[The following is a sponsored post by OCBC. The opinions and analysis are those of The Milelion]
The short version: The value proposition of the OCBC VOYAGE card has improved significantly since it first launched in April 2015, thanks to a more competitive earning rate, expanded lounge and limo benefits, as well as last year’s KrisFlyer devaluation.
I recently had the chance to conduct a detailed analysis on VOYAGE Miles, the unique currency issued by the VOYAGE card. These can be converted into KrisFlyer miles at a 1:1 ratio with no admin fee, but more intriguingly, can also be used to pay for revenue tickets on any airline, any cabin and any date.
To summarize: I found that sweet spots exist within the VOYAGE “award chart”, meaning that certain destinations represent better value. These sweet spots, when combined with Business Class fare sales, allow you to redeem flights at rates well below the SQ award chart (assuming you’re airline agnostic). Moreover, VOYAGE allows you to redeem awards for destinations not served by SQ at rates comparable to or cheaper than the KrisFlyer partner award chart, while trying cabin products that would otherwise not have been accessible. And although VOYAGE redemptions tend to be less competitive when SQ Saver space is available for immediate redemption, they still provide a cheaper option than Advantage awards when Saver is on waitlist or just flat out unavailable.
Read on for the full analysis, as well as a special sign up offer for Milelion readers below!
The not-so-short version: I’ve had a bit of an interesting history with the OCBC VOYAGE card, which launched in April 2015, about the same time as The Milelion started.
When I first reviewed the product, I wasn’t all that impressed. It claimed to be a high-end card, but offered only two lounge access passes per year. Its spending requirement of $5,000 in a month to qualify for a complimentary airport transfer was among the highest in the market at the time. It earned only 1 mpd on local spend, putting it at a significant disadvantage to rival cards. And although I found the concept of VOYAGE Miles interesting, their valuation seemed to be roughly fixed, leading me to call the VOYAGE a “cashback card masquerading as a miles card”.
But a few key developments have happened in the 3 years since.
First, additional benefits were added to the VOYAGE to bring it in line with its $120K peers . For example, in September 2015, the card started offering unlimited access to lounges in the Plaza Premium network for both principal and supplementary cardholders (plus one guest). In March 2016, the limo spending requirement was reduced from $5,000 in a month to $3,000, with the number of complimentary trips a month increased from 1 to 2.
Second, KrisFlyer significantly devalued its award chart in March 2017, removing the 15% online redemption discount and hiking award prices across the board. This brought the cost of KrisFlyer redemptions closer to those using VOYAGE Miles and slightly lowered the value of a KrisFlyer mile.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, in January 2018 VOYAGE removed the admin fee to transfer miles to KrisFlyer and tweaked the card’s mpd rates to bring them in line with the market.
- The general spending rate was increased from 1 mpd to 1.2 mpd (on the base version) and as high as 1.6 mpd (on the Premier/Private banking versions).
- Dining mpd was reduced from 2.3 to 1.6, which from my point of view wasn’t that big a loss insofar as I’d be using other 4 mpd cards for that category anyway
- The overseas mpd rate was kept at 2.3, which is still one of the best rates in that category, once forex fees are adjusted for.
Clearly, many of my original issues with the VOYAGE card no longer exist. But VOYAGE Miles as an instrument remain relatively unchanged since inception. That brings me back to the question: just how valuable are VOYAGE Miles?
How valuable are VOYAGE Miles?
VOYAGE Miles have been a constant source of intrigue to me. They can be exchanged for KrisFlyer miles at a 1:1 ratio, but I’ve always been of the opinion that doing so is a waste of their potential. If you’re holding the VOYAGE card with the sole goal of earning KrisFlyer miles, you’d probably be better off with another general spending card (unless, of course, you held the Premier Banking version of the VOYAGE which at 1.6 mpd would be the best general spending card in Singapore).
That’s because the true value of VOYAGE Miles doesn’t come from their call option on KrisFlyer miles. It comes from their flexibility and ability to unlock any seat on any airline on any date, provided you have enough of them.
In some of my earliest analysis of VOYAGE Miles, I concluded that because their value ranged between 2-3 cents each, they represented inferior value over KrisFlyer miles, which could get 4-5 cents when redeemed for Business Class or 5-6 cents when redeemed for First Class.
There are three problems with my initial analysis. First, it was done before the March 2017 KrisFlyer devaluation, which reduced the value of a KrisFlyer mile to 3-4 cents each when used for Business Class Saver awards. This 3-4 cent valuation assumes that a KrisFlyer Saver award is available. We know there are certain routes where Business and First Class open straight to waitlist. The infamous SQ25/26 route is a good example of this. If you have to redeem a Business Advantage award, your valuation per mile drops to 1.5-3 cents.
Second, a 3-4 cent valuation of KrisFlyer miles only holds if you would only ever redeem your miles for Business Saver awards on SQ. Realistically speaking, your weighted average value will be lower than that because sometimes you’ll pay Advantage rates, sometimes you’ll redeem other cabins, sometimes you’ll redeem partner awards. A 2 cent valuation is par the course for what I use now, and any time I get more than that it’s a bonus.
