Category Archives: General Travel

UOB defends the Krisflyer account while missing the point (edit: original article added)

Source: Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Permission required for reproduction

[Edit: Here’s the original article for those of you who don’t have a subscription to the BT. Cost me $72.76. You’re welcome]

Download (PDF, 6.23MB)

Well, that escalated quickly.

When the Krisflyer UOB account was first announced, I, like many other people in the miles and points game, was very excited. The 5.4 mpd figures they were throwing about were head and shoulders above anything currently offered in Singapore. The idea of a bank account that let you earn miles was something new and potentially gamechanging- if they could get it right.

But then the full details came out, and that excitement turned to disappointment. If you wanted to earn that 5.4 mpd, you’d have to park at least $350,000 in a bank account earning no interest. Your miles earning would be capped at 5% of your bank account balance, meaning that once you spent beyond a certain amount, you’d earn 0.4 mpd instead of the headline 5.4. The trumpeted benefits with Scoot and Tigerair came with so many strings attached they might as well not be used. And to top it all off, the headline rates were promotional only, with no guarantee of renewal.

I doubt I was alone in my disappointment, because the post I wrote went on to blow up in a big way- 23K+ impressions on Facebook, which is something of a record for this site. To put it another way, the Krisflyer devaluation was huge, but that only bumped about 7.5K.

And it’s not just me. The laojiaos on HWZ (who know much more about all this than I do) are also cheesed off. Coverage on other sites like The ShutterWhale has similarly been negative.

I guess that’s made UOB sit up and take notice, because it’s come out to defend its product in a Business Times article published today. (I’m quoted in the article but was not contacted directly by the journalist) Unfortunately, the article is behind a paywall, but I’ve purchased a copy that I’ll share as soon as SPH emails it to me.

The sad thing about UOB’s response is that they’ve completely missed the point. The UOB Krisflyer account is supposed to be for those people who want to earn Krisflyer miles. If that’s the case, why is it so bad at what it’s supposed to be doing?

Let’s go through the points that UOB made one by one.

“While UOB did not dispute the calculations in the post, it said that the Krisflyer UOB account combines a debit card and current account to award air miles, designed for millennials and frequent flyers on the insight it has into their lifestyle, spending and savings choices.

“Our consumer insight tells us that this account, which has an accelerated earn-rate for Krisflyer miles, will be attractive to those who would rather have free flights instead of earning interest,” said a UOB Spokeswoman

Ah, millennials. That nebulously defined group of people about whom marketers seems to know so much. I’m a millennial, and I often wonder why every single article I read about me doesn’t seem to describe me at all.

UOB said at the launch of this product that “the account provides millennials in the early stages of their career who may not be eligible for a credit card to accumulate KrisFlyer miles”

If that is an important pillar of the value proposition, we need to examine it closely. First, what exactly is a millennial? I assume in this context they’re talking about a fresh grad, young professional who just entered the workforce. What would that person look like?

The median graduate from SMU/NUS/NTU would be drawing a salary of S$3,360 a month, as per this ST article. That’s well within credit card eligibility territory. Even if you were suay enough to pick the degree that has the lowest starting pay (SIT DigiPen Bachelor of Arts in Game Design – $2,490), after your annual bonus you will almost certainly be able to hit the magic $30K mark that opens up credit cards.

Suppose you’re a Poly grad- what then? You’d still be well within the income requirement needed for a credit card. Take a look at these MOM-published starting salaries for poly folks

Download (XLSX, 38KB)

A post-NS poly grad would pull ~S$2.3-2.5K per month, which after a 13th month bonus would still be enough to get a card.

Therefore I can’t understand the claim that this product is somehow opening up the miles earning world to “millennials”, if we define the word that way. Sure, a new graduate would not be able to get a UOB PRVI Miles card (S$80K min income), but as we shall see in the next section there are many other good options available.

With the Krisflyer UOB account, customers with a monthly average balance of S$20,000 and a monthly spend of S$1,000 would, over one year, be able to earn the equivalent of a return trip to Bali on Singapore Airlines”

Let’s look at this hypothetical person that UOB describes, with an MAB of S$20K and monthly spending of S$1K. With UOB’s Krisflyer account, you’d earn 16,800 miles over the course of a year.

If you spent that same S$1K a month on an entry-level credit card like the DBS Altitude (min income: S$30K, 1.2 mpd on general spending), you’d be just 3K miles short of the 15K needed for a return trip to Bali on SQ.

