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How do you use the points you earn when you book a flight, buy some milk or fill up your petrol tank?

Loyalty schemes have become the way to win your business, and for some companies like Qantas, loyalty pays better than plane tickets.

But how valuable are they to you?  Not very.  On average, you’re only getting half a cent back for every dollar you spend.

By choosing to rack up your points at Coles and Woollies, you’re also choosing to spend more on your groceries than you would at no-frills Aldi. And your buying patterns become a rich source of data for a growing network of companies.

The best use of your points is for flight upgrades but you’ll need thousands of them. You can turbo-charge your balance by transferring to a different utility company or taking advantage of bonus points offers on certain products. You can also get a new rewards credit card. But we’ve done the maths and generally, credit cards rewards just don’t add up.

The very worst way to spend your points is in the online stores. Two adult tickets for Hoyts Cinemas will cost you 19,100 Flybuys points. Velocity is slightly better value, offering a $50 Events Cinema voucher for 9,000 points.

Flybuys

You earn Flybuy points at Coles outlets and almost 30 other retailers so it’s easier to accumulate them. The Flybuy point is only worth about 0.5c whether you’re redeeming a discount at checkout, booking travel or shopping in the online store. If you manage to transfer your points to use on an Etihad flight (like I said, it’s complicated), this goes up to 1.2c per point.

Woolworths Rewards

Around half of Woolworths shoppers  have signed up for this program. For every $2,000 you spend at Woolworths, BWS or Caltex, you get $10 off your next buy. This makes your points worth 0.5 cents each. Two thousand of your Woolworths Rewards points convert into 870 Qantas Frequent Flyer points. So, if you used them towards a return business class flight from Sydney to London, you’d have to spend $585,505 to get there.

Qantas Frequent Flyer

You can earn Frequent Flyers by flying and through partners like Woolworths and Vodafone. You may earn  1,000 points for a flight between Sydney and Melbourne but you’ll need 8,000 points to get home, and they’ll charge you a transaction fee. Here are some ways to turbo-charge your balance.

Virgin Velocity Points

You generally earn between one and five points for each dollar you spend on a Virgin flight and various retailers. You can transfer your Flybuys points to the Velocity program but they halve in value. Until 5 July, if you swipe at BP you could earn one million points.

The best value around is the $25 Vintage Cellars share which you earn after spending $500 on wine. So you’re getting five cents back for every dollar you spend. And it doesn’t take too long to earn it.