In December 2016, The Business Times had a sensational article on a Singapore family – a married couple with two kids – who is about to take a trip around the world in style i.e. Business Class, for “free”. Since then, mainstream publications has picked up on it (I mean, who doesn’t want to read about such extreme indulgence?!) and you can check out the links below.
The skeptic in me went into overdrive and based on my experience, it is ridiculously difficult to do what the “Singapore family” has achieved, even more so in less than a year. So, I went to look for readily accessible information.
From the articles, a basic profile of the family emerged.
- Husband-and-wife team behind GET.com (oooo business owners)
- 34 and 36 years old respectively
- Have two children
- Lives on Sentosa island (ahem)
- Took a family trip to Maldives that cost $10,000
Needless to say, I quickly got the impression that this family is pretty far from what I would call an average family in Singapore. While the articles contained plenty of tips, advice and travel hacks provided by Grace Cheng, co-founder and editor-in-chief of GET.com, to me it hardly addresses what everyone is dying to find out – that is “how they pulled off this feat”.
I decided to work backwards and see just how easy/difficult it is to do what they did. They may be high flyers, but let’s just see how ridiculous it is from my point of view.
We shall see whether Average Joe (AJ) is able to achieve what the family did!
SQ Round-The-World (RTW) Business Class Tickets
According to the articles, they are travelling using business-class tickets with Singapore Airlines (SIA) redeemed from 960,000 miles.
An SIA customer representative in fact told them that they had “hit the jackpot”, being the first to use miles to redeem Round The World tickets on Business Class, and for a party of four, no less.
To be honest, I wouldn’t have bothered to write this post if it had happened in the US (where people can even earn miles from pudding). Initially, I thought that they have earned the miles overseas (even GET.com, by default, displays a US version of the website) because in Singapore, the opportunities for travel hacking is really not that ideal. They must have simply done the redemption in Singapore – I thought to myself.
Remaining miles needed = 960,000 miles
Sign Up Bonus Miles
The articles mentioned them using sign-up bonuses to rack up the miles.
.. we collected more than 50,000 bonus miles through a welcome bonus offer for The American Express Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer Ascend Credit Card.
.. Citi PremierMiles gives you 42,000 miles as a signing bonus but it requires you to spend $10,000 within the first three months. So if you’re planning to travel, or buy big ticket items like a new TV or a laptop, coincide that with the application of a new credit card since you’re more likely to meet the minimum requirement then. You can buy a car with a credit card, up to a certain amount, and that amount varies among car dealers. We did that two-and-a-half-years ago prior to our goal of earning 1mil miles.
From my experience, extremely good sign-up bonuses are hard to come by in Singapore, and they usually come with certain conditions that need to be met.
Let’s be generous and assume that AJ hit the requirements and earned a total of 120,000 miles of sign-up bonuses, ignoring the expenses he had to incur (e.g. $20,000) during the process.
What Grace i.e. the wife said about the Citi PremierMiles Visa credit card is true, though. Hands down, to me it is the best starter card with a great sign-up bonus. When I started my own project of achieving my preliminary goal of 85,000 miles, I started with 11,285 miles (owned the card for many years already lah, thus no longer applicable for the sign-up bonus) solely on a single general spending credit card – the Citi Premiere Miles Visa. Lionel @ Cheerful Egg wrote an excellent piece on it. Why re-write content when someone else can do it better? 😉
So, let’s deduct 120,000 miles from 960,000 miles. Therefore, AJ would still need 840,000 miles to redeem RTW tickets for his family.
Remaining miles needed = 840,000 miles
Super Promo Deals
This part is going to be confusing for some of you. You see, at the end of the day, miles are earned via expenses incurred. The only real question is, how many miles are you earning per dollar of expenditure?
The standard “best rate” one can achieve is 4 miles per dollar in Singapore. Let’s put that aside for a while first.
Sometimes, there are promotions or deals that lets you earn more than that. Like 10 miles per dollar, for example. These are very, very rare.
Again, let’s generously assume that AJ spends $20,000 a year on these specific promos/deals e.g. travelling and earned an extra 6 miles per dollar on these expenses.
Bonus miles earned = $20,000 x extra 6 miles = 120,000 miles
Remaining miles needed = 720,000 miles
For simplicity, I’m going to use 4 miles per dollar to compute the necessary level of spendings required per month to earn 720,000 miles in the span of a year.
