On this site we’ve covered a lot of ways that you can earn miles through your everyday spend. But what if you’re still short and need to buy additional miles? Well, there are illegitimate and legitimate ways of going about that, but since we are all law abiding straight shooting citizens, we shall only discuss the legitimate options here (back alley, 10 minutes, trenchcoat and dark glasses)
When analyzing the new UOB PRVI Pay feature, I went a bit overboard and put together every opportunity I could think of to buy miles in order to see how the PRVI Pay measures up. Here’s what I made-
|Method||Type||Implied Income Req||Cents Per Mile||Annual Limit|
|SCB VI Tax Payment- >$2K p.m||Payment Facility||150000||1.14||Tax bill|
|HSBC VI IRAS Payment- >$50K p.a (1)||Payment Facility||120000||1.2||Tax bill|
|HSBC Premier MC IRAS Payment (2)||Payment Facility||30000||1.25||Tax bill|
|HSBC VI- Premier Customer||Welcome Gift||120000||1.39||35000|
|HSBC VI IRAS Payment- <$50K p.a||Payment Facility||120000||1.5||Tax bill|
|SCB VI Tax Payment- <$2K p.m||Payment Facility||150000||1.6||Tax bill|
|SCB VI||Welcome Gift||150000||1.68||35000|
|HSBC Visa Plat/Revo Tax Payment||Payment Facility||30000||1.75||Tax bill|
|Citibank PM AMEX||Annual Fee||80000||1.78||15000|
|HSBC VI- Regular Customer||Welcome Gift||120000||1.86||35000|
|iPayMy/Cardup with UOB PRVI||Payment Facility||50000||1.86||Unlimited|
|UOB Reserve VI "Pay Anything"||Payment Facility||Invitation||1.9||Unlimited|
|Citibank PM Visa||Annual Fee||50000||1.93||10000|
|DBS Altitude||Annual Fee||30000||1.93||10000|
|OCBC Voyage- Option 3||Annual Fee||120000||2||500000|
|UOB PRVI Pay||Payment Facility||50000||2||Unlimited|
|OCBC Voyage- Option 2||Annual Fee||120000||2.14||150000|
|Citibank Prestige||Annual Fee||120000||2.14||25000|
|iPayMy/Cardup with DBS Altitude/Citibank PM Visa||Payment Facility||30000||2.17||Unlimited|
|DBS Altitude- Tax Payment||Payment Facility||30000||2.5||Tax bill|
|OCBC Voyage- Option 1 (3)||Annual Fee||120000||3.25||15000|
|Buy from Singapore Airlines (4)||Stupid||0||5.51||Unlimited|
(1) The HSBC website says that $1=0.4 miles for tax payment facility, but I have received reports that VI holders have received 1/1.25 mpd as per their relationship bonus
(2) The income requirement to get a HSBC Premier MC is $30,000, but you need $200K in deposits to open a HSBC Premier account
(3) OCBC Voyage Option 1 involves paying $488 to get 15,000 Voyage miles. These can be converted to Krisflyer miles at a 1:1 ratio but are technically more valuable than Krisflyer miles as they can also be used to pay for revenue fares at a fixed value per mile.
(4) SQ charges US$40 per 1,000 miles purchased. Price shown here is reflective of current exchange rates. The only way I could justify paying this is if I needed the miles right this minute, as SQ will credit them instantly
In the PRVI Pay article I decided to focus more on just PRVI Pay, but I think it’s good to have a separate article where we walk through the different options for buying miles and the pros and cons of each.
Things to consider when choosing among miles buying options
Not all the options in the table will be available to everyone. Therefore, just because a cheaper way of buying miles exists doesn’t imply you should rule out everything that costs more.
Which methods do I qualify for?
Basic, almost stupid question, but still important.
Unfortunately, you will need to command a pretty high income if you want to take advantage of some of the better miles buying deals. The cheapest deal now (if we ignore the bigass Citibank promo that, unfortunately, isn’t open to everyone) is 1.14 cpm via the SCB VI tax payment facility. If you spend more than $2K in a month on your SCB VI and put your tax bill on the card, you’ll earn 1.4 mpd for an admin fee of 1.6%. That requires you to earn a minimum of $150K a year though.
In fact, if I look at all the options available, the cheapest price you can access with an entry-level income is 1.75 cpm via the tax payment facility on the HSBC Visa Platinum/Revolution cards (HSBC Premier Mastercard has a $30K income requirement and lets you buy miles @ 1.25 cpm, but you need $200K in deposits with the bank to qualify for a Premier account). And even then the miles you can buy is limited by the amount of your tax bill.
A Cardup/iPayMy combination with UOB PRVI is probably your best bet if you need to buy a large quantum of miles and don’t earn in the 6 digits. Fortunately, UOB PRVI just reduced its income requirement from $80K to $50K so this method has become more accessible. Unfortunately, as I pointed out before, using Cardup/iPayMy requires a bona fide business expense like a tuition fee bill, condo management fee, tax bill etc. You can’t just send money to yourself.
