What should your dining card strategy be?

The recent demise of the HSBC Advance and unicorn nature of the UOB PP Amex have been taken as signs by some people that the dining card is well and truly dead in Singapore.

It looks grim for sure, and I don’t know whether any bank is willing to step up and fill the gap for a 10X dining card (a certain loss leader for them). Assuming that doesn’t happen, I wanted to lay out a blueprint for how you can make the best of a bad situation.

(1) UOB Preferred Platinum Visa

Image result for uob preferred platinum visa

People (myself included) tend to forget that many restaurants now have Paywave terminals, which means that you can use your UOB PP Visa to earn 4 mpd. This assumes the restaurant isn’t a SMART$ merchant, but there are so few that fall into this category anyway (Hard Rock Cafe, Pasarbella, BreadTalk Cafe, Bread Society).

Remember that the maximum amount that can be paid through Paywave is $100 per transaction, but there’s nothing stopping you from splitting a bill across multiple transactions. The cap on 4 mpd earning per month is $1,000 for the UOB PP Visa.

(2) Maybank Horizon Visa Signature

Image result for maybank horizon visa signature

Believe it or not, the best card for dining now belongs to Maybank. The little known Maybank Horizon Visa Signature offers 3.2 mpd on local dining, petrol and taxi fares, provided you spend a minimum of $300 a month on the card.

One thing to point out is that Maybank’s definition of “dining” is fairly narrow. The T&C state that only merchants with MCC 5812 will enjoy 3.2 mpd. 5812 refers to restaurants and eating places, which should cover the majority of places you might dine at. But it doesn’t cover 5814 (fast food restaurants), 5813 (drinking places) and 5811 (caterers). And like all dining cards, it also does not cover dining in hotels which codes under the hotel’s MCC.

The bonus points you can earn in a month are capped at 30,000, so assuming you only put dining on this card, you’d max out the 3.2 mpd at $4,285 in a month.

My biggest gripe with this card is that Maybank TREATS points expire after 1 year, unless you’re a Rewards Infinite member (requires spending more than $24K in a year). Fortunately, the minimum redemption amount for Maybank TREATS is 5,000 points, or 2,000 Krisflyer/Asiamiles miles. That’s certainly a lot lower than the UOB/DBS 10K minimum. So even if you’re not a massive spender on dining, you should be able to hit the minimum cashout amount pretty soon.

With an income requirement of $50K, it unfortunately isn’t an entry-level card but I think it’s well worth a speculative application even if you don’t meet the criteria.

On a side note, I see a banner on the Maybank site that alludes to some herworld credit card awards. Although I am an avid reader of female-focused literature, herworld is not on my list. If anyone can point me to the full list of winners I’d love to do some analysis on it.

Winner of ‘Best Air Miles Card’ in Her World Nuyou Credit Card Awards 2017

(3) HSBC Revolution

Image result for hsbc revolution

Assuming you can’t meet the $50K income requirement for the Maybank Horizon card, the HSBC Revolution is a good choice too. You earn 2 mpd on local dining, entertainment and all online spend.

2 mpd is less than 3.2 mpd, obviously, but where the Revolution is better than the Horizon is it has a wider interpretation of dining. The Revolution considers fast food to be part of dining, and explicitly states that spend at clubs, pubs, bars (what’s the difference between a pub and a bar?) will get 2 mpd. There also is no minimum spend amount required to earn this.

HSBC Rewards points expire after 3 years, and the minimum transfer amount is 2,000 miles.

(4) OCBC Voyage Card

Image result for ocbc voyage card

I’ll be the first to say I’ve not seen eye to eye with the Voyage card, but if I’m going to include the HSBC Revolution (2 mpd) I can’t get away with not talking about the Voyage as well because it earns 2.3 mpd on local dining.

The T&C of the Voyage card defines dining as restaurants, cafés, caterers and fast food outlets. I take this to mean MCC 5811, 5812 and 5814. However, the T&C explicitly exclude bars and pubs, which means 5813 is out of the question. Similarly, hotels and country club dining doesn’t count.

The interesting thing about the Voyage card is that you don’t earn miles, or points for that matter. You earn Voyage miles (which don’t expire). Have a read of any of my past Voyage articles to understand how these babies work, but the TL;DR version is they can either be converted to Krisflyer miles at a 1:1 ratio, or used at a (relatively) fixed value to pay the cost on a revenue ticket on any airline (typically 2-3 cents per mile). I certainly wouldn’t use the Voyage card as a general spend card because i feel the 1 mpd general earning ratio is simply not good enough, but if you want to get the card and pay the (not insubstantial) annual fee just to use it as a dining card, well, it’s a free country.