But if you spread your S$1K monthly spending intelligently around two DBS cards (just two! I’m not going to propose my usual crazy 5 card strategies here) and spent 30% online (DBS Woman’s Card, $30K min income, 2 mpd online spending) and a weighted equivalent 10% on travel (DBS Altitude, S$30K min income, 3 mpd on travel), you’d have 19,440 miles in a year. 

What I’m trying to show is that with a little bit of planning, and only 2 entry-level credit cards, you’d get that trip to Bali, plus you’d be able to put that S$20K to work for you in stocks, bonds, or any other investment that earns a non-0 interest rate. Millennials like planning, right?

Even if you do not qualify for a credit card, a secured credit card is still an option. A secured version of the DBS Altitude card can be obtained by anyone aged 21-70, with a minimum S$10K pledge to the bank.

Your S$10K would not earn interest, but

  • It’s still better than not earning interest on S$20K
  • You would earn 1.2 mpd on general spending (2 mpd overseas, 3 mpd on travel max $5K per month) with no limits 

That, to me, is head and shoulders better than earning a maximum 1,000 bonus miles each month under the UOB arrangement (5% of $20K)

So the hypothetical person that UOB describes has much, much better options for earning both miles and interest.

“A bigger spender of S$3,000 a month for 12 months and monthly average balance of S$350,000 would earn 194,400 Krisflyer miles in 12 months which can be redeemed for one return business class ticket to New York on SIA (worth about S$6,200 on business saver)”

UOB then gives the example of a bigger spender with S$3K monthly spend and a MAB of S$350K. This guy earns 194,400 miles, enough to get a return business ticket to New York (184K miles)

Ok, big spender. First of all, I find it hard to believe anyone could, in good conscience, put S$350K in an account earning 0 interest. There surely must be some law against that. The scenario just doesn’t seem realistic to me.

But fine, in improv you’ve got to roll with the situation so let’s see what we can propose for him.

It’s clear that if you’re spending S$36K a year, even if you somehow managed to convert all that into 4 mpd spending, you’d only hit 144K miles. I know that if you intelligently use sites like Kaligo (up to 13 mpd!) you could bump that 4 mpd upwards, but, realistically speaking, you wouldn’t be able to get 184K on S$36K of spending.

But wait! If I were to sign up for an OCBC Voyage Card and take the S$3,210 annual fee offer, I’d get 150K Krisflyer miles (never thought I’d see the day I used this card as a good example!). Then I could sign up for a Citibank Premiermiles card and, assuming I’m a new customer, get 42K miles for spending S$10K in the first 3 months and paying an annual fee of S$192.60.

So all in all I’ve spent about ~S$13K and have 192K miles (vs S$36K and 194.4K with UOB). And I didn’t have to park S$350K in a 0 interest earning account.

This, of course, assumes the person in question meets the income thresholds for both cards (S$120K for the Voyage, S$50K for the Premiermiles). But come on- if you can park S$350K at 0 interest, you’re probably fairly wealthy.

“On the first day alone, hundreds of Krisflyer UOB accounts were opened and more than S$4 million deposited with us,” she said.

That’s great, and congrats to UOB and all, but that doesn’t say anything in and of itself. This is commonly known as argumentum ad populum (thanks, AS profs!), or a fallacious argument that concludes a proposition is true because many or most people believe it.

In any case, let’s examine that claim. She said “hundreds”, so let’s assume 500 accounts were opened (otherwise I’m sure they’d have played it up and said “thousands”). If S$4M was deposited, that means the average account size is S$8,000. Which means that this average guy would be earning 1.4 mpd, assuming he spends a minimum of S$500 a month on the Krisflyer UOB debit card. And the maximum bonus he could earn per month would be 400 miles  (5% of $8,000). Which means that once he spends more than S$400, he’d be earning 0.4 mpd. Dude.

“For a customer who prefers to earn interest over air miles, we would recommend they deposit their money into a fixed deposit or savings account to earn interest at the prevailing market rates”

But guys, it’s not a trade off. 

On the 12-month promotional period, she said that “this just means that we will review it then to make sure we have a competitive product with competitive miles earn rate for our customers. It does not mean that the bonus miles will end after next year

That’s fair enough. UOB may increase the bonus miles earning rate after a year, they may decrease it, they may do nothing. We don’t know. But that uncertainty is in itself a problem. I guess you could argue that if they change the terms later you could just take your funds out and close the account, and you’d be right, but let’s circle back to a central problem- are you really going to forgo interest altogether?

