This article is a part of my travel tips series for New Zealand travellers series. 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.
Firstly, a disclaimer before any of you get too excited:
Travel hacking in New Zealand is pretty shit.
Unlike the States, where you can literally find yourself with more free stuff than you know what to do with, in New Zealand you should be happy with maybe one free flight per year. That’s still great, but don’t expect to be flush with an endless supply of free first class tickets.
All free travel is good travel anyway, so it’s important you make the most of the opportunities we do have. In this guide I’ll give you an intro to travel hacking and what we can do to make it happen in New Zealand.
What is travel hacking?
Travel hacking can mean several things, but mostly it’s just a fancy name for getting lots of frequent flyer points/miles.
The idea is you will set up systems/bank accounts/credit cards that will allow you to earn lots of frequent flyer points during the year, and at the end of the year you should have enough for a free holiday.
In New Zealand, your best travel hacking option is to base your strategy around Air New Zealand Airpoints. It’s our national airline and most point-earning opportunities are going to be with them.
The first thing you need to do is sign up for Airpoints. This is free and you can do this here.
The next step is earning Airpoints fast. There are four main ways to do this:
- Credit card bonuses
- Credit card spending
- Airpoints partners
I’ll go through the best strategies for each below, so you can get your first free flight as soon as possible!
Credit card sign ups
This is one of the easiest ways to get free Airpoints dollars but also one that you need to micro manage quite closely.
Banks love it when you sign up for credit cards. Most people in New Zealand are financially illiterate, so a new credit card usually ends up meaning lots of interest, late payment penalties and fees. Obviously banks love this.
Therefore to encourage people to sign up, most banks offer a signup bonus.
For example, during the year Kiwibank and Westpac offer up to 300 Airpoints dollars as a sign up bonus on their platinum cards (these bonuses usually come out around January-April, watch out for them!). Just signing up for those two cards is going to give you 600 Airpoints dollars – easily enough for a free return ticket to Aussie.
Too good to be true? Not really. Just a few things to watch out for here:
Watch out for the annual fee
Even though you get a sign up bonus, you still need to pay an annual fee for the card.
Annual fees range from zero dollars all the way up to almost $400 per year. It’s important to make sure the annual fee doesn’t completely cancel out your bonus.
As an example, during select months the Westpac World Mastercard offers a 400 Airpoints dollars sign up bonus. However, the annual fee is $395. Therefore you’re only making a $5 “Airpoints profit”. Sometimes the perks can make this card worth it, but from purely a profit point of view it’s a poor choice.
On the other hand, the American Express Airpoints card offers a 50 Airpoints dollars sign up bonus, and the annual fee is zero. Even though the bonus isn’t huge, that’s an instant Airpoints profit of $50, which is a much better outcome.
Therefore, it’s important to check the bonus actually covers your annual fee and then some. It it does, you can just sign up for the card, get the bonus and then never use the card, and it will still be worthwhile.
Cancel after the first year
The general idea with these bonuses is to get the bonus, then cancel the card within the next year.
The reason you don’t want to keep the card is because you’ll need to pay the annual fee every year, which usually isn’t that cheap. Most cost around $100-$200 per year.
Usually what I do is sign up, get the bonus, then keep the card and use it to earn Airpoints for a year (since you’ve already paid for it). Then before the next annual fee becomes due, cancel the card.
Of course if you like the card, you can always keep it. Some cards like the American Express Airpoints Platinum offer pretty good perks, like lounge access and free travel insurance, so if those are things you use regularly you might want to hang onto it.
Always go for the biggest bonus
The thing about Airpoints sign up bonuses is they’re only available for new customers. This is really important to understand.
For example, you can’t sign up for the standard Westpac Airpoints card, get the bonus, then the following year sign up for the Westpac Airpoints Platinum and get the bonus, and then the following year get the Westpac World and get a bonus again.
The bonus is usually only available to new customers. That means it makes sense to always go for the biggest bonus, because that’s most likely the only one you’re going to get.
Some cards operate on an exclusion period, meaning if you close your cards and cease to be a customer, after a certain amount of time you become eligible as a “new” customer again. For example, at Kiwibank the exclusion period is 18 months. So in that case, you could sign up for a Kiwibank card, cancel the card, wait for 18 months, then reapply and get the bonus again. But even if you wanted to try that, it would still make sense to always go for the biggest bonus. If you want to max your Airpoints earning strategy, chasing the biggest bonus is key.
Don’t sign up for too many cards
Contrary to what most people think, churning through a lot of credit cards won’t significantly affect your credit rating, unless you’re going through a stupid number each year.
