This article is a part of my travel tips series for New Zealand travellers. If you’re not from NZ, this post won’t apply to you. You can see the rest of the Kiwi traveller guides by clicking here.
Did you know you can add dollars to your travel fund for free, every single day?
Every coffee you buy, every parking ticket you pay for, could be adding up towards your next plane ticket, and you don’t even need to do anything.
I’m talking about Airpoints.
Travel hacking in New Zealand is in the little leagues, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get a bunch of free stuff. I’m only in New Zealand a few months per year, and I barely spend any money here, and I hardly fly Air NZ (I mostly fly budget airlines like Jetstar and Scoot), but even I have over a thousand dollars worth of Airpoints sitting in my account for a rainy day. That’s a free flight to almost anywhere in the world.
If you haven’t been stacking Airpoints, I suggest you start!
What are Airpoints?
Airpoints are New Zealand’s version of frequent flyer miles, and are managed by our national airline, Air New Zealand.
Unlike many frequent flyer miles programs, Airpoints dollars are much easier to understand. They never expire, and one Airpoints dollar is worth the same as one New Zealand dollar – so if you’ve accumulated 1,000 Airpoints dollars it means you can buy a $1,000 plane ticket. Nice and simple.
How to earn Airpoints
First thing you need to do is join Airpoints. This is free. Just sign up here.
Now to start racking up Airpoints dollars. There are many ways to do this, but one of the best ways is to use an Airpoints credit card.
Every time you use an Airpoints credit card to purchase something, you get rewarded with Airpoints dollars. The great thing about this is – you don’t even need to do anything special. Just keep buying all the same things you buy right now, but start using an Airpoints credit card instead. For most people, that’s going to give you at least a free domestic or Aussie flight each year.
How to Use Airpoints Credit cards
Contrary to what most people think, credit cards are not complicated. To earn Airpoints with credit cards you don’t need to churn a ton of cards and you don’t need to spend any money on fees. As long as you choose the right card and always pay your bill on time, you can have a credit card and earn Airpoints and pay no fees whatsoever.
One important thing to note here is you need to manage your finances properly for your Airpoints strategy to work. That means:
- Always pay your credit card bill on time. If you don’t, you’re going to be charged late fees which will cancel out any Airpoints you earn pretty quickly.
- Always pay your credit card bill in full. If you just pay the minimum payment you will be charged interest which will also cancel out any Airpoints very quickly. Make sure you pay the full account balance every time.
As long as you do these two simple things, you can literally pay nothing in fees or interest the entire year, including annual fees. I’ll go through how to do that below.
Which Airpoints credit card is best?
As you’ll see in the next few minutes this is a slightly complicated question, and will vary from person to person.
There are lots of Airpoints credit cards. ANZ, Kiwibank, Westpac and American Express all offer several different Airpoints cards, ranging from basic to platinum. I’m going to break down each of the cards so we can see which is best for you.
If you want to skip the analysis and go straight to the results, click here.
Let’s begin with the entry level cards.
Entry level Airpoints cards
Entry level cards are the cards with the lowest fees. They also come with the fewest perks. My goal is usually to spend as little money as possible, so I’m a big fan of the entry level cards, and tend to use them over the fancy juiced up cards.
There are currently four entry level Airpoints cards available in NZ. Here’s what’s on offer:
(swipe left/right to scroll)
The first column shows the annual fee for each card.
The second column shows the “earn rate”. The earn rate is how many dollars you need to spend on your card to earn an Airpoints dollar. For example with the Kiwibank Airpoints Low Fee credit card, every time you spend $160 you will earn 1 Airpoints dollar.
The final column is where I have calculated the break even point. The break even point is the amount you need to spend on the card per year before it becomes “profitable”.
As an example, since the Kiwibank card costs $25 per year to have, that means we need to earn at least $25 Airpoints dollars for the card to be worthwhile. If we’re paying $25 in annual fees but only earning $20 in Airpoints dollars, that’s a loss of $5, meaning we’d be better off not having the card at all. From the table you can see the breakeven point on the Kiwibank card is $4,000, meaning you need to spend at least that much per year to be in “Airpoints profit”.
As for which card is best at this level, it’s a super easy choice: the American Express Airpoints card.
The American Express Airpoints card is currently the only free Airpoints credit card on the market (no annual fee). It seems kind of odd that Amex has the cheapest card available, you would probably suspect it would be Kiwibank, but it’s not the case.
The American Express Airpoints card also has a better earn rate than any other entry-level card: 1 Airpoints dollar (AD) for every $100 NZD you spend. So it’s the cheapest card and it earns you the most Airpoints. Easy choice.
Sign up bonuses
One thing that can change those numbers significantly is a good sign up bonus.
