Category Archives: Credit Cards

AMEX Krisflyer Cards double signup bonus to 10K miles for limited time

[this article may contain affiliate links which earn a commission for the website when used. You don’t have to use the links here, but doing so supports The Milelion]


From now till 31 August, AMEX is running a special sign up bonus for its Krisflyer Ascend and Krisflyer Blue cobrand cards. Although I’m not big fans of either for day to day use, the sign up offers are definitely worth taking note of and should be part of your sign up bonus strategy.

The regular sign up bonus for both cards gives you 5,000 Krisflyer miles with your first spend of any amount within 1 month of approval. That has been doubled to 10,000 for online sign ups done till 31 August (Your sign up must be by 31 August, your approval must be made by 30 Sept)

miles

In addition to this, both cards are running separate offers that reward you with bonus miles based on your first 3 months spending. (You’re only eligible to get the 10,000 Krisflyer miles welcome gift once, even if you sign up for both the Blue and the Ascend card)

Which one is right for you? I’m going to break down both offers below.

Krisflyer Blue Sign Up Offer (Spend $2.5K, get 20,250 miles)

Image result for krisflyer blue

The Krisflyer Blue card offers 10,000 miles with your first spend of any amount, plus a further 7,500 miles when you spend S$2,500 within the first 3 months of card approval.

When you add on the base miles of 2,500 @ 1.1 mpd= 2,750, you could potentially get 20,250 miles for S$2.5K of spend.

That’s a very good sign up bonus, in my opinion. Just be sure to switch out to a different miles earning card like the DBS Altitude, Citibank Premiermiles or UOB PRVI once you’ve used your bonus. The Krisflyer Ascend earns 1.1 mpd on local spending and 2.0 mpd on overseas spending only during June and December. The Altitude, Premiermiles and PRVI will earn you 1.2/1.2/1.4 mpd locally and 2.0/2.0/2.4 mpd overseas year round.

Another important point: the AMEX Krisflyer Blue card normally has a S$176.55 annual fee, but it is waived for the first year.  So there’s really no reason why you shouldn’t get onboard with this deal, even if you just intend to get the 10,000 miles by swiping $1 at Watsons.

The AMEX Krisflyer blue has an income requirement of S$30K p.a.

Sign up for the 10,000 mile Krisflyer Blue card bonus here

Krisflyer Ascend Sign Up Offer (Spend $6K, get 32,200 miles)

Image result for krisflyer ascend

The Krisflyer Ascend offer consists of 10,000 miles with first spend, plus 15,000 bonus miles when you spend S$6,000 within 3 months of card approval.

Add the base miles of S$6K @ 1.2 mpd= 7,200 to this, and you’re looking at 32,200 miles after S$6K of spend.

The Krisflyer Ascend, however, has a non-waivable first year annual fee of S$337.05 (there are some benefits of paying the annual fee, as I’ve highlighted here, but it’s your call whether you value them at 300 bucks). Also, the income requirement is higher than the Blue card at S$50K p.a.

Remember that the Ascend earns 1.2 mpd locally and 2 mpd overseas in June and December. Let me emphasize again that it should not be your general spending card, even if you take advantage of the bonus.

Sign up for the 10,000 mile Krisflyer Ascend card bonus here

Which offer is right for me?

Assuming your income allows you to qualify for both offers, I feel the Krisflyer Blue card has more bang for your buck. I like that you don’t need to pay the first year annual fee, and I think S$2,500 spend over 3 months is more achievable for most people than S$6,000. If you’re thinking about using Cardup to meet the minimum spend, remember their platform doesn’t accept AMEX at the moment.

If my reading of the T&C for the Ascend and Blue is right, there’s nothing stopping you from getting both cards. However, like I mentioned earlier, you can only get the 10,000 mile welcome bonus once. So if you had both cards and spent a total of $8,500, you’d have

  • 10,000 welcome miles
  • 15,000 + 7,500 bonus miles
  • 2,750 + 7,200 base miles

For a grand total of 42,450 miles, with an outlay of $8500 + annual fee of $337.05. That’s pretty acceptable to me.

It’s interesting that AMEX has decided to up its game on these cards in recent months. Maybe we are seeing what I alluded to in the ST as a mid-cycle refresh. If you’ve been thinking about pulling the trigger on either card, now might be a good time.

