Category Archives: Credit Cards

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!

The Visa Luxury Collection- worth booking?

The Idea

  • 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

 The Details

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

visa1
Kayak availability
visa2
Priceline availability

The Visa Luxury Collection offers me the same price of US$111 for a cancellable reservation

visa3

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

Hail the mighty Visa Platinum!
Hail the mighty 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.

If you’re interested in learning how to get bona fide elite status quickly with hotels, have a read of this page!

Krisflyer Ascend – The best card you’ll never use

The Idea

  • Although the Krisflyer Ascend Card has horrible earning rates and shouldn’t be used as a general spending card, it comes with 4 very generous gifts which you can get for free just by signing up
  • Sign up for the card, opt for the 1st year fee waiver option and enjoy
    • 5,000 bonus miles with the first spend
    • 1 free night at selected Millennium Hotels worldwide
    • Free M&C Gold status (1 free meal, 2 free upgrades)
    • 4 free lounge access vouchers

The Details

By now you’ll have noticed that I don’t promote any of the Singapore Airlines co-branded AMEX cards on this site. There’s a simple reason for that. Their earning rate is terrible. Yes, they have convoluted multiplier systems where your spending in the first 3 months gets a bonus, and if you spend S$1K in a month you get a 300 mile bonus for every additional S$0.5K spent (have I lost you here?)

krisflyerascend

But ultimately the earn rate can never even hope to be as good as one of the bank issued cards. Heck, even Citibank is more generous when it comes to awarding miles for purchases made on Singapore Airlines (2 miles per S$1 vs 1.6 miles for the co-branded cards). And the base earn rate of 0.83 miles per S$1 is pathetic.

So why am I even bothering to write about it? Because the card comes with several gifts, all of which can be yours without so much as having to pay an annual fee.

IMG_20150418_095514

When you apply for the card, you have the option of getting the first year fee waived or paying the full fee but getting some sort of bonus on your first 3 months of spending. Since you’re not ever going to spend any money with this card, take the first year waiver option. Then, enjoy the following

5,000 miles upon first spend

These miles will be gifted to your Krisflyer account (direct deposit, because the card is co-branded) upon your first charge to the card. No minimum spend. You can go to Watsons, buy a $2 packet of tissues, charge it to your card and never use it again (remember to pay your  bill at the end of the first month, of course)

1 free night at Millennium Hotels worldwide

It gets better. Your card comes with 1 complimentary night at selected Millennium hotels worldwide. Depending on where you stay, this can be a tremendous saving. When I first saw “selected”, I thought that they’d limit the participating properties to some run down shacks in backwater towns. But no- the full list of hotels is here and there are some extremely attractive, high cost locations, including-

  • Millennium Hotel London Mayfair
  • Millennium Hotel London Knightsbridge
  • Millennium Hotel Paris Opera
  • Millennium Hotel Broadway New York
  • Grand Millennium Dubai

During peak season, 1 night at these properties could easily be in excess of US$200, to be conservative. So if you and your partner apply for this card and travel together, you guys can potentially save 2 nights accommodation in the most expensive cities in the world

Free Millennium Hotel Gold Status

Your card will come with a voucher that upgrades your status in the M&C loyalty program to Gold. Some of the key benefits that come with this include

  • 1 free buffet meal for your birthday (valid for 3 months)
  • 20% off a weekend stay for your birthday (valid for 3 months)
  • 2 upgrade vouchers (valid for 1 year)

So, use the upgrade voucher when you utilise your free night and get 1 free meal covered when you’re there. Ditto for your companion, who should also be applying for this card

4 x Free Lounge Access Vouchers

The card comes with 4 lounge access vouchers for the SATS premier/Plaza Premium Lounge. Frankly, I think the SATS Premier lounge in Singapore is not worth coming to the airport early for, but Hong Kong is one of the flagship lounges in the Plaza Premium Lounge chain and recently underwent a major refurbishment. I visited the lounge a few times back in 2010, before the refurbishment, and already thought it was one of the nicest pay per use lounges out there.

plazapremium4 plazapremium2 plazapremium3

So, all this free stuff and all I have to do is fill out an application form? What are you waiting for? Be sure to cancel your card at the start of the 2nd membership year to avoid the annual fee.

What about some cards that are actually worth using? Why not look at our article on general and specialised spending cards?

EDIT: It appears that the first year fee waiver is no longer being offered, at least for online applications. If anyone has recent experience applying for this card, do let us know if it’s still possible!