So that’s my take on UOB’s response. What UOB is missing (deliberately or otherwise) is the fact that if you want to sell this product as a miles churning machine, you cannot have a 5% cap on bonus earning. That’s a complete contradiction.

That said, I am sure the product will be a moderate success because, unfortunately, there are enough people out there who will get giddy about the 5.4 figure and not read the fine print. But to those of you who are reading this, please- there are better ways of racking up the miles. Don’t settle for less.

PS. BT- next time you need a quote call me maybe. I have lots of file photos of myself in speedos you can use too.

Plaza Premium launches loyalty program, Citi Prestige and HSBC VI holders take note

Plaza Premium is a contract lounge operator that has more than 140 lounges across 35 airports in 16 countries. The quality of contract lounges can vary greatly, but Plaza Premium is generally one of the better ones- their new lounge in Hong Kong, for example, wouldn’t look out of place for a top tier airline.

Plaza Premium has partnered with Arrture to start its own free-to-join loyalty program where you earn points every time you visit a Plaza Premium lounge. Note that although there are 140+ Plaza Premium lounges, not all are currently participating in this loyalty program. 37 currently are (including, importantly, the one in Singapore) and you can see the full list here.

The program is still in its infancy, but right now the deal is that you earn 100 points every time you visit a Plaza Premium Lounge, and once you hit 2,000 points you can redeem a free Plaza Premium Lounge coupon.  As per their website, they plan to offer other redemption options in the future. At the very worst you could gift that coupon to someone else. You can’t sign up for Arrture online, unfortunately, as you need to pick up a physical form from a participating Plaza Premium lounge.

Why is this interesting? Because Plaza Premium lounges can be accessed through the Priority Pass program, and a lot of miles earning credit cards in Singapore will offer a handful of free visits a year.

Not too long ago I did an article on credit card lounge access. Here’s a recap of who gives you what

Card No of Free Visits Subsequent Visit Guest Visit
Citibank Prestige Unlimited N/A Free
Citibank Premiermiles 2 per annum US$27 US$27, however 2 free visits can be shared between guest and cardholder
DBS Altitude (Visa only) 2 per 12 month membership period US$27 US$27, however the 2 free visits can be shared between guest and cardholder
CIMB Visa Infinite 3 per year US$27 US$27
ANZ Travel Card 2 per quarter with S$10,000 spend N/A N/A
ANZ Signature Priority Banking Visa Infinite 2 lounge passes with min S$5,000 spend in a month N/A N/A
Standard Chartered Visa Infinite 6 per year

(Unlimited if you have the Priority Banking version of the SCB VI)

S$38 S$38

(US$27 if you have the Priority Banking version of the SCB VI)

HSBC Visa Infinite Unlimited N/A S$35
OCBC Voyage 2 per 12 month membership period, unlimited visits to Plaza Premium Lounges till 30 Sept 16  (Thanks Jey for pointing this out!) US$27 US$27
OCBC Elite World 2 per 12 month membership period US$27 US$27
Diners Cards 1 free visit to Diners Club partnered airport lounges from Apr-March Fees apply Guest fees apply
Krisflyer Ascend 4 vouchers for selected SATS and Plaza Prem. Lounges per membership year N/A Voucher can be used for a guest as well
UOB JCB Card Unlimited access to JCB-partnered airport lounges till 31 Mar 17 except in Singapore N/A Guest fees chargeable
Maybank Horizon Platinum Visa 1x Access available with min S$400 spend on airtickets within 3 months of charge. Lounges in SG, JB, KL and HK S$42 Guest fees chargeable @ 20% discount to S$42

I think you know where I’m going with this.

Image result for hsbc visa infiniteImage result for citibank prestige singapore

If you hold a HSBC Visa Infinite or Citibank Prestige card, you get unlimited visits to Priority Pass lounges. Therefore, even if you already have lounge access elsewhere, it might be worth the 5 minutes dropping by the Plaza Premium lounge in T1 every time you depart SIN just to register a visit (as per the T&C, both paid visits and complimentary visits via your credit card issuer count towards points earning).

I personally don’t think the current reward (20 visits= 1 free visit) is that exciting, but I’m keen to see what additional rewards they add to this program. So I would start building my points balance regardless, if I had a card with unlimited lounge access. Obviously, if your credit card only comes with limited visits per year you might be wiser to save those visits for when you really need them.