What should your dining card strategy be?

The recent demise of the HSBC Advance and unicorn nature of the UOB PP Amex have been taken as signs by some people that the dining card is well and truly dead in Singapore.

It looks grim for sure, and I don’t know whether any bank is willing to step up and fill the gap for a 10X dining card (a certain loss leader for them). Assuming that doesn’t happen, I wanted to lay out a blueprint for how you can make the best of a bad situation.

(1) UOB Preferred Platinum Visa

Image result for uob preferred platinum visa

People (myself included) tend to forget that many restaurants now have Paywave terminals, which means that you can use your UOB PP Visa to earn 4 mpd. This assumes the restaurant isn’t a SMART$ merchant, but there are so few that fall into this category anyway (Hard Rock Cafe, Pasarbella, BreadTalk Cafe, Bread Society).

Remember that the maximum amount that can be paid through Paywave is $100 per transaction, but there’s nothing stopping you from splitting a bill across multiple transactions. The cap on 4 mpd earning per month is $1,000 for the UOB PP Visa.

(2) Maybank Horizon Visa Signature

Image result for maybank horizon visa signature

Believe it or not, the best card for dining now belongs to Maybank. The little known Maybank Horizon Visa Signature offers 3.2 mpd on local dining, petrol and taxi fares, provided you spend a minimum of $300 a month on the card.

One thing to point out is that Maybank’s definition of “dining” is fairly narrow. The T&C state that only merchants with MCC 5812 will enjoy 3.2 mpd. 5812 refers to restaurants and eating places, which should cover the majority of places you might dine at. But it doesn’t cover 5814 (fast food restaurants), 5813 (drinking places) and 5811 (caterers). And like all dining cards, it also does not cover dining in hotels which codes under the hotel’s MCC.

The bonus points you can earn in a month are capped at 30,000, so assuming you only put dining on this card, you’d max out the 3.2 mpd at $4,285 in a month.

My biggest gripe with this card is that Maybank TREATS points expire after 1 year, unless you’re a Rewards Infinite member (requires spending more than $24K in a year). Fortunately, the minimum redemption amount for Maybank TREATS is 5,000 points, or 2,000 Krisflyer/Asiamiles miles. That’s certainly a lot lower than the UOB/DBS 10K minimum. So even if you’re not a massive spender on dining, you should be able to hit the minimum cashout amount pretty soon.

With an income requirement of $50K, it unfortunately isn’t an entry-level card but I think it’s well worth a speculative application even if you don’t meet the criteria.

On a side note, I see a banner on the Maybank site that alludes to some herworld credit card awards. Although I am an avid reader of female-focused literature, herworld is not on my list. If anyone can point me to the full list of winners I’d love to do some analysis on it.

Winner of ‘Best Air Miles Card’ in Her World Nuyou Credit Card Awards 2017

(3) HSBC Revolution

Image result for hsbc revolution

Assuming you can’t meet the $50K income requirement for the Maybank Horizon card, the HSBC Revolution is a good choice too. You earn 2 mpd on local dining, entertainment and all online spend.

2 mpd is less than 3.2 mpd, obviously, but where the Revolution is better than the Horizon is it has a wider interpretation of dining. The Revolution considers fast food to be part of dining, and explicitly states that spend at clubs, pubs, bars (what’s the difference between a pub and a bar?) will get 2 mpd. There also is no minimum spend amount required to earn this.

HSBC Rewards points expire after 3 years, and the minimum transfer amount is 2,000 miles.

(4) OCBC Voyage Card

Image result for ocbc voyage card

I’ll be the first to say I’ve not seen eye to eye with the Voyage card, but if I’m going to include the HSBC Revolution (2 mpd) I can’t get away with not talking about the Voyage as well because it earns 2.3 mpd on local dining.

The T&C of the Voyage card defines dining as restaurants, cafés, caterers and fast food outlets. I take this to mean MCC 5811, 5812 and 5814. However, the T&C explicitly exclude bars and pubs, which means 5813 is out of the question. Similarly, hotels and country club dining doesn’t count.