Sign up bonuses change all the time, but at the time of writing this article the only sign up bonus available on entry level cards is with American Express; you will get 50 free Airpoints dollars with the American Express Airpoints card once you’re approved and meet a minimum spend of $750 within 3 months (click here to check if this bonus is still available).
As a comparison point, you would need to spend $7,000 on the Kiwibank Airpoints Low Fee credit card to earn 50 Airpoints dollars, so an up-front bonus like this is definitely worthwhile.
(Westpac and Kiwibank also offer sign up bonuses at select times during the year, but they’re not available right now. I’ll update this article when they do come around).
Which card should you get?
The best entry level card is easily the American Express Airpoints card, which should be clear to see from the numbers we crunched above. If you’re not a big spender and just want to start stashing Airpoints without paying any fees, this is the perfect card for you.
However, I’d hold off from applying for any of the above cards just yet. That’s because the platinum cards might be an even better choice for you. Let’s take a look.
Platinum Airpoints cards
While the entry level cards are good for dabbling in Airpoints, the platinum cards are there for people who want to get serious about earning a lot of Airpoints fast. As for which card is best, it’s slightly harder to pick a winner at the top end of the Airpoints card range.
Let’s take a look at what’s on offer:
So, which card is best?
If you’re going for earn rate, American Express leads the way again with the American Express Airpoints Platinum. You will earn 1 Airpoints dollar per $59 spent. It’s the best earn rate of any Airpoints card available today.
As for fees, the cheapest card is the Westpac Airpoints Platinum Credit Card, with an annual fee of $145. It also has the lowest breakeven point. The downside is it has the worst earn rate.
The most expensive card is the Westpac Airpoints World Credit Card, which has an annual fee of $390.
However, those numbers don’t paint the full picture. You need to consider this: A good earn rate won’t matter if the annual fee is high, and a high annual fee might not matter if the earn rate is high. The only thing we should be looking at is how much Airpoints profit we actually make on each card, because that’s all that matters in the end. I’ve worked that out in the table below:
To explain how this table works, let’s take the second column as an example.
In this column we’re assuming annual card spending of $15,000. At the American Express Platinum earn rate of $59 per Airpoints dollar, that level of spending will earn you 254.24 Airpoints dollars. Take away the Amex Platinum annual fee of $195, and that will give you a total Airpoints profit of 59.24 Airpoints dollars, which is the number you see in the table.
Basically Airpoints profit = Airpoints earned minus the annual fee.
In the chart above I’ve worked out the “Airpoints profit” for all the platinum cards at spending levels of $10,000, $15,000, $25,000 and $50,000.
As you can see, the American Express Airpoints Platinum is definitely the most profitable card to have once you hit the breakeven point. That’s because it has the best earn rate. Once you have made back your annual fee, it will earn you Airpoints faster than any other card and the gap only widens as your spending rises (some cards might earn you Airpoints faster in special situations or retailers, but for everyday spending, the AMEX Platinum is number one).
Another thing to note is all platinum cards make a loss at the $10,000 level of spending. That means if you plan on spending less than $10,00 on your card each year, do not get a platinum card. You will be losing money. Stick to one of the low level cards, preferably the American Express basic card, because it’s free (you can’t lose money on a free card!)
Now before we decide which card is best overall, there’s something else we need to talk about first: perks!
Platinum credit cards are renowned for perks. Let’s go through some of the perks offered by the cards above.
If you’re after Status Points, the front runner is the Kiwibank Airpoints Platinum Credit Card, which gets you 1 Status Point per $200. Both the Westpac Platinum Airpoints card and Westpac World Airpoints card earn you 1 Status Point per $225 spent, and the Amex Platinum and ANZ Platinum earn you 1 Status Point per $250 spent.
Status Points determine your frequent flyer status. As an example, you need 450 Status Points to become a Silver Airpoints member. Once you get to silver, you get all kinds of fancy lounge and baggage bonuses and so on. To accumulate the required 450 Status points within a year, you’d need to spend $90,000 on your platinum card. Because I don’t spend anywhere near that amount I don’t even really look at my Status points, but if you’re a big spender your Status Points earn rate might be important to you. Of course you can also earn Status points by actually flying – for example a trip from Auckland to Sydney might earn you 10-15 Status points, depending on your flight. You can read more about Status points here.
I’m not going to delve into Status points in this article because I think they’re irrelevant to most of us. Status points don’t save you money, and you can’t use them to buy plane tickets. They just give you special frills like priority check-in, baggage privileges and whatever.
Status is nice but it’s not something you need to focus on when trying to max your Airpoints strategy. I had one year where I flew Air New Zealand and Star Alliance a shitload and still didn’t reach Silver, so it’s going to be pretty tough for regular travellers to amass those kinds of Status points (let alone travel enough to really enjoy them).
Remember I’m a strong budget travel advocate, and dislike needless spending. Our goal here is to focus on earning real Airpoints dollars that can buy you plane tickets and save you money.
