Tag Archives: banks

The Krisflyer UOB account has a sign up promotion, but is it worth your time?

The Krisflyer UOB account needs no further introduction for frequent readers of the site (but for those of you who are new here, take a walk down memory lane…).

The account hasn’t changed since it launched- it still offers 0 interest, it still requires you to park a ridiculous amount of money to earn anything more than 1.4 mpd (which you could just as easily earn with a regular miles card), it still caps the bonus miles you earn at a ridiculously low threshold and it’s still shelling out for influencer Instagram ads (which at least are properly tagged with #ad now, with the exception of a certain ferrous female…)

What’s new is that UOB is currently running a sign up offer of 5,000 miles with $500 of spend on the Krisflyer UOB debit card.  You need to open an account and maintain a minimum monthly average balance of $5,000.

Now, don’t get too excited- this is a UOB-style sign up promotion so as you might expect there’s all sorts of caveats. Here are the main conditions (T&C here):

Note that although you have until 31 August to sign up for an account, you need to be among the first 5,000 people to register for the promotion via SMS. The T&C suggest this promotion has been live since 8 August. How many people have registered so far? How many have hit the $500 requirement already? Who knows!

The terms state that if you’re among the first 5,000 to register, keep $5,000 MAB in your account and spend $500 on the debit card by 30 Sept, you get

  • 1,000 miles within 3 months of spending the $500
  • 4,000 miles within 3 months of 30 Sept

But there’s more. Reading the fine print reveals this additional term-

If you close your account within 9 months from the time of opening, UOB reserves the right to claw back the 5,000 miles. There’s nothing stopping you from withdrawing your $5,000 after 30 Sept, but remember that you’ll incur a $2 fall below fee if your MAB is below $1,000 and a $30 fee if you close the account within 6 months.

I value miles at 2 cents each so 5,000 miles is about $100 of value. Is that a decent return for tying up $5,000 for a month and a half (and $1,000 for 7.5 more months, assuming you don’t want to incur $18 worth of fall below fees)? Depends what your alternative is. If that money would have sat in a savings account then you’re not losing much, but that money could obviously be put to much more fruitful purposes. For the record, I’m not a fan of the 3 month timeline given in the T&C either- it seems like a long time for your miles to credit given that one of the professed perks of the account is “faster miles crediting through direct deposit”.

The main problem I have with the promotions that UOB runs is uncertainty. The way they’ve structured this (and other sign up promotions like those for the UOB PRVI Miles card) is that you have no way of knowing ex-ante whether or not the promotion has been exhausted. You have to apply for the account, spend the $500 and pray that you’re still within the first 5,000. If not, the only way you’ll know is when nothing happens. The information asymmetry is not customer-friendly. I understand UOB’s want to cap the liability incurred with each promotion, but surely there’s got to be a better way of doing it than making customers guess in the dark.

Personally I can think of much better and faster ways of earning 5,000 miles, so this one is a pass for me. But if you really need the miles and are willing to bear both the risk (of missing out on the first 5,000 registrations)  and the wait (3 months for miles crediting, 9 months for account closure), well…

What you should and shouldn’t be doing with your Citibank ThankYou points

Citibank recently relaunched their rewards points program in Singapore to bring it in line with the rest of the world.

The revised rewards program is called ThankYou and features one of the largest rewards catalogs of any Singapore bank.

My biggest gripe with Citibank is that their system doesn’t pool your card rewards points by default. This means that if you have a Citibank Rewards Visa, a Citibank Rewards Mastercard and a Citibank Premiermiles card, you’ll end up having 3 separate points balances, as I do.

3 separate points balances means 3 separate conversion fees when you want to transfer your points to miles. I know some people say you can call in and ask the CSO to pool your points before transferring, thereby paying only one conversion fee. However

  • You can only pool together Thank You points. Premiermiles cannot be grouped together with Thank You points when making a redemption. In other words, you can pool Citibank Rewards Visa and Citibank Prestige, for example, but you couldn’t pool Citibank Prestige and Citibank Premiermiles
  • I’ve heard mixed reports of success in getting the CSO to agree to the pooling, so YMMV

I don’t think it’s technically very difficult to get the system to pool points into one balance (or, in the case of the Citibank Premiermiles card, changing the earning structure so the Premiermiles earns Thank You points, in the same way that all DBS cards (Altitude included) earn DBS points). Therefore the fact that the system is designed this way suggest a deliberate choice, which is very customer-unfriendly.