The interesting thing about the Voyage card is that you don’t earn miles, or points for that matter. You earn Voyage miles (which don’t expire). Have a read of any of my past Voyage articles to understand how these babies work, but the TL;DR version is they can either be converted to Krisflyer miles at a 1:1 ratio, or used at a (relatively) fixed value to pay the cost on a revenue ticket on any airline (typically 2-3 cents per mile). I certainly wouldn’t use the Voyage card as a general spend card because i feel the 1 mpd general earning ratio is simply not good enough, but if you want to get the card and pay the (not insubstantial) annual fee just to use it as a dining card, well, it’s a free country.

(5) Mileslife

Ok, it’s not a credit card, but I think Mileslife needs to become part of your dining strategy if you want to build miles. When you use Mileslife, you earn miles from two sources- the Mileslife app itself, and whatever miles you get from your credit card.

If you sign up for Mileslife via my link, you get 1,000 bonus miles with your first spend of $49 within 30 days.

Restaurants on Mileslife offer anywhere between 1-3 mpd, but there are frequent sales where 3-4X the regular miles are on offer, meaning you can get up to 12 mpd with the right restaurants. Mileslife does not currently qualify for any 10X online spending bonuses, but they’re working on getting their MCC changed.

Mileslife is still in the expansion stage and its list of restaurants is fairly small but hopefully as they scale up this will become an increasingly attractive option.

Conclusion

I am hearing disturbing rumours that people holding the UOB PP Amex are getting calls from CSOs offering to “upgrade” their cards to something else (One person was offered the UOB YOLO; I told him to call the police because that was certainly a scam call). UOB has certainly demarketed the card, but whether they’re looking to actually shut it down, only time will tell.

Those with the UOB PP Amex should make hay while the sun shines. For the rest of you- any of the above methods should help you maximise the miles you earn on dining.

Beware of Citibank’s awful Pay with Points program

At long last, I took the plunge and invested in a proper camera because none of you Philistines can appreciate the flawed beauty of Blackberry camera photos.

Image result for sony alpha a5000
it’s not the photographer, it’s the camera…

This baby is currently on the way from Qoo10 and should reach me just in time for my upcoming Japan trip at the end of the month (JAL 767 J, SQ 77W old F and hopefully much better photos of the Oneworld lounges in T1 coming your way!)

I paid for the camera with my Citibank Rewards card because it earns me 10X points (4 mpd) on online shopping, including Qoo10. A few minutes after I finished the transaction on Qoo10, I got this SMS from Citibank

Clicking the link brought me to this page

Citibank was offering me the chance to burn my 43,709 Thank You points in exchange for S$104.07 off my transaction, based on their valuation shown below

The following merchants are eligible for this program.

Remember that 5 Citibank points= 2 airline miles, so you’re either giving up 168 miles per $1 of value (if you pay with ThankYou points) or 140 miles per $1 of value (if you pay with Citimiles. For whatever reason, only Citibank Premermiles Visa cardholders can participate. AMEX cardholders can’t. No loss for you guys, I assure you).

Recall the value of a mile. I don’t need to tell you that both options are terrible, terrible value. You get 0.60/0.71 cents per mile depending on whether you redeem ThankYou points or Citimiles, and both are valuations you should stay far, far away from. Even if you choose SQ’s much maligned Pay with Miles option you get roughly 1 cent per mile.

The only possible exception I could think is if you have expiring points/miles and are below the threshold needed to transfer them out to an airline loyalty program. You can read the full T&C of the Pay with Points program here (they left track changes on, “lol” as the young people say)

We know that Citibank has been progressively moving towards a revenue-based program for their points, at least on the redemption side. This trend was started with the relaunched Citibank ThankYou portal back in January where they tested out a variety of options (and redemption values). My guess is they’re trying to see what threshold people will accept in Singapore.

I don’t know what the answer is to that, but I do know that it’s much more than what’s on offer with this Pay with Points program. So if you get the SMS, do yourself a favor and ignore it.

DCC should make you mad. But what can be done?

Let’s make one thing straight- DCC is, at best, a worthless service. At worst, it is a scam.

Image result for dynamic currency conversion

DCC, in its purest form, tells you something you could Google or check through a currency app in seconds- how much your foreign transaction costs in your home currency. You’re free to laugh at the rate on offer and reject it.

But in its most insidious, DCC is a cynical way for unscrupulous merchants to earn additional money from customers. This happens when the merchant proactively chooses the DCC option for you, without your consent. And this happens a lot.

