8 Essential Tips for Comparing Credit Cards I Wish I Knew Earlier

essential tips for comparing credit cards you should know
Image: The Good Place/Tenor

Since I started working at MoneySmart, I’ve learnt a lot about credit cards. Specifically, what credit cards are hiding from you. Behind every shiny new card promising up to 10% cashback or up to 10 miles per dollar spent, there lies a plethora of terms and conditions which limit the rewards you can earn.

It’s easy to see the good, especially when they’re marketed to us front and centre. But how many of us know when our credit card rewards points expire? Do you earn per every $1 spent, or per $5? What’s your earn cap every month? Or wait…is it calculated by every quarter?

These are some of the considerations I want to bring to your attention today. I won’t have the time or space to go through the fine print for every single credit card in Singapore (read our credit card reviews for those kinds of details), but I will bring up several cards in this article as examples. That doesn’t mean they are bad or good cards; depending on one’s money habits, they simply suit some people more and others less. The point here is to equip you with vital knowledge—here’s an essential list of 8 things you need to consider when deciding on the best credit card for you.

 

8 Essential Tips for Comparing Miles and Cashback Credit Cards

  1. Earn rates—Do you earn per $1 or $5 spent?
  2. How are your rewards or rebates issued to you?
  3. Are there conversion fees?
  4. Are there conversion blocks?
  5. What are the spend exclusions?
  6. How long is the earn period?
  7. What are the cashback caps for each spend category?
  8. When do your points or miles expire?

 

1. Earn rates—Do you earn per $1 or $5 spent?

This affects miles cards or rewards cards more than cashback cards. Why? The former 2 earn you rewards in the form of air miles or rewards points that can then be converted to miles, gifts, vouchers, or cashback. While cashback is usually calculated as a percentage of your total spending, miles and rewards points may be calculated as X miles/points per $5 spend.

Here’s a real-life example assuming I spend $99 on shopping in Singapore:

Earn rate Rewards earned from a $99 local transaction
DBS Altitude Card 3.25 DBS Points for every S$5 local spend
Conversion: 1 DBS Point = 2 miles
61.75 DBS Points (123.5 miles) earned from the first $95 spent
DBS Live Fresh Card 6% cashback on shopping (with $800/month minimum spend) $5.94 earned from the full $99 spent

While the DBS Altitude Card advertises its 1.3 miles per dollar local earn rate, when you get down to how the miles are earned, you’ll realise that you earn per $5 and not per dollar. This is laid out in the card’s terms and conditions. Not the kind to read T&Cs? You can also find this kind of important information summarised for you on our DBS Altitude Card credit card page.

DBS logo
Online Promo
Earn Miles That Never Expire
Local Spend
S$1 = 1.3 Miles
Overseas Spend (made in foreign currency)
S$1 = 2.2 Miles
On Travel Spend at Agoda
S$1 = Up to 4.3 Miles

For comparison, I also included the DBS Live Fresh Card in the example above. This is just to show you that with cashback cards that earn you a percentage rebate, you earn rewards based on the full amount spent.

DBS logo
Online Promo
Shopping and Transportation
on Shopping & Transport Spend
Up to 6% Cashback
Min. Spend
S$800
Cashback Cap
Up to S$70

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2. How are your rewards or rebates issued to you?

You might have noticed in the previous section that with the DBS Altitude Card, you earn DBS Points and not miles directly. This leads me to my next point: take note of how you earn your rebates.

How do you earn rebates with miles cards?

You can either earn points to be converted to miles (e.g. the DBS Altitude Card above or the OCBC 90°N Card that earns you Travel$) or miles directly (e.g. KrisFlyer UOB Credit Card that earns you KrisFlyer miles directly).

Tricky cases: The Citi Miles you earn with cards like the Citi PremierMiles Card and 90°N Miles you earn with the OCBC 90°N Card convert 1:1 with airline miles, but are categorised as the banks’ own miles currencies and still need to be converted.

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Citibank logo
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Local Spend
S$1 = 1.2 Miles
All Foreign Currency Spend including Retail and Online
S$1 = Up to 2 Miles
Selected Online Hotel Bookings
S$1 = Up to 10 Miles
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Use 5,100 SmartPoints to fully redeem a product from our Rewards Store. If the product costs more, redeem with your points and top up the rest by purchasing additional SmartPoints e.g. get an Apple 10.9-inch iPad Wi‑Fi 64GB (10th Generation) at only S$104 on top of your earned SmartPoints.

Valid until 15 Jul 2024

How do you earn rebates with rewards cards?

You earn rewards points. Each bank has their own points “currency” with their own conversion rates for conversion to cashback, miles, gifts, merchant rebates, and more. For example, the points currency used in UOB’s ecosystem for cards like the UOB Lady’s Card is UNI$.

