Everything wrong with Mothership’s sponsored UOB Krisflyer post

You could at least pretend to want to get your facts right.

I thought that I’d said everything I needed to say about the new Krisflyer UOB account. I really did. And having done my civic duty, I then disappeared gracefully into the night, the hero this city deserves but not the one it needs right now. Or vice versa. I forget which is which.

oh hai. i can haz seo?

But man, reading Mothership’s latest sponsored UOB Krisflyer post got the blood pumping again.

We could start with the lack of proper sponsored post disclosure. Yes. I realise that at the bottom of the post, there’s this line-

This sponsored post is brought to you by UOB. We also want to be able to spend $500 a month on our debit cards to accumulate miles.

But that’s my point. It’s at the bottom. I’ve called out this problem before, but I’ll say it again: I fervently believe that such disclosures obey the letter but not the spirit of the law. Disclosure needs to be full, frank, and upfront. Because that can be the difference between someone choosing to read an article or not.

By only telling people at the end that a post was sponsored, you’re leading them up the garden path. They read an article with the lens that whatever is being said is a personal, objective opinion. Then you say, oh, by the way, this is sponsored. That’s just bad faith. You’re denying them an important piece of information that might affect whether they want to read it in the first place.

Does it really make a difference? Of course it does, and advertisers know it. I’ve seen sponsored post briefs that (if they mention disclosure at all) ask for disclosure to be at the end, rather than upfront. Because people don’t like being bs-ed, and the tendency is to switch off once you see a post is sponsored. And evidently Mothership’s writers know that it makes a difference too. Because why else would you bury the disclosure at the bottom if you felt otherwise?

Disclosing sponsored posts upfront is best practice. Let’s leave that point there. Mothership is hardly the most egregious of offenders when it comes to disclosure, but I would expect much more from them given their stature in the blogosphere.

I want to spend the bulk of this post talking about the content of Mothership’s article. You might be shocked to know that I don’t agree with their findings.

I know, I’m a bit like this-

Duty Calls
credit: xkcd

But Mothership is big. Like, register with MDA big. That blue line in the graph below is Mothership. That orange line below is The Milelion, for comparison. I get size anxiety.

If 2 million people read Mothership each month, that’s 2 million people who could potentially be misled. And some of those 2 million people could be chiobus. So I must do something, because everyone loves an internets hero.

Once more unto the breach…

Analyzing Mothership’s post

Let’s first set the rules of engagement. I’ll let Mothership do that

For the sake of this article, let’s assume you are a millennial who has been in the workforce for a couple of years and are considering getting the KrisFlyer UOB account. Since that’s UOB’s target audience anyway.

Hold on, lemme fix a typo

For the sake of this sponsored article, let’s assume you are a millennial who has been in the workforce for a couple of years and are considering getting the KrisFlyer UOB account. Since that’s UOB’s target audience anyway.

Ah. Better. OK, go on.

Mothership considers the 3 potential tiers of miles earning that the Krisflyer UOB account offers, based on account balance. To recap- that’s

  • $3K-$100K: 1.4 miles per dollar (mpd)
  • $100K-$350K: 3.4 mpd
  • >$350K: 5.4 mpd

They rule out the >$350K and $100-350K tiers, thankfully, because that’s just plain unrealistic, and settle on the third.

That leaves the third tier, which starts at $3,000. Plenty of financial sites widely advocate having 3 – 6 months’ salary in savings stashed away in case of emergency. This tier seems more achievable for most people.

Fine. Now one assumption from me: I’m going to assume this millennial (there’s that word again!) grad earns at least $30K per annum.

I don’t think that’s too far a stretch, because I’ve shown previously that the average poly or uni grad should be earning at least $30K per annum, once the 13th month bonus is taken into account.

So here’s how this will work. Mothership will make the case for using the UOB Krisflyer account. I’m going to make the case for using the DBS Altitude Visa card (minimum income required: $30K).

And I’m going to give Mothership 3 major handicaps.

  • I’m going to assume the fresh grad doesn’t take advantage of the 10,000 mile sign up bonus that the DBS Altitude has, nor the double miles earning promotion that’s on till 31 July
  • I’m going to assume that this fresh grad doesn’t spend anything on foreign currency transactions (2.0 mpd) or air tickets (3.0 mpd), instead earning 1.2 mpd everywhere. That’s unrealistic, but I’m feeling generous.
  • And I’m going to assume that our fresh grad just uses this one card. Yup, I’m not going to suggest any of my multiple card strategies. That’s a big problem for anyone pursuing a miles strategy, but I read that chiobu like cocky guys

Your move first, Mothership.

