Getting started in the miles game can be intimidating.
You begin with a balance of zero, and realise your dream redemption may cost 80, 90 thousand miles… and that’s just one way -- for one person!
That’s kind of how I felt when I first began collecting miles five years ago. However, it doesn’t have to be scary. With the right strategy, you’ll be on your way to a healthy miles balance in no time.
Here’s what I did to build my miles stash.
#1: Take advantage of all sign-up bonuses
When I first started collecting miles, one quick way of growing my balance was through sign-up bonuses. I would time my card sign-ups to coincide with major expenditures, thereby getting a big boost to my account.
You too can sync your sign-up bonuses around major life events like weddings or renovations. The table below shows a summary of the sign-up bonuses currently on the market.
|Card||Spend||Base Miles||Bonus Miles||Total Miles||Remarks|
|AMEX KrisFlyer Ascend||$10K in first 3 months||12K||39K (inc. 5K welcome miles)||51K||First year fee of $337.05 must be paid. 5K welcome miles valid for new cobrand cardholders only|
|AMEX KrisFlyer Credit Card||$5K in first 3 months||5.5K||23K (inc. 5K welcome miles)||28.5K||5K welcome miles valid for new cobrand cardholders only|
|Citi PremierMiles Visa||$7.5K in first 3 months||9K||21K||30K||First year fee of $192.60 must be paid, new-to-bank only|
|DBS Altitude||$6K in first 3 months||7.2K||10K||17.2K||New-to-bank only|
|AMEX Rewards Card||$1.5K in first 3 months||1.6K||11.6K||13.3K||First year fee of $53.50 must be paid|
|SCB X Card||$6K in first 60 days||7.2K||100K||107.2K||First year fee of $695.50 must be paid|
|KrisFlyer UOB Credit Card||$5 in first transaction||-||3K||3K||For new-to-bank or existing customers|
Since many of sign up bonuses only apply to new-to-bank customers, it’s crucial you don’t jump the gun on applications! Remember: just having one card from a given bank means you become an “existing” customer, and even if you cancel your existing cards right now, you’ll typically need to wait 12 months before you’re counted as “new-to-bank”.
#2: Use the right card in the right situation
It still amazes me how many people I see paying for lunch in the CBD with a Citi Rewards card. The Citi Rewards is a great card to have, but it’s great for online spending. You wouldn’t use a corkscrew to open a beer bottle, so how is this any different?
Using the right card in the right situation is the cornerstone of any successful miles strategy.
Although you don’t need 19 different cards to accumulate miles, it still helps to have at least a few to maximize miles across different scenarios.
My strategy at the onset was to make sure I had one card for dining, one for online shopping, one for contactless payments and a couple for general spending. By using the right card in the right situation, I was earning 4 mpd (miles per dollar) on transactions where some people settle for 1.2 - 1.4 mpd. Over a year, that adds up.
#3: Turn general spend into specialized spend at every opportunity
To grow my miles balance, I actively looked for opportunities to turn general spending into specialized spending. Specialized spending refers to whatever categories banks offer bonus points on, such as dining and shopping. General spending is a catch-all term to refer to everything else.
Take groceries shopping, for example. No bank offers any miles bonuses on grocery shopping, so most people end up using a general spending card and earning 1.2 to 1.4 mpd. However, many banks offer bonus points for online shopping, and you could buy your groceries on Redmart to turn what would otherwise be a general spending situation into a specialized spending one.
#4: Buy miles at the right price
I’ve never shied away from adding to my mileage balance by buying miles when the price is right. The rationale? I value my miles at around two cents each, so if I’m able to purchase them at a price lower than that, I’m coming out ahead.
I’ve written an entire article about buying miles in Singapore here, but to summarize:
|Method||Remarks||Typical Cost Per Mile|
|Paying credit card annual fee||Certain credit cards (like the Citi PremierMiles Visa) offer you miles when you pay the annual fee||1.4-1.9 cents|
|Income tax payment facility||Certain credit cards allow you to earn miles on income tax payments, for a small admin fee||1.15-1.9 cents|
|CardUp||Allows you to pay rent, taxes, condo management fees, education expenses and more for a 2.6% fee||1.7-2.1 cents|
1.2-1.6 cents (special rate for tax payments until 30 June)
|RentHero||Allows you to pay rent for a 1.9% fee||1.2-1.55 cents (via this link)|
|Citi PayAll||Allows you to pay rent, taxes, utilities bills and more with Citi cards for a 2% fee||1.25-1.67 cents|
|OCBC VOYAGE Payment Facility||OCBC VOYAGE cardholders can buy as many miles as they want at 1.95 cents each, up to their credit limit||1.95 cents|
|UOB PRVI Pay||UOB PRVI Miles cardholders can buy as many miles as they want at 2.1 cents each, up to their credit limit||2.1 cents|
I generally advise against buying miles speculatively, because miles aren’t a great investment to hold (they don’t earn interest, they can only be devalued and there’s no such thing as deposit insurance). That said, if you’re just shy of your redemption target, this can be a low-cost way of topping up your account.
#5: Never leave miles on the table
I’ve written before about lesser-known ways of earning miles, but to reiterate: there are many opportunities to earn small amounts of miles from your phone bill, buying petrol, shopping, hotel bookings, dining, food delivery and hotels, on top of what you earn from your credit card.
For example, every car rental with Avis, Hertz, EuropCar or Sixt earns 500 KrisFlyer miles, in addition to the miles from your credit card. Every $5 spent on Zalora earns 5 KrisFlyer miles, on top of credit card miles. None of these, in and of themselves, will turn you into a miles millionaire, but every little bit helps.
#6: Spend… without spending
There are many ways of earning miles, but one of the best is to spend...without spending. My first job was in a management consulting firm, where we regularly incurred reimbursable expenses. Even better, we could use our personal cards, which allowed me to rack up miles at zero personal cost.
Not everyone will have a job like this, of course, which is why some resort to what’s called manufactured spend. Many years ago, it was possible to pay IRAS tax bills through an AXS machine with the Citi Rewards card and earn 4 mpd. Some people would deliberately overpay their bills in order to rack up the points, then call IRAS and get the excess balance refunded to them via cheque. This way, they basically generated miles for free. The loophole no longer exists, but that’s the general idea behind the concept.
Banks frown upon manufactured spending and are liable to claw back any miles earned, which is why I’d advise against it. There are many legitimate ways to spend without spending. Maybe you’re the one who always volunteers to pay the bill first when you dine out with friends. Maybe you help your card-phobic cousin make a big ticket purchase. Maybe you sign up with AirFrov and buy items on behalf of others when you travel.
The old cliche “a journey of a thousand miles begins with just one step” was never more apt here (although perhaps we should be talking a few hundred thousand miles!).
Everyone needs to start somewhere, and following the steps in this article will set you on the right course!
Read these next:
Best 6 Credit Cards For Overseas Spending
The New KrisFlyer UOB Credit Card: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly
How To Redeem Miles For Friends And Family
How To Get Around the Singapore Airlines Waitlist
7 Ways To Earn More Miles With Everyday Expenses
By Aaron Wong
Aaron started The MileLion to help people travel better for less and impress “chiobu”. He was 50% successful. This is his story.