Welcome to the 2021 Edition of the $120K Credit Card Showdown, where we take an in-depth look at the finest pieces of plastic (or metal) money can buy.
We’re now in the fourth iteration of this guide, which is more crucial than ever this year as COVID-19 continues to keep borders shut, negating some traditional $120K benefits such as unlimited lounge access or complimentary airport limo transfers.
I’ll tell you upfront that I’d question the wisdom of applying for a $120K card right now, given how difficult it’d be to recoup your investment. But if you’re nonetheless thinking about taking the plunge (or renewing the card you already have), here’s my assessment of how they measure up.
|💳 $120K Credit Card Showdown|
2017 Edition | 2019 Edition | 2020 Edition
What is the $120K segment?
The Singapore credit card market is broadly segmented into three tiers, which I’ve illustrated below with helpful band descriptors.
The entry level features cards like the DBS Altitude, Citi PremierMiles, and HSBC Revolution. The income requirement here is the MAS-mandated minimum of $30K. Expect nothing much in the way of benefits, other than perhaps a couple of free lounge visits.
At the very top, you have cards like the AMEX Centurion, Citi ULTIMA, DBS Insignia, and UOB Reserve. Membership is either by invitation only, or for those with incomes in excess of half a million dollars a year. Annual fees are in the eye watering four-digit range, but come with perks like beck-and-call concierge services and invitations to exclusive society events.
In between those two segments you have the mass-affluent tier, otherwise known as the $120K segment (despite the name, income requirements here actually range between $120-150,000). These cards may not be as posh as those in the $500K segment, but still come with useful perks like unlimited lounge access, special dining invitations, complimentary airport transfers and exclusive hotel offers. Some of them sport metal cardstock too, for that extra premium feel.
The $120K candidates
Here’s the seven candidates in this year’s $120K showdown:
|💳 $120K Candidates|
|AMEX Plat. Reserve||Citi Prestige||HSBC Visa Infinite|
|Maybank Visa Infinite||OCBC VOYAGE||SCB Visa Infinite|
|UOB VI Metal Card|
Last year I swapped out the Standard Chartered Visa Infinite for the X Card, but this year I’m doing the reverse. The Visa Infinite’s unexpected resurrection means it’s very much back in the game, although it’s basically the same card as before. The X Card doesn’t have much going for it anyway, and one has to wonder whether Standard Chartered is going to pull something out of a hat before July renewals roll round.
Once again, I’m not going to include the AMEX Platinum Charge, simply because its S$1,712 annual fee is 3X that of the cards in this segment, making it almost impossible to do a fair comparison. Its benefits are better, but at that price, they better be.
While there are other $120K cards on the market like the Bank of China Visa Infinite and CIMB Visa Infinite, I’m not considering those because they’re targeted at the cashback market. I did consider featuring the UOB Lady’s Solitaire Card, but decided not to because it’s more of a specialised spending card, and besides, the UOB Visa Infinite Metal Card is clearly meant to be UOB’s designated offering for this segment.
What’s changed since last year?
Here’s a quick summary of what’s changed since the previous $120K showdown in May 2020.
|AMEX Plat. Reserve|
|+ Improvements||– Devaluations|
|+ Improvements||– Devaluations|
|HSBC Visa Infinite
|+ Improvements||– Devaluations|
|Maybank Visa Infinite
|+ Improvements||– Devaluations|
|+ Improvements||– Devaluations|
|SCB Visa Infinite|
|+ Improvements||– Devaluations|
|UOB Visa Infinite Metal Card|
|+ Improvements||– Devaluations|
The OCBC VOYAGE underwent a major revamp that took effect from 1 June last year, which saw adjustments to the earn rate and spending required for complimentary airport limo rides. Otherwise, most of the changes we’ve seen in the $120K segment have been limited-time offers affecting earn rates.
There were no new launches of $120K cards during this period, which means that DBS retains the dubious honor of being the only bank in Singapore not to have a $120K card.
