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Welcome to my guide on the best specialised miles credit card for fresh grads!
This is the first of a multi-part series where I try to determine the best credit card for different categories, including specialised miles (rewards) cards, general miles cards, high cashback cards, and unlimited cashback cards.
If you haven’t read my beginner’s guide to credit card rewards, I’d recommend you to check that out first!
Trying to choose the best credit card as a fresh grad is often daunting because there are so many things to learn and think about.
As a fresh grad who’s looking to apply for a credit card myself, I thought it was apt to be writing a series of posts about it.
Since there are more credit cards than anyone can count, I’ll be shortlisting the top 3 contenders for each category using certain criteria or guidelines.
I’ll also take into consideration various factors that are important to me when I look for credit cards and give these factors a weightage.
Then, I’ll score the credit cards from 1 – 5, with 5 being the best.
Finally, I’ll tabulate the weighted scores to obtain the final scores out of 5 and crown the best credit card for the category.
Disclaimer: I learned some of the nitty-gritty details about the cards in this post from The Milelion. If you’re interested in learning about miles, I definitely recommend you to check out their blog!
What Is A Specialised Miles Card?
This refers to cards that earn miles at higher rates than regular miles cards but are constrained to particular methods of payment, spending categories, and/or other criteria.
I’ll only be considering credit cards that are entry-level, ie, have an annual income requirement of S$30k.
This is because the majority of fresh grads won’t earn high enough incomes to qualify for more affluent cards that have higher income requirements.
This effectively rules out cards like DBS Woman’s World and UOB Visa Signature.
Available to Masses
That is, the eligibility criteria should allow most people to apply for it and should not cater to a specific group of people only.
This rules out the UOB Lady’s and Lady’s Solitaire cards which are only available to females.
4 Mpd Earn Rate
Finally, since I’m looking for the best credit card, I’ll only be picking from among the best.
Only cards that offer miles earning rates of 4 mpd (miles per dollar) will be considered because that’s the highest non-promotional earning rate that is currently available.
This eliminates cards like DBS Woman’s and Maybank Horizon Visa Signature.
Even after the 3 shortlist criteria, there are still a number of credit cards that are eligible to contend for the crown.
But after doing some research, I’ve narrowed it down to the following 3 cards.
1: HSBC Revolution
2: UOB Preferred Platinum Visa (PPV)
3: Citi Rewards
Not only do these cards satisfy all the shortlist criteria, but they also scored better than other cards when it came to the grading criteria.
Grading Criteria & Weightage
1: Categories – 30%
The first criterion is categories, as in what categories of expenses can the credit card earn miles at a rate of 4 mpd.
Those of you who are savvier with credit card rewards will refer to this as merchant category codes (MCCs). I explained what MCCs are in my beginner’s guide to credit card rewards.
This carries 30% of the overall score because this has the greatest and most direct impact on your overall miles earning rate, which is the game in question.
2: Points Calculation – 20%
The next criterion is points calculation, which refers to how exactly miles are calculated based on your eligible card spending.
The reason this is an important criterion to consider is that even though all 3 of these cards have miles earning rates of 4 mpd, at the core, how they’re really calculated is quite different.
And this ends up affecting your effective miles earning rate, which is why it carries a high weightage of 20%.
3: Earn Cap – 10%
This criterion refers to the cap on the number of bonus miles that these cards can earn within a given period of time.
As mentioned earlier, these cards earn miles at a rate of 4 mpd, which is broken down into a base rate of 0.4 mpd and a bonus rate of 3.6 mpd.
Clearly, its base rate alone is abysmal, which is why these cards are only good for as long as you can earn miles at the bonus rate.
The higher the earning cap is, the more miles you’re potentially able to earn in the same amount of time, which may allow you to cash out your miles sooner.
4: Pool Points – 10%
Even though I’ve been talking about miles, all of these cards actually earn points, which can be exchanged for miles.
This criterion refers to whether different cards from the same issuing bank (ie Citi Rewards and Citi PremierMiles) will be able to pool the points earned across all cards so that you can make a bulk exchange of your points to miles.
