There are a few different categories when it comes to credit cards, roughly divided into 3 separate tiers. Right at the bottom would be the basic tier where the minimum income eligiblity is $30k per annum for Singaporeans. Then there are some cards that demand an annual income of $50k (e.g. Visa Signature) but this is not that common and does not really much better benefits. The next big tier will be the $120k level – usually the minimum income required for a Visa Infinite, which confers a higher status than Visa Signature and additional benefits including the Visa Infinite Concierge. Above this tier would be the cards that are not so mass market, and as what Millelion puts it, “The Elite Four” – AMEX Centurion, Citi Ultima, DBS Insignia and UOB Reserve. Usually these cards are by invitation only to the select few, and command extremely high annual fees.
This article will touch on the high end cards which require an income of $120k p.a. (I mean, not a lot of people in Singapore earn $120k p.a. right?) Since the last update, there are a few new cards, and the benefits of the cards have changed over the last few years. Here are some of the better cards worth mentioning:
The American Express Platinum card used to be by invitation only, and it was a hush-hush secret with regards to the minimum income requirement. Now, it’s openly advertised as a minimum income requirement of $200k p.a., which puts it out of reach of many people still. On top of that, it comes with a very high annual fee of $1712 – the highest in the group above. However, looking at the perks, it does seem that you are getting very good returns for the money that you pay.
a) Free hotel stays
There are 2 separate free hotel stays – 1 for a local staycation in St Regis or W hotel, and another 3D2N at overseas Banyan Tree/Mandarin Oriental hotels. Of course, there are restrictions like blackout dates and restrictions to the type of rooms that you can redeem for, but the value of these hotel stays will easily offset the cost of the annual fee itself. Think about the beautiful rooms in the original Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong!
b) Free mid-tier memberships
If you love to stay in luxury hotels but do not have the opportunity to clock enough stays to earn a status with them, this is the easy way to get a preferred status at a few luxury chains – Gold at Marriott (which merged with Starwood recently), Gold at Hilton, Gold at Raddison and Jade at Shangri-La Golden Circle. Having a certain status is always better than being a nobody, and these additional perks may get you an upgrade to a better room or suite, on top of perks like early check-in, late check-out, complimentary breakfast etc
c) Credits and vouchers
The card comes with $400 travel and $400 lodging credit which can be used to defray the cost of your next travel, to be booked through the AMEX concierge. On top of that, there are various vouchers to be used in spas for free massages or dining vouchers in the participating restaurants.
d) 50% off dining for 2
Another great feature of this card is the 50% off dining for 2 at restaurants under the Feed At Raffles (FAR) or Love Dining groups. Use for party of 3 and you get a discount of 33.3%, 25% for a part of 4.
The issue with the card is the poor earn rate for miles, which is 0.694 mpd (not 0.78 as mentioned in the table above as there’s devaluation of the points where 450 Rewards points=250miles), which is even lower than the entry-level cards like Citi Premiermiles, which earns 1.2 mpd for local spend. This is however, mitigated by the bonus 41250 miles when you spend $20k within the first 3 months, which is around 2.76 mpd, which is fairly good for local spending that do not belong to special categories like shopping or online transactions.
This is the poorer cousin of the AMEX Platinum, which comes at a much lower annual fee, and does not come with the many perks listed above like hotel memberships and credit vouchers. However, it does have some good perks like the dining perks, free Boingo, and free 3D2N hotel stay at a lower tier property. The best part of this card though, is the bonus miles that it gives when you spend $5000 within 6 months – 50000 Rewards Points which is 31250 (That’s 6.25 mpd!). Add that to the base earn rate of 0.78 mpd and you get 7.03 mpd which is one of the highest earn rate that you can get locally!
