Category Archives: Credit Cards

In-depth analysis of the OCBC Voyage card

cover photo by luke ma

This is the second part of a two part article on the OCBC Voyage Card. The first part can be found here

The Idea

  • The Voyage Card has a high annual fee of S$488 which is non-waivable
  • Analysis of VM value shows VMs are worth ~3 cents each regardless of whether you redeem them for economy, business or first class. Therefore the Voyage Card is only useful if you intend to redeem economy class tickets.
  • The fixed value of VMs leads me to believe the Voyage Card is really a glorified cashback card with 3% cashback on general spend and a slightly higher cashback on foreign and dining spend
  • I do not recommend applying for this card due to the high annual fee and mediocre earning potential

 The Details

Continuing our analysis where we left off in the introduction, let’s take an in depth look at the features of the OCBC Voyage Card, and more important, the maths behind it

ocbc voyage

Annual Fee, Joining Bonus and Other Perks

The annual fee for this card is S$488, and cannot be waived. You get 15,000 VMs as a sign up bonus. The card itself is made of metal- probably the first mass affluent metal card to come out, after the Centurion, DBS Insignia and UOB Reserve.

Perhaps disappointingly for a card targeted at premium users with a high annual fee, the Voyage Card doesn’t come with any Priority Pass. You get 2 visits per calendar year. That’s it.

You get complimentary limo transfer to the airport with a min S$5,000 spend each month. That’s much higher than other providers- ANZ Visa Travel Card offers it with S$2,500.

VM Earning Rates

You earn 1 VM for S$1 of local spending, and 2.3 VMs for S$1 of foreign spending or local/foreign spending on dining.

Intuitively, this is much lower than what other cards offer (eg UOB PRVI Miles with 1.6 miles (soon to be 1.4) on local spending and 2.5 miles on foreign spending, UOB Preferred Platinum with 4 miles on dining). However, we have emphasised repeatedly that VMs are more valuable than Krisflyer miles, because they are not subject to inventory restrictions or conversion fees, plus they earn miles of their own when flown.

VM Spending Rates

Here’s where it gets interesting. Attached below is the published “award chart” for VMs. Because VMs can be redeemed with any airline and destination, there is no fixed award chart like airlines have. What I suspect is that OCBC assigns a VM some monetary value, then works backwards from the cost of a commercial ticket to get the VMs needed.

Note that the chart below does not include taxes and fees ,these are additional (but can be paid using VMs too- way to go for transparency, OCBC)

ocbc3

Let’s see if we can prove this through some sleuthing work of our own.

When I put together the data points, I get the following table. I’ve made 2 assumptions – first, that the VMs required are for SQ tickets. Second, that for economy tickets, the prices are for a fully-flexible ticket (upgradable)

Destination Base Fare S$ VMs Req Implied cents/VM
Melbourne (F) 7,750 259,000 3.0
Paris (F) 13,400 400,000 3.4
Taiwan (F) N/A 138,000 N/A
Bangkok (J) 1,100 38,000 2.9
London (J) 6,550 218,000 3.0
San Francisco (J) 8,750 238,000 3.7
Bangkok (Y) 520 21,150 2.5
Hong Kong (Y) 698 25,000 2.8
Kuala Lumpur (Y) 290 12,650 2.3
London (Y) 2,080 59,650 3.5
Maldives (Y) 940 31,500 3.0
Melbourne (Y) 1,100 42,400 2.6
Seoul (Y) 1,300 38,150 3.4
Tokyo (Y) 1,425 38,150 3.7

One thing that is coming out of this analysis is the average value of a VM is roughly 3 cents. Suleyman over at HWZ has done similar number crunching and come to a slightly higher conclusion of 3.5 cents

“I did a comparison using SQ Economy (using SQ flexi fares), Business and First/Suite fares. The business and first fares come out consistently to about 34 VM/$ (except for Taiwan as SQ has no First Class fares to Taipei). Economy fares went as high as 4% but I see those as less accurate since there can be quite a bit of seasonal fluctuation in Economy fares.”

The other, interesting conclusion Suleyman has

“Because the ‘rebate’ percentage is consistent across all classes, the card is actually better for redeeming Economy class tickets rather than premium class seats.

When redeeming from KF charts, miles are worth about 2c each when redeeming economy, 4.5c for business and 6c for first (this takes into account surcharges that needs to be paid for award tickets). So, this card will trump the best general miles earning card out there (UOB PRVI Miles – 1.6 miles/$ or 3.2c/$) when redeeming in Economy. For dining & overseas spend, it will still compare favorably with the 10x cards like UOB Preferred Platinum Amex & UOB Visa Signature (7.82 c/$, compared to 8c/$), but you have no issue with award availability and earns miles on the ticket

Conclusion is that this is the miles card to get if you are looking to fly economy class (perhaps even budget as well), which is an odd place to be in for a card targeting affluent/HNW…”

He’s hit the nail on the head here. So let’s say a VM has a fixed value of 3 cents. Recall that we said the value of a KF Mile varies depending on how you redeem it– from as low as 2 cents in economy to 7 cents in first.

S$1 General spending on the VM card gets you 1 VM (3 cents), whereas spending on the UOB PRVIMiles card gets 1.4 miles (from 15 May onwards) which is 2.8 cents if you redeem economy class tickets.

Based on this math, the only sensible way of using the Voyage Card is to use it for general spending and earn economy class tickets (the Voyage Card loses out on specialised spend- S$1 on dining earns you 2.3 VMs ( 6.9 cents) versus 4 miles (8 cents economy, 16 cents business, 28 cents first) on the UOB Preferred Platinum card)

However, it’s good to emphasise again that the maths is not conclusive- you need to decide how much value you place on certainty. A Krisflyer mile is worth 4-5 cents IF you can redeem it for a business class saver ticket. A VM is ALWAYS worth 3 cents because you’re guaranteed a seat so long as commercial availability is present.

The value of a VM increases slightly when you consider how many miles you will earn from a VM-redeemed ticket. I’m not able to think of a way to value this option, but when you factor in the high annual fee and the lack of other perks I’m sure there’s some offsetting going on.

I realise this is a lot to take in, so my final thought on this is- if you ALWAYS redeem for business or first saver (or don’t redeem if neither is available), the Voyage Card is a bad deal.

Conclusion

The Voyage Card is so hard to assess precisely because we’ve never had anything quite like it in Singapore. On the one hand, I applaud OCBC for coming up with something new- the ability to redeem miles on any airline. On the other, I can’t help but feel this is more like a glorified cashback card. The VMs they give to you have a fixed value- OCBC is essentially giving you a 3% cashback card with special cashback bonuses for overseas and dining spend. Viewed this way the Voyage Card is really another failed attempt by OCBC to break into the miles market. They’d better hope people really have a fetish for metal cards, because the math certainly isn’t in their favour.

Why not learn about some better miles-earning cards here?

 

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

 

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!