This is a criterion to consider because pooling points will allow you to:
- cash out your miles sooner
- save on transfer fees
- minimise the occurrence of orphan points
Orphan points refer to points that are not usable because you don’t have sufficient points required to make a transfer of points to miles.
5: Transfer Partners – 5%
Next, this criterion refers to the availability of airline transfer partners whose miles can be redeemed using the points earned from the credit card.
This will determine which airlines you can ultimately redeem your miles in exchange for flights. Different airlines can have different flight routes to get to the same destination, which may end up costing more or fewer miles than other airlines.
6: Points Validity – 5%
As the name suggests, this criterion refers to the validity period of the points earned from the card after they are credited into your account.
Note that this is not the same as miles validity, because when you first earn points on your card, they will have a finite lifespan, which is the points validity period.
Miles validity, on the other hand, is the lifespan of the miles after you have converted your points into miles and transferred these miles into your relevant mileage program account.
Points validity period affects the amount of time you have to earn sufficient points/miles in order to be able to cash out your miles.
7: Earn Method – 5%
This criterion refers to the payment method(s) that are eligible with the card to earn miles at the 4 mpd rate.
This affects how often and how easily you will be able to earn miles.
8: Annual Fee – 5%
This criterion refers to how much the annual fee for the respective credit cards is.
While this doesn’t directly affect your miles earning journey, it’s a cost that you’ll likely want to account for if you’re not able to get it waived.
9: Card Benefits – 5%
This criterion refers to the inherent benefits that the credit card entails. These could be benefits that are provided by the issuing bank or the card provider.
This also doesn’t directly affect your miles earning ability, but it’s a way to account for other tangible benefits that you can get out of using credit cards.
10: Promotions – 5%
Finally, this criterion refers specifically to signup promotions that are available for new-to-bank customers.
This could include promotions offered by the issuing bank itself or by financial partners like SingSaver.
Again, this doesn’t affect your miles journey and simply takes into consideration other tangible benefits of the credit card.
This was ignored as a criterion because all 3 cards that are in consideration have no minimum spending requirements.
Similarly, this was ignored because in our shortlist criteria, only cards that had an earn rate of 4 mpd were selected, so it would not be possible to differentiate the cards based on the earn rate.
Here is the summary of the scores for the various criteria of the contenders.
Below, I’ll go into more detail about why I gave a particular score for each card and criterion.
The more categories the card allows you to earn 4 mpd on, the better the card is because it allows you to earn more miles quicker.
Note that neither the Revolution nor PPV cards award 4 mpd on SimplyGo transactions, even though they are contactless payments.
Standard rewards exclusion categories apply to all these cards. For more detailed information, refer to the card terms and conditions.
Revolution earns 4 mpd on a wide variety of categories for both offline contactless payments and online payments.
It adopts a whitelist approach, which means that only specified MCCs will earn 4 mpd.
PPV also earns 4 mpd on a wide variety of categories for offline mobile contactless payments and selected online payments.
It adopts a blacklist approach, which means that only specified MCCs will not earn 4 mpd.
This subtle difference results in the PPV awarding 4 mpd on a wider variety of categories than Revolution.
One thing to note about the PPV is that it doesn’t earn 4 mpd at SMART$ merchants. This is UOB’s card-wide rebate program where cash rebates are awarded in place of points, so keep that in mind.
Common SMART$ merchants include the Dairy Farm Group (Cold Storage, Giant, Guardian, etc), Cathay, and BreadTalk.
Finally, Citi Rewards only earns 4 mpd on offline shopping expenses and online payments excluding travel.
|2: Points Calculation
The more lenient the calculation methodology for points is, the better the card because it allows you to earn more miles for every amount of spending.
1 HSBC Point = 0.4 miles
For every $Y of spending,
Base Points (1x) = ROUND(Y) * 1
Bonus Points (9x) = ROUNDDOWN(Y * 9)
For example, if you spend $9.50, you will earn a total of 10 + 85 = 95 points = 38 miles.
This calculation allows you to earn miles from transactions as little as $0.50.
