As part of our free beginner’s course to earning more points, we cover the value of flexible points programs in more detail and explore the basic concept of why flexible points programs are king when it comes to ‘levelling-up’ your points collecting game.
This is a cut-down version of the introduction to flexible points programs introduction in the course. If you’ve ever wondered why programs like American Express Membership Rewards are some of the best points program options when it comes to credit card points, this guide should help.
What is a flexible points program?
Put simply, it’s a scheme where you can transfer your accumulated points to other loyalty programs (such as airline frequent flyer programs), or put towards rewards such as statement credits and gift cards. An example of such a program is American Express Membership Rewards.
This flexibility gives you more value on a per-point basis—why?
Each flexible points program currency has a transfer rate between their currency and their partners’ currencies. This allows you to transfer your points over to partner programs at fixed, and generally stable, transfer rates.
For example, 2 bank rewards program points may transfer to 1 Velocity point (called a 2:1 ratio).
What flexible points programs are in Australia?
Most credit card rewards programs offer flexible points, such as American Express Membership Rewards and Westpac Altitude Rewards.
The biggest providers of flexible points programs are the big banks. If you want to get into the details of each of them, you can read full guides to these here:
- American Express Membership Rewards
- Amplify Rewards
- ANZ Rewards
- Citi Rewards
- CommBank Rewards
- NAB Rewards
- Westpac Altitude Rewards
Likewise, most hotel loyalty programs are flexible — Marriott Bonvoy, Hilton Honors and World of Hyatt all allow you to earn points in their own program and then transfer them to airline rewards. Whether this is a good deal depends on a number of factors — often it’s not.
In contrast, most frequent flyer programs don’t offer flexible points. Once you earn points in that program, you can’t move your balance to other programs.
People ask if it’s possible to merge frequent flyer point balances across different programs, and 99% of the time the answer is no. However, there are two notable exceptions: between Velocity and KrisFlyer as well as British Airways Executive Club and Iberia Plus.
Advantages of flexible points
- You can hold onto your points now, to make a decision on how and where you use them later
- You can research the best points program price and actual award availability for your intended route and dates — AwardAce, Award Maximizer and AwardHacker are good pricing comparison websites
- You will protect yourself from frequent flyer program devaluations or shutdowns — at least you have the option to move your points to a different rewards program.
- You can take advantage of transfer bonuses from one currency to another. Both Virgin Australia and Qantas have occasional transfer bonuses from American Express Membership Rewards.
- If travel isn’t on your cards, you could cash out your points for other kinds of redemptions that can’t be offered by an airline program, such as for card statement credits or experiential redemptions — just don’t use your points to buy a blender!
Disadvantages of flexible points programs
There aren’t too many. You could say that flexible points programs add complexity to your strategy:
- You’ll spend time and mental overhead keeping on top of where you should transfer your points (but some people may find this juggling enjoyable and ultimately rewarding), and
- Although you can transfer your points on-demand over to partner programs, this can often take anywhere from 24-120 hours or more.
Flexible programs often involve much more thinking to work out which transfer partner will get you the best-value redemption and greatest availability.
Then, the time spent waiting for points to transfer over to the partner once you’ve made a decision to redeem them for a specific flight can be nail-biting, with the possibility of those flights being booked by someone else before the points arrive in your frequent flyer account.
Which are the best flexible points credit card program?
Ah, the million-dollar question, to which, unfortunately, the only answer is: ‘for what?’ It depends on the credit card you pick from that bank’s range and what you intend to use the points for.
Here are some of the facts though:
- Most flexible points programs offer at least as many points on a point per dollar basis as airline-branded credit cards (with some exceptions you need to look out for)
- American Express Membership Rewards has the widest range of airline transfer partners across their full card range, including the main three of value for our region: Velocity, KrisFlyer and Asia Miles.
- Cardholders enrolled in the Ascent Premium program (e.g. holders of the American Express Platinum card) also have Qantas as a rare transfer partner.
- Most of the major banks partner with Velocity and KrisFlyer across their full card range
- A lesser number partner with Cathay Pacific’s Asia Miles program, e.g. Citi Rewards only does this for its most expensive card, the Citi Prestige
- Citi Rewards partners with a huge number of foreign airline partners with their Citi Prestige card but only a few of them make any sense to use, e.g. Air France/KLM Flying Blue
- American Express and Westpac also offer business cards tied into their loyalty programs — business spend is one of the best ways to earn the most points from credit card use.
Why isn’t Qantas included in more flexible points programs?
Qantas Frequent Flyer made the strategic decision in 2009 to pull out of most of their agreements with flexible points programs and no longer partners with most of them.
This is why you see banks only offering direct-earn Qantas Points credit cards — the banks can still maintain their own separate rewards programs for other customers while giving customers interested in earning Qantas Points an option.
If you want to earn Qantas Points in bulk, then a Qantas-branded card is the most popular way to do it, but that leaves you tied to Qantas Points.
If Qantas Frequent Flyer feels like devaluing their program and increasing redemption rates (which they, like most programs, will inevitably do), they can go ahead with it and there’s nothing you can do about it. Your Qantas Points have to be used with Qantas redemption opportunities only and can’t be swapped out to other programs.
That’s not to say Qantas Points have no use or value — they certainly do.
It’s just that you should be aware of locking yourself into Qantas Points as your main points program means you don’t have as much room to move.
The number of Qantas Points needed for flights is already amongst the highest compared to other programs, and the extra carrier charges you pay on a ticket can be very high too.
This guide takes a look at whether you should choose a credit card that earns flexible points or Qantas Points.
- Flexible points programs are primarily associated with credit cards and hotel programs
- The flexibility also adds value to the points you can earn in these programs versus earning points directly into a frequent flyer account
- Flexibility can also help protect you against some of the headaches of frequent flyer programs, e.g. devaluations or lack of award seats with one airline programs versus another
- You’ll trade-off that flexibility for time and mental overhead in managing these points, research in understanding their partners and deciding where to transfer them when you want to redeem them
- Qantas does not partner with flexible points programs, with the exception of those enrolled in American Express’ Ascent Premium rewards program, ANZ Business Rewards and Westpac Altitude Business Rewards.
There’s no right or wrong approach, though. If you prefer earning points directly into frequent flyer programs from your credit card for simplicity (and often, points maximisation into that program from your spend), then go for it. For Qantas Points, it’s basically your only option.