Specialised Spending Cards

Updated: 13/7/2016 to reflect changes that have happened since the article was originally published (18/4/2015! Amazing)


Although general spending cards are great for day-to-day expenditures, it would take a long time (and a lot of spending) to build up sufficient miles for a nice trip just using them alone. The market leader now is 1.4 miles per S$1. So a one-way business class ticket to the USA would take about S$48,500 to earn!

If you want to accelerate your path to award flights, you need to focus on specialised spending cards. Specialised spending cards usually offer fantastic rewards with 1 category of spend (and crappy, crappy rewards in others).

The UOB Preferred Platinum AMEX card offers 4 miles per S$1 of spending in restaurants. That would cut the amount of spending you need for the aforementioned ticket to S$17,000. Obviously, you’re not going to spend that much on dining. But the point is, where your required spending falls on the spectrum between S$17,000 and $42,500 depends on how religiously you discipline yourself to use the right card in the right situation (and of course, leverage sign up bonuses).

Banks split credit card spending into several different categories based on the Merchant Category Code (MCC). The MCC is a code assigned to each merchant which distinguishes what sort of business it does- groceries, restaurants, fuel, department stores etc.

My recommended plan is as follows

Online Dining Shopping Paywave Overseas
Recommended Card for 4 Miles per S$1 DBS Woman's World Card, HSBC Advance UOB Preferred Platinum AMEX, HSBC Advance Citibank Rewards UOB Preferred Platinum Visa UOB Visa Signature
Fine Print DBS Woman's caps the 4 miles per S$1 on S$2,000 of online spend per month N/A 4 miles per S$1 is capped at S$12,000 spend per year 4 miles per S$1 is capped at S$12,000 spend per year Minimum S$1,000, Maximum S$2,000 spend per statement period, otherwise 0.4miles per S$1. Beware!
Also note If you're buying air tickets or booking hotels (where payment is made in full online), you can also consider the DBS Altitude for 3 miles per S$1 N/A What is shopping? Any department store, or any place which sells bags, clothes or shoes. But that said, some people have reported online that the S$12,000 cap doesn't exist in practice N/A

Note 1: The UOB Preferred Platinum AMEX is not dead, even though it is not available for application via the website. Try doing this

As you can see, the cards above are great for use in certain situations but virtually useless for general spend.

Issues with MCCs

My main gripe is the lack of transparency that card issuers have about category spend bonuses. You may think spending with your UOB Preferred Platinum card at a restaurant will get you 4 miles per S$1, but sometimes it turns out that that restaurant is coded as a grocer (Jones the Grocer), or as a bakery (Paris Baguette), or as a hotel (any hotel restaurant) and therefore you get the pathetic 0.8 mile “regular” rate.

Worse still, the onus is on you to reconcile your point balance every month. Because banks don’t give you an itemised split of how your points were earned, ie Transaction A earned me X points, B earned me Y points, you’ll have to manually call up customer service and ask them to do a vouching for you.

There’s no practical way to check MCCs ex-ante. However, the good people at Flyertalk have compiled a list based on their own experiences, which you can refer to here.

58 thoughts on “Specialised Spending Cards”

  1. I have a few questions

    1) Is the DBS Altitude AMEX for hotels/Flights still the best after 6 months ?

    2) How about when I’m overseas ? Do I still stick with these cards for their category ?
    I believe the best general spending card is the UOB PRVI Miles Amex ?

    3) What if I only earn 30k a year, just enough for the basic credit cards in the market. What cards would you recommend me to use ? Especially for the ‘online’ and ‘hotels/flights’ category ?