1 UNI$ = 2 miles
For every $Y of spending,
Base Points (1x) = ROUNDDOWN(Y / 5) * 1
Bonus Points (9x) = ROUNDDOWN(Y /5 ) * 9
For example, if you spend $9.50, you will earn a total of 1 + 9 = 10 UNI$ = 20 miles.
This calculation means you will only earn miles in $5 blocks of spending, where any spending < $5 earns 0 miles.
1 ThankYou Point = 0.4 miles
For every $Y of spending,
Base Points (1x) = ROUNDDOWN(Y) * 1
Bonus Points (9x) = ROUNDDOWN(Y) * 9
For example, if you spend $9.50, you will earn a total of 9 + 81 = 90 points = 36 miles.
This calculation allows you to earn miles from transactions as little as $1.
|3: Earn Cap
Revolution’s bonus points are capped at 9000/calendar month, which means you will only enjoy the earn rate of 4 mpd on the first $1000 of eligible spending every calendar month.
PPV’s bonus points are capped at UNI$ 2000/calendar month, which means you will enjoy the earn rate of 4 mpd on the first $1111 of eligible spending every calendar month.
Citi Reward’s bonus points are capped at 9000/calendar month, which means you will only enjoy the earn rate of 4 mpd on the first $1000 of eligible spending every calendar month.
|4: Pool Points
HSBC does not allow points pooling across cards. If you have points earned from multiple cards, you need to convert your points into miles from each respective card.
UOB supports points pooling across its various cards. This means that all the points earned from PPV, PriviMiles and/or Lady’s can be combined and converted into miles in 1 conversion.
Citibank does not allow points pooling across cards, even if you earn ThankYou Points across various cards. If you have points earned from multiple cards, you need to convert your points into miles from each respective card.
|5: Transfer Partners
HSBC only has 2 transfer partners, which are the standard KrisFlyer and Asia Miles.
Similarly, UOB also only has 2 transfer partners, which are KrisFlyer and Asia Miles.
Citibank has, by far, the widest variety of transfer partners.
It includes airline and hotel programs such as British Airways Executive Club, Qatar Privilege Club, Etihad Guest, IHG Rewards Club, and more, on top of KrisFlyer and Asia Miles.
|6: Points Validity
HSBC Points are valid for 37 months after crediting.
Base points are credited into your account based on your statement month while bonus points are credited into your account by the end of the following calendar month.
UNI$ are valid for 2 years after crediting.
Both base UNI$ and bonus UNI$ are credited into your account when the transaction is posted, which can take up to 3 working days.
This one is a bit tricky.
Instead of having a fixed validity period for each point that is earned, the Citi Reward’s ThankYou Points are valid only within a timeframe.
This timeframe is 60 months and commences from the date when the card is first successfully opened.
All points earned during each timeframe will only be valid during the same timeframe, and the timeframe automatically renews upon expiry of the previous timeframe.
This means that at the start, your points will be valid for 5 years. But as time goes by, your points will have a shorter and shorter validity period.
On average, the validity period of points is more than 2 years, but this system may lead to confusion.
Both base and bonus ThankYou Points are credited into your account when the transaction is posted, which can take up to 3 working days.
|7: Earn Method
Revolution earns 4 mpd on eligible offline contactless payments (card + mobile) and online payments.
This means that paying by chip (ie inserting the physical card into the terminal) will not earn 4 mpd, even if it is at an eligible category.
Given the prominence of contactless payments, I don’t think this is much of an issue.
PPV earns 4 mpd on offline mobile contactless payments (excluding card) and eligible online payments.
This means that paying with the physical card, whether it is contactless or not, will not earn 4 mpd, even if it is an eligible category.
Again, I don’t foresee this being much of an issue since it’s extremely easy to add a card to your smartphone/smartwatch for contactless payment.
Just be sure to store your card at home and don’t bring it out – so you won’t give yourself the chance to make this mistake.
Citi Rewards earns 4 mpd on all its eligible categories (offline shopping + online excluding travel), regardless of payment method.
This ensures that you will be able to earn 4 mpd where it is due without needing to think about whether you need to pay via contactless payment or not.
|8: Annual Fee
Revolution charges no annual fees, so you get to enjoy all the perks of using the card for free with no worry of whether or not you’ll be able to get an annual fee waiver.
