However, I’m all for good sign up promotions and the Krisflyer Ascend has an interesting one going on now.
Receive 15,000 KrisFlyer miles on your first S$6,000 spend and a Samsonite Sigma 76cm Expandable Spinner on your next S$4,000 spend in the first 3 months upon Card approval. Apply and receive approval between 21st July and 30th September 2017 (both dates inclusive) to be eligible.
Let’s ignore the luggage and just focus on the miles offer. Assuming you’ve never held a co-brand AMEX SQ credit card before, you’ll be eligible for a 5,000 mile welcome bonus with your first spend of any amount. Therefore, you’re looking at potentially 20,000 Krisflyer miles with $6,000 of spend within the first 3 months of approval, plus the $337.05 annual fee.
How does that compare to the other sign up bonuses on the market now?
You should remember that sign up bonuses are binary- it’s all or nothing. In other words- you don’t realise the ratio until you hit that spending mark. Fortunately, the sweetest ratio is also the easiest one to get- the AMEX Rewards Card. So I’d definitely recommend people go for that before looking at other options. The offers are of course not mutually exclusive and if you have a banquet/renovation/other big ticket item coming up there’s no reason why you shouldn’t spread it over a few cards.
There’s also an additional offer with the Ascend that gives you 1,500 bonus miles for every approved supplementary card. The good thing is that supplementary cards have a first year fee waiver, and I don’t see anything in the T&C that limits the number of supplementary cards you can apply for (although how many they approve is, of course, up to them). Get cards for your kids, your wife, your parents, your secret other family.
This offer is only applicable to American Express Singapore Airlines Credit Card Members whose new Supplementary Card is applied and approved between 21 July 2017 and 30 September 2017 (both dates inclusive)
Other card benefits
To quickly recap some of the other benefits of the Ascend
Complimentary one night at selected Millennium Hotels around the world (some hotels have minimum stay requirements- read the fine print!) and upgrade to My Millennium Premium membership
Double Krisflyer miles accrual voucher with $15K minimum spend on Singapore Air until 30 June 2018 (capped at 5,000 miles. Don’t ask, bad deal)
Free upgrade to Krisflyer Gold status with $15K minimum spend on Singapore Air within 1 year of approval (much more intriguing offer…has anyone tried the good ol’ tie up $15K in working capital with SQ and get a refundable ticket strategy?)
I understand that second year fee waivers are available but you don’t get any of the renewal gifts (like the hotel voucher). I’m still unconvinced about the value prop of the Ascend as a general spending card, and this bonus certainly doesn’t change my baseline stance. However, the bonus means the Ascend should be a card you consider as part of your sign up bonus strategy.
The credit card landscape in Singapore can be roughly segmented into three tiers.
At the lower end you have the entry-level segment, where the required incomes range between $30-50K per annum. This is where you find your DBS Altitudes, your Citibank Premiermiles and assorted other rewards cards. These may have some basic privileges like a limited number of lounge visits, but otherwise the best frill you can hope for is a solid miles earning proposition.
In the middle, you have the cards for those earning between $120-150K, which usually combine favorable miles earning rates with enhanced benefits like unlimited lounge access and complimentary airport transfer, as well as concierge access. Think OCBC Voyage, Citibank Prestige and HSBC Visa Infinite.
Then, you have the elite segment where required incomes are $350K and up or by invitation only. This would include cards like the Citibank Ultima, the DBS Insignia and the UOB Privilege Reserve. These cards are for the creamy de lah creamy of society- think special invites to luxury car launches, watch shows, and black tie regattas where monocled men sip champagne and say things like “I have nothing against ethnic people, I just wouldn’t want my daughter marrying one, is all”.
