If you own a business and you’re spending more than $80,000 annually, you could be flying all over the planet in swanky business class for next to nothing simply by using credit card reward points.
Former Macquarie Bank accountant Steve Hui says most people have no idea how far their points can take them. He established a consultancy, iFLYflat, to help people use the points accrued from business spending to purchase heavily subsidised flights at the front of the plane.
This year we helped a fruit and vegetable shop earn 1.6 million points ... they used their points to fly their family of five to Europe in business class.Steve Hui
“The biggest mistake most people make when it comes to credit card reward points is not earning the points in the first place,” Hui says.
iFLYflat kicked off less than two years ago and Hui claims to have already put plenty of bums on super-comfy long-haul seats. His business model is based around a subscription service costing anything from $660 per year to upwards of $3300, depending on how many flights are taken.
Use the money you already spend
Hui says there are three elements to iFLYflat. He helps clients earn more points by using the right credit cards to pay for business expenses, and assists them to select the right airlines, points programs and fares for their needs. Finally, he sources frequent flyer seats on major airlines for clients and books their tickets.
“This year we helped a fruit and vegetable shop earn 1.6 million points, simply by showing them which credit cards to use for all their business expenditure,” he says. “Previously they were paying their suppliers with a combination of cash, cheque, EFT, and with credit cards that hardly earned any points. They used their points to fly their family of five to Europe in business class.”
Want to fly to Dubai first class with Qantas? That will set you back 144,000 frequent flyer points each way (plus taxes). Hui says it's more achievable than most people think with the right type of expenditure.
“The whole idea is for people to earn the points with the money they are spending anyhow,” he says. “A medium-sized business could earn that many points in less than three months.”
Thinking of redeeming your points for a toaster or an iPod instead of a flight? Don’t, says Hui.
“Flights are 600 to 1000 per cent better value than catalogue goods. That’s because the airline or the credit card company has to buy the toaster first, which costs them money.”
Never fly economy again
Ditto when it comes to redeeming your points for economy flights rather than business or first class. This is because the taxes are similar in all cases, yet the retail value of the ticket is much higher at the pointy end of the plane.
For example, to fly business class return Sydney/London/Sydney on Singapore Airlines will burn 161,500 points plus taxes of $1328.54. The retail price of the ticket is $8625, meaning the value of each point works out at 4.52 cents.
To do the same trip in cattle class will take 80,750 points, plus taxes of $1060. The retail value of the ticket is only $ 2150, meaning the value of each point is just 1.33 cents.
Pay your taxes
And he advises against the temptation to use points to pay taxes, which some airlines allow. "In all cases, paying for fees and taxes is poor value as the redemption rate is not good. They normally just convert your points into less than 1 cent per point and then use that to pay for the taxes," Hui says.
Chris Gray, host of Your Property Empire on Sky News, is one of Hui's earliest clients. “This was exactly the kind of business I was looking for,” he says. “I haven’t flown economy since I signed up, and I’ve taken more than 10 flights for free, only having to pay a couple of hundred bucks for taxes.”
Gray also took advantage of the other side of Hui’s business: purchasing frequent flyer points from the airlines for a wholesale price.
“My wife and I wanted to go to Vegas and we didn’t have the points with a carrier that would take us there, so I paid Steve about two-thirds of the retail price and he was able to purchase the points for me," he says. "This is why he is so much value. The average person hasn’t got a hope in hell of navigating an airline website to do this.”
'Personal trainer for your points'
David Flynn, the editor of the Australian Business Traveller website, says that although it would be possible for the average punter to gain the mastery of their frequent flyer points, it takes a lot of hard work. “Sure, it’s possible to gain a high level of knowledge about your points and how to use them, but it’s hard yakka, so why wouldn’t you hire an expert to do it for you?” he says.
“I see great merit in what Steve (Hui) is doing. It’s akin to hiring a personal trainer for your points; to whip them into shape.”
Flynn’s own tips for maximising your points come down to three cardinal rules:
- Earn points everywhere you can, and not just on big-ticket items but on everyday purchases such as buying your lunch; it all adds up.
- Stay on top of your credit card payments and never, ever pay interest.
- Keep your eye out for great sign-up deals on credit cards, bank accounts and insurance plans which can deliver tens of thousands of points immediately. "For example, Bank West recently launched a bank account through which you could earn 10,000 Qantas points,” Flynn says.