Tag Archives: credit cards

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.

Beware of Citibank’s awful Pay with Points program

At long last, I took the plunge and invested in a proper camera because none of you Philistines can appreciate the flawed beauty of Blackberry camera photos.

Image result for sony alpha a5000
it’s not the photographer, it’s the camera…

This baby is currently on the way from Qoo10 and should reach me just in time for my upcoming Japan trip at the end of the month (JAL 767 J, SQ 77W old F and hopefully much better photos of the Oneworld lounges in T1 coming your way!)

I paid for the camera with my Citibank Rewards card because it earns me 10X points (4 mpd) on online shopping, including Qoo10. A few minutes after I finished the transaction on Qoo10, I got this SMS from Citibank

Clicking the link brought me to this page

Citibank was offering me the chance to burn my 43,709 Thank You points in exchange for S$104.07 off my transaction, based on their valuation shown below

The following merchants are eligible for this program.

Remember that 5 Citibank points= 2 airline miles, so you’re either giving up 168 miles per $1 of value (if you pay with ThankYou points) or 140 miles per $1 of value (if you pay with Citimiles. For whatever reason, only Citibank Premermiles Visa cardholders can participate. AMEX cardholders can’t. No loss for you guys, I assure you).

Recall the value of a mile. I don’t need to tell you that both options are terrible, terrible value. You get 0.60/0.71 cents per mile depending on whether you redeem ThankYou points or Citimiles, and both are valuations you should stay far, far away from. Even if you choose SQ’s much maligned Pay with Miles option you get roughly 1 cent per mile.

The only possible exception I could think is if you have expiring points/miles and are below the threshold needed to transfer them out to an airline loyalty program. You can read the full T&C of the Pay with Points program here (they left track changes on, “lol” as the young people say)

We know that Citibank has been progressively moving towards a revenue-based program for their points, at least on the redemption side. This trend was started with the relaunched Citibank ThankYou portal back in January where they tested out a variety of options (and redemption values). My guess is they’re trying to see what threshold people will accept in Singapore.

I don’t know what the answer is to that, but I do know that it’s much more than what’s on offer with this Pay with Points program. So if you get the SMS, do yourself a favor and ignore it.

DCC should make you mad. But what can be done?

Let’s make one thing straight- DCC is, at best, a worthless service. At worst, it is a scam.

Image result for dynamic currency conversion

DCC, in its purest form, tells you something you could Google or check through a currency app in seconds- how much your foreign transaction costs in your home currency. You’re free to laugh at the rate on offer and reject it.

But in its most insidious, DCC is a cynical way for unscrupulous merchants to earn additional money from customers. This happens when the merchant proactively chooses the DCC option for you, without your consent. And this happens a lot.

If you travel even occasionally and use your card overseas, you will probably have been subject to DCC at some point in time. Even if you don’t use your card at all overseas, you’re still subject to DCC when you use online merchants like AirBnB, which automatically convert foreign transactions into the currency of your credit card.

I had a very frank interview with the Straits Times where I laid out plain what DCC is, why it’s nothing but a money grab by merchants, and what consumers can do to protect themselves. Do I expect DCC to be outlawed because of this? Hardly. But I hope it at least alerts more people so they can take measures to protect themselves from this scam.

“But it’s convenient!”

Believe it or not, DCC marketing materials actually talk about the benefits for merchant customers who use DCC. Never before have I seen such a fine example of doublespeak.

In the Straits Times article I’ve addressed all three points, but to summarize- DCC is often done in an nontransparent method when customers are not given a choice of currency, and with iBanking which lets you view your transactions within days, the immediacy argument doesn’t hold water either.

Here’s a perfect example of how DCC doesn’t have any benefits for the customer, at all. I was at the Ritz Carlton Bangalore and swiped my UOB Visa Signature card, which gives 10X (4 mpd) points on overseas spending.

The terminal popped up with the following options

  • INR 65,926.52
  • SGD 1,530.33

Now, let’s leave aside the fact that INR 65,926.52 was about S$1,420 at spot exchange rates. The DCC option would have meant me paying even more than UOB would have charged me, plus not earning any foreign currency spending bonus. 

