New year, new plan. Here’s how I’m optimising my 2022 spending through credit cards.
As we kick off 2022, it’s never a bad idea to lay out a game plan for how you’re going to optimise your credit card spending. What that means, in so many words, is using the right card in the right situation.
Every time you don’t, you’re basically leaving money on the table — a different credit card would have earned you a bigger reward, but you didn’t take it.
I’d like to share some thoughts about how I’m personally approaching the matter, and my top credit card picks for the year ahead.
Before you get started…
Before we talk about card strategy per se, here’s the usual PSA: credit cards should be treated as debit cards with better rewards, in the sense that you never use them to spend more than you have.
Credit cards, if used responsibly, can be a fantastic source of rewards and rebates that help you save on pre-planned outlays. However, if you use them for impulse buys or to spend beyond your means, then they can quickly become your biggest nightmare. Credit card rewards should not be used as an excuse to spend more than you otherwise would have!
How can you group your spending?
There are two ways to think about your spending:
- The method of spending (e.g. online, contactless)
- The category of spending (e.g. dining, shopping)
Certain cards offer bonuses for (1), others (2). (1) is obviously a broader category than (2), so it makes sense to focus on such cards first.
Best cards by method of spending
If you think about it, the average person could easily make a dozen or more online transactions over the course of a day: buying groceries from RedMart, shopping on Qoo10, taking a Grab ride, buying movie tickets, booking a staycation, ordering food from Deliveroo. Even with the end of circuit breakers (we hope!) and WFH transitioning into WFO, there’s no reason for that trend to abate.
The DBS Woman’s World Card, despite its name, is open to both men and women. Cardholders earn 4 mpd on the first S$2,000 spent online each calendar month. Max this out, and after a year you’ll have 96,000 miles from S$24,000 of spending. This is just 2,000 miles shy of a round-trip Business Class ticket from Singapore to Istanbul!
The Citi Rewards Card has a very similar value proposition, offering 4 mpd on the first S$1,000 spent online each statement month (excluding travel).
Mobile payments are now ubiquitous, and so long as the merchant has a contactless card reader, you can make payments by simply tapping your phone.
The UOB Preferred Platinum Visa earns 4 mpd on the first S$1,110 of mobile payments made each calendar month, and the UOB Visa Signature earns 4 mpd on the first S$2,000 of mobile payments made each statement month, provided you spend at least S$1,000.
This could cover pretty much all your day-to-day transactions, whether you’re having lunch, getting your hair done at the salon, shopping for clothes or accessories, or buying groceries at the supermarket (note that you will not earn miles with UOB credit cards at Cold Storage and Giant, since they’re part of the UOB$ cashback programme).
When talking about bonuses for methods of spending, one important thing to highlight is that regular credit card exclusions still apply. For example, the DBS Woman’s World Card will not earn 4 mpd for insurance premiums or town council bills, notwithstanding the fact it’s paid online.
Common exclusion categories include insurance, government payments, charitable donations, cryptocurrency, prepaid wallet top-ups, and education expenses. Refer to the respective T&Cs for the full details.
Best credit cards for categories of spending
Dining out is a Singaporean obsession, and thankfully there’s a good number of cards that offer bonuses on this category of spending.
Women can consider getting the UOB Lady’s Card (unlike the DBS Woman’s World Card, the UOB Lady’s Card is for females only), which allows cardholders to choose one of seven bonus categories each quarterly. Choose dining, and you’ll earn 4 mpd on the first S$1,000 spent per calendar month.
If you make more than S$120,000 a year, the UOB Lady’s Solitaire Card offers even richer rewards with two bonus categories and 4 mpd on the first S$3,000 spent per calendar month.
Otherwise, the HSBC Revolution is open to everyone, and earns 4 mpd on the first S$1,000 spent on dining per calendar month (with the caveat that you need to use contactless payments; swiping the physical card won’t earn you the bonus). HSBC recently decided to scrap the annual fee on this card, and all cardholders even get a free copy of The Entertainer with hundreds of one-for-one dining deals!
