Category Archives: Credit Cards

If you’re on the old DBS frequent flyer transfer scheme, beware…

Back in November 2016, DBS changed the way it charged for miles conversions from an annual fee of $42.80 with unlimited conversions to a per conversion fee of $26.75.

Cardmembers who had already paid the annual fee would be on the “old” scheme until their membership year was up. That is to say, if you paid your $42.80 on October 10 2016, you would have unlimited transactions until October 9 2017, after which you’d pay per conversion.

Download (PDF, 198KB)

In the FAQ that was provided with the program change, DBS clearly states under point 6) that-

I had not received anything from DBS, so I proceeded to do a transaction in early April to move some miles to Krisflyer.

On examining my ibanking statement, however, I saw that I had been hit with a $26.75 conversion fee. So I called DBS customer service to ask about it.

They told me that my annual membership expired end March and therefore I was on the new scheme. I reminded her about their FAQs which stated that customers would get a heads up via eDM or SMS.

Her response was that although she could see in their SMS outbox that I had not been sent anything, it was not practice for them to send out alerts about the impending expiry of your annual transfer fee.

They were not able to locate this FAQ on their side, so I’ve since sent this PDF to their customer service team for escalation, in expectation that they will refund me the fee. I will update you when this is resolved.

But in the meantime, if you are part of the old annual scheme you might want to take note that alerts are not going out. So be vigilant, check your account and let DBS know if you are charged without notice.

Putting this 1.2/1.4 mpd and rounding issue to bed

A common objection I get when I recommend UOB cards for miles earning is that these banks round your transaction down to the nearest $5, so a $9.99 transaction earns the same amount of miles as a $5 transaction ($5 @ 1.4 mpd with the UOB PRVI Miles).

Other banks, like Citibank/HSBC, award miles to the nearest $1, so that same $9.99 transaction would earn you 10.8 miles ($9 @ 1.2 mpd.

But the key question you need to ask yourself is this- what is my average/median transaction size? This determines whether or not the enhanced miles earning of a UOB PRVI Miles card (1.4 mpd) can make up for the rounding down effect.

How big a problem is rounding?

Here’s a simple table showing how you end up with transactions ranging from $4.99 to $99.99, comparing a hypothetical 1.2 mpd arrangement (Citibank Premiermiles Visa) with a 1.4 mpd arrangement (UOB PRVI Miles)

Red= you lose out with a the 1.4 mpd, rounding down card. Calculations for 1.4 mpd based on transactions rounded down to the nearest $5, calculations for 1.2 mpd based on transactions rounded down to the nearest $1

What you can see is that once your transaction goes above ~$30, the incremental 0.2 miles you earn with UOB offsets the rounding down effect. The gap only grows bigger the larger the transaction is.

Or fine, let’s take the Citibank Premiermiles AMEX (1.3 mpd) instead and see what happens.

Red= you lose out with a the 1.4 mpd, rounding down card. Calculations for 1.4 mpd based on transactions rounded down to the nearest $5, calculations for 1.2 mpd based on transactions rounded down to the nearest $1

Now, as expected, the “sweet spot” moves upwards in that transactions of ~$55 or above favor the UOB card.

My median transaction size is just under $30, but my average is $270 (it’s skewed because of large business expenses). So although 50% of my transactions are under $30 (and I’m losing out on some miles due to rounding there), I’m still winning overall by using a card like the PRVI because the marginal 0.2 mpd is being earned on some significantly large transactions. 

What you need to realise is that even if you are using the UOB PRVI and have, say, 30 transactions where you’re losing out on 2-3 miles each time, all it takes is a large single transaction of ~$300-450 to put you in the same position as if you were using a 1.2 mpd, no rounding card. And that’s what most people’s transactions will look like, right? You’ll have maybe 30 small transactions in a period and the occasional big ticket purchase.

I mean, sure, if you really wanted to there’s nothing stopping you from swapping between your Citibank Premiermiles and UOB PRVI, depending on the transaction size. But that’s a step too far, even for me.

Other considerations

Moreover, the mpd rate is no doubt important but there are other things you need to consider as well. If you’re comparing the DBS Altitude cards (1.2 mpd, rounding down to nearest $5- for more details on rounding please see the comments where johnnyboy has some excellent analysis. It’s not exactly as simple as I’m making it sound) to Citibank Premiermiles (1.2 mpd, rounding down to nearest $1) then the Premiermiles card seems to be better, but better here is in the context of miles earning potential.

Think about pooling (Citibank has two different currencies (ThankYou points and Premiermiles) that you can’t pool, which forces you to pay two conversion fees), think about transfer partners (Citibank has so many more transfer partners than DBS), think about card and mile earning promotions (like the one currently happening with the DBS Altitude Visa), think about expiry of miles, and the picture becomes a bit different.

So I’d encourage you to do a serious analysis of your own spending patterns in deciding whether the rounding issue will be a hindrance to you.

The problem with Mothership’s OCBC sponsored post

Seasoned readers will know that I’ve always had a general discomfort about monetizing this website. The costs of operation are really minimal, I’m not relying on the site for income, and at the end of the day if I save one person from using cashback cards I’ll know I’ve done my job.

