2022 Edition: Best Credit Cards for Education or Tuition Expenses

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The ground to earn credit card miles on education and tuition bills is rapidly shrinking. Here's what options remain.

As friends with progeny often remind me, educating a child is an expensive task.

Gone are the days when you could throw them out of the house and let the mean streets do their thing. Now it’s all pedagogy this and Socratic method that, with five-digit tuition bills the norm. And even after graduation, there’s still skills upgrading, professional development, MBAs and all sorts of lifelong learning to suck your wallet dry. 

So if you’re going to spend all that money anyway, how can you earn something in return (esoteric knowledge aside)?

💳 What’s the Best Card for…
This guide forms part of the “best card” series. Check out other category specific guides below, or the overall guide here.
💗 Charitable Donations | 🏫 Education | 🥡 Food Delivery | 🏥 Hospital Bills | ☂️ Insurance 
| ⛽ Petrol | 🚍 Public Transport| 🚰 Utilities Bills

What MCC does education code as?

Education institutions can code under the following MCC ranges:

  • 8211: Schools, Elementary and Secondary
  • 8220: Colleges, Universities, Professional Schools and Junior Colleges
  • 8241: Schools, Correspondence
  • 8244: Schools, Business and Secretarial
  • 8249: Schools, Trade and Vocational
  • 8299: Schools and Education Services Not Elsewhere classified

Merchants assigned these MCCs typically pay a below-average processing fee, which makes these transactions less profitable for banks. Consequently, there’s less margin to offer rewards. 

What credit cards earn rewards for education?

Sadly, there are very few options left for earning rewards on education expenses. Citibank started excluding these in October 2018, UOB in September 2019, Standard Chartered in May 2020, Bank of China in June 2020, and HSBC in July 2020.

This leaves American Express and Maybank as the only two card issuers who still award points for education. 

Bank Awards Points for Education?




💳 OCBC VOYAGE
From now till 28 Feb 2022, OCBC VOYAGE cardholders can earn 0.5 mpd on education expenses, limited to foreign currency transactions coding under MCC 8220. I won’t be covering this option here, but you can read more about it in this article.

The problem is, AMEX acceptance at educational institutions will be hit and miss (unless perhaps you’re paying a US university, or taking an online course on Udemy or Coursera).

If AMEX isn’t accepted, then Maybank becomes the primary solution, and the only two options are the Maybank Visa Infinite (which has a S$150,000 income requirement and S$600 annual fee) or the Maybank Horizon Visa Signature (which earns just 0.4 mpd on local transactions). 

Card Local Earn FCY Earn
AMEX HighFlyer Card 1.8 mpd 1.8 mpd
AMEX Solitaire PPS Card 1.5 mpd1 2.4 mpd2
AMEX PPS Card 1.4 mpd1 2.0 mpd2
AMEX KrisFlyer Ascend  1.2 mpd
2.0 mpd3
Maybank Visa Infinite 1.2 mpd 2.0 mpd
AMEX KrisFlyer Credit Card 1.1 mpd 2.0 mpd3
Maybank Horizon 0.4 mpd 2.0 mpd4
1. Earn 1.4 and 1.5 mpd on the PPS and Solitaire PPS Card respectively for every dollar over S$3,800, otherwise 1.3 mpd for both
2. Earn 2.0 and 2.4 mpd on the PPS and Solitaire PPS Card respectively for every dollar over S$3,800, otherwise 1.3 mpd for both

3. Earn 2.0 mpd in June and December only; otherwise 1.1 mpd (AMEX KrisFlyer Credit Card) or 1.2 mpd (AMEX KrisFlyer Ascend)
4.  Min spend of S$300 per calendar month on all retail transactions

One potential workaround is to top up your GrabPay account with a credit card, then use the GrabPay Mastercard to pay your bill.

However, this is contingent on your credit card offering rewards on GrabPay top-ups, and there’s only three cards left in the market which do: 

💳 Cards for GrabPay Top-Ups
Card Earn Rate Remarks
AMEX SIA Business Card
Apply
1.8 mpd Only for owners of SMEs
AMEX True Cashback Card
Apply
1.5% cashback No cap
UOB Absolute Cashback Card
Apply
1.7% cashback No cap

Do remember that:

Alternatively, if you’re willing to pay a fee in exchange for earning miles on education expenses, the following options are available. 

Provider Fee Cost Per Mile*
Pay + Earn 2.5%  1.52-2.50 
2.25% (code: GET225)
S$30 off first payment with code: MILELION 
1.38-1.83
2% 1.25-1.67
(only for Citi cards)
2% 1.43-2.00
(only for SC cards)
*Based on general spending cards with earn rates of 1.2 to 1.6 mpd

Whether it’s “worth it” to buy miles all boils down to how much you value a mile. The gold standard is of course to earn miles for free, but if banks keep cracking down, this may be the only option left. 

For overseas education payments

If you’re paying an overseas educational institution, there’s one more angle to consider: foreign currency transaction fees (FCY fees). 

Remember, your credit card will charge you an FCY fee for any transaction that isn’t in Singapore dollars. This adds an additional 3% or so to your final cost- which can be significant on a big ticket expense like tuition.

Here’s a rundown of how many miles each card earns on FCY spend, its FCY fee, and what that means for the cost per mile (CPM- expressed here as cents per mile). 

Card Earn Rate
(FCY spend)
FCY Fee CPM
AMEX HighFlyer Card 1.8 mpd 2.95% 1.64#
Maybank Visa Infinite 2.0 mpd 3.25% 1.63
Maybank Horizon 2.0 mpd 3.25% 1.63
AMEX PPS Card 2.0 mpd^ 2.95% 1.48
AMEX KrisFlyer Ascend  2.0 mpd*
2.95% 1.48
AMEX KrisFlyer Credit Card 2.0 mpd* 2.95% 1.48
AMEX Solitaire PPS Card 2.4 mpd^ 2.95% 1.23
#A better option is to top-up your GrabPay account to earn 1.8 mpd, then use the GrabPay Mastercard to pay. The FCY fee will be 2%, which means a CPM of 1.11 cents. 
*Only in June and December; otherwise 1.1 mpd (AMEX KrisFlyer Credit Card) or 1.2 mpd (AMEX KrisFlyer Ascend)
^For every S$1 spent above S$3,800; otherwise 1.3 mpd for both AMEX PPS and Solitaire PPS Cards

Again, whether or not it’s worth it depends on how much you value a mile. 

Conclusion

The opportunities to earn free miles when paying education expenses are rapidly disappearing, so you’d better make hay while you can. If you have an AMEX or Maybank card, it’s still possible to earn some sort of rebate, although the scenarios will be marginal at best. 

Are there any other ways to earn miles for education payments that you’re aware of?

Aaron Wong
Aaron founded The Milelion to help people travel better for less and impress chiobu. He was 50% successful.

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cheesecake

Is the limitations by MCC the same whether you’re paying a local education institution in SGD, or a foreign one in FCY?

Leo

Hi! Will I earn points/miles by paying MOE thru AXS using AMEX CC or GrabPay MC? Thanks!

Aaron

Paid for NUS last month with Amex KF Ascend. Miles awarded!

cheesecake

Shouldn’t CIMB be included in this list?

Hedge Fintech

From T&Cs, CIMB seems to not exclude Education payments, which is great!

Hawaii

Just checking here ..

is it confirmed that CIMB credit cards will earn rewards (miles or cashback) for educational spend?

I would think the fairly new UOB Absolute Amex also allows rewards for educational spend.

Anyone can verify and update? Thank you

J L

How about UOB VI and Reserve ? They excluded education too?

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