If you can live with that, Citibank offers you many, many options to spend your ThankYou points. You could redeem your points for

  • Merchandise (like electronics, bags, home appliances)
  • Vouchers and cash
  • Travel (flights, hotels, car rentals)
  • Airline and hotel points
  • Instant rewards

Of course, just because you can doesn’t mean you should. It all boils down to what value you’re getting per point. The topic came to mind because a Citibank advert popped up in my Facebook feed advertising a special promotion for redeeming Citi ThankYou Rewards points. From now till 31 March 2017, you can use your Citibank points to redeem hotels or airline stays for 8% less.

I realise this has the potential to confuse people. It doesn’t mean you get a bonus when you transfer your Citibank points to Krisflyer, Asiamiles et al. It means you get 8% off when you use your Thank You points as currency for buying revenue tickets

Still confused? Read on.

What baseline value should you expect for your points?

A good starting point when we analyze the various redemption options that Citibank has on its ThankYou portal is to think about what value we’d get if we ignored all that noise and just redeemed our points for miles.

Citibank has the longest list of airline transfer partners of any bank in Singapore. Your points transfer at the rate of 5 points= 2 miles for

  • Singapore Airlines
  • Qatar
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • Thai Airways
  • Qantas
  • Cathay
  • British Airways
  • Delta
  • Etihad
  • Air France/KLM
  • Garuda (hahahahahahahahaah)

Obviously, 1 Krisflyer mile <> 1 Delta Mile <> 1 Etihad Mile. So our valuation here will depend on what we convert our Citibank points to.  Here I’m going to defer to Lucky’s valuation of miles and points. He doesn’t list all of the airlines that Citibank transfers to, but based on his chart Krisflyer miles are the highest value transfer option at 1.5 US cents (2.16 Singapore cents) per mile.

My thought process on how to value miles has evolved a lot over the past year- I definitely don’t think that Krisflyer miles are worth 4-5 cents anymore (and there’s a good slide on the presentation I made in December on why theoretical value <> actual value). My current valuation hovers between 2 and 3 cents.  But anyway, if we take 2.16 cents as the “right” value, then 1 TY point= 0.4 miles = 0.86 cents

This is the value we should mentally anchor ourselves to when analysing the different options

[Note: for the purposes of this article, I’m going to be referring to Citibank’s pricing in terms of Thank You points. If you have a Premiermiles card, you will still see exactly the same portal and redemption options, but your pricing will appear in terms of Premermiles points instead of Thank You points. My calculations tells me that Citibank reliably uses the valuation of 1 Premiermile= 2.7 Thank You points]

Travel (0.42 cents per point)

This category confuses a lot of newbies because they confuse it with points transfer. It doesn’t help that Citibank puts Points Transfer as an option under travel either.

But redeeming your points for travel is not the same as redeeming your points for points transfers. What is going on is that Citibank partners with a 3rd party agency called Connexion Loyalty, which works pretty much like any other OTA (online travel agent- think Hotels.com, Expedia etc). Connexion Loyalty has a search engine that lets you look for flights, hotels or car rentals, in the same way you would using any traditional online booking engine.

The difference is that Connexion Loyalty takes those revenue prices and converts them into the bank’s proprietary currency (in this case Thank You points) based on some internal valuation metric. I’ve found that metric to be 0.42 cents per point.

You can use the booking engine to book air tickets, for example. I’ve checked the prices that the Connexion portal pulls and they’re at least on par with those I find on Kayak. That’s good, because it’d be a double whammy if they gave you a lower value on your points + charged you higher prices (ahem Krisshop’s pay with miles option ahem). But the valuation of 0.42 cents is only half of what you’d get if you converted your miles to a frequent flyer program. You could argue that when you redeem your miles with Citibank, you’re at least guaranteeing availability (because your points are used to buy revenue tickets), whereas if you transferred your points to an airline FFP you might not be able to find award space. That’s fair enough, but in my mind it certainly doesn’t warrant taking a 50% haircut on value.