PPV’s annual fee is $192.60 with a guaranteed first-year waiver, which is pretty standard for entry-level credit cards.
From what I’ve read, it seems easy enough to get annual fee waivers for subsequent years as long as you use the card moderately often.
Similarly, Citi Reward’s annual fee is also at $192.60 with a guaranteed first-year waiver.
Citibank waives its annual fee quite easily as well, given that you’ve been using the card.
|9: Card Benefits
As an HSBC card, Revolution comes with free access to Entertainer where you can enjoy 1-for-1 deals at several merchants, though the full access is only available to higher-tier HSBC cards.
Nonetheless, these free deals can help produce some savings.
As a Visa Platinum card, there are other benefits offered by Visa, though none, in particular, stand out.
UOB offers various dining/shopping deals, though they don’t appear comparable to HSBC’s free Entertainer and look more like typical bank promotions with selected merchants that HSBC undoubtedly offers as well.
PPV is also a Visa Platinum card, but again, no particular offers stand out.
Again, while Citibank offers several dining and shopping deals with selected merchants, they don’t quite compare to HSBC’s Entertainer.
Sign-up promotions are usually only for new-to-bank customers, which tend to be defined as customers who are not currently primary cardholders and have not cancelled cards for which they were primary cardholders for the past 12 months.
This exact definition varies from bank to bank and can be found under the respective promotion terms and conditions.
HSBC has regularly been having signup promotions for customers over the past year or so.
The current promotion is a cashback reward of $200 for spending $500 by the end of the following month from the card approval date.
UOB doesn’t frequently have signup promotions, nor do they often partner with SingSaver.
And when UOB does decide to have signup promotions, it’s along the lines of “first X customers who apply between this date and that date and spend $Y within 30 days from card approval”.
The problem is that there’s a cap on the number of rewards given out with no way to know how many rewards have been given out during the promotion period.
The current promotion is a cashback reward of $150 for the first 100 customers who applied from 1 – 31 Aug 2021 and spend $1500 within 30 days from card approval.
Compared to HSBC’s promotion, this reward almost doesn’t seem worth the effort, especially since $1500 is a huge sum for fresh grads.
Citibank is probably the most generous and aggressive bank when it comes to issuing signup rewards.
They’ve been known to give out rewards like Apple AirPods Pro, Dyson Cooling Tower Fan, and cash of up to $350, in partnership with SingSaver.
The current promotion may be the most attractive one yet, where you can snag either a Dyson Supersonic Hairdryer, an Apple Watch SE, or $350 cash with minimum spending of $500 within 30 days of card approval.
As a standalone pick, it would be HSBC Revolution.
Its versatility in earning 4 mpd on a wide range of categories without needing to look out for SMART$ merchants or $5 blocks makes it an excellent and extremely user-friendly card, not to mention the free Entertainer deals.
However, my pick is actually going to be UOB PPV.
This is because my girlfriend already has the HSBC Revolution and we’re on this miles journey together.
As I mentioned earlier, UOB PPV earns 4 mpd on a wider range of categories than HSBC Revolution, so if we happen to incur spending that falls into such categories, we will still be able to earn 4 mpd by having the UOB PPV.
Also, it adds a UOB card to our wallet, which can help us take advantage of bank-specific deals and promotions since my girlfriend doesn’t have a UOB card yet.
I think that Revolution is the overall best entry-level card for fresh grads because of its ease of use, versatility, and card benefits.
Meanwhile, PPV is slightly better for the sole purpose of earning miles, though the exclusion of miles for SMART$ merchants and its $5 earning blocks are things that one needs to bear in mind.
Of course, remember that you don’t have to pick just 1 card to use for earning miles – there’s nothing wrong with picking up a few.
In fact, you’ll probably need to have more than 1 eventually, since the 4 mpd earn cap on most cards is about $1000/month, which you will eventually exceed as you get older and start having to pay for more expenses.
Personally, I foresee myself using both Revolution and PPV eventually.
Which specialised miles card will you pick? Let me know in the comments below!