A new miles earning credit card hit the market this week and it represents the first foray by Bank of China (BOC) into the frequent flyer points scene in Singapore – the Bank of China Elite Miles World Mastercard.
Here’s our review of the card, which forms part of our series of credit card reviews, all of which are summarised on our dedicated Credit Cards page.
Dollar amounts refer to SGD, and ‘miles’ refer equally to KrisFlyer Miles or Asia Miles, except where stated. This review was updated on 31st July 2018.
Annual fee: $190.00/yr (waived for first year)
Sign-up bonus: None
Local earn rate: 1.5 miles per $1
Overseas earn rate: 3.0 miles per $1
Bonus local earn rate: 2.0 miles per $1*
Bonus overseas earn rate: 5.0 miles per $1*
Minimum Age: 21
Minimum income (Singaporean): $30,000/yr
Minimum income (Foreigner): $60,000/yr
* Until 31st December 2018.
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The BOC Elite Miles World Mastercard has an annual fee of $190.00, however the fee is waived in the first year so there’s no upfront cost for this card.
There is no current sign-up bonus for this card, however the top 100 eligible applicants for this card with the highest qualifying spend before 31st December 2018 will each win a return Economy Class ticket from Singapore to Bangkok with Singapore Airlines.
Note that successful winners will have to pay the taxes and fuel surcharges associated with the ticket. The flight is not transferable (i.e. can only be used by the winner) and must be booked between 1st February 2019 and 30th April 2019, for travel before 31st October 2019.
The BOC Elite Miles World Mastercard earns:
- 1.5 miles for every $1 spent locally
- 3.0 miles for every $1 spent overseas*
* BOC define overseas spend as “card transactions posted in foreign currencies”
There is no monthly or annual cap on the number of miles earned. These are very competitive rates normally only associated with credit cards commanding a much higher income requirement like the Standard Chartered Visa Infinite (150k minimum annual income).
Bonus earning rates
The excellent news with this new card is that as part of the launch promotion BOC are offering enhanced miles earning rates for all cardholders between now and 31st December 2018, provided your card is approved by 15th December 2018:
- 2.0 miles for every $1 spent locally
- 5.0 miles for every $1 spent overseas*
* BOC define overseas spend as “card transactions posted in foreign currencies”
Again there is no cap and these rates are not specific to any particular transaction type – so they’re good for general spending, nor do they require a specific payment method (e.g. contactless / Apple Pay).
With the Citi Apple Pay promotion ending on 31st July 2018 and the OCBC Titanium Rewards mobile payments promotion ending 5 months early on 4th August 2018 this BOC promotion potentially represents a great way to keep up a high earning rate for general spending through the end of the year.
That’s especially true for overseas transactions where 5 miles per dollar should get you 10% ‘value back’ on your purchases (we value KrisFlyer miles and Asia Miles at about $0.02 each).
Note that initially the standard earning rates of 1.5 miles locally or 3.0 miles overseas per dollar are awarded, with additional points under this bonus promotion credited 2 months after your transaction date.
Foreign currency transaction fee
One element which often ‘kills’ the benefit of an attractive overseas earn rate on a credit card is the foreign transaction fee, actually made up of three elements – the ‘spread’, the card issuer fee and the card network fee.
Added together it means you’re probably paying 3.0% to 4.5% more than the XE rate when you use your credit card to make a transaction in foreign currency (though about 1% of that, the ‘spread’ is unavoidable even at a money changer).
As you’re paying more for overseas spend with a credit card than you would be using cash from a money changer, you’re effectively ‘buying’ the miles you receive for these transactions.
We did a full analysis of exactly how much you’re paying per mile for the most commonly held Singapore-issued miles earning credit cards back in February, so we thought we’d add the BOC Elite Miles World Mastercard into the table of general spending cards to see how it compares. For the full methodology on this, see our article from February.