UOB logo
MoneySmart Exclusive
Online Promo
LUCKY DRAW | Earn up to 6 Miles per S$1
Base Earn Rate
S$5 = 1X UNI$ (or 2 miles)
Category of Choice
S$5 = Up to 25X UNI$ (equivalent to 10 miles per S$1)
Min. Spend
S$0
MoneySmart Exclusive:

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PLUS get S$350 Cash Credit from UOB when you are the first 200 new-to-UOB credit card customers in July 2024 who successfully apply for an eligible UOB Credit Card and spend a min. of S$1,000 per month for 2 consecutive months from their card approval date. T&Cs apply.

Valid until 11 Aug 2024

How do you earn rebates with cashback cards?

The cashback will either be automatically used to offset your next credit card statement (e.g. OCBC INFINITY Cashback Card) or will appear in your credit card account as rebate you can redeem (e.g. Citi Cash Back+ Card, POSB Everyday Card).

POSB logo
Online Promo
Earn Cash Rebates that Never Expire
Cash rebates on Online Food Delivery
Up to 10%
Cash Rebates on Groceries from Sheng Siong & RedMart
Up to 5%
Fuel Savings at SPC
Up to 20.1% + 2%

 

Why does all this matter?

Some people might prefer having the control to convert their points when they want to and to what type of reward they want. Others might be too lazy to convert their rewards points—if that’s you, consider miles cards that earn you miles directly or cashback cards that automatically offset your next bill without you having to lift a finger. For the latter, don’t forget to think about your exit strategy when you want to give up the credit card.

As far as your earnings go, the most important reason you should know how your rebates are issued to you is that they can come with conversion fees.

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3. Are there conversion fees?

Credit cards usually only have conversion fees for miles cards. Cashback, gifts and merchant rebates are generally free and easy to convert.

Most banks charge about $25 ($27.25 for some due to GST) for miles conversions. Here’s a quick guide to miles conversion fees for the major banks in Singapore:

Bank and their points/miles currency Miles conversion fee (per conversion, GST included)
Amex (Membership Rewards points) $20.38
Citibank (Citi ThankYouPoints/Miles) $27.25
DBS (DBS Points) $27.25
HSBC (HSBC Reward points) Free until 31 Jan 2025 (they used to have a $40++ Mileage Programme annual fee)
Maybank (TREATS Points) $27.25
OCBC (OCBC$ / 90˚N Miles) $25
Standard Chartered (360° Rewards points) $27.25
UOB (UNI$) $25

 

 

4. Are there conversion blocks?

Remember we talked about how you might earn rebates per $5 spent instead of per $1 spent? The same may apply for the redemption side of things.

Banks will only let you redeem your rebates in blocks. The minimum block can vary widely—for example, the minimum number of points you need to make a conversion for Amex is 450 points (250 miles). For other banks like HSBC and OCBC, the minimum is 25,000 points (10,000 miles).

This isn’t just for miles cards. For example, the Citi Cash Back+ Card shows you the cashback you’ve earned on the Citibank mobile app. You can then redeem it in $10 blocks as a cash rebate that will offset the next statement. I’ve used this card and the app myself, so I can testify it’s at least a smooth process.

Citibank logo
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1.6%
Min. Spend per month
S$0
Cash Back Cap per month
Unlimited
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Use 5,040 SmartPoints to fully redeem a product from our Rewards Store. If the product costs more, redeem with your points and top up the rest by purchasing additional SmartPoints e.g. get an Apple 10.9-inch iPad Wi‑Fi 64GB (10th Generation) at only S$110 on top of your earned SmartPoints.

Valid until 15 Jul 2024

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5. What are the spend exclusions?

Some transactions are pretty much always excluded from rebate-earning: taxes, insurance premiums, education, medical expenses, donations, top-ups to prepaid or stored value accounts, and the like. But beyond that, you’re more likely to see which spend categories or merchants are included rather than excluded.

Credit cards like the CIMB World Mastercard give you a list of categories instead of a list of merchants:

  • Wine & Dine and Online Food Delivery
  • Movies and Digital Entertainment
  • Taxi and Automobile
  • Luxury Goods

You need to go into their cashback programme’s terms and conditions to find out more, such as the specific retailers and the merchant category codes (MCCs) eligible. Every transaction you make is tagged with an MCC, and that MCC is how your bank figures out whether you get to earn rebates on that purchase or not.

