Bad form: DBS’s poor handling of the Altitude Card changes

DBS told customers that changes were coming to the Altitude Card, but refused to give details until they were already in effect.

 ⚠️ Story update: DBS will be honouring the 3 mpd rate for online flight & hotel bookings until 31 August 2023, while maintaining the already-upsized 1.3/2.2 mpd for local/overseas spend.

Earlier this week, DBS unveiled some big changes to the DBS Altitude Card, which saw the earn rates for local/overseas spend boosted from 1.2/2 mpd to 1.3/2.2 mpd, but the 3 mpd bonus for online flight & hotel bookings removed.

💳 DBS Altitude Earn Rates
 Till 31 Jul 23From 1 Aug 23
SGD Spend1.2 mpd 1.3 mpd 
FCY Spend2 mpd 2.2 mpd 
Online Flights & Hotels 
3 mpdRemoved

While there’s some give and take here, my sense is that this is an overall devaluation. And you know what? I can live with that. Nothing lasts forever, and banks are perfectly at liberty to change their products as business needs dictate, just as consumers are perfectly at liberty to change their patronage as personal needs dictate.

But what didn’t sit right with me was the way the changes were announced and carried out. Even though DBS told cardholders that changes were coming, it didn’t disclose exactly what they were until they were already in effect. 

And this brings up an important question of abiding by the letter of the law, versus the spirit. 

How should changes be disclosed?

Let me preface this by saying I’m far from an expert on banking regulations.

That said, here’s a few things I want to highlight from the ABS Code of Consumer Banking Practice, described as “the minimum standards of good banking practice which you, the consumer, can expect from your bank”.

Section 4(e)

 

4. Your bank will ensure that:

e. you are informed 30 days before implementation of any changes to the Terms and Conditions, fees and charges and discontinuation of services/relocation of premises (see Sections 9 & 13)

Section 9(b)(ii)

 

9b. Your bank promises to:

(ii) give you 30 days’ notice, in the absence of any contractual agreement to the contrary, before any variation to the Terms and Conditions relating to customers’ fees and charges and the liabilities or obligations take effect;

Section 13(a)(vi)

 

13a. For all charges and fees levied, your bank will:

(vi) notify you at least 30 days before any change in fees and charges take effect as well as any change in the basis on which the fees and charges are determined so long as these changes are within your bank’s control.

Now, even though credit card rewards are not explicitly mentioned in this document, it seems  logical to me that they should be covered nonetheless. After all, rewards programmes essentially work like rebates on spending, which affects the costs of using a bank’s services.

In other words, banks should be providing at least 30 days’ notice of any changes to the T&Cs for credit card rewards. Implicit in this is that the information provided is not only timely, but specific enough for consumers to make decisions whether or not to continue patronising a bank’s products, e.g. putting spend on their card.

So with that in mind, what did DBS do?

How the DBS Altitude Card changes went down

On 30 June 2023, DBS updated the Altitude Card’s landing page with the following message:

 

Card benefit changes coming your way on 1 August 2023!

Thank you for supporting the DBS Altitude Card! We will be sharing more details about how you can continue to earn miles for your next trip with the revised card benefits. Watch this space closer to August.

Does this meet the ABS guidelines? Well, on the one hand, 30 June 2023 is more than 30 days from 1 August 2023. But on the other, this notification contains no useful information at all. 

In fact, DBS didn’t provide any details about the changes until they went into effect on 1 August at midnight. Only then was the product’s landing page updated with the new card features, including the removal of bonuses for online flight & hotel spending. 

It’s almost certain there were customers who transacted on those categories with their DBS Altitude Cards in the early hours of the morning on 1 August, and I just don’t understand how it’s fair that they miss out on the 3 mpd they had every right to expect. 

Come to think of it, who’s to say all DBS Altitude Cardholders are aware of the changes already? I’m an Altitude Cardholder, and have yet to receive any SMS or eDM regarding this. Were this not my full-time job, I might very well still be oblivious!

Changes take time to propagate and digest. That’s the very reason for providing the details, in full, 30 days ahead of time. How can consumers make informed decisions if “watch this space” is the sum total of what you tell them?

So while DBS may consider the 30 June notification as discharging their obligations under the ABS guidelines, I beg to differ. Without a full disclosure of the changes, this is a classic example of following the letter of the law, rather than the spirit behind it. 

How do other banks communicate changes?

In a word: differently. 

DBS’s vague mention of upcoming changes does not gel with industry norms. Some examples from recent memory:

I’m not saying the abovementioned banks do things perfectly- they don’t, and I’ve documented those instances elsewhere. 

But when it comes to communicating product changes, they certainly did a lot better than DBS by announcing them in advance, in full. None of this coquettish “watch this space!” nonsense, just the facts. 

Conclusion

Well, not really

DBS’s recent refresh of the Altitude Card saw the removal of arguably its most useful feature: 3 mpd on up to S$5,000 of flight and hotel bookings each month. That’s painful, but in the cold light of day, it’s part and parcel of the game. 