Third, what I’m essentially saying is that a currency with a potential value range of 1-6 cents (KrisFlyer Miles) is superior to a currency with a value range of 2-3 cents (VOYAGE Miles). But this does not account for the fact that VOYAGE Miles can be redeemed for any airfare on any airline, whereas KrisFlyer miles are restricted to SQ, Star Alliance carriers and selected partners like Virgin Atlantic.
I’ve been thinking a lot about mileage currency diversification recently, and I wanted to look for situations where VOYAGE Miles could provide good value. So I put together a list of destinations and sent them over to the VOYAGE team to get priced in Business Class, round trip. I also added the number of KrisFlyer miles each destination would cost in Business Saver, Business Advantage and through the KrisFlyer partner award chart.
The result is an epic 95 row excel with a whole lot of data to dig into. Here’s the overall file if you want to dive into the numbers, and here are the highlights of the analysis:
VOYAGE Mile valuation is destination-dependent
We already know that VOYAGE Mile requirements are related to fares- the higher the fare, the more VMs you need. We also know that they generally fall in the 2-3 cent valuation. That’s broadly correct, but what I was surprised to learn was that the exact value of a VOYAGE Mile depends on where you’re flying to.
For example, look at these two quotes, both with base fare S$3,530.
A VOYAGE Mile is worth 2.97 cents when used to fly to LHR, but 2.47 cents when used to fly to CPH. 2.97 cents vs 2.47 cents may sound like a small difference, but it really adds up in aggregate. Indeed, I can see in the sample that the valuation of a VOYAGE Mile is constant for the same destination.
That leads me to my next observation…
The VOYAGE system has sweet spots
The fact that VOYAGE Mile valuation is destination-dependent implies that there exist sweet spots within the VOYAGE Miles “award chart”. Based on my sample, it appears that VOYAGE Miles command the highest value when used for London, South America or North America flights. Value was relatively lower for Australian destinations. This should give you an idea of which destinations are “most worth it” when spending your VOYAGE Miles.
VOYAGE redemptions may not make sense when SQ Saver awards are immediately available…
Singapore Airlines revenue tickets ex-SIN are inherently expensive because Singapore is a captive market, and this high price means VOYAGE Mile quotes increase accordingly. On the other hand, saver awards are (relatively) low priced. Here’s how VOYAGE Mile quotes compare with KrisFlyer Business Saver awards out of Singapore:
We can see a significant gap in the mileage requirements for VOYAGE Miles versus KrisFlyer Saver awards. However, it’s important to remember that tickets booked with VOYAGE Miles are eligible for mileage accrual, so the actual cost should be adjusted downwards for a fair comparison.
This closes the gap somewhat, but it’s still quite clear that if saver awards are available for immediate confirmation, it’s quite hard to make the case for using VOYAGE Miles.Of course, any experienced frequent flyer knows that this is rarely the case on certain routes. In fact, there are some flights on which Business Saver awards are virtually impossible to redeem, and in those cases, VOYAGE Miles can be extremely useful.
…but VOYAGE redemptions offer better value than Advantage Awards
When Business Saver awards are not available, we can see that VOYAGE Mile redemptions are almost always more competitive than paying Business Advantage award prices:
It’s unlikely you’ll ever need to redeem a Business Advantage award to a place like DPS or BKK, but practically speaking there are particular long haul SQ flights where Business Saver seats are nigh impossible to find, even on the waitlist. For example, SQ25/26 from SIN-FRA-JFK is notoriously difficult to redeem. At best you’ll snag maybe 1 Saver award after a long period of waitlisting, but if you’re looking for two seats you may well have to settle for 1 Saver and 1 Advantage. There are even numerous dates where the waitlist is not open at all, as the screenshot below shows.
Other flights that are almost impossible to redeem Business Saver seats include the non-stop SQ31/32 to SFO and SQ321/322 to London. For these 3 tricky-to-redeem flights, VOYAGE Mile redemptions are much more competitive.
VOYAGE redemptions are useful for reaching places not served by SQ
SQ serves more than 60 destinations worldwide, but doesn’t cover South America, Canada or much of Eastern Europe, Africa or the Middle East. If you want to redeem miles to a destination that is not served directly by SQ, you’re going to have to refer to the KrisFlyer partner award chart, which was devalued late last year.
Redemptions through the partner award chart are generally higher than Saver awards (but not as expensive as Advantage). Therefore we can find several destinations where VOYAGE Miles offer good value (highlighted in green below):
The table above shows that VOYAGE Miles offer excellent value to Prague, Newark, Athens, Zagreb, Oslo, Las Vegas, Seattle and Calgary. You could even argue that in marginal cases like Sao Paulo, Beirut or Vancouver, the mileage you’d accrue on a revenue ticket would make up for the difference. Flying with other airlines does not pose a time disadvantage in this situation, in the sense that even if you wanted to include SQ in your travel plans you’d still be looking at a one stop minimum.
