All posts by aaronwong

An introduction to the OCBC Voyage Card

photo by mark stevens

This is a 2 part series on the new OCBC Voyage Card. The first part introduces the card and OCBC’s Voyage Mile currency.

The second part analyses the earning opportunities via the OCBC Voyage Card

OCBC’s Great Metal Hope

Ah OCBC, will you ever get it right? OCBC’s portfolio has long been missing a decent miles card. Until recently the closest thing they had was the rebranded OCBC Titanium card which they proudly stated could  “earn up to 2.5X air miles overseas and locally” ocbc1

Of course what they didn’t tell you what this was subject to a whole load of conditions- meaning that your regular spend would get 0.4 miles and you’d only hit 1.2 miles per S$1 if you spent at least S$1,500 per month. That’s right, you’d have to spend S$1,500 per month just to put yourself on par with other miles earning cards like Citibank PremierMiles (and you’d still be behind ANZ Travel Card/UOB PrviMiles holders)

ocbc2
OCBC Titanium’s restrictive mile earning conditions- spend less than S$1.5K per month and you were even worse off than those terrible AMEX cards

So you’ll excuse me for feeling skeptical when I read about OCBC’s new miles-earning offering, the Voyage Card.

ocbc voyage

OCBC went on a marketing blitz and issued a lengthy press release where they detailed the wish list of local mile earners (I’ve rephrased the pointers for clarity)

  1. No expiry date for air miles earned
  2. Card should offer air mile redemption on all airlines
  3. Less cumbersome conversion process from card points to airline miles
  4. No administrative charge for conversion
  5. No blackout periods for purchase of air tickets

The thing is, I’m not sure OCBC has hit the nail on the head with what irks consumers the most. (1), (3), (4) and (5) are annoying, but

– With regards to (1), even the least generous card issuer gives you 2 year point validity, which is extended by 3 years once converted to miles. As I point out in my post on general card spending, if you can’t earn sufficient miles to redeem in 5 years you may be better off with a cashback card instead. 

– With regards to (3), it’s always troublesome to have to take an additional step to convert points to miles, but most banks do this within 24-48 hours

-With regards to (4), the conversion fees can be minimised by only converting when you’ve reached a critical mass. DBS has an annual frequent flyer program where you pay S$42.80 for unlimited conversions throughout the year. Of course I’d rather not pay, but this isn’t my main gripe either

-With  regards to (5), availability is part and parcel of the miles game. Sure, I hate that SQ is so stingy with its saver availability and of course I’d love it if there were a way to get space on demand, but with advance and careful planning it’s still possible to get saver availability in first and business class cabins.

(2)  however, is truly intriguing, and we’ll get to that in a minute.

The currency you’re earning with the OCBC Voyage card is “Voyagr Miles” (VMs). VMs are unique in that they can be redeemed for commercial seat availability, which implies no blackouts, no conversion time, no conversion fees and the ability to earn miles on your “award” flights.

The unique nature of VMs mean that it’s not fair to compare them on a 1:1 basis to Krisflyer miles (even though they can be converted at that ratio). Because VMs can be redeemed on any airlines, are not subject to award availability restrictions and allow one to earn miles on flown award tickets, they’re inherently worth more.

But even though VMs are worth more, you still need more of them to redeem premium cabin bookings on SQ- a business class round-trip ticket to London needs 218K VMs vs 136K KF Miles (Saver), to San Franciso 230K VMs vs 136K KF Miles (Saver).

Again, it’s not fair to do this comparison on a 1:1 basis because the VM award ticket is not subject to the availability restrictions of Krisflyer Saver plus it earns miles.

ocbc3

So what OCBC is asking you to do is make a trade-off. OCBC offers you the ability to get award tickets as and when you want plus earn miles on those tickets, but in exchange gives you a lower earning rate for VMs and higher redemption costs.

