Note: This is a more updated version of an article posted last year, to reflect changes in card availability and strategy. Read the original article here
It is true that some of the “best” cards for playing the miles game require a certain minimum income. DBS Altitude requires a minimum $50K per annum, UOB PRVI requires a minimum of $80k. The good news is that it is debatable how strict banks are about these limits (I believe they keep them there as a form of artificial prestige, because after all the Bank earns every time you spend with their card, so why not make it available to as many people as possible), and that these limits have been falling (when the DBS Altitude was originally launched the minimum income required was $80k per annum).
It is also true that if you just qualify for a credit card (i.e just meet the MAS stipulated $30k per annum minnimum) there is no good general spending card available to you. You can still build miles, but you need to be a bit more clever about it.
EDIT: Here comes a new challenger- DBS lowers income requirement for Altitude to $30K
All the cards below have a minimum income of $30K
Best Card: Citibank Clear Platinum (2 miles per $1), HSBC Revolution Card (2 miles per $1), HSBC Advance (4 miles per $1, special account required)
In my article about the death of dining cards in Singapore, I noted that despite the UOB Preferred Platinum AMEX and the Citibank Clear Platinum cards being demarketed, it was still possible to apply for both (UOB PP Amex via SMS, Citibank Clear via calling). It appears sadly that the door has slammed on UOB PP Amex. However, I believe that Citibank Clear Platinum is still possible to apply via phone.
You can also try the HSBC Revolution Card which awards 2 miles per $1. I understand there is a card called the HSBC Advance which gives 4 miles per $1 on dining, but you need to have a special HSBC Advance account for that. Refer to the article on the death of dining cards for more details
Online (Flights, hotels, shopping etc)
Best Card: DBS Woman’s Card (2 miles per $1), Citibank Rewards Card (4 miles per $1, shopping only), DBS LiveFresh (1.2 miles per $1 and 6% cashback), Maybank Horizon Card (2 miles per $1, air tickets only), UOB Preferred Platinum Visa (4 miles per $1 on online shopping and entertainment)
You’re not short of options here, but each card has a particular niche.
Option 1: The most flexible option here is the DBS Woman’s Card (yes, men can apply (someone once told me they wouldn’t because they’d be too ashamed to use the card in public (seriously?))), because of DBS’s very generous interpretation of online spending (library fines, membership fees, movie tickets, Amazon, air tickets, anti-virus subscription all boleh). This is capped on the first $2,000 of spending each month.
Option 2: If you’re going the Amazon/Zalora/other e-commerce site route, why not try the Citibank Rewards card. Citibank Rewards will award 4 miles per $1 on online shopping subject to the conditions below-
Online shopping merchants includes only shopping websites that sells clothes, shoes and bags as its main business activity. It excludes all other online e-commerce websites including (but not limited to) movies, electronics, food & beverage, travel, airline, government, brokerage/securities, insurance, tuition ,online gambling websites.
Check out this list compiled by the good folks at HWZ/Flyertalk to see what earns and does not earn bonuses.
Option 3:The DBS LiveFresh is an interesting proposition, because it combines 1.2 miles per $1 and 6% cashback (at least until 29 Feb) on online spend. And whatever counts as online spend for the DBS Woman’s card will count for DBS LiveFresh too.
Option 4: if you’re just looking to buy air tickets and something has possessed you to voluntarily apply for a Maybank card, you can try the Maybank Horizon Platinum Visa which gets 2 milers per $1 on airtickets. Good luck liberating those orphan points though…
Option 5: The UOB Preferred Platinum Visa card offers 4 miles per $1 on online shopping and entertainment. That is defined as follows
Online retail transactions are transactions for purchases of goods or services via the internet using the Card. Online merchants include merchants that fall within the categories of bookstores, cinemas, entertainment, electronics, fast food, music and retail shopping, but excludes all merchants that fall within the categories of airline, travel, transport,top-ups for any pre-paid card, government, utilities, telecommunications, brokerage/securities, insurance, education/tuition, online money transfers and online gambling websites and such other categories of online merchants as UOB may exclude from time to time.
Best Card: UOB Preferred Platinum Visa (4 miles per $1)
If you see a place with Paywave, you can earn 4 miles per $1 with your UOB Preferred Platinum Visa card (refer to this article for more details). This card also earns 4 miles per $1 on online shopping and entertainment.
Best card: Combination of FEVO/Imagine and DBS Woman’s Card (2 milers per $1) otherwise, or DBS Black AMEX (0.8 miles per $1)
Like I said, there really isn’t any good card for general spending at the $30k threshold, so it’s all about loss minimization here. I’d say you could try the Imagine/FEVO route (top up with your DBS Woman’s card) and get 2 miles per $1, although this would be capped at $2,000 spending per month (and if you’re earning $2,500 per month, it might be unwise to spend more than $2,000)
The DBS Black AMEX card gives 0.8 miles per $1 on local spend, which is the highest available for a $30K level card. I’d go with this route if you’re determined to concentrate your points in DBS.
What about the Krisflyer Gold AMEX? It’s got a nice welcome offer of 5,000 miles when you bill the first $1 to the card, but otherwise the general spending rate of $1=0.625 miles is quite sad. If you spend a minimum of $5,000 in a calendar year you get 50% bonus miles, but that brings the rate to about 0.94 miles per $1, which I wouldn’t call fantastic.
So those are the cards that can start you off in the miles game! The real white space in this market is for one of the banks to introduce a good general spending card (I’d define that as 1.2 miler per $1) at the $30K income bracket. Will that happen? Your guess is as good as mine.
cover photo by henrik sandklef