Today I want to talk about the cards in the middle, which for want of a better term I’ll call “entry level prestige”. These cards require incomes of $120-150K., and I’d put the following six cards in this bracket
OCBC Voyage ($120k p.a)
HSBC Visa Infinite ($120K p.a)
Citibank Prestige ($120K p.a)
SCB Visa Infinite ($150K p.a)
AMEX Platinum Reserve ($150K p.a)
Maybank Visa Infinite ($150K p.a)
*Why have I left out the CIMB Visa Infinite? It has an income requirement of $120K but other than that I don’t think it’s meant to compete for the same audience as the cards above. It has no annual fee, but also limited benefits and it doesn’t earn miles.
On the one hand, these cards don’t have the uberluxe features of the top end tier (don’t expect fancy launch parties like this one). But on the other, they aren’t for just anyone- if you as an individual earn $120K per annum you’d already be earning more than ~51% of all households in Singapore. If you’re in this bracket you no doubt live pretty comfortably, and banks throw in some enhanced benefits because well, you’re worth it.
That said, these cards also come with substantial annual fees which generally cannot be waived. These annual fees aren’t in the crazy $3.2K neighbourhood of the DBS Insignia, but at $500-600 a year they’re high enough that you shouldn’t be rushing off to sign up for every single one.
Here’s a summary of how the six cards stack up (you’ll need to use the scroller to see all 6 because of page width)
(1) $488 for HSBC Premier members (2) Complimentary set lunch for 2 at Labyrinth upon approval till 9 Aug 2017 + 1 free night at choice of 5 Frasers Hospitality properties. Spend $5,000 within 6 months of approval to get 27.8K miles (50K MR points) (3) 1 free night at choice of 5 Frasers Hospitality properties with renewal (4) Additional relationship bonus of 5-30% applied to annual retail card purchases at end of membership year (5) With min $50K spend in previous year, otherwise 1/2 mpd for local and overseas (6) With minimum spend of $2,000 a month, otherwise 1 mpd for local and overseas (7) Offers $100 of Uber credits + 25K miles with payment of annual fee, with 10% Uber rebate capped at $100 per quarter
That’s a lot to take in at once, so let’s go category by category
Same caveats as above apply re: miles earning rates for HSBC VI and SCB VI
Who immediately loses out?
Despite what its publicity materials would have you believe, the AMEX Platinum Reserve (PR) is clearly inferior from a miles earning perspective. 0.7 mpd for local and overseas spend means that there’s no way you could use this as a general spending card. There is the possibility of earning 3.47 mpd at selected Platinum EXTRA partners, but these are mainly high end fashion boutiques and a handful of restaurants. I understand that some people may keep this card on hand for the dining benefits (see last section) and that’s fair enough, but I’d be very hard pressed to justify putting any other sort of general spending on it.
The OCBC Voyage is, for reasons I’ve covered extensively elsewhere, not strictly in the same category as the rest of these cards insofar as it’s basically a cashback card with a call option for miles. The VMs it earns have a value that fluctuates between 1.5-3 cents depending on cabin and route (the value of a VM is calculated by some black box algorithm). Although it’s the only card here that has a dining category bonus, the poor local earning rate means it’s a loser for me.
I’d say the HSBC VI loses out because earning the 1.25/2.25 mpd rates requires you to spend $50K in the preceding year. This means that if you’re just starting out, you earn a pitiful 1 mpd on local spend which simply isn’t good enough. Ditto the Maybank VI, which has a mpd profile similar to that of the DBS Altitude- good, but not something to pay a premium for.
It’s a close fight between the Prestige and the SCB VI. The Prestige has an interesting tiered bonus system that awards you bonus points at the end of your membership year. My understanding is that if you spend $100,000 in a year and have a 5% relationship bonus, you get 5,000 Citi Dollars ($100K spending * 5% bonus). That’s only 2,000 miles, though.
Even if you totally maxed this out with the 30% bonus, you’d be looking at 12,000 bonus miles with $100K of annual spend (which, by the way, is a heck of a lot of money). The incremental mpd, at its highest, is 0.12. Therefore this relationship bonus isn’t a big draw for me.