I see what Plaza Premium is doing here and it’s really quite clever. They know that credit cards which come with unlimited lounge access tend to be top tier ones, owned by people who probably have lounge access of their own already (through flying premium cabins or airline loyalty programs). Since Plaza Premium earns a fee every time someone Priority Passes their way into the lounge, it would make sense for them to encourage such individuals to start utilizing the visits they would otherwise not bother to make.

Too bad I can’t justify paying the annual fees for either the Citibank Prestige or HSBC VI, or I’d be making a lot of trips to Terminal 1…

(HT: Head for Points)

The Racquet Club Experience at the WTA Finals Singapore

Regular readers will know I’m a big tennis fan (and player- if anyone out there is ~NTRP 4.0 and wants to play do reach out). And I just wrote a report about the US Open, including a visit to the SPG Luxury Suite.

The WTA Finals are in Singapore this week, and although I think it’s fair to say that women’s tennis doesn’t attract nearly the same amount of interest as the men’s tour, it’s still a chance to see the best 8 in women’s tennis in one place.

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Through a series of unexpected events (the details of which I will not bore you with) I received an invitation to the BNP Paribas hospitality suite for the Thursday evening session. I was keen to see how this corporate hospitality experience would stack up to the one at the US Open, and would like to share some highlights and photos with you all.

We were bussed into the grounds at the Singapore Indoor Stadium from our meeting point for the evening session which started at 7.30pm. We reached at 6.15pm, which gave lots of time for wining and dining.

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All corporate hospitality suites at the WTA Finals are part of The Racquet Club (The Racquet Club is the official hospitality program of the WTA Finals).  The Racquet Club is an annex built alongside the Indoor Stadium (but isn’t physically part of the stadium, a minor inconvenience I’ll touch on later)

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The buses dropped us off here and we headed inside for registration.

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The registration counter was chaotic but everyone was processed quickly enough.

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I received 2 passes- one of which would get me into the BNP hospitality suite, the other into the Aces Lounge. The Aces Lounge is (and here’s where it gets a bit confusing) within the Indoor Stadium but it’s a much parred down selection of F&B. The hospitality suites are where you really want to be.

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The first floor of the Racquet Club contains the reception area as well as a handful of suites for companies like Rolex.

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There is also a spanking new Porsche Panamera parked in the middle of the room as a sort of conversation piece (Porsche being one of the headline sponsors of the WTA Finals)

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There is a big sign on it saying “not for sale”. Which is disappointing. Because I was totally going to take out my PRVI Miles card and earn 1.4 miles per $1 on it.

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Up the stairs and you’ll find more suites, as this very poorly taken photo shows. I really need to hire a professional photographer for this site.

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The BNP Paribas suite is a sizable suite, as you would expect from the title sponsor of the WTA Finals. I reckon it could take up to a 100 people with some standing.

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The Suite is a place to hobnob before the game (or during, if you don’t really care for tennis and just want to network, as it appeared many did) and it’s well set up for that. There are a few sit down private tables, but the majority of them were communal high chairs that make it uncomfortable to sit for too long. There was also a fully stocked bar where the champagne (Moet, sadly. Come on guys, even prosecco would be preferable to Moet) flowed freely.

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The menu today was created by Emmanuel Stroobant of the ES Group. The ES Group is behind some really nice restaurants in Singapore including Picotin, Brussel Sprouts, Saint Pierre and Rocks Urban Bar and Grill. I knew the food was going to be excellent when I heard the chef barking in French at his crew.

The actual spread was different from the printed menu. The romantic in me would like to believe that the truck delivering fresh produce from the farm had been waylaid because the young man driving it had suddenly found the words he for so long had lacked in describing his affection for the quietly aloof sous chef who was at home with her bedridden grandfather and the bewildered head chef had no choice but to modify the menu on the fly all while fighting with his dastardly landlord who wanted to repossess the premises and lease them out to a fast food chain. Although in reality someone probably messed up the printout.

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There was a very generous appetizer spread of mini bagels with smoked salmon, tomato confit,  tomato gazpacho and assorted charcuterie.

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There was also a station with steak tartare. I don’t think it’s possible to actually make steak tartare look good in a photo, but here’s my best attempt. I’ve often wondered how steak tartare doesn’t give more people food poisoning but apparently so long as you take the beef that’s below the skin you’ll be ok.

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The main courses were on a separate station.

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There were some roasted root vegetables. No description here because it wasn’t on the printed menu.

