All posts by aaronwong

Which credit cards have the best airport limo option? [July 2017 update]

Airport transfers used to be a very common perk available on mass market miles cards like the DBS Altitude and Citibank Premiermiles. Heck, even lesser cards like the CIMB Platinum and the OCBC Titanium had it.

Unfortunately, as time went on these benefits were enhanced away and now there are only a limited selection of cards with complimentary airport transfers.

Here are three important questions to ask when selecting a card with a limo benefit and a summary of how the different benefits stack up

Key Questions

  • How much do I need to spend to qualify for the benefit?
    • Every bank requires you to spend a minimum amount before awarding a complimentary transfer. Some banks require the spending be entirely in foreign currency, others allow for local currency
  • How many times can I use the benefit per year?
    • Even if you hit the spending threshold, you may not be eligible for transfer if you’ve maxed out your cap for the period. Some cards cap by year, others by quarter, others by both
  • Does the card offer airport pickup or dropoff?
    • Most cards offer dropoff only because it entails less “dead” time- the driver waits 10-15 minutes and if you’re a no-show that’s it. Airport pickup, on the other hand, needs a bigger buffer to account for delays, immigration and baggage collection and is a more expensive service to provide

Comparison of Benefits

I have compiled the various limo benefits being offered by different cards here. I am aware that some cards may allow you to redeem your points for airport transfer, but have not included those here because they aren’t “free”.

CardMin Spend RequirementMax UsesAirport Drop/Pickup
UOB PRVI Miles (AMEX only)S$1K overseas spend per quarter (excludes online transactions)2 per quarter, 8 per yearDrop only
Citibank PrestigeS$1.5K overseas spend in a quarter4 per quarter, 8 per yearDrop or pickup
HSBC Visa InfiniteS$2K spend in a month (first two per year are free)24 per year (includes the two free trips)Drop only
Maybank Visa InfiniteS$3K spend in a month (no min spend if >$60K spending in prev. year)2 per S$3K spend, 6 per yearDrop or pickup
OCBC VoyageS$3K spend in a month2 per monthDrop or pickup

Note: Where is the SCB VI, you might ask? The SCB VI doesn’t offer a limo benefit. Instead, it gives you a choice of taking $100 Uber credits + 25K miles instead of 35K miles when you sign up and pay the first year’s S$588.50 annual fee. Regardless of which option you take, you get a 10% rebate on all Uber rides worldwide capped at S$100 per quarter.

Why Seedly could potentially be the perfect app for travel hackers

The classic problem that I (and many travel hackers) face is tracking all my finances. Getting multiple cards and opening multiple bank accounts to maximise your miles, sign up bonuses and bonus interest creates a heck of a reconciliation problem at the end of the month.

I now have 4 bank accounts and many, many credit cards which I discipline myself to checking each month. Have I been charged an annual fee? Did my expense reimbursements come in on time? What is my total net worth now, and how has that changed from last month? Am I meeting my savings and investment targets?

My current solution is an Excel spreadsheet into which I plug numbers each month. It’s an intensely manual chore for me, involving visits to numerous bank websites, downloading/copy pasting the transactions to Excel (I cannot believe that DBS does not offer a download to Excel button) and generally takes up a lot of time. I call this my “time of month”.

I’ve been looking for an app ala Mint in the US, which integrates seamlessly with banks to get your latest transaction data so you can see all your accounts in one place.

Thanks to reader Moritz, I’ve now learned about Seedly.

Seedly is a personal finance app, one of way too many on the market. But what sets Seedly apart from the rest is its integration with the banks. Seedly allows you to port your bank and credit card transactions + balances into one interface where you can do aggregate analysis.

Seedly currently supports

  • DBS
  • OCBC
  • Citibank
  • SCB
  • UOB
  • American Express

That’s a great list, but HSBC is the obvious missing big fish so fingers crossed they get around to adding that soon.

Using Seedly is extremely simple. After installing it, simply go to the add bank account option

You’ll be brought to an in-app page that will prompt you for your userid and pin, after which you’ll get an OTP to login. Once that’s done, the app will take a few minutes to download your transaction history.