What shouldn’t be part of the game is the way they went about doing it- providing a vague heads up about upcoming changes, then quietly implementing them on 1 August 2023.

And they’re not even done yet. The DBS Altitude Card is in a state of transition, with further changes to come from February 2024.

 

What are the card benefits from 1 February 2024?

Watch this space in January 2024! We will be sharing more details on the card benefits you can enjoy from 1 February 2024.

“Watch this space”, says DBS again. 

Yes we will. And I hope the regulators are too. 

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

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Bruno

DBS is also playing a dishonest game with FCY transaction reversals.

Other banks give their FCY fee back when a transaction is reversed, while DBS charges another 3%+ FCY charge on the refund amount so the customer loses almost 7%.

They’re quite acting in bath faith here.

Jane

UOB is the same btw. THey charged me FCY and then CHARGED me again for the refund. I was like WTH is this.

Matrix.RX1

I had an issue once with a hotel in Europe charging me a wrong (high 4 digit amount). I thus had the double FCY charge as well. I called DBS via hotline and they refunded me the second charge. Note: it was my first time asking such a refund, hence it may not always work.

Jane

I had called UOB CS to lodge a complaint and ask they waive at least the refund FCY. They said no. I emailed in and they said no. Grr
I realise I don’t have much issue with Citibank with this, if there is a refund, they will refund the FCY charges as well.

Last edited 8 months ago by Jane
Mark

It is not only FX fee reversals. The other area where DBS are basically cheating customers is the DCC. You make a payment to the likes of Agoda or Airbnb and they add 1% DCC. Fine. But if you cancel the booking they take another 1% on the cancellation. I have had numerous terse discussions with the CSO about this. Frankly, it is theft. A bank like DBS, a major bank in Singapore, and they do not understand the very basics of banking. A reversal reverses out everything – that is, it re-instates your account/balances to be what they would… Read more »

Last edited 8 months ago by Mark
Stajin

Despite this Aaron u will still use and keep your dbs altitude card. So unless you and/or the mass public are planning to get rid of the card, dbs won’t care. Sad to say.

They probably went through their own in-house legal team to make sure what they did was legit.

Of course feedback is welcomed to dbs, you will be lucky to even get an apology or acknowledgment.

Similar case with ocbc voyage miles (which btw did you take into consideration when valuing VM you get kf miles back if book through ocbc travel site)

Wee Lin

What would you use the card for?

Mark Lim

For what it’s worth, I just cancelled my DBS Altitude 🙂

pol

dbs is going down the road of ocbc and uob to become less transparent and tricky

Transformer

And yet people still bank with them…

Wayne007

Already downgraded DBS Multiplier Account to My Account earlier this year, now it’s time to redeem DBS points and cancel Altitude card

Beans

Aaron, i’m sure many of us would appreciate if u could use ur influence in the industry to monitor and fight this injustice!

I was one of those who spent a not-insignificant amount on a flight booking on Jul 31 🙁

Tony

Good that Aaron has started the ball rolling and quite a few of us in the know now. Many fellow travellers are now using Revolut and Youtrip cards. Maybe corporate traveller still use Bank CC but I hope the companies will push their employees to start using FinTech companies with lower fees.

fintech

FinTech companies are ok until you need assistance. then you realise they don’t even have a customer service department.

Lemon

Guess Aaron have to drop the Altitude card from the “What card do I used for…” for Air Tickets spending. I wonder will the 6mpd Expedia and 10mpd Kaligo promo for hotels remain after their “further changes” in 2024?

Zezima

“Hotels” section – DBS Altitude “3 mpd for other hotels” needs to be removed.

Confused

Aaron, For the 6 mpd expedia points, do we only get this if we can get book via the “participating airlines”. It says “Participating airlines include Cambodia Airways, China Eastern Airlines, Eva Air, Finnair, Garuda Indonesia, Gulf Air, Hawaiian Airlines, Korean Air, Myanmar International Airways, Qatar Airways, Srilankan Airlines, Thai Airways International, Turkish Airlines and Xiamen Airlines. Please note that the list of carriers is subject to changes by Expedia.”?

Jason

Doesnt matter that DBS removed the 3mpd. Used this card to book a SQ flight from SIN to AKL in July 2022, and realised in November that they didnt award me the 3mpd. Wrote in to ask, and they told me there’s nothing they can do since its more than 3 months. Absolutely terrible.

Tony

I stopped using DBS Bank for the majority of the transactions. I find they are always the first to raise charges. I did not think it is worth using their cards except for certain type of transactions or certain merchants for better discounts. The comments here have made me less committed to using DBS Bank CCs.

Boo

Im only still with DBS as a pure cash transaction account as I already have bill payments set up with it. Otherwise wouldnt touch DBS with a 10ft pole. High (higher than other banks) fraud risk on their cards+accounts & refusal to provide restitution to impacted customers, unethical practices as described in article, and generally crappy card rewards & signup bonuses.
Only thing good for is to own their shares LOL.

Spewrious

The last time I checked, rewards aren’t the same as fees and charges. Arguing that the removal of benefits is the same as increasing fees and charges is spurious. Like it or not, card issuers answer to no one when it comes to dishing out and removing benefits.