Whether or not this trade off is worth it depends on the value of a VM. Let’s try to get to the bottom of that in the next post

 

Etihad’s fourth alliance and its uses

photo by curlmedia

The Idea

  • Although not officially an alliance, Etihad’s diverse range of reciprocal mile earning and benefits arrangements make Etihad Guest a potential accrual option outside of Krisflyer
  • Due to is wide range of partners, oprhan miles can be accured in an Etihad Guest account and cashed out via PointsPay virtual Visa cards
  • Etihad Guest miles can be earned in Singapore through Citibank PremierMiles Cards

The Details

We mentioned previously that there were 3 airline alliances- Star Alliance, OneWorld and SkyTeam. These airlines have previously courted Etihad, informally or otherwise. What’s worth noting is that until Qatar joined OneWorld, none of the Big 3 Middle Eastern airlines (Emirate, Etihad, Qatar) was aligned with any alliance. The closest candidate would be Saudia with SkyTeam, but that’s hardly a prestige partnership.

But Etihad has never shown any serious interest in joining one of these alliances. Instead, it’s been working to form networks and partnerships of its own. These partnerships are not alliances in the strictest sense of the word- there’s no reciprocal benefits given to elites in Etihad’s FFP for example (with some exceptions- see below). However, the basic blueprint of reciprocal mile earning has been established, and that’s why Etihad’s “Fourth Alliance” is so useful. It can be a dumping ground for orphan miles which would otherwise go to waste. Miles deposited here can either be used to redeem Etihad awards or cashed out via PointsPay

Mile Accruing Partnerships

Etihad currently has reciprocal mileage earning agreements with 22 other airlines. Yes, that’s right- 22 other airlines, which would put ahead of SkyTeam and OneWorld if this were a proper alliance on its own. This large network is also the reason why Etihad Guest is one of the best FFPs to dump and cash out on orphan miles, because you’re quite likely to be able to find an airline going your way that partners with Etihad.

Reciprocal Benefits Partnerships

etihadguest

With the partners listed in the previous section, you’ll be able to cross-credit miles but your status doesn’t carry over. Which means that an Etihad Guest elite flying with ANA won’t get extra baggage allowance or lounge access.

Etihad has equity partnerships with several other airlines. These go one step further than mere mile earning. When you fly with

  • Airberlin
  • Jetairways
  • Aer Lingus
  • Virgin Australia
  • Air Serbia
  • Alitalia
  • Air Seychelles

Etihad Guest elite members are eligible to enjoy perks like lounge access, priority boarding and priority baggage.

Remember that if you’re an existing elite member in an FFP, you can get an Airberlin status match, as mentioned here in  a previous post I’ve done.

Earning Etihad Guest Miles in Singapore

The only way to earn Etihad Guest Miles with Singapore-issued credit cards is via Citibank PremierMiles. Citibank PremierMiles cardholders will earn Etihad Guest miles at a rate of S$1=1.2 miles locally and S$1= 2 miles overseas. Citibank PremierMiles has some lucrative bonus earning opportunities with Kaligo (S$1= 10 miles) and Agoda (S$1= 8 miles)

However, you can also boost your Etihad Guest miles account by writing a hotel review at Hotelcheck for 200 miles (maximum 12 reviews per year)

Etihad Guest Status Match

From time to time Etihad has a status match offer for members of other FFPs. The last offer was in Feb 2015. It’s no longer available but if it goes live again I’ll be sure to update you. I got my Krisflyer Gold matched to Etihad’s Gold tier, which gives me a mileage earning bonus on Etihad flights as well as the usual elite perks.

American Express cards- don’t bother

 The Idea

  • AMEX-issued AMEX cards are not ideal for earning miles- the highest base earning rate is 0.83 miles per S$1, well below the 1.2-1.6 standard given by local banks
  • Premium AMEX cards come with hefty annual fees which cannot be waived easily after the 1st year
  • Premium AMEX cards also do not have compelling benefits like lounge access, private club access or complimentary hotel loyalty memberships (only provided by the invite-only Platinum/Centurion cards)
  • The only worth-it card is the Krisflyer Ascend card (which you should never spend more than S$1 on)

The Details

I have no big love for AMEX cards in Singapore, at least those issued by AMEX themselves. They’re expensive, they don’t waive annual fees, their earning rate is terrible and the perks on their premium cards aren’t anything to get excited about.