The SCB VI requires you to spend at least $2K a month before you get 1.4/3 mpd on local/overseas. Let’s be honest, such sums are definitely achievable if you’re earning $150K a year. What’s more, 3 mpd is an excellent overseas spending rate. If you’re the sort who can use your personal card for business expenses, you could really rake in the points when you travel overseas.
Winner: SCB VI. If you’re making $150K a year, putting $2K a month on a single card shouldn’t be too much of an ask
Of course, it’s not fair to look at it purely from a CPM view because of the additional benefits each card has. But it’s a good place to start. All things equal, the Citibank Prestige needs to make up for its higher CPM through other benefits. And even if I believed the SCB VI had no real benefits, I could still justify paying the annual fee (at least for the first year) by viewing it as a pure miles purchasing exercise.
I know there’s a limited time complimentary set lunch for 2 at Labyrinth for approved cardmembers, and perhaps some people like that, but it’s not a convincing welcome gift for me either. I’m also vaguely aware that the AMEX PR gives you some discounted staycation vouchers upon approval, but again this isn’t something I’d value enough for the annual fee. If there are other AMEX PR welcome/renewal gifts that aren’t publicly listed, please let me know.
Despite its hefty annual fee, the Maybank VI does not have any welcome miles nor renewal gift. However, it is the only card in this set that waives the first year annual fee. I’m thinking of applying for it just before a trip and plonking down the minimum spend just so I can review the (by all accounts very underwhelming) Jetquay private terminal in Singapore, enjoy the unlimited Priority Pass and then cancel it for the next year. An unlimited Priority Pass would normally cost US$399, so that might actually be the best welcome gift…
In terms of renewal gifts, it was surprisingly slim pickings. The Prestige and Voyage have the same renewal offer as the joining one, but these still represent buying miles at a slight premium to what they’re worth. The others do not have an (at least official) retention gift. This makes me wonder if acquisition is a more important metric than retention when product managers are evaluated.
Winner: SCB VI would win in the first year, but after that it could be difficult to justify renewing any of these 6 cards unless you really valued the benefits. Honorable mention to the Maybank VI for no first year fee.
All the cards have travel insurance, although working out the difference in coverage limits is an exercise I’ll leave for those of you with more time. They do differ on airport transfer, lounge access and other travel perks, as I’ll elaborate below.
The easiest limo service to qualify for is without a doubt the Prestige’s. You get one entire quarter to spend $1.5K (vs having to spend $2-3K in a month with the rest) in foreign currency. Once that’s been met, you can use the benefit up to four times in a quarter (i.e. no need to spend $3K to get 2, $4.5K to get 3 etc). Note that the spending need not be physically overseas- so long as it’s foreign currency it’s good.
I also value the ability to use the limo service for both drop offs and pickups. As I explained in my article on credit card limo service, pickups are more expensive for service providers because there is an unknown amount of waiting time.
Winner: Citibank Prestige. Lowest spend requirement, plus the ability to unlock up to 4 trips with just $1,500 of spend
Citibank is the clear king of this category, with unlimited visits for both yourself and a guest. HSBC doesn’t give you a priority pass with unlimited guesting, but your supplementary cardholder can get an unlimited use Priority Pass of their own.
SCB’s offering is a letdown, because six visits is just stingy compared to what the Prestige , HSBC VI and Maybank VI are offering (have I mentioned that the Maybank VI has the first year free?)
I am, however, unsure whether I’d rather have 6 visits to over 1,000 lounges or unlimited visits to 70 (OCBC Voyage). OCBC, you see, doesn’t give a Priority Pass. Instead it has a tie up with Plaza Premium lounges. The Plaza Premium network is reasonably large, with many major cities covered (no US presence though), but it’s definitely not in the same league as a Priority Pass.
EDIT: It has since been clarified to me that complimentary access to Centurion Lounges is only for Platinum Cardholders, i.e the invite only tier in Singapore. If you hold an AMEX PR card you can access but must pay a US$50 fee
There’s an upcoming Centurion Lounge in HKG, but even so the coverage isn’t anywhere near that of Priority Pass (although the quality would be much better)
Winner: Citibank Prestige. All the lounge visits you could possibly want. Plus, you can do this.
