Category Archives: Credit Cards

Hack your way to 4 miles on everything

Edit (25/3/16): Imagine now dead. Oh well

Why do I need a prepaid card?

Prepaid cards were originally created for people who didn’t earn sufficient income to qualify for a credit card, but still wanted to make purchases online or overseas. You might think that this is of completely no interest to you- but read on, you’ll be surprised.

Remember our good friend the DBS Woman’s World Card (which, despite its name, is open to members of both sexes) and the 4 miles per $1 it gives on $2,000 of online spend each month?

dbs woman's card
DBS Woman’s World Card on the right- this one gives you 4 miles per $1 on online spend, but requires income of $80,000. The regular DBS Woman’s Card on the left only requires income of $30,000, but earns only 2 miles per $1 of online spend

As it turns out, reloading a prepaid card online DOES count as an online transaction, which opens up some interesting possibilities…

EDIT: People have been asking whether or not UOB Pref Plat Visa will earn a bonus for topping up the Imagine/FEVO. Answer is no. See T&C in bold

* Online retail transactions are transactions for purchases of goods or services via the internet using the Card. Online merchants include merchants that fall within the categories of bookstores, cinemas, entertainment, electronics, fast food, music and retail shopping, but excludes all merchants that fall within the categories of airline, travel, transport,top-ups for any pre-paid card, government, utilities, telecommunications, brokerage/securities, insurance, education/tuition, online money transfers and online gambling websites and such other categories of online merchants as UOB may exclude from time to time.

AMEX Imagine

The AMEX Imagine card retails at $50, with a limited time promotion of $40 credit preloaded.

ameximagine

You make an initial load of maximum $100 and pay $3.50 for it to be shipped to your address. Subsequently though, you can top it up using your DBS Woman’s Card and earn 4X on that top up. You then slowly use the IMAGINE card to pay for your expenses that month.

So to illustrate- I top up $1,000 (the maximum balance at any time on the IMAGINE card is $1,000 ) to the IMAGINE Card, thereby earning 4,000 miles. I then use the card for whatever expenses arise- effectively earning 4 miles on spend which would not normally get any bonus. I then repeat this within the month to max out the $2,000 cap on 4 miles for the DBS Woman’s card.

There is normally a loading fee but it is waived if you load more than $50 at one go. Also, the IMAGINE card has an Ezlink function which means that you can carry it around without having to add another card to your wallet

FEVO Card

fevo

For those of you who want the convenience of Mastercard, you can look at the FEVO card instead. However, you’ll pay a bit more for it. The card itself retails at $28, without any stored value (vs $10 for the IMAGINE AMEX, after you take the $40 credit into account)

The FEVO comes in a few different options- you can put your own image on it, you can get an NFC version or an EZ Link version if you want. If you’re ok with paying $28 upfront in exchange for wider acceptance, the FEVO card might be better for you.

EDIT: Fevo used to waive the 1% top up fee for loads of $50 or more but that no longer appears to be the case

Conclusions

There are some who will say I am doing the travel hacking community a disservice by writing about this so publicly, which will lead the banks to close this loophole. My stance is this: the banks aren’t stupid- there is no way they don’t already know about this. But since the maximum “damage” that can be done per month is $2,000, and if it gets them a good number of people signing up and using what would otherwise be a very niche card (you don’t see a lot of men with the DBS Woman’s Card), what do they care?

Remember, the banks earn every time you spend using their card- so go out there and make them happy!

cover photo by robert donnovan

The ugly truth of cashback cards banks don’t want you to know

Sorry about the click-baitish headline, but there’s something you need to know. A friend pointed me to an article by GET.com on the best cards to use for dining, a toss up between the OCBC 365 and the ANZ Optimum Card. That led me to think more about cashback cards and why GET.com was promoting them so heavily

There is a reason why I don’t like cashback cards- you can’t win. Try and get a bank to part with cash, and it will bend over backwards to stop you from doing so. The entire cashback game is a mirage- it lures you in with exciting headlines, but ultimately disappoints.

Don’t believe me? Let’s look at the terms and conditions of some of the “best” cashback cards on the market

