I’m about to head off on a European journey with my wife and son that’s been quite a few years in the making. Our original intent was to save enough points to get to Europe and back in Business Class. We had no timeframe, itinerary or airline in mind – it was just a lofty goal that we decided on a few years ago.
We love traveling and try to get out of the country at least once a year. We’re also not great at spending money on frivolous things, so the only way we were going to get to the pointy end of the plane was if it were, for all intents and purposes, ‘free’.
As far as my work with Point Hacks goes – I love a good beginners article. I’m sure some of the points aficionados reading this will recoil in horror at how many more points I could be earning. And in some ways, that’s the reason I’m writing this – to show a lazy points earning case study.
With the interest in Kellie’s case study last week, we hope you find Sam’s case study on how he saved and earned the points for his upcoming trip just as interesting!
Much of my ‘strategy’ is set and forget and requires little brain power. Almost to the point that when we reached our goal, we were surprised at how little effort it really was. Imagine if we really put our minds to it!
The following is my own experience and opinions, and is certainly not meant to be a guide. Your situation is going to be different to mine. Figures are very rough, and I occasionally mix currencies when I talk about earning (some things bring Qantas points while other might bring Velocity or FlyBuys).
The point is that it’s easy to do.
So just how did we earn these points? Here’s the overview of points earned from general spend:
|Annual Qantas Points|
|Woolworths / Groceries||10,400|
|goCatch / cabs||1000|
|Life - bills, utilities, groceries and other general spend||65,000|
We’ll get into the details of each line as we run through the case study.
Throw in a home renovation, picking up a couple of credit card sign up bonuses, and that’s enough for a Business Class return trip to Europe, flying with Emirates, for two of us.
Lazy points are the best points
In the Point Hacks Editorial chat, an idea has been floating around for a while for someone to write an article on “What type of ‘Points Nerd’ are you?”, where we run through the different types of points collectors out there. (It’s coming soon.)
I’ll say at the outset that I’m the Lazy Points Nerd (LPN).
I love clocking up rewards, but I’m not the kind of person to drive halfway across town so I can earn an extra bonus point by buying seven Cherry Ripes on a Tuesday. Power to you if you are.
If it’s only mildly inconvenient I’ll do it, but it has to be pretty mild. If I was planning on buying seven Cherry Ripes anyway, then maybe I’d cross town, but probably not.
My kind of deal? I recently bought $60 worth of printer ink I don’t need so I could get 10,000 Aquire points. I figure I’ll need the ink one day, and I didn’t need to leave the house to do it. That is the way of the LPN.
My focus is Qantas points, but am also more than happy to clock in some Velocity or FlyBuys points whenever the opportunity presents itself. The choice to focus on Qantas was out of laziness too – it’s what I know.
Paying for points (or not in my case)
I am also not the kind of person who’ll cop enormous annual fees just to earn rewards. One or two reasonable annual fees are fine, although I’ve come across people with a handful of cards costing thousands of dollars per year in fees.
I am aware that the benefits of these cards often outweigh the costs, but my goal in this whole venture is to spend no more money than I usually would, save for maybe some small annual fee increase.
I’ve never purchased points either, although the more I look at it, the more enticing it does seem. I don’t really class points purchasing as hacking anyway – I see it as more like buying discounted flights.
How I value my points
What was the purpose of that missive above I hear you ask? To prepare you for how I value my points.
Are you ready? The fact is, I don’t value them. At all.
1c, 2c, 3c, 10c – I don’t care. They cost me nothing, so are worth nothing. They are purely a bonus.
As an analogy – my wife’s favourite bottle of Sauvignon Blanc costs around $15. Every now and then the bottle shop up the road has a special of 3 for $30. In my mind, that doesn’t mean I’ve bought 3 bottles of wine at $10 each. It means I’ve bought two bottles of wine at their usual price, and I got a free one on top.
Of course, the points have value in the sense of how you spend them, and if the free stuff is worth anything to you. If my bottle shop offered me either a complimentary bottle of wine worth $15, or a Mars Bar worth $2, I’m going to take the bottle of wine, because I like wine.
If it offered me the wine or a bottle of bourbon worth $50, I’m still going to take the wine. I don’t care how much the bourbon is worth, I’m never going to drink it.
The fact that we’re about to go to Europe in a mix of First and Business class does not mean I’ve used $15-20k worth of points in my mind. It means I just got some really great free flights.
And that’s exciting!
So here’s how I earned us our Qantas Points…
The regular point earners
I’m going to start with ways that are unfortunately now a little harder to earn from, but still worth noting.
The old Everyday Rewards program was a surefire way to boost the points by at least a couple of hundred a week, and was a pretty reasonable incentive to head to Woolies instead of Coles.
The Woolies/Qantas tie-up was actually what primarily led our decision to focus on Qantas rather than Velocity points. Don’t forget there’s FlyBuys if you shop at Coles, which is becoming more interesting with their recent Etihad tie-up.
Including bonus incentives, I’d say a conservative estimate would be around 200 points per week.
Estimated yearly earnings: 10,400 points.
Back in the good old days, one could rack up a few Qantas points from Caltex every time you filled up the car.
Unfortunately that deal has gone the way of the dodo with the Woolies changes. Now it’s BP who’ll give you the points, with Velocity being the reward. They quite often will have bonus weeks, so well worth making sure you’re on the Velocity mailing list to hear about them.
