In one sense, loyalty points are a bit like currency- 1 KrisFlyer mile isn’t the same as 1 Asia Mile, just like S$1 isn’t the same as HK$1. If I want to buy something in Hong Kong, I need HKD, just like I need Asia Miles to redeem something in the Asia Miles program.
But beyond that, the analogy breaks down. While it’s possible to convert S$1 into its HKD equivalent, I can’t do the same with KrisFlyer miles and Asia Miles. Traditionally speaking, loyalty points are a captive currency with little to no exchangeability.
That’s something OCBC is looking to address with STACK, a multi-partner loyalty platform that lets you track, exchange, and redeem points across programs. STACK launched in September 2019, and consists of two main features: Marketplace, and Points Exchange.
Marketplace offers deals like $2 for a $5 Grab voucher, or $3 for a $6 RedMart voucher. Points Exchange allows you to convert one loyalty currency to another.
We’ll talk about the deals in a bit, but let’s first dive into Points Exchange, arguably the more unique feature.
How does Points Exchange work?
Currently, six loyalty currencies are available for exchange on STACK- all four of OCBC’s, plus Great Eastern’s (UPGREAT) and Millennium Hotels’ (My Points).
|Currency||Minimum Exchange||Exchange Block|
|UPGREAT||100||Blocks of 100|
|It’s currently not possible to convert points into OCBC$. However, OCBC$ can be converted out into the other five currencies|
To convert points, simply select the “from” and “to” currencies. STACK then tells you how many points you’ll get, net of a conversion fee (see below).
There’s no limit to the number of points transfers you can make, and points transfers are instantaneous.
What fees are involved?
Points exchanges are not completely frictionless- 2% of the currency you’re transferring from will be charged as an admin fee, with a minimum and maximum fee applicable.
For example, a minimum and maximum fee of 135 and 2,702 respectively applies when transferring OCBC$ into Travel$. Three possible scenarios are illustrated below:
In Scenario A, I’m triggering the minimum fee of 135 OCBC$ .In B, I’m paying 2% of my transfer amount, or 1,400 OCBC$. In C, I’m triggering the maximum fee of 2,702 OCBC$.
Here’s a summary of the minimum and maximum fees applicable, by currency.
|Currency||Min Fee||Max Fee|
What are the conversion rates?
Whether or not STACK’s Points Exchange feature makes sense ultimately boils down to the conversion rates.
Here’s what they look like across currencies; I’ve ignored conversion fees, which in any case are less consequential the more points you convert.
|1 My Point||0.417||N/A||0.391||1.283||0.680||N/A|
That’s a lot of numbers to take in, so let’s focus on the more common scenarios people may be thinking of.
Nope: OCBC$ to Travel$
On the surface, it’s quite obvious why you’d rather have Travel$ than OCBC$:
- OCBC$ expire after 2 years, while Travel$ don’t expire
- Converting OCBC$ to KrisFlyer miles attracts a $25 conversion fee, while it’s free to convert Travel$
- You need to convert a minimum of 25,000 OCBC$ (10,000 miles) at one go, versus 1,000 Travel$ (1,000 miles)
The conversion rate, however, negates the advantages. 1 OCBC$= 0.227 Travel$, which is the equivalent of trading 0.4 miles for 0.22 miles, or taking a haircut of more than 40% (and that’s not even counting the admin fee)! There’s simply no reason why you’d take that trade.
Nope: OCBC$ to VOYAGE Miles
In the same way, it’s obvious why you’d rather have VOYAGE Miles than OCBC$:
- OCBC$ expire after 2 years, while VOYAGE Miles don’t expire
- Converting OCBC$ to KrisFlyer miles attracts a $25 conversion fee, while its free to convert VOYAGE Miles
- You need to convert a minimum of 25,000 OCBC$ (10,000 miles) at one go, versus just 1 VOYAGE Mile (1 mile)
- OCBC$ can only be converted to KrisFlyer, while VOYAGE Miles can be redeemed for any seat on any flight
Again, the conversion rate erodes the gains. 1 OCBC$= 0.213 VOYAGE Miles, an even lower rate than Travel$.
Even if you earned your OCBC$ exclusively through 10X categories on the OCBC Titanium Rewards (10 OCBC$ per $1), you’d be earning the equivalent of 2.13 VOYAGE miles per dollar- still inferior to the VOYAGE’s foreign currency earn rate (2.4 mpd until 31 Dec 19, 2.3 after). It might make sense if you had a lot of local shopping to do and really liked VOYAGE miles, but otherwise it’s a bit of a stretch.
