I’ve mocked the Krisflyer Ascend card in the past as the best card you’ll never use. This was back when they were offering a 1st year annual fee waiver option that allowed you to get the card for free and enjoy things like a 1 night free stay at selected Millennium Hotels worldwide, 4 free SATS lounge vouchers, a complimentary upgrade to Millennium Hotels Gold status and 5,000 miles when you clocked the first spend on the card (Even if you opted to pay the 1st year annual fee, you could generate a decent amount of miles through their sign up bonuses and accelerator during the first couple of months).
Since then Ascend has parred the benefits down- the 1st year annual fee wavier option is no longer available and the free Millenninum Hotels night got additional conditions tacked on which made the voucher more or less useless at some properties. I’ve not followed developments on the card that closely because I’ve long since cancelled the card (first year fee came due, and AMEX almost never gives annual fee waivers)
EDIT: UK_Ship on the comments have reported successfully getting fee waivers, so it never hurts to ask!
Yesterday, existing Ascend cardholders received an alert that the T&C of the card would change from 1 May. To summarise the changes
- Revised Earning Structure: The Ascend card now earns 1.2 miles per S$1 of local spend, and 2 miles per S$1 of overseas spend during June and Dec. The accelerator of 300 miles for every $500 spent above $1,000 will cease
- Fast Track Krisflyer Elite Gold: If you spend S$15,000 on SQ tickets directly on singaporeair.com between 1 May 2016 and 30 June 2017, you get KF Elite Gold for 1 year. You also get a voucher giving you double Krisflyer Miles for your S$15,000 of spend, capped at 5,000 miles
- Annual fee increase: Annual fee increases 30% from $256.80 to $337.05
These changes do not by any means make the Ascend a great card. The cards issued by the banks are still superior to the Ascend in terms of miles earning. I suspect that Amex and Krisflyer took a long look at what their co-branded card was offering and realised it was completely uncompetitive compared to the banks.
Let’s look at the main changes-
Revised Earning Structure
The shift to a 1.2 miles per S$1 of local spend structure is welcome, but not a game-changer. Recall the rates the banks are currently offering per S$1 of local general spending
- Citibank (Premiermiles)- 1.2/1.3 miles (for Visa/AMEX versions)
- DBS (Altitude)- 1.2 miles
- UOB (PRVI)- 1.4 miles
- HSBC (Visa Infinite)- 1/1.25/1.5 miles (depending on annual spend and card tenure)
- ANZ (Travel Card)- 1.4 miles
As you can see, 1.2 miles is the bare minimum acceptable earning rate for anything that wants to call itself a miles earning card. In that respect, the Ascend has just come in line with the market rate (versus their pathetic S$1= 0.83 miles structure before)
Their offer of 2 miles per S$1 of overseas spend for June and Dec is clearly meant to target the holiday-going crowd, but one does wonder why they see the need to be so stingy about this. 2 miles per S$1 of overseas spend all year round is the bare minimum, as the market attests
- Citibank (Premiermiles)- 2 miles
- DBS (Altitude)- 2 miles
- UOB (PRVI)- 2.4 miles
- HSBC (Visa Infinite)- 2/2.25/2.5 miles (depending on annual spend and card tenure)
- ANZ (Travel Card)- 2.8 miles (Aust & NZ spend only)
Fast Track Krisflyer Elite Gold
This is a strange feature to have, because anyone who spends S$15,000 on SQ tickets is likely to hit the 50,000 miles required for Krisflyer Elite Gold anyway. That said, I can see how this will work for some people
- If you frequently book tickets for other people (family, colleagues), you may already be exceeding S$15,000 but not have elite status because only the person actually flying would earn elite miles
- If you frequently book tickets in the lowest ticket class (eg Super Deals) that earn 10% elite miles, you might be spending in aggregate more than S$15,000 but still not hitting 50,000 elite miles
- If you’re willing to tie up S$15,000 of your working capital in SQ fully refundable tickets, you could theoretically buy the tickets a year in advance, get your status upgraded and then cancel the tickets later for free (but remember that even Flexi tickets incur a USS$150 refund fee, so this may not be as costless as you envision)
You have slightly over one year to incur this spend. While it’s certainly do-able with a moderate amount of travel, you’d probably hit 50,000 miles if you had 15k of travel spend
All things equal, it’s always better to have status than not have status, but if anyone thinks that Krisflyer Elite Gold status will dramatically change their life you should probably temper your expectations. You can expect lounge access (to the crappy Krisflyer Gold lounge in Singapore and the significantly better SilverKris lounges overseas), additional and priority baggage, priority boarding and (allegedly) higher priority when waitlisting for award tickets. But don’t expect upgrades, or a blocked empty seat next to you.
Annual Fee Increase
The powers at AMEX thought that these enhancements were good enough to justify increasing the annual fee 30% from $256.80 to $337.05. The conspiracy theorist in me thinks that Millennium Hotels increased the reimbursement rate they demanded for the free night hotel voucher, which meant that AMEX had to cover that cost somehow, and since the Ascend card was overdue for a refresh this was a chance to do all that at one go.
AMEX does not generally offer annual fee waivers, regardless of how much you spend. The rationale is that they need to cover the ancillary benefits their cards give (eg Feed at Raffles with their Platinum cards). I am a firm believer in not paying annual fees (unless you urgently need to buy miles), so this hike makes the card less acceptable in my eyes.
While the adjustment in the general spending rate is a welcome (and long overdue) move, it does not make the Ascend a must-have card, especially when you consider the 30% increase in the (non-waivable) annual fee.
Given that the DBS Altitude AMEX has reduced its income requirement to $30,000, there is really no reason why you need the Krisflyer Ascend Card. Unless you can block out $10,000 of spending within the first 3 months of getting your card to take advantage of the sign up promotion, you’d be better off with getting the Altitude card and pooling the miles with your DBS Woman’s World card.
The AMEX Ascend card is a strange beast. When it was launched, it seemed like Krisflyer/AMEX genuinely thought they had a competitive offering to challenge the mass affluent cards like Premiermiles, Altitude (before they lowered the income requirement) and PRVI. This despite the fact their base earn rate was one of the lowest in the market, and only through a complicated system of bonuses could one hope to match the earning rates offered by the banks. Some people, like me, found ways of taking advantage of the first year fee waiver to get a free hotel night. Others paid the annual fee, spent $10,000 on the card to get the bonus miles then chucked it away. Eventually more and more people realised that despite the roadshow promoter’s hype, the emperor really had no clothes. I don’t think these latest moves do anything to change that.
But hey, at least you don’t need to pay a conversion fee.