Category Archives: General Travel

Esso Smiles offering 1,000/2,000 bonus Krisflyer miles with auto-conversion sign up

Esso operates a loyalty program called Smiles where you can earn points for pumping gas. In case you don’t remember the fine points of the Esso Smiles program you can refer to my article on lesser known ways of earning Krisflyer miles here. I’ve copied the relevant portion here-

Cost to join: Free
Conversion rate:  110 points= 100 Krisflyer miles (Auto conversion), 150 points=100 Krisflyer miles (Flexi conversion)
Effective earn rate: $1= 0.38- 0.73 miles (depending on fuel grade purchased, and assuming auto conversion selected)
Point Expiry: Points do not expire so long as 1 earning transaction is made every 12 months

Esso is offering a promotion till 30 June 2017 for those who opt-in for auto-conversion of Smiles points to Krisflyer miles

  • Sign up for auto-conversion of Smiles Points to KrisFlyer miles, and pump $100 (nett) of Synergy fuels at any Esso service station in Singapore by 30 June 2017 to receive 1,000 bonus KrisFlyer miles OR
  • Pump $100 (nett) of Synergy Supreme petrol and sign up for auto-conversion to receive 2,000 bonus KrisFlyer miles

The earning rate for petrol purchases isn’t great, approximately 0.7-0.8 mpd depending on current fuel prices. It’s certainly better than nothing though, and if you’re going to pump gas anyway you might as well get 1,000 bonus miles.

The Smiles portal makes it simple enough to sign up for auto-conversion. Just enter your KF membership details and you’re done.

The Esso Smiles page must be the most annoying webpage ever designed, however. It asks you for your location with every page you load, and even after clicking allow or block on Chrome keeps bugging you.

Thanks to KS for this tip.

Miami, no vice: Miami, the Keys and everything inbetween

Miami, no vice: Planning
EVA Air Business Class SIN-TPE
Decoding the lounge situation in Taipei
EVA Air Business Class TPE-IAH
Red Roof Inn IAH Airport
United Economy IAH-MIA
Renting with Sixt Miami
Element Miami International Airport
Miami, the Keys and everything inbetween
Jetblue Economy MCO-JFK
Revisiting the Taipei lounges


I had never been to Miami before, and now I had about 6 days to take in all the city had to offer.

You know, when I think of Miami, I used to think of this-

But, not necessarily in that order.

Fortunately, there is more to Miami than cocaine, 1980s dancing and M203s. I don’t really think there’s a neat way of doing this, so I’m going to give you a rundown of my favourite things to do, eat and see in Miami, in the hope that if you head there in the future you’ll have something to build your itinerary on.

To See

Ocean Drive Art Deco Neighbourhood

I love Art Deco. I can’t describe to you what it is, but it makes me remember my fond days playing the Bioshock series. If you’re a gamer who actually likes story (I know, right) instead of faceless space grunts shooting other faceless space grunts, you owe it to yourself to play this game.

Art deco, as defined by Wikipedia, is

the predominant decorative art style of the 1920s and 1930s, characterized by precise and boldly delineated geometric shapes and strong colours and used most notably in household objects and in architecture.

Miami’s art deco district has the largest concentration of art deco buildings in the world, and walking down Ocean Drive is an architectural student’s wet dream.

There is a walking tour run by the Miami Design Preservation League that starts from the Art Deco Welcome Centre. It’s $25 for a 90 minute tour that takes you past some of the most famous hotels (and even into a few). Advance reservations are possible but really not needed (plus, you pay a small processing fee if you book online). Just show up 10 minutes before the tour starts at 10.30am.

The guide will take you on a walking tour of the neighbourhood and tell you the history of each of the hotels, the famous people who visited them and what they’ve become today.

     

When you’re done with that, why not check out the beach? Ocean Drive is just off the famous Miami Beach stretch. I really couldn’t tell you if there’s a “better” stretch of beach, but great views are guaranteed everywhere.

To Eat

Joe’s Stone Crab is a Miami legend, although some locals will whisper (very quietly) that it’s become way too touristy.  I’m a sucker for seafood, so I had to try it out.

Protip: don’t bother with the queues or prices of Joe’s Stone Crab. Go nextdoor to Joe’s Takeaway, where you get pretty much the same menu, but with seat yourself ease.

The interior is cafeteria style serve yourself.

The cakes look great and all, but you’ll really want to make a beeline for the crab claws.

Everyone said the stone crab was what you absolutely need to have, so I ordered the large claws, which cost the princely sum of $56.95 for 5. You also get some bread and all the butter you care for.

