Category Archives: Money

Via Istanbul (Not Constantinople): A trip planned around promotional rates

TLDR version: you can access some really remarkable deals if you keep your eye out for them, but it takes some effort to monitor, some luck for the deals to coincide with what you actually want to do, and possibly some sacrifices in terms of convenience in order to fully utilise them. It’s great if you find that enjoying the journey is part of the joy of vacations; but if not, it’s probably better to stick to using miles to get to where you want to as quickly and comfortably as possible.

While playing the miles game is probably the main focus of travel hacking, promotional rates for air travel and hotel fares pop up every now and then, and if you are able to capitalise on them you might find yourself positioned to enjoy (relatively) affordable rates for premium travel.

I was lucky enough to make use of three such deals on a recent trip of mine, and for me it really helped to make the voyage even more enjoyable (and memorable).

Highlights of itinerary

Planning process

I’d been intending to revisit the UK and had actually already redeemed SQ award tickets for the trip when I spotted this amazing offer for KUL-MAN on Turkish business class – I’d previously bookmarked this forum on FlyerTalk in the hope that something usable would crop up, and so this effort was finally paying off.

Having been intrigued for some time by what some have deemed as the best business class lounge in the world, I jumped at this opportunity to secure business class return tickets at less than S$1,900 per person.

turkish istanbul business lounge

Along the way, there came the amazing (and short-lived) offer allowing 2-night Conrad stays for the price of 1. I immediately cancelled my 4n booking for the (very nice) Hilton London Bankside and made two bookings (under two different guests) for the Conrad London St. James instead.

conrad london st james

The original plan had been to stay 1n at the Conrad and 4 at the (much more affordable) Hilton using the Citi Prestige 4th night free benefit, but once again the siren song of promotional rates proved irresistible to me.

The final offer that came my way was a relatively minor one, but (for me) it was still a new experience that I wouldn’t have tried without the promotional rate. I had booked advance train tickets from York to London, and a week before the day of travel I received an email offering an upgrade to first class at £15 per person.

Virgin Trains first class

First class rail tickets are not something I’d usually bother with (2 hours in a standard carriage is hardly an ordeal), but since I’d never tried it before, I figured… why not?

Filling the gaps

Unfortunately, it wasn’t totally smooth-sailing. Since some cancellations were made, there were some (relatively minor) penalties involved. The biggest hiccup for me, however, was with regard to the addition of the initial journey from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur.

I had (foolishly?) booked the cheapest available return tickets on Singapore Air for the SIN-KUL route, guess-timating the time required for transit (I’d budgeted 3h to be on the safe side). These were the non-refundable tickets, with no changes permitted, and of course, as luck would have it, that later came back to haunt me.

As it turned out, the KUL-IST flight out of Kuala Lumpur was rescheduled and I was suddenly left with a 12h stopover at KUL, with no way to change the SIN-KUL flight other than to forfeit the existing booking altogether.

I ended up biting the bullet and enduring the 12h stopover, and that resulted in an ordeal involving waking earlier than necessary, some time spent exploring a rather uninteresting airport, a grumpy wife, and a much longer journey than initially planned for.

turkish business lie flat
(Image from Turkish Airlines website)

Thankfully, the comfortable full-flat seats on the KUL-IST leg of the journey allowed for some recuperation along the way!

Evaluation

The biggest savings this trip was probably from the Turkish airlines promotional fare. A business class saver redemption for SIN-MAN on Singapore Airlines costs 136,000 miles and S$817 (slightly more if flying to London instead) in additional surcharges. Valuating each mile at 2¢ each (a rather conservative value), that puts my personal price for the ticket at about S$3,500. Even factoring in the cancellation fees and additional price of the SIN-KUL ticket, I consider the ~$2,100 spent on airfare to be a steal for what I got.

The Conrad offer, even with two nights free, did result in me paying more than initially planned – but given the superior location and convenience of not having to switch hotels, it was still an experience I relished. As for the first class train experience, I found it surprisingly enjoyable – I wouldn’t mind doing it again, though I wouldn’t be particularly upset if I never received the offer again.