CIMB logo
Online Promo
Unlimited 2% Cashback
Unlimited Cashback on the following categories (Wine & Dine, Online Food Delivery, Movies & Digital Entertainment, Taxi & Automobile, Luxury Goods)
Up to 2%
Min. spend per month to qualify for 2% Unlimited Cashback
S$1,000
Cash Rebate cap
Unlimited

Other credit cards spell out exactly which merchants you can earn your rewards at. For example, the HSBC Live+ Card earns you 5% cashback on petrol at only Shell and Caltex—not Esso or SPC. The Standard Chartered Smart Credit Card offers up to 6% cashback at these merchants, as listed in their terms and conditions:

  • Fast food: McDonald’s, KFC, Subway, Burger King
  • Coffee and toast: Ya Kun Kaya Toast, Toast Box
  • Transport: Bus/MRT via SimplyGo
  • Subscriptions: Netflix, Spotify, YouTube, Disney+

You’ll notice joints like MOS Burger, Popeyes, Jollibee, Killiney, and Heavenly Wang don’t count.

HSBC logo
MoneySmart Exclusive
Up to 8% Cashback
on Dining, Shopping and Entertainment
8% Cashback*
on fuel at Caltex and Shell gas stations in Singapore
5% Cashback*
on All Other Spends
0.3% Cashback*
Standard Chartered logo
MoneySmart Exclusive
Up to 6% Cashback
Cashback from Netflix, Spotify, fast food joints and more. *T&Cs apply.
6%*
Annual Fee
S$0
Minimum Spend
S$0
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Earn 1,890 SmartPoints or up to S$230 Cash via PayNow when you apply and spend a min. of S$1,000 in eligible transactions within 60 days from card approval date. T&Cs apply.
 
Use 1,890 SmartPoints to fully redeem a product from our Rewards Store. If the product costs more, redeem with your points and top up the rest by purchasing additional SmartPoints e.g. get an Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Generation) at only S$214 on top of your earned SmartPoints.

Valid until 15 Jul 2024

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6. How long is the earn period?

Aside from $0 minimum spend unlimited cashback cards, most cashback and rewards cards require you to hit a minimum spend per month in order to be eligible for the higher tier cashback or rewards rates. Sounds pretty simple, right? 

Not exactly. Some cards require you to spend $XXX a month for every month in a quarter before you can earn at your preferred cashback rate. The new HSBC Live+ Card and the popular UOB One Card are good examples. For the latter, you need to spend $2,000 each month for a whole quarter in order to hit the highest cashback rate of 10%. (Actually, the UOB One Card has a very complex mechanism in general—read all about it in our UOB One Card review.)

UOB logo
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Cashback on McDonald's, DFI Retail Group, Grab, Shopee, SP and more
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Cashback Cap per quarter
Up to S$500
Min. Spend per month
S$500
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Stand a chance to win a Cartier Santos-Dumont Watch - Large Model, Blue (worth S$6,000) or an Apple 11-inch iPad Air WiFi, 128GB (worth S$899) or a Sony PlayStation 5 SLIM Digital Edition (worth S$669) when you apply and spend a min. of S$1,000 in Eligible Transactions each month for the first two consecutive months from the card approval date. T&Cs apply.
 
PLUS get S$350 Cash Credit from UOB when you are the first 200 new-to-UOB credit card customers in July 2024 who successfully apply for an eligible UOB Credit Card and spend a min. of S$1,000 per month for 2 consecutive months from their card approval date. T&Cs apply.

Valid until 11 Aug 2024

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7. What are the cashback caps for each spend category?

To my knowledge, the highest cashback rate you can get with no cashback cap belongs to the CIMB World Mastercard (which has a minimum spend instead). Any rate higher than that, and the cashback you can earn every month or quarter will have a ceiling.

That in itself isn’t tricky. What’s tricky is realising that that cap can be split into separate caps for different spend categories. That’s the case for the OCBC FRANK Card, which has a minimum spending requirement of $800 in a month, with a monthly cap of $100 cashback. To further break down the $100 cap, it’s actually a $25 cap per category among these 4 spend categories:

  1. Foreign spending (8% cashback, capped at $25)
  2. Local online transactions and mobile payment (8% cashback, capped at $25)
  3. Spending at green merchants (additional 2% cashback, capped at $25)
  4. All other spending (0.3% based cashback, capped at $25)
UOB logo
MoneySmart Exclusive
Online Promo
LUCKY DRAW | Up to 10% Cashback
on Online, Mobile Contactless, Overseas in-store FX spend
10% Cashback
Cash Back Cap per month
Up to S$80
Min. Spend per month
S$800
MoneySmart Exclusive:

[LUCKY DRAW]
Stand a chance to win a Cartier Santos-Dumont Watch - Large Model, Blue (worth S$6,000) or an Apple 11-inch iPad Air WiFi, 128GB (worth S$899) or a Sony PlayStation 5 SLIM Digital Edition (worth S$669) when you apply and spend a min. of S$1,000 in Eligible Transactions each month for the first two consecutive months from the card approval date. T&Cs apply.
 
PLUS get an Apple Watch SE 2nd Gen with CASETiFY Impact Band (worth S$453) from UOB when you are the first 50 new-to-UOB credit card customers in each calendar month from 7 June 2024 to 31 July 2024 to successfully apply and spend a min. of S$1,000 per month for the 2 first consecutive months from their card approval date. T&Cs apply.