Besides, when you’re running a site which explicit purpose is to compare credit cards, highlight T&Cs that banks may not necessarily want you to be aware of and call out anyone (airlines, banks, OTAs, online dating platforms) for BS, it generally helps if you’re not relying on said entities for financial remuneration.

But at the same time I think it’s good to be open to areas where genuine collaboration can lead to real benefits for readers (eg promotional sign up codes, giveaways). So I’ve reached what I think is a partial resolution by opening up the Milelion to partnerships, but pledging whatever money is raised to our sponsored charity.

Everyone has their own way of dealing with this conundrum, and there is no right way of resolving this. But there is a wrong way, and that’s what Mothership has done with this poorly disclosed sponsored post for OCBC.

The Mothership Article

This post (dated 14 April) caught my eye, because whenever I’m researching a newly-launched credit card, I have to be hypervigilant to the T&C.  A small misreading of terms could turn a 10X earning opportunity into a 1X, or make what a decent-sounding sign up bonus into a meh one  (like I’ve called out UOB many times for). So I clicked on it and started reading.

Now, the best practice with any sponsored post is to disclose sponsorship upfront. This allows the reader to decide for themselves whether or not they want to continue reading. Indeed, you’ll see that that’s what I’ve done with the sponsored posts I’ve written so far.

What is not best practice is to have a post that only discloses sponsorship at the very end. When you’re already done reading it. Which is what Mothership has done here, at the bottom of the article.

Granted, Mothership is hardly the most egregious of offenders when it comes to disclosure. I’ve seen much worse. But if you’re writing a post that’s ostensibly about straightening up and flying right, does it really make sense to put a material disclosure like this all the way at the end?

I think what grinds me a bit more about this is that the general tone of the article is a very haha look at us poking fun at the banks haven’t we all been there guys haha you know what we’re talking about right until you get roughly 3/4 down and we have the “but seriously folks” moment-

That said, this new ad by OCBC promises to cut the BS out of their ads

I don’t know what Mothership’s disclosure policy is regarding sponsored posts, but I want to state for the record that placement of disclosure notices is just as important as presence. 

And that brings me to my second point.

OCBC’s commitment to transparency ad campaign

OCBC wants to take the BS out of advertising. To that end, they’ve launched a series of full page ads and media buys (you can see all the ads here) promoting their new transparency policy. And that’s great. I want transparency. You want transparency. The people shooting each other with waterguns at Songkran now want transparency (of another sort). But as they like to say in politics, the rhetoric needs to match the record. So what has OCBC’s record been like here?

Take the homepage for OCBC’s recently relaunched Titanium Rewards card, for example. I wrote a brief article when this card was rejigged because I think it’s a genuinely good opportunity to maximise 4mpd opportunities on your spending.

The problem is, this webpage leads with the 10X rewards on online and offline shopping. It gives examples of what categories of spending get you 10X

It talks about a few exclusive offers for cardholders (which, by the way, aren’t really exclusive in the sense that the one on the left is available to anyone with a Mastercard and the one on the right is open to World Mastercard holders)

At the bottom it lays out eligibility + fees & charges for the card in a relatively straightforward manner.

But nowhere on the page does it talk about the cap on 10X rewards earning. Which, to me, is a pretty crucial part of the picture.

To learn about that, you’d have to click on this single line link at the bottom of the page (I’ve added the box in red)

Which links you to a 2 page T&C document, where down in paragraph (d) you’ll find this

Reading this tells you that the maximum bonus OCBC$ you can earn each card anniversary year is 120,000, meaning that the maximum spending you can earn 4 mpd on is $12,000. Don’t you think that’s important enough to mention front and centre?

Now, let me emphasise- this isn’t a problem for me, because by this point in time I’ve had enough experience in the credit card game to be suspicious of any offer until I’ve gone through the T&C multiple times. I’ve accepted that as part and parcel of any deal.

But OCBC’s ad campaign isn’t targeted at people like me who have the time (no girlfriend) to read this sort of thing and don’t really care. It’s targeted at the 80% of people who hate reading fine print. And what they’re trying to do is hold themselves out as a company which is going to rise above this and deliver clear cut messages without hidden restrictions.

You could point out that other banks with 10X rewards cards (Citibank Rewards, UOB PPV etc) also have similar caps and disclose them in similar ways (i.e. hidden in the T&C ). And you’d be right. But if you want to position yourself as the bank who doesn’t do that kind of thing then, well, you can’t do that kind of thing.

I think OCBC’s ad agency has preempted such criticism by including the line “that we’ve also been guilty of in the past” as a sort of catch-all in case anyone goes digging trying to nitpick (no girlfriend). A sort of- yeah, we did that before, but y’know, that’s the old us.

And if that’s true, fair enough. I’m all for Damascene conversions. Let’s see what happens in OCBC’s advertising and card promotions in the months to come. But OCBC has generally had a difficult track record of communicating things clearly to customers (go look at the series of changes to the 360 account over the years and the confusion it always results in. Or this limited time CNY promotion offering 6mpd on the Titanium Rewards card that ended up being targeted, but the T&C didn’t say anything about that).

I still think UOB takes the cake for promotions that aren’t really promotions, but it’s clear that all the banks have a lot of work ahead of them if they want to be truly transparent.

TL;DR-

(1) sponsored posts need proper disclosure
(2) glass houses in throw stones people shouldn’t