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97 Days of insanity: The story of Citibank, Apple Pay, and 8 miles per dollar everywhere

Did you witness the most incredible period in the Singapore miles and points game?

Years from now, we’re going to look back on the period of April to July 2018 and ask each other: where were you when the miles game went crazy?

After 97 days of miles-driven madness, the Citibank-Apple Pay 20X promotion is finally coming to an end on Tuesday. Only Citibank knows how much was spent, how many points were earned, and ultimately whether the promotion achieved its goal.

Whatever the case, I think it’s safe to say that it’ll be a very, very long time before we see something like this again. In memoriam of this momentous period, and for great posterity/ SEO glory, let’s revisit the most insane 97 days in the Singapore miles and points game.

Fashionably late

Apple Pay debuted in Singapore in April 2016 on American Express credit cards. During the launch event, Apple said it would work with credit and debit cards from other banks in Singapore “in the coming months”. Well, apparently Citibank didn’t get the memo, because it was a full two years before Apple Pay was finally made available on Citibank Singapore’s cards.

But like every latecomer to a party, Citibank was determined to grab attention. On 26 April 2018, Citibank finally added support for Apple Pay in Singapore. Later that day, word started circulating in The Milelion’s Telegram Group about a most interesting eDM. I’ll let the graphic speak for itself:

20X rewards points was the equivalent of 8 mpd. Given the ubiquity of mobile payment accepting contactless terminals, this was as practically 8 mpd everywhere. It was one of those things that just seemed too good to be true.

In the days that followed, however, it was confirmed that the promotion was, indeed, without cap. 8 mpd. Everywhere (finealmost everywhere). Without cap. There’s something to be said about being fashionably late.

97 days spanned between 26 April and 31 July 2018. It was time to make hay. And a lot of it.

While the sun shines

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“Every individual is continually exerting himself to find out the most advantageous employment for whatever capital he can command”

-Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations

With a limited-time promotion like this, the first question that many people must have asked themselves was: how do I bring forward as much expenditure as I can?

The obvious answer was to find stores of value which could be paid for with Apple Pay. I provided some ideas: NTUC and Dairy Farm vouchers, Qoo10 gift cards, Suica contactless cards, pre-paying Singtel bills, Kopitiam cards, IKEA gift cards. I’m sure there must be other good options out there too.

We’ll never know just how many people did this, but I’d hazard a guess that the working capital of any merchant which accepts Apple Pay for stored value facilities has gone up significantly. The MAS stipulates that any company which issues stored value facilities must register with the authority if the total outstanding value exceeds S$30 million. One wonders if we’re going to see a few new registrations soon.

The legacy of this promotion is clear to see on Carousell, which is now awash with discounted vouchers of all sorts. This bounty can be enjoyed even by people who don’t play the miles game- if you have any cashback-loving friends, you might want to give them a heads up that this is now their turn to make hay.

Fast deal bro

Adam Smith’s quip about each individual exerting himself to find the best deployment of capital never rung more true than during this period, based on the stories I’ve been hearing.

I’ve heard of people who convinced their bosses to do a mid-year bonus giveaway in the form of supermarket vouchers (don’t trouble yourself, I’ll get them!). I’ve heard about couples who selected their wedding venue based on the acceptance of Apple Pay. I’ve heard of a guy who spent 90 minutes tapping his card 100 times at a terminal to circumvent the maximum transaction limit. I’ve heard of people bringing forward elective surgery (Shinagawa Eye Centre takes Apple Pay, you know), hair care and spa packages, gym memberships and all manner of self-improvement.

As with every promotion, some people got a bit too clever for their own good. Like the TransferWise saga.

Image result for transferwise apple pay

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TransferWise is a service that allows you to send money to the bank account of anyone around the world through your credit card for a small fee. TransferWise also supports Apple Pay. You can see where this story goes.

People started converting AUD to SGD (the cheapest currency pair) and paying TransferWise for the fees and funds through Apple Pay. The funds were channeled into their local bank account, which they’d then use to pay off the bill. People were passing through tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, earning 8 mpd and paying off the bill, all at a cost of 0.4-0.5 cents per mile.

