyer points instead of credit card reward points.

As well as the way you earn points, you’ll need to consider the following features when you’re comparing frequent flyer credit cards:

  • Earn rates. This is the number of points you earn per $1 spent. Some cards offer different earn rates depending on how you use them.
  • Eligible purchases. This covers spending at the shops, restaurants or on other types of everyday purchases. However, you usually won’t earn points on cash advances, balance transfers, account fees, government charges or BPAY payments.
  • Annual fees. Frequent flyer credit card annual fees range from just under $100 to more than $400. There is currently only a handful of cards that have no annual fee for life, such as the Qantas Discovery and Velocity Escape cards issued by American Express.
  • Interest rates. Frequent flyer credit card interest rates are typically around 19–22% p.a. (variable) for purchases. This means you could end up paying for the points you earn if you carry a balance.
  • Foreign transaction fees. Most credit cards charge a fee between 2% and 4% for any transaction made in a foreign currency or online with an overseas retailer. Some cards also offer more points for international transactions, so make sure you weigh up the costs as well as the rewards to decide if it’s worth it.
  • Complimentary extras. The more premium frequent flyer credit cards come with other travel perks, which can include airport lounge passes, flight vouchers, travel insurance and luxury airport transfer services. Some of these cards also offer shopping benefits such as purchase protection insurance.

Compare frequent flyer credit cards

Name Product Bonus points Rewards program Rewards points per $ spent Purchase rate Annual fee
Qantas American Express Ultimate Card
120,000
Qantas Frequent Flyer
1.25
20.74% p.a.
$450
Receive 120,000 bonus Qantas Points and 120 Status Credits when you spend $4,500 in the first 3 months. Ends 15 June 2021.
NAB Qantas Rewards Signature Card
110,000
Qantas Frequent Flyer
1
19.99% p.a.
$295 annual fee for the first year ($395 p.a. thereafter)
Earn up to 110,000 bonus Qantas Points (90,000 when you spend $3,000 in the first 60 days and 20k after 12 months).
Citi Rewards Card - Velocity Points Offer
100,000
Citi Rewards Program
1
21.49% p.a.
$99 annual fee for the first year ($199 p.a. thereafter)
Enjoy 100,000 bonus Velocity Points when you spend $3,000 in the first 90 days. Plus, complimentary travel and purchase insurance.
Virgin Australia Velocity Flyer Card - Balance Transfer Offer
N/A
Velocity Frequent Flyer
0.66
20.74% p.a.
$64 annual fee for the first year ($129 p.a. thereafter)
Get 0% p.a. on balance transfers for 26 months, a reduced 1st year annual fee & $129 Virgin Australia Gift Voucher yearly.
Qantas Premier Platinum
80,000
Qantas Frequent Flyer
1
19.99% p.a.
$225 annual fee for the first year ($299 p.a. thereafter)
Enjoy 80,000 bonus Qantas Points when you spend at least $4,000 within the first 3 months, 80 bonus Status Credits on eligible spend, plus a discounted $225 first-year annual fee.
St.George Amplify Platinum - Qantas
60,000
Qantas Frequent Flyer
0.5
19.74% p.a.
$99
Earn 60,000 bonus Qantas Points, plus enjoy 0% p.a. on balance transfers for 15 months with a 1% BT fee.
American Express Explorer Credit Card
50,000
Membership Rewards
2
20.74% p.a.
$395
Get 50,000 bonus Membership Rewards Points when you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months.
American Express Qantas Business Rewards Card
150,000
Qantas Business Rewards
1.25
N/A
$450
ABN holders w/ $75,000 revenue. 150,000 bonus Qantas Points and a $450 Qantas Flight Voucher when you spend $3,000 within the first 2 months. Ends 30 June 2021.
Westpac Altitude Platinum Qantas
60,000
Qantas Frequent Flyer
0.5
20.49% p.a.
$149 annual fee for the first year ($200 p.a. thereafter)
Get 60,000 bonus Qantas Points when you spend $3,000 within 90 days. Plus, a first-year annual fee discount and a 0% balance transfer offer.
NAB Rewards Business Signature Card
100,000
NAB Rewards
1.25
18.5% p.a.
$175
Earn 100,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 on everyday business purchases in the first 60 days of account opening. ABN required.
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Which debit cards earn frequent flyer rewards?

ccf-frequent-flyer-cards2-250x250Unlike credit cards, frequent flyer debit cards don’t attract interest charges or annual fees worth hundreds of dollars. They’re basically like normal debit card or transaction accounts, allowing you to spend your own money and earn points in the process. This makes them an appealing alternative if you don’t want to use a credit card for purchases but still want to earn frequent flyer rewards through everyday transactions.

There are currently three debit cards in Australia that offer you frequent flyer points for account activity: the Bankwest Qantas Transaction Mastercard, the Qantas Travel Money and the Velocity Global Wallet. While the Bankwest option is linked to an everyday banking account, the Qantas Travel Money and Velocity Global Wallet are prepaid debit cards that you can load with funds and use to spend in Australian dollars or up to 10 other currencies.