Valid until 11 Aug 2024

Another example is the UOB EVOL Credit Card, which I want to use as an illustrative example. This card offers a generous 10% cashback on online, mobile contactless, overseas in-store foreign spending. The minimum you need to spend is $800 a month, and the cashback cap is $80 a month. Doesn’t that sound convenient? $80 is 10% of $800!

Wrong. Of that $80 cashback cap, only $50 is useful to you if you travel, and only $30 is useful to you if you don’t. That’s because the last $30 of the total cap belongs to all other spending, on which you earn a paltry 0.3% cashback.

UOB EVOL cashback Cashback cap per statement month
10% cashback on Online Spend and Mobile

Contactless Spend

$30 ($300 spend)
10% cashback on Overseas in-store FX

spend

$20 ($200 spend)
0.3% cashback on all Other Spend $30 ($10,000 spend)
Total $80 ($10,500 spend)

Source: UOB EVOL Credit Card terms and conditions

If you earn $80 cashback on $10,500 worth of spending, your cashback rate is a meagre 0.76%! 

This is why knowing the cashback caps per category is crucial—it’ll affect your spending strategy. What’s the game plan with the UOB EVOL Credit Card then? Ideally, you want to max out the caps for the first 2 categories, then spend the minimum required to hit $800 total:

UOB EVOL cashback Cashback earned if you spend an optimal $800 in a statement month
10% cashback on Online Spend and Mobile

Contactless Spend

$30 ($300 spend)
10% cashback on Overseas in-store FX

spend

$13.50 ($200 spend)
– Less: $6.50 from 3.25% foreign currency transaction fee
0.3% cashback on all Other Spend $0.90 ($300 spend)
Total $44.40 ($800 spend)
– Less: $6.50 from 3.25% foreign currency transaction fee

Now you earn a cashback rate of 6.36% on your $800 spending. Much better.

If you don’t make any foreign spending, the rest of that $800 minimum spend will earn the base cashback rate of 0.3%. Your overall cashback is now $31.50 on $800 spent, which is a cashback rate of 3.94%—not fantastic, but still higher than an unlimited cashback card.

UOB EVOL cashback Cashback earned if you spend $800 in a statement month but avoid foreign spending
10% cashback on Online Spend and Mobile

Contactless Spend

$30 ($300 spend)
10% cashback on Overseas in-store FX spend $0
0.3% cashback on all Other Spend $1.50 ($500 spend)
Total $31.50 ($800 spend)

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8. When do your points or miles expire?

Unless you’re looking at a cashback card that automatically uses the cashback earned to offset the next month’s bill, you must know your credit card points/miles expiry date. After all, it’s your job to use them before the banks swallow them back up. You also need to know the expiry dates to be sure you can accumulate enough points to make a redemption before the lot of them expire—see the section on conversion blocks above.

Here’s a summary of when your points/miles will expire for different banks in Singapore.

Bank  Points and miles expiry
Amex Amex Membership Rewards points do not expire.
Citibank – Citi Miles never expire.
– Citi ThankYou Points expire 3 years after the end of the year in which you earned them.
DBS DBS Points will expire one year from the quarterly period in which they were earned.
HSBC *takes a deep breath* HSBC Rewards Points expire at the end of 37 months that begins from the month after the month in which you earned the Points.
For example, if you earned your points any date in Oct 2023, they will expire on 30 Nov 2026.
Maybank TREATS Points expire 1 year from the quarterly period in which you earned them.
OCBC – 90°N miles do not expire.
– OCBC$ expire on the last day of the 24th calendar month starting from the month you earned them.
Standard Chartered 360° Rewards Points awarded are valid for 3 years from the date of opening of the credit card account to which the points are credited to (“Initial Period”)
UOB UNI$ expires 2 years from the last day of the quarter in which you earned them.

For miles chasers, you also want to take note of when your airline miles expire. For example, KrisFlyer miles expire after 3 years. If you were to convert your expiring credit card’s points/miles to KrisFlyer miles, the counter resets to 3 years.

Note that premium credit cards often have no points/miles expiry. You’ll recognise these cards by the higher annual fees, higher income requirements, and (usually) their sleek black card faces.

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About the author

Vanessa Nah is a personal finance content writer who pens articles on the ins and outs of buying your first home, the T&Cs of credit cards, and the ups and downs of alternative investments. She’s a researcher at heart and leaves no stone unturned when it comes to breaking down complex finance concepts and making them easy to understand for the everyday Singaporean. When Vanessa’s not debunking finance myths, you’ll find her attending dance classes, fingerpicking a guitar, or (most impawtently) fulfilling her life mission to make her one-eyed cat the most spoiled and loved kitty in the world.