Currently, the app is read-only. What’s more, there’s no real-time sync, so every time you want to update your account you’ll need to re-enter your userid and pin, get another OTP and wait for the sync to finish. That’s obviously far from ideal, but Seedly says that they are “working with banks towards a real-time sync to create a more seamless process”. I suppose banks will be cagey about giving a great level of access to a third party app, so let’s hope all parties are able to work together to resolve security issues because that’d be a major win.

Here’s what it looks like when everything’s synced. I’ve obviously redacted all my non-zero account balances (analytics tells me that many of my readers are gold digging chiobus) but in the app you’ll see your account balances summarized at the top in SGD

You’ll also see individual breakdowns by bank with your savings plus credit card balances. Where you have investment accounts, you’ll be able to see the balances (although this is slightly less useful if you don’t have real time sync, given the value of your securities trading account will fluctuate day to day)

Another useful feature of Seedly is transaction breakdown and analysis, so you know where your money is going. They call this “magic”, automatic categorization via intelligence.

But it’s far from magic and where the app stumbles somewhat. Seedly doesn’t always classify transactions properly (you’d think this would be easy to do based on MCC). For example, Papermarket (an arts and crafts store) was classified as groceries, a purchase from an electronics store in HK was classified as insurance, purchases of shares were classified as shopping and a Linkedin subscription was classified as shopping.

Obviously there are bugs to be worked out and I imagine they’ll refine the classifications over time. Until they do, however, I wouldn’t put too much weight in this feature.

One thing I’m hoping they can add is a way of seeing all your rewards points in one place. I currently have many different rewards currencies (DBS Points, UOB UNI$, Citibank ThankYou points + Premiermiles (thanks Citibank), HSBC points) and it’d be nice if I had a centralized dashboard that let me bask in the warm glow of my accumulated points balances on a cold winter’s night. That said, I doubt such a feature will be very high on Seedly’s priorities. They’re probably going to focus on working out the banking integration aspects before looking at rewards.

Overall, Seedly is still very much a work in progress, but if they bring onboard real-time sync it can provide a major convenience to those of us in the miles game. Here’s hoping they bring on board HSBC soon and look at ways of adding rewards points to the platform too.

The Milelion’s RTW Trip 2017: Ethiopian Airlines B787 Business Class ACC-ADD

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 B787 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


Image result for ethiopian airlines changi

For those of us in Singapore, Ethiopian Airlines is probably as exotic as they come. Although the airline does fly to Singapore (and operates a strange 5th freedom route to KUL on a 787 no less), it’s more likely than not that the average Singaporean will go through his or her entire life without stepping foot on an ET jet. And based on the reaction I got when I told my colleagues my itinerary, it’s probably safe to say that Ethiopia isn’t a country most Singaporeans would expect a good airline to come from.

And they’d be wrong. Ethiopian has a fleet list that would put many “first world airlines” to shame, with spanking new A350s and B787s (even on their older 777 jets they’ve finished refitting full flat business class). It’s been a proud card carrying member of Star Alliance since 2011. And it constantly wins various best airline in Africa awards.

Ethiopian-Airlines-A350-Business class
Ethiopian Airlines A350 Business Class
Image result for ethiopian airlines business class
Ethiopian Airlines B787 Business Class
Image result for ethiopian airlines business class
Refurbished Ethiopian Airlines B777

It’s definitely not in the same league as an ANA or SQ, but it’s also not something you should actively try to avoid. I had to get from Accra to Dar Es Salaam and since oneworld has no African presence, my natural choice was Ethiopian.

map

Sure, it involved a layover in ADD, but amazingly there are no non-stop flights between Accra and Dar Es Salaam. That’s probably on account of Ghana having no national airline since 2015, and Tanzania’s national airline being domestic only.

Check-in at Accra airport was…an experience to forget. There were random checkpoints and queues that doubled back on themselves. There were even queues just to queue to check in, if that made sense. One thing I’ve noticed about airports in the less developed world is they display an unhealthy appetite for repeated document verification checks. Whether this is for genuine security or just to provide employment is a puzzlement to me, but every passenger had to show their e-ticket and passport to an airline official before joining the check-in line. The same thing happened in Dar Es Salaam, for what it’s worth. Five minutes after my colleague and I got in line, a whole army of passengers appeared and the line for business class check in stretched till the end of the terminal. Fortunately we avoided all of that and got our boarding passes without further incident.

