Why is Singapore-Cambridge A levels so hard [Answers] Majority of the student use A level results as a means of getting admissions into local universities. In the process, many feel like giving up. “Why is Singapore-Cambridge A levels so hard?!” Why is Singapore-Cambridge A levels so hard?! The reason The Singaporean version of A levels is much harder in comparison to the international version. Despite that, entry requirements using the results remain stringent. Why is Singapore-Cambridge A levels so hard?! One may ask. Simply put, MOE doesn’t want the locals to get a degree, and referring to the WIKILeaked document. MOE targets enrollment at 20-25% annually out of approximately 15,000 applicants. That means if A levels is easy everyone gets straight A’s. Then universities will find it difficult in differentiating and admitting students. The local media echoes the sentiments publishing articles like this. And the local universities corroborate with the story recruiting foreign student to make up the numbers (approximately 28% as of 2019). Why is Singapore-Cambridge A levels so hard?! The situation The double whammy to Singaporean A level students appears when certain career paths are inaccessible without the degree qualification. It’s hard to get into a local university, career options may be limited without a degree. So it’s no wonder teen suicide rates are increasing to their highest year after year. Unfortunately, there is no end in sight. The quality of school teachers in JCs varies greatly. I continuously hear horror stories of the behaviors of some these teachers when students come to me for tuition. For example in one JC, a friendly teacher gives incorrect answers to students. The only other competent teacher is so fierce that he scolds students for bringing up questions to the point of tears. Nobody dares to seek clarification. Consequently, students are fumbling over their material and not ready for the A level exams. This is why some students at this point will seek out tuition. MOE is not on their side either. For those of you who are feeling the stress, I truly feel for you. This is one of your most trying periods in life. Why is Singapore-Cambridge A levels so hard?! What can I do? First and foremost content mastery is the foundation of exam preparations. If this is your weakness, then you will likely seek out a tutor for help. I have a checklist you might use to shortlist the better tutors since there are so many out there. This will be helpful since JC life is so short and you can’t afford to try all the tutors out. Next, you need to learn how to be a better exam taker. As Michael Jordon says, “You can practice shooting eight hours a day but if your technique is wrong, then all you become is very good at shooting the wrong way. Get the fundamentals down and the level of everything you do will rise.” Despite the technique not working, many people are still using the same exam taking techniques hoping it will make a difference? There are several ways to augment the exam taking performance. I write about some of them, implement them