If you travel even occasionally and use your card overseas, you will probably have been subject to DCC at some point in time. Even if you don’t use your card at all overseas, you’re still subject to DCC when you use online merchants like AirBnB, which automatically convert foreign transactions into the currency of your credit card.

I had a very frank interview with the Straits Times where I laid out plain what DCC is, why it’s nothing but a money grab by merchants, and what consumers can do to protect themselves. Do I expect DCC to be outlawed because of this? Hardly. But I hope it at least alerts more people so they can take measures to protect themselves from this scam.

“But it’s convenient!”

Believe it or not, DCC marketing materials actually talk about the benefits for merchant customers who use DCC. Never before have I seen such a fine example of doublespeak.

In the Straits Times article I’ve addressed all three points, but to summarize- DCC is often done in an nontransparent method when customers are not given a choice of currency, and with iBanking which lets you view your transactions within days, the immediacy argument doesn’t hold water either.

Here’s a perfect example of how DCC doesn’t have any benefits for the customer, at all. I was at the Ritz Carlton Bangalore and swiped my UOB Visa Signature card, which gives 10X (4 mpd) points on overseas spending.

The terminal popped up with the following options

  • INR 65,926.52
  • SGD 1,530.33

Now, let’s leave aside the fact that INR 65,926.52 was about S$1,420 at spot exchange rates. The DCC option would have meant me paying even more than UOB would have charged me, plus not earning any foreign currency spending bonus. 

You see that UOB ended up charging me S$1,459.35, much less than the DCC-ed rate. It’s almost hilarious that such a scam can possibly exist, until you realise it’s very real, and is costing thousand upon thousands of unsuspecting customers money every day.

At least I was given a clear choice that day when paying the bill. There have been many, many, many other times when no currency choice was given to me, normally by unscrupulous merchants looking to profit from the DCC margins.

Here’s a correspondence I had with Avis a couple of years back after they DCC-ed my car rental charges without giving me a choice

We also apologize for the confusion regarding currency conversions.   If you use a credit or charge that is issued by a financial institution outside of the United States, the full amount of your charges will be converted to the card account’s billing currency by us unless you submit a written request in advance (prior to the pickup date and time) to have the currency conversion performed by your card issuer, or, specify at  the time of pickup (prior to the contract being printed).

Unfortunately, it can not be done after the contract has been printed or at time of returning the vehicle. Our conversion will be based on a  conversion rate published by Reuters and will incorporate a processing  charge no higher than 4% applied to all amounts relating to this transaction. This charge will replace the currency conversion processing charge applied by your card issuer.

Now, such “back office DCC” behavior is clearly against the compliance rules governing DCC. Mastercard even gives it as an example of a common complaint they receive  (check out page 18 here).

But the compliance mechanisms lack bite, and merchants continue to get away with it scot-free (I am happy to know however that there is a class action lawsuit ongoing in the States against companies which do such things (you can read the text of the complaint here))

“DCC Improves Customer Satisfaction (and you’ll earn a lot of money too)

It’s illuminating to read how different payment solutions providers market DCC to merchants. Here’s a sample-

Elavon Marketing Materials
First Data Marketing Materials
Six Payment Services Marketing Materials

What do you notice? Marketing materials emphasize the additional money that merchants can earn by “offering” (because it’s more often than not forced upon the customer) DCC. Any illusions that DCC “improves customer satisfaction”, in the words of the marketing materials, are so out of touch with reality it’s bizzaro.

Read this choice excerpt from the First Data marketing materials-

  • According to trade publication The Nilson Report, “More often than not, cardholders can expect as good or even a slightly better FX [foreign exchange] price from DCC than they get from the existing association method. They will certainly get better disclosure of conversion fees.”

  • Detractors who are indignant (and often misinformed) about the exchange rate margin associated with each DCC transaction overlook the charges consumers pay if they had chosen another payment method. These include: using a hotel or airport currency conversion service, or charging purchases to their foreign card and allowing the card issuer to convert the transaction using an undisclosed and often inflated exchange rate. In addition, the card issuer may charge them a conversion fee long after the transaction has occurred. ATM withdrawals with a foreign-issued card are often subject to similar charges, in addition to the standard non-customer ATM fees. In all of these cases, the total charges and fees may likely exceed the standard DCC margin.