Compare frequent flyer debit cards

You can use this table to compare the points and fees of frequent flyer debit cards:

CardEarn ratesFeesOther features
Bankwest Qantas Transaction Mastercard
  • 5 Qantas Points per eligible purchase5 Qantas Points per overseas ATM withdrawal
  • 12 Qantas Points per month for every $100 in your account
  • Monthly account fee: A fee of $6 per month applies unless you deposit at least $2,000 per month in your account.
  • Foreign transaction fee: A fee worth 2.95% applies for each transaction made in a foreign currency.Please note that overseas ATM operators may apply charges for withdrawals.
  • Everyday banking account features
  • Complimentary Qantas Frequent Flyer membership for new customers
  • Earn interest on your account balance at a variable rate of 0.01% p.a.
Qantas Travel Money
  • 1 Qantas Point per $4 spent on eligible purchases in Australia
  • 1.5 Qantas Points per $1 spent on eligible purchases overseas
  • International ATM withdrawal fees: AUD1.95; USD1.95; GBP1.25; EUR1.50; THB70; NZD2.50; SGD2.50; HKD15.00; CAD2.00; JPY160; AED6.50
  • Debit card loading fee: A fee worth 1% of the total amount applies if you load money onto this card using a debit card.
  • Prepaid, reloadable travel money card
  • Load and spend in up to 11 currencies (including Australian dollars)
  • Complimentary Qantas Frequent Flyer membership for new customers
Velocity Global Wallet
  • 1 Velocity Point per $3 spent on eligible purchases in Australia
  • 2 Velocity Points per $1 spent overseas
  • ATM withdrawal fee: AUD$1.95
  • Foreign currency conversion fee: A fee of 2.25% applies for transactions made in a currency other than those you’ve loaded on the card.
  • Inactivity fee: A fee of $1.95 per month is charged if you don’t use your card within a 12-month period.
  • Prepaid, reloadable travel money card
  • Load and spend in up to 11 currencies (including Australian dollars)

ccf-frequent-flyer-comparison-895x299

Frequent flyer credit cards vs debit cards: Which is better?

If you want to choose between a credit card or debit card that earns frequent flyer points, here are three key features you can easily compare:

Standard earn rate

This is the number of points per $1 you’re most likely to earn for everyday spending in Australia. For credit cards, the earn rate can range from around 0.25 to 1.5 frequent flyer points per $1 spent. For debit cards, you earn between 0.25 and 0.33 points per $1 spent in Australia, except on the Bankwest Qantas Transaction Mastercard, which offers a flat rate of 5 Qantas Points per transaction.

  • Winner: Credit cards are the clear winner, with up to 1.5 points per $1 as a standard. However, it does still depend on which specific cards you compare.

Other earn rate/s

Some frequent flyer credit cards offer higher earn rates for certain transactions, such as those made overseas or with a partner airline (e.g. Qantas or Virgin Australia). When that’s the case, you can get up to 2.5 points for each $1 spent.

In comparison, both the Qantas Travel Money and Velocity Global Wallet offer higher earn rates for spending overseas, with 1.5 Qantas Points per $1 and 2 Velocity Points per $1 respectively. The Bankwest Qantas Transaction, on the other hand, offers 5 Qantas Points for overseas ATM withdrawals and 12 Qantas Points per month for every $100 of your account balance.

  • Winner: Once again, credit cards win in terms of the highest earn rates. But it is worth noting that both the Qantas Travel Money and Velocity Global Wallet international earn rates are higher than those of many other cards – and offer you a way to avoid currency conversion charges if you have preloaded foreign currency onto them.

Account fees

Frequent flyer credit card annual fees can be over $400, especially for the cards with higher earn rates. Most cards also charge foreign transaction fees when you use them overseas or for online shopping with international retailers, as well as interest if you carry a balance.

Both the Qantas Travel Money and Velocity Global Wallet don’t charge monthly or annual account fees (although you will pay an inactivity fee if you don’t use the Velocity Global Wallet at least once in 12 months). The Bankwest Qantas Transaction has a monthly account fee of $6 but waives it if you deposit at least $2,000 per month (such as your wages). As travel money cards, the Qantas Travel Money and Velocity Global Wallet give you a way to avoid foreign transaction fees in many different locations. Even when you do have to pay one, it’s still less than the average 3% charged by most credit cards.

  • Winner: The three frequent flyer debit cards have fewer fees and more ways to avoid them, making them the clear winner.

Based on these three features, credit cards generally come out on top. They also offer bonus points and complimentary extras that you can’t get with a debit card. But the trade-off is a credit account and typically higher fees and charges than those you’d get with one of these frequent flyer debit cards. So choosing a frequent flyer card really comes down to how it will be used and what your own priorities are.

For example, if you regularly use a credit card for purchases already, you may find that a frequent flyer credit card is ideal for earning more points without really changing your current spending habits. But if you’re not a frequent credit card user or don’t want to pay the higher costs, a debit card could be a more suitable way to earn points as you spend.

Now that you know more about the similarities and differences between frequent flyer credit cards and debit cards, you can weigh up credit card and debit card frequent flyer options to determine which one offers you the greatest rewards.

Pictures: Shutterstock

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