Earlier this week, I did an AMA (ask-me-anything) session hosted by Endowus. Because of time constraints and my peerless ability to ramble, we weren’t able to finish all the questions. But since you took the time to submit them, I’m going to try my best to answer as many as I can!
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I’ve grouped the questions into two sets: those concerning The MileLion specifically, and more general ones about miles and points. Some questions have been edited for clarity.
About The MileLion
|❓ Why don’t you make regular YouTube videos?|
Because video production is a completely different beast to writing. It requires a very different set of skills that I simply don’t have, and it’s incredibly labour intensive (for every minute of video, there’s probably 5-6 hours of storyboarding, cutting, editing, captioning etc).
More than that, it takes a certain type of personality to make video content. While I’m OK with the occasional on-camera appearance, it’s not something I particularly enjoy, nor do I like interviewing people. And as uncomfortable as I am with taking photos in public, at least that can be done somewhat discreetly. Recording video is a much more intrusive process, and no one wants to become this guy.
Writing is my lane, and I’ll happily stay in it.
|❓Who are MileLion’s main competitors? Are you afraid that new cards like MAX might make MileLion obsolete?|
I don’t really think about things in terms of competition, because readership isn’t a zero-sum game. Just because someone reads Blog A doesn’t preclude them from reading Blog B.
I think in terms of community, because that’s what it feels like. When I first started out, I got a lot of help from other bloggers and journos like Mark (Shutterwhale), Shyh Jie (CardCow) and David Flynn (Executive Traveller), who happily answered all my noob questions and gave me guidance, even though they had no obligation to do so.
Over the past few years the credit card miles and points blogosphere in Singapore has been growing, and that can only be a good thing. More blogs means more diversity of opinions, more resources to learn from, more cashback heathens converted. I’ve learned many useful things from reading other blogs, and it helps keep me sharp.
I know that MileLion has its own niche, and blogging is ultimately a very personal thing anyway. Short of outright copying my work, no one’s going to have the same tone of voice, analysis, or tasteless jokes that I do. If you ask me, the only writers ChatGPT is going to replace are the ones working at content farms.
As for the Max Card, why would it? I’ve yet to see it review Hotel 81.
|❓ What are the revenue streams of MileLion? Is MileLion profitable? When did MileLion turn profitable?|
While I can’t discuss specific figures, I can say in general that most blogs make money from:
- Sponsored content
- Affiliate marketing
The success of each of these streams depends on your…skill set, suffice to say The MileLion as a whole generates an income that’s more than sufficient for my needs.
From an accounting point of view, The MileLion is certainly profitable. After all, operating costs for a one-man blog are manageable. The main line items are the server, various WordPress plugins, and web development work. All my airline reviews and almost all of my hotel reviews are self-paid, so there’s costs involved there too (I suppose you could call it an investment in content), but miles and points help keep these under control.
But what if we take opportunity cost into account? Well, it’s true that I did give up a well-paying job to do The MileLion. There’s no more stable progression, paid leave, medical benefits, or Friday afternoon mandatory fun (though for me that’s a feature not a bug).
At the same time, I wake up every morning excited to go to work. I feel a sense of energy and fulfilment that I never had elsewhere, and I do believe that on some level, The MileLion is making a real difference. It’s easy to place a value on the foregone salary and benefits, but much harder to place a value on this.
So before I get too metaphysical, I’ll just say that yes, anyway you look at it, I believe The MileLion is profitable.
|❓ Aaron, how have your spending and redemption strategies changed after the arrival of your new CEO at Milelion?|
Well I’m spending a lot more on baby formula and diapers, so the DBS yuu Card has been great in that respect. As much as it pains me to say this, 18% rebates trump 6 mpd, and I’m going to milk it as long as Temasek keeps the money flowing.
I’ve also had a few big ticket expenditures so far like the pre-delivery and delivery charges, and more to come with the purchase of a car and renovations for a new home. You can bet I’ll be using that to hit sign-up bonuses wherever possible, or else using Citi PayAll should another good value promotion come along.
As for redemptions, nothing much has changed yet. Children under the age of two travel for 10% of the adult fare, so it’s not that big a cost to bring the MileCub around. The real question comes after two, where I’ll have to decide whether it’s worth redeeming miles for Business Class for a tiny human who barely occupies a corner of the seat and can’t drink any champagne.
Frankly speaking, I don’t know what the answer is yet. Maybe the solution will be to fly to short-haul destinations and learn the true meaning of family togetherness in Economy?
|❓ Hi Aaron, how do you plan to save for your kid’s education? Do you pay yourself CPF also?|
At the moment, I have no specific investment product or fund set aside specifically earmarked for education. That said, I’m confident that funding a local university education will not be an issue, given the subsidised fees paid by Singapore citizens. If the MileCub wishes to pursue an overseas education, I would strongly encourage her to apply for scholarships.
Regarding CPF, I’m a big believer in the system (sorry HHH), and contribute the maximum allowed every month. I also take full advantage of the S$8K tax relief for topping up one’s Special Account.