You see that UOB ended up charging me S$1,459.35, much less than the DCC-ed rate. It’s almost hilarious that such a scam can possibly exist, until you realise it’s very real, and is costing thousand upon thousands of unsuspecting customers money every day.

At least I was given a clear choice that day when paying the bill. There have been many, many, many other times when no currency choice was given to me, normally by unscrupulous merchants looking to profit from the DCC margins.

Here’s a correspondence I had with Avis a couple of years back after they DCC-ed my car rental charges without giving me a choice

We also apologize for the confusion regarding currency conversions.   If you use a credit or charge that is issued by a financial institution outside of the United States, the full amount of your charges will be converted to the card account’s billing currency by us unless you submit a written request in advance (prior to the pickup date and time) to have the currency conversion performed by your card issuer, or, specify at  the time of pickup (prior to the contract being printed).

Unfortunately, it can not be done after the contract has been printed or at time of returning the vehicle. Our conversion will be based on a  conversion rate published by Reuters and will incorporate a processing  charge no higher than 4% applied to all amounts relating to this transaction. This charge will replace the currency conversion processing charge applied by your card issuer.

Now, such “back office DCC” behavior is clearly against the compliance rules governing DCC. Mastercard even gives it as an example of a common complaint they receive  (check out page 18 here).

But the compliance mechanisms lack bite, and merchants continue to get away with it scot-free (I am happy to know however that there is a class action lawsuit ongoing in the States against companies which do such things (you can read the text of the complaint here))

“DCC Improves Customer Satisfaction (and you’ll earn a lot of money too)

It’s illuminating to read how different payment solutions providers market DCC to merchants. Here’s a sample-

Elavon Marketing Materials
First Data Marketing Materials
Six Payment Services Marketing Materials

What do you notice? Marketing materials emphasize the additional money that merchants can earn by “offering” (because it’s more often than not forced upon the customer) DCC. Any illusions that DCC “improves customer satisfaction”, in the words of the marketing materials, are so out of touch with reality it’s bizzaro.

Read this choice excerpt from the First Data marketing materials-

  • According to trade publication The Nilson Report, “More often than not, cardholders can expect as good or even a slightly better FX [foreign exchange] price from DCC than they get from the existing association method. They will certainly get better disclosure of conversion fees.”

  • Detractors who are indignant (and often misinformed) about the exchange rate margin associated with each DCC transaction overlook the charges consumers pay if they had chosen another payment method. These include: using a hotel or airport currency conversion service, or charging purchases to their foreign card and allowing the card issuer to convert the transaction using an undisclosed and often inflated exchange rate. In addition, the card issuer may charge them a conversion fee long after the transaction has occurred. ATM withdrawals with a foreign-issued card are often subject to similar charges, in addition to the standard non-customer ATM fees. In all of these cases, the total charges and fees may likely exceed the standard DCC margin.

  • Millions of satisfied cardholders have made educated, informed decisions to use DCC because they desire the convenience of dealing in a familiar currency, plus the transparency of knowing the exact billing amount at the time of purchase. The continuing increase in consumer adoption of DCC illustrates the popularity of this service among foreign travelers, in spite of naysayers.

Emphasis mine. Well, I guess I must be an indignant and misinformed detractor, as much this litany of consumer rights advocates, travel hacking experts and many average joes who see red because of DCC.

I wonder how they can write these materials with a straight face, and how many First Data company executives opt for DCC when they go on vacation.

What can I do to protect myself?

DCC is here to stay. That’s a sad but unfortunate fact of life, like malaria or herpes or Nickelback.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t protect yourself. Here are some things you can do to guard yourself against DCC:

(1) Use an AMEX when overseas

This is the most surefire way of protecting yourself from DCC. AMEX does not support DCC on its platform the way Visa and Mastercard do.

Here’s a reminder of the overseas charges each bank levies on foreign currency transactions by card type.