You can send money to yourself via the UOB PRVI Pay feature, though. UOB doesn’t give two craps what you’re getting the money for- drugs, booze, humanitarian reasons. You just tell them how much and where to deposit the money, they bill your card for that amount + the 2% admin fee, you earn 1 mpd and everyone is happy. Assuming you’re ok with paying 2 cpm (see below)
What’s the limit I can buy/ how often can I exercise this option?
Another key question, because annual fees can only be paid once a year. Once I’ve paid the $192.60 on my DBS Altitude and got my 10K miles, I can’t do it again for another year (I could get the Visa and AMEX versions and pay the annual fee twice, of course, if I were so inclined).
You’ll also note that I’ve distinguished between “welcome gift” and “annual fee” in the table above. A welcome gift is a one time opportunity to purchase miles, which is subsequently not available. An annual fee can be paid each year. To my knowledge, HSBC VI does not give you renewal miles when you pay Year 2’s annual fee. SCB VI apparently offers 20,000 miles for paying Year 2’s annual fee, but that works out to 2.94 cpm which is too high for my liking. This should give people doubts about holding the card beyond the first year, unless you really dig the benefits.
Where tax payment facilities eg HSBC/SCB are concerned, I can’t simply go to them and say “hey, my tax bill is $500K, gimme.” I have to submit copies of my tax bill and they’ll give me miles based on that actual amount. No Citibank Rewards/AXS prepaying the gahmen’s working capital balance here (shhhh)
The only truly “unlimited” options (well, they’re limited by your credit limit) are
- Buying at 1.9 cpm via UOB RVI’s Pay anything feature (but you need a huge chunk of income to access the UOB RVI…)
- Buying at 2 cpm via UOB PRVI Pay (but is 2 cpm a good price?)
- Buying at 1.86/2.17 cpm via Cardup/iPaymy and UOB PRVI/DBS Altitude (but requires a bona fide bill)
- Buying at 5.51 cpm via SQ (lube up)
Should I be buying miles?
Maybe we should have started with this question.
Buying miles can certainly be a much cheaper option of getting business and first class flights. Take Singapore to Sydney, for example. Revenue tickets would cost you
- Economy- $852 to $1,592
- Premium Economy- $1,732
If you use miles, on the other hand, you’d pay
- Economy-56,000 miles + $162
- Premium Economy- 90,000 miles + $162
- Business- 116,000 miles + $162
- First- 160,000 miles + $162
So depending on what price you pay for miles, there are potentially some sweet deals to be had. Here’s how buying a ticket compares to buying miles and redeeming, in the example of Sydney.
First and most important observation: this chart shows why it is totally not worth it to redeem miles for economy or premium economy. If you pay 2 cpm and redeem those miles for economy, you’re potentially paying even more than you would have if you bought that ticket outright. You can see that buying miles to redeem on business and first class is so much sweeter, even at the 2 cpm mark.
Second, this chart doesn’t reflect the value of certainty. Award flights may not always be available for immediate confirmation on the dates you need and for the number of seats you need. So, depending on how much you value certainty, you’d need to adjust the miles figures to reflect the cost you incur when you can’t get immediate confirmation. Waitlisting is, shall we say, not fun.
Third, you need to account for the value of miles you’d earn had you bought revenue tickets. This effectively acts as a rebate on the revenue ticket price, and will reduce it ever so slightly.
But, assuming you find yourself in a situation where instantly-confirmable award space is available, it absolutely makes sense to go the buying miles route. You’ll need to factor in the time lag between the time you buy the miles and booking the ticket though, during which the space may vanish (SQ doesn’t do award holds).
Should I be buying miles speculatively?
The previous question assumed that you had a planned use for miles in mind already. If that’s the case, and if the award space exists, you’d be a fool to pay full price rather than buying miles.
But what if you don’t have an upcoming trip planned? What if you’re pretty well-stocked already? This is a more complicated question.
Most of the miles laojiaos will tell you that you absolutely should not buy miles speculatively. And I’d tend to agree with them. Miles are the worst investment to hold. There is no deposit insurance. They do not earn interest. They can only be devalued, sometimes with short or little notice. Miles are only as valuable as airlines’ willingness to accept them. They’re pretty much a fiat currency. Earn and burn etc etc.
I would nuance that by saying you normally shouldn’t buy miles speculatively, but if an excellent opportunity comes around and you’re quite certain you’ll travel in the next 6 months then I wouldn’t feel too bad for loading up.
Case in point: the current insane Citibank Premiermiles visa offer to buy miles at 0.76 cents each is something I don’t think we’ll see again for a long time, so I’d definitely go for that if it were open to me.
I would also say that you should ideally have a healthy miles balance in your frequent flyer account to give yourself flexibility to make plans on the fly- there’s nothing more annoying (or nail biting) than to see award space on your perfect dates, transfer your points over and have a few nerve wracking days of F5-ing the screen waiting for them to appear. What’s healthy? For me that’s around the 100-150K mark, but I know it will be different for everyone (and that there will be those who believe in keeping even smaller amounts on hand).
For better or worse, SQ hasn’t attempted to monetize Krisflyer by selling miles on the cheap, like the US airlines have done. Therefore the best options for buying miles, at least for now, are offered through the banks. I hope this article gives you a better understanding of what’s out there, and what is (and isn’t) worth springing for.