All in all, as a travel geek I found myself enjoying the journey as much (if not more) as the destination this trip, and am glad to have been able to make good use of one promotional fare in my lifetime!

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Gambling while giving

This is obviously not a good way to actually earn miles/cashback, but for me it’s a pretty fun way of maximising gains from my usual habits.

So I usually make an annual donation to Methodist Welfare Services – other than supposedly being a good thing to do, I guess this primarily offsets my guilt from not actively contributing anything else, and probably also the fact that I don’t actually tithe anywhere near 10% directly to my church.

Whatever the reason for giving (and whichever organisation is chosen), now is a particularly fun time to donate, if you hold a Standard Chartered card. As part of their GSS 2016 promotion, they are offering chances to win cashback prizes for transactions of at least $150 during the month of June (capped at two chances per day, registration required) – so I’m able to make two donations of $150 per day and qualify for this.

I was particularly intrigued after taking a look at the T&C and noting that you actually have a higher than 50% chance of winning something every transaction, since there are 40k winning ‘tickets’ and only a total of 70k ‘tickets’ being issued.

Screenshot 2016-06-18 10.56.47

My maths is a little rusty, but I believe that with an expected gain of $1.89 for each $150 transaction made, that’s effectively like an additional 1.26% cashback on top of the 3% I’ll be getting from the Manhattan card – 4.25% cashback isn’t too shabby! On top of that, there’s the 250% tax deduction as well (which can be a very significant sum, depending on your tax bracket).

Screenshot 2016-06-18 10.28.35

All in all, I’m probably especially pleased to have beat the odds (for now) by scoring a $20 cashback this morning!

Late to the Party

Ah, the perils of (amateur) travel hacking…

So I’ve previously been vaguely aware of the idea of using a prepaid card to increase mileage earn on general spend, but didn’t think it’d be worth the trouble (and expense) getting it done.

Recently, though, having more frequently enjoyed the fruits of miles accumulation, I figured that paying 1¢ for 4 miles (or, more accurately, 2.7 miles more than I usually do) isn’t that bad, since I kinda value 1 mile at 2¢ each.


So late last month I decided to get into the game by getting myself a FEVO card to pair with the DBS Woman’s card (yes, men can apply for it too) but it seems like the terms & conditions of the latter has just been updated to exclude prepaid cards.

In short, it seems like I’ve sunk a small sum of money (and effort) purchasing the card and topping it up… all for naught!

Maybe it’s time to consider getting that HSBC Advance card?

Platinum Card Invitation Package

Since I don’t really have anywhere else to archive this…

 

(Also, the actual card welcome package)

1338CCEF-1446-4DF1-BEAB-BA19AB7122FE

Life in Plastic

If I were to identify a bad habit of mine, the first thing I would identify is that I’m somewhat card-crazed. I frequently obsess over which combination of credit cards I can utilise to obtain the maximum discounts/rewards on my expenses, and regularly visit a discussion forum on the topic.

In fact, if I didn’t know better, I’d have thought this guy was me!

For the longest time, I’d lusted over the American Express Platinum Card – partially because of the many perks that come with the card, but also because its exclusive “by invite only” status made it an elusive target for me to aim towards – to one day qualify for the card.

Funnily enough, now that such an invitation has arrived (and not due to my income – I’m nowhere near the advertised income requirement), I find myself wondering if I should bother with it. The perks seem to be less attractive than before (e.g. no more companion tickets for business class on selected airlines), and yet the (rather hefty) annual fee remains the same.

I’d probably end up applying for it for a year (the welcome package is pretty nifty), but somehow this whole experience has been less exciting than previously envisioned.

Just another sign that the pursuit of material wealth is a hollow and meaningless venture?

