Monday, 7 April 2014

No Foreign Transaction Fee Cards - YAY to them!

If you're like me who embraces cashless transactions, then you're probably looking for credit cards that can be used during your travels. Although, I hate paying annual fees and any extra fees (includes foreign transaction fees) to the card issuer out of principle, I don't mind paying the annual fee if the benefits outweigh them.

You may hear these terminologies which are synonym:

  • International transaction fees
  • Currency conversion fees
  • Foreign transaction fees

Few reasons to consider these awesome credit card in your travels:

  1. Exchange rates are very favourable to market rates that you can see in xe.com
  2. Secure that I do not carry lots of cash.
  3. Travellers cheques - it's getting really rare
  4. Rates are poor when you exchange your cash at money changers due to commissions imposed and less than market rate for exchange
  5. Security on credit cards protected by banks. Just call up the bank and report that your card has been compromised and you will be protected by Visa / MasterCard zero liability for any stolen transactions.

Now, when I spend on my credit card, I like to be rewarded for my purchases especially points for airline miles.

The downside of using credit cards is you won't be locking the cheaper rates if the exchange rate during your travel becomes more expensive. If it was the reverse, good for you...

The table below depicts the no foreign transaction fee credit card options available:

Credit cards Annual Fee Rewards Program
Bankwest Qantas Platinum $160 Yes - Qantas Frequent Flyer
Bankwest More Rewards Platinum $130 Yes
Bankwest Zero Platinum $0 No
Bankwest Breeze Platinum $99 No
Aussie Platinum Low Rate $99 No
28 Degrees Mastercard $0 No

My thoughts of winning cards are:
You'll be wondering why I chose the card with the annual fee as a winner? Well, it's due to the fact that they come with platinum benefits and earn points. Since, I sign my card away when I travel (food, going out, lodging, transport), the conversion fees charge typically at 3.0% on regular cards would eventually outweigh the cost. Plus, I earn my Qantas Frequent Flyer points too which adds to perhaps another ticket somewhere later.

Personally, I wish at least all premium cards become fee free including my favourite American Express.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Lounge Love

We all love to have some sort of access to the airport lounges, don't we? It's a chance to feel part of the elite flyers or just wanting to get away from the crowd, have some meal in peace, read newspapers/magazines, WiFi access, have a shower to freshen up, meeting, go on lounge dates, meet another aviation enthusiast. Did I mention go on quick date where everything in the lounge is free/included as part of your ticket? You may end up having a good time with your date or it's so bad that perhaps you may never see each other again.

Once you have tasted the lounge, you probably will want to go back in there. Just don't over indulge in the food and beverage as you probably will be fed as soon as your flight departs.

My experience with lounges so far have been at Qantas Business Lounge in Sydney T3, Virgin Australia Lounge in Sydney and Brisbane, Qantas First Class Lounge in Melbourne International, Qantas Business Lounge in Singapore.

Typical access to lounges come with:
  1. Buy or redeem miles for first class flight tickets
  2. Buy or redeem miles for business class tickets
  3. Buy lounge passes such as Qantas Club or Virgin Australia's Lounge Passes
  4. Elite frequent flyer member notably gold status onwards
  5. Find a friend who can guest you into the lounge
However, do not despair as there are other opportunities to access lounges without doing the above. There are credit card perks that include lounge access.

I am your occasional flyer and have found these extra options.


Lounges
American Express
Platinum Charge Virgin Australia
Delta Sky Club
Centurion Lounge
Priority Pass - Unlimited
Platinum Reserve Priority Pass - 2 Complimentary Visits
Qantas Premium Qantas Club - 2 Complimentary Visits
Velocity Platinum Virgin Australia - 2 Complimentary Visits
Velocity Gold Virgin Australia - 2 Complimentary Visits
ANZ
ANZ Rewards Black Selected Lounges Outside Australia - Unlimited Visits
Citibank
Emirates Platinum Emirates Lounge - 1 Complimentary Pass
Select Priority Pass - Unlimited
Visa Signature Priority Pass - 2 Complimentary Visits
Diners Club Selected Lounge - Unlimited
HSBC
Platinum Qantas Qantas Club - 2 Complimentary Visits
Macquarie
Visa Platinum Qantas Club - 2 Complimentary Visits
Westpac
Altitude Black Priority Pass - 2 Complimentary Visits
Earth Black Qantas Club - 2 Complimentary Visits

Please note that the complimentary visits are per annum basis. Any extra entries beyond what's complimentary usually requires an entry fee. Unfortunately, for Priority Pass lounge access in Australia is limited to Melbourne and Cairns airports at the moment.

Information on the lounges can be found below by clicking on their respective links:
I have deliberately excluded business cards and super elite cards (e.g. JP Morgan Visa Palladium, American Express Centurion) as this blog is targeted to everyday personal consumers like myself.