Annual Fees and Welcome Gifts
|Card||Annual Fee||Welcome Gift|
|AMEX Plat. Reserve||S$535||2N stay at Fraser properties + other dining & lifestyle vouchers^
|Citi Prestige||S$535||25,000 miles^
|HSBC Visa Infinite||S$650
(S$488 for HSBC Premier)
|Maybank Visa Infinite||S$600
(1st year free)
|SCB Visa Infinite||S$588.50||35,000 miles|
|UOB VI Metal Card||S$642||25,000 miles^
|*Alternative option: Pay S$3,210 for 150,000 miles
^Also given upon renewal
The biggest barrier to getting a $120K card for many otherwise qualified applicants is the annual fee, which ranges between S$488 to S$650 per year, a significant step up from what you’d pay for an entry-level card.
|😂 Annual Fee Waiver?|
The general rule is that cards in the $120K segment don’t provide annual fee waivers. There are exceptions of course:
But generally speaking, it isn’t like cards in the $30K segment where you call up the hotline, press a few buttons and get an instant fee waiver.
Fortunately, most of the cards cushion the blow by offering miles in exchange for the annual fee. Do note that what you get upon joining may not be the same as what you get upon renewal:
- The Citi Prestige, OCBC VOYAGE, and UOB Visa Infinite Metal Card offer the same number of miles each year
- The HSBC Visa Infinite and SCB Visa Infinite do not officially give any miles upon renewal. You’re free to call up and make noise, but even if you succeed, you will only get a smaller number than the first year
- The AMEX Platinum Reserve doesn’t offer miles with the annual fee, but you get another 2N Fraser Hospitality voucher upon renewal, plus other dining and spa vouchers
First-year customers get the most bang for their buck as a HSBC Visa Infinite cardholder. Paying S$650 for 35,000 miles is the equivalent of 1.86 cents per mile, and if you’re a HSBC Premier customer, that figure drops to just 1.39 cents.
However, on a recurring basis the Citi Prestige offers the best deal- S$535 for 25,000 miles is paying 2.14 cents each. This is still above the threshold I’m willing to pay for miles (especially given the COVID-19 situation), but relatively speaking it’s better than the rest.
Special mention for the Maybank Visa Infinite, which has no welcome (or renewal) gift, but waives the first year’s annual fee. If you’re just in this for a free Priority Pass, this might be the one for you.
Miles Earning Rates
|AMEX Plat. Reserve||0.69 mpd||0.69 mpd||S$1.60|
|Citi Prestige^||1.3 mpd||2.0 mpd||S$1|
|HSBC Visa Infinite||1.25 mpd*||2.25 mpd*||S$0.50|
|Maybank Visa Infinite||1.2 mpd||2.0 mpd||S$0.50|
|OCBC VOYAGE||1.3 mpd
|SCB Visa Infinite||1.4 mpd#||3.0 mpd#||S$0.20|
|UOB VI Metal Card||1.4 mpd||2.0 mpd||S$5|
|^Additional 0.02 to 0.12 mpd awarded based on tenure with bank
*With minimum S$50K spend in previous membership year. Otherwise (or if first year), 1 mpd for local, 2 mpd for overseas
#With minimum S$2K spend per statement month. Otherwise 1 mpd for both
It needs to be repeated that you don’t need a $120K card to rake in the miles. In fact, if your only concern is miles maximization, you’re better off using a specialized spending card, many of which are available at the $30K income mark.