Every platinum card gives you a joining fee waiver for Koru club and a $145 membership fee discount – this seems pretty standard. But unless you fly Air New Zealand over ten times per year I would also say Koru Club is a waste of money – it’s $629 per year. For that fee you get lounge access and some check-in and baggage perks – nothing you can’t just pay for at the time anyway. So you really need to be travelling a lot for Koru to be worth it, even with the discount. Anyway, every platinum card offers the same perks for Koru, so whichever card you choose you’ll get it anyway. You can read up on all Koru club benefits here.
All platinum cards also give complimentary overseas travel insurance. Interestingly, American Express is the only one that gives free domestic travel insurance as well. I haven’t looked into each policy specifically, but usually credit card insurance is for trips up to 30ish days and travel must be booked on the card. More exclusive cards like the Westpac World Airpoints card cover you for up to 120 days. All the policies vary slightly, but it’s too dense a topic for me to summarise here. You can check out the details in the terms and conditions of each card.
I won’t lie, airport lounges are pretty cool. At the moment most of the cards get you lounge access but at different levels.
The Kiwibank Platinum Airpoints credit card and ANZ Platinum Airpoints credit card both give you one pair of Koru Lounge passes for every $20,000 you spend on your card, which is pretty shitty. I believe the Koru passes give you access to any Air NZ or partner lounge, which you can see here.
The American Express Airpoints Platinum is the next level up. You automatically get two lounge passes to the American Express Lounge at Sydney and Melbourne Airport, and you also get two VIP passes to any Priority Pass lounge (Priority Pass lounges can be found in pretty much every major airport around the world). You get these without having to meet any minimum spend. So when it comes to free lounge access – Amex is a few notches up on Kiwibank and ANZ.
Westpac has two premium cards. The Westpac Platinum Airpoints card does not give you lounge access at all. The Westpac World Airpoints card gives you full Priority Pass membership, meaning you get unlimited Priority Pass lounge access. I’ve confirmed with Westpac that this equals completely free access, so you will pretty much have free lounge access in every major airport in the world. Not bad!
One thing to remember – lounge access is cool but doesn’t mean the card is worth getting. You can get into most lounges for $50ish anyway, so paying hundreds in annual fees for “free” access isn’t always a good deal. Think of it as a cool bonus, rather than something you specifically get the card for.
Sign up bonuses
Sign up bonuses are one of the main things you should look at before signing up for a platinum card. As our goal is to earn Airpoints, what could be better than getting a big chunk of Airpoints dollars just for signing up?
Again, sign up bonuses change all the time. This is the bonus situation as of now (November 2018):
The American Express Airpoints Platinum is offering a 300 Airpoints dollars sign up bonus once you’re approved and meet a minimum spend of $1,500 in the first 3 months (offer ends 1/4/19, new members only);
The ANZ Airpoints Platinum is offering a 200 Airpoints dollars sign up bonus once you’re approved and meet a minimum spend of $1,000 in the first 3 months.
Every card tends to offer some sort of bonus throughout the year, so do remember to check back periodically.
Are the platinum cards actually better?
Now that we’ve looked at both platinum cards and standard cards, let’s compare them. The table below shows the amount of Airpoints profit you will earn with each card at each level of spending (including a deduction for each card’s annual fee). You should recall I showed this table earlier with only the platinum cards. This new table compares all cards (basic and platinum).
From the table you can see the standard American Express Airpoints card is the best card overall right up to $25,000 of spending. Then somewhere around $28,000 the American Express Airpoints Platinum overtakes it to become the more profitable card, and will remain the most profitable card at all levels of spending after that.
The Westpac World Airpoints credit card is the least profitable card up to $25,000 of spending, and gets overtaken by the Kiwibank Low Fee Airpoints credit card around the $40,000 mark, so if you’re looking to earn Airpoints fast, those would be two cards to avoid.
Don’t forget the sign up bonus!
Remember if you’re getting a big sign up bonus, the picture changes slightly.
For example, if you get 200 Airpoints dollars as soon as you sign up, most cards will become profitable straight away. Here’s a revised table taking sign up bonuses into account:
If you’re getting the bonus, the American Express Airpoints Platinum is the clear leader, which has a very generous 300 Airpoints dollar sign-up bonus (basically a free flight to Aussie!). This easily makes it the most profitable card across the board at any level of spending.
Remember the bonus is a one-off signup bonus that you only receive in your first year, so after the first year this table becomes irrelevant. You should refer to the earlier table when deciding on a long term card.
Airpoints debit cards
Some of you are probably wondering if there are any Airpoints debit cards out there, since debit cards have become pretty popular lately.