Card Cashback Promised BUT…
ANZ Optimum World Card
  • 5% on one category- groceries, shopping, dining, travel
  • 1% on everything else
  • Limits this to $30 per transaction. If you are buying a big ticket item worth more than $600 (as is the case for say, airline tickets), you lose out
  • The cashback can only be used in intervals of $50, offset against your statement. In other words, until you accumulate $50, you get nothing
OCBC 365 Card
  • 6% on weekend local dining
  • 3% on weekday local/overseas dining
  • 3% on online spending, groceries, telecomms
  • Only if you spend more than $600  per month, otherwise 0.3%
  • Cashback capped at $80 per month
Citibank Dividend Card
  •  5% on groceries and pharmacies
  • 2% on dining
  •  Minimum spend per transaction of $50, otherwise 0.5% cashback only
  • If grocery store offers CitiRebates, you only get 3% cashback and the other 2% is awarded in CitiRebates usable on your next transaction only
American Express True Cashback Card
  • 5% on everything for the first 3 months
  • 1.5% everywhere else with no caps
  • 5% first 3 month promotion capped at $250
  •  AMEX does not waive annual fees, so after the first year you need to pay $171- meaning you need to spend  at least $11,400 on this card just to break even!
  • EDIT: Some people have reported successfully getting AMEX to waive their annual fees. For what it’s worth, AMEX didn’t waive mine on the AMEX Rewards card (spent $1.5K total in a year)
UOB One Card
  •  3.33% on all spend
  • 5.33% on overseas spend
  • 3.33% is theoretical-you need to spend at least $900 per quarter to qualify
  • Your rebate moves in steps- it’s either $30, $80 or $150, depending on spend. So even if you’re just shy of the required amount, you’re bumped down to the next lowest
  • 5.33% on overseas spend is capped at $5,000 per year
OCBC FRANK
  •  6% on online transactions
  • Lengthy exclusion list of online transactions which don’t qualify
  • Minimum spend of $500, capped at $60 per transaction, otherwise 0.5% cashback
  • Annual rebate capped at $720
POSB Everyday Card
  • 6% on  “everyday partners”
  • Everyday partners list limited to 6 merchants
  • Cashback at Sheng Siong is capped at $1,000 per month
  •  0.3% cashback on everything else

A general point applies to all cashback cards- if they don’t waive the annual fee after the first year, you’re already starting off significantly in the red as you try to earn back the annual fee through your spending.

Yes, miles cards also may not waive the annual fee post the first year, but they at least offer renewal gifts like bonus miles (which can be good value in some cases)

If you want the certainty of cash as opposed to the variable value of miles and points, you’ll pay for it, literally. Please don’t play the cashback game. There is no win here for you. The banks have carefully calibrated the payout ratios and T&C such that you’ll always be on the losing end.

Remember- the banks don’t care how you spend your miles. That’s a problem for the airline. They do care how much cash they have to give back to you though!

cover photo: taxrebate.org.uk

 

Ultra-exclusive credit cards- what’s the point?

photo credit: DBS

I came across an article the other day talking about the most exclusive credit cards in Singapore, those which are made of metal, those without credit limits, those which give the user diplomatic immunity and free unicorn rides.

It got me thinking- I think we can all agree that many of the best miles and points credit cards on the market require you to have at least a certain income (which isn’t to say you can’t still try and apply for these cards if you don’t meet the income requirements– the worst the bank can say is no), but does higher income necessarily mean you get access to “better” credit cards?

Moreover, these ultra-exclusive cards come with very, very high annual fees. The banks point to the benefits that accompany such cards as justification. Let’s examine a few of these cards and see if the maths adds up.

Note: in the analysis below I’m only going to cover benefits that the BANK gives, not the card itself. For example, OCBC World Elite’s marketing materials talk about getting complimentary SPG Gold membership with 1 stay at any Asia Pacific property- but this offer is open to everyone with a World or World Elite Mastercard, not something exclusive to those with the OCBC World Elite Card.

OCBC Elite World Card

ocbcworld

Qualifying criteria:  Invitation only. Generally offered to OCBC Premier Banking clients who have a minimum of S$200,000 with the bank.

Annual fee: $1,605

Mile Earning Rate (per S$1): 0.4 miles local, 1.2 overseas

Key Benefits:

  • Concierge service
  • TPC Private Club Access when playing golf in the USA
  • The card is made of plastic and lightweight

The OCBC Elite World markets itself as a credit card targeting the top tier of society.  But what’s interesting is that the card isn’t even given the highest tier of Mastercard branding. In what is probably the biggest case of false advertising, the card’s Mastercard tier is World, not World Elite.World Elite is the highest tier of Mastercard and comes with several benefits the World card does not, such as complimentary airline tickets and elite status with rental car companies.

Moreover, the World tier is the “mass affluent” tier of Mastercard (similar to the Signature tier for Visa)- hardly poor people, but definitely not the top 1% that the OCBC marketing team would have you believe.

And that mile earning rate? I guess it wouldn’t be an OCBC card if it didn’t completely suck. Honestly, what is it with OCBC and its inability to get a miles card done right?

Really, when I read the OCBC Elite World Card guide I was trying to hard to pick out something, anything that would count as a special benefit.

They highlight things like SPG Gold membership with 1 stay, or 15% off meet and greet airport services, but these are things any World Mastercard holder gets (and you can get a World Mastercard with entry-level credit card qualifications- the Citibank Rewards Card)

You know the Bank is really digging at the bottom of the barrel when it promotes things such as “24 hour card replacement” or “Card anti-fraud protection” as benefits.

1 OCBC $ is 0.4 miles, btw

Oh, and they describe 1.2 miles on overseas earning as a benefit. Despite the fact that minimum income cards like the Citibank Clear Platinum and the Maybank Horizon Platinum give 2 miles and don’t have a $1,605 annual fee.

clap

I think what annoys me the most about this is that OCBC isn’t stupid. They definitely know that their premium card has close to no incremental benefits above other bank’s premium offerings – yet they believe that people will pay 1.6K just for exclusivity. This is perhaps a bit telling of what they think about their customers, or just downright cynical (because we know they’re capable of genuine innovation, eg the OCBC 360 account which was amazing while the bonus interest lasted).

