Some people say there’s no point in laying out a detailed credit card strategy, because all it takes is a new promotion, a new launch, or a T&C tweak to turn everything on its head.
That’s true, I suppose, but the same could be said about investment planning, or any other kind of planning for that matter. The fact that things can change doesn’t mean there’s no value in laying out a game plan and adapting as you go along.
So as 2020 kicks off, why not pause for a minute and formulate your card strategy for the year ahead: which combination of cards is going to rake in the most miles?
The overall objective for card strategy
With the right credit cards, you can earn up to 4 mpd on certain transactions. Your job is to make this the norm, rather than the exception. In other words, the overall objective of your card strategy is:
Maximize 4 mpd opportunities
It’s not rocket science. The very reason why we don’t use one card for everything is because we don’t want to pass up 4 mpd opportunities. If you’re happily swiping your Citi PremierMiles Visa everywhere, you’re missing out on up to 2.8 miles for every dollar spent. Your path to a free flight will be significantly slower than someone who optimizes.
Start by categorizing your spending
Think of all your spending as either specialized, or general. Specialized spending refers to categories that you can earn 4 mpd on. General spending is the catchall term for everything else, where the best you can do is 1.2-1.6 mpd.
Every time you use a general spending card for a specialized spending category, you’re leaving money on the table; the bank would have awarded you more miles, but you didn’t take it.
So the first step is to think about the categories you spend the most on. For the majority of people, the following list should be pretty exhaustive:
- Foreign currency
- Offline shopping
- Bill payments
Transactions won’t always fit nicely into one category, but that isn’t really a concern. If I’m dining overseas, I can use either a foreign currency card, or a dining card. If I’m buying Europe train tickets online, I can either use a foreign currency card, or an online spending card. If I’m dining in Singapore at a place that takes Paywave, I can either use a contactless spending card or a dining card.
The trick to optimization is to know how to manage your caps, because, with some very limited exceptions, most 4 mpd opportunities are capped. The general rule is to always use the most restrictive cap first. I’m more likely to spend online than to spend in foreign currency, so I utilize the foreign currency cap first when the opportunity arises. Likewise, I utilize my dining cap before my contactless cap, because the latter is more flexible.
Online: DBS Woman’s World Mastercard or Citi Rewards Visa
|DBS Woman’s World Card
|4.0 mpd||S$2,000 per calendar month|
Citi Rewards Visa
|4.0 mpd||S$1,000 per statement month||Excludes travel|
Think of how many online transactions you do in a typical month: Grab/gojek rides, Lazada/RedMart/Qoo10, movie tickets, Deliveroo/foodpanda, entertainment subscriptions, air tickets…it’s a very broad category, and definitely something you need to have a specialized card for.
Although 2019 saw the debut of pretenders like the Citi Lazada Card and the KrisFlyer UOB Credit Card, both of which offer bonuses on online spending, the DBS Woman’s World Card (DBS WWMC) and Citi Rewards Visa remain my picks for another year running.
The DBS WWMC (which doesn’t require you to have lady bits nor earn S$80K a year) offers 4 mpd on all online spending, capped at S$2,000 per calendar month.
Once that’s exhausted, you can use the Citi Rewards Visa, which also offers 4 mpd on all online spending (except travel-related spending like airfares, lodging and car rentals), capped at S$1,000 per statement month. Incidentally, the Citi Rewards Visa also earns 4 mpd (for now) on something that rhymes with crabhey bopups.
To better optimize my caps, I’m using the OCBC 90N on Netflix, Spotify, Singapore Airlines, Scoot, SilkAir, AirAsia, and Jetstar tickets until 29 Feb 2020.
This gives me 4 mpd with no cap, allowing me to conserve the 4 mpd cap on the DBS WWMC and Citi Rewards Visa.
Contactless: UOB Preferred Platinum Visa or UOB Visa Signature
|UOB Preferred Platinum Visa
|4.0 mpd||S$1,110 per calendar month||Except at places where SMART$ are awarded|
UOB Visa Signature
|4.0 mpd||S$2,000 per statement month||Min S$1,000 spending on contactless + petrol|
Just like online spending, contactless is a very broad category. Contactless terminals have sprung up almost everywhere, from supermarkets to doctor’s offices, from convenience stores to car repair shops. From a miles collector’s point of view, this is fantastic; it means even a trip to the dentist is a chance to earn 4 mpd.
