When first starting out in the frequent flyer space, it can be tempting to go straight for a card that earns Qantas or Velocity Points directly. And while there is certainly nothing wrong with that approach, it’s also worth considering picking a card that links to a bank reward program.

There are benefits and drawbacks, but overall, these flexible bank reward programs are generally a handy tool for advanced frequent flyers. You’ll find out why soon!

What are the main bank rewards programs in Australia?

Most major banks in Australia offer an in-house rewards program with various airline partners. You earn points in the bank reward program first, before later transferring them to various airline partners at your desire. For example, ‘3 to 1’ means three bank points transfer to one airline point or mile.

It’s not an exhaustive list, but here are the main programs and partnerships to be aware of:

Rewards ProgramVirgin Australia VelocitySingapore Airlines KrisflyerCathay Asia MilesEmirates SkywardsAir New Zealand Airpoints
American Express Membership Rewards2 to 12 to 12 to 12 to 1200 to 1
Westpac Altitude3 to 13 to 13 to 13 to 1180 to 1
HSBC Rewards2 to 12 to 12 to 1--

St.George, Bank of Melbourne, Bank SA
2 to 12 to 1-2 to 1-
Citi Rewards Card

2.5 to 13 to 1---
Citi Premier Card2 to 12.5 to 1---
Citi Prestige Card2 to 12.5 to 12.5 to 1--
ANZ Rewards2 to 13 to 13 to 1-200 to 1
NAB Rewards2 to 13 to 13 to 1-200 to 1

It’s important to know that these are the transfer rates. The rates at which you earn points will differ wildly between banks and even on different cards within the same bank, so you need to do your research on those.

The main benefit of bank reward programs is you are not locked into a specific airline. You can transfer your points over to various airline partners at your leisure, depending on which airline offers the best reward seats for your next trip. There’s nothing worse in the points world than being stuck with hundreds of thousands of points you can’t use!

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Know your earn rates with bank rewards programs

The best way to compare different bank reward program cards is to work out the ‘effective earn rate’ for your target airline. Let’s say you want to maximise your Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer balance. You have three cards in mind – the American Express Explorer, the ANZ Rewards Black and the St.George Amplify Signature.

The standard earn rate of each card is:

  • American Express Explorer: 2 Membership Rewards point per dollar
  • ANZ Rewards Black: 2 ANZ Rewards points per dollar (halves after $5,000/month)
  • St.George Amplify Signature: 1.5 Amplify points per dollar

Next, we look at the transfer rates from each bank rewards program to KrisFlyer:

  • American Express Explorer: 2 Membership Rewards points to 1 KrisFlyer mile
  • ANZ Rewards Black: 3 ANZ Rewards points to 1 KrisFlyer mile
  • St.George Amplify Signature: 2 Amplify points to 1 KrisFlyer mile

With those figures, we can now work out how many KrisFlyer miles you are earning per dollar (the ‘effective earn rate’):

  • American Express Explorer: 1 KrisFlyer mile per dollar
  • ANZ Rewards Black: 0.66 KrisFlyer miles per dollar (halves after $5,000/month)
  • St.George Amplify Signature: 0.75 KrisFlyer miles per dollar

So if you were purely after a card that earned the most KrisFlyer miles on an ongoing basis, then the American Express Explorer is a good pick at one mile per dollar.

But you’ll also need to factor in annual fees and sign-up bonuses. For example, the American Express Explorer Card standard annual fee is $395/year (offset by a $400 travel credit), while the St.George Amplify Signature standard annual fee is $279 a year.

Summing Up

Plenty of your own research is required if you’re planning on joining a bank’s reward program. But it’s fairly easy to do the maths – just find out the card’s earn rate and transfer rate to your favourite airline. Take into account sign-up bonuses, annual fees and other perks that might interest you (such as lounge passes).

A beginner’s guide to bank rewards programs was last modified: August 24th, 2023 by Brandon Loo