Say what you will about the BOC Elite Miles World Mastercard, but I think we’ll all agree that there’s never a dull moment with this card.
Back in March 2019, BOC unveiled a major update to the card’s T&Cs. Most of the ensuing discussion focused on the redefinition of overseas spending, addition of new exclusion categories, and capping of the maximum points convertible in a single transfer.
But nestled among the changes was Clause 5, a seemingly innocuous section regarding the redemption of BOC points for annual fee waivers.
I scoffed when I read this, but ultimately considered it to be of little consequence. After all, my philosophy towards annual fees on entry-level cards is simple: if the bank waives it, great; if not, redeem your points and cancel the card. Even if something possessed you to pay, no one in the right mind would choose 95,000 points (31,667 miles) over a S$190 annual fee, so this clause struck me as more of a footnote than anything else.
Well, BOC has a way of surprising you, because Clause 5 has now been thrust into the spotlight.
BOC is granting fee waivers….then charging points instead
From what I understand, BOC doesn’t grant automatic fee waivers on the BOC Elite Miles card. Therefore everyone who has held their card beyond the first year will have been charged an annual fee.
When this happens, you can call up the bank to request a waiver, but here’s where it gets messy.
Some people will get a waiver, see the fee reversed in the next month’s statement and that’s the end of the story.
Others will get an SMS telling them their fee waiver request has been “processed” and will be reflected on their next statement…
…but later find that 95,000 points have been deducted from their balance. Upon calling the bank, they’re told that this is Clause 5 in action- by requesting an annual fee waiver, they’ve consented to a deduction of 95,000 points.
|What happens if you don’t have sufficient points in your balance for a deduction? Your fee waiver should be rejected and you’ll get a call informing you of the fact|
Let’s leave aside the fact that the IVR system through which fee waivers are requested nowhere mentions a 95,000 points deduction. A natural reading of this SMS would lead most people to conclude that their fee waiver request had been successful.
After all, you requested a fee waiver, not to use your points to redeem a fee waiver. And if your points are used, well then, it’s not really a fee waiver is it? These points are as good as money; in fact, 95,000 points (31,667 miles) are worth way more than S$190, so it’s as if your annual fee was increased instead!
BOC are perfectly entitled to charge whatever they want for an annual fee, but 31,667 miles is objectively speaking insane. For comparison, UOB charges 4,800 UNI$ (9,600 miles) for a fee waiver on a S$192.60 card, so that’s a 2 cent valuation, versus BOC’s 0.6 cents (one thing both banks have in common though is that these deductions are done on the down-low).
To put things in perspective, here’s what you could redeem with 31,667 miles:
- Two round-trip Economy Class flights to Bali
- A round-trip Economy Class flight to Hong Kong or Taipei
- A one-way Business Class flight to Hong Kong or Taipei
- A one-way Economy Class flight to Auckland or Christchurch
Even at a conservative valuation of 1.8 cents, those miles are worth about S$570, or 3X the annual fee (fine, the S$190 annual fee is still subject to 7% GST, but let’s not split hairs here).
It’s almost comical how customers are given the impression their fee waiver is successful, only to be hit by an even bigger “fee”. The wording of the SMS is flat out misleading, and people are right to be annoyed. How hard would it have been to state plainly that 95,000 points are being deducted?
What should I do if my points have been deducted?
If you’ve been given a “fee waiver” at the expense of your points, it’s not too late to get them back.
What you need to do is call up customer service and ask them to reinstate your points. You’ll then be given one of three options:
- Pay the S$190 annual fee and get a gym bag plus some discount vouchers for shopping and dining
- Pay a reduced S$95 annual fee plus 45,000 points, and get a gym bag plus some discount vouchers for shopping and dining
- Refuse to pay the S$190 annual fee, transfer your points out and close the card
I’m fuzzy about the exact configurations of options 1 &2, so please chime in if you know better.
It doesn’t help that based on what I’m hearing, BOC CSOs are providing conflicting information. Some are adamant that no one is getting an annual fee waiver (false), others that you have to decide on the phone whether to pay the annual fee or cancel immediately (thereby losing your points, also false)…the whole thing is a big mess, and quite frankly I understand why some people have had enough.
Given that the BOC Elite Miles card no longer offers lounge access, there’s really no compelling reason to pay the annual fee and have nothing to show for it. If you’re unable to get a waiver, your best option may be to throw in the towel, cash out your points and continue your miles journey elsewhere.
At this point in time, I’m not sure what else I can say about the BOC Elite Miles card, other than it’s not for the faint of heart. It may earn a market leading 1.5/3.0 mpd on local/overseas spending, but you’ll have to ask yourself whether it’s really worth all the aggravation, with its slow processing times, mysterious interest charges and now this.
tl;dr: even if your BOC Elite Miles fee waiver appears to be successful, watch your points like a hawk. If you see a 95,000 sized hole in your balance, call the bank immediately and get it sorted out. Get waived, or get out.