    1. hi cyril- great questions! We’ll enter you in the Milelion launch competition for this week as well. I’m working on a detailed answer to this, but short answers

      1) yes and no. Yes, you get 3 miles per $1 for flights + hotels. No, the DBS Women’s card gets 4 miles per $1 for all online spending, of which airline tickets and certain hotels are included (expedia, orbitz seems to be ok, but booking on the starwood site doesn’t give the bonus)

      2) category bonuses apply to overseas and local spending. That is, the UOB preferred platinum AMEX will earn 4 miles per $1 spent on restaurants in SG and overseas, ditto the Citibank rewards card for shopping. Best general spending card for 6 months is the Altitude AMEX (1.8 miles), after which the ANZ Travel Card, UOB PRVI Miles AMEX/MC/Visa will all be tied at 1.4 miles

      3) this is a tricky one. With 30K income, you can get the Krisflyer Gold card, the UOB Preferred Platinum AMEX, the UOB Preferred Platinum visa, the DBS livefresh card and the Citibank Clear Platinum card. Use the KF Gold card once to get the free 5,000 miles, use the Preferred platinum AMEX for dining, use the citibank clear platinum card for overseas and online shopping (2 miles per $1). Hotels/flights- if they’re charged in foreign currency then the citibank clear platinum will get you 2 miles per $1. if you’re booking travel/hotels on other websites that charge in SGD, use the livefresh card and get 1.2 miles per $1. Use the preferred platinum visa for paywave transactions in SG- 4 miles per $1 (eg Giant, cold storage, subway, quite a long list- http://www.uob.com.sg/assets/pdfs/personal/cards/full_listing.pdf

      Qn 3 is particularly interesting. Let me go write up a longer response to this!

  2. Hi Aaron

    I am looking to book some stays via Accor Hotel website. I read that the 10x points for DBS Woman’s doesn’t work for this – I just got the DBS Altitude Amex as well so according to your chart can I confirm that the Accor booking will be 4.5miles (50% bonus for 6 months)?

    Also regarding dining spend, I know the UOB Preferred Plat AMEX is the best but AMEX is not as widely accepted and I want to refrain from applying for yet another card. I do have the FEVO card topped up with DBS Woman’s, do you think using the FEVO card for dining as well as other general spending in SG is a good strategy?

    Thanks a lot. Love the blog!

    1. Hey Jono- many thanks for reading. So to answer the first qn, assuming your dbs altitude amex has already been approved (because the 50% bonus is only valid on signups until 31st july) then yes you will get the bonus PROVIDED your reservation is prepaid or is refundable but payment is processed online. What do I mean by this? Well typically a lot of hotel websites, especially if you book refundable rates, will merely take your credit card details as a guarantee. The actual payment is done on site when you check out. In such cases dbs does not award the 4.5 miles because the transaction is coded as offline hotel. However if you do make the reservation online and pay online, you get the bonus. Makes sense?

      What you say about uob pref plat amex is true, amex doesn’t enjoy the widest acceptance. I’d argue that it still doesn’t hurt to have the card though especially given the volume of dining related transactions all of us have each year. You can go via the fevo card route but you will have to deal with the top up fees as well as the possibility that dbs may stop awarding 10x points for such top ups at some point in the future. In the meantime that’s a smart workaround and should work!

      Let me know if this clarifies things

  3. Hi Aaron

    My DBS Altitude AMEX was approved just 2 days ago, but according to their website it seems the 50% bonus has been extended to any card approved from now till Sept 2015.

    As for the Accor booking I’ll have to check whether it is prepaid or not. Actually there’s another option – just wondering what are your thoughts about using Citi PM with Kaligo instead of the hotel website for booking to earn Citi Miles. I have a Gold status with Accor so I guess the only benefit is a potential room upgrade if I book through them. Of course I will also earn the Accor points but it is little for 5 days in Shanghai and I’m leaning towards just getting the 10x miles. I do have some Accor points (about 5k) leftover and I’m thinking of transferring them out to KrisFlyer (2 accor points to 1 Krisflyer) as they are expiring soon. What would you do?

    Thanks again

    1. sorry for my late reply- totally missed this. Great to hear the bonus has been extended. This represents a great opportunity to earn 4.5 miles per dollar on your hotel and flight bookings.