VOYAGE redemptions can help you take advantage of business class fare sales
First Class rarely goes on sale, and Economy Class isn’t what we earn miles for. But Business Class sales are fairly common, and the question is how VOYAGE Miles can be used in conjunction with these to achieve redemptions below the cost of even KrisFlyer Saver awards. After all, if VOYAGE Mile costs are tied to the revenue price of a ticket, it stands to reason that there could be situations where fare sales could result in certain destinations pricing below KrisFlyer savers.
Here are some of my picks:
What this suggests is that to the extent that you’re airline agnostic (i.e. Business Class is Business Class), there is some serious value to be found by using VOYAGE Miles as opposed to traditional KrisFlyer miles. True, the itineraries here may involve adding a stop to your journey, but I can imagine a lot of people who would be happy to do that in exchange for lower cost redemptions. 63,700 VOYAGE Miles for a round trip business class flight to London, for example, is incredible value.
It’s not like you have to slum it, either. All the flights above offer full flat business class seats, at least on the long haul segment. For example, if you flew Malaysia Airlines to any of the destinations above, your SIN-KUL leg would be on a narrow body aircraft but your subsequent flight would be on an A330 or A350 with full flat seats.
Similarly, you’d be able to fly on Garuda’s 77W business class product to London which seems to have garnered very good reviews as well.
VOYAGE redemptions can help you renew your elite status
Tickets booked by the VOYAGE concierge are revenue fares, so they’re eligible to earn elite status credit on your preferred program. I was curious to see which fares offered the “best” VOYAGE Mile to elite status earning ratio so I looked at a sample of Star Alliance carriers. In the table below, I’ve assumed that you credit your miles to KrisFlyer. Remember that you need to accumulate 50,000 Elite Miles within a 12 month period in order to qualify for KrisFlyer Elite Gold.
You can see that in general, it’s possible to earn upwards of 0.1 Elite Miles for every VOYAGE Mile spent. On some itineraries to VOYAGE Mile sweet spot destinations like North America, that can go as high as 0.2-0.27. A hypothetical round trip to SFO and EWR on Air China, plus an additional SIN-ICN round trip on Asiana would earn you Elite Gold status for just under S$7,000 of base fare.
If you’re just short of miles to requalify for elite status, it’s well worth seeing if you can find a VOYAGE Mile redemption that maxes out the elite miles you earn.
VOYAGE redemptions can help you try new cabin products
There are some cabin products that are almost impossible to redeem if you’re a Singapore-based flyer. This is either because the miles are hard to come by, or the product just doesn’t have good award space available. For example, Etihad has an amazing First Class product on their A380 aircraft. The Apartments, as they’re called, feature completely enclosed suites in a 1-1 layout with a separate bed and seat. There’s a shower and personal chef on board. The ground experience, despite recent cutbacks, remains one of the most luxurious in the game.
The problem is, Etihad’s First Class would be very difficult for someone based in Singapore to redeem. Citibank is the only bank that supports transfers to Etihad Guest, and the mileage requirement for Etihad First Class awards is prohibitively expensive (373,000 miles for First Class between Singapore and London).
Earlier this year, VOYAGE ran a promotion with Etihad where members who purchased an Etihad Business Class ticket got a free upgrade to First Class. You’d be eligible for this promotion even if you redeemed your VOYAGE Miles for the Business Class ticket. Here’s how many VOYAGE Miles you’d have paid, compared to the requirements for a First Class award ticket through KrisFlyer.
Other products that VOYAGE could help you unlock include the Delta One Suites (if/when it finally starts serving Singapore), or SWISS First Class (which can’t be redeemed by anyone other than Miles and More elite members).
Annual Fee and Reader Offer
The OCBC VOYAGE has a regular annual fee of S$488, which comes with 15,000 VOYAGE Miles. In a best case scenario where you maxed out the value of your VOYAGE Miles through sweet spot redemptions, these could be worth up to S$445 (2.97 cents each).
Other key points of value include access to VOYAGE Exchange, a concierge service which provides additional lifestyle and trip-related assistance like event bookings, personal shopping, itinerary planning and even emergency medical services if required. It’s also worth factoring in the unlimited access more than 80 Plaza Premium Lounges around the world, and complimentary limo transport with a spend of at least S$3,000 in a month.
If you’ve decided you want to explore the VOYAGE card, OCBC is extending a special offer to readers of The Milelion: a discounted first year annual fee of S$260 that includes all the standard benefits of the VOYAGE card except for the 15,000 VOYAGE Miles. From year 2 onwards, your fee will revert to S$488 with the 15,000 renewal VOYAGE miles.
This offer only applies to those who sign up using the link below before 8 September 2018. You will initially be charged S$488, which will be waived and corrected to S$260 within 3 working days.
The OCBC VOYAGE can definitely offer you something different from a traditional miles card. I think the VOYAGE card would be the most useful for a traveler who wants maximum flexibility and isn’t hell bent on flying SQ every single time. In fact, it’s arguably the best option available to those of us in Singapore who want to try different airlines and different cabin products that the would normally be impossible to redeem given the mileage programs available to us here.