What affects your credit rating are unpaid bills, loan defaults, bankruptcies – things like that. If you never pay off your credit card and leave money owing on them, then your credit score will take a hit. But if you sign up for one or two new credit cards per year and always pay them off on time, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.
My advice here is to just keep things under control. Don’t apply for absolutely everything straight away. I know it can be tempting to just sign up for everything at once, but that can actually compromise your applications. Just sign up for one or two cards, there’s always next year!
Stay up to date
Good sign up bonuses only come around once or twice a year. It’s important to keep an eye out – but “booster” season, where the big bonuses come on offer, usually happens in the early months (Feb-April). Keep your eyes peeled during these months.
The only cards I know that offer bonuses year-round are the American Express cards. Both the American Express Airpoints card and American Express Airpoints Platinum offer a nice bonus and both are great cards as I’ve broken down in my Airpoints credit card guide.
In fact, if the bonuses are on offer and you don’t already have an Airpoints credit card, I’d recommend applying for one of these today. If in doubt, go for the free American Express Airpoints card. It has zero fees and you get a $50 Airpoints signup bonus. You’re literally getting offered $50 to fill out some forms and use the card for a month. No brainer! You can apply online here.
Credit card spending
The next best way to earn Airpoints is by earning points on your everyday spending. When you have an Airpoints credit card, everything you purchase on it, even if it’s a pack of gum, will earn you valuable Airpoints.
This means things like groceries, petrol, clothes, coffee – pretty much everything you spend money on should be purchased with your Airpoints credit card.
Now, that doesn’t mean you need to spend more money! All you need to do is keep buying the same stuff you buy every day, but use your Airpoints credit card to pay for it.
If you don’t have an Airpoints credit card yet, I highly recommend reading my credit card guide. It breaks down every Airpoints credit card available in New Zealand today, so you can decide which is the right one for you. Click here to go there now.
How to earn Airpoints on your credit cards fast
To maximise your Airpoints earnings, there are a lot of little tricks you can do.
One is to make little adjustments to your shopping habits. For example, there’s a Chinese fruit shop that only lets me pay by credit card if I spend over $20. That means instead of visiting there every couple of days to buy fruit and veges, I just go once or twice a week and do slightly bigger shops. I still spend the same amount of money, but I get to earn Airpoints on all of it.
Another thing you should do is think about everything you spend money on that you don’t use a credit card for, and if there is some way you can start. I know one guy convinced his landlord to let him pay his rent on his credit card, and another who convinced his employer to use his credit card to pay some company expenses (expenses like Facebook ads and Google ads is good for this. See if you can make something happen!)
If you run a business, you’re probably already paying for a lot of stuff on credit card, so make sure that’s going on an Airpoints card and you’re earning points for it. I know a guy who runs a pretty successful dropshipping store and pays for all the orders on credit card. He literally flies everywhere for free because of the tens of thousands of dollars running through his card each month.
People also do things like always paying for group dinners/outings on their cards and getting everyone to pay them back, instead of splitting the bill at the restaurant.
Get creative, this is what a lot of travel hacking is about – making slight changes to how you do things in everyday life in order to max your points balance. Make it a lifestyle!
Always pay off your card on time!
If you find yourself paying interest and late fees on your credit card, it’s going to cancel out all the Airpoints you’ve been earning. Therefore it’s imperative that you pay you card off on time. Be diligent about this! If you don’t get this part right, your whole travel hacking endeavour becomes pointless – you would be better of burning all your credit cards and going back to living off cash.
The rule is you should never be paying credit card fees or interest, ever, except for your annual fee.
Achieving this is simple:
- Always pay your card off on time.
- Always pay your card off in full (not just the minimum amount).
Just put a reminder in your phone for the end of each month and pay your credit card off that day. You can do it all through internet banking, it takes less than five minutes. Most cards email you when your statement is ready as well.
If you pay your card off in full, and on time, you should never be paying fees, penalties or interest, ever.
Double dipping by using Airpoints retailers
Airpoints has several retail partners around New Zealand where you will earn points just for shopping with them.
For example, one of these partners is Mitre 10. If you buy something at Mitre 10, they’ll scan your Airpoints membership card and you’ll earn some Airpoints, just for shopping there. That’s your first dip. Then you can also pay for the items with your Airpoints credit card and earn Airpoints again on the same purchase.
