For the benefit of maximum points and acceptance, Commonwealth Bank Gold Awards gives customers both an American Express and a MasterCard, but with just one bill to pay each month.
Travel aficionados earn points in the Commonwealth Awards program, which are either automatically sent across to Qantas Frequent Flyer every month or can be stockpiled and later converted into Virgin Australia Velocity points.
You’ll earn two Commonwealth Awards points per dollar spent on the AMEX and one point per dollar on the MasterCard, but when you look at the conversion rate from Awards points to frequent flyer points, it’s quite a false economy.
It takes 2.5 Commonwealth Awards points to earn just one frequent flyer point – which in reality limits your earn to just 0.8 Qantas or Velocity points on the American Express and an absolutely miserable 0.4 points per dollar on the MasterCard.
As Australian Business Traveller has previously documented, that sees the CBA Gold Awards MasterCard sharing the title of Australia's worst credit card for earning frequent flyer points along with the vanilla CBA Awards MasterCard, which earns the same paltry fraction of points per dollar.
And, that's also capped at a maximum of 50,000 Qantas or Velocity points per year on your everyday transactions. After that, you'll earn nothing unless you're shopping with one of CBA's bonus partners.
Who’s it good for?
With relatively low earning rates, CBA’s Gold Awards cards are ironically better-suited to those who aren't concerned about earning points.
An interest-free offer of 0% p.a. on new purchases for 10 months might come at just the right time for somebody looking for a short-term interest-free loan to offset high living expenses, or even to buy the latest MacBook.
Or, the travel insurance, purchase protection and extended warranty cover could easily be worth more than the annual fee if buying that new gadget or heading off on holiday.
Things could also turn in your favour if you regularly spend at the CBA’s relatively small network of bonus partners such as Cellarmasters, Crown Towers and Roses Only, which pay out extra points when using either of the CBA cards.
How much you have to spend to earn a free flight
If Qantas Points are the goal, spending $15,625 on the AMEX or $31,250 on the MasterCard gets you a totally free flight from Sydney to Melbourne.
By paying the taxes and surcharges (currently $35.15) with cash instead of points, that drops to just $10,000 on the AMEX or $20,000 on the MasterCard, which is arguably a better deal.
Or, by earning CBA Awards points and later converting them over to Velocity Frequent Flyer, it takes either $12,375 on the AMEX or $24,750 on the MasterCard to fly on the same route with Virgin Australia.
As you can do with Qantas, paying the taxes and surcharges ($21.11) gets you the same result with Virgin Australia after charging $8,625 to the American Express card, or $17,250 on the MasterCard.
The complimentary cover provided is more than adequate for a Gold-grade card, and could be the product’s redeeming factor.
There’s free international travel insurance for trips of three months or less, activated after charging at least $1,000 of your “prepaid travel costs” to either Gold Awards card before leaving Australia. That can be anything from flights through to prepaid hotels, hire cars, organised tours and theatre tickets.
You’ll also need to have your return flight booked before jetting off, although with many countries requiring travellers to provide proof of onward or return travel, this won’t be an issue for most.
Extended warranty protection and purchase security insurance come as standard, covering defective products for a year beyond the manufacturer’s warranty and selected purchases that are lost, stolen or damaged within the first 90 days of ownership.
Fees and charges
With an annual fee of $119, you’ll want to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth on the points you’ll earn and on insurance or extended warranty cover that you would have otherwise purchased.
You'll also be slugged an extra $10/year to earn Qantas Points – whereas there's no additional charge to convert to Velocity instead.
Adding a partner or family member to the account also costs $15 each year, which means you’ll wind up paying $144 per annum for a Qantas-earning credit card for yourself and your partner.
Up to 55 interest-free days are available on purchases, but interest charges of 20.24% p.a. on purchases apply if the closing balance isn’t paid in full (voiding any interest-free period), with cash advances attracting a higher 21.24% p.a. rate from the moment the transaction takes place.
When shopping abroad, a 2% ‘international transaction fee’ applies to American Express spend, while a higher 3% fee is levied when using the MasterCard – even though you’re earning fewer points than the AMEX.
That fee drops to 2% when paying in Australian dollars overseas, but thanks to the padded exchange rates of the Dynamic Currency Conversion system, you’ll end up paying even more.
You won’t be given this option when using the AMEX, but always opt to pay in the local currency when using the MasterCard on foreign soil to keep your costs down.
How it compares
Even as a Gold card, it’s outperformed by the base-level cards of every other Big Four bank – which highlights how poor CBA’s earning rates really are.
With ANZ Frequent Flyer, NAB Qantas Rewards or Westpac Altitude Qantas, you’d earn one Qantas Point per dollar spent on the respective American Express card, and 0.5 points per dollar on either the matching Visa or MasterCard.
Better yet, even the most expensive of these cards has a lower annual fee than CBA Gold Awards, so if points are your only concern, NAB is the best of the Big Four with a yearly charge of just $65.
For Velocity points, also consider the Virgin Australia Velocity Flyer Visa and its $129 annual fee.
You’ll earn one Velocity point per dollar for the first $1,500 spent each month, which then drops to 0.5 Velocity points per dollar for the rest of the statement cycle.
Even when the points are halved, you’ll still be earning more than you would on the CBA Gold Awards MasterCard on a normal day, which says it all, really...
You’ll earn one point per dollar spent in the card's respective loyalty program – uncapped – with no annual fee either.
To CBA’s credit, these other cards don’t provide the travel insurance and extended warranty protection that you’ll find with its Gold Awards product, so you’d need to choose which is more important.
If you can’t decide, there’s always CBA’s Diamond Awards cards for the best of both worlds. You'll pocket an impressive 1.5 Qantas or Velocity points per dollar on the AMEX and an improved 0.625 points on the World MasterCard.
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