As mythical as a unicorn sighting, here are the four most exclusive credit cards in Singapore.
Opinions expressed reflect the view of the writer (this is his story).
The Singapore credit card market can be roughly divided into three segments based on income requirements.
At the $30,000 mark lie the entry-level cards. Annual fees (usually waivable) fall in the $200 range, and there isn’t much in the way of additional benefits.
A step above is the $120,000 segment, where annual fees range between $500 and $700, and banks start to get serious about card perks. Cardholders can expect benefits like unlimited lounge access, complimentary airport transfers, as well as special dining and hotel privileges.
One more step above that is the so-called “$500,000 segment”, which is a bit of a misnomer because although some of these cards explicitly have $500,000 income requirements, others are invitation-only. Annual fees here are upwards of an eye-popping $3,000, for which cardholders can expect bespoke service, free hotel stays, beck-and-call concierge assistance, and invitations to exclusive closed-door events like watch shows and luxury car launches. Oh, and the annual fees are strictly not waivable, so don't embarrass yourself by asking for one.
So exclusive is this segment that many of the offerings are not well known, but in this post, I’ll share with you what is known about these cards, their benefits, and what you have to do to get one.
To qualify for a DBS Insignia, you need an income of at least $500,000, or a private banking relationship with DBS (minimum Assets Under Management: $1.5M). That, plus an annual fee of $3,210, earns you a card that literally has your name on it -- it comes laser engraved.
You’ll earn 1.6 miles per dollar (mpd) locally and 2.0 mpd overseas, and get 100,000 miles plus a two-night luxury hotel stay at selected premium resorts like the Six Senses, COMO, Taj or Alila as welcome gifts.
Airport benefits include an unlimited Priority Pass membership as well as fast track immigration at airports in Asia with SpeedPass.
In Singapore, you’ll enjoy a Club at the Hyatt membership which gives up to 50% off dining and special room rates at Hyatt hotels worldwide (excluding Canada, Carribean and USA). Cardholders will also enjoy complimentary high tea for two persons (on weekdays only), dining vouchers, "The Shop" voucher, 10% off special events organised by the hotel, 30% off dry cleaning, pressing and laundry service.
The UOB Reserve allows you to qualify in four different ways:
- Have a private banking relationship with UOB
- Earn a minimum of $500,000 a year
- Spend over $200,000 on personal cards in the past 12 months
- Have a “high social/business profile”
Although criteria (4) is wonderfully ambiguous, it’s safe to say that criteria (1)-(3) mean this is strictly a card for the upper crust of society.
If you meet the qualification criteria, paying a $3,852 annual fee will get you a UOB Reserve made of Alpaca Silver. This gets you 100,000 miles each year, plus a bonus 100,000 miles if you spend $250,000 over a 12-month period.
UOB Reserve cardholders earn 1.6 mpd locally and 2.4 mpd overseas. Purchases at luxury merchants like Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, Bvlgari, IWC, Tiffany & Co, Chanel, Hermes and more will also earn a promotional rate of 2.0 mpd, capped at $20,000 each month. UOB Reserve cardholders who still need more miles can buy as many as they want (subject to their credit limit) at 1.9 cents each through the UOB Reserve Payment Facility.
Each cardholder will receive an unlimited Priority Pass, and UOB periodically offers special tie-ups with airlines and hotels to provide upgrades or exclusive privileges. For example, cardholders can look forward to receiving Kempinski and Pan Pacific Hotel Group Discovery Black Card status; enjoying exclusive perks at selected Marriott Hotels, Hyatt Hotels, Jumeirah Group, Luxury Hotels of the World and more; earning 5mpd across 100,000 hotels worldwide; earning up to 10 mpd with Silversea Cruises, Dream Cruises, Uniworld River Cruises, Quark Expeditions and more.
The most bling thing about the UOB Reserve? Cardholders who spend at least $1M in a membership year will be upgraded to the UOB Reserve Diamond, which has an actual diamond embedded in it (you may remember this card for its “extinguishing” features…)
This upgrade comes with additional benefits, such as a complimentary night stay each quarter when booking two or more consecutive nights through the UOB travel concierge. The free stay entitlement is capped at $400 per night, unfortunately, so it’s actually less generous than the Citi Prestige’s fourth night free benefit (which applies to any stay, whether it’s a $100 Hotel 81, or a $2,000 overwater villa at the St Regis Maldives).