  • Millions of satisfied cardholders have made educated, informed decisions to use DCC because they desire the convenience of dealing in a familiar currency, plus the transparency of knowing the exact billing amount at the time of purchase. The continuing increase in consumer adoption of DCC illustrates the popularity of this service among foreign travelers, in spite of naysayers.

Emphasis mine. Well, I guess I must be an indignant and misinformed detractor, as much this litany of consumer rights advocates, travel hacking experts and many average joes who see red because of DCC.

I wonder how they can write these materials with a straight face, and how many First Data company executives opt for DCC when they go on vacation.

What can I do to protect myself?

DCC is here to stay. That’s a sad but unfortunate fact of life, like malaria or herpes or Nickelback.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t protect yourself. Here are some things you can do to guard yourself against DCC:

(1) Use an AMEX when overseas

This is the most surefire way of protecting yourself from DCC. AMEX does not support DCC on its platform the way Visa and Mastercard do.

Here’s a reminder of the overseas charges each bank levies on foreign currency transactions by card type.

 Visa/MCAMEXRemarks
DBS2.8%3%
UOB2.5%3.25%PRVI MC/Visa- 3.25%
OCBC2.8%N/A
Citibank2.8%3.3%
HSBC2.5%N/A
SCB3.5%N/A
Maybank2.5%N/A2.75% for Visa Diamante, Infinite and World MC
CIMB2.4%N/A1% for CIMB Plat MC and Visa Sig
BOC2.5%N/A
AMEXN/A2.5%

You’ll note that AMEX cards generally have slightly higher foreign transaction fees than Visa/MC, but it’s still much better than getting taken advantage of by the DCC rate.

(2) If you get DCC-ed without consent, deface the charge slip

Assuming the merchant is unwilling (or claims they’re unable) to reverse the transaction and conduct it again in local currency, your best course of option is to deface the merchant’s charge slip by writing “DCC declined and merchant did not provide choice” on it and refusing to sign.

This may seem like a petty thing to do, but it’s important if you’re filing a dispute. During the dispute process, the bank will request for a copy of the original charge slip that you signed from the merchant. If it says very clearly “DCC declined and merchant did not provide choice”, that would play a lot better for you than a meekly signed slip.

As a side point- if the merchant gets angry about this, you always have the right to walk away and not complete the purchase (I guess it’s a bit more complicated if it’s a restaurant and you’ve already consumed the food). A merchant who uses DCC by default is certainly one with questionable ethics, and I certainly wouldn’t want to send my business that way.

(3) If you get DCC-ed without consent in a card-not-present situation, dispute the charge immediately

This also applies to (2)- you should raise a dispute immediately with your bank informing them what happened and saying you’ll be doing a chargeback. You can cite them the relevant chargeback codes from either the Visa or Mastercard chargeback guides

  • Visa- Reason Code 76: Incorrect Currency or Transaction Code. Reason Code 76 is used when the transaction was processed with an incorrect transaction code, or an incorrect currency code, or one of the following:
    • Cardholder was not advised that Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC) would occur
    • Cardholder was refused the choice of paying in the merchant’s local currency
  • Mastercard- Reason Code 4846:
    • The cardholder states that he or she was not given the opportunity to choose the desired currency in which the transactions was completed or did not agree to the currency of the transaction

Different banks have different policies about this, and I’m not even sure there’s consistency within banks. When I called UOB to dispute one such transaction, the CSO told me that this was a merchant customer dispute and they would not get involved, I had to go to the merchant myself to get it sorted out. However, I know that DBS will do an immediate reversal of the transaction pending investigation. Your mileage will definitely vary.

Conclusion- fighting the DCC scam

It would be unfair to say that all banks are complicit in this. I must applaud Maybank and OCBC for taking steps to advise customers to avoid DCC like the plague.

This is from a circular published by Maybank

And this from OCBC

Thanks to KW Chua for pointing me to both articles

But it’s still not enough. We need more consumer education, more empowerment, more transparency.

The Mastercard compliance guide talks a big, noble game (for the record, Mastercard and Visa do not offer DCC, they merely facilitate it on behalf of payment solutions providers) that says all the right things. At the end of the day however, these practices are not being followed. And that’s a problem.

Mastercard Compliance Guide Page 20
Mastercard Compliance Guide Page 21
Mastercard Compliance Guide Page 23- there definitely wasn’t training at Bahrain Immigration where the officer just swiped my Mastercard and picked SGD for me when paying for my visa on arrival!