Shopping at these retailers whenever possible is a good way to pad your Airpoints account out with a few extra points, especially if you’re making a big purchase like a dishwasher or fridge (my smart money advice would actually be to buy those things on Trademe rather than a store, but if you prefer to go brand new, definitely try and get some Airpoints ;))
Some of the more popular Airpoints partners are Z Energy, Mitre 10, New World, Harvey Norman, Liquorland, Tower Insurance, Mercury Energy. Check these out, because a lot of them have pretty good specials. For example Mercury offers double Airpoints dollars every time you pay your electricity bill. There are about 60 partners in total – you can see the full list here.
This doesn’t mean you can spend more money!
This is important.
The premise of a good travel hacking strategy is that you earn your Airpoints for free.
Do not start paying more for stuff or buying more stuff just so you can earn Airpoints. This defeats the entire purpose of travel hacking.
For example, you might see that New World is an Airpoints partner so it might be good to go double dip there. But there is no point in grocery shopping at New World to earn $2 in Airpoints if it means you spend $25 more on groceries (New World is expensive). That’s a loss of $23. Obviously it makes more sense to just keep shopping at Pak N Save or the Chinese supermarket and save $25 on groceries.
It’s the same with filling up your car at Z service stations and earning 1 Airpoints dollar when you can go to G.A.S. or Gull and save way more money.
This is common sense, but even I catch myself sometimes wanting to fill up at Z just to swipe my Airpoints card. Obviously spending an extra $10 to fill up your car just so you can earn a few cents in Airpoints is stupid. Real dollars are always better than Airpoints dollars.
You should not find yourself spending more money just to earn Airpoints. If you are, try to rethink your earning strategy because you’re doing something wrong. Your goal should only be to earn Airpoints on money you were already going to spend anyway.
Take advantage of partner deals
Quite often, Airpoints partners will offer you special deals that will allow you to earn a quick chunk of airpoints, and just other miscellaneous deals in general. Usually they’re all compiled on the Airpoints website – check them out here.
The Airpoints Mall
The Airpoints Mall is a place where you can shop at a variety of retailers online and earn Airpoints bonuses for your purchases.
There’s actually quite a good selection of shops in here, mostly clothing shops like ASOS, Smith & Caughey, Ezibuy. The only one I ever use personally is Groupon, but there’s a good chance one of the places you shop at is in there.
Of course, you can double dip here as well! You’ll get Airpoints by shopping in the Airpoints mall, and then you’ll get Airpoints again on the same purchase if you use your Airpoints credit card to pay.
You can view the full Airpoints Mall listing here.
Again the same rule applies here. Don’t go shopping just for the sake of earning Airpoints. You should only come here when you were already going to buy something from these stores and want to collect some Airpoints on top. I don’t do a lot of online shopping, but if you are the type that does, definitely bookmark the Airpoints mall and check in there before you buy anything.
The last way to earn Airpoints is by travelling.
This was the original way for earning frequent flyer miles and is still one of the fastest ways to earn Airpoints today. Basically it works like a loyalty program, so the more you fly the more you earn. Along with your flights, you can also earn points on hotel stays, car rentals and other travel related spending.
Earning Airpoints on Air NZ flights
Whenever you fly on an Air New Zealand flight, you should get points credited automatically to your account. The amount differs, but if you fly to Aussie you will probably earn around 15 Airpoints dollars. If you fly to the States, you might earn closer to 30-40 Airpoints dollars. If you fly business class or higher you will earn more (but of course I always recommend flying economy).
You can use their Airpoints calculator for estimates on how many Airpoints you can earn on each route.
Earning Airpoints on Star Alliance flights
You can also earn Airpoints on any of Air New Zealand’s partner airlines. Air NZ is a part of the Star Alliance, which means (almost) any Star Alliance flight is also eligible to earn you Airpoints.
For a list of all the partner airlines you could earn Airpoints with you can click here.
You can also use the Airpoints calculator to estimate how many points you could earn on each partner airline route.
How this works is you will book a flight on a partner airline, say it’s Singapore Airlines, for example. Once the flight is over, make sure you keep your boarding pass. In my experience you will need to claim the Airpoints manually after the flight. I don’t think I have ever had Airpoints from partner airlines automatically credited to my account (and I’ve flown a lot). If you don’t claim your points from partner airline flights manually, you won’t get them.
There is a short period where you need to give Air NZ a chance to credit your points automatically. Usually it’s around two weeks. After that’s over, jump into your Airpoints account and see if your Singapore Airlines points are there. Most likely they won’t be, so simply select “Claim missing Airpoints” and enter all the details from your boarding pass. Your points should be credited within a few weeks.