To do that, you’ll need a UOB Preferred Platinum Visa. This earns you 4 mpd on the first S$1,110 of contactless spending per calendar month (technically S$1,000, but UOB’s systems have a funny way of awarding the bonus), except at places where SMART$ are awarded. It pays to familiarize yourself with SMART$ merchants; some of the bigger ones are Cold Storage, Giant, Jasons, Market Place, BreadTalk, Cathay Cineplexes, Shell, and Guardian.
|There’s no need to tap the physical UOB PPV card; using it via your mobile wallet (Google, Apple, Samsung or Fitbit Pay) will still earn you the bonus miles|
Assuming you spend more than S$1,110 in a month, consider using the UOB Visa Signature instead. This earns 4 mpd on contactless spending, provided you spend a minimum of S$1,000 and maximum of S$2,000 on contactless + petrol spending per statement period (see below for more details on petrol spending).
Since the UOB Visa Signature has a minimum spend threshold to meet, only use it if you’re very sure you’ll spend at least S$1,000. Anything below that earns a measly 0.4 mpd!
Foreign currency: OCBC 90N or UOB Visa Signature (after 29 Feb 2020)
|4.0 mpd||None||Until 29 Feb 2020|
UOB Visa Signature
|4.0 mpd||S$2,000 per statement month||Min S$1,000 spending on foreign currency. Payment processing must be done overseas|
With an uncapped 4 mpd on foreign currency spending, using the OCBC 90N is a no-brainer. This won’t last forever, sadly, and after 29 Feb 2020 it reverts to a more sedate 2.1 mpd.
I’m hopeful that another bank will step in to fill the void, but if not, the UOB Visa Signature gets called up for duty. This gives you 4 mpd on foreign currency spending, provided (1) you spend at least S$1,000 in foreign currency in a given statement month, and (2) the payment processing is done outside of Singapore
|If you’re physically swiping your card overseas, you don’t need to worry about the payment processing bit (do look out for DCC though). If you’re paying for something online, be careful when paying in foreign currency on websites with .sg domains (e.g Hotels.com)|
Do note that the 4 mpd on foreign currency is capped at S$2,000 per statement month, and this cap is shared with contactless + petrol transactions. In other words, the only way you could earn 4 mpd on both is to spend exactly S$1,000 on foreign currency and S$1,000 on contactless + petrol. In reality you won’t, so pick one or the other.
Dining: UOB Preferred Platinum AMEX or UOB Lady’s/Lady’s Solitare Card
UOB Preferred Platinum AMEX
|4.0 mpd||S$6,000 per calendar year||No longer issued|
|UOB Lady’s Card
|4.0 mpd||S$1,000 per calendar month||Dining must be selected as your quarterly 10X category|
|UOB Lady’s Solitaire
|4.0 mpd||S$3,000 per calendar month||Dining must be selected as one of your two quarterly 10X categories|
If you managed to get a UOB Preferred Platinum AMEX before the card was discontinued, great! Continue using it for the first S$6,000 of dining spend each year.
The UOB Lady’s Card (which unlike the DBS WWMC is strictly for women only) lets you earn 4 mpd on 1 of 7 categories every quarter– one of which is dining. This makes it the only 4 mpd dining card still open for applications.
The 4 mpd is capped at S$1,000 per calendar month, but if you qualify for a UOB Lady’s Solitaire (min income: S$120K) you enjoy a S$3,000 cap, plus an additional bonus category.
It’s not all doom and gloom for men though, as you can ask your girlfriend/wife to apply for a Lady’s Card and add it to your mobile wallet. If you have no girlfriend/wife, then the good news is that contactless terminals are pretty common at restaurants too.
Alternatively, you may consider a HSBC Revolution, which gives 2 mpd on dining with no cap. It may be worth considering if you spend a lot on dining where contactless isn’t an option, but otherwise I’d avoid the risk of orphan points.