Other Travel Perks
There are two other perks I want to touch on briefly. The first is JetQuay. Remember JetQuay? For a long while it seemed to be the must-have amenity on credit cards. I remember even the OCBC Titanium was offering it as a perk. And then the hype slowly died down, probably in no small part due to the fact that Changi Airport is so good and JetQuay so underwhelming (at least they have updated the F&B offerings, but once upon a time the only F&B they had was instant noodles. In a private terminal)
Both the Prestige and the Maybank VI provide JetQuay access. The Maybank VI requires a minimum spend of $3K. The Prestige has no minimum spend, but it’s worth noting that this access is a benefit provided by Mastercard World and World Elite rather than Citibank itself.
The Citibank Prestige has another great benefit called fourth night free. Basically, if you book three nights through the Citibank concierge, you get your fourth night free via a refund. The concierge will be able to book for you any publicly available rate (so don’t worry about getting ripped off), and your bookings will be eligible for elite credit and points. What’s better is that this refund is credited on the back end. If, for example, you stay for 4 nights at $100 each, you’re first billed $400 then get a $100 refund later on your statement. However, you earn hotel points and elite credit based on 5 nights and $500 of spend.
If you’re travelling on business, it also means that you could pocket the difference based on what you’re reimbursed versus what you’re charged (is that theft? another discussion for another day…). This system is apparently going to change soon with online bookings being introduced, but you can still opt for the old method…for now.
Winner: Citibank Prestige
Club Access, Dining and Other Perks
This is where the AMEX PR really shines. It’s got a solid suite of dining privileges with the FAR Card and its LoveDining privileges. This gives you anywhere between 15-50% off dining at hotels like the Fairmont, Swissotel and Conrad, as well as a wide selection of restaurants. If you dine out a lot at hotels, you could conceivably earn back your annual fee just on these discounts. Of course, if you’re the sort who can afford to eat that much at hotels, you might not really care about the annual fee.
The AMEX PR is also the only card in this set that has private club access via its partnership with the Tower Club. However, the T&C states that this is limited to the first 5 AMEX PR members daily. Can’t let just anyone in, y’know.
Although the club has fitness facilities, they’re off limits to you as an AMEX PR cardholder. You’ll have access to the F&B options, but do note that you’ll be charged a surcharge of 10% on all F&B incurred at the Tower Club because you’re one of the unwashed masses.
There’s a whole Platinum Golf program if you’re into that sort of thing, but the other feature I find more useful as a business traveler is the partnership with Boingo. This gets you
One complimentary membership
Access to 1 million hotspots worldwide
Unlimited Wi-Fi access at global hotspots
Access on up to four devices
No Wi-Fi roaming fees
A glance at the coverage map shows you that this benefit is more useful in some countries than others, but it’s a nice perk to have nonetheless.
It was surprising that despite their premium positioning, none of the other cards had any other perks worth writing about. I’m sure there may be some unpublished ones, maybe the occasional invite to a snazzy society event or two, but otherwise there was nothing.
Winner: AMEX PR, hands down
When I think consider all the categories, it’s a very close fight between the SCB VI and Citibank Prestige, but for me the Prestige wins.
It’s true that the SCB has a better miles earning rate (assuming you hit the $2K minimum) and if you’re able to put a lot of overseas spending on the card you can really rake in the miles. However, the Prestige has a more generous lounge access and limo policy, plus Jetquay access and the 4th night free benefit. The SCB VI has a superior first year gift but loses out on the lack of a compelling renewal gift. Citibank’s renewal gift, while not the cheapest way of buying miles, is at least equal to what they give you in the first year.
It is a shame that the Prestige does not come with any club access or unique dining program ala what AMEX has, but there’s no way I’d take a 0.7 mpd earning rate in exchange for that.
