What is your best option for data roaming? (updated)

I’ve previously written about how you can get SIM cards for the USA, the UK and France delivered to you in Singapore so you can have them activated and ready to go by the time your plane touches down at your destination.

But it’s also helpful to be aware of the data roaming offers from our various local telcos so we can see how we can get the best deal. I’ve taken the liberty of looking at Starhub, M1 and Singtel’s offers and here are some of my findings.

Starhub (Prepaid)

Happy Roam

Starhub has what I think is the best data-only solution for anyone who just needs data with their Happy Roam prepaid roaming offer. You don’t need to be an existing Starhub customer to take advantage of this, you just need to buy a prepaid Happy Roam SIM.

This offer is valid in the following countries

Destination Preferred Partners’ Network
Australia Telstra | Vodafone
China China Mobile
Hong Kong Three (3)
Indonesia XL Axiata | Three (3) | Indosat
Japan NTT DoCoMo | KDDI
Malaysia All operators
New Zealand 2Degrees | TNZ
Philippines Smart
South Korea SK Telecom | Olleh KT
Taiwan Far EasTone (FET) | Chunghwa Telecom
Thailand TrueMove | DTAC
United Kingdom Three (3)
United States of America T-Mobile

There are different pricing configurations on offer

Validity Data Cost
3 Days 1GB $5
7 Days 1GB $7
30 Days 1.2GB $10
30 Days 2.4GB $15
30 Days 3.6GB $20

You can buy a $15 or $50 Happy prepaid SIM in Singapore, download the Starhub Happy prepaid app and activate it just before you leave. Note that while you will be able to make calls using this prepaid SIM, they will be at the usual outrageous roaming rates. Therefore if you buy a $50 Happy prepaid sim and activate a 30 Day 3.6GB $20 plan, you’ll have $30 left on your phone for calling. Don’t be surprised if that lasts you all of 5 minutes.

If you just need data, I think this is an amazing deal. It’s difficult to beat S$20 for 3.6GB of data.

Happy Roaming SIMs can be purchased at any Starhub shop, 7-Eleven/Cheers store and at Changi Airport (Travellers’ Counter and UOB Currency Exchange Counters). I’ve been using one on my current RTW trip and don’t have any complaints so far.

Starhub (Postpaid)

DataTravel

If you’re a postpaid customer on Starhub, you can pick from a 2GB or 3GB DataTravel pack that costs $15 and $20 respectively.

What’s interesting to note is that these plans cover 12 different countries, but they’re not the same as the ones covered under HappyRoam. For example, you can get Macau on DataTravel, but not the UK or the US. If you want the UK/US, you’d have to use HappyRoam, or…

DataTravel Unlimited

This is Starhub’s version of Singtel’s unlimited data roaming packages. You pay one flat fee, depending on country, and get unlimited data for a day.

However, Starhub’s plans range from $19-50 per day, versus Singtel with $19-29. To be fair though, there’s only one country at the $50 price point (Vietnam- which Singtel DataRoam Unlimited doesn’t support. Presumably the carrier in Vietnam asks for a very high reimbursement rate)

RoamEasy

If the 12 countries covered under Starhub’s DataTravel don’t match where you’re headed, Starhub has a slightly more expensive option in the form of its RoamEasy packages. These cover 80+ countries, but you’re looking at paying $40/$100 for 400MB/1GB, versus $15/$20 for 2GB/3GB with DataTravel.

M1 (Prepaid)

MCard

Where prepaid is concerned, M1 has recently relaunched its MCard offering with a $15 and $28 option. You get 2GB and 10 minutes of calls that are valid for 10 days, which can be used across either 12 or 17 destinations depending which plan you spring for.

M1 (Postpaid)

DataPassport

M1 has a nifty program for its postpaid customers called DataPassport, which lets you pay a fee to use your local data allowance overseas for a given month. $10 to let me use my monthly local data in the USA? Sounds pretty sweet.

