Air Miles 101: What You Need to Know About Using Credit Cards to Earn Miles

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Air Miles 101: What You Need to Know About Using Credit Cards to Earn Miles
Air miles, to put it in simple terms, is a reward given by airlines as part of their frequent flyer programme. As international travel has grown in popularity over the years, banks and online travel agents have tied up with various frequent flyer programmes to offer customers the ability to earn miles when they spend.

Being part of a frequent flyer programme allows you to do a few things:

  • Earn miles for flying with a particular airline or group of airlines
  • Redeem a flight ticket with your miles
  • Offset the cost of a flight with miles, while paying the remainder in cash
  • Upgrade an existing flight ticket to a more premium class

But apart from earning miles while flying, let’s take a closer look at the air miles you can earn on a credit card and how you can benefit from them.

Air miles are earned when you charge your credit card with a particular expense. The rate at which you earn these miles depends on where your expenses are incurred. Overseas expenses charged to your card tend to earn higher air miles.

That doesn’t mean you earn air miles only when you purchase air tickets through your credit card. You earn miles on other expenses like grocery purchases as well.

However, the rate at which you earn miles varies for different cards. For instance, let’s say you have a Citi PremierMiles Visa Signature Card. Then every RM1 you spend within Malaysia will fetch you 1 PremierMile and every RM3 you charge to the card overseas will fetch you 2 PremierMiles.

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Whereas, the Standard Chartered WorldMiles World MasterCard will fetch you 1 WorldMiles for every RM2 you charge to the card overseas and 1 WorldMile for every RM1 charged to the card locally.

So does it mean that 1 PremierMile or 1 WorldMile you’ve earned is equivalent to 1 air mile? Not yet.

It’s important to note, that banks may call their ‘points’ different names. Like you’ve seen above, sometimes it’s called PremierMiles, other times it’s WorldMile, and at times it’s just Reward Points. It’s often a source of confusion for customers.

Redeeming your miles

To actually use your credit card ‘miles’ to air miles, you’ll have to convert them to the miles used by your preferred Frequent Flyer Programme. For most credit cards in Malaysia, you’re able to convert your credit card miles/points into Enrich Miles (Malaysia Airlines/One World) or KrisFlyer Miles (Singapore Airlines/Star Alliance).

Here’s where you should also be aware that different cards offer different rates of conversion.

The CIMB Enrich Platinum Card converts every Bonus Mile it earns into 1 Enrich Mile, whereas cards such as the HSBC Visa Signature Card have a higher requirement for conversion, whereby you need to convert 10,500 Rewards Points to get 1,000 Enrich Miles.

Miles conversion isn’t free

Unsurprisingly, most credit card companies will charge a fee for the conversion. Depending on the fee, it’s probably wise to accumulate your credit card miles before you make a bulk conversion.

Even if you wanted to, you can’t just redeem the points for one or two miles. These points need to be converted into miles in blocks that can run into the thousands.

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How can you speed up your miles earned?

Well, this largely varies from card to card. Most cards offer you promotional deals that you can take advantage of. Purchasing select products or spending at select retail outlets can give you a boost to your mile-earning capacity.

Look for cards that give you the option of earning a chunk of miles either as a joining gift or for paying the annual fee. The Citi PremierMiles Card, for example, gives you 10,000 PremierMiles every time you pay the card’s annual fee.

What else should you look out for?

Apart from the conversion fee and the minimum block of miles you need to convert, there are a few other things that you need to keep in mind.

Not all expenses you charge to the credit card fetch you miles. Expenses such as Flexi Pay Instalment Plans and cash advances don’t qualify for earning miles.

The credit card miles you earn can have an expiry date. Not every card offers you miles that never expire and unless specifically advertised, you need to keep in mind that most of these miles expire within 3 years of being credited to you.

While credit cards that give you air miles are a good way of getting additional discounts, you should realise that earning enough miles to enjoy a free air ticket can be a lengthy and mentally draining process. Many mile-chasers have multiple credit cards and are passionate about ensuring they use the right credit card to maximise their miles.

Finally, in the zeal to get more miles, don’t forget that you still need to pay your credit card bills in full and on time. Any time you don’t pay your balance in full, you end up with interest charges and these charges can eat away any benefit the air mile could have given you.

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