Until DCC is conducted in a manner more befitting the lofty ideals set out in the implementation guide, regulators should step in to monitor the use of this technology and penalize errant merchants.

On a separate note, I do hope that Singapore credit cards move to a chip and pin system soon. Signatures are hardly effective security methods (when was the last time someone verified your signature, and in any case it’s often a subjective call as to whether signatures do match), but more importantly a chip and pin system requires the merchant to turn control over the transaction to you. This includes selecting the transaction currency, and rejecting the transaction if the merchant chooses the currency for you.

CIMB Visa Infinite replaces Priority Pass with DragonPass

You’ll remember I wrote about the CIMB Visa Infinite, the no-fee Visa Infinite card you can get so long as you earn $120,000 or more in a year. The card per se doesn’t have great perks, but hey, it’s a free Visa Infinite. And it comes with a Priority Pass that has 3 free lounge visits a year.

Image result for cimb visa infinite singapore

I received an SMS today informing me that this is set to change from 1 October 2017. More information can be found here.

If you currently have a Priority Pass issued by CIMB Visa Infinite, you’ll still be able to use your visits until 30 Sept. From 1 October onwards, your lounge visits made on your Priority Pass will be chargeable.

What is DragonPass?

Image result for dragonpass lounge

DragonPass is a competing lounge network to Priority Pass. It claims to have 900+ lounges

As you might have guessed from the name, the company is based in China and has some exclusive privileges there, such as access to lounges at high-speed train stations. You can also use your DragonPass to get dining discounts at selected dining locations of up to 50%.

As per CIMB’s FAQ, you’ll have 3 complimentary visits via DragonPass, the same you’d have with Priority Pass (so I guess this doesn’t really count as a devaluation), and subsequent visits will cost US$25 each. The FAQ also states that free visits cannot be shared with your guest, and you’ll need to buy a separate US$25 pass for them too.

It’s worth noting the T&C state that lounge access is limited to 2 hours unless otherwise stated, whereas lounge access with Priority Pass was 3 hours if I’m not mistaken. I can imagine there’ll be some really nit picky lounges that will enforce this, but I can’t see this being a big problem most of the time.

To give you a taste of DragonPass, here’s what they offer in Singapore

That’s a pretty decent selection, more or less the same as what Priority Pass has. However, what it does offer beyond Priority Pass is discounts at airport restaurants. At Changi you get the following discounts

  • Kaveri Indian Vegitarian (10%)
  • Chutney Mary (10%)
  • Crystal Jade (10%)
  • The Green Market (10%)

The app will also pop up with random deals and promotions from time to time.

For me, I’m indifferent to the change as I already have a lot of Priority Passes from my other credit cards. In fact, it might even be useful having a DragonPass, just for purposes of diversification.

If you’re got a CIMB Visa Infinite issued Priority Pass, you might want to quickly burn through your remaining free visits in the next couple of months.

Analyzing the Krisflyer Ascend sign up bonus mile offer

Let the record show that I’m not the biggest fan of the Krisflyer Ascend, because of its substantial non-waivable first year fee (S$337.05- that’s about 2/3 the fee of an entry level prestige card), stingy MPD on overseas spend (2 mpd, only in June and December) and somewhat lackluster benefits.

However, I’m all for good sign up promotions and the Krisflyer Ascend has an interesting one going on now.

Receive 15,000 KrisFlyer miles on your first S$6,000 spend and a Samsonite Sigma 76cm Expandable Spinner on your next S$4,000 spend in the first 3 months upon Card approval. Apply and receive approval between 21st July and 30th September 2017 (both dates inclusive) to be eligible.

Let’s ignore the luggage and just focus on the miles offer. Assuming you’ve never held a co-brand AMEX SQ credit card before, you’ll be eligible for a 5,000 mile welcome bonus with your first spend of any amount. Therefore, you’re looking at potentially 20,000 Krisflyer miles with $6,000 of spend within the first 3 months of approval, plus the $337.05 annual fee.

How does that compare to the other sign up bonuses on the market now?