Note: If you feel like applying for an American Express card and would like to reward me for my blog contribution, please click on the referral link here that will redirect you to American Express website.

Monday, 31 March 2014

US Airways and TAM Airlines join Oneworld on 31 March 2014

Hear ye! Hear ye!

Today's the day that US Airways and TAM Airlines join Oneworld.

What? Who? Why? How?

Well, this all came about from big players taking a share or less attractive word, buy the smaller competition and form a mega carrier.

So, US Airways bought over by American Airlines.
TAM Airlines bought over by LAN Airlines to become LATAM airlines.

The result is they now been inducted into Oneworld. Formerly, both were part of Star Alliance which is the biggest alliance out there and this has been a big hit to them.They seem to want to have coverage in multiple continents but I don't seem to see the flexibility of that alliance.

Now, if you're a member of Qantas Frequent Flyer, you will be able to earn miles from booking with those airlines and vice versa for their program members to earn from flying Qantas.

Keep an eye for the revelation of the miles to be earn from flying with them.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Amex - Bank Issued versus Amex Issued

This is probably isn't the biggest question you have about putting cards into your wallet as it seems very first world problem. Then again, if I love to travel so much, I need to consider all my options even if it sounds little bit boring.

So, we all have heard of American Express or Amex for short for most of us. If you haven't heard, then you haven't seen the advertisements enough. I have been asked which comes first, the chicken or the egg? No, seriously, Amex issued Amex vs Bank issued Amex? Which is better? What's the difference?


The difference shall be explained in another blog for another time. For now, let's look at the points and benefits of each, shall we?


I've read a lot of points management experts/analyst on how to spend your points and most of them value Amex issued Amex a lot. Personally, I own an American Express Platinum Edge card and I think it's one of the better cards they have.


Caveats:

When I refer to Amex issued Amex, I refer to Membership Rewards Ascent/Ascent Premium which comes with their charge cards, gold or platinum credit cards (exclude David Jones). This excludes the co-branded cards as well e.g. Qantas and Velocity.

Advantages on Amex issued Amex:
  1. Membership Reward (MR) points are worth a lot more than bank issued Amex especially when you do conversion to Frequent Flyer programs/hotel programs. Points expert value them at least 1c per 1 MR.
  2. Flexibility on transferring the points to frequent flyer programs (Emirates, Etihad, Singapore Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Australia, Air NZ, Thai Airways) /hotel programs (HHonors, Starwood Preferred Guest, Jumeirah) of your choice. I use the MR points to convert to either Velocity or MH Enrich depending on promo transfer which comes up at least once a year for them about 15% bonus miles extra. Conversions are usually 1 MR to 1 FF. Hotels vary a little bit such as Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG is a really good hotel program especially the conversion of their hotel points to other FF programs such as AAdvantage, Dividend Miles etc.).
  3. Amex customer service is far superior to banks here. They go the extra mile to help you sort out your issues especially card replacement, stuck in a foreign country, doctor speaks your language etc. Unfortunately, there are unsatisfied experiences but I have not received so far.
  4. Amex run promos/competitions to boost MR points is really fun to participate.
  5. Free Virgin Australia domestic flights on the platinum credit cards (Edge, Reserve) are worth the annual fee especially the flight price outweighs the annual fee charged.
  6. Amex card replacement is super committed. They come visit you personally if they have to in any part of the world to give you the replacement.
  7. The tiered MR points earn structure works depending on your spending habits.

Disadvantages on Amex issued Amex:

  1. Travel insurance cover (gold/platinum cards) is not unlimited medical cover compared to bank issue cards. When it comes to medical needs, it's better not to put a limit on it. Go buy a separate travel insurance e.g. Travel Insurance Direct or anyone else.
  2. 0.5 MR points earn on government charges, insurance (except Amex issued insurance), utilities, telecommunications.
  3. Australia charges one of the highest annual fee in comparison to Amex US (compare Platinum Charge)
  4. To get annual fee waiver is a little hard even with desire to cancel the card. They rather you cancel the card than give you a fee waiver. If the lucky fairy visits, good on you.
  5. They have discontinued using MR points to redeem for goods e.g. electronic things. That's ok, as it is a poor form of redemption to get good value out of them.
  6. They still don't have a no foreign currency conversion fee card. I have personally lobbied to Amex to introduce such a feature especially for premium card holders...
  7. Limit on maximum points earn for Platinum Charge and Reserve cards (tiered structure), then reduce to 1 MR to $1 on purchases.
  8. Qantas points conversion requires you to register your QF card number which gets sweeped monthly. You lose the MR benefits e.g. promo points earn.

Advantages on Bank issued Amex:

  1. Travel insurance varies for different banks but there are unlimited cover.
  2. Points are earned at their maximum usually about 3 points per dollar but you're at the mercy of the banks conversion rate to frequent flyer programs which can change over time if they decide to devalue their points. 3 points can give you about 1.5 miles (e.g. Westpac Altitude points)
  3. You can use the points to redeem for goods e.g. electronics (still it's a poor value redemption). Consider gift cards option instead.