      Kaligo is an interesting one- you do get a huge load of miles when you book with them, but their prices tend to be on the high side. I have covered them previously here- http://milelion.com/hotels/how-can-i-get-bonus-miles-on-my-hotel-stays/ Check out the part on Kaligo.

      Accor gold isn’t anything to shout about, sadly. I was Accor platinum for a while and in the 4 or 5 stays I made at Novotels and Sofitels I didn’t get upgraded. A lot of the front desk staff aren’t even aware that they’re supposed to give you welcome drink vouchers. If I were you I’d definitely go for the 10 X miles.

      I generally think that the value you get from transferring from one loyalty program to another is very little, and therefore would advise against it. I think Accor allows you to redeem a 40 Euro voucher for 2,000 points. You’ll get way better value there- 80 Euros is better than the 2,500 KF Miles for sure. I think these vouchers have a further validity of 12 months.

  4. Hey Aaron,

    any advice/ recommendation for cards to use for planning a wedding? 🙂 do you know if the hotel spend in this case would be classified as “hotels”?

    thanks!
    anna

    1. Congrats on your wedding! I take it you’ve read the arguments for cash back here, here and hereonline already? It seems that some people are advocating for a cashback card (although Manhattan no longer has 5% cashback- it’s 3% now which reduces this benefit substantially), which, if you can convince your hotel to spread the bill out into 4 quarterly bookings would net you $800 of cashback in total (assuming your total wedding spend is $26K+, which I’m guessing it isn’t).

      But since you’ve come here I suppose you want the miles answer 🙂 (and you’ve chosen wisely btw). You’re right that any wedding banquet in a hotel would code as hotel and therefore the 4 miles per $1 on the UOB Preferred Platinum AMEX wouldn’t apply. In that case, it seems the only option you’d have is to spend it on the DBS Altitude AMEX with the 50% first 6 months promotion to get 1.8 miles per $1. But don’t forget about the DBS Altitude Visa sign up bonus (if you managed to get it in time) of 12,000 miles with $800 spend- if the hotel lets you split the amount then be sure to put $800 there to get 12,000 miles straight away.

      Have you considered the Imagine workaround? If you’re able to get a DBS Woman’s card and an imagine card, and each month you pay off $2,000 of the wedding banquet expense (I understand wedding banquets are planned a year in advance, so if the hotel lets you pay off 2k every month over a year you’d in theory pay 24k and get 96k miles!). That might actually be the best idea (assuming DBS doesnt suddenly bar the IMAGINE topups from getting 4miles per $1).

  5. Hi Aaron,

    I left a comment in another thread, but wanted to add something here to. It seems the UOB Pref Plat AMEX is gone, so you may need to recommend a new dining option.

    Separately, I dunno if you wish to revise your recommendation for online spending card. The UOB Pref Plat Visa, matches the 4m/$1 rate online with DBS Woman’s World (though not applicable to airline / travel / accomodation).

    However, it’s only good for up to UNI$24,000 per year – by my calculation, this means for spends up to $12,000 per year. In contrast, DBS Woman’s World Card is good for up to $2,000 per month ($24,000 / year). DBS wins here.

    The kicker for me, is that the UOB Pref Plat Visa has another purpose – it’s your paywave recommendation – and rightly so. Getting 4m/$1 on daily spending is great. So it’s a dual purpose – good online and good in your wallet.

    In my view, dual purpose is great because having too many cards affects your credit standing. If one is going to buy a home, your total debt servicing ratio (or something like that) gets lowered when you had lots of credit cards, because the banks consider each cards’ monthly minimum payment sum (usually $50) as potential liability. This adversely affects your lending ability which could prevent you from affording that dream home. So credit card prudence is necessary!

    Anyhow, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the above, and particularly whether one should just get the UOB Pref Plat Visa and not the DBS Woman’s World for online spending, and paywave. Thanks!