Hopefully this article has been useful for those of you blessed enough to be in such a conundrum. I’m personally do not own any of these cards (have been leaning towards getting a Prestige though) because I’m quite happy with my current card strategy. You definitely don’t need any of these to “win” the miles game, but if it works for you, why not?
Legend has it that once upon a time, there was a bank called UOB. Long before UOB fell under the dark spell of inflated marketing, it issued an enchanted pair of cards called the “Preferred Platinum” series.
Now, like every enchanted pairing, there was a magical twin and a non-magical twin. The Mastercard was not magical. To the contrary, it was the Magikarp of credit cards, spending its days running around the house shouting “wingardium leviosa!” at the top of its voice and making coworkers uncomfortable with jokes about its “magic wand”.
The AMEX, on the other hand, was indeed magical. It gave the wielder a 10X bonus on miles earned for dining, both in the homestead and worlds beyond. Yes, it was part of the AMEX race and therefore shunned by many (less enlightened) merchants. But for those who knew how to harness its powers, it became a formidable tool indeed.
And although there was, for a period of time, a challenge to its title as the most powerful dining card in the realm from the HSBC Advance, said card was eventually lured over by the dark armies of cashback. This left the UOB PP Amex as the undisputed ruler of the dining cards, one card to rule them all.
And you can’t have it, because it’s no longer issued.
Or can you?
Well, that’s the question everyone’s asking, because although the vast majority of people are still getting computer says no responses from UOB, there are drips and drabs of successful PPA applications.
I’ve published three articles on the UOB PPA to date, which have attracted almost 300 comments in total from readers
So here’s my compilation of sightings of the UOB PPA, the ultimate rare pokemon, based on readers’ accounts over the past 18 months.
A History of Bigfoot Sightings UOB PP AMEX Sightings
October 2015 A user on HWZ reports that the UOB PPA has disappeared from UOB’s website.
Unfortunately, Wayback Machine coverage of the UOB credit card subpage is patchy, so I can’t verify exactly when UOB took down the card. But subsequent calls by forum members to UOB customer service suggest the card is in the process of being “demarketed”.
December 2015 Thanks to a tip off from an anonymous reader, I post an article on how you can still apply for a UOB PPA, provided you’re an existing UOB card member. Apparently, UOB has an automated SMS system that allows existing cardholders to add on additional cards without the need for further verification. All you have to do is the following-
If you are an existing UOB card member perhaps you can try this to apply for the UOB Preferred Platinum cards. I applied using SMS on 10 Oct which was after they removed the application links from their website but still got the card sent to me about 1.5 months later.
SMS spacespace to 77862
For example: SMS Yespp 7890 S1234567H to 77862.
January 2016- December 2016 Numerous people report successfully applying for the card through the SMS method, with photographic proof (note the valid thru date- cards are issued with 5 year validity, so an expiry date of 01/21 implies a 01/16 issuance)
I’ve gone to tally up the comments of people reporting successful applications by month, only counting people who reported receiving the physical card (others have received approval messages via SMS but the cards never came). Here’s how it looks-
(note: there’s no way of verifying if all these accounts are true, but I’d like to believe that Milelion readers are people of impeccable character and personal hygiene)
Jan 2016: 3
Feb 2016: 8
Mar 2016: 6
Apr 2016: 12
May 2016: 1
June 2016: 8
July 2016: 4
Aug 2016: 4
Sept 2016: 0
Oct 2016: 0
Nov 2016: 0
Dec 2016: 3
You’ll note that the earliest applicants had the most success. April in particular was a bumper crop, with 12 people reporting successful applications.
And then it goes kind of quiet post August. From Sept- Dec 2016 we get a grand total of 3 successful applications, all in December.
Of course this is far from scientific- there’s a whole lot of self selection bias here. Also note that there were many others who were unsuccessful during this period (but thankfully reported it too so we’d have that data point), getting a range of excuses from CSOs about the card being demarketed and unavailable.
January 2017- April 2017 So continued the dry patch with denials, denials, denials. People who try the SMS method got met with a wave of rejections, from CSOs calls to a poor soul who applied for the UOB PPA and got a UOB YOLO card in the mail. Talk about a cruel joke.