Monetised geekdom

So I was spending some time resuscitating my domain names earlier (I’m about US$1 away from receiving my next US$100 AdSense cheque, so I figured it was worth paying $10 to achieve that target on the MWBS Wiki) when the wife asked how much I’d made off that site.

I was rather curious too, so I did a quick search on my AdSense history and it seems that I’ve actually made US$800 (probably more than S$1000) over four years. That’s not too much in terms of monthly income, but it’s a pretty decent amount gained from what stemmed from a brief obsession with a Facebook game.

I’m not particularly entrepreneurial by nature (probably too averse to risk), but this brief flirtation with online advertising has convinced me that it’s definitely worth aligning your passions with money-making opportunities. Now, if only I could think up another hobby that could help supplement my income to an even greater degree!

The high cost of living

Was looking through housing expenses recently – aside from the actual cost of the flat (which thankfully has been almost entirely funded by CPF, so our actual cashflow isn’t really affected), we’ve spent almost $20k on doing up the interior of the place, with some additions to follow soon – and after looking up average expenses online, this is apparently considered to be on the cheap side already. It’s no wonder people often have to save up for awhile before marriage.

At the end of the day, though, these costs translate clearly into the state of the flat , and I must say that having a nice place to call your own is definitely a wonderful feeling to have. I think I finally understand why home ownership is such an integral portion of the American/Singaporean Dream!

Das (Credit Card) Experiment – Results

And the results are in! I was too lazy to research the exact breakdown of the charges, but it seems that all in all, the American Express is the best card for USD purchases and the (Standard Chartered) MasterCard is the card of choice for GBP purchases. That said, the differences really don’t add up to much – less than 1% – so perhaps the choice of card should be influenced more by the associated perks than the actual exchange rate.

Another takeaway is that the final SGD charge seems to be about 3-4% above the mid-market exchange rate, which would be relatively useful for budgeting purposes in the future.

US$10

S$12.4991 (14 Apr 2011 mid-market exchange rates, from x-rates.com)
S$12.90 (Citibank Visa)
S$12.99 (Standard Chartered MasterCard)
S$12.88 (American Express)

£10

S$20.3965 (14 Apr 2011 mid-market exchange rates, from x-rates.com)
S$21.03 (Citibank Visa)
S$20.86 (Standard Chartered MasterCard)
S$21.01 (American Express)

Das (Credit Card) Experiment

The internet has truly helped to flatten the world – and online shopping is, if nothing else, an excellent testament to this. I’ve made quite a few international transactions over the last few months (mostly on Amazon), but I’ve got no clue which credit card is actually optimal for such transactions (since each bank and card imposes a different fee on international charges).

I’ve tried some Googling, but haven’t been able to find comprehensive information on this query, so I’ve decided to do a little experiment to determine which credit card to use for future transactions. This is a very unscientific study, involving my three primary credit cards (Standard Chartered’s Manhattan Platinum, Citibank’s PremierMiles, and the American Express Platinum).

Essentially, I’m planning to make charges of US$10 and £10 to each card to determine which incurs the lowest cost in SGD, and thus decide which credit card to use for international transactions in the future. It may not matter much for small transactions like these, but I imagine that if I’ll be spending hundreds of dollars overseas over the next few years, the potential savings might be relatively substantial!

I guess the reason I’m posting this first is to check if anyone already knows the answer to this question. Or is there a reference chart somewhere with all the banks’ and cards’ neatly laid out for referencing? Anyone?

Virtual garage sale

I just sold an old camera for S$25. It’s not much, but the camera was just lying around anyway (my mum had bought it a few years ago, but it’s since been replaced by a better camera that I’d stopped using), so I really think of it as shelf space saved and money gained.

I really do enjoy selling my old stuff – aside from the obvious monetary benefits gained from stuff you were willing to dump anyway, it feels good to be part of the ‘reuse’ process, and contribute more to the environment than the Copenhagen talks are apparently doing.

I’m also trying to sell some old books and my laptop, which should (hopefully) net me more dough than the camera did, but I’m strangely psyched over this one little sale.