My general rule for flights is I always choose the cheapest flight, and don’t really have any loyalties to any specific airline or alliance. My loyalty is to price and nothing else. However, even with this approach you still need to be mindful of which airlines are Star Alliance/Airpoints partners, so you can remember to claim your points after the flight. Don’t forget! So many people leave Airpoints on the table, make sure you grab yours.
Earning Airpoints on other travel spending
You can also earn Airpoints on all your hotels, car and campervan rentals and airport parking.
To earn Airpoints on hotel stays, you should use the Airpoints booking engine which is partnered with Expedia. Basically you will be using Expedia but through a portal on the Airpoints website. I’ve done a quick check and the pricing looks the same between the two, so it’s definitely better to use the Airpoints version. You can use the Airpoints Expedia booking system here.
To earn Airpoints on car rentals, you can get rentals from Apex, Budget or Avis. Airpoints has a booking engine for this too which you can find here.
For campervans, Air NZ is partnered with most major rental companies in New Zealand, which gives you bonus Airpoints. You can see their booking site here.
For all other deals, such as airport parking, taxis, and a few other things, check out the Airpoints booking deals page, it’s all there.
And again, double dipping applies here as well. For example, if you take a flight to Sydney on Air New Zealand, you’ll earn Airpoints just for booking the flight. Then if you pay for the ticket using an Airpoints credit card, you’ll earn Airpoints again. The same applies for any hotels, car rentals etc you book through the Airpoints website. You should be able to see how this can stack Airpoints pretty fast!
How much could you earn?
Let’s mock up a typical year and see how much Airpoints we could actually earn by doing all this.
We’ll sign up for a few credit cards. First, we’ll grab the American Express Airpoints card. That’s my favourite Airpoints card because it’s the only free Airpoints card in the country, and I love free stuff. It also gives you a 50 Airpoints dollars bonus.
Then let’s say we take advantage of some other sign up bonuses. You can sign up for multiple, but I’ll assume we’ll do just one, maybe the Westpac Airpoints Platinum. During booster season (Jan-April) the Westpac Platinum usually has a sign up bonus of 300 Airpoints dollars, and an annual fee of $145, which equals 155 Airpoints dollars in profit.
Minimum wage in New Zealand is $16.50 per hour, after tax that works out to around $28,000 per year after tax. Let’s assume we save half of it (yeah right) so we have spending of $14,000 per year.
$14,000 per year on the Westpac Platinum will earn you 187 Airpoints dollars.
$14,000 per year on the free American Express Airpoints will earn you 140 Airpoints dollars.
Let’s call it in the middle at 175 Airpoints dollars.
Let’s say we earn a further 10 Airpoints dollars on double dips and Airpoints partners (most of you should be able to earn more than that, I earn about that in ~3 months, and don’t leave my house much).
Finally, let’s say we take one flight to Aussie during the year and earn another 15 Airpoints dollars. Maybe you could earn this a different way, through renting a campervan, booking a hotel somewhere, a few domestic flights etc.
|Credit card bonuses||205|
|Credit card spending||175|
|TOTAL||405 Airpoints dollars|
That’s enough for a couple of domestic flights, maybe a flight to Aussie if you’re lucky.
If you earn around double what I outlined above (~$56,000 p.a.), you’d be looking at ~810 Airpoints dollars, which is a free flight to Asia, depending on the season, or a one-way flight to Los Angeles or Canada, with a few points left over.
If you earn around triple what I outlined above (~$84,000 p.a.), you’d be looking at ~1,215 Airpoints dollars, which will easily get you to Paris or Rome, maybe even a return flight on a good deal.
You could also bump this number up significantly by using one of the faster-earning cards and signing up for more bonuses. If you’re using one of the platinum cards, you’ll probably be enjoying lounge access and free travel insurance too.
How hardcore your travel hacking gets is totally up to you!
How to get started:
Sound good? Here’s what you need to do to get things going:
- Sign up for Airpoints. It’s free – just click here.
- Get yourself an Airpoints credit card. You can find out which card is best for you in my Airpoints credit card guide here. If you just want the easiest, no frills card, I’d recommend the free American Express Airpoints card, which is what I use. It’s the only free Airpoints card on the market, so you can’t go wrong with that one (you can’t lose money on a free card!)
- Bookmark the Airpoints deals page here. Check in each month.
- Bookmark the Airpoints Mall. Check in here before you go shopping for anything.
- Start using your Airpoints credit card at every opportunity and racking up points. Get creative with it. Don’t forget to pay your card off in time and in full every month.
- Watch the points stack up and repeat!
Best of luck and hope to see you in the air soon 🙂
Questions? Leave em below.