The Citi ULTIMA requires a minimum income of $500,000 a year, or at least $5M AUM with Citibank. There’s a further $4,160 annual fee on top of that, which gets you a whopping 150,000 miles each year you pay it.
Cardholders earn 1.6 mpd locally and 2 mpd overseas, with no transfer fees to airline or hotel loyalty programs. Both the principal and up to two supplementary cardholders will enjoy unlimited Priority Pass visits.
Citi offers the Airfare Privilege Program for ULTIMA cardholders, which grants a free companion ticket when buying a full fare First or Business Class ticket on American Airlines, British Airways, Delta, Etihad, Japan Airlines, Lufthansa, Qantas and Qatar Airways. Do note this covers airfare only, not taxes and airline surcharges, so it’s not completely free.
If you’re traveling by yourself, you’ll enjoy a 15% saving on full-fare First and Business Class tickets. Every First or Business Class ticket purchased with the ULTIMA is entitled to complimentary airport meet and assist services, as well as free one-way airport transfers.
Cardholders can further enjoy a reimbursement of the APEC Business Travel Card’s $100 application fee, which grants expedited immigration in certain countries. However, they’ll need to spend a minimum of $200,000 in the 365 days preceding the application, which seems awfully small-minded (these are your top clients, but you’re going to nickel and dime them over $100?)
Like the UOB Reserve, the Citi ULTIMA also offers a complimentary night stay with a minimum of two consecutive nights booked at over 900 participating properties. However, while the UOB Reserve caps this benefit at once per quarter (and at $400), the ULTIMA allows up to two complimentary nights per “outward bound trip”, and no dollar value cap.
Dining discounts of up to 20% are offered at high-end establishments across Singapore.
American Express Centurion Card
If there’s one mystery card to rule them all, it’s the almost mythic AMEX Centurion, otherwise known as the Black Card. Officially launched in 1999, the card was a response to urban legends that circulated in the 80s and 90s about a supposedly super-exclusive card that AMEX only issued to billionaires and celebrities.
The qualification criteria is as opaque as the card itself. High spenders on the AMEX Platinum Card are sometimes invited to apply, but more often, this is a card which finds you, not the other way round.
The annual fee is a jaw-dropping $7,490 a year, and in the first year you’ll have to pay an additional $7,490 initiation fee. $14,980 just to get your foot in the door? It dwarves all the other cards we’ve mentioned here, although if you qualify for a Centurion, an initiation fee that’s roughly a third of the annual median Singapore income is not going to faze you.
Surprisingly enough, the Centurion doesn’t have particularly good miles earning rates. Cardholders get a paltry 0.87 mpd on all spending, with the exception of EXTRA merchants like Bulgari, Cartier and Tiffany & Co, where you earn 7.1 mpd.
But no one gets the Centurion to earn miles. You get it to enjoy a laundry list of benefits, including:
- Hilton Honors Diamond, IHG Platinum Elite, Shangri-La Golden Circle Diamond, Radisson Rewards Gold and Marriott Bonvoy Gold status
- Emirates Skywards Gold status
- Unlimited access to Delta SkyClubs, Escape Lounges, Plaza Premium Airport Lounges, Priority Pass lounges, AMEX Lounges and Centurion Lounges
- Discounted premium cabin tickets through the International Airline Program on carriers like Singapore Airlines, British Airways, Emirates, Etihad, Qatar Airways, Japan Airlines and American Airlines
- Access to Centurion Reserved Restaurants, where the program books one table in their name at selected restaurants to always be able to guarantee members a seat
- Tower Club Access
- Love Dining privileges
- Private shopping privileges
There’s a ton of other unpublished benefits, including a concierge supposedly capable of doing anything (legal) for you and invitations to black-tie events where the champagne and goodie bags flow freely, but that’s the extent of my knowledge.
If you’re hoping to get a Centurion, it may interest you to know that the total number of members in Singapore is allegedly capped at 1,500. That’s a figure from 2012 and may well have changed, but suffice to say this is the classic example of “if you have to ask…”
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You won’t be seeing advertisements (or SingSaver sign up deals!) for any of these cards any time soon, but hopefully this helps to shed some light on this ultra-exclusive segment.
If it’s any consolation, none of them are needed to play the miles game right. In fact, it’s entirely possible to earn a huge stash of miles by carefully planning your spending and taking advantage of sign up bonuses, even if you only qualify for entry-level cards. So chin up, the miles game is for everyone!
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