If FlyBuys is your thing, then find out where your nearest Shell is.
If you’re not already a flybuys member, you can join flybuys here.
Estimated yearly earnings: 1,500 points.
Qantas Online Mall
Both major Australian points programs have online malls. I work in IT, so as part of that, I’m contractually obliged to buy heaps of useless technology from eBay, much to my wife’s chagrin.
When clicking to eBay via the Qantas Online Mall I get at least 1 point per $. Occasionally they have clocked that up to 4 points per dollar.
You can also buy from Kogan in the online mall, as well as a host of other useful stores.
I bought a new laptop through the Apple store last year via the online mall, and so gained a couple of thousand points.
Estimated yearly earnings: 3,000 points.
This is a reasonably new one, but we do use it whenever we cab anywhere.
Estimated yearly earnings: 1,000 points.
You can earn up to 150 Qantas points per month by doing your internet searches through Bing. I will admit that in some spare time at work I will just punch random words into the Bing toolbar to crank over the points.
A colleague and I used to challenge each other to see who could get to 150 first by just putting gibberish into the toolbar. Any metrics hoping to be gained by Bing are definitely skewed by people like me.
Once you’ve got your 150 points, log out of the toolbar and log in as your partner, then your child. It’s not something I put any great time into, but if I remember to do it every month, then that’s 450 points (150 each for me, my wife and my son).
Estimated yearly earnings: 5,400 points.
Let’s take a quick breather, shall we?
So far, we’re at over 20,000 points per year, and we’re still to get to the big stuff.
The Big Earners
We do a fair bit of domestic flying every year, and at least one overseas jaunt as well.
I’m going to conservatively guesstimate this nets us around 10,000 points each.
Estimated yearly earnings: 20,000 points.
Life – bills, utilities, groceries and other general spend
Life, it costs money.
To pay for it, we have two main credit cards. One is an Amex bringing in 1.5 points per $. The other is a Mastercard at 1 point per $ for when Amex isn’t accepted or there’s a hefty fee for using it. I will stress that we always pay these cards off every month.
Our regular bills like gas, electricity, mobile phones, home internet and insurance are all direct debited through the cards. As are everyday expenses like groceries.
Also – all those things up there that we were looking at, like online malls, and fuel bonuses? They’re bonus points – they still need to be paid for. Hello Amex.
Conservatively speaking, I’m going to say this would average out to around 5000 points per month.
That figure is extremely conservative as it doesn’t take into account some of the bigger, yet less regular expenses in life, such as car registration, council rates, BAS (if you’re a contractor) and childcare which are all points earners too.
Let’s add another 5000 points to the ‘life’ tally to cover off those anomalies.
Estimated yearly earnings: 65,000 points.
Now we’ve tipped well over 100,000 points in one year. Throw in some one-off points promotion earners and we’re headed to Europe in Business Class after a few years of saving.
Looking through that list, the only extra money that has been spent is a small fee from the ATO for paying BAS with a Mastercard, as well as two minimal annual fees. Depending on who you bank with, you may even be able to get some wiggle room with those annual fees too.
That ATO fee is a great example of why the Mastercard exists- paying your tax bill with an Amex will hurt quite a bit, but the Mastercard fee is one that I see as justifiable for the points as well as the ease.
The not so regular points-earners
Credit card signup bonuses
To earn those points, you obviously need a credit card, which invariably will come with a signup bonus.
I’m going to say that my wife and I have one card each that we’ve had for the entire 5 years. I’ll guess that we both got 75,000 bonus points on signup, being 150,000 points altogether.
Irregular massive expenses
Every now and then, life has a way of convincing you spend a lot of money.
In our most recent case, we did a pretty extensive renovation to our house. For that, we put as much as possible on the Amex.
There’s obviously a lot we couldn’t put on a card, like paying builders and contractors, but there was a fair amount that we could, such as permit fees and some materials.
Our builder was happy for us to pay for many of the things that he normally would have bought and then billed us for, such as tiles, toilets and taps. We still got any trade discounts etc, so financially it was exactly the same for us, except that we probably raised in excess of 75,000 points from the whole exercise.
Not that I’m encouraging you to renovate.
Hand me my tickets!
And so it was decided – we’re cashing in the points to go on that dream trip. The decision to go now has mainly been based on the fact that our son is not yet two, and so still flies for free.
With a bit of to-ing and fro-ing, we’ve got our final itinerary sorted, at an outlay of around 650,000 points. A mix of First and Business to Rome on Emirates, and on the way back a month later flying Cathay Pacific Business from Paris. It’s gonna be tough.
As I was saying earlier, this is all a free bonus. Had it not been for the points, we may well have still gone to Europe for this years trip, but it would have been at the back of the plane, and it would have set us back a few thousand dollars more than it has.
There are so many ways to earn and redeem points, and there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach. This is my ‘lazy’ way. The best part of it, is that even after redeeming those points for our upcoming trip, more keep coming in due to the way we’ve set up our set-and-forget earning.
I’m sure we could earn more if we tweaked a few things here and there, but for the moment I’m happy. Maybe I’ll give it some more thought as I’m drifting off the sleep in row 1 of an Emirates A380.