There is only one Airpoints debit card I know of which is issued by Air NZ itself. In fact, Air NZ should send you one as soon as you sign up for Airpoints. It’s actually a pretty cool card – it’s called the Onesmart card and doubles as a Fly Buys card and a multi-currency travel card. To use it as a debit card, you can just jump online and activate it in your Airpoints account.
But is it any good?
Here are the numbers:
As you can see it’s a nice cheap card with a low breakeven point, but the earn rate is pretty dismal. Using it to try and earn any significant amount of Airpoints wouldn’t be too fruitful.
I’ve actually used this card on a few trips and didn’t end up recommending it. The main reason was the exchange rates were super loaded. Any Airpoints you do manage to earn will quickly be eaten up by losses on currency exchange. And it’s simply not worth using it in NZ when the credit cards earn you Airpoints so much faster. So my overall recommendation for this card is: Avoid.
I did a more thorough breakdown of NZ debit cards in my guide on banking for NZ travellers – you can check that out here.
Summary: What do I recommend?
Now that we’ve crunched the numbers, here’s what I recommend:
The first card I recommend getting is the American Express Airpoints Platinum (assuming you are eligible for the signup bonus). Here’s why:
- The Airpoints signup bonus is only offered on your first American Express card. Therefore make sure your first Amex card is the one with the highest signup bonus, because you can only get one!
- The Amex Airpoints Platinum is the most profitable card, period, and has the best earn rate as we saw from the numbers above. No card will earn you more Airpoints on your spending and get you more free flights than the Amex Airpoints Platinum.
- The Amex Platinum card has the best value perks (free travel insurance, smartphone screen insurance and airport lounge passes). The only card with better perks is the Westpac World, which is much more expensive (double the price) and has a lower earn rate.
- The Amex Platinum is technically free for the first year. Although there’s a $195 annual fee, you get a 300 Airpoints dollars sign up bonus, meaning technically you’re being paid $105 to use the card for a year (offer ends 1/4/19). It’s the most attractive card available in New Zealand right now, hands down.
If Amex or the banks aren’t offering any signup bonuses, my recommendation is the basic American Express Airpoints. Here’s why:
- It’s the lowest fee Airpoints card on the market (it’s free). Like I said earlier, it’s impossible to lose money on a free card, and the only available free card is this one.
- It has the best earn rate of any entry level card ($100 per Airpoints dollar). That’s basically earning 1% back in Airpoints on everything you spend (that’s amazing for a zero-fee card).
- It’s the second most profitable card behind the Amex Airpoints Platinum. Also, if the Amex Airpoints Platinum bonus is being offered but you don’t qualify for the card (bad credit, not enough income), you can sign up for this card instead and still get a $50 Airpoints bonus.
Even if you’re not that interested in Airpoints, this card is free and most of the year offers a 50 Airpoints bonus on sign up. You’re literally being paid $50 to fill out some forms. If that’s not a good enough deal for you, I don’t know what is.
Another cool thing is if you go with the American Express Airpoints Platinum, after the first year you can just downgrade to the free American Express Airpoints to avoid the $195 annual fee. Or, if you feel the annual fee is worth the higher earn rate, free travel insurance and lounge access, you can just keep it.
As we saw from the tables above, if you spend $28,000 or more per year on your card, it’s more profitable have the platinum card, even with the annual fee. So if you’re spending that level, keep the card, if not, downgrade. Pretty simple eh? 🙂
Because the American Express cards are so superior in earning power, I don’t really recommend getting other Airpoints credit cards unless they’re free.
However, the thing with American Express is it isn’t accepted everywhere. I use it at the supermarket and gas station without problems, which is where I spend most of my money anyway, but some smaller businesses won’t accept it.
Therefore it can make sense to have a backup Visa or Mastercard, just in case.
My usual recommendation is to use a Visa debit, EFTPOS card, or get the zero-fee card from Kiwibank or ASB. They’re not Airpoints cards, but they’re free, and since you’re doing most of your spending on your Amex you shouldn’t be missing out on many Airpoints anyway.
If you absolutely must get a Airpoints Visa or Mastercard today, just look at the spending tables above and determine which one will be profitable for you. As a starting point, the Kiwibank Airpoints Low Fee credit card is the cheapest card ($25 per year) but also has the lowest earn rate ($160 per Airpoints dollar). You’ll need to spend at least $4,000 per year on that card for it to be profitable.
As a sidenote, sometimes ANZ and Westpac sometimes offer a “no annual fee” bonus on new signups, so you can actually get the ANZ Airpoints Platinum credit card or the Westpac Airpoints Platinum card free for year! If that offer is available (click here and here to check) definitely go with that as your backup Visa/Mastercard.
In all cases, I would still recommend getting the Amex Airpoints Platinum first, as it will simply earn you far more Airpoints and get you a free flight sooner than any other card. It’s a no brainer.
Hope this helps you all get tons of free flights and if you have any questions at all, just leave them in the comments.