There’s no such thing as ‘free’ air miles!
Virgin Money reveals that it costs a pretty penny to get that free flight
Research conducted by Virgin Money reveals that South Africans who have opted to join an air
miles programme linked to their credit card have to spend, on average, a massive R215 000 over
six years in order to qualify for a ‘free’ return flight between Johannesburg and Cape Town, or
Over the course of those six years, the average cardholder is hit with R1 524 in annual card fees.
When you consider that, with the existing price war between the various low-cost airlines, you can
pick up a return flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town for under R1 000, it seems that ‘free’ flight
to visit Great Aunt Maude in Cape Town isn’t so ‘free’ after all!
Virgin Money investigated 11 credit card air mile offerings, looked at how much you have to spend,
how long you have to wait, and how much in annual card fees you have to pay, to qualify for a
return flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town on a variety of airlines including SAA, British Airways
(BA) and Kulula.
How do air mile programmes really work?
Air mile programmes work by ‘awarding’ you a certain amount of ‘miles’ or ‘points’ in return for
your credit card spend. Each mile/point accumulated requires a specific amount of money to be
spent. You then need to accumulate a certain number of miles/points to be able to acquire your
The ‘spend per mile’ depends on the individual credit card, but Virgin Money’s research showed
that this was anywhere between R5,00 and R12,50 per mile. The number of miles/points needed
for a return flight between Johannesburg and Cape Town also varied greatly - from 18 000 ‘miles’
using the SAA Voyager card to 84 200 ‘points’ using Absa rewards to fly with BA.
The fact that you have to pay for airport taxes is usually not communicated upfront either when
you are redeeming your free flight, and only pops up at the last step of the redemption process
when it’s just about t