I should mention here that you require a Yellow Fever vaccination card to get in and out of Ghana. The enforcement mechanisms, however, are shall we say no the most robust. I, like a good Singaporean traveller, had done my research and got all my shots before I left Singapore. I presented my vaccination card and duly proceeded to immigration.

Image result for yellow fever vaccination card

My freewheeling American colleague, however, did not. The official told him he needed to get vaccinated before leaving the country. “Sure,” he said. “May I go ahead and tell my colleague I’ll be delayed?” He was waved through and never went back to get his shot. No one cared. And people wonder how patient zero happens…

Ethiopian uses a contract lounge in Accra called The Adinkra Lounge (Wikipedia tells me that Adinkra are visual symbols that represent concepts or aphorisms. Adinkra are used extensively in fabrics and pottery among the Akans of Ghana and Cote d”Ivoire. Wikipedia also tells me Halimah Yacob may or may not be Indian).

I didn’t think it warranted a separate trip report so I’ll cover it briefly here.

The lounge is a good place for sitting and not much else. It’s a contract facility used by pretty much every airline flying in and out of Accra plus Priority Pass. The good news is that the lounge is very big and it never felt crowded.

There was also a lot of local artwork on the walls, if you were into that sort of thing.

The bad news is that there’s no hot food. The food selection is limited to some cold sandwiches. Protip: if you want to enjoy your trip, never eat anything with mayonnaise in it, even if it’s refrigerated. Trust me on this one.

The highlight of the selection was probably the bags of Famous Amos cookies, although I don’t know how anyone can eat the bagged stuff when the freshly baked ones are so superior.

Banana chips. These sounded more promising than they actually were.

And an odd mix of pastries.

Selected hard liquors were available but no wine.

And soda, water and domestic beers.

There are two computer terminals but no printing facilities.

That’s all there is to the lounge, really.

The boarding process was…curious. First, everyone’s passes were checked in a holding area outside the boarding lounge. The ground crew seemed to be carefully scrutinizing certain Ghanaian passports for reasons I didn’t quite understand. My passport and my colleague’s American passport were waved through almost immediately. “That’s white privilege for you”, I told him. He called me a hate-filled race monger.

We also got a sticker on our boarding pass which I was confused about until boarding started. See that sign on the right of the photo below? Apparently it’s easier for them to control boarding by having the ground crew glance at the color of the sticker on your boarding pass than reading the class on the boarding pass. I wonder if it had anything to do with illiteracy though, because if so it’s quite a clever way of circumventing the problem without embarrassing people. When boarding started they said “all green board now”, then “all yellow” etc etc.

We were supposed to be on a 777-200 today but I was delighted to see that there was an aircraft swap to a much newer 787.

Business Class, or Cloud 9 as ET calls it, is configured 2-2-2 over 4 rows.

The seats are B/E Aerospace Diamond seats, full flat and fairly common. You can find them on United and Thai’s 787s, Qatar’s A320, Air China’s 777s and many more.

It’s not my favourite seat because of the lack of full aisle access, but it was perfectly fine for this medium haul flight. Plus, I had a seat in the centre two, so no seatmate jumping was required. Plus, I had no seatmate.

You can see how you’ll have to hurdle yourself out if you’re in the window seat and your seatmate is fully flat.

I was at the front of the aircraft in 1D.

The screen in front of each seat was very high quality, bright and high def. It was also touch sensitive, but touch sensitive IFE screens in business class have never made much sense to me due to the gap between you and the screen. Plus, it can lead to gorilla arm. 

Each seat had a large blanket waiting which fortunately wasn’t the scratchy kind so many airlines cheap out on.

Seat controls were on the centre armrest. There were only two presets, fully flat and full upright. Most seat controls I see have an additional setting for lounging, which was missing here.

The headphones were disappointing. They were just a generic air of over ear, airline-branded kit with no real noise cancelling capability.

The IFE controller is a very old design, which is surprising given the relative newness of the seats. I remember seeing something like this on SAA last year.

There is a storage space next to your head that has a power plug plus a single USB outlet. It looks like they could have fit three USB outlets easily though.

On the other side of the headrest was a reading light (with 3 intensity settings) plus the same full flat/full upright presets.

The tray table was sturdy but not particularly large.