Why not bring up a complaint to ABS if you strongly believe that DBS had violated those T&Cs? Do post ABS’ response here as we’ll all need a good laugh.

Mark

Seems like you would fit in well at DBS, given that you operate on the “letter of the law” rather than the spirit of it. There should not even need to be a law. Any reasonable and decent person would do the morally right thing, and provide adequate notice of a change in the terms of any service they are offering.

Spewrious

By the same logic, why don’t you and Aaron also argue that the ABS guidelines also apply to interest rates and banks must also give 30 days notice for any change in deposit and loan rates? Are banks morally obliged to do that too? Are they not “decent” if they do not provide adequate notice? Falsely extending “fees and charges” to cover benefits is a slippery slope argument and trying to invoke indignation against something that banks have no obligation towards is laughable. We’ve all been conditioned that benefits and miles redemption rates never last forever and there have been… Read more »

clinic

Seems like you love getting screwed in the rear!

Feng

U seemed to be in favor of dbs removing card benefits. Why would any consumer with the right mind be happy with that? U already gave people a good laugh. And yes, dbs didn’t inform me about this change in benefit up til today. No email no sms. Nothing. The only way to know about this change is by visit the card website (how many actually do that?) Yes dbs reserve the right to alter the terms and conditions any time. But is it a nice thing to do? Please put human thoughts to this rather than being a robotic… Read more »

Stajin

If you don’t like how dbs is treating you by not giving you sufficient notice or them not having any “human feelings” towards you then just cancel their card, same thing i told aaron. Dbs doesn’t force you to use their services. They don’t owe u anything. All these complaints about banks not giving notice etc so what .. what you going to do about it.. don’t be so self entitled that they need to notify u 30 days in advance. Unless its clearly written in t&c they dont have to do anything. If they want to do that they… Read more »

Hyphen

I think you have to remember that DBS like every other business is in the service line and customer service is key . In the field of customer service many things are not legislated but customers expect a certain level of service . How will you feel if you bought SQ biz and on the day you fly the check in counter say “ with effect from today , biz can only use gold lounge “

Stajin

It is true it is a service line, and there is expected level of service but if the customer is not happy with the service just don’t go back. Same applies to Sq. It is dbs choice to do what they did. And if enough people cancel the card (which I doubt) then they would probably amend their way of doing things

ABS

classic straw man.

refer to clause 4, which mentions “terms and conditions” in addition to fees and charges.

intransitmostlikely

Nice try, DBS legal department

CH Lim

Singapore bank DBS’ Q2 profit jumps 48% to record, beats forecasts
Profit no enough, bonus no enough.

sauce: https://www.channelnewsasia.com/business/dbs-bank-second-quarter-profit-2023-new-record-higher-interest-rates-3673806

Angry

I urge everyone to send an email to MAS. I like to think my letters to them made UOB u-turn their policy on the lady’s card.

Alian

Point Section 13(a)(vi)

Ha ! what a joke.

For my company overdraft account they never notify you and they just deduct the annual fee from the OD account which immediately draws interest. So damn unethical. Complained to MAS and got a commercial choice answer

In Singapore banks act like god(s) and get away with everything. They are the only institutions that don’t provide invoices for transactions (sorry to be bank statements dun cut it)

Tony

Always beware of DBS and perhaps a few other banks. I had some money refunded into my account. I called them and they advised me to transfer the money into my DBS account. Next thing they charged me for borrowing using the CC and loaded me with so much charges.Crazy that they charged you for using your own money that is in the credit card account and considered as card borrowing.

Vince

I own a DBS Altitude card, I don’t like what they did too, but I must have to say I agree with the “Spewrious” comment below that it’s a stretch to equate credit card benefits to fees and charges. The problem with readers here (including myself) is that we study the award of miles and use our credit cards so religiously to accumulate the most possible miles, to the extent that we’ve forgotten ultimately, the miles are meant as a bonus, not a feature, of the cards. We have to remember they are privileges, not entitlements. Like all bonuses and… Read more »

actually

i dont know why everyone is falling for this red herring “spewrious” is raising. the clause doesn’t just include fees and charges, it says “Terms and Conditions”. that’s a very broad term that would cover rewards too.

you are informed 30 days before implementation of any changes to the Terms and Conditions, fees and charges and discontinuation of services/relocation of premises

Jessica

Dear Aaron, please could you kindly update the ” WHAT CARD DO I USE FOR… ” page? Thank you

Zezima

Aaron has already updated the page with the new changes.

Ben

They just “extended” 3mpd for online flight and hotel spend for period between 1 – 31 August 2023 to “ease the transition”.

Anon

Latest update by DBS –
“ 2) For online flight and hotel spend, we will be ceasing the bonus earn rate of 3 miles per S$1.
To ease the transition, we will continue to offer 3 miles per S$1 on your online flight and hotel spend made from 1 – 31 August 2023, capped at the first S$5,000 in the calendar month. The bonus miles earned will be credited by 31 October 2023.”

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