Many articles on the internet discuss award opportunities for airlines, such as crazy credit card sign up bonuses, stacking benefits to get upgraded to first or special lounge perks. But what about free flights? What about free flights around the world with no tax? What about free flights with no tax and no upfront payment?
This following article is relevant to Australia but can, in theory, be replicated with a variety of other offers around the world. I recommend starting with the best travel reward cards of 2018/2019.
For those who are experienced with point accruing, think of this as a newbies guide to actually using points.
The story so far
Back in May in 2017, I finally pulled the trigger on getting a real award availability credit card. Up till that point, I had a generic bank master card that did not provide any awards. Having spent thousands through that card (It essentially was my daily driver, I never pay cash) and not getting anything in return, I finally snapped in frustration and got a rewards card.
After much searching online, I finally found the best credit card in the Australian market at the time. The American Express Explorer Card.
It has the following advantages:
- 100,000 American Express Gateway points as a sign-up bonus.
- 2 Membership Rewards Gateway points per $1 spent on most purchases (uncapped).
- Travel insurance if bought through the gateway.
- Phone screen insurance if bought with the card.
- Access to the American Express lounge twice a year at Sydney and Melbourne Airports.
- Points never expire and can be used indefinitely (Unlike airline reward points).
- Minimum $1,500 AUD spend within 3 months.
- $400 AUD Yearly Fee.
- $400 AUD travel credit to spend on hotels, car rentals and flights.
What can you spend it on?
The points situation is a little bit tricky. American Express has several different reward centers (And some fantastic rewards for those looking to score Avios deals), a point in one is not worth the same elsewhere. As such with the ‘Gateway’ points are worth a 4:3 ratio with airline miles.
Speaking of air miles, which airlines can you transfer your points into?
- Virgin Australia Velocity Frequent Flyer
- Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
- Cathay Pacific Asia Miles (Can be leveraged into other Oneworld flights, such as Qantas).
- Emirates Skywards
- Etihad Guest
- Malaysian Airlines Enrich
- Thai Airways Royal Orchid Plus
Cardmembers can also transfer points to Hilton Honors at a 1:1 rate, and Marriott Rewards at a 3:2 rate.
But for those of us who might not be putting enough points through get an upgrade, especially with that 2:1 ratio (50,000 bonus Membership Gateway points offer is equivalent to 25,000 frequent flyer points), and having to pay the tax on the flights (making some economy redemptions pointless), it may not be worth transferring the points to an airline. After all, there is actually a better way to spend those points.
How to get free economy flights?
It’s been almost 18 months since I signed up and I’ve put roughly $20-30,000 through the card. Essentially, my daily expenses for over a year. So let’s look at how I can spend my 100-150k points.
If we transferred the entire sign up bonus, you could book a Virgin Australia Premium Economy flight, Sydney to Los Angeles (You can read our review here!) for only 71,700 frequent flyer points (Business for 95,000 so you might need to spend a little first or pay the difference).
But we can stretch the program a bit more…
An almost free economy ticket to Hawaii
Back in March 2018, I flew Sydney to Hawaii on Qantas Economy (review here!) oneway, for free.
How? By using the American Express Rewards Gateway. At first, it might seem like they sell overpriced tickets, but sometimes insane deals can be found. If I was to use google flights I get the following deals:
No bad, but what if I told you that you could get that Qantas economy flight for free*? By using the American Express Rewards Gateway I got the flight for $425.54 AUD, two dollars more than the Jetstar flight (Jetstar is a low-cost carrier whilst Qantas is a full-service airline, you can read our Jetstar review here!). The difference in service is well worth the extra $2 dollars.
Now for the magic. Remember that $400 travel credit that balances out the annual credit card fee? If we apply it, it not only pays for the flight but the taxes too (Unlike when you spend frequent flyer points in a program). Leaving us with a 10-hour flight to Hawaii for only $25.54.
As we have not spent any of our 100,000 points, we could spend a simple 3,447 points to cover the difference. I chose to just pay cash (and earn even more points).
But what if I told you we could do better?
A free round-the-world economy ticket
Flash forward to late 2018 and its time for me to book another big trip to try out some of the latest in aviation around the world. Playing with my points I discovered this fantastic deal.
Sydney – Los Angeles – London – Hong Kong – Sydney
Below are the screenshots from the America Express Gateway Store.
All the layovers can be extended by days to weeks, allowing for local connections via low-cost carriers to many other destinations (Especially easy in the United States and Europe!).
With 151,000 current points in my account, this reduces the price to $352.14. With the $400 yearly travel credit, I can make this vanish and still have $50 left over. No tax to pay and no extra fees.
And how much would it cost me if I didn’t use the card?
This was all achieved with one year spending my normal expenses through my card. Some may point out that I also have to fork out $400 AUD for the credit card fee, but I’d argue that I got it back with the $400 travel credit. $400 that opens up more than one flight and countless savings on many others.
At this point, if you don’t have a card, you are leaving money on the table. If you are interested in signing up to this card in particular, or different Amex card, you can check it out through my referral link here.
What do you think? Any tips and tricks I missed? Let us know in the comments.