You can book hotel rooms through the ThankYou portal as well, getting the same value as you would for flights. I didn’t check these values against what you’d find on 3rd party OTAs, so if you’re even considering this you owe it to yourself to find out if the same rooms are available elsewhere cheaper (or if any OTAs are running special credit card tip up promotions)

Remember that 8% discount I was talking about at the start of the article? Citibank is offering 8% off the number of miles needed to book hotels or flights through its ThankYou portal for the first 1,800 customers who enter the code SGAIR8 or HOTELS at checkout. That boosts your value per point to a whopping 0.45 cents. You’ll excuse me for not jumping on this.

You aren’t limited to just flights and hotels, of course. You could even buy tickets to activities to do at your destination. If spending 2,540 points on a 7D motion ride at Suntec City mall floats your boat, more power to you. Excuse me for finding this just a little bit cynical as I imagine Connexion earns some sort of commission on these sales while still charging you the regular walk up rates you’d pay at these attractions anyway. You’d be much better off buying the tickets yourself.

Vouchers and Cash (0.28-0.34 cents)

Your Citibank points can be used to redeem a cash rebate on your credit card statement in denominations of

  • S$10 rebate-  3,600 points
  • S$20 rebate- 7,200 points
  • S$50 rebate- 18,000 points

There’s no scaling effect here. Your points are valued at 0.28 cents each no matter which denomination you choose. Why is this value even lower than travel? It’s probably due to the fact that Citibank wants to incentivize people to book travel through its portal. After all, when you book through them they earn some commission from the hotels and airlines. Getting a cash rebate, on the other hand, is a straight out of pocket cost for Citibank. So of course they’ll give you less value per point.

You can also redeem your points for a range of gift vouchers at 26 different merchants from Yoshinoya to entire malls like Wisma and United Square. The average value you get is 0.34 cents per point.

If you’re in a charitable mood you can make a S$10 donation to selected charities for 2,890 points, or 0.35 cents per point. Maybe the value’s a bit higher here because Citibank gets to write off your donation as a tax benefit on its own books? Either way, if you want to give to charity, there are much better ways of doing so.

Merchandise (0.2-0.4 cents per point)

This is one of the trickiest categories to cover because the retail price of goods can differ dramatically depending on where you buy them from. In the example below, it’s easy to value the $50 North Face and $50 Ping Golf voucher, but what about the A360 Fitness Tracker?

If you buy the fitness tracker in Singapore, it will cost you S$299.

But you could get it on Amazon for US$145/S$208 (assuming you can get someone to mule it home for you…try Airfrov?)

I guess what I’m trying to say is it’s very hard for me to compute an exact value for how much you get when you redeem ThankYou points for merchandise (protip: don’t do it), because it depends what sort of retail options are open to you. Based on a completely unscientific sample of 10 data points I’ve got a value that ranges between 0.2 and 0.4 cents per point.

Keep in mind that not all merchandise options come with free shipping- several of them ship from overseas and Citibank expects you to cover the postage too, adding to the total cost. But hey, at lesat Citibank lets you pay for international shipping with your points too!

Instant Rewards (0.28 cents)

Citibank has the option of instant rewards at selected merchants, which are conceptually similar to cash rebates, with valuations to match. I don’t really understand why Citibank needs to offer these options given that it’s the same thing as using your Thank You points for a statement cash rebate at the end of the month.

  • S$10 voucher- 3,600 points
  • S$20 voucher- 7,200 points
  • S$50 voucher- 18,000 points

Seems like a repetition if you ask me. You basically go to the customer service counter and redeem an award with your points the same way you’d apply for a cash rebate on the Citibank ThankYou portal. I don’t get it.

Conclusion- so much choice, so little value

The ThankYou portal has so many different reward choices, but taking any option other than transferring your points to miles will yield inferior value. I supposed you could have saved a lot of time reading this article if you just remember the mantra that

Credit card rewards points should always be redeemed for airline miles

None of the alternate options even comes close to yielding 0.86 cents per point.

So do yourself a favor. If you want to buy a toaster, go to an appliance store. If you want to donate to charity, do so directly. If you want to buy attraction tickets, check the attraction’s own website and see if they offer direct purchase discounts. If you want to book a car, fiddle around with discount codes and get yourself the best rate. There’s no reason why you should be spending your hard earned points on any of Citibank’s inferior redemption options.