General miles and points
|❓Which is the best frequent flyer programme to utilise miles for Economy Class? (I do not want to utilise miles to travel Business Class).|
|❓How is it possible to “Future-proof” your points, particularly with 4 mpd cards as all of the points/miles expire?|
It’s true that none of the 4-6 mpd cards have non-expiring points:
- Citi Rewards Card (up to 5 years)
- DBS Woman’s World Card (1 year)
- HSBC Revolution (3 years)
- OCBC Titanium Rewards (2 years)
- UOB Preferred Platinum Visa, Visa Signature, Lady’s Card & Lady’s Solitaire (2 years)
That said, I don’t think you need to be very worried. On top of the validity from the bank side, you still have three more years once you transfer points to KrisFlyer. If you can’t make use of the miles by then, the miles and points game may not be right for you.
I would also strongly advise against “saving up miles for a rainy day”. While it’s good to have some working capital, the name of the game is earn and burn. Over the medium to long term, devaluations are inevitable- that’s just how this works.
The best “future proofing” is to burn your miles regularly!
|❓ Is there a template that you use to calculate the “value” of miles when making a redemption?|
Not a template per se. I simply aim to get at least 1.5 cents per mile, per my valuation.
|❓ What are your thoughts on the credit cards scene in Singapore? Some are getting easier to achieve in acquiring them due to the lowered entry criteria.|
It’s funny you mention that, because when I first started collecting miles in 2015, the DBS Altitude, Citi PremierMiles and UOB PRVI Miles Cards all had S$80K income requirements. Those have all come down to S$30K today, which has made the miles game much more accessible.
It used to be that fresh graduates would only be able to get cashback cards, and by the time their incomes rose to the S$80K level, there’d be a natural inertia preventing them from switching. Now any fresh grad can come up with a stonking miles collection strategy since all the high-earning cards are available at $30K!
And now we’re seeing the “mass affluence creep”, where cards that were previously at the $150-200K+ level have come down to the $120K level, e.g. AMEX Platinum Charge, UOB VI Metal Card. Existing cardholders can mourn the loss of exclusivity (in fact, I’m quite certain we’ve seen the last of Platinum af’FAIR because of the bigger membership pool), but at the end of the day the banks have done their sums and it makes sense for them to widen the gates, rather than narrow them.
This makes me wonder whether we’re eventually going to see a “S$300K segment”, for those who don’t quite reach the rarefied air of S$500K, but demand a level of service and perks beyond what the current S$120K cards have to offer. It’s been rumoured that AMEX is exploring this overseas (the rumoured Titanium Card is supposed to slot between the Black and Platinum Charge), and at the recent Citi ULTIMA relaunch, a spokesperson confirmed that Citi is currently studying the possibility.
We’ll have to see, but I’d be surprised if it doesn’t happen. $120K ain’t what it used to be.
|❓ I just lost my Hilton Diamond. Is it advisable to upgrade to Gold via AMEX Platinum Charge, or stay put until I need the Gold?|
If the only reason you’re getting an AMEX Platinum Charge is Hilton Gold, then I’d say S$1,728 is probably too much to pay.
Of course the equation isn’t that simple; the AMEX Platinum Charge has a lot of other benefits like S$1,354 statement credits, unlimited lounge access, COMO C5 membership with S$260 birthday vouchers, complimentary hotel night etc (AMEX would tell you the benefits are worth S$8,157, but that’s a figure I’d take a with a big pinch of salt)
Hilton Gold status remains valid so long as you hold the AMEX Platinum Charge (i.e. it’s not just a one-year thing), so there’s no need to “time your application” just for that. Alternatively, you can try your luck and see if the company you work for is eligible for a Hilton Gold fast track offer.
|❓ Do you actually think Singapore Airlines is the best in the world, Aaron?|
What criteria are you using to define “best”? If it’s service, then yes, absolutely. Every time I read an online complaint about how SIA’s service standards “no good already”, I sigh a little because it really feels like those people are living in a bubble.
Seriously, try flying on other regional carriers, or any airline in the USA, and you’ll be wishing for SIA’s “robotic” service before long. I’d go so far as to say that the worst SIA crew would still give the best US airline crew a run for the money!
If we’re talking hard product, then no. I wouldn’t consider SIA’s First or Business Class hard products to be anywhere near industry-leading anymore (Suites has its moments though).
The most common long-haul seat in the fleet— 2013 Business Class— is merely adequate, and with the perpetual delays to the B777-9, I can’t help but wonder if they’ll be forced to unveil the new seat ahead of schedule, then start refitting it to some of the A350-900ULR/LH. I’ve laid out some thoughts on what SIA needs to get back in front in this post.
Likewise, I find SilverKris Lounges to be quietly elegant, rather than over the top. I understand that SIA just doesn’t do things like spas and soaking tubs, but the absence of those means their lounges tend to lack a true X factor.
All that being said, I’d still rate SIA among my top few airlines. And if they can nail the new First and Business Class seats, they’ll move up a couple notches.
|❓ Is it important to use paid services when looking for redemption availability or do you click away even if the platform is broken, ala Cathay’s search function?|
It’s not essential to use paid services, but they certainly save you a lot of time.