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Goose-fat duck leg confit, ratte potato, balsamic and honey jus.

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This dish was heavenly. The goose fat that lined the duck leg melted in your mouth and made you come to the realization that people who went on diets simply had no joy in their life. I attribute my wheezing during the tennis game the morning after solely to this one dish.

Roasted white Miso cod, grilled Kinome rice, poached jade eggplant

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Cod tends to be a more forgiving fish because of its high fat content, but credit where it’s due, the caterers got this spot on. The skin was flakey and the meat did not have a hint of overcooking. When I returned to the suite about 3 hours later however the cod had become mushy, probably as a result of being left on the heat for too long.

There was a ravioli dish that had some meat that I couldn’t quite place.

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And mushrooms with other greens.

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There was also a carving station with beef wellington.

I assembled myself an unphotogenic plate or two or three. I rationalized that we were at a tennis event and surely the cuisine served would be in line with the healthy ethos of the overall setting.

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The desert tray featured a fruit salad, apple pie and various fruit tarts. It was a bit muted compared to the main courses, or maybe I expected a bit more given the French reputation for killer deserts.

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That said, one standout item was the Louis XV Guatemala chocolate cake, which came topped with milk chocolate popped rice. It’s the two cakes in the top left hand of this photo.

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There was a bar area to round things out serving red and white wines and champagne.

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The waitstaff were very generous with the bubbly and proactively went around giving people top ups. Why couldn’t we have this at the US Open, I thought.

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The crowd that evening was a mixture of industry movers and shakers, as well as what I presume must have been HNWIs, based on the number of pretty private bankers swarming around the tables.

I contemplated picking up my phone and shouting “If you clowns at UBS don’t wake up your ideas and do this simple $50M trade I’m going to take all my business to BNP” to see whether I could get some of them to accost me but decided against it in favor of remaking loudly to no one in particular how damned expensive private school fees were in Zurich. It didn’t work. But that could also be because I had a very messy table. That was probably it.

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Midway through dinner, an emcee came on stage to introduce the first of two tennis personalities who would visit the suite that evening.

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I forget the name of the first guest. But I gather she was a former woman’s champion.

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The second was Caroline Garcia. I felt really bad for her, because no one really cares about doubles. I mean, I certainly don’t. I often wonder how the players feel about such publicity events. They have to disrupt their match prep to visit each and every suite for a 5 min cameo where they have to smile and answer inane questions like “do you think you have what it takes to win this year?” and try not to say “actually no I don’t, I just came to Singapore for the chili crab and pleasant climate”. I mean, I don’t think I could resist that sort of temptation to snark.

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But to Caroline’s credit she took the questions with grace and aplomb. And signed commemorative tennis balls after the Q&A.

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I asked her if she could make mine out to “The Milelion” but after several seconds of stunned silence I thought it better to use my birth name.

Adequately fed and watered, it was time to go for the tennis. If there’s one problem with the layout at the Indoor Stadium it’s that the hospitality suites are physically disconnected from the action in the stadium. To get to the stadium you need to walk about 100m under a sheltered walkway into the stadium grounds. It wasn’t like the experience at the SPG Luxury Suite where you could go out onto the balcony to watch (but of course, the F&B here was way superior to that at the SPG Suite)

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The Indoor Stadium is a cozy an intimate venue and if you’re not in the upper balcony there really aren’t any bad seats in the house per se. I had tickets just behind the baseline which was awesome, but the view 10 rows back was perhaps half the price and just as good.

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Here’s the view from the top of the second tier.

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I think it’s great that Singapore finally has a world class tennis event here. (I do not consider the ridiculous International Premier Tennis League to be a real tournament. I mean, just read these ridiculous rules and tell me if this sounds like tennis to you-

Each team can call a power point once in each set when receiving serve, and the next point played will count double. Effectively, a player trailing 15–0 can directly get to 15–30 by winning the power point. Games are played to four points using no-ad scoring. Each game won by a player or doubles team adds one point to the team’s score in the match. The team with the most points at the end of the five sets wins the match. Each set is won when a team is the first to reach six games won. If the score is five-games-all, a timed five-minute shoot-out will be played. The player or doubles team leading at the end of five minutes wins the set.

Omg power points!!one11!!)

The WTA contract is currently under renegotiation to see if Singapore can become the permanent venue after the current iteration expires in 2018. I certainly hope it continues to stay here because it can only be a good thing for the tennis community. And who knows, maybe before long we’ll get a men’s tour event too!