That said, the Standard Chartered Visa Infinite offers the highest return to those who can spend at least S$2,000 per statement month, with 1.4 mpd for local spending and 3.0 mpd for FCY spending. If you’re looking at something with no minimum spend, the OCBC VOYAGE or UOB Visa Infinite Metal would be the next best options.
|💡 Point of Information|
|Technically speaking, the OCBC VOYAGE earns VOYAGE Miles. These can be converted into KrisFlyer miles at a 1:1 ratio, or redeemed against the cost of revenue flights. This therefore makes 1 VOYAGE Mile worth more than 1 KrisFlyer mile. We won’t go into the analysis here, but you should check out this article if you’re interested in learning more.|
I’m not a fan of the HSBC Visa Infinite because of the hoops it makes you jump through to earn the headline 1.25/2.25 mpd rates. You’d need to spend S$50,000 in the previous membership year to unlock that tier, which represents a lot of opportunity cost compared to splitting that spending across multiple cards. Fail to hit S$50,000, and you’ll earn a measly 1/2 mpd.
That’s still better than the AMEX Platinum Reserve, at the bottom of the heap with an anemic 0.69 mpd earn rate on local and overseas spending. You could earn 3.47 mpd at 10Xcelerator partners, but these aren’t exactly what I’d call everyday merchants.
On the flip side, AMEX has the fewest rewards restrictions among all the banks in Singapore- you can earn miles on government transactions, education fees and hospital bills, assuming AMEX cards are accepted. This makes it a good “card of last resort” when you suspect a particular payment might not earn points with another bank.
The other thing to consider is the minimum spend required to accrue points. Because of how banks award and round points, this will differ from card to card. For example, both the OCBC VOYAGE and UOB Visa Infinite Metal Card award points in blocks of S$5. This means you’ll earn the same number of miles on a S$10 transaction as you would S$14.99, and any transaction below S$5 earns no miles at all. The impact gets smaller as your transaction size increases, but it’s still worth taking note of when making small payments.
Points Flexibility and Expiry
|AMEX Plat. Reserve||None||13||None||250 miles|
|Citi Prestige||None||12||S$26.75||10K miles|
|HSBC Visa Infinite||37 months||2||S$42.80^||10K miles|
|Maybank Visa Infinite||None||4||None||5K miles|
|OCBC VOYAGE||None||1*||None||1 mile|
|SCB Visa Infinite||None||11||S$26.75||1K miles|
|UOB VI Metal Card||2 years||2||S$25#||10K miles|
|^An annual fee that covers unlimited transfers during that period
*VOYAGE Miles can also be redeemed against the cost of any revenue ticket
#Alternatively, pay S$50 for automatic conversions each month
Quantity of points is one thing; quality is another. All things equal, points are more valuable if they:
- don’t expire
- can be transferred to multiple partners
- don’t incur conversion fees
- have smaller conversion blocks
Based on this criteria alone, the AMEX Platinum Reserve would be the winner. It has non-expiring points, the most transfer partners, no transfer fees, and a minimum transfer amount that starts from just 250 miles.
The problem is: Membership Rewards points are high quality, but low quantity. You’ll be earning points at such a slow rate (see previous section) that it offsets most of the benefits!
So we turn to our runner-up option, which would be the Citi Prestige. Even though it charges a S$26.75 transfer fee, it comes with non-expiring points and 12 transfer partners. It pips the SCB Visa Infinite because the latter applies different transfer ratios depending on partner (e.g 2.5 points= 1 mile for KrisFlyer, but 3.5 points= 1 mile for Emirates Skywards). Depending on your choice of frequent flyer program, you might earn as little as 1 mpd with the SCB Visa Infinite.
Miles Purchase Facilities
|Card||Buy Miles From||Limit|
|AMEX Plat. Reserve||N/A||N/A|
|Citi Prestige||0.8 cpm
|Actual bill amount|
|HSBC Visa Infinite||1.2 cpm
|Actual tax amount|
|Maybank Visa Infinite||N/A||N/A|
|OCBC VOYAGE||1.9 cpm
|SCB Visa Infinite||1.14 cpm
|Actual tax amount|
|UOB VI Metal Card||1.8 cpm
(UOB Payment Facility)
Those looking to buy miles have never had it this good, as the last 12 months have seen banks rolling out some very lucrative offers.
|❓ Paying Income Tax?|
|Don’t forget to check out The Milelion’s full guide to earning miles on your 2021 income tax payment|
To recap, there are two types of miles purchase facilities:
- Those which let you buy as many miles as you want, no questions asked
- Those which let you buy miles provided you have a rental, tax, insurance or other bill to pay
OCBC VOYAGE and UOB Visa Infinite Metal Card members have access to (1), but pay a relatively higher price of 1.8-1.9 cents per mile (cpm).