CardSpend RequirementTime PeriodAnnual FeeBonus MilesMiles: Spending Ratio
Krisflyer Ascend$6,0003 months$337.0520,0003.2
Citibank Premiermiles$10,0003 months $192.6030,0003
AMEX Rewards$1,500 (min $500 each month)3 months$53.5011,6667.8
AMEX Platinum Reserve$5,0006 months$53527,7775.0

You should remember that sign up bonuses are binary- it’s all or nothing. In other words- you don’t realise the ratio until you hit that spending mark. Fortunately, the sweetest ratio is also the easiest one to get- the AMEX Rewards Card. So I’d definitely recommend people go for that before looking at other options. The offers are of course not mutually exclusive and if you have a banquet/renovation/other big ticket item coming up there’s no reason why you shouldn’t spread it over a few cards.

There’s also an additional offer with the Ascend that gives you 1,500 bonus miles for every approved supplementary card. The good thing is that supplementary cards have a first year fee waiver, and I don’t see anything in the T&C that limits the number of supplementary cards you can apply for (although how many they approve is, of course, up to them). Get cards for your kids, your wife, your parents, your secret other family.

This offer is only applicable to American Express Singapore Airlines Credit Card Members whose new Supplementary Card is applied and approved between 21 July 2017 and 30 September 2017 (both dates inclusive)

Other card benefits

To quickly recap some of the other benefits of the Ascend

  • Complimentary one night at selected Millennium Hotels around the world (some hotels have minimum stay requirements- read the fine print!) and upgrade to My Millennium Premium membership
  • 4 lounge vouchers for use at participating SATS and Plaza Premium lounges
  • Double Krisflyer miles accrual voucher with $15K minimum spend on Singapore Air until 30 June 2018 (capped at 5,000 miles. Don’t ask, bad deal)
  • Free upgrade to Krisflyer Gold status with $15K minimum spend on Singapore Air within 1 year of approval (much more intriguing offer…has anyone tried the good ol’ tie up $15K in working capital with SQ and get a refundable ticket strategy?)

I understand that second year fee waivers are available but you don’t get any of the renewal gifts (like the hotel voucher). I’m still unconvinced about the value prop of the Ascend as a general spending card, and this bonus certainly doesn’t change my baseline stance. However, the bonus means the Ascend should be a card you consider as part of your sign up bonus strategy.

Can you time your credit card sign up bonuses?

The Milelion is featured in an ST article today entitled “It pays to time your sign ups“. The article seeks to answer the age-old question- when is the best time to  sign up for a particular card?

And unfortunately, like every age-old question (Can I drive 55? Are we human, or are we dancer? Who let the dogs out?) , it’s difficult to give a definitive answer. Sometimes early adopters have it best, reaping in the initial bonuses and making hay while the sun shines (or rather, until the T&C change). Other times, it may pay to wait until the bank decides to do a mid-cycle product rejuvenation. The problem is, you never know when/if that’s going to happen.

The best I can do therefore is provide some examples of  some of the better sign up offers I’ve seen and instances when acting early was better than acting later, and vice versa. This obviously won’t be a comprehensive list, so feel free to walk down memory lane in the comments and share some other examples of bonuses that are no longer available.

2014-2015: The DBS Altitude rejuvenation

Image result for dbs altitude

The DBS Altitude card had been around since 2007, and had actually gone through something of a devaluation since then. The 1.6 mpd rate was reduced to 1.2 and the limo benefit quietly disappeared too.  But some time between 2014 and 2015 DBS decided to really push applications on the card.

The first thing they did was add a bonus category of 3 mpd on online hotel/flight bookings. But there were also two great bonuses that I recall. The first was the DBS Altitude Visa’s incredible sign up offer where you got 12,000 miles for spending a mere $800 within 1 month of approval. What’s better is that you could take advantage of this even if you were an existing DBS cardholder.

The second was the DBS Altitude AMEX offering a 50% bonus on all miles earned within the first 6 months of approval, without cap. That meant earning 1.8/3/4.5 mpd on local/overseas/online hotel and flight bookings. Without cap. 1.8 mpd on local spending was pretty much unheard of, and you can bet I put every single dollar of spend I could on this card during the period

The rejuvenation seems to be over as recent bonuses have been comparatively lackluster. The most recent one (which ended June 2017) differentiated between new and existing DBS cardholders. The spending requirement is the same for both ($1,000 each month for 2 months after getting the card) but existing cardholders only get 7,000 miles whereas new cardholders get 10,000 miles after meeting the spend. So in other words, you need to spend more now, and you get fewer miles.