Round One

1. Fresh grad: $3,000 monthly account balance, $500 monthly spend

Mothership shows the working from the Krisflyer UOB miles calculator- with $500 monthly spending and a $3K monthly account balance (MAB) you’ll end up with 4,200 miles at the end of the year.

You might be wondering- $6,000 of annual spending at 1.4 mpd, isn’t that 8,400 miles? Yes, it is. Except that the bonus miles you can earn each month is capped at 5% of your MAB. In this case,  that’s 0.05*$3,000=150 miles.

Which means that each month, your first $150 of spending earns 1.4 mpd. Your next $350 is earning 0.4 mpd! 

Mothership notes this restriction, but apart from this caption above, they don’t mention it anywhere in their calculations. Don’t you think it’s a pretty crucial point?

My turn: if our fresh grad spends $500 a month at 1.2 mpd for a year, he’ll have 7,200 miles. Boom. He doesn’t even need to put that $3,000 in a 0 interest earning account, and he’ll have 3,000 more miles than if he followed the Mothership option.

Mothership then presents some suggestions as to how you should spend this veritable bounty. They note, correctly, that you can’t go anywhere.

Well, to be fair, neither can my fresh grad who has 7,200 miles. But my guy is 300 miles shy of a one way economy class ticket to Bali. Their guy is 3,300 short.

No worries, Mothership has another suggestion-

An alternative option here is for you to redeem the Scoot voucher to offset your budget travel. The KrisFlyer UOB account also gives you perks with Scoot such as priority check-in and boarding, additional 5kg luggage when you purchase of 20kg baggage, and free seat selection.

An alternative option here is for you to redeem the Scoot voucher to offset your budget travel.

redeem the Scoot voucher to offset your budget travel

redeem the Scoot voucher

I hate myself for what I’m about to say.

If you’re going to use the miles you earned from your Krisflyer UOB account for Scoot vouchers, you might as well be using a cashback card.

There. I said it. Are you happy now, Mothership? You made me recommend a cashback card.

I feel so dirty right now. But it’s true. With $500 a month spending on a 1.5% cashback card (eg. AMEX True Cashback Card/ SCB Unlimited Cashback Card), you’d earn $90 cashback in a year. That’s $60 more than a $30 Scoot voucher, and it’s not in a captive currency.

Redeeming Scoot vouchers with your Krisflyer miles is a terrible, terrible option that values them at just under 1 cent each. Mothership writers, you can club baby seals. You can play keepaway with an orphan’s bindle. You can unilaterally pull out of the Paris climate accords. But whatever you do, for the love of all things bright and beautiful please don’t redeem Scoot vouchers.

Mothership’s article goes on to helpfully point out-

A quick comparison here: if you kept your $3,000 in a savings account that gives you 0.05% interest on your savings, you would be getting $1.50 in interest a year – which doesn’t quite compare to $30 in Scoot or Tigerair vouchers to go travelling.

But that’s a false dichotomy. Our fresh grad’s alternative option is not just to put $3,000 in a savings account and earn 0.05% interest. As I’ve shown, our fresh grad can get an entry-level DBS Altitude card and outearn the Krisflyer UOB account. Hell, our fresh grad can get an entry-level cashback card and still end up better off than with the Krisflyer UOB account (based on a valuation of 2 cents per mile)

Because ending their example with a $30 Scoot voucher would be a bit of a damp squib, Mothership shows the position you’d be in after 3 years too

If you spent $500 per month for three years and have $3,000 in the account, you would be able to accumulate 12,600 KrisFlyer miles.

Great. My fresh grad? He’s got 21,600 miles ($500*12 months*3 years*1.2mpd). He’s jetting off to Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, Taipei, Male, Perth, while the furthest Mothership’s fresh grad can get to is Bangkok.


Round Two

2. 20s in their second job: $10,000 monthly account balance, $750 monthly spend

Mothership proposes a second scenario. Crunch a $10,000 MAB with a $750 monthly spend into the trusty miles calculator, and 9,600 miles is the outcome.

9,600 miles puts all the Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei destinations on the SQ award chart within reach.

But again, this person using the Krisflyer UOB account has triggered his monthly bonus cap with his $750 spending. That $9,600 annual spend at 1.4 mpd should have given him 13,440 miles. Remember though, his bonus miles are capped at 500 per month (0.05*$10,000 MAB). He earns 1.4 mpd on the first $500, and 0.4 mpd on the next $250.