Was this going to be the Singapore equivalent of buying dollar coins? If it was, it didn’t last very long. A few weeks after word of this got out, those who had used TransferWise with Citibank Cards and Apple Pay started reporting their points balance was set to 0. They didn’t just lose the points they’d earned from TransferWise, they lost everything.

That’s what 0 looks like

Citibank told them that the bank was looking into points earned on ineligible transactions, and that their points accrued from retail would be refunded soon. Days passed and no one’s points came back. Points were briefly restored and then disappeared again within 24 hours. As of today, I’m not aware of anyone who’s gotten their points back yet. I’m…divided on this. On the one hand, you play with fire, you’re going to get burned. On the other, the bank should be working quickly to come to a conclusion on the matter.

Perhaps this was the moment where Citibank began to realise it may have underestimated the sheer enthusiasm of the miles community…

Trouble brewing

Image result for patek philippe singapore
Nope.

When Citibank conceptualized the Apple Pay promotion, their bean counters must have run some sort of financial modeling to estimate the total anticipated costs. The problem is: how do you estimate the worst case scenario in a promotion with no cap?

Maybe that’s a scenario Citibank now wishes it took a little more seriously, because on 6 July 2018, 70 days after the promotion started, Citibank quietly updated their T&Cs to exclude spending at MCC 5944 (Clock, jewelry, silverware and watch stores). Presumably, the back end was seeing way too many people dropping five digits on a watch or engagement ring to be comfortable.

Citibank did this without notifying its customers, which is poor form in anyone’s book. However, stranger things were still to come.

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Towards the second half of July, a significant number of users started reporting that their high value Apple Pay transactions were getting declined, even after calling Citibank. The bank told them their transactions had raised red flags and were being preemptively blocked to prevent fraud. CSOs suggested that cardholders use their physical cards instead, which led some to believe that Citibank was attempting to use fraud protection as a way of weaseling out of the promotion.

I did not personally encounter such issues, although truth be told I’ve spent a decidedly modest amount over the course of this promotion. Nonetheless, I imagine some Citibank customers will end the month with some degree of antipathy towards the bank, which is kind of a shame.

If the Citibank team is reading this with a growing sense of dread at the red ink piling up, the best solace I can give you is that 31 July is almost here.

Brave new world

In news that should surprise no one at all, I’ve received official confirmation the Apple Pay promotion will not be extended.

Some will point to OCBC and the Titanium Rewards 10X campaign as precedent for such promotions getting extended. But let’s be clear. This is no OCBC Titanium Rewards 10X promotion with a per-card cap. This is 20X of uncapped mayhem, and it’s simply not sustainable for the bank. Others are hoping that Citibank will do a similar promotion with Google Pay if/when Citibank cards start working with the platform. Fat chance.

You know what sort of bugs me? We’ll never know if this is exactly what Citibank intended all along, or whether this was something that got way out of hand. Was it a calculated decision to engage the Singapore miles community? Or was it the kind of promotion that ends the career of a certain bank executive?

One thing’s for sure though- 8 mpd, uncapped, has been a game changer for everyone. Front line cashiers have been educated by countless customers (some patiently, others less so) on the ins and outs of contactless payments. Supermarket managers have issued endless reams of vouchers. Boutique sales staff have come to realise the “$100 transaction limit” that was drilled into them during training was more of a serving suggestion than a dietary restriction. The world now knows that miles chasers exist, and we are ravenous.

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It’s going to be very hard to go back to “only” 4 mpd after 31 July. Funny, because it seems like only a short while ago that the unlimited 4 mpd on dining and online transactions offered by the HSBC Advance seemed like the deal of a lifetime. Now we’re in a world where uncapped 8 mpd has precedent. There has never been a greater time to be in this game.

I used to complain that we in Singapore didn’t get anywhere near the kinds of promotions that cardholders in the USA enjoyed. The last 97 days have made me rethink that. Citibank offered an amazing opportunity. We made hay. The sun’s going to set soon.

Who knows what the miles game will throw up next?

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Sp
Guest
Sp

Citi has probably one thing to hope for – people who have been used to Apple Pay continue to use them after 31st July by habit. That was their aim of this promo. There may still be some tailwinds for them.