This card comes with a higher annual fee of $535 compared to the other cheaper cards in the Citibank family, but it comes with a 25k bonus miles upon renewal as well. There are 3 specific things I like about this card:
a) 8 limousine rides per year
All you need to do is to spend $1500 in foreign currency for that quarter and you can get up to 4 airport limousine rides for free (that’s the maximum per quarter). What’s more, if you apply this Q4, you still get 4 rides per quarter, and the counter will reset come 1 Jan 2019!
b) Book 4 consecutive hotel nights and get 1 night rebated
You need to engage the Citibank Prestige concierge to get them to book the hotel rooms for you. However, you can tell them to use the 10% promo code for Expedia e.g. SAFRAEXPHOL, and you will be entitled to the discount since they book using Expedia. However, if you are a member of a hotel chain e.g. Marriott, you can also call in, give them your membership number and they can book the hotel stay for you at the members rate, and you get to clock your stay as well! Do note however, that the rebate you get back will be the average of the 1st 4 nights regardless of the total number of nights you book, and this excludes the taxes.
c) Free unlimited Priority Pass
This is definitely a saviour when you are not a Gold status customer on the airlines, or when you fly a budget airline. You get to bring one guest in for free, and if Lounge A is crowded or lousy, you can always lounge hop to Lounge B or C!
If you are desperately looking for bonus miles so that you can redeem that flight, then the HSBC Visa Infinite gives you 35k miles for a decent rate of $488 (HSBC Premier) or $650 (which is also fairly reasonable since 1k miles=$200). After from that, you get 2 free airport limousines when you sign up for the card as well as 2 passes for expedited immigration clearance, which is a saviour when you are not flying business and are stuck in a busy airport such as London Heathrow. Apart from a free unlimited Priority Pass (the last one apart from AMEX Platinum & Citibank Prestige), you get one of the highest cover for travel insurance, which is up to USD 2 million!
This card has a rather high annual fee of $488, probably ’cause it is a metal card but it gives very little miles in return (15k Voyage miles, which can be transferred to 15k Krisflyer miles). Its earn rate on local dining is pretty decent at 1.6 mpd, and 2.3 mpd on overseas spending, which is just a tad lower than Citi Prestige, which is 2.4 mpd. One of the specials of this card is the chance for a 15min seated massage when you visit the Wellness Spa in HKIA, KLIA and Velana International airport in Male.
This card gives the same number of miles (35k) as the HSBC Visa Infinite, but comes at a lower fee of $588.50. However, do that that this bonus miles is a once off thing, and the number of free miles will drop in the 2nd year despite paying the same amount for annual fee. The good thing about this card is that it yields the best earn rate for overseas spending at 3 mpd, provided you spend $2k that month. This card comes with a Priority Pass as well, but its 6 visits/year is a far cry from the HSBC Visa Infinite one. Interesting, it comes with a free 4h yacht ride out at sea when you spend $75k in 2018. If you haven’t chalked up that amount so far, then it is highly unlikely that you will benefit from this.
This is the other metal card in this group. Its annual fee is rather high at $642, and gives you 25k bonus miles only. However, it comes with an exclusive Gourmet Collection dining card, which gives you 25% discount in restaurants across the IHG chain. The DragonPass is forgettable with 4 free passes per year. As for the Singtel Ready Roam, you need to transfer your bill to this particular card and use the ReadyRoam per month to get a reimbursement.
All the above cards carry very high annual fees except for BOC and CIMB, whose perks are rather miserable in comparison to the rest. When deciding which card to get, importantly you need to figure out what’s the purchase of getting this card – is it because of the bonus miles, the additional benefits like the unlimited Priority Pass card, dining cards like Feed At Raffles or Gourmet Collection, or free night stays. Amongst the cards listed, the top 5 in my list will be AMEX Platinum, AMEX Platinum Reserve, Citibank Prestige, HSBC Visa Infinite and Standard Chartered Visa Infinite. The AMEX Platinum is indeed a class of its own since it has perks that are unrivalled. If you prefer not to spend so much on the annual fees, then the Citibank Prestige, HSBC Visa Infinite and Standard Chartered Visa Infinite would be quite a close fight depending on what kind of privileges you wish for.