Cost per mile on overseas credit card transactions by card
(Best to worst, July 2018)
|Card||Fee||Miles per $||Cost per mile|
|BOC Elite Miles
|BOC Elite Miles
|Standard Chartered Visa Infinite||3.5%||3.0||1.22¢|
|OCBC Voyage Visa||2.8%||2.3||1.31¢|
|AMEX KrisFlyer Ascend||2.5%||2.0||1.36¢|
|HSBC Visa Infinite||2.5%||2.0||1.36¢|
|Maybank Horizon Visa||2.5%||2.0||1.36¢|
|UOB PRVI Miles||3.25%||2.4||1.43¢|
|Citi PremierMiles / Prestige||2.8%||2.0||1.50¢|
|DBS Altitude Visa||2.8%||2.0||1.50¢|
|DBS Altitude Amex||3.0%||2.0||1.60¢|
As you can see this knocks the Standard Chartered Visa Infinite (SCVI) card clean off the top of the list, whether it’s the 5 miles per dollar bonus rate or the ongoing 3 miles per dollar rate, and that’s because BOC cards only have a 2.5% foreign transaction fee levied.
Bear in mind also the SCVI only earns 3mpd on overseas transactions provided a minimum spend of $2,000 is made on the card in each statement cycle – that’s not necessary for the BOC card.
As the table shows, using the BOC Elite Miles card for overseas spend means you’re ‘buying’ KrisFlyer miles (or Asia Miles) for around half a cent during the promotion, and around 0.9 cents after that, well below our upper limit for buying miles of 2 cents each.
You won’t directly accrue miles with this card, instead you’ll earn ‘BOC points’ which work on a slightly different multiplier as they transfer to both KrisFlyer miles and Asia Miles at a 3:1 ratio.
For example with $20,000 of local spend after 1st January 2019 you will receive 90,000 BOC points, which you can then redeem for 30,000 miles (1.5 miles per $1).
Do BOC points expire?
Yes, and you will have to be quite careful here with this card as it’s less generous than others on the market with points expiry ranging from 1 to 2 years depending on the transaction date.
Points expiry happens on 30th June each year for the transactions conducted between 1st July 2 years beforehand and 30th June the previous year. Sounds a bit complicated so here’s a table with examples to help you.
|Points Earned Between||Expire On|
|1 Jul 2018 – 30 Jun 2019||30 Jun 2020|
|1 Jul 2019 – 30 June 2020||30 Jun 2021|
|1 Jul 2020 – 30 Jun 2021||30 Jun 2022|
As you can see in the worst case scenario points earned from a transaction made on 30th June will expire exactly one year later. That’s the shortest validity period however because if you make a transaction the following day on 1st July the points associated with that one will now last almost exactly 2 years.
As you make transactions between 1st July and 30th June the following year, the points validity for the respective transaction progressively decreases from almost 2 years back towards 1 year again before resetting on the following 1st July.
Remember once you transfer points to KrisFlyer they then have a further 3 years validity.
How are BOC points rounded?
Only ‘whole’ points are awarded, with a fraction of a point rounded down to the nearest whole number. That means you’re actually getting slightly fewer points (and therefore miles) than advertised for transactions which don’t sum to a whole number of points, though this becomes negligible for large transactions. For example:
- $6.00 local purchase x 4.5 = 27 points (no rounding necessary, equivalent to 9 miles)
- $13.55 local purchase x 4.5 = 60.975 points (rounded down to 60 points, equivalent of 20 miles)
- $15.77 overseas purchase x 9.0 = 141.93 points (rounded down to 141 points, equivalent of 47 miles)
As you can see in the first example where no points rounding is necessary you’re getting exactly the quoted miles earning rate (1.5 miles per dollar in this case).
In the second and third examples you’re getting 1.47 miles per dollar for the local transaction (not quite 1.5) and 2.98 miles per dollar for the overseas transaction (not quite 3.0), however the difference is negligible and becomes even smaller the larger the transaction.
The minimum total purchase amounts to earn points are therefore:
- Local spend until 31 Dec 2018 – $0.17
- Overseas spend until 31 Dec 2018 – $0.07
- Local spend after 1 Jan 2019 – $0.23
- Overseas spend after 1 Jan 2019 – $0.12
Total amounts lower than this will earn 0 points in each case. This shouldn’t be an issue, as we can’t see many people making such small transactions on a credit card.