But I still owe it to you to explain why AMEX cards are a colossal waste of plastic, so here goes

Let’s run down the AMEX product offering in Singapore. I’m only going to talk about the cards which can be applied for by the everyman- ie not the Krisflyer PPS Amex cards nor the invitation-only Platinum Card (although it should be noted the earn rates on these cards are terrible too)

The table below summarises 5 different AMEX cards available in the market

AMEX Rewards AMEX KF Gold AMEX KF Ascend AMEX Platinum Credit Card AMEX Platinum Reserve
Earn Rate (S$1) 0.56 0.63 0.83 0.69 0.69
Min Income S$30,000 S$30,000 S$50,000 S$50,000 S$150,000
Annual Fee S$53.50 (1 year waiver option) S$117.70 (1 year waiver) S$256.80 (1 year waiver option) S$321 (1 year waiver option) S$535
FAR Card No No No Classic Classic
Sign up Bonuses 13,333 miles with S$1.5K spend in first 6 months 5,000 miles with first spend5,000 miles with S$5K spend in 6 months50% bonus miles with S$5K spend in 1 year, additional 50% with S$12K capped at 8,000 mile bonus 5,000 miles with first spend15,000 miles with S$5K in 3 months OR 35,000 miles with S$10K in 3 months(requires full payment of annual fee) None 27,778 miles with S$5K spend in first 6 months
Spending Bonuses S$1=0.84 miles at 5 favourite placesS$1=0.84 miles if annual spend >S$5K S$1=1.25 miles on SQ spend S$1=1.67 miles on SQ spend S$1=3.47 miles at selected EXTRA merchants (~90, mostly luxury stores) S$1=3.47 miles at selected EXTRA merchants (~90, mostly luxury stores)

Remember that I don’t hate all AMEX cards- the Krisflyer Ascend Card is ridiculously good value (though probably not for reasons AMEX intended)

But otherwise,  earning rates are hopelessly complicated, especially for the Krisflyer cards. Even with all the fancy bonuses applied, you’d still be better off with getting 1.6 miles per S$1 (soon to be 1.4) with UOB PRVI Miles. Heck, they can’t even be generous with SQ-related spend. Citibank PremierMiles AMEX gives 2 miles per S$1 spent at SQ, whereas these guys are at best 1.67.

Below are my other gripes

Dismal Miles Earning Rate

Membership Rewards (MR) points can be redeemed at a rate of 9 MR to 5 miles with Krisflyer, AsiaMiles, Avios, DynastyFlyer, Enrich and Royal Orchid Plus.

In other words, 1 MR gets you 5/9th of a mile. We know that S$1.60 spending with the AMEX Platinum Card gets 2 MR, so S$1 generates 1.25 MR or 0.7 miles.

Yes, AMEX has what they call EXTRA partners where you earn 10 MR per S$1.60. But this list is extremely limited and features luxury brands that you’re unlikely to make regular spend on. In fact, of the ~90 EXTRA partners, only the following seem remotely useful

  • Harvey Norman
  • Reebonz
  • EpiLife

So at best, you’re earning 3.5 miles per S$1 here. That’s a lot, but considering how little you will spend at such outlets, this is hardly useful. Several high end restaurants feature on the EXTRA partners list- all of which you’d get 4 miles per S$1 if you used a UOB Preferred Platinum Card

Note that my criticism extends to miles earning. I’ve not studied the AMEX Membership Rewards catalogue closely, and they may have some options which make the cards more worthwhile. They’d better, because their base earning rates are less than half what the best miles earning cards in Singapore get you.

Hefty Annual Fees with No Waiver

First year fee waivers are possible for all the cards except the Platinum Reserve (however, not paying the annual fee prevents you from taking advantage of some of the key earning bonuses AMEX emphasises in their marketing + you can’t get the fee waived if you already own an AMEX-issued AMEX)

Subsequently, however, AMEX does not grant waivers, particularly for its flagship series of Platinum cards- the Platinum Credit Card has a S$321 annual fee (vs S$256.80 for the UOB PRVI Miles AMEX). The Platinum Reserve hits a lofty S$535. Reports online and personal experience tell me that AMEX does not offer fee waivers for its cards, especially the Platinum series

Perhaps this is because they believe the additional benefits the Platinum series brings are worth the annual fee in themselves. But…

Limited Additional Benefits

At the Platinum Card roadshows marketers like to play up the supposed perks of the Platinum series, one of which is the FAR card (formerly known as the Feed-at-Raffles card).

