Let’s be honest. You didn’t read the terms and conditions for your rewards program or credit card in full, and if you did, you’d feel like this guy. They don’t make for easy reading.
Given the range of changes to bank rewards programs and credit cards going on this year, I’ve done the hard work for you and have analysed the terms for each of the major bank rewards programs to shed some light on how each program can be changed and what notice periods they have to give you, if any.
If you did happen to have nothing more interesting to read when you opted into your bank’s rewards program, you might have raised your eyebrow at terms like these ones:
The Bank may change these Terms and Conditions… at any time
We do not have to give Members any notice of changes, even if the changes affect or remove features…
Since many of us go to a lot of effort deciding which card and rewards program is best for our needs, it’s strange to think that we all readily agree that the terms can later be changed and we’ll have no say in the matter.
“That’s outrageous”, you might think. “I never agreed to that”. But you did. And if there was ever any doubt that you did, there is a term to cover that too …
If you have not already accepted these Terms and Conditions, you now accept by using your Card or your account.
In this article, we cover the major bank rewards programs: ANZ Rewards, CommBank Rewards, Amplify (St George), Altitude (Westpac), Citi and Amex.
At the end of this article, we have also included a note on the Australian Consumer Law and how that might protect you when it comes to the terms of your contract with banks and airlines.
Different types of Terms and Conditions
It’s important to note that there are more than one set of terms and conditions that will govern your interactions with banks. There will be one for your credit card and one for your reward program. There will also be others related to privacy, internet banking, insurance etc.
In this guide, we are only focussed on the terms and conditions related to the rewards programs. Unfortunately, a straight comparison is not possible since not all banks have described their right to change terms in the same way.
Some rewards programs have fees attached to them (for example CommBank’s Qantas Frequent Flyer Direct fee) and we will cover how changes in those fees can happen. But we won’t be covering how changes in your credit card contract can happen in this guide.
The water gets a bit murky when it comes to earn rates. Some banks have the terms related to earn rates in their rewards program terms and conditions, but others have related terms in their credit card contract. Again, we’re only covering things in the rewards programs terms and conditions in this guide.
Confused yet? OK, let’s get started…
Unsurprisingly, ANZ has retained the right to change its rewards terms and conditions at any time. This table shows the notice they have to provide for different changes.
|If the change is related to:||Notice period required|
|Points you have already earned||At least 30 days notice|
|The availability of rewards||No notice|
|The number of points needed for a redemption||No notice|
|Amending these terms and conditions||At least 30 days|
|Any change made by a Bonus Partner||No notice|
Bonus partners can only change the types of goods/services of theirs that will get you bonus points and the amount of bonus points you’ll earn by buying them.
ANZ’s terms state that a ‘reward’ is defined as follows:
‘reward’ means a reward, gift, bonus, good or service or other benefit obtained by you through the accumulation of Reward Points through the use of the card or a card account.”*
As a result, it seems grey as to whether ANZ Rewards could remove an airline transfer partner like Velocity, or change a transfer rate, without notice – or whether that would affect points that you have already earned (which it would, as you could no longer transfer your already earned points to that partner).
That said, ANZ have already made moves to decrease the points earn rate on ANZ Rewards cards rather than adjusting available partners or transfer rates.
Amplify (St George) and Altitude (Westpac)
Removing Rewards from Amplify and Altitude
To remove a reward from the program the banks need to provide you with the following notice.
|If they are removing:||Notice|
(Amplify and Altitude)
|Something the bank thinks is not "material to the character" of the program|
(e.g. a particular item from their store)
|Something the bank thinks is "material to the character" of the program |
(e.g. airline rewards or entire reward categories)
|At least 90 days. |
Unless the bank can't get an 'acceptable' deal for the rewards with the partners, in which case, no notice.
All other changes, including earn rates and fees etc.
|Amplify - If the change is related to:||Notice period|
|Redeeming with points you have not yet earned||30 days|
|Redeeming with points you have already earned||At least 30 days|
|Other material changes||At least 30 days|
|Other non material changes||No notice|
However, if the changes are due to increases in the cost of the thing you want to redeem, the bank is not required to give you notice to make the change.
|Altitude - If the change is related to:||Notice period|
|Introducing or changing fees||At least 30 days|
|Changing earn rates||At least 30 days|
|Other non material changes||No notice|
In addition to having different terms and conditions for each credit card, Citibank also has two sets of terms and conditions for their rewards program. One for Signature and Prestige card rewards and another for Classic, Gold and Platinum card rewards.
Thankfully, the clauses on changing the terms are the same regardless which card you have.
Personally, I found these terms to be the most reasonable out of all the bank programs.
|If the change is related to:||Notice period|
|The earn rate||90 days|
|The removal of rewards or entire reward programs||90 days|
|Any other changes to the terms and conditions||30 days|
|The number of points needed to make a redemption||Notification online at the time of redemption|
Note that if Citibank decides to close one of their rewards programs, it is up to them whether they will allow you to transfer your points to another rewards program or whether you must redeem them by a certain date. You will get 90 days notice.
The terms and conditions for Commonwealth Awards are very basic and non-specific, and they essentially say:
- The bank can change the terms at any time.
- This includes changes to earn rates and the addition or removal of rewards
- They will provide you with at least 20 days if they think the change is ‘material’
- Otherwise the changes will just be listed on their website.
- If you don’t like it you can leave
I personally dislike these terms more than any of the other banks’, especially since Commbank is one of the banks that outlines their earn rates in their rewards terms and conditions, rather than the credit card contract.
Twenty days notice to change the earn rate is too few in my view, especially given that it is a key factor that will draw people into signing up for a particular credit card.
American Express Membership Rewards
American Express offers a number of different rewards programs each with different terms and conditions, however, the clause relating to changes of terms is the same for each.
|If the change is related to:||Notice period|
|Increasing the number of points for a specific redemption||No notice|
|Increasing the number of points for all redemptions||At least 60 days, unless it is due to an increase in the cost of supplying the reward|
|Adding or removing non-material partners||No notice|
|Removing material partners||At least 90 days|
|Terminating the entire program||At least 90 days|
|Fees and earn rates||At least 90 days|
|Any other material changes||At least 30 days|
American Express’ terms give reasonable timings for changes, although the get out clause for no notice of ‘an increase in the cost of supplying the reward’ could apply to an increase in transfer rate if a partner like Velocity, KrisFlyer, or Starwood Preferred Guest increased the price of the points they sell to American Express (or Amex claimed this was the case).
What can you do about unfair terms?
What can you do if you think a term in a standard form contract is unfair? You can’t negotiate terms on a website, and even if you went into a bank, they are not about to negotiate terms with you.
As the world moves more and more towards standard form contracts, the power to negotiate terms in contracts with large organisations is rapidly shrinking. For this reason, there are laws which prevent standard form contracts from containing ‘unfair terms’.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is responsible for administering these laws, and you can always complain to them if you think a standard form contract has unfair terms in it. The ACCC can decide that a term is invalid if they deem it to be unfair.
You can read more about unfair terms or make a complaint with the ACCC here if you ever felt justified.
All banks reserve the right to make any changes to their rewards programs, however, the notice periods that they have to give you for each type of change is different.
Some bank terms and conditions are specific about which changes they can make and how much notice they’ll give, whilst others have preferred a broader approach.
Notice periods will generally turn on whether the bank considers the changes to be ‘material’. Banks will almost always reserve the right to make changes without notice if they have to make the changes due to increases in third-party costs, which is a key get out for frequent flyer linked rewards.