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”
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)
So you’ll excuse me for feeling skeptical when I read about OCBC’s new miles-earning offering, the Voyage Card.
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)
No expiry date for air miles earned
Card should offer air mile redemption on all airlines
Less cumbersome conversion process from card points to airline miles
No administrative charge for conversion
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 (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.
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
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 KF Gold
AMEX KF Ascend
AMEX Platinum Credit Card
AMEX Platinum Reserve
Earn Rate (S$1)
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)
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)
27,778 miles with S$5K spend in first 6 months
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)
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
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)
Member plus 2 guests (3 adults)
Member plus 3 guests (4 adults)
Member plus 4-9 guests (5-10 adults)
Member dining alone
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.
But hey! 12% off at 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)”
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”
Visa offers the Visa Luxury Hotel Collection to its Signature and Infinite cardholders which allows you to book curated hotels with additional benefits such as room upgrades, free internet, free breakfast, US$25 F&B credit and 3pm late checkout
This can be useful for comparison shopping if you’ve decided you’re not interested in hotel loyalty programs- but do note that you still need to comparison shop rates with an OTA to ensure you’re getting a good deal
The Visa Luxury Hotel Collection offers a BRG, but only against fully cancellable rates found on other OTAs
Sure, elite status is a great thing to have, but some of us may be casual travelers who take the odd trip here and there. Is it too much to want a bit of special treatment when we travel too?
If you have a Visa Signature or Infinite card, you can.
Visa has a special program called the Visa Luxury Hotel Collection. This site works as a booking portal for specially curated hotels around the globe. When you book through this portal and pay with your Visa card, you get to enjoy the following perks
Automatic room upgrade when available
Complimentary in-room wifi
Complimentary continental breakfast daily
USD$25 F&B credit
3PM check-out when available
“VIP” guest status (this may or may not be a meaningless term- I’ve certainly not been treated any differently when I stayed. But apparently in Vegas VIP guest status lets you bypass the (very) long check-in lines)
One thing to note about this booking channel is that the rates it offers are invariably higher than those I find through Kayak. That said, they offer a BRG policy. I’ve not tested how willing they are to honor that yet, but it’s also good to note that most of the rates on this website are refundable. (A necessary implication of that is that you can’t challenge a non-refundable rate you find on an OTA against the Visa Luxury Hotel Collection rate- the rate you challenge with must also be refundable)
Let’s look at Las Vegas, for example, for a one night stay in end-April
Kayak tells me that the Trump is available for US$112 per night on Priceline
The Visa Luxury Collection offers me the same price of US$111 for a cancellable reservation
In this case, it happened that the rates we found were identical on both sites. But there are other instances where you can find rates which are much cheaper on an OTA. If the OTA is also offering a cancellable rate, be sure to file a BRG claim with Visa Luxury Hotel Collection after booking (and confirm that your booking can be cancelled without penalty)
The funny thing about this is that the promotion was created for “premium Visa cardholders”, which includes “selected” Visa Platinum cards.
But in Singapore, Visa Platinum has been cheapened so much that pretty much anyone who has a Visa has at least a Visa Platinum. I can’t remember the last time I saw a regular Visa card, even my OCBC Yes! Debit card is a Visa Platinum
Therefore I’m not sure if your Visa Platinum will work for the purposes of booking a stay through the Visa Luxury Hotel Collection, but you’re welcome to try and let me know in the comments below.
Overall I think this is definitely worth a look- the US$25 F&B voucher + free breakfast and free wifi can lead to significant savings. The free room upgrade and late check out are subject to availability, but you’ve got very little to lose by trying.