Note that this rate is extremely generous since cash expenditure earns zero miles, and a general spend credit card could earn you 1.2 miles per dollar.
Simple Mathematics : 1 year = 12 months.
720,000 miles = $180,000 worth of expenditure charged to a credit card that earns 4 miles per dollar.
Monthly expenditure required = $180,000 / 12 = $15,000
Oooh. Now, all AJ has to do is spend $15,000 every month. Or, if AJ has a wife, each of them can spend $7,500 on their credit cards.
What?! How can AJ spend $15,000 a month on credit cards?!
Despite the so-called travel hacking advice given in the 5 articles, which are in fact pretty decent and useful tips for beginners, I get the feeling that these are simply bait for the readers to visit GET.com. While the tips teach you how to optimize your expenditure, these are not going to get you to your first million miles in one year.
How Did They Really Do It?
The only explanation I can come up with lies in a point that was mentioned in only 1 of the 5 articles by Today Online, AND it did not fall under the tips and hacks section.
They make it sound easy but evidently, it takes a special type of person to collect a whopping one million miles. “I don’t see things as expensive or cheap. As long as it gives me the most for my money, it will appeal to me. That kind of focus is what drove me to look for the best deals for things that I spend on,” said Cheng. And, “because we have a business to run and a big household, we do incur quite a bit of expenses.”
Mystery solved. I’m pretty sure 4-pax is not a big household to most people, therefore the key is to incur business expenses on your credit cards. Nowadays, you can even pay rent via credit cards!
There is no easy way to say this. At the end of the day, the air miles game is still dependent on money spent. There is no shortcut to do this. If you are an extremely frugal guy, sorry. Close this webpage now. And please don’t even consider manufactured spending unless you know what you’re doing.
For the Average Joe, the real question to consider is how can we optimize your spending to earn air miles? And what is your projected expenditure per year? Can you incur company/business expenditure on your personal credit cards?
My Very Own SQ Suites Class Project
On my blog, I don’t tell people what they should do. I prefer to share what I’m doing. Don’t reach for the sky, and you’ll find that a single Business Class ticket (or two) is not too hard to get hold of. It was a nice experience.
My new SQ Suites project is moving along really nicely. It was the main reason why I had applied for a few more credit cards than what I usually use. At the end of the day, it is still a project that is based on expenditure, and how much of it that one can nudge towards a miles-earning credit card.
Sometimes, little surprises make our day – such as the Amex Grab 20% rebate on top of all promo codes savings. It was a huge amount since I easily spent more than $100 on Grab for the month of January. Blame CNY.
Year-end festivities and Chinese New Year meant that there was a huge amount of unavoidable spending that I conveniently paid for using credit cards that earned air miles. My expenditure would have been incurred regardless of whether I had embarked on the project.
Fast-forward four months, and I have already reached the 78% mark. I provide a monthly update on my website.
Jared @ SMOL wrote a post that I can really identify with. By using air miles to redeem flights, are the tickets really free?
My take is that there are opportunity costs to consider. Assuming one had earned 48,000 miles in the last 3 months at the ‘best’ rate of 4 miles per dollar which is close to impossible, that is still a net expense of $12,000. Using a cash rebate percentage of 1% on a general spending card, I would have lost out on at least $120 worth of cash rebates. Even you have an aggressive promo cash rebate rate of 3% under Amex True Cashback Card, that is equivalent to $360. Not so ‘free’ now, right?
But to me, I value these 48,000 miles at 8.75 cents per mile i.e. $4200. These flights aren’t free but they are excellent value. While we’re talking about what’s ‘free’, do not forget that taxes and surcharge are still payable on redeemed flights!
Sidetrack a little : Apart from the Singapore-Beijing route, an unexpected possibility has opened up for Singapore-Melbourne which I am really tempted to go for. Seeing how I have plenty of time to continue saving up my miles, it would be a possible option to use it for 2018 or 2019.
Sidetrack a little bit more : The good folks from SingSaver contacted me, and the end result is a brand new widget (woohoo!) on the right sidebar that lists the best air miles credit cards in Singapore. If you’re applying for a card, why not do it from there? 🙂