UOB Privilege Reserve Card

uob reserve

Qualifying criteria:  For customers with min S$2M investment balance with UOB or spend a minimum of S$150,000 per annum on UOB cards

Annual fee:  $3,900

Mile Earning Rate (per S$1): 2 miles local, 2 miles overseas

Key Benefits:

  • Welcome gift of 100,000 miles
  • Tower Club and China Club access
  • Complimentary one-way limo service with the purchase of a pair of First/Business class tickets on SQ, BA, CX, EK, QR, QF
  • 50% off lunch at Grand Hyatt for 2 people (33% for 3, 25% for 4 etc)
  • GHA Black Membership
  • Priority Pass with unlimited visits

Not to be confused with the (relatively) plebian UOB Privilege Banking Credit Card (available to those with S$350,000 in AUM with UOB), the UOB Privilege Reserve Credit Card is metal-tastic and only available to those with S$2M in AUM with UOB.

Sadly, the benefits are rather stingy. Most of the travel benefits require that you book with the (overpriced) UOB Travel Concierge, and what’s your reward for booking two first/business class tickets through them (and generating a lot of merchant fees?)- a one way limo transfer, which you could get by spending $2,000 on the ANZ Travel Card.

The welcome miles are definitely attractive, but remember you’re paying for the privilege- I haven’t independently verified the annual fee for the card (got the $3,900 figure off a forum) but if it is, then you’re paying 4 cents a mile- roughly on par with a business class redemption. 

EDIT: More details on the annual fees from a helpful reader

if you clear 250k in annual spend, they give you another 100k miles on top of the welcome gift of 100k miles. so for 3900 in joining fee, it works out to be $0.019 per mile. I haven’t cross first year yet, but if you spend more than 250k a year, you are suppose to get 200k miles when you pay SGD 3900.

DBS Insignia Visa Infinite Card (Updated: 11 Sept 16)

insignia

Qualifying criteria: S$500,000 annual income

Annual fee: S$3,000

Mile Earning Rate (per S$1): 1.6 miles local, 2.0 miles overseas

Key Benefits:

  • 100,000 welcome miles
  • Priority Pass membership
  • 2 complimentary hotel nights at selected properties
  • Grand Hyatt dining membership and access to spa and fitness centre
  • Club access to One Degree 15 Marina

DBS recently relaunched the Insignia card in a metal version. They seem quite proud of the fact that it is the first metal card to have a paywave function.

100,000 welcome miles for a $3,000 annual fee is certainly not what I’d call a good deal in and of itself.  But I’m guessing if you earn $500,000 the sting of a $3,000 annual fee is much reduced. The miles earning rates are decent, better than the Altitude series but still inferior to the UOB PRVI (at least for overseas spend).

Read the full coverage on all the benefits the Insignia card has here

HSBC Visa Infinite

hsbc

Qualifying Criteria: Min income of $250,000

Annual Fee: $488

Miles Earning Rate (per S$1): A bit unique, in the sense that it varies depending on how much you spend with them and how long you’ve been a member. In Year 1, 1 mile local, 2 miles overseas. In Year 2, 1.25 miles local, 2.25 miles overseas if you spent more than $50,000 the previous year, 1.5 miles local, 2.5 miles overseas if you spent more than $75,000

Key Benefits:

  • 50% off Marriott Singapore dining (25% when solo, 50% with 2, 33% with 3, 25% with 4)
  • Complimentary access to ESPA at RWS
  • 30,000 miles welcome gift
  • One way limo service and expedited immigration clearance with min spend of $5,000 each quarter

The HSBC Visa Infinite is possibly the cheapest “luxury” credit card out there (well- the CIMB Visa Infinite has no annual fee, but we’ll cover that another day). It used to have JetQuay Terminal access but that was phased out on 1st May this year.  In any case, JetQuay access is nothing special, because it just means you get free instant noodles. Seriously.

Again, benefits are plain vanilla. The 50% off Marriott Singapore dining is probably HSBC’s response to UOB (which enjoys the same thing with Hyatt), and the welcome miles are a good value at a cost of 1.6 cents each. Otherwise, don’t bother.

Conclusions

You’ll notice I’ve excluded some cards here- the AMEX Centurion, the Citibank Ultima are two of the other big ones that come to mind. That’s simply because I can’t find enough online (and am too lazy to try harder). I do know the Centurion card is probably the closest thing that comes close to justifying the annual fee, due to the number of  (alleged) benefits such as elite status in several hotel and airline programs.

Let’s make one thing clear- you’re not getting these cards because they have great mile earning rates. The other workhorses on the market do a much better job of earning you those miles.

You’re also not getting them because the cards have great published benefits. Private club access aside, I’m really struggling to see what these cards give which justifies the annual fee.

You are getting them because (1) you are the sort who feels important owning such a card (and if you are, I feel genuinely sorry for you) or (2) there are some unpublished benefits that only card members know about which change the equation dramatically and make the cards worth it (in which case, fair enough).

Long story short- you do need a slightly higher income to play the miles and points game, but you certainly don’t need the stratospheric requirements these cards have.