In addition to the SMS method, another possible application method by mail surfaces thanks to posters BIN, Alvin and Tim. There are two different forms out there, to my knowledge. Try this…
May 2017- June 2017
Breakthrough. 3 successful applications reported, again corroborated with photographic evidence. (note the 05/22 expiry date, evidencing a 05/17 approval)
What’s going on?
I have a theory.
I believe that when UOB demarketed the card in late 2015, the change was mostly cosmetic, in that they took the card off their front end webpage but didn’t update anything on the back end.
Now, a big bank like UOB handles thousands if not tens of thousands of credit card applications in a month. It’s not practicable for each of them to be manually approved. So UOB probably has an automated card printing press that kicks into action once the system approves a new application (based on credit risk, income requirements etc). The cards are embossed, the account is opened on iBanking, the CBS warnings/ promotional vouchers are added to the envelope and the package is dispatched, with little to no human intervention.
Therefore, although CSOs were trained to say the card had been demarketed, the system was still set up to produce such cards upon approval. It doesn’t explain why some people who applied in early 2016 didn’t get the card, but it does explain how some people could still get the card despite it being “demarketed”.
The other thing that intrigues me? Look at the most recent version of the UOB PP Mastercard. Yes, it’s still useless, but the design tells us something.
That there is Mastercard’s new logo.
Now hear me out. The way I understand it, card production has two components. There is the “raw” cardstock, which doesn’t have names, card numbers or expiry dates embossed. They have the base design (the card artwork + the Mastercard logo) and maybe a blank chip there, but nothing else. The cardstock sits around waiting until it’s needed. When a card is approved, the embossing happens, the chip is activated and the card is sent out.
Which means at some point in the recent past, UOB must have updated the cardstock’s design to incorporate the new Mastercard graphic. I’m guessing this didn’t take a lot of time, because in all likelihood there’s a placeholder for the Mastercard graphic on all cards, and it was a simple matter of replacing the old object with the new one.
But then they also bothered to do a print run of the new PP Mastercard cardstock, which implies in a warehouse somewhere there’s a pile of these babies waiting to be embossed. Now why would they do that for a card that’s supposedly demarketed? Card replacements, possibly, but this may also lend some hope that UOB hasn’t decided to kill the account entirely.
How do I get one?
And that begs the question, how do I get one?
Unfortunately, there seems to be absolutely no rhyme or reason why some people’s applications are successful and others aren’t. The UOB PP Amex was always a $30K income requirement card, so income can’t be a factor for why some people get it and others don’t.
Could it simply be a matter of persistence? Three accounts from successful applicants suggest so.
Account 1 from Anonymous:
15Nov – applied for card via SMS
20Nov – received call saying discontinued, but continued to push them citing other people who have received the card recently, CSO agreed to apply for me.
8Dec – received card in mailbox
still works! goodluck guys!
Account 2 from Martin:
I applied for this card mid of April 17 via SMS and shortly after via mail again. Called up 3 CSOs after, all saying the system doesn’t allow an application any more. Nothing they can do. Today I saw the card (with number) showing up in the ibanking. But can only be certain once the card is in the Mail.
Cards have arrived today, 03/05/17. Still works.
Account 3 from Chelsea:
I sent 12 SMS and 2 paper applications…UOB really makes you work for this card
These accounts seem to suggest that those who eventually got the card had to jump through a lot of hoops to get it. I certainly don’t think you should badger the poor CSOs for something they’re trained to reject, but I imagine SMS channels don’t mind being harassed.
To those who are still waiting- given the point we’re at, no one should apply for the UOB PPA and expect to be approved. We’re far past that point already. You can only hope against hope that one day you’ll log into your iBanking and see that glorious account opened.
To the banks- there’s a giant sized hole now in the credit card market for a good dining card. Come on, bring back a 4 mpd card. You can put a minimum spend. You can put a cap on bonus points. But just give us something, anything!