 Visa/MCAMEXRemarks
DBS2.8%3%
UOB2.5%3.25%PRVI MC/Visa- 3.25%
OCBC2.8%N/A
Citibank2.8%3.3%
HSBC2.5%N/A
SCB3.5%N/A
Maybank2.5%N/A2.75% for Visa Diamante, Infinite and World MC
CIMB2.4%N/A1% for CIMB Plat MC and Visa Sig
BOC2.5%N/A
AMEXN/A2.5%

You’ll note that AMEX cards generally have slightly higher foreign transaction fees than Visa/MC, but it’s still much better than getting taken advantage of by the DCC rate.

(2) If you get DCC-ed without consent, deface the charge slip

Assuming the merchant is unwilling (or claims they’re unable) to reverse the transaction and conduct it again in local currency, your best course of option is to deface the merchant’s charge slip by writing “DCC declined and merchant did not provide choice” on it and refusing to sign.

This may seem like a petty thing to do, but it’s important if you’re filing a dispute. During the dispute process, the bank will request for a copy of the original charge slip that you signed from the merchant. If it says very clearly “DCC declined and merchant did not provide choice”, that would play a lot better for you than a meekly signed slip.

As a side point- if the merchant gets angry about this, you always have the right to walk away and not complete the purchase (I guess it’s a bit more complicated if it’s a restaurant and you’ve already consumed the food). A merchant who uses DCC by default is certainly one with questionable ethics, and I certainly wouldn’t want to send my business that way.

(3) If you get DCC-ed without consent in a card-not-present situation, dispute the charge immediately

This also applies to (2)- you should raise a dispute immediately with your bank informing them what happened and saying you’ll be doing a chargeback. You can cite them the relevant chargeback codes from either the Visa or Mastercard chargeback guides

  • Visa- Reason Code 76: Incorrect Currency or Transaction Code. Reason Code 76 is used when the transaction was processed with an incorrect transaction code, or an incorrect currency code, or one of the following:
    • Cardholder was not advised that Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC) would occur
    • Cardholder was refused the choice of paying in the merchant’s local currency
  • Mastercard- Reason Code 4846:
    • The cardholder states that he or she was not given the opportunity to choose the desired currency in which the transactions was completed or did not agree to the currency of the transaction

Different banks have different policies about this, and I’m not even sure there’s consistency within banks. When I called UOB to dispute one such transaction, the CSO told me that this was a merchant customer dispute and they would not get involved, I had to go to the merchant myself to get it sorted out. However, I know that DBS will do an immediate reversal of the transaction pending investigation. Your mileage will definitely vary.

Conclusion- fighting the DCC scam

It would be unfair to say that all banks are complicit in this. I must applaud Maybank and OCBC for taking steps to advise customers to avoid DCC like the plague.

This is from a circular published by Maybank

And this from OCBC

Thanks to KW Chua for pointing me to both articles

But it’s still not enough. We need more consumer education, more empowerment, more transparency.

The Mastercard compliance guide talks a big, noble game (for the record, Mastercard and Visa do not offer DCC, they merely facilitate it on behalf of payment solutions providers) that says all the right things. At the end of the day however, these practices are not being followed. And that’s a problem.

Mastercard Compliance Guide Page 20
Mastercard Compliance Guide Page 21
Mastercard Compliance Guide Page 23- there definitely wasn’t training at Bahrain Immigration where the officer just swiped my Mastercard and picked SGD for me when paying for my visa on arrival!

Until DCC is conducted in a manner more befitting the lofty ideals set out in the implementation guide, regulators should step in to monitor the use of this technology and penalize errant merchants.

On a separate note, I do hope that Singapore credit cards move to a chip and pin system soon. Signatures are hardly effective security methods (when was the last time someone verified your signature, and in any case it’s often a subjective call as to whether signatures do match), but more importantly a chip and pin system requires the merchant to turn control over the transaction to you. This includes selecting the transaction currency, and rejecting the transaction if the merchant chooses the currency for you.