These DataPassports come in a few flavors- if you’re going to a single destination, you can pay $10 or $25 depending where you’re headed

And if you’re headed to multiple destinations you have regional DataPassports too

Daily Unlimited Data Roaming

Alternatively, you can pay $15 for unlimited data roaming per day in Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Macau, Malaysia, Philippines, Saudi, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand and the USA , or $25 for Japan and the UAE.  These rates are significantly cheaper than Singtel’s (see next section)

Singtel (Postpaid)

DataRoam Saver and DataRoam Unlimited

Ah Singtel. The ones who invented this whole campaign around the “Romaphobe”, poking fun at those who go to ridiculous lengths to avoid using data overseas, while forgetting that the reason they do so is because telcos like them charge obscene amounts for data roaming (and it’s OT but let’s remember that Singtel is the upstanding telco that tried to pull a fast one on all its customers back in 2008 by signing them up for their stupid Color Me Tones and saying you need to opt out or you’ll be charged. They got off with a slap on the wrist).

Seriously, just watching the video again makes my blood boil. It’s like the classroom bully making fun of those who detour down the corridor to avoid them.

Anyway.

Singtel’s postpaid customers can take advantage of DataRoam Saver and DataRoam Daily plans. In my opinion these are the worst value of all the telcos.  All the plans are for 1 day and expire at midnight local time. Meaning that if your flight lands close to midnight, say, 1150pm, and you turn on your data roaming you’re going to feel very stupid…

Destination DataRoam Saver (Unlimited) DataRoam Daily (100MB)
USA $29 $10
UK $29 $10
Australia $19 $10
Taiwan $19 $10
Malaysia $19 $10
Japan $25 $10
S Korea $19 $10
Hong Kong $19 $10
Indonesia $19 $10
Thailand $19 $10

Do note that if you’re travelling to China, Indonesia, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand, you can pay $20 to enjoy 1GB data for 30 days. (promotion valid till 31 Dec 16)

If you’re heading to Australia, you can pay $10 to get 1GB of data that lasts you for one month.

And if you’re heading to Malaysia, you can pay $10 for 1GB of data (one month) or $5 for 200MB (one month).

ReadyRoam

Singtel has also recently launched another offering called ReadyRoam. When you sign up for one of these plans, you get 1GB of data to use across 30 days, with 9, 16 or 31 destinations depending on which plan you spring for. This is very useful when you’re travelling to multiple geographies and may even be better than purchasing a local sim card in some cases.

If you finish using your 1GB your plan will automatically renew at the same price as your pre-selected plan, i.e $12/GB for 9 destinations, $20/GB for 16 destinations and $35/GB for 31 destinations respectively.

Local prepaid SIM

The big advantage of getting a local prepaid SIM is that it gives you both data and voice calling. Why do you need voice calling in an age of Skype/Whatsapp? Well, if you’re on a road trip you might end up in a place with only 2G speeds or no data coverage at all. If you’re trying to book a table at a restaurant they may request for a local number. If you’re trying to register with some of the local apps (eg taxi booking) they might request a local number to send a OTP registration code to. If you’re trying to register with a wireless public hotspot some of them only send activation codes to local numbers. As far as Skype/Whatsapp have come, voice calls over the voice network are still much more reliable and better quality.

EDIT: Another important need for a local number- when you need to call your Uber/Grab driver to tell them where to find you

Other Options

People on the comments have highlighted providers like Interfone where you put a sticker on your sim card that allows for cheaper roaming. I’ve not tested any of these, but feel free to provide more ideas in the comments as well.

The EU recently eliminated data roaming charges across Europe, meaning that if you buy a prepaid sim card in France you should be able to use that data all across Europe. I’m hopeful that closer economic integration among ASEAN and other regional blocs will see similar legislation passed soon, so people can post important cat videos wherever they are.

PSA: Make your first Mileslife spend within 30 days to get your 1.5K miles bonus

A few weeks ago I posted about Mileslife, the app that allows you to earn bonus miles when spending at dining and other lifestyle merchants around Singapore.

As part of its launch publicity blitz, Mileslife is offering several miles earning promotions as well as a sign up bonus for new members. Those who sign up using my link get 1,500 miles (instead of the regular 1,000) after their first spend of S$39 at any Mileslife merchant (I also earn a referral bonus).