While 2021 wasn’t a great year for travel, prospects for 2022 are looking much brighter with the continued expansion of the Vaccinated Travel Lane agreements and the gradual reopening of borders.
If you’re planning a getaway this year, be sure to apply for an Amaze Card. This Instarem product pairs with up to five different Mastercard credit or debit cards, allowing cardholders to earn 1% cashback plus their regular credit card rewards, all with zero foreign currency transaction fees!
For example, pairing your Citi Rewards Card with the Amaze and spending US$100 overseas would earn you 4 mpd, while allowing you to enjoy mid-market exchange rates.
The Citi Rewards Card will earn 4 mpd on the first S$1,000 spent per statement month at department stores, or stores that sell bags, shoes or clothes.
The OCBC Titanium Rewards Card will earn 4 mpd on the first S$12,000 spent per membership year at department stores, stores that sell bags, shoes or clothes, or even electronics stores. The higher cap is useful because it means you can better optimise big ticket items — for example, a S$2,000 purchase at Takashimaya would earn 8,000 miles with the OCBC Titanium Rewards Card, versus just 4,400 miles with the Citi Rewards Card (since after the first S$1,000, the earn rate drops to 0.4 mpd)
Public transport may not be a significant component of your monthly expenses, but there’s still no reason to leave miles on the table.
The best option here would be the newly-launched Standard Chartered Smart Card, which offers anywhere from 5.6 to 7.7 mpd on public transport rides, capped at S$818 per statement month. The higher earn rate of 7.7 mpd is reserved for those who also hold a Standard Chartered X Card or Visa Infinite, while the 5.6 mpd is for all other cardholders.
Either way, it’s a beefy return that can add up over time.
Shopping for groceries? Bring your HSBC Revolution along and enjoy 4 mpd on the first S$1,000 spent per calendar month (just remember to tap the card or use mobile payments, because the bonus doesn’t apply when the card is inserted into the payment terminal).
Keeping a general spending card on hand (so called because it earns you the same rate regardless of merchant) is a good backup, should all else fail.
One of the best options would be the UOB PRVI Miles Card, which earns 1.4 mpd on all local currency spending. Still, my advice would be to use this as little as possible — 1.4 mpd is decent, but someone who religiously uses a 4 mpd card will earn his/her free flight three times faster!
What am I carrying?
While I’ve mentioned a lot of cards in the sections above, the good news is that you don’t need a bulging wallet. Many cards can pull double — even triple — duty (like the HSBC Revolution), and you could maximise your rewards with just four cards.
For instance, the HSBC Revolution earns 4 mpd not just on dining, but groceries, shopping and travel. Therefore, my recommended loadout would be:
- UOB Preferred Platinum Visa
- Use for all mobile payment transactions, or online shopping, entertainment, or food delivery
- HSBC Revolution
- Use for all contactless or online payments for dining, groceries, shopping and travel
- Citi Rewards Card
- Use for all online transactions (except travel), or payments at department and apparel stores
- DBS Woman’s World Card
- Use for all online transactions
These four cards will cover the vast majority of cases you’re likely to encounter.
All these cards come with at least a waiver of the first year’s annual fee, and subsequently, it’s a simple matter of calling up the bank’s hotline and applying for one. Should it not be granted, you can always cancel the card (remember to cash out your points first!) and come back again in 12 months.
As an added bonus, you may be considered new-to-bank the next time you apply, rendering you eligible for some very nice sign-up gifts!
If there’s one resolution you’re making for 2022, it should be to use the right card for the right transaction. This is the fastest way to a free holiday, and it’s simple maths, really. If your average earn rate is closer to 4 mpd, you’ll rack up the miles much faster than someone who insists on using the same card everywhere.
As a final point, it’s good financial hygiene to sign up for GIRO payment arrangements and check your bills each month. Don’t let late fees and interest erode the value of your rewards!
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