The Ethiopian Airlines amenities kit is a rather eye-catching yellow. When I saw the shape I got excited because it reminded me of one of those Samsonite kits that has a hook inside so you can hang it on a towel rack.

And indeed it was. This made it one of the more useful amenities kits, something you might actually reuse in the future. The downside was that the kit was a bit small and couldn’t possibly hold all my male grooming implements.

The contents were interesting- there was a pen (such an important tool, and I wish more airlines thought about that so passengers wouldn’t keep bugging stewardesses for pens to fill immigration forms), a toohpick, earplugs, eyeshades, a comb, a toohbrush kit, some lip balm and socks. Nothing was branded, but it was functional enough.

The crew came around with magazines and I picked something just to appear well-informed about the world around me.

I like the way Time magazine infantilized me with easy to understand graphics that told me what content each of summer’s thriller novels had.

The crew came around with pre-departure drinks and surprise surprise, champagne was offered on the ground. The business class cabin was full of Chinese businessmen, including one gentleman who insisted on broadcasting his entire conversation to the entire plane. I was annoyed the crew offered him a champagne refill and not me.

Champagne was a Canard-Duchene Cuvee Leonie Brut, nothing premium but nothing too unpleasant either.

The crew also gave out bottles of water.

The captain welcomed us on board and thanked us for flying with Ethiopian. You could tell he was really proud to work there as he emphasized repeatedly we were on a 787, one of the most advanced planes in the world.

Takeoff was smooth and we climbed rapidly to the cruising altitude.  After takeoff, the menu was distributed.

Ethiopian’s menu is simple in design

Lunch would be served on this 5h 30 minute flight.

The beverage list was inside the food menu and had an interesting selection of local coffees.

Before meals were served, another drinks service was done.

Instead of peanuts, kolo was brought around. Perhaps this can be SQ’s answer to future peanut related lawsuits…

What’s kolo? The menu explained it’s a kind of roasted barley grain which is high in fiber and protein. Apparently it’s good for you.

The meal got off to a bad start with poorly plated roast beef with slivers of chili on them. The beef was the definition of dry  and required copious amounts of water to swallow.

The salad didn’t inspire the imagination either.

It didn’t get much better from there. The main I picked was meat ravioli with putanesca sauce. I knew it was a bad sign when they misspelled puttanesca in the menu. I’ve recently started cooking Italian food at home and my friends and family will attest that I am the most difficult to please (more on that another time). But I can guarantee you I wasn’t pleased with this.

I’m sure it’s a lighting issue, I said to myself. Let me tweak my ISO.

That didn’t work. I asked the stewardess if they could swap it for the peppered chicken instead. “Sure”, she said, and then disappeared. The swap never happened.

Instead, cheese, crackers, and a really artificial tasting vanilla cake were served.

They brought about chocolates and Ethiopian coffee after the meal but misunderstood my declining of tea to mean I didn’t want chocolates either. I had to request them separately, but eventually got them.

I know that Lily O Brien’s is supposed to be some fancy pants brand, but I thought the chocolates were just alright. Way too much liqueur in one of them for my liking.

I checked out the loo after the meal. My favourite feature in the 787 loos is the no touch flush system. Just wave your hand infront of the sensor and it does the rest.

But fortunately the sink was also no touch. Sadly you still need to touch the grubby door to exit. I’m waiting for some manufacturer to come up with the solution to that.

By the way in case you were wondering, Ethiopian doesn’t have any special branded toiletries in its loos.

The IFE system on Ethiopian is very impressive with a big selection of international and  African movies. As I said earlier, the screen was extremely high def and the system very responsive.

I decided to bunk down for a quick nap and converted the seat next to me into bed mode. You can see that there’s plenty of room for your legs (unlike some airlines’ business class design where there’s only a small cubby) and that you do have good privacy when fully reclined.

You definitely won’t be seeing anyone in the aisles, plus if you turn to your left it’s difficult to see your seatmate too because of the way the centre divider is positioned.

It definitely wasn’t the best flat seat ever, but perfectly functional and, if you think about it, way more than what SQ currently offers on regional flights.

We landed slightly behind schedule at ADD where we now had a 3 hour layover before our connection to DAR. ADD airport was quite an experience in itself, as you’ll soon see…