Alvin W
Guest
Alvin W

Fat chance

Ken
Guest
Ken

I had no intention of doing so.. like Aaron, I made no plans to maximize/milk this promo to the best of my pocket’s ability.. and I’m probably just one of a tiny total number.. but when I quite ‘innocently’ wanted to buy just THREE appliances on Apple Pay, and got my RUDE SHOCK that my charge was DECLINED.. on the 4th last day of the promo.. for a stupidly small amount.. with the same canned bull***t one-after-another reasons that made no sense to anyone with half a brain, Sh***ybank kicked the sleeping-dog (small one) in me.. So today, I truly… Read more »

Jeriel Leong
Member

they should come to the milelion for consultancy services.

Maggie
Guest
Maggie

They compensated?? I run into same prob. Felt the same frustration!!

Mee
Guest
Mee

I think Ken meant he decided to charge approximately $10,625 on his Citibank card with Apple Pay just to pile 85,000 more miles of misery on them when he initially never had the intention to do so. With the same planned for today and tomorrow.

Ken
Guest
Ken

??

Maggie
Guest
Maggie

I see, I called them 8 times to complain, spoke to 5 diff officer and they say won’t compensate anything for the inconvenience.

Dereth Tang
Guest
Dereth Tang

For the sake of this promo, my mom gave me her old dusty iPhone 6. Finally… Soon I can go back to carrying just one Samsung phone. Phew.

DY
Guest
DY

Purpose of this article now is to ask citi to reverse points for all gift cards and voucher transactions? Great timing

jon
Guest
jon

sad to see that big fat zero

Maggie
Guest
Maggie

I have encountered the per trx limit frustration. I have spent much more than propose “what it seems to be 3k per trx” limit before and it went through. Although I called in, what was clearly communicated to me is that it’s an internal limit per trx and it’s an undisclosed amt. If there’s such a limit which only applies to Apple Pay , it means Applepay is not as safe as a physical card or purchasing online? The answer from Citibank was no. It felt like misselling as the public Facebook website specifically say no cap per Trx. If… Read more »

invisible
Guest
invisible

>>“only” 4 mpd after 31 July
Where this is said? AFAIK, it reverts to its basic earning value after this.

wj
Guest
wj

just like to add an interesting point; small sample size. Have been a citi pm customer all this while. Saw the citi rewards 8x miles promo but did not have any major spending (or plans to accumulate vouchers). Nonetheless I tried to apply for citi rewards during the last 2 weeks of july and was promptly rejected (via website & the singsaver link on ML)

Went to request for a CB report and it was AA with score of 2000. Called the phone banking the advise me to try again sometime later. Food for thoughts!

Ken
Guest
Ken

Hi Ivan, I’m going to try my best to close the loop between us.. It’s not going to be point for point, nor am I looking for a debate/quarrel etc.. of course everyone’s entitled to his/her own opinions and that’s on top of what one man/woman sees as being important, may also differ tremendously.. and even though I started with saying you made no sense, you’ve also since made a lot of sense in other points and I just wanted you to know that I see it.. Firstly, I’m really happy for you that you’ve managed to get into the… Read more »

Ben
Guest
Ben

Ken, what exactly did Citibank give as the reason for declining your transactions?

Ken
Guest
Ken

The same bs that everyone got.. first, fraud protection.. then, merchant limits something or other.. next, suggested swiping physical card.. then, it’s a business perimeter thing at the bank that they are not at liberty to share..

It seems like given the number of repeated incidents, the whole one line after another, is a script.. that leads to no where..

Bottom line, it’s obvious that they’ve turned the screws on the tap to a trickle, to limit more ‘damage’..

Ben
Guest
Ben

I’ve been using Apple Pay on an almost daily basis since May. So far no issues at all. Usually used at F&B, Deliveroo, Foodpanda, Singhealth hospitals, Supermarkets including cold storage, Fairprice, Isetan. And also Apple Pay for around $20k upfront SQ tickets in the next one year. No issues for me.