Two services I pay for now are KVS Tool, as well as Seats.aero. Both help me find the space I need while minimising the time spent waiting for websites to load, changing search parameters, or pulling up empty dates.
I’ve been planning to write a review of Seats.aero premium, so stay tuned for that.
|❓ Any tips for booking Business Class tickets for a family of four?|
Well, the usual advice would be to avoid peak travel dates, have flexibility in your schedule, and flexibility in destinations (my travel destinations are dictated by available award space more than anything else).
Assuming all that doesn’t work, then maybe consider looking at paid tickets. Contrary to popular belief, you can find occasional Business Class fares deals out of SIN- though not on Singapore Airlines. I’ve seen one-way Vietnam Airlines Business Class fares to London at S$1.5K, and one-way Saudia Business Class fares to various cities in Europe from S$1K. The catch is that there’ll be long layovers inbetween, which may not be ideal for those with young kids.
Otherwise, by repositioning to Kuala Lumpur or Bangkok, you can also find attractive Business Class fare deals (use the Explore feature of Google Flights to search for these).
|❓ My monthly expenses are only about $500/month, should I even think about a miles card?|
That depends on where you want to travel. S$500 a month, assuming it’s placed on a 4 mpd card, would be 24,000 miles a year. That’s enough for a one-way Business Class ticket to Bangkok.
If your goal is to fly the family to the USA on Business Class, then obviously S$500 a month would be woefully insufficient (not that a cashback card would be any better though!).
The main scenario where I see a cashback card winning is if all you care about is finding the cheapest flight, and you don’t mind flying budget. In that case, cashback will be a lot less restrictive.
|❓ What other miles programs do you recommend besides KrisFlyer?|
My backup programme is Asia Miles, because it’s relatively straightforward to earn them in Singapore, and between that and KrisFlyer I have oneworld and Star Alliance both covered.
But I also have miles in British Airways Executive Club because of their good value short-haul redemptions, and because I can move them to Qatar Privilege Club to redeem Qatar Airways awards without fuel surcharges.
I occasionally dabble in Turkish Airlines Miles&Smiles (45K miles one-way Business Class to Europe) and EVA Air Infinity MileageLands (where you can sometimes find SQ awards that aren’t available to KrisFlyer members).
|❓ Should I transfer VOYAGE Miles to SQ after the recent miles devaluation from OCBC?|
Back in August, OCBC quietly devalued its VOYAGE Miles currency. Each VOYAGE Mile used to be worth about 2.3 cents when redeemed for Business Class airfares ,but that’s now been cut to 1.72 cents. It’s no doubt disappointing, because using VOYAGE Miles to offset the cost of cash tickets was one of the more attractive features of the VOYAGE Card.
Fortunately, the conversion rates to mileage programmes were not affected, so yeah, I suppose SIA would be the next best option. All the other airline programmes (except FlyingBlue, which I don’t know much about) offer 10-30% fewer partner miles per VOYAGE Mile, so I don’t think there’s much value there.
|❓ I’m in Uni. What card should I get?|
While it is possible for university students to get credit cards with S$500 limits, most of them offer a rather underwhelming 1% cashback (e.g. BOC F1RST Card, CIMB AWSM, Maybank eVibes).
For those who want to earn miles, I can only think of two options:
- Citi Clear Card
- KrisFlyer UOB Debit Card
Both earn a flat 0.4 mpd on all transactions, which isn’t the stuff of dreams, but that’s as good as it gets until you start drawing a paycheque.
Oh, and please don’t put any money in the KrisFlyer UOB Account beyond what you need to spend on the Debit Card. The interest rates here are truly woeful (just 0.05% p.a.), and before you say “well, the interest is low but I’ll make up for it with miles”, remember that the bonus 5 mpd is capped at 5% of your Monthly Average Balance.
To illustrate: if you put S$10,000 in this account, the maximum bonus miles you can earn is, wait for it, 500. You’d max it out with S$100 of spending on your debit card (while earning S$5 of interest per year).
One more pro-tip: be the envy of all your course mates when you get lounge access on your study trip, courtesy of a Diners Club card (they offer S$500 limit versions for students too).
|❓ How can you optimise mile earning for children? I don’t want to revert to flying Economy just because I have kids.|
Travelling with kids will certainly drain your miles account faster, but if there’s any consolation, having children will also give you plenty of opportunities to earn miles! Think about it: delivery charges, baby paraphernalia, medical bills, education, clothes, toys etc.
I’d recommend looking for a card that still rewards hospital and education transactions, or failing which, using Citi PayAll whenever a promotion comes round. As for the rest of it, earning 4-6 mpd on as much as you can can help blunt some of the pain.
And really, there’s no shame in dumping the kids with the in-laws and spending some quality time with the spouse every now and then.
Thanks again to everyone who took the time to join the AMA session with Endowus. It was a lot of fun, and hopefully there’ll be a chance to do something similar in the future.
And to answer one more question: no, I don’t have any hair transplant surgeon to recommend.
Why do you ask?