    1. Hi Raeza! Thanks for reading. Let’s go point by point

      1. Sadly it appears that the UOB PP Amex is no longer being offered for subscription. My understanding is that those of us who have it can continue to enjoy the 10X “for the moment”, but those who haven’t got theirs yet are out of luck. The next best alternative? Citibank Clear Platinum Visa- 2 miles per $1 on dining. Yeah, not that great, but at least it’s a Visa?

      2. I don’t recommend the UOB PP Visa for 2 reasons (refer to my UOB omnibus for more details). First, UOB is stingy with their definition of online transactions, as you point out. You won’t get online spend bonus for airtickets, accommodation, but even other things like online top ups, paying fines, paying subscription fees (eg VPN, netflix). So DBS woman’s has more flexibility in that respect. Second reason is that UOB’s 4 miles on paywave is ONLY IF that place doesn’t give SMART% rebates- and a lot of the good places where you’d be using your Paywave card already give SMART$, eg cold storage, giant. That’s the issue for me. If the place gives SMART$ rebates you get that and not UNI$

      Regarding credit standing- it is true that your credit score takes a small hit when you open a new account, because having more lines of credit available makes you potentially a bigger risk. But my stance is that so long as you pay all your bills on time, you don’t need to be unduely worried about this. If you’re taking out a big loan in the next few months then yes you’d want your score as high as possible, but otherwise I wouldn’t lose sleep about it. Good idea for an article…

    2. I just ran a credit report on myself. I’ve got 18 unsecured lines of credit (ie credit cards) but I’m still in the AA bucket because I pay off in full and on time. So yeah, if you do that I wouldn’t be worried

  6. Hi, thanks so much for all the advice. We are currently revamping our suite of cards. What is the best specialised dining card at the moment? (as of feb 2016) thanks!

  7. Hi aaron, is there any card or cards you would recommend to Maximise spend for travel if you have >100k income annually?

    1. interesting question! one thing nice about the miles game in SG is that it’s quite egalitarian. the higher income credit cards don’t necessarily mean better miles earning (in fact, some of them are just outright waste of money) and one of the best miles earning cards, the dbs altitude, recently cut the income requirement to $30k.

      of the ones i know offhand, the citibank prestige card ($120K) offers 1.3 miles per S$1 local and 2 miles per S$1 overseas (with a bonus depending on how long you’ve banked with them). they have a non-waivable annual fee of $525 but you get 25,000 miles which means you buy at 2.1 cents per mile, a decent rate. but that earning rate isn’t superior to any of the lower income cards (inferior to uob prvi in fact)

      dbs insignia gets 1.6 miles per $1 of overseas or local spend, which is a superior rate for local and inferior rate for overseas. but if you earn enough to afford that kind of card…well, good on you! (it’s invite only and you need some crazy amount of AUM with DBS)

      hsbc visa infinite ($120k) gives you 1/1.25/1.5 miles per $1 of local spend (depending on tenure of card and prior year spending) and 2/2.25/2.5 miles per $1 of overseas spend. this can be a marginally superior rate to regular cards but again subject to your spending patterns

      so in short i don’t think high income credit cards necessarily offer better miles earning benefits than the mass affluent cards. once you can get an altitude and a PRVI, you’re more or less set

  8. hi aaron,

    whats the best card for groceries eg. shopping at fairprice / cold storage for air miles?

    ps: decided not to get the ocbc voyage card

    1. difficult qn because most grocery stores that take paywave will also issue SMART$ (cold storage etc). this might well just be a general spend card category, so dbs altitude etc would work

  9. Hi,

    Is there any cards which provide good points or mileage for purchase or renovation item? We purchase of lights or renovation stuff?

    Thanks!
    Cy

      1. Probably not, unless I get thru online sites like taobao etc.

        I just applied for the dbs attitude Amex card and thought if it will be of use. Would explore the general spending card to see which fits best! Many thanks!

  10. Hi Aaron,

    Hope u enjoyed your rtw trip. I’ve recently embarked on my personal miles game with my wife and we are targeting a biz round trip to japan. Much thanks for all the tips!