It’s also much better than most other cards, for example Citi PremierMiles requires $1 minimum spend to earn miles locally or overseas, while the UOB PRVI Miles requires a $5 minimum spend.
Which loyalty schemes can I transfer into?
BOC points transfer into Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer or Cathay Pacific Asia Miles.
What is the transfer cost to miles?
It’ll cost you $30 + GST ($32.10) each time you transfer your points either to KrisFlyer miles or Asia Miles.
What’s the minimum transfer amount?
The minimum volume of BOC points you can transfer into KrisFlyer is 30,000 (giving you 10,000 miles), with incremental blocks of 30,000 (10,000 miles) for larger transfers.
For Asia Miles the 3:1 ratio is the same as we know, but transfer blocks are smaller for whatever reason. Here the minimum is 18,000 BOC points (6,000 Asia Miles), with incremental blocks of 18,000 (6,000 Asia Miles) for larger transfers.
How long do miles take to credit to KrisFlyer / Asia Miles?
The card terms and conditions state that the transfer process will take “approximately 14 to 21 working days”. That’s a very long time – basically up to a month.
Some other credit cards issued in Singapore make similar statements about the conversion time to frequent flyer miles, but actually process much faster. OCBC for example state “approximately 21 working days” (i.e. a month) but usually it takes 24 hours in reality.
Let’s hope that’s the case with BOC, we’ll update this review once we have some data points on this.
There are two lounge access programs applicable to BOC Elite Miles cardholders, offering the following:
- Four Plaza Premium Lounge visits per year (no guest allowance). This covers around 80 airport lounges worldwide including 4 in Singapore.
- Mastercard Airport Experiences which allows access to over 1,000 airport lounges (search them here) through LoungeKey for a fee of US$27 per visit.
Miles for bus and MRT fares
Here’s a relatively rare benefit you can get from the BOC Elite Miles World Mastercard, the ability to earn 1.5 miles (or 2 miles during the promotion period between now and 31st December 2018) per $1 spent on bus and MRT journeys.
Like most cards, loading of prepaid card accounts like EZ-Link and TransitLink are not eligible transactions for miles earning, however this card features contactless payment through “Mastercard contactless” meaning you can add the card to your Transitlink Account-Based Ticketing (ABT) account.
You’ll need to register your account via the above link if you don’t already have one, though this should then allow you to use your card for fare payments with no need for an upfront top-up. Your train and bus fares will be processed and charged directly to your credit card, allowing miles earning at the local rate.
For those channelling a significant annual spend through bus and train commutes this could add up to a nice miles bonus each year.
The CardUp team has confirmed with BOC that payments to CardUp will be treated at the standard local earn rates (2 miles per dollar between now and the end of 2018, then 1.5 miles per dollar thereafter).
If you’re new to CardUp you can read about how it works here.
To us a number of factors stand out with the new BOC Elite Miles World Mastercard:
- A fantastic local and overseas earning rate for general spending in the bonus period between now and 31st December 2018.
- A highly competitive ongoing local and overseas earning rate for general spending.
- Lowest cost per mile for overseas transactions.
- A competitive income requirement.
- Fee-free for the first year.
- 2 miles per dollar until 31st December 2018 and 1.5 miles per dollar after that on all bus and MRT journeys using Mastercard contactless / Transitlink ABT.
These factors make this card the new go-to miles earning option for general spending both in Singapore and overseas in our opinion. The ability to transfer to Asia Miles as well as KrisFlyer is a welcome addition many will find useful.
One downside is the relatively short validity period of BOC points (as little as 1 year) and the relatively large transfer blocks to KrisFlyer miles (30,000 points or 10,000 miles) meaning at the ongoing local earn rate of 1.5 miles per $1 you’ll have to spend at least $6,666.67 for each transfer block, though over a year it should be no issue to achieve the next ‘block threshold’ prior to expiry.
The quoted transfer time from BOC points to miles is also worryingly long at nearly 1 month, however other cards also quote similar timescales but actually process points transfers far quicker, so we’re hoping that’s the case with this card.
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Our recommendations for credit cards and other similar products on this site do not constitute financial advice.
(Cover Photo: Nils Nedel)