Disadvantages on Bank issued Amex:
  1. Frequent flyer programs points transferred are limited to a few around.
  2. Hotel programs are non-existent for points transfer as far as I have seen (correct me if I'm wrong)
  3. They come with Visa/Mastercard which has poor points earn. There are standalone Visa/Mastercard which has better points earn e.g. Citibank Visa Signature, Bankwest QF Platinum.
  4. Limits apply on number of points earn per year e.g. CBA cards, Westpac cards
  5. No ongoing promo/hardly ever for extra points earn for existing customers.
  6. Annual fees on cards are also quite high for premium cards.
  7. Banks customer service is not global enough unlike Amex (searching for doctor that don't speak your language kind of commitment)
  8. Card replacement probably wait till you get back to Australia to get it.

Here are my 2 cents. There may be more to advantages/disadvantages. Hence, I value my Amex issued Amex.


I own an Amex Platinum Edge. So, if you'd like a referral, click here.


Saturday, 1 March 2014

Citibank - $0 Annual Fee Free for Life on the Visa Signature and Platinum (offer till 31 July 2014)

If you're like me who just don't like paying annual fees for credit cards out of principle, then consider these cards. I'm going to start ranting on them, so either read with full attention or skim through. Which ever pleases you...

Good because:

  1. Points earn to Citibank Rewards card at Platinum or Signature rates. Link for application as below the article.
  2. Transfer your Citibank Rewards points to Singapore Airline Kris Flyer, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, Velocity Frequent Flyer at 1.5 CitiRewards to 1 Mile.
  3. Transfer your Citibank Rewards points to Qantas Frequent Flyer for a fee ($49) - means you end up having to pay some sort of fee for Qantas points transfer monthly.
  4. NO ANNUAL FEE, of course! Pay nada, zilch, nichts on annual fees.
  5. 6 months 0% balance transfer (doesn't apply to me since I pay my bills on time and in full every month anyway but may apply to you.
  6. Citibank Global Privilege, your card carries some sort of being global. Hence there are benefits using your card globally such as discounts at international merchants when you show and pay with your card.
  7. Citibank Dining Privileges in Australia - the free bottle of wine in selected participating restaurants. Who doesn't like wine?
  8. Platinum and Signature benefits.
  9. Travel Insurances and extended warranties.
  10. 2 Priority Pass invites for Signature card and free membership.
Some bad points which I don't vouch but can live with it:
  1. High international transaction fees at 3.4%. There are no fee ones out there.
  2. Not worth the extra points for paying for goods at another currency other than AUD.
  3. Bad internet banking portal interface - don't even get me started.
  4. Frequent Flyer miles conversion must be in multiple of 15,000 CitiReward points. Too high for my liking which means you have to spend more than $10,000 to reach that minimum points (for domestic spending).
So, word on the street / Australian Frequent Flyer, the offer has been extended to 31 JULY 2014.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Virgin Atlantic leaves Sydney, Australia

Wait for it! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO........ Virgin Atlantic leaves Sydney, Australia.

This came as news to me and felt bit sad since I love the Virgin brand and the type of service they provide that I've heard, just plane fun (pun intended).

So, where does this leave us? No where really. If you're a Velocity member or Virgin Atlantic Flying Club member in Australia, it's going to be hard for you to earn any miles with Virgin Atlantic unless you're in their flight path airport and have the opportunity to fly them. I was looking to try them at some point but the restriction of work leave prevented me from doing so.

The detail is last flight out of Sydney is 5 May 2014. Head down to Sydney Airport and watch the last flight out with some tears. Say goodbye to their Airbus A340-600 that they've been using to fly into the land down under.

AusBT has the details of news interview with the Virgin Atlantic head honchos about their decision to axe Sydney route.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Qatar Airways joins Oneworld

Another 5-star airline joins Oneworld. Oneworld is really looking very prestige with all those 4 and 5 star airlines being inducted and full member of this alliance.

I have always wanted to try this airline but unfortunately it doesn't fly to Sydney which is my home airport but to Melbourne and Perth when this blog is written. They have a very wide coverage into Europe and Africa. Known very well of their amazing first and business class service and hub located in Doha, Qatar International Airport.

Qantas Frequent Flyers can start to earn miles with flying Qatar Airways too but unfortunately, the points earn is so low that you're better off earning miles with them on other Oneworld or partner airline frequent flyer miles. This is perhaps due to the Qantas-Emirates alliance which favours the other giant middle eastern airline than Qatar Airways.

Check out the table published by Qantas here.

Nonetheless, I will get butt onto this airline soon.
There is a double points earn when flying with this airline for two months.