(5) Mileslife

Ok, it’s not a credit card, but I think Mileslife needs to become part of your dining strategy if you want to build miles. When you use Mileslife, you earn miles from two sources- the Mileslife app itself, and whatever miles you get from your credit card.

If you sign up for Mileslife via my link, you get 1,000 bonus miles with your first spend of $49 within 30 days.

Restaurants on Mileslife offer anywhere between 1-3 mpd, but there are frequent sales where 3-4X the regular miles are on offer, meaning you can get up to 12 mpd with the right restaurants. Mileslife does not currently qualify for any 10X online spending bonuses, but they’re working on getting their MCC changed.

Mileslife is still in the expansion stage and its list of restaurants is fairly small but hopefully as they scale up this will become an increasingly attractive option.

Conclusion

I am hearing disturbing rumours that people holding the UOB PP Amex are getting calls from CSOs offering to “upgrade” their cards to something else (One person was offered the UOB YOLO; I told him to call the police because that was certainly a scam call). UOB has certainly demarketed the card, but whether they’re looking to actually shut it down, only time will tell.

Those with the UOB PP Amex should make hay while the sun shines. For the rest of you- any of the above methods should help you maximise the miles you earn on dining.

The Milelion’s RTW Trip 2017: Oman Air Business Class Lounge MCT Review

Introduction: It’s the most wonderful time of the year
A Tale of Two Lounges: SATS Premier T2 and the Qantas SIN Lounge
Malaysia Airlines B737 Business Class SIN-KUL
Malaysia Airlines Business Class Golden Lounge KUL
Malaysia Airlines A330  Business Class KUL-NRT
Japan Airlines Business Class Sakura Lounge NRT
Japan Airlines B77W Business Class NRT-LAX
The Westin LAX
The Westin Westminster
Aloft Boston Seaport
The Consolidated AA Domestic First Class Experience
American Airlines Flagship Lounge JFK
American Airlines B772 Business Class JFK-LHR
American Airlines Arrivals Lounge LHR
The Great Northern Hotel, London
Sheraton Grand Park Lane, London
Westin Paris Vendome
Courtyard by Marriott Madrid Princesa
Four Points by Sheraton Barcelona Diagonal
The Consolidated Intra-Europe Business Class Experience
Sheraton Casablanca
Royal Air Maroc Business Class Lounge CMN
Royal Air Maroc B737 Business Class CMN-ACC
Ethiopian Airlines B787 Business Class ACC-ADD
Ethiopian Airlines Cloud 9 Business Class Lounge ADD
Ethiopian Airlines Q400 Business Class ADD-DAR
Protea Hotel by Marriott Dar Es Salaam Courtyard
Qatar Airways A320 Business Class DAR-DOH
Qatar Airways Al Safwa First Class Lounge DOH
Qatar Airways A330 “First” Class DOH-MCT
Oman Air B737 Business Class MCT-DXB
The Grosvenor House Dubai
W Doha
Qatar Airways Business Class Lounge DOH
Qatar Airways B772 Business Class DOH-BLR
The Ritz Carlton Bangalore
Vistara A320 Business Class BLR-DEL
Cathay Pacific A330 Business Class DEL-HKG
W Hong Kong
Touring Cathay Pacific’s HKG Lounges
Cathay Pacific A350 Business Class HKG-SIN


I had a 4 hour layover before I could board my Oman Air flight to Dubai. I really don’t understand Oman Air’s business model- in the current environment, they could make a killing by operating a DOH-DXB shuttle service with a technical stop in MCT. You wouldn’t even need to disembark or anything in MCT, you’d stay on the plane, paperwork would be done and you’d be off again to DXB. That could at least bring down the overall flight time significantly, rather than having to kill hours in Muscat’s very unimpressive airport.

I’d never flown Oman Air before but Qatar had rebooked me in Business Class so I was going to get a chance to explore their flagship lounge and cabins. I was excited as I always am when trying a new airline for the first time. I imagine I’d have been less excited had I known my bag was in the process of getting misplaced (which will be a separate post unto itself)

The lounge is a good summary of Oman Air. It’s not dumpy, but it’s far from impressive. It’s certainly a nice and quiet place to sit and wait out a transit, but there’s nothing to distract you for a long layover. This model aircraft at the entrance was the sum total of the entertainment options available.

I arrived in the late morning and the place was deserted. Plenty of seats were available with high chairs, sofas and loungers.

There’s a tiny bar area, but all the booze is MIA on account of Ramadan.

The centerpiece of the lounge is a stained glass dome that hovers above the central dining area. It’s impressive when the mid-day sun shines down.

Less impressive was the food selection. It was a mish mash of Western and Middle Eastern options, and the food was predominantly stews and starch. The staff were helpful enough and tried making suggestions though.