Standard Chartered wants to give you $188 for free

Thanks to Ms Solitaire who tipped me off about this on 2nd August, and apologies that I could only cover it 2 weeks later. 


Although this does not fall within the realm of credit card deals (ok well it sort of does), it’s free money and I’m not above taking it.

Standard Chartered is running a promotion for their Bonus$aver account. From now till the end of August, if you

(1) Open a Bonus$aver current/chequing account with S$50,000 in fresh funds
(2) Apply for a Bonus$aver World Mastercard
(3) Keep said S$50,000 in funds in the Bonus$aver account until the end of the calendar month after the month you opened your Bonus$aver Account

You get S$188 cashback in your Bonus$aver World Mastercard (there’s also an option to deposit S$10,000 in fresh funds to get S$88 cashback).

Bonus$aver must be SCB’s answer to the OCBC 360 account. They’ve got a tiered earning system where you can earn up to 3.88% p.a interest on your first S$100,000 of deposits with them, contingent on you carrying out a certain set of activities. This is not my area of specialty and I’m not familiar with what else is on the market so I’d encourage you to do your own research, but 3.88% sounds pretty sweet.

Here’s the breakdown of the bonus interest

  • Earn up to 1.78% p.a. for spending at least S$2,000 in eligible transactions on your Bonus$aver Credit or Debit Card, or earn up to 0.78% p.a. for spending at least S$500 in eligible transactions on your Bonus$aver Credit or Debit Card and/or
  • Earn 1% p.a. for crediting your salary of at least S$3,000 through your employer via giro and/or
  • Earn 0.75% p.a. for 12 months when you purchase a new eligible unit trust investment or regular premium insurance product from SCB and/or
  • Earn 0.25% p.a. for paying any 3 unique bills online or through GIRO

Unfortunately my salary does not credit as SAL (it’s MEPS for some reason) and I don’t intend to put any spending on the Bonus$aver card, so there goes 2.88% interest already. But I’m still going to jump on this for the S$188 (full T&C here, I can’t find anything that makes me unduly nervous)

Where the credit card is concerned, the only benefit I am aware of for the Bonus$aver World Mastercard is that it’s a World Mastercard and means you’re eligible for the SPG stay 1 night to Gold promotion.

I’m going to assume it’s this rather fetching 2-in-1 card and token, which is a very nifty idea I admit, even though it doesn’t earn you any points at all. Note that the credit card is free for the first 2 years, after which an annual fee of S$214 (!) applies. Well, you know what to do when that day comes…

Merits of the card aside, S$188 is S$188, and gift horse look mouth don’t.

Branch Gifts

If you sign up at a branch instead of online, you may win one of the following gifts. However, this is limited to the first 500 customers who sign up and I imagine they would all have been redeemed already. Doesn’t hurt to try your luck though.

S/N Gift Type Number of Gifts
1 Canon EOS 1200D Kit (EFS18-55 IS II) 20
2 CP910 Selphy Photo Printer 60
3 Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 270
4 American Tourister Paralite SP66 10
5 Customised Blended Tea (3 types of flavours) 40
6 S$28 NETS Flashpay 20
7 $20 NTUC Voucher 80

I’m not sure why they’re incentivizing you to sign up at the branches instead of online given the lower processing costs of an online application; I can only surmise this to be an opportunity to sell you more stuff in person.

TL;DR, this is valid till 31 August, and I’m going down during lunchtime to apply.

EDIT: Adam on the comments pointed out 2 other things worth taking note. If you close the account within 6 months, you pay S$30, and if your daily average balance falls below S$3,000, you pay S$5 fall below fee.

photo credit: businesstimes

9 things The Milelion wants for Christmas

In the spirit of Christmas, here is the Milelion’s wishlist for all things miles and points related in 2016.

This list is hugely ambitious- and I’m under no impression that any of the things I’ve listed here will happen anytime soon. But hey, we can dream can’t we?

Are my wishes unrealistic? Pipe dreams? Let me know!

Wish 1: For banks to provide an itemized statement of points awarded per transaction

From a technical standpoint, there is no doubt in my mind that Banks can already do this. All it takes is to add an additional column to your already itemized monthly bill. Merchant, transaction amount and points awarded. What could be simpler?