2013-2016: The Krisflyer Ascend freebies

Image result for krisflyer ascend

The Krisflyer Ascend card used to be a fantastic deal when it first launched in 2013. I went so far as to call it “The Best Card You’ll Never Use” (some people took objection to that because there was a decent sign up bonus at the time, and that’s fair enough. But I was plenty happy to sockdrawer it). Although the miles earning rates were miserable, they did have good free gifts. When you signed up, you got a voucher for a free night at any property in the Millennium Hotels chain, four lounge passes plus 5,000 bonus miles when you made your first spend of any amount. Best of all, they waived the first year annual fee.

Image result for krisflyer ascend millennium

So what I’d advise people to do was get the card, swipe a nominal amount, enjoy the lounge and hotel vouchers and cancel the card when the fee came due in the 2nd year. When I travelled with my friend to London, we each got one card and saved two nights on accommodation in one of the most expensive cities in the world.

But then they tightened the gifts sometime in 2016. First, they added minimum 2 or 3 night stay requirements at certain properties before you could use the free night voucher (including a 2 night minimum for the 2 millennium hotels in Singapore, I presume to deter people who got the card just for a free staycation). Second, they increased the annual fee to a hefty $337 (from $256) AND removed the first year fee waiver. Suffice to say, it’s a good idea to keep a wide berth now.

2012-2017: The Long Unwinding road for the ANZ Travel Visa Signature

Image result for anz visa signature

Here’s an example when acting sooner was better than acting later.

Remember this guy? When it launched in July 2012 it was incredible.  1.4/2.8 mpd on local/overseas spend meant it was the market-leading card for miles earning. You also had unlimited airport lounge access, 12,000 miles for paying the annual fee and airport transfer with $1,500 of spending.

The fortunes of this card, however, mirrored the fortunes of ANZ in Singapore. As ANZ started declining, benefits started being parred back or taken away.

First, the 2.8 mpd on overseas spend was restricted to only Australia+ NZ. Then, the minimum spend for airport transfer went up from $1.5K to $2.5K to asking you to use your own Travel$ to redeem a limo then disappeared. The unlimited complimentary lounge access was replaced by a system requiring you to spend an astounding $10K per quarter to get 2 measly lounge passes. The renewal miles went from 12,000 to 10,000 to nothing.

It’s perhaps an act of mercy that ANZ is now gone and Travel cardholders will soon be receiving the much superior DBS Altitude. But if you ever want to do a case study of a product not aging gracefully, you need look no further than this guy. Those who got in early on the product enjoyed what was at the time one of the best travel cards on the market. But you know what they say about good things…

2016-today: The Citibank Premiermiles rejuvenation

Image result for citibank premiermiles singapore

The Premiermiles card is no stranger to the market here, having launched about 10 years ago in 2007. But it was only from May 2016 that they started the awesome (and still ongoing) sign up bonus that let you earn 42,000 miles with a S$10,000 spend in the first 3 months plus paying the annual fee.

$10,000 is no doubt a high mark to hit, but payments to Cardup and iPayMy do qualify in your spend (no matter what some ill-informed CSOs might tell you) so there are ways to hit that threshold if you plan your spending carefully.

That’s not to say that existing cardholders have lost out either- those of you who own the Citibank Premiermiles Visa have a tremendous promotion to take advantage of now too, with the opportunity to buy miles at less than 1 cent each. This promotion is only open to those who have had the card for at least 6 months.

Conclusion

I’m sure there are many other examples of how acting early is better than acting later (and vice versa). The HSBC Visa Infinite was a much better proposition a few years ago, as it’s since seen a devaluation of benefits and a hiking of its annual fee. But the Citibank Premiermiles is arguably a better card to get in on now, thanks to the generous sign up bonus. And how do you account for random targeted sign up promos like this that pop up now and then without rhyme and reason?

Short answer: you can’t. And that’s the moral of the story- it’s pointless to fret about whether a better offer may come around in 6 months, or a year, or (in the case of the Premiermiles) 10 years down the road. All you can do is look at the current offer and decide whether or not it works for you. If it does, sign up with no regrets. If not, wait a while and see what happens.

Feel free to share other great sign up bonuses you’ve seen or times you wish you’d waited. Would love to learn more and discuss them.