Petrol: UOB Visa Signature or Maybank World Mastercard
UOB Visa Signature
|4.0 mpd||S$2,000 per statement month||Min S$1,000 spending on petrol + contactless, excludes Shell and SPC|
Maybank World Mastercard
The UOB Visa Signature has popped up quite a few times in previous sections, so I won’t repeat myself again here- just note that Shell and SPC are ineligible for 4 mpd (which leaves Esso, Caltex, and Sinpoec).
If you don’t want to deal with minimum spends and exclusions, then the Maybank World Mastercard is probably a better choice. This offers 4 mpd on petrol, period, and based on the website, there doesn’t seem to be any cap.
Offline shopping: Citi Rewards Visa + OCBC Titanium Rewards
|Citi Rewards Visa
|4.0 mpd||S$1,000 per statement month|
OCBC Titanium RewardsApply here
|4.0 mpd||S$12,000 per membership year||Both Pink and Blue cards have their own caps|
The Citi Rewards Visa will earn 4 mpd on spending at any department store, or any shop selling bags, shoes or clothes. However, since its 4 mpd cap is very valuable and ideally preserved for slabmay hopups, I’d instead use the OCBC Titanium Rewards for offline shopping.
The OCBC Titanium Rewards gives 4 mpd on the first S$12,000 each membership year spent at any of the following merchants:
|MCC 5311||Departmental Stores|
|MCC 5611||Men’s and Boy’s Clothing and Accessories Stores|
|MCC 5621||Women’s Ready to Wear Stores|
|MCC 5631||Women’s Accessories and Specialities Stores|
|MCC 5641||Children’s and Infant’s Wear Stores|
|MCC 5651||Family Clothing Stores|
|MCC 5661||Shoe Stores|
|MCC 5691||Men’s and Women’s Clothing Stores|
|MCC 5045||Computers, Peripherals, and Software|
|MCC 5732||Electronic Stores|
|MCC 5699||Miscellaneous Apparel and Accessory Shop|
The cap is particularly noteworthy because you can utilize all of it at one go, great for big ticket purchases (e.g laptops). There are two versions of the OCBC Titanium Rewards (Pink & Blue), and each comes with its own S$12,000 cap.
Public transport: UOB PRVI Miles Mastercard or Visa
|UOB PRVI Miles Mastercard or Visa
|4.4 mpd||S$80 per calendar month||Until 29 Feb 2020|
It looks like banks have decided to run tactical promotions for SimplyGo. Last year, we saw DBS running a 4 mpd promo on the Altitude Visa, and UOB replying with a 4.4 mpd promo of their own. The DBS promo lapsed and wasn’t renewed (although new DBS Altitude customers can enjoy 4 mpd on SimplyGo for the first 3 months), but UOB has extended theirs until 29 Feb 2020.
As a reminder, registration is required for this promotion, and you have to pay for your rides via mobile contactless (i.e Apple Pay, Fitbit Pay, Google Pay or Samsung Pay). You will not earn any bonus miles if you tap your physical card at the reader.
The relatively small amounts transacted on SimplyGo means such promotions probably don’t cost too much to run, and they’re good for building daily touch points with the product. I’d expect a new one to come along in Q2 2020.
Bill Payments: CardUp or Citi PayAll
If you were hoping to earn some free miles while paying bills, then the bad news is AXS no longer accepts GrabPay.
This leaves very few avenues to earn miles without a surcharge. The only ones I’m aware of are (please contribute if you know others):
- SP Utilities and Singtel bills earn points with American Express cards
- Insurance bills earn points with the HSBC Revolution and BOC Elite Miles
- Telco bills earn points on the Citi Rewards Visa if paid online or via app, provided you don’t set the up as a recurring payment
- Keppel Electric and SP Utilities bills earn points with the UOB PRVI Miles
Otherwise, if you don’t mind paying a small fee, both CardUp and Citi PayAll are good options. PayAll is marginally cheaper, but limits you to rent, tax, education, MCST and electricity bills. CardUp supports more types of payments, and is currently offering a fee of 2.25% with the code GET225.
If you want to pay rent in particular, then your cheapest option is RentHero, which is offering a 1.85% discounted admin fee to Milelion readers until 30 June 2020.