And of course I had to try a slice of their famous key lime pie ($8.95)

I found myself a table to tuck in

And found the crab to be exceedingly average. It was fresh, sure. But it was tasteless. Maybe those among you who like cold crab will enjoy this. But I’m used to my crabs being slathered in black pepper or chilli crab sauce, or seared in that amazing crack-like substance they have at Sin Huat. These just tasted really plain.

Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink

I had much better pickings at Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, tucked away in the Design District.

Image result for michael's genuine food & drink

Image result for michael's genuine food & drink

Michael’s is one of those neighbourhood joints that loves to trot out phrases like “farm to table”. Normally I tune such things out, but I think I’ll give them a pass. The cuisine is best described as “Modern American”, something I can’t describe but will know when I see.

I had the swordfish with a side of grilled corn, both of which were excellent. It reminded me of my meals in Portland, which I still hold to have the best food in the whole of the continental USA.

Other places I visited that were highly recommended included La Camaronera (fried fish sandwich) and El Mago De Las Fritas (if Obama went there it can’t be bad. Socialized, maybe, but not bad)

To Do

I booked a Wynwood Food & Street Art tour with Miami Culinary Tours which took me on a 2.5 hour walking tour of the Wynwood Walls area and restaurants.

From Miami-History.com

In October of 2009, Tony Goldman dreamed up an open air gallery of murals called Wynwood Walls. The gallery opened a couple months later to coincide with Art Basel. Goldman’s vision was that the entire Wynwood neighborhood would become a canvas for urban street art. It is a neighborhood that provides a monthly art showing called the Wynwood Art Walk, which takes place on the second Saturday of every month.

Wynwood Walls is a homage to Miami street art, featuring murals done by artists both local and foreign.

The highlight for me, being the uncultured philistine that I am, was the food. The tour takes you to several restaurants.

Wynwood Kitchen & Bar– we had a tasting plate that consisted of  Ropa Vieja Empanadas, tequenos (cheese sticks) and a fried banana

GK Bistronomie Restaurant– where we had Peruvian ceviche. Ceviche is raw fish with citrius nd spices.

Mister Block Cafe– where we had an Empanada. It’s like a spanish curry puff.

Zak the Baker- where we had lovely chocolate chip cookies

Dr Smood served a vegan sandwich. I have strong opinions about vegans, but their flatbreads (spelt, no wheat) are alright with me.

Miami Masters

The Miami Masters was in full swing by the time I got to Miami and although Murray and Djokovic were not in attendance, there were still plenty of big names like Nadal, Federer and Wawrinka.

I didn’t think Miami would be hot during the time I went, and it wasn’t hot per se. It was just that the sun was merciless, beating down unfiltered on everyone and everything. My afternoon became a big shade hunting exercise.

It got slightly better as the day went on though.

The biggest stadium at Crandon Park is tiny in comparison to Arthur Ashe. Here’s the view from the absolute top row of the stadium. Note how you can actually see the players, unlike in Ashe where everything below you is just a speck.

And I got to see Rafa. Like all great men, he is balding.

Visiting the Miami Keys

Image result for overseas highway miami keys

If you’re bored with Miami, why not drive an hour south where you’ll find the Overseas Highway, your starting point for the picturesque Miami keys?

Image result for overseas highway miami keys

I ended up in Islamorada (pronounced Isla-morada), a lovely little town about an hour or so from Miami.

Image result for islamorada

Despite my rugged, chiseled exterior, I’m not much of an outdoors person, so I think I surprised even myself when I signed up for one of Key Dives‘ snorkeling trips.

These guys are great- they take you out on a boat to several nearby reefs where you can see fish and corals, and more fish (I’m not a marine biologist).

I bought one of those full face snorkel masks because the regular ones trigger my gag reflex (yes, laugh.)

What’s that you say? You want a shirtless photo? Well, never let it be said I don’t aim to please.

Or maybe you want to see the fish.

I know, they’re not nearly as ripped as I am.

Image result for green turtle inn islamorada

Dinner at the Keys was at The Green Turtle Inn.

I thought the fish was disappointing considering where we were, but the desert was spot on. I’ve read good things about Lazy Days, which is the other restaurant you may want to try if in Islamorada.

And finally, some bonus material for Bloodline fans. No explanation needed.

Conclusion

I hope this gives you an idea of some of the things you can look out for when you visit Miami. I’m sure there must be many great things I’ve missed/was too lazy to write about, so feel free to chip in.

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.