Citi Prestige, HSBC Visa Infinite and SCB X Card members have access to (2), but their cost per mile is much lower. Of course, that’s only relevant if you have an actual bill to pay.
There isn’t even a contest here: it’s the Citi Prestige’s title. From now till 31 August 2021, cardholders can earn 2.5 mpd on up to S$120,000 of Citi PayAll transactions, at an admin fee of 2%. That’s 0.8 cpm, almost too good to be true- not just in terms of price, but in terms of what you can do with Citi ThankYou points (12 different transfer partners).
Yes, you need a bill to pay, but Citi PayAll supports a wide range of payment types:
I don’t think Citibank is too fussed about what exactly you pay (so long as it’s not a mortgage repayment, crypto or gambling related transaction), but do remember there may be tax implications if you invoice a family member for tuition or rental.
Even if we can’t travel right now, lounge access will continue to be a major draw of the $120K cards, if only for future use.
The big change over the past year has come from outside, as Plaza Premium announced its divorce from Priority Pass and LoungeKey. This will take effect from 1 July 2021, removing almost 180 Plaza Premium lounges from these networks.
That’s a major development, because in numerous airports, Plaza Premium lounges are the only option that Priority Pass currently has.
|Airports where Plaza Premium lounges are the only Priority Pass option|
So unless alternative facilities are found, only OCBC VOYAGE and UOB Visa Infinite Metal Card members will have lounge access in the cities above, as all the other $120K cards use either Priority Pass or Lounge Key.
Plaza Premium Lounge Changi Terminal 1
Otherwise, my assessment from last year still holds. The Citi Prestige gives you an unlimited Priority Pass with one free guest. If you travel with different people all the time, this will be mighty useful.
The HSBC Visa Infinite has an unlimited LoungeKey with no guest allowance, but lets you get up to five free supplementary cards, each with its own unlimited Lounge Key. This means you can get a card for your spouse, your parents, your adult kids, and bring the whole clan to the lounge for free. On the other hand, you’re unlikely to give a colleague/casual travel companion a supplementary card, which means you can’t take them into the lounge.
Airport Limo Transfers
Just like lounge access, airport limo rides aren’t very useful at the moment, but hopefully that will change in the second half of the year.
In terms of how easy it is to qualify for the benefit, the HSBC Visa Infinite still remains the winner. Just paying the annual fee gets you two complimentary airport transfers (four if you’re a HSBC Premier customer), and you can subsequently unlock additional rides with just $2,000 spending.
But COVID-19 has given us a second angle to look at: how flexible is the accumulation policy?
- Citi Prestige: All rides earned in 2021 will be valid till 31 December 2021
- HSBC Visa Infinite: All rides earned in 2020 and 2021 will be extended for use till 31 December 2021
- OCBC VOYAGE: Unused limo rides can be cashed out at S$25 each, or carried forward till 30 June 2021
- Maybank Visa Infinite: All rides earned in 2021 will be valid till 31 December 2021 (this is the default policy already)
All cards let you carry forward limo rides earned in 2021 until the end of the year (except OCBC, which has not yet announced whether it’ll extend these beyond 30 June; I suspect it will), but only HSBC and OCBC are allowing cardholders to carry forward 2020’s rides.
So I’ll give this category to the HSBC Visa Infinite. It has the lowest spend required for limo rides, it gives you two free ones per year, and lets you carry forward 2020’s entitlement.