    I was checking through the women’s world card TnC, but I can’t decide if it covers telco bill payments, whether put on recurring or otherwise. Could you advise?

    Thanks!

    Ned

  11. Hi!
    nice blog btw!

    Are any of these cards good for buying health insurance online here in SG? Not sure if that’s an online or general spend transaction.
    Also where some insurance vendors allow you to spread a payment over 12 months, which is the ideal card to use?

    Thx!

  12. Hi Aaron,

    I’m thoroughly enjoying the site!

    I might have missed it out amidst the sea of articles, but any reason why you’re recommending the DBS Altitude AMEX more than the Visa one?

    It seems like it could be because of the AMEX promo that was ongoing before, but I believe the promo has ended.

    Does it still make any difference?

    1. hello janice! yeah it was because of the amex promo which was superior. now i’m indifferent, perhaps leaning towards visa because of the lower forex fees

  13. Is there a limit on the 4 miles earn rate for the Citi Rewards cards? I am not sure but I thought somewhere that the earn rate is capped at $12,000 per calendar year. If so, is the $12,000 enough to qualify for a fee waiver beyond the first year?

    Thanks for the excellent guide and I regret not knowing about the DBS World Woman’s card earlier for my online spending.

  14. Hi, one more question as there is a bit of confusion when you indicate the DBS World Woman’s card does not provide 4 miles/$ on hotel spend but on your general guide in another page, it indicates that it should be a favored card for online including hotels. I use hotels.com a lot so should I use the DBS World Woman’s card or the DBS Altitude Visa?

    Once again thanks for all the help.

    1. DBS WWMC is good for Online Travel Agents like hotels.com where you pre-pay online.
      If you book directly with the hotel and pay at checkout then an online specialist card is no use and the Altitude might be your best choice.

  15. Hi!

    I am thinking of loading up my FEVO card to spend overseas, but I’m quite curious the exchange rate and fee structure they use as compared to a bank-issued card.

    For FEVO, the fx-rate they use will be from MasterCard? Any experience with using both overseas and able to provide a recommendation? Thanks in advance!

  16. Aaron, is it possible not to have the scroll bar for the summary table? It makes it easier to read without having to scroll left and right.

  17. Hi Aaron! Your blog’s a lifesaver!

    Would like to seek your opinion on how to maximise the miles collection for my monthly expenditure…

    I put $1K of my monthly recurring household bills on the DBS Altitude Visa. ($1 = 1.2 miles)

    I’m using my KF Ascend Card only for Grab and ad-hoc promotion for dining. ($1 = 3 miles for weekends)

    I put the rest of my expenses (Uber, cab, dining, shopping) on ANZ Travel Visa Signature. ($1 = 1.4 miles)

    Thank you! 🙂

    1. hi ryan. quick thoughts- what type of household bills are these?
      if you used an online bonus card like dbs woman’s world/hsbc advanced you’d be getting 4 miles per $1 on uber/grab, regardless of when you book. dining- look at the hsbc advanced or try your luck with the uob pp amex, although i’m 99% sure it’s no longer available.

      1. Hey Aaron, my household bills are for Prudential, SP, Town Council and Starhub.

        Great tip for the Uber/Grab booking! Thank you. 😉

    1. If you had scrolled down a bit, you could have seen that its 6 miles only on Expedia and UOB Travel desk. This offer expires on 31st Dec and typical to UOB, comes with many restrictions.

  18. Thx for such an useful site. I am going to apply for hsbc advance card as my spending style is as below:

    Monthly
    – taxi (grab/uber/comfort) $300
    – Dining & entertainment (normal restaurants or pubs /bars outside hotel, movies) $600-800
    – Grocery (NTUC most of the time) $300-400
    – Online bill payments (sc&c, mobile, internet, ezlink topup) $300
    – Shopping & misc $200 -300

    Annually
    – Annual insurance payment $2000
    – Travel x 2 $10k

    Questions:
    1. I think hsbc advance should be my primary card, how do you think?

