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Sale flight or points flight? Here’s how I chose for Christmas

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Can I use my frequent flyer points to get home? Here's what Finder's experts told me – and what I ended up doing.

Sunday evening. Patience wears thin. Another weekend of trawling through flight comparison sites to no avail.

Looks like Sydney to London will have to wait until 2023, making it 4 years since I've been home to see my family.

In recent weeks, I've been priced out of the Christmas rush and the months leading up to December.

The only semi-affordable flights are at least 30 hours with multiple changes. Having recently become a parent, I have no desire to deliberately sacrifice even more sleep. But the options seem limited.

Feeling ready to quit, I rally myself one more time and set yet another Skyscanner search to the whole month of November. And then it happens.

My points FOMO risks a Qantas sale

From out of nowhere, a small "sale" icon in the top right corner of the screen. A Qantas route to London via Singapore appears.

Amazingly, Qantas is dangling a sub-$1,700 return fare. And it's a sweet-looking journey too: evening flights, 24 hours out and 22 back.

Disbelief gives way to giddiness. There's only one thing stopping me from booking right away.

After seeing the flying kangaroo logo, I remember a conversation I'd recently had with Amy Bradney-George, AKA Finder's credit card expert.

She'd told me all about the various perks of the Qantas American Express Ultimate Card.

The source of my booking hesitation was this: by choosing Qantas, could I be missing out on some very tidy cardholder benefits by not having a credit card?

Amex's main travel perks

As Amy explained at the time, I could sign up and be on my way to gaining up to 100,000 bonus Qantas Points in around 12 months.

So, I head over to Qantas's points calculator. I could comfortably get a one-way pass from Sydney to London this time next year. Indeed, a return flight needs just 128,000 Qantas Points.

What's more, Amex will lay on 4 lounge passes per year and throw in complimentary travel insurance – the latter even covers some COVID claims.

Sure, there's the small matter of a $450 annual fee, but this is effectively wiped out by a Qantas travel credit of the same cost.

It all sounds very tempting.

Flight or fight?

Noticing that my session on Qantas's quote page is about to expire, I panic at the thought of missing out on such a great fare.

So, I chicken out of getting the card and quickly buy the flights instead.

Yes, I came away with the return ticket I'd wanted. But I couldn't shake the feeling I'd missed out on some potential savings.

Ultimately I was out of my depth in terms of the pros and cons of hacking my travel with a credit card.

Might things have turned out differently if it wasn't a Sunday and I'd had Finder's top editorial minds on call on about the Amex plastic?

Later on, I caught up with Amy to find out.

"Plan ahead when taking out a card"

"It was probably a bit last-minute to make the most of a credit card in this situation," she said.

"You would have to wait until you got the card in the mail, for starters. That could take a few days or a couple of weeks depending on things like postage delays. By then, the airfares you saw would probably be gone."

"A lot of places in Australia accept Amex now but it still depends on where you go. I've found it varies a lot overseas, so I usually take another credit card or debit card to give me other options."

She said it's worth planning ahead and getting a new card at least a few months before a trip.

"That gives you time to check out each benefit and choose how you'll make the most of them for any trips you're planning."

Fair points

It's not just credit cards where I have a knowledge gap. I'm a points virgin. I didn't even know Jetstar was owned by Qantas until Amy told me.

Seeking some more reassurance, I speak to Angus Kidman. Angus is Finder's global editor-at-large and all-round points expert. I ask if I've missed out on hacking some seriously good travel extras.

"If you've already got points, then using them for a long-haul booking is great. But it needs to be a long-term strategy," Angus explained.

"In reality, Qantas seats for peak travel periods get snapped as soon as they become available. If you want to travel during Christmas 2022, you need to start looking at Christmas 2021 and check daily."

"Another consideration is that reward flights are much harder to change. With a family in tow and COVID still rampant, the relative flexibility of a paid seat is worth it – though you'll still end up paying more if you do need to change."

He added: "Given that Qantas sales don't hang around for long, you probably made the right call."

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