My understanding used to be that was that there was no time limit for this S$39 spend, but I’ve since learned that this needs to be done within 30 days of signing up. So, for example, everyone who signed up on the launch day of 1 June has until 1 July to make the S$39 spend to earn the 1.5K bonus miles.

If you’ve forgotten the date you signed up on you can check this in the Mileslife app. Just go to Account–> Vouchers. You’ll see at the bottom of the 1,500 miles voucher the expiry date (in this case, 1 July)

photo credit: Louis

It’s not ideal in one sense because it has the unintended consequence of penalizing those who signed up early and haven’t had a chance to use Mileslife yet. On the other hand, the 1.5K sign up bonus is meant to encourage early adoption of the platform and isn’t meant to last forever, so people who sign up later may not be able to get this offer either.

That said, Mileslife will be launching a new promotion this week after the current 3X miles on dining deal ends on the 20th, so there will be some significant incentives to make your first Mileslife spend soon if you haven’t already.

The Milelion’s RTW Trip 2017: Heathrow Express and the Great Northern London 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 London Park Lane
Westin Paris Vendome
Courtyard by Marriott Madrid Princesa
Four Points by Sheraton Barcelona Diagonal
The Consolidated Intra-Europe Business Class Experience
Sheraton Casablanca
The Casablanca Lounge CMN
Royal Air Maroc B737 Business Class CMN-ACC
Labadi Beach Hotel, Accra
Ethiopian Airlines B772 Business Class ACC-ADD
Ethiopian Airlines Cloud 9 Business Class Lounge ADD
Ethiopian Airlines B737 Business Class ADD-DAR
Protea Hotel by Marriott Dar Es Salaam Courtyard
Tanzanite Lounge DAR
Qatar Airways A320 Business Class DAR-DOH
Westin Doha
Qatar Airways Al Safwa First Class Lounge DOH
Qatar Airways A350 “First” Class DOH-DXB
The Grosvenor House Dubai
W Doha
Qatar Airways B772 Business Class DOH-BLR
The Ritz Carlton Bangalore
Cathay Dragon Lounge Bangalore
Cathay Dragon A330 Business Class BLR-HKG
W Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific’s HKG Lounges
Cathay Pacific A350 Business Class HKG-SIN


After exploring the arrivals lounge, my colleague and I took the Heathrow Express for the 15 minute ride into Central London. I know, I know. The Heathrow Express has its share of detractors, and it’s often far from the cheapest option, but those are the perks of business travel.

That said, Heathrow Express tickets can be mighty affordable if you’re willing to commit to dates in advance. Like, way in advance. Here’s how the pricing (in GBP) looks for one-way (OW) trips depending on what day you travel and how far out your book:

  • >90 days: Weekend- 5.50 OW, Weekday- 12.10 OW
  • 30-89 days: Weekend- 8.80 OW, Weekday- 14.30 OW
  • 14-29 days: Weekend- 12.10 OW, Weekday- 16.50 OW
  • Within 14 days: Offpeak- 22 OW, Peak- 25 OW, Return- 37

For comparison’s sake, it’d take GBP 5.70 and about an hour to take the tube from Heathrow into Central London. Of course, taking the tube doesn’t require you to buy a non-refundable ticket 90 days out, and the Heathrow Express drops you at Paddington, which depending on where you’re heading may or may not work for you.

It’s easy to find the Heathrow Express from the arrivals area. Just follow the many, many signs.

You’ll eventually need to head down a lift to the train platform

It can get a bit confusing for first timers because it’s not just the Heathrow Express that departs from this platform- the cheaper, slower Heathrow Connect service does too. But there are many announcements and as long as you can read basic signage you’ll be fine.

The Heathrow Express is also clearly labeled, so as I said, you’d have to be simple or something to get on the wrong train.

photo credit: kwokanathan

My colleague and I both bought standard class tickets, but by virtue of us being Star Alliance Gold members we got a free upgrade to the BusinessFirst cabin. The T&C of this promotion technically say that you need to buy a full fare standard class tickets (i.e not advance fares) to be upgraded, but the fare conductor on both my inbound and outbound legs didn’t care.