What about my guy? $750 a month at 1.2 mpd=10,800 miles in a year. He’s ahead by 1,200 miles. And he didn’t have to put $10,000 in a 0 interest earning account.

Again, if you kept your $10,000 in a savings account that offers 0.05% interest, you would be rewarded with $5 interest a year – would you rather have that or a ticket to one of the above destinations?

False dichotomy alert #2. I mean, I could paraphrase that and say “Again, if you kept your $10,000 in the UOB Krisflyer account that offers 0% interest, you would be rewarded with 9,600 miles a year- would you rather have that or 10,800 miles plus 0.05% interest?”

Here’s Mothership’s 3 year scenario

And the end of three years of spending $750 per month, you’ll accumulate 28,000 KrisFlyer miles – which is enough to visit most of SIA’s locations.

Cute. My guy is now on 32,400 miles ($750*12 months* 3 years * 1.2 mpd) and feelin’ fine.

What’s that, you say? I’m forgetting annual fees? Yes, it’s true. The DBS Altitude Visa has a $192.60 annual fee, waived for the first year. The UOB Krisflyer debit card has no annual fee.

Here, our guy has two options. First, he can try to apply for an annual fee waiver when it comes due. Banks are usually quite generous with this. Second, if the bank does not waive his annual fee, he will end up with 10,000 miles for each year he renews his DBS Altitude card. So by the end of the third year, he will have 20,000 bonus miles for $385.

If the second option comes to pass, the two propositions after 3 years are

  • Mothership: Spent $27,000, got 28,000 miles
  • Mine:  Spent $27,000 + $385 on annual fees, got 52,400 miles

I don’t know about you, but I think I’d pay $385 to earn an additional 24,400 miles. My guy can now fly one-way business class to Cape Town, the destination that Mothership recommends we redeem our miles for.

Basically: Mothership’s seat on the Capetown flight

Image result for a350 economy singapore airlines

My guy:

Image result for a350 business singapore airlines

I think we’ll have to agree to disagree.

Does Mothership adequately point out the drawbacks to the account?

Mothership provides two caveats at the bottom of their article. They point out that the account doesn’t earn interest, and they point out that all Krisflyer miles expire after three years.

Fair enough, but this doesn’t anywhere near adequately explain one of the biggest problems with the Krisflyer UOB account: the 5% cap on bonus miles earning. This is the deal killer for me, and for a lot of people in the miles game.

If wanderlust is in your blood and you want your daily spend and savings to help you satisfy that wanderlust, the KrisFlyer UOB account is something for you to consider.

No. It’s not.  If wanderlust is in your blood and you want your daily spend to help you satisfy that wanderlust, drop me a note. We’ll talk.

Wrapping it up

I’m confused as to what UOB’s social engagement strategy is. Their influencer campaign backfired, not just for want of disclosure, but also because it was painfully clear these influencers hadn’t the faintest idea what miles were about. They laid low for a while to let things die down, and then they went to Mothership with a sponsored post proposal.

I mean, what was the endgame here? Damage control? The hope that by presenting a few scenarios where the account might make sense, people would change their minds (if so they should have asked Mothership to write about a student or retiree who doesn’t qualify for any credit cards at all, period. But even then, the retiree could probably get a secured DBS Altitude card with a fixed deposit…)?

What was this sponsored article supposed to achieve? I don’t know. I’m as puzzled as you are.

What irks me is that I’ve always considered Mothership to be one of the good guys. I mean, they’re not batshit crazy like All Singapore Stuff. They’re not xenophobic racemongers like TRE (favourite TRE headline: Jollibee discriminates against Singaporean staff. Reason given in article–> Jollibee writes on Facebook “we welcome all Jollibee fans to apply for a job at Jollibee!–> Jollibee has never been in Singapore before–> Only Filipinos could be fans of Jolibee–> Jollibee only wants to hire Filipinos. No, this really happened). They don’t have the existential, prepubescent angst of Amos Yee.

Mothership is a perfectly decent editorial platform. So why are they taking advertiser money to encourage people to sign up for a bad deal?

“Where can a regular twenty-something realistically travel to with the KrisFlyer UOB account?” Mothership asks in their article title. The answer: nowhere great. But fortunately, that’s why we have miles cards. Proper ones.

“This sponsored post is brought to you by UOB. We also want to be able to spend $500 a month on our debit cards to accumulate miles.” Mothership concludes.

Guys, reach out to me. We’ll have coffee. On me. And I’ll show you a better way.

Aaron Wong
Aaron Wong
Aaron founded The Milelion to help people travel better for less and impress chiobu. He was 50% successful.

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