Everything, apparently. Despite numerous requests by consumers, banks are reluctant to divulge the points awarded per transaction. The SOP is that customers have to call in and go through items line by line with the CSO.

From one point of view, this makes no sense- banks try to limit how many enquiries have to go through their CSOs because operating a call centre isn’t cheap. If people could log into their i-banking and get all this info, they’d save quite a bit. But from another point of view ,this makes perfect sense. Lack of transparency only ever benefits the banks. They’re hoping that not enough people have the motivation or time to check their statements line by line.

Why is checking points per transactions essential? Because of bonus categories. Citibank promises that you get 4 miles per $1 spent at shops whose primary line of business is “selling shoes, clothes or bags”. That’s great, but who specifically is that? UOB promises that you get 4 miles per $1 spent on dining, but does that include combination supermarkets and restaurants (eg Jones the Grocer- which doesn’t count btw), does it include gastropubs which are drinking holes first and restaurants second, does it include catering companies?

Which brings me to my next request, which might actually remove the need for Wish 1…

Wish 2: For an app that lets you check MCCs before you buy something

There is no reason why a particular shop’s MCC is privileged information. Why then are we playing what amounts to Russian Roulette with big ticket items? If you read HWZ, there are people frantically trying to confirm things like

  • Will spending at Restaurant X code as hotel spend (which doesn’t earn bonus points) or restaurant (which does)
  • Will buying something at Site Y code as online spend (which earns bonus points) or not?

All this hinges on the MCC.

The idea is that people have a big, likely one time spend they are going to put on their card. They’re debating whether they should risk putting in on their category spend card or play it safe and put it on their general spend card.

Why take a risk? Because of the nature of category spend cards- they’re high risk high reward. UOB Preferred Platinum AMEX gives you 4 miles per $1 on dining, but if your restaurant turns out to not be a restaurant from UOB’s point of view, too bad. 0.4 miles per $1. So if I had a $1,000 banquet spend for CNY, I could potentially get as many as 4,000 miles or as little as 400 miles. Whereas if I use a general spending card (eg UOB PRVI), I’d get 1,400 miles regardless.

How hard is it for Banks to create a portal/app that lets you enter the name of the merchant and see their MCC? Wouldn’t that work to their advantage? Suppose I’m wondering whether my purchases at the Premium Outlets in Johor will count as a bonus category for my Citibank Rewards card. If I don’t know this for sure, I might end up using my UOB PRVI, which represents lost swipe fees for Citibank.

Wish 3: For DBS and UOB to introduce more Airline and Hotel partners

miles

If you’re looking to transfer points from UOB/DBS to mileage programs, you’re pretty much stuck with SQ or CX. Citibank has a few more partners (EVA and Etihad, for example), but by and large if you’re sticking to the local banks you’re stuck with SQ or CX.

I’d love it if UOB and DBS would add on additional partners (EVA, Emirates, Ethiad, Starwood etc) for conversion of points. Adding partners isn’t difficult for Banks. The fact that American Express can partner with a wide range of transfer partners (albeit at shitty conversion rates) means that these guys are open to tie-ups.

How difficult is it, administratively, to offer more options to customers?

Wish 4: For banks to introduce credit cards without foreign transaction fees

This isn’t as outlandish as it sounds. In the US, you can find many credit cards that come without foreign transaction fees (eg Chase Sapphire Preferred, Capital One Venture etc). The only “fee” you pay is via the Bank’s conversion of the foreign currency into your local payment currency.

In Singapore, you get hit twice- once on the conversion of the foreign currency to SGD, then again on the surcharge levied (3-4%). If you buy something in a non-USD currency you actually get hit 3 times! They will first convert the non-USD currency to USD, then to SGD.

There is a huge market opportunity for a Singapore bank to introduce and market a no foreign transaction fee card. Why not take it? You could even scale down the rewards for overseas spending and people would still be happy to take it up. As it is, it is very expensive to buy big-ticket items from overseas (3-4% might not sound like a lot but on a big base it can be painful) using a credit card.

Wish 5: For Singapore Airlines to introduce more tiers within Krisflyer

krisflyerelite

Krisflyer currently has 2 tiers for non-premium cabin travellers. Travel 25K miles per year, and you’re an Elite Silver. Travel 50K miles per year and you’re an Elite Gold.