    2. Which should be my 2nd card and 3rd card. I would not want to have more than 3 cards. I also try to switch to cashless payment as much as possible.

    3. Not sure if it worth to go for miles rather than cash rebates as currently im using ocbc 365 card. I am getting around $60 per month from both cc cash rebates and interest earned on my 360 acct for fullfilling cc spending criteria. Also, i usually travel with my wife and kid, so i would need quite a few years to accumulate enough miles.

    1. all your online spend will get bonused with hsbc advance (but there is a cap on ezlink topups). you probably want another general spending card like uob prvi.

  19. Hi there I’m a loyal follower of your site 🙂 Love all your reviews on airlines, credit card spending to maximise miles etc.

    Quick qns, do you have any recommendations on which is the best credit card to maximise earning of miles for ongoing petrol spend? Assuming no preference for any specific petrol station. Thanks !

      1. Not sure if you’re aware but Maybank cards seem to have been updated.

        Horizon Visa Signature — 3.2mpd on petrol, dining, taxi and agoda

        Maybank WMC — 4mpd on petrol + points never expire (with fine print of course)

        Any thoughts?

        1. Just two restaurant chains are in the ‘selected list of merchants’. Is that really worth getting the card for?

          1. Where do you see it limited to two restaurant chains?

            The T&C document I looked at states that “Dining transactions must be charged at participating Eating Places and Restaurants classified under
            Merchant Category Code (“MCC”) 5812 (“Participating Dining Merchants”). ” – I believe that’s at least as broad as the HSBC Advance (excluding fast food and catering).

        2. Hmm, the Horizon looks interesting. Might consider switching if HSBC Advance bonus is discontinued. Main snags in T&C seem to be include minimum $300 spend in the month + cap of 30k points. But since the cap applies to spend of almost $4k, I don’t think that’s an issue for most situations.

  20. I am planning to make a few big purchases online for my new home. Of course after reading this website for weeks, I am convince that I will be using the UOB PP Visa and DBS Women’s Card. I am just wondering if I opt for the DBS/UOB 0% installment plan (offered on Lazada, Qoo10, etc), will i still get 4MPD? Anyone here have some experience in this.

    1. DBS women is cap at 2k per month, I had never used UOB PP visa as there is some category restriction. HSBC advance is the best.

  21. thanks for the great info here. got a question that I can’t get around with.

    Does a transaction above $100 constitute as a payWave transaction and will the UOB PPV attract 10X UNI$?

    1. When I asked the cashier at Sheng Siong to split my grocery bill before it hits $100, she told me that Paywave works for transaction above $100.

      However, when I tapped my PPV on the card reader to pay for the transaction of more than $100, I was instructed to sign on the signature pad. No signature is required for less than $100.

      I wonder too if such Paywave transaction attracts 10XUNI$. The transaction was considered a ‘contactless transaction’.

      1. It says contactless on the credit card slip?
        In Australia, using paywave over $100 requires a PIN (credit cards use PIN instead of signature there). Some banks offered up to 5% cashback on paywave transactions but some reported it not applying to paywaves over $100. Not sure if it was excluded because it gets treated differently, or because of TnCs.

        1. Hi Tim

          I recall seeing the word “contactless” flash across the card reader. I have discarded the credit card slip and thus, unable to verify this.

          I guess I just have to wait for my statement to see if I was awarded 10XUNI$.

      2. Meng, maybe it’s time to have a look at your PPV statement to check on the points from >$100 payWave transactions.

        1. Hey Jonlee

          I will try my best to check my UOB PPV statement to see if the points were awarded but I have to say I am mathematically challenged.

          I can’t quite add up the points most of the time as I have PPV for Paywave, PPAmex for dining, PriviMiles for general spend and Visa Infinite for other spends that do not attract UNI$ on the other cards.

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