The Milelion Directory has been updated for July

Hello everyone

The Milelion Directory has been updated for July. Exciting times afoot, as Mileslife launched in Singapore,  Citibank offered an insane miles buying bonus for existing Premiermiles Visa cardmembers, and DBS announces how it will replace the ANZ card portfolio. Also have a read of my take on the need for proper sponsored post disclosure. 

You can always find the latest edition of the Milelion Directory here.

Happy reading!
Aaron


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[Last updated: [17 Jul 17]

The UOB PRVI Miles Visa Infinite Mystery

When I covered UOB’s reduction of the income requirement for their PRVI Miles cards, I noted that it was curious that the income requirements for the AMEX and Mastercard versions were cut to 50K, but the Visa remained at 80K.

At the time I wrote it off as an oversight, figuring that UOB would update the site a few days later. After all, it wasn’t like the PRVI Miles was a special tier of Visa- as per the branding on the card it was just plain vanilla Visa, not Gold, Platinum, Signature or Infinite.

And then I got this comment from Dennis

Aaron – not sure how much truth is in this but running the PRVI Miles Visa BIN through a bunch of online databases seems to suggest that it’s an Infinite :O

Even though the bank doesn’t market it as such (unlike the MC version which is clearly marketed as a WMC), perhaps that’s the reason why the income req hasn’t come down yet. (and also how they’re able to make enough money to sustain 1.4mpd)

Pffft. I thought. Some nutjob on the comments. Just humour him.

And then I got this from Matthew

Hi Aaron,
I can indeed confirm that UOB Privi Miles codes under Visa Infinite.

I registered for Visa Infinite Concierge under with the card as well as the Hilton Fast Track to Gold with 2 stays/ 4 Nights.

A bit of a shocker for me as well.
Cheers.

I follow the principle that if one person tells me something it’s unreliable, but if two people tell me something it’s gospel truth. This philosophy has worked out swimmingly for me, which is why I am convinced global warming is a liberal hoax. Stupid polar bears.

Gospel truth or not, I still decided to verify it for myself with my friend’s card (I only have the AMEX and MC versions). But how do you tell if something is a Visa Infinite when it doesn’t say so on the tin?

Image result for uob prvi miles visa

(1) Checking the bin on bindb

For the uninitiated amongst you, a Bin is a Bank Identification Number. I’ll let bindb explain it better.

The Bank Identification Number, also known as the credit card bin can tell you the name of the bank that issued the card, the type of card like Debit or Credit, brand of card Visa, MasterCard and level of card like Electron, Classic and Gold. From the bindatabase you can also check other details about the card and issuer. Credit card bin numbers are the first 6 digits of a card number.

I plugged in the six digits and this is what came out

Holy moley. To make sure it wasn’t just this site saying it, I also looked it up on binlist.net, binchecker.com, bincodes.com, and exactbins.com. All of them concurred.

That’s pretty much game, set, match, but in case you wanted more proof…

(2) Registering for Visa Infinite Concierge

One of the centrally-provided services that Visa has for its Infinite card tier is a concierge service. I wasn’t too wowed when I used them a few months ago, but that’s not what’s relevant here.

What’s relevant is that before you use the service yo need to register, and the form asks you for the first 9 digits of your Visa Infinite card. Entering the UOB PRVI Visa numbers checked out

So that’s two data points in favor.

(3) Registering for the Hilton Gold fast track offer

I decided to do one more test.

Once upon a time anyone with the first six digits of a Visa Infinite card could get instant Hilton Gold status. But that got abused like you can’t imagine, so they eventually tightened the system up to the point where it’s no longer a straight match but rather a status challenge.

Registration for this worked perfectly with the PRVI Visa.

What’s going on?

Ok, so the PRVI Miles Visa is a Visa Infinite. But why isn’t it branded as one? This is going to involve a lot of speculation from me because I’m not privy to the B2B dealings between Visa and various banks. If you know better, please feel free to chime in.

First, does it cost UOB more to issue a Visa Infinite than a Visa Signature/Platinum/regular card? Intuitively it seems the answer should be yes. After all, Visa Infinite has a concierge and a few other exclusive perks and those all cost money to provide. But if it does, why wouldn’t UOB want to play that up in its branding? It would certainly help raise the card’s profile, because Infinite branding still means something (unlike how Platinum and Signature have become mass market). But instead, UOB has just stuck a regular Visa logo on the cardface. Why would UOB be paying more (assuming it is) and not reaping the branding benefits of that?

Could it be because there’s some minimum income required if you want to market a Visa Infinite card? Based on what I know, all Visa Infinite cards in Singapore have a minimum income requirement of S$120K (I know CIMB will issue a Visa Infinite if you put a fixed deposit collateral of $50K, but let’s ignore that for the moment). So perhaps UOB isn’t allowed to market the card as a Visa Infinite because its income requirement is only $80K. But that brings us back to the previous question- why would UOB want the PRVI Visa to be a Visa Infinite in the first place? What benefit does it give them when they don’t market it that way?