BusinessFirst seating is much nicer than the regular cabin, but let’s be honest. It’s a 15 minute ride. You’ll survive being in coach.

Each seat is private and has its own work tray that will just about fit a laptop computer.

Power points are available too, for topping up your devices on the short ride in

There is plenty of luggage storage space throughout the train cabin.

The ride was unmemorable, but perhaps that’s the mark of a good airport transfer. 15 minutes to Paddington, then an Uber to Kings Cross where we had booked ourselves at The Great Northern Hotel, a Starwood Tribute portfolio property. We chose Kings Cross because we had to take a train to Cambridge the next day.

If you pressed me to classify the Great Northern, it would have to fall in some sort of catchall boutique category. It’s not quite business-focused, but its proximity to the train station makes it a good choice for business travelers. It’s not cheap enough to be in the mass market leisure segment, but then again few properties in London are.

The website lists various accolades such as:

Proudly acclaimed in the prestigious Condé Nast Traveller 2014 Hot List, Telegraph’s Top 10 UK Hotels, Tatler’s Top 300 UK Restaurants and presented the Trip Advisor 2015 Certificate of Excellence award.

I wouldn’t put too much trust in Trip Advisor ratings of late, though, because of Trip Advisor’s frankly deceptive attempts to boost their revenue by “enhancing” your search results by the nebulously defined term “relevance”, showing you the hotels that have paid them more to get featured higher in the list as opposed to those which were actually rated highly by guests.

The hotel was a short Uber ride from Paddington station that couldn’t have been more than GBP 10 in total. UberX has been a real boon to London, in that you can finally get affordable private car rides without getting ripped off by Black Cabs.

The hotel lobby is small and narrow, and doesn’t have a lot of waiting room. The idea is to get your check in done quickly and head on out.

Our rooms weren’t ready when we arrived at about 10 in the morning, but that was fine with me. It was Sunday, and I headed out to watch Arsenal’s final game of the season, where we won the coveted 5th place trophy after defeating the overwhelming forces of Everton. We even chose to play most of the game with 10 men because awesomeness.

After the match the players did a lap of the field with a thank you for your support for the season banner.

It was exhilarating. Never before had I seen mediocrity so up close and personal before.

I came back later and got my keys. The hallways to the room are filled with hipster black and white photos.

The room itself  is pretty nice. A bit cramped but definitely a welcome change from your usual Westin/Sheraton decor.

Unfortunately, unlike other boutique hotels the minibar is not complementary.  The minibar prices were…well, minibar prices.

There’s a premium coffee machine in the minibar as well. That’s free, fortunately.

Although it’s an old-ish property I’m glad they made the effort to install USB charging outlets in the room.

As well as a modern A/C controller on the wall. Those old fashioned controllers with knobs and switches and no display bug me to no end.

They even have these cute do not disturb and make up room hangers.

The bathroom had 0 sink space, so minus points for that. It’s really not that difficult to install a separate shelf or at least have a side table to put all your washing up barang barang right?

My favorite feature was the heated towel rack. I scalded my hand touching it but was thankful for the warm towels when I stepped out of the shower on a cold evening.

The shower amenities were Malin + Goetz branded.

Breakfast is served at Plum and Split Milk, the hotel’s restaurant. There’s no buffet, so you order off the menu.

Unfortunately, SPG Elite members need to choose between 500 points and breakfast. Since it was a work trip, I took the points and paid about 17 pounds for the full English breakfast.  I quite enjoyed it, just look at the color of those egg yolks!

On the second day I had something simpler but just as good.

Overall I quite enjoyed the Great Northern. It was a welcome change from the usual cookie cutter Sheratons, and despite the proximity to a major train station they did a heck of a job sound proofing the windows so there was no noise pollution. That said, King’s Cross may not be the most convenient location for you if you’re in London for a vacation, and there are hotels in better located areas at cheaper price points as well.

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