There was also some fruit, prunes and nuts

And a small salad bar.

The desert selection was extensive, but most of the cakes and pastries on offer just tasted like reconstituted sugar lumps.

  

There was a full sized Nespresso capsule machine.

I had high hopes for the lounge spa as a means of passing time, but was disappointed to learn that it was closed/under repair/otherwise incapacitated. There were instead recliner chairs with a massage function.

As for showers? Don’t get your hopes up. There is one shower in the entire lounge, in the main loo, and it looks like this.

If you need to get work done, there are two iMac computers with really tiny, weird keyboards. There’s also a printer that didn’t have any paper.

I get the sense that Oman Air is holding out until the new Muscat terminal is built, and then might decide to do a fancier facility there. But in the meantime, the existing lounge is definitely not on par for what you’d expect in the Middle East. I think there’s a reason that Oman Air doesn’t get mentioned in the same breath as Etihad, Emirates or Qatar.

So the lounge was mediocre, but it was nothing compared to what awaited me on my flight…

Taxi Scam Alert! A Stay at Sheraton Bucharest

Dr Frederick Ee is a medical doctor, author, blogger and traveler. He discovered his passion for travel on his first long-haul trip to New York City in 2012. His quest for premium travel experiences started on that very same flight as he endured a smelly foot beside him from the passenger behind him for the 24 hours of flight from Singapore to New York. He blogs at goodhotelreview.blogspot.com, focusing on hotel experiences. His most memorable moment of travel was to participate in the resuscitation of a collapsed patient during a long flight to Paris. Feel free to add him on Facebook with a message and his Instagram at @drfrederickee. He would like to thank MileLion for having him as a guest writer and hope readers would enjoy his writings and musings.


A Bad First Impression of Bucharest
First Taxi Scam in a long time!

Stayed October 2016

After an overnight stay in Athens, I arrived in Bucharest in the late evening. Why Romania? Thanks to a certain tennis player named Simona Halep (who disappointingly was runner-up in this year’s French Open) and that I saw some of my friends visiting the country (Ms Moon L. and Ms Stacie T!).

After reading many horror stories about the taxis in Bucharest, including kidnap and murder, I made a point to read about the best way to get a cab at the airport.My research concluded that I should order a taxi from the booth at the airport and the booth will issue me a ticket stating the company and taxi number. While using the booth, I had to choose which taxi company from the various rates offered. The cheapest one kept timing out and resulted in a long queue at the booths. It took me 30 mins to get a cab and after choosing a slightly more expensive company.

The ride was fine and when I reached the hotel, I was quoted a fare 3 times than my research prepared me for. And so, I asked him again for the fare several times and he insisted on the high amount.

It was late and there was no staff at the entrance of the hotel so I paid up and entered the hotel.

At the front desk (to the right of the lobby), I asked about the usual fare from the airport and despite the slightly more expensive rate, I definitely paid at least twice as much.

Front Desk

The staff apologized for my bad first impression of Bucharest and Romania and proceeded to call the taxi company to complain about the driver.The ticket printed at the booth supplied the information needed and I was told Bucharest is trying to improve her image and reduce such taxi scams. Unfortunately, I still ended up a victim.

Granted it was a small amount equivalent to 20 Euros, the feeling of being cheated still didn’t feel very good.

Thankfully, it was all great from this point!My platinum elite status granted me breakfast as my elite gift, and lounge access, as well as a complimentary upgrade to a suite.

Brightly lit corridors

 

Living Room of Suite

 

Toilet

 

Bathroom

 

The comfortable bed

 

Standard Sheraton Toiletries

 

Complimentary Drinking Water

 

Complimentary Fruit

Bucharest is indeed a rather affordable city, looking at the prices of in-room snacks.

Sorry for the unclear picture!

The view of Bucharest from the hotel revealed a somewhat sobering image of decaying buildings amongst new constructions.

 

 

The Executive Lounge was a mid-sized room which didn’t serve breakfast but was good for tea and evening cocktails (read: early dinner).

 

Business Room at the Lounge

 

 

 

 

 

The Japanese restaurant at the hotel is named one of the best in the city and I was glad about seeing sushi at the lounge.

However, I would say the taste and texture is rather different from what I am used to.

 

A small and empty gym exists in the hotel as well.

 

Breakfast was served on the second level and was a good spread, the staff were relatively fast considering the number of people at breakfast daily.

The spread was fair, typical of a Sheraton.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I would say I enjoyed Bucharest for the affordability, but I wouldn’t be back anytime soon.I also wonder what became of the complaint to the taxi company about the taxi scam.Most importantly, this is a reminder that no matter how much research and planning, things can still go wrong.

Happy and Healthy (and safe) travels!

Travel Better for Less