Perhaps it’s because UOB doesn’t want to cannibalize demand for its UOB Visa Infinite. But that still doesn’t add up to me, because the UOB Visa Infinite @ $350K annual income is appealing to a very different market from the PRVI. And besides, the UOB Visa Infinite comes with a host of different privileges (eg special invitations to frou frou events) that the PRVI can’t hope to compete with. And it still doesn’t answer why UOB wants the PRVI Visa to be a Visa Infinite when it doesn’t even market it as such.

So that’s what I can’t figure out now. Help me out guys. What is the purpose of having a stealth Visa Infinite?

Do you need a Visa Infinite?

I’m not completely sold on the benefits of having a Visa Infinite, but just so you know what you’re getting yourself into, here are some of the exclusive benefits (I’ve only listed those which are truly unique to Visa Infinite- a lot of the benefits that banks list for their Visa Infinite cards are really things you could get with Signature/Platinum/any other type of Visa, eg the Visa Luxury hotel collection)

Of the benefits listed above, I’d say National Car and Hilton status are the most useful, It’s good to have National Car Executive status because it gives you access to the Executive Aisle, which normally has nicer car options stocked in it than the usual Emerald Aisle. If you have no idea what I’m talking about read this and this. Likewise, Hilton Gold is arguably one of the best mid-tier statuses to have.

From time to time there are special offers that pop up on the internet for Visa Infinite cardholders only. So it could be useful to have a VI on hand to take advantage of such deals.

Click here to apply for a UOB PRVI Miles Visa card

[HT: Dennis and Matthew]

The Milelion’s RTW Trip 2017: Royal Air Maroc CMN Lounge

Introduction: It’s the most wonderful time of the year
A Tale of Two Lounges: SATS Premier T2 and the Qantas SIN Lounge
Malaysia Airlines B737 Business Class SIN-KUL
Malaysia Airlines Business Class Golden Lounge KUL
Malaysia Airlines A330  Business Class KUL-NRT
Japan Airlines Business Class Sakura Lounge NRT
Japan Airlines B77W Business Class NRT-LAX
The Westin LAX
The Westin Westminster
Aloft Boston Seaport
The Consolidated AA Domestic First Class Experience
American Airlines Flagship Lounge JFK
American Airlines B772 Business Class JFK-LHR
American Airlines Arrivals Lounge LHR
The Great Northern Hotel, London
Sheraton Grand Park Lane, London
Westin Paris Vendome
Courtyard by Marriott Madrid Princesa
Four Points by Sheraton Barcelona Diagonal
The Consolidated Intra-Europe Business Class Experience
Sheraton Casablanca
Royal Air Maroc Business Class Lounge CMN
Royal Air Maroc B737 Business Class CMN-ACC
Ethiopian Airlines B772 Business Class ACC-ADD
Ethiopian Airlines Cloud 9 Business Class Lounge ADD
Ethiopian Airlines B737 Business Class ADD-DAR
Protea Hotel by Marriott Dar Es Salaam Courtyard
Tanzanite Lounge DAR
Qatar Airways A320 Business Class DAR-DOH
Qatar Airways Al Safwa First Class Lounge DOH
Qatar Airways A350 “First” Class DOH-DXB
The Grosvenor House Dubai
W Doha
Qatar Airways B772 Business Class DOH-BLR
The Ritz Carlton Bangalore
Cathay Pacific A330 Business Class DEL-HKG
W Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific’s HKG Lounges
Cathay Pacific A350 Business Class HKG-SIN


After a couple of days in Morocco I had to head over to Ghana. This would be my first time in West Africa, and I had little idea what to expect. I’d be flying from Casablanca to Accra, but would only be in Accra for a night before heading out to Tamale, an even smaller city in Ghana, for a site visit. I knew the sum total of zero about Ghana, save for the fact that IE Singapore has an office there. I briefly considered reaching out to the point person there to set up coffee, but the thought of meeting new people was scary and intimidating so decided otherwise.

Image result for royal air maroc

The most straightforward route to Accra from Casablanca was to fly direct with Royal Air Maroc (RAM). It was my first time flying with them and let me just say- wow, these guys don’t know the first thing about keeping a schedule.

I flew a total of 3 flights with them during my RTW trip (2 domestic and this international one that I’m now writing about) and I got a constant barrage of emails about schedule changes.

First, my 8pm flight from Casablanca to Agadir was cancelled for “operational reasons” and I was given a seat on a 10.40pm flight instead (they send all these alerts in French with no English version, so good luck if you’re not paying attention. I google translated the excerpt below)

Hello XUAN MING AARON WONG,

Royal Air Maroc informs you that your AT426 flight on 05/06/2017 completing the route AGA – CMN is canceled due to operational constraints. We have postponed you on flight AT482 of 05/06/2017. The departure will take place at 22:40 with an arrival in local time at 23:45. The registration of this flight will start at 20:40 and end at 22:00.