But some time in late June though there was a period of time when Apple Pay seemed to be working very sparingly on my phone. Always had errors of payment declined etc. Thought it was a phone issue, perhaps it wasn’t…

Ken
Guest
Ken

Yes.. it’s all come to light now.. it started without any problems.. then more and more and bigger transactions started showing up.. and then the tap started to turn clockwise… hence my being ticked off.. I didn’t have any major purchases at all for the 2.5 months preceding the last weekend.. and even the purchase I wanted to make wasn’t huge by any measure.. and yet I was shut down.. very very poor showing on the bank’s part, as far as I was concerned .. made worse by the lies (can’t call it anything else) that were fed to me… Read more »

KD
Guest
KD

May I ask if I use it today and tomorrow, will I still get the 8mpd for my Rewards card? Thanks.

Ken
Guest
Ken

That’s the million dollar question.. Aaron is convinced it’s a “yes”.. and with all due respect, unless Citi comes out and officially says so, no one really knows.. until the fat lady sings..

Even RMs are scrambling.. headless chickens..

KD
Guest
KD

Haha, thanks. 2 more days of usage then ^^

MAX
Guest
MAX

Base on their T&Cs, Its a yes!

Mechu
Guest
Mechu

Just finalised the dates for a trip to the US. Is there any online travel agent like Expedia that accepts Apple Pay currently? I recall using Apple Pay for a hotel booking on the Expedia app but not seeing the option for air tickets.

Hector
Guest
Hector

Please try Trip.com (set Singapore as region / SGD)

Ben
Guest
Ben

It’s amazing the extend some people can lust over miles. Don’t they get sick of biz class after a while

Ben
Guest
Ben

For avoidance of doubt, that’s a different Ben. A Ben who can’t spell and punctuate.

And to my fellow Ben. I guess you must be LPPS since you sound like you are so sick of business class. May I suggest a deed of absolute assignment of your entire rights and benefits in the LPPS chose in action.

Ken
Guest
Ken

I don’t know what you’re going on about, Ben-who-can-spell-and-punctuate.. I’m with Ben-who-can’t-spell-and-punctuate.. I, too, was shocked speechless, ?, when I was told that there were more than 12 seats in an A380?!?! I always thought that all those people lining up at the gates were just loading cargo into the back! And even then, I did think 12 seats were just too many.. claustrophobic, even.. and for years, I begged and I pleaded.. and I was so happy that SQ finally recognized my pleas and announced the reduction to 6, for all their new planes, and so I celebrated that… Read more »

trackback

[…] local/overseas spending until the end of the year, 1.5/3 mpd after, no minimum spend or cap), the impending end of the Citibank-Apple Pay 20X promotion and OCBC’s early termination of its 10X Titanium Rewards mobile payments promotion, the BOC […]

Keith
Guest
Keith

My purchase of Ikea and Fairprice gift vouchers yesterday (30/7) hasn’t showed up in my points while today’s purchase has. Should I be worried?

Miles Hedgehog
Guest
Miles Hedgehog

I have some last minute purchases tonight, believe it or not? I notice these transactions take a while to post. Does anyone know if spends made tonight (but not posted till after 31 July) would qualify? I checked the TnCs.. it just says promotion is 26 April to today.

Ken
Guest
Ken

That’s it! It’s over!
(excluding possible following technicalities, blowbacks etc.)

Did anyone else, besides me, wake up this morning (with exception of maybe ONE person, no names mentioned) with no sense of wanting to go anywhere or buy anything…?

?

Jack
Guest
Jack

The transactions posted today. Most unfortunately, the points did not!

I guess that answers a lot of the queries above.

Jack
Guest
Jack

My mistake… the points eventually did post though there is quite a long lag as compared to the usual time.

Jack
Guest
Jack

PSA – Citibank transfer to miles is now in 25,000 increment. No longer in 5,000.

Ken
Guest
Ken

I do believe… so long as your (as in, anyone’s) purchases were legit (yes, this, potentially debateable), then you’d have nothing to worry about.

All my charges has been posted and points updated too.

Jack
Guest
Jack

Agreed. Since Citi put it out in their T & Cs, they should abide to it as long as we fall within it as well.

Ken
Guest
Ken

Yup.. agreed..

trackback

[…] Citibank Apple Pay chapter has finally come to an end. For the past 3 months, we enjoyed the luxury of being able to earn up to 8 miles per dollar (or 20X […]

Miles Hedgehog
Guest
Miles Hedgehog

Alas, it came with a hefty 1% DCC charge on my Agoda transactions!

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