Yes: Travel$ to VOYAGE Miles
VOYAGE Miles have two key advantages over Travel$:
- You need to convert a minimum of 1,000 Travel$ (1,000 miles) at one go, versus just 1 VOYAGE Mile (1 mile)
- Travel$ can only be converted to KrisFlyer, while VOYAGE Miles can be redeemed for any seat on any flight
You take a small haircut when converting Travel$ to VOYAGE Miles, but this may be worth it if you’re using your OCBC 90N card on 4 and 8 mpd categories.
|Bonus rates valid till 29 Feb 2020||4 mpd categories||8 mpd categories|
|Equivalent VOYAGE Miles per dollar||3.75 VM/$1||7.5 VM/$1|
The highest earning rate you can currently muster on the OCBC VOYAGE card is 2.4 mpd on foreign currency spending (2.3 after 31 Dec 19). If you really wanted to build your stash of VOYAGE miles, you could spend on eligible 4/8 mpd categories using the OCBC 90N, and convert the Travel$ into VOYAGE miles.
This would let you earn the equivalent of 3.75/7.5 VOYAGE miles per $1, which I’d argue is a good deal, given how valuable VOYAGE miles are.
Nope: OCBC$/Travel$/VOYAGE Miles to UPGREAT Points
UPGREAT isn’t a particularly well-known rewards program (and has one of the most convoluted earning mechanisms I’ve ever seen- you earn XP to exchange for stars to exchange for UPGREAT points), but it does have KrisFlyer as a partner.
1,000 UPGREAT points can be converted into 330 KrisFlyer miles, so are there any potential arbitrage opportunities?
Sadly, no. You’ll lose ~50% of the value in this exchange.
|Convert from||Convert to||Mileage Equivalent|
|1 OCBC$ (0.4 miles)||0.37 UPGREAT||0.12 miles|
|1 Travel$ (1 mile)||1.63 UPGREAT||0.54 miles|
|1 VOYAGE mile (1 mile)||1.74 UPGREAT||0.57 miles|
Yes: UPGREAT Points to VOYAGE Miles/Travel$
On the other hand, converting your UPGREAT points into VOYAGE Miles or Travel$ makes sense.
Instead of taking a 0.33 miles per UPGREAT point, you can almost double this to 0.613 miles by converting to Travel$.
|Convert from||Convert to||Mileage Equivalent|
|1 UPGREAT (0.33 miles)||0.575 VOYAGE Miles|
In other words, UPGREAT members who hold the OCBC 90N or VOYAGE cards should not convert their points through UPGREAT; they should instead transfer them into OCBC rewards currencies and then convert.
Maybe: OCBC$/Travel$/VOYAGE Miles to My Points
Millennium Hotels and Resorts isn’t one of the bigger hotel chains out there, with a footprint of just 130 properties. It does have its own loyalty program, however, where points are worth 0.68 Singapore cents each when redeemed against hotel stays.
Pop that into our equation and we have…
|Convert from | Value||Convert to | Value|
|1 OCBC$ (0.4 miles) | 0.72 cents||0.544 My Points | 0.37 cents|
|1 Travel$ (1 mile)| 1.8 cents||2.397 My Points | 1.63 cents|
|1 VOYAGE mile (1 mile) | 1.8-2.97 cents||2.559 My Points | 1.74 cents|
|I personally value KrisFlyer miles at 1.8 cents each; but your valuation may differ. VOYAGE Miles are worth more than KrisFlyer miles as they can be converted at a 1:1 ratio, or applied against the cost of revenue flights; see this article for more details|
It doesn’t make sense to convert OCBC$ or VOYAGE miles into My Points, but it could just about make sense to convert Travel$, assuming you had plans to stay in a Millennium Hotel anyway and were already flush with miles.
The value is extremely marginal, but given how hard it is to earn hotel points in Singapore, it may be an option for some people.
What about transfers into OCBC$?
As mentioned earlier, transfers into OCBC$ are currently not available. Even if that changes, I highly doubt the rate will be the inverse of the current rate, because that would yield the following:
|1 Travel$||1 OCBC$||1 VM||1 R$||1 UPGREAT||1 My Points|
Imagine converting 1 Travel$ into 4.4 OCBC$- that’s like trading 1 mile for 1.76 miles! That’s too good to be true, so unfortunately I think we’ll see different exchange rates into and out of OCBC$.
STACK’s marketplace carries an assortment of deals, some good, others meh. For example, you can pay $1 for a single scoop of Haagen Dazs ice cream, or $3 for a $10 Fairprice ON voucher, or $5 for a $10 Lazada voucher.
You could buy these deals with your rewards points, but the value is extremely poor. You’re much better off paying for them with cash.
Based on the current rates, the only points transfers that make sense to me are
- Travel$ to VOYAGE Miles
- UPGREAT Points to VOYAGE Miles/Travel$
It’s possible that rates may evolve and new opportunities open up, but as it stands the use cases are very limited.
STACK is useful insofar as it helps avoid orphan points, or leaving value on the table. For example, I may normally stay at hotels in the Hilton chain, but due to unforeseen circumstances end up at a Millennium hotel instead. Most people wouldn’t bother accruing the points as it’s just a once-off stay, but with STACK, I’m motivated to earn them so I can convert them into something I’d actually use.
So my take on STACK is that it’s an interesting idea, but not something you need to jump into just yet. Browse the deals if that interests you, and keep your eyes peeled for developments.
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