The Platinum Credit Card and Platinum Reserve Card come with the Classic Tier of FAR, which would you back S$425 if you bought it elsewhere. FAR gives a scaling type benefit at restaurants at Fairmont, Swissotel The Stamford and Swissotel Merchant Court

Number of diners
Usual member reductions
Member plus 1 guest (2 adults)
50%
Member plus 2 guests (3 adults)
33%
Member plus 3 guests (4 adults)
25%
Member plus 4-9 guests (5-10 adults)
20%
Member dining alone
10%

50% off is great, sure, but that’s only if you bring along a sucker friend (unless you’re willing to dine on Monday, the most perfect day for a long leisurely meal, in which case you can get 50% off for up to 5 people. Public holidays not included)

You also get some spa and accommodation discounts off ridiculously marked-up prices. Oh, and 10% off at Raffles City Dry Cleaners. No, really.

FAR card
10% off drycleaning omgwtfbbq11one!

But hey! 12% off at Zuji!

zuji

“The hotel savings is not eligible for hotel reservations at properties belonging to the following chains: (a) Accor Hotels (Accor Hotels, Pullman Hotels and Resorts, Sofitel, Ibis, Mercure, Grand Mercure, All Seasons, Novotel, Mgallery, hotelF1, Formule, Sea Temple, Quay West, The Sebel and Citigate), (b) Hilton Hotels Corporation (Conrad Hotels and Resorts, Hampton Inn, Hilton Garden Inn, Hilton International, Double Tree by Hilton, Embassy Suites, Homewood Suites by Hilton and Waldorf Astoria Hotels and Resorts), (c) Intercontinental (ANA Hotels, Crowne Plaza Hotels, Holiday Inn, Hotel Indigo, Intercontinental Hotels, Special Properties, Staybridge Suites and Candlewood Suites), (d) Marriott International (Bulgari Hotels & Resorts, Courtyard by Marriott, Marriott Hotels, JW Marriott, EDITION, Marriott Vacation Club, Renaissance Hotels, The Ritz-Carlton, Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott, SpringHill Suites by Marriott, Residence Inn by Marriott and TownePlace Suites by Marriott, (e) Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide (aloft Hotels, Le Meridien, Luxury Collection, Sheraton Hotels, The St. Regis, W Hotels, Westin Hotels and Resorts and Element Hotels), (f) Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts (Shangri-La Hotels, Shangri-La Resorts, Traders Hotels and Kerry Hotels), (g) Marina Bay Sands, (h) Venetian Macau Resort, (i) Sands Macao Hotel (j) Banyan Tree Macau (k) MGM Macau (l) Chatrium Hotel & Residence, (m) Hansar Group, (n) Carlson (Country Inn & Suites, Park Inn, Park Plaza, Raddison), (o) Fairmont (Fairmont Hotels, Raffles, Swissotel), (p) Hyatt (Andaz, Grand Hyatt, Hyatt, Hyatt House, Hyatt Place, Hyatt Regency, Park Hyatt), (q) Langham Hospitality (Eaton Hotel, Langham Hotels & Resorts, Langham Place) and (r) Melia Hotels International (Gran Melia, Innside, Me by Melia, Melia Hotels & Resorts, Paradisus Resorts, Sol Hotels)”

 

Oh.

I keep trying to find some redemptive value in these cards. They don’t come with lounge access (well, the 4 vouchers from the AMEX Ascend aside), they don’t have private club access (you’d think that for S$535 the Platinum Reserve would at least throw that in), they don’t have overseas spending bonuses.

AMEX roadshows sort of remind me of that time I was at the IT Show and this salesgirl was trying real hard to push a laptop on me. I asked why it only had 1 year limited warranty when all the other models had 2 years. She said, and I quote “Oh sir, the manufacturer is so confident about the quality of this laptop they believe that you only need 1 year’s warranty”

charliebrown

 

Remember to read about what cards you should be getting for your general purpose and specialised spending!