Private Club Access
The only $120K card with private club access is the AMEX Platinum Reserve, offering cardholders Tower Club reservations. Bookings can be made through the AMEX concierge, and access is limited to five cardholders per day. All expenses will incur a 10% surcharge, as is Tower Club’s policy for affiliate members.
Although the Straits Bar is a nice place to have a drink, I find the overall Tower Club experience a bit stuffy and overrated. It’s certainly not a decisive factor for choosing a $120K card.
|AMEX Plat. Reserve|
|HSBC Visa Infinite||
|Maybank Visa Infinite||
|SCB Visa Infinite||
|UOB VI Metal Card||
The AMEX Platinum Reserve may not have a lot going for it, but it does offer a solid dining proposition. Cardholders enjoy Love Dining benefits, which offers up to 50% off at a wide variety of hotels and high-end restaurants around Singapore.
In addition to this, there’s also Chillax, which gives 1-for-1 drinks at selected bars islandwide. The full list of Love Dining and Chillax partners can be found below:
Cardholders also receive a S$100 Tower Club dining voucher and some assorted group discounts at the Marriott Tangs Plaza, which can help offset the annual fee.
|💡 Another Way to Get Love Dining|
|You don’t actually need the AMEX Platinum Reserve to enjoy Love Dining and Chillax benefits; they’re also available on the entry-level AMEX Platinum Credit Card (AF: S$321)|
None of the other cards really shine here, because their offers are either sporadic (Citi Prestige and OCBC VOYAGE special dinners are usually once a month, and often oversubscribed), or overhyped.
For example, don’t get too excited about the Gourmet Collection membership that comes with the UOB Visa Infinite Metal Card. UOB markets the benefit as “worth S$388 per annum”, which makes you think they’re offering the Tier 1 membership. This, if purchased separately, would come with S$200 of dining vouchers.
However, cardmembers have confirmed that you don’t get any of those vouchers- just the card, which offers 25% off the bill at participating restaurants and bars, and 15% off rooms. What’s more, the benefit only applies in the first year. If you want to renew it, you’ll need to pay S$68 (or spend at least S$1,000 at participating IHG hotels)
In addition to the benefits above, some $120K cards have unique perks which are well worth discussing.
Citi Prestige: Fourth Night Free
The 4th Night Free (4NF) benefit is no doubt one of the best perks of the Citi Prestige card. Used judiciously, cardholders can recover large chunks of their annual fee.
With 4NF, cardholders can request the Prestige concierge to book any publicly-available hotel rate and receive four nights for the cost of three. The average nightly pre-tax room rate is calculated and refunded to the card. This refund is done on the back end, so you’ll still earn hotel points and elite credit (where applicable) for four night’s worth of spending.
Citi has been tightening the screws on 4NF, and in March 2020 added some additional exclusions in terms of eligible rates and types of rooms covered. The benefit can no longer be used for suites or villas, nor can it be used on any half-board stays. That said, there’s no cap on the maximum uses (yet- the US version is now capped at two free stays per year), and a potential deal-maker if your travel schedule allows you to use it.
On the off chance you don’t mind staying four nights in a local hotel, the 4NF benefit can be used for staycations.
Citi Prestige: Boingo Wi-Fi
This isn’t a Citi Prestige specific offer as such, but by virtue of its World Elite Mastercard badge, cardholders can get complimentary Boingo Wi-Fi that offers internet access at millions of hotspots worldwide. More importantly, it also gives free Wi-Fi on certain airlines, including Singapore Airlines aircraft equipped with Panasonic Avionics systems.
Some handy savings here, if you fly a lot.
HSBC Visa Infinite: Priority Immigration
HSBC Visa Infinite cardholders who spend at least S$2,000 in a month receive complimentary fast-track immigration service at selected airports for themselves and a guest. Just like the limo benefit, two complimentary uses are provided each year with no minimum spend (four for HSBC Premier customers).
