Vaccination certificates, PCR test results, masks, ART kits… Your VTL packing list will look different from before, but don’t forget to bring the right card too!
While 2020 was pretty much a write-off for travel, 2021 is shaping up much better, thanks to the launch of the Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) agreements. By the end of November, fully vaccinated Singaporeans will be able to enjoy two-way quarantine-free travel to more than a dozen countries, including popular holiday destinations like Australia, South Korea and the UK.
Now, it’s certainly not going to be travel-as-usual. Your packing list is going to look very different from pre-COVID times: vaccination certificates, PCR test results, masks, and ART kits are very much in vogue now.
But if there’s one constant throughout all this, it’s your credit card. Whether pre- or post-COVID, using the right credit card helps you maximise rebates, access the lounge, even get free insurance coverage.
For those who can’t decide which one to bring, let’s take a closer look at which card makes the best VTL companion.
Which cards earn the most miles for overseas spending?
While credit cards should not be an enticement to spend more than you otherwise would, putting your overseas spend on the right card can give you a headstart on collecting miles for your next vacation.
That’s because banks tend to offer higher earn rates for transactions made in foreign currencies (FCY). For example, the UOB PRVI Miles card earns 1.4 miles per dollar (mpd) on all Singapore dollar transactions, but 2.4 mpd on FCY transactions.
The catch? Unlike using your card in Singapore, swiping it overseas entails an explicit cost. As you’re probably aware, banks charge a fee ranging from 2.8 to 3.5% on all transactions made in FCY.
The good news is that the math can still make sense. In the table below are the earn rates and FCY fee for some of the more popular miles cards on the market. The CPM refers to ‘cost per mile’, and is derived by dividing the FCY fee by the FCY earn rate. Simply put, it’s how much you’re paying for miles when you use your card overseas.
|Card||FCY Earn Rate||FCY Fee||CPM|
|OCBC 90N Visa||4 mpd|
(capped at S$2.5K per month, until 15 Jan 22)
|UOB Visa Signature||4 mpd|
(min. S$1K max S$2K per statement month)
|SCB Visa Infinite||3 mpd|
(min. spend S$2K per month)
|HSBC Visa Infinite||2.25 mpd|
(min. spend S$50K in previous membership year)
|UOB PRVI Miles||2.4 mpd||3.25%||1.35|
|OCBC VOYAGE||2.2 mpd||3.25%||1.48|
|DBS Altitude||2 mpd||3.25%||1.63|
|Citi PremierMiles||2 mpd||3.25%||1.63|
|Citi Prestige||2 mpd||3.25%||1.63|
|SCB X Card||2 mpd||3.5%||1.75|
To illustrate, a US$100 transaction would be converted to around S$135 based on current exchange rates. If I pay with an OCBC 90N Visa, I’ll be charged a S$4.38 fee (3.25%), while earning 540 miles (S$135 * 4 mpd). In essence, I’ve paid S$4.38 for the privilege of earning 540 miles, which works out to 0.81 cents per mile.
The value of a mile is subjective, so you need to look at your individual travel and redemption patterns to decide what makes sense. I personally would consider any option that offers miles at less than 1.5 cents each.
While multi-currency cards like YouTrip and Revolut offer ‘fee-free’ foreign currency transactions, it comes at the expense of rewards. In other words, you could either pay a 3.25% FCY fee on your UOB credit card and earn miles, or no fee on your YouTrip card and earn no miles.
But a new product has emerged that challenges this trade-off: Instarem’s Amaze Card. Amaze has zero FCY fees and offers 1% cashback on all transactions. Not only that, but you can pair it with a Mastercard credit card to earn regular rewards as per normal.
It’s basically the best of both worlds, and the Amaze has become my default choice for overseas transactions.
Which cards offer complimentary travel insurance?
With all the uncertainty that COVID has brought about, travel insurance is practically essential for your overseas trips. In fact, it’s mandatory in certain cases - travellers to Korea must present proof of at least 30,000,000 KRW (~S$35,000) of medical coverage for COVID-19.
The good news is that you may be eligible for complimentary travel insurance, provided you charge the cost of your air tickets to your credit card. If you plan to redeem airline miles, some policies will provide coverage as long as you use the credit card to pay the taxes and fees component. Be sure to read the T&Cs carefully!
Here’s a listing of popular travel cards that offer complimentary travel insurance:
|AMEX KrisFlyer Ascend||Chubb||Link|
|AMEX KrisFlyer Credit Card||Chubb||Link|
|Citi PremierMiles Card||AXA||Link|
|HSBC Visa Infinite||AXA||Link|
|Standard Chartered Visa Infinite||Allianz||Link|
|Standard Chartered X Card||Allianz||Link|
|UOB PRVI Miles||UOI||Link|
|KrisFlyer UOB Credit Card||UOI||Link|
Do note that the extent of coverage can vary dramatically. For example, the policy provided by the DBS Altitude only covers accidental death or permanent disability, with no coverage for medical expenses, trip cancellation, lost or damaged luggage, or rental car excess. It’s clearly insufficient to depend on this as your primary source of travel cover.
On the other hand, the policy provided by the Citi PremierMiles Card features coverage for medical expenses, emergency evacuation, lost luggage, flight delays, trip cancellation and more. This is much more comprehensive, and could even replace a stand-alone policy for some people.
One final point to note: while a growing number of travel insurance policies now provide COVID-19 coverage, this trend hasn’t yet diffused to the free travel insurance provided through credit cards. As far as I know, only the Allianz policy provided to Standard Chartered Visa Infinite and Standard Chartered X Card cardholders provides coverage for COVID-19 medical expenses and travel assistance.
Which cards get you in the lounge?
As airport crowds start building up again, the ability to escape to a lounge will become increasingly valuable. Lounges usually provide a range of complimentary food and drinks (including alcohol in certain cases), showers, and workstations, providing an opportunity to rest and recharge ahead of your flight.
Even if you’re not flying in First or Business Class, it’s still possible to access the comforts of an airport lounge by holding the right credit card.
|Card||Income Requirement||Annual Fee||Free Visits(Per Membership Year)|
|Citi PremierMiles Card||S$30,000||S$192.60|
(first year free)
|2 free visits|
(per calendar year)
|DBS Altitude Visa||S$30,000||S$192.60|
(first year free)
|2 free visits|
|ICBC Global Travel Mastercard||S$30,000||S$150|
(first 3 years free)
|6 free visits|
|AMEX KrisFlyer Ascend||S$50,000||S$337.50||4 free visits|
|SCB X Card||S$80,000||S$695.50||2 free visits|
|HSBC Visa Infinite||S$120,000||S$650||Unlimited|
|Maybank Visa Infinite||S$150,000||S$600||Unlimited|
|Standard Chartered Visa Infinite||S$150,000||S$588.50||6 free visits|
While the cards with unlimited lounge visits are reserved for higher income earners, there are still a few options at the lower end of the spectrum. For example you can enjoy two free visits with the Citi PremierMiles Card or DBS Altitude Visa, or six free visits with the ICBC Global Travel Mastercard. Visit entitlements stack, so by applying for multiple cards, you can enjoy multiple visits.
Remember that supplementary cardholders usually don’t enjoy lounge access (the exceptions are the OCBC VOYAGE and HSBC Visa Infinite), so if you want to bring your partner you might want to nudge him/her to apply for a card!
As you prepare for year-end VTL travel, don’t forget to do a quick audit of your wallet. Holding the right credit card can make your trip that much more rewarding and comfortable.
Singapore continues to add VTL partners at a regular clip, and that can only be a good thing for those whose wanderlust has reached critical levels.
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