Second, I got a notification that my 12.50am flight from Casablanca to Accra (which was scheduled to arrive at 4.20am) was now departing at 10.45pm the day before and arriving at 4.40am.

(Notice how in the email below their automated message system even managed to get the dates wrong. A flight departing 06/07/2017 replaced by one departing 07/06/2017?)

Hello XUAN MING AARON WONG,

Royal Air Morocco informs you that your flight AT515 06/07/2017 performing route CMN – ACC is canceled, due to operational constraints. We have carried on the flight AT515 07/06/2017. The departure will take place at 22:45 with arrival at 4:40 local time. The recording of this flight will start at 19:45 and end at 21:45.

I thought this was strange. Why was I leaving earlier and arriving later? I puzzled over this long and hard, then checked FlightRadar24 and realised that they had added a stop. In LFW.

map

Now, hands up who among you can tell me which airport is LFW without googling it. Because I can’t. LFW is Lome, Togo. That’s right, RAM had converted my direct flight into a 1 stop without so much as asking me.

2014-06-16 17-21-49 Togo Maritime - Station Météo.JPG

I can’t help but feel this is a bit of a bait and switch, in the sense that I was willing to pay more to fly RAM so that I could do a direct flight. If they’d sold the flight as a one stop, I’d have booked my flights very differently. But good luck getting compensation out of RAM or even trying to explain the situation to their customer service. I just wrote it off as a cost of doing business with a less reputable airline.

Casablanca Terminal 2 was deserted when I arrived at about 10pm. That was strange, given that my flight departed at about 1am and the evening tends to be peak departure time for long haul flights.

It meant a no-fuss check in for my flight, and my bags were tagged through to Accra. We had the usual “do you need a visa” questions where the staff struggled to find Singapore’s visa requirements on their computer. They seemed to find it hard to believe that I didn’t need a visa for Ghana, but that’s the badass Singapore passport for you.

There’s priority immigration available for business class passengers, but even the regular immigration channels had no queues. Within 5 minutes (and a security screener who was more interested in watching a movie on his phone than looking at bags) I was in the duty free area where there was no shortage of argan-based products, cheap keychains and tourist trappy tchotchkes. Protip: you know a country has crappy currency when its own stores don’t want to take it. Most of the items at Morocco duty free need to be paid for in Euros, only a small selection of items can be paid for in the local currency.

I had no interest in such knickknacks, but had an interest in seeing RAM’s flagship lounge, which was down a flight of stairs from the main terminal.

The lounge is owned and operated by RAM but is also open to a host of other airlines. That’s never a good sign, usually, as it means massive overcrowding.

I was greeted at the desk by a cheerful associate who handed me the Wi-Fi code and told me there were no boarding announcements.

As I feared, the lounge was packed to the brim when I arrived and had a noise level to match. It emptied out a bit as the night went on, which allowed me to take some of the photos below.

I’m just going to give you the TL;DR spoiler version: the lounge is a dump. It’s miserable, there’s nothing of interest, and the F&B selection is awful. This would barely pass for a contract lounge, much less the flagship lounge for an airline.

The lighting is harsh and fluorescent, the chairs are old and worn, and there are no showers available (but given the state of the toilet, that might actually not be a bad thing). The lounge has basically two areas- to sit and to dine.

The dining area has a mix of high tables and communal ones.

I took these photos after the place cleared out a bit- prior to which there was barely any place to stand.

There’s a buffet selection, but no hot food to speak of. That’s right, the sum total of the dining experience is a bunch of pastries, microwaved mini-pizzas and sandwiches. It was miserable.

I’m not quite sure what to write about it. There seemed to be a kitchen attached to the lounge and a good sized catering crew, but they spent most of the time chatting among themselves and occasionally bringing out another cold tray of mediocrity.

Woo hoo they had mass made cheap deserts.

There’s a separate area which I swear was supposed to be the bar, only it had no drinks or bottles (perhaps on account of Ramadan?). Instead there was some local breads and, yup, more pastries. That’s some Arabic French fusion right there.

There was precious little else to do in the lounge. Even the Wi-Fi was so slow that I ended up tethering to my phone.  There were only soft drinks and water available,  and the whole lounge was dry. There’s a slightly more substantial review over on OMAAT (apparently there’s a very limited selection of hot food during traditional mealtime windows), but this is definitely not a place you want to spend any extended amount of time.

I know that no self-respecting airline geek would ever use $kytrax (see what I did there?) ratings as a benchmark, but it still amazes me how they can consider RAM to be a 4 star airline. The customer reviews certainly don’t reflect that in any case.

More amusingly when you look at the lounge reviews you get an overall score of 2/10 (only 2 ratings, but still)

So- RAM’s lounge in Casablanca is bad. Really bad. Hopefully you’ll never have to experience it. The inflight experience, however was better than expected. Perhaps the purpose of the lounge is to temper expectations before boarding!

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