General spending: BOC Elite Miles World Mastercard
|BOC Elite Miles
|Local: 1.5 mpd
Overseas: 3.0 mpd
|None||Are you sure?|
UOB PRVI Miles
|Local: 1.4 mpd
Overseas: 2.4 mpd
|None||Awarded per S$5 of spending|
|If you have access to a general spending card that earns 1.6 mpd, such as the Citi ULTIMA, UOB Reserve, DBS Insignia or premier/private banking versions of the OCBC VOYAGE, by all means go ahead and use it|
I’m still using the BOC Elite Miles World Mastercard as my general spending card. And believe me, I hate myself for it. Despite the mysterious interest charges, annual fee fiasco and general skullduggery, I’m tied to this product until I can quit the BOC SmartSaver honeytrap.
The BOC SmartSaver is one of the easiest ways to earn 3.55% p.a on the first S$60,000 of your savings. There’s no need to buy any investment products or insurance; just spend at least S$1,500 on your credit card, credit a salary of S$6,000 or more, and pay 3 bills via GIRO or ibanking.
If you don’t use the SmartSaver, however, I’d suggest you use the UOB PRVI Miles card instead. You’ll lose out on 0.1 mpd, and you’ll need to watch out for UOB’s infamous S$5 rounding policy, but I’d wager your blood pressure will thank you.
Remember, your general spending card is your card of last resort. Only use it when opportunities to earn 4 mpd don’t exist.
Benefits card: AMEX Platinum Charge
In addition to my spending cards, I also keep what I call a “benefits card”- held not primarily for spending, but because of the benefits it gives.
With the AMEX Platinum Charge, I’ll be fully utilizing:
- S$800 of airline and hotel credit
- S$200 of St Regis dining vouchers
- Unlimited airport lounge access for principal cardholder + 2 supplementary cardholders
- 1 staycation at the St Regis or W Singapore
- 2 nights at selected Frasers Hospitality residences (thanks to the voucher I get from holding the AMEX Platinum Reserve, with no annual fee)
- Three complimentary spa treatments
- Elite status for hotels
- Love Dining benefits
If you just can’t part with a four-digit annual fee, then the Citi Prestige (AF: S$535) may be a good alternative, depending on how you feel about the following:
- 25,000 miles
- 4th night free on hotel stays
- Complimentary airport limo transfers (hefty spend required though)
- Unlimited airport lounge access for principal cardholder + 1 guest
How much should we specialize?
As much as we want to maximize 4 mpd everywhere, is it possible to overdo it?
That’s a great question. The way I see it, there are two additional considerations:
(1) Conversion Fees
The more cards you hold, the more conversion fees you pay…sometimes. If you hold multiple UOB cards, you still pay one conversion fee because your points are pooled. If you hold multiple Citibank cards, you pay as many conversion fees as you have cards. Have a read of this article to learn which banks pool points.
If you’re spreading your cards across multiple banks, then you’ll of course pay more conversion fees. Honestly though, I’m not overly worried about conversion fees. We try to minimize them where we can, but it’s not the end of the world if you end up paying a few- I guarantee you they’ll be the last thing you think about when you’re sitting in your First or Business Class seat.
(2) Orphan Points
I’m a bit more concerned about orphan points. If you spread yourself too thin, you may end up in a situation where you’re optimizing on transactions, but not in an overall sense.
For example, if I drive very infrequently but get a Maybank World Mastercard just so I can earn 4 mpd on petrol, I may be optimizing on the transaction, but that counts for little if I end up with a small chunk of TREATS points I can’t cash out.
So my take on the situation is that optimization is good, but you need to look at both the micro and macro picture. If you don’t spend a significant amount on a particular category, then consider using your general spending card instead.
So that’s the game plan for 2020! Once again, I’d stress that the key is to be flexible and know how to adapt. We all know that the miles and points game can change at a minute’s notice, and it’s important to keep an eye out for the latest developments.
The list presented here is not necessarily comprehensive, and there are many roads to Rome. If you have alternative strategies, I’d love to read about them in the comments below.
Finally, I’ve not said a word about sign up bonuses, on the assumption that you’ve already exhausted them. If not, check out this page where I keep track of the latest sign up bonuses on the market- they’re a great way to jump start your miles collection.