KF Elite Gold is, well, alright in terms of benefits. You get lounge access, priority baggage, extra baggage, priority boarding.

But what is the incentive to continue flying with SQ after you’re hit the 50K mark and requalified for Gold? As someone who has flown ~100K miles with SQ this year (all in economy, and believe me, I have felt those miles), I wish there’d be some additional recognition for my loyalty (not that I had a choice, but still!)

United Airlines has several tiers for their FFP program. SQ could do something simliar- a further tiered KF Elite program might look like this (if the SQ public affairs department is reading this, feel free to steal my ideas and brand them as your own. Really. Just get it done)

krisflyer revised

Does this take away value from the PPS program? Yes and no- PPS members get renewal gifts, guaranteed reservations in Economy when booking Business and more pull when trying to get the Awards department to open up saver space. But there are some small gestures here that would not go amiss for those of us flying at the back of the plane.

Again, I know this will not happen. The bean counters at SQ would freak at the idea of having to give away anything more. But it’s Christmas!

Wish 6: For online booking to be made possible for Krisflyer partner awards

Look, I know why they don’t do this. All things equal, it is cheaper from SQ’s point of view that you spend your KF miles on SQ tickets than on Star Alliance partners (because of reimbursement issues)

But it seems mean spirited of SQ to go out of their way to make this difficult to do. As if their poor value award chart (with some exceptions) wasn’t a deterrent enough, you have to call up a CSO and take their word for whether availability is there or not (think I’m paranoid? If you believe the interweb, United’s call centre agents are trained to tell people certain partner airline award space is not available when it really is)

If a company with shitty IT like Avianca can at least get an online booking portal working for partner airlines, why can’t SQ?

Wish 7: For all SQ Economy tickets to be upgradable, not just full fare

Hear me out on this- right now SQ’s policy is that only economy tickets purchased in the Flexi category are upgradable to business class (and even then, still subject to a miserly pool of availability)

Why can’t SQ allow those who buy Flexi Saver, Smart Deals or Super Deals tickets to upgrade too? The catch of course is that they’ll have to spend more in terms of miles. I don’t see how that’s a bad thing to SQ- internally they have their own metric that values how much those miles cost to them in terms of a balance sheet liability, so if they simply charged more miles, wouldn’t that leave them indifferent?

It’s like what happens with Etihad- see how the number of miles needed to upgrade scales with the original ticket class you bought-

etihadupgradescale

Is SQ so protective of their premium cabins that you can only upgrade to them if you pay full fare?  Is the type of person who buys a superdeals ticket a bit less savory than someone paying full fare? Come on.

Wish 8: For a proper functioning SQ site that, you know, lets you do useful stuff

And also, world peace!

SQ’s site is a joke, but it’s an old joke that has been told so many times that everyone cringes when it’s told again. It is 2015 and it is still not possible to, via the SQ site

  • Change the date of the return leg of a ticket online after the first leg has been flown
  • Upgrade the return leg of a ticket online after the first leg has been flown
  • Waitlist for an award upgrade via the website (waitlisting is only available for full redemptions, not upgrades)
  • Waitlist for revenue flights which are sold out
2015wtf
yes, this happens in 2015

Other airlines let you do this. Why can’t SQ? What is so unique about SQ’s IT infrastructure that, in 2015, we have to call up their call centre to do these basic things?

Wish 9: For GlobalEntry for Singapore passport holders

globalentry

So for those of you who travel to the States, what you will notice is that there are 2 queues. There is the Global Entry queue which is short, painless and automated (think the same thing as the e-gates we have at Changi Airport). There is the regular queue which is long and you’re subject to an unfriendly (and they are always unfriendly) CBP officer who looks at you with fear and loathing

At one point in time, this was on the books.

From 2011

Singapore and the United States are working on a Trusted Travel plan, whereby eligible citizens can clear immigration and Customs faster using automated kiosks in the near future in both countries.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and US President Barack Obama have instructed their respective officials to “work closely and expeditiously to achieve this goal”, according to a White House press statement last Saturday.

Yet as of today, nothing has happened.  Come on guys, get it done! South Korea, Germany, the Netherlands, and Panama already enjoy Global Entry, why not Singapore?

What are your dreams for 2016?

cover photo by davejohnson