Depending on the airport, fast-track immigration may also include meet and assist services, which escort you to/from the airplane.
Maybank Visa Infinite: JetQuay access
JetQuay is a private terminal at Changi for CIPs (commercially important people). You get dropped off at a private driveway, your check-in is handled by the terminal staff while you relax in the lounge, and the only time you mingle with the unwashed masses is en route to your flight in an electric buggy.
All that sounds great, but having tried it firsthand, I can say it’s underwhelming. The JetQuay facility is dated, the food selection is poor, and although the service is excellent, there’s no reason why you should choose it over an airport lounge.
The full-fledged JetQuay Quayside experience normally costs ~S$428, but Maybank Visa Infinite cardholders can get it for free. Spending S$3,000 a month unlocks a choice of either two limo rides or a single JetQuay use.
Take the limo rides.
OCBC VOYAGE: Redeem miles for any flight
A unique feature of OCBC VOYAGE is that VOYAGE Miles can be used to redeem any flight in any cabin on any airline, provided you have enough of them. When used this way, your VOYAGE Miles are used to offset the revenue cost of the flight.
The value of a VOYAGE Mile depends on which zone you’re flying to. I’ve written some extensive analysis on the topic here so I won’t get into it again, suffice to say it’s a useful feature to have.
Ok, but which one’s the heaviest?
How on earth could I forget this? No one will admit it, but the visceral thrill of plonking down a laser-engraved piece of metal is great for fragile masculinity. Unfortunately, only the Citi Prestige, OCBC VOYAGE and UOB Visa Infinite Metal Card use metal cardstock; the rest are plastic cards that weigh in at a whimpy average of 5g each.
|AMEX Plat. Reserve||~5g|
|HSBC Visa Infinite||~5g|
|Maybank Visa Infinite||~5g|
|SCB Visa Infinite||~5g|
|UOB VI Metal Card||9g|
The OCBC VOYAGE is the heaviest of the segment, tipping the scales at 10g. But it’s still a far cry from the likes of the AMEX Platinum Charge (17g) and the UOB Reserve (28g).
Verdict: Which $120K card?
Like I said at the start, I don’t believe it’s worth getting a $120K card right now. The benefits are heavily-focused on travel, and since that’s out of the question right now, the path towards annual fee recovery is a lot trickier.
But assuming we were in normal times, I’d say the Citi Prestige’s unlimited lounge access, 4NF benefit, 1-for-1 dining offers and numerous opportunities to buy cheap miles would help it come out on top again. Don’t forget the wide variety of transfer partners- you could enjoy redemption sweet spots in alternative programs like Turkish Miles&Smiles, Etihad Guest or British Airways Executive Club.
In second place would be the OCBC VOYAGE, which has had a mixed year- its improved local earning rate was offset by a lower overseas spend rate (not that anyone’s spending a lot in FCY right now) and a higher spend requirement for free limo rides. That said, it has introduced 1-for-1 dining offers a la Prestige, and has been offering cardholders enhanced rates for VM cash outs (adopting a pseudo cashback proposition of sorts). It could potentially get even stronger, assuming Plaza Premium goes ahead and sets up a lounge membership program of its own.
The rest of the $120K cards are a mish mash of bright spots here (unlimited free lounge visits with the Maybank Visa Infinite in its first year) and absolute rubbish there (four lounge visits with the UOB Visa Infinite Metal Card). Moreover, I haven’t seen a whole lot of initiatives to convince cardholders to renew their cards, which makes me think few tears would be shed if you cancelled and returned a few years down the road.
If your goal is just to earn the greatest number of miles with the lowest possible spending, you’d be much happier off with the basic credit cards I lay out in my 2021 credit card strategy.
But for those who spend a lot of time on the road, a $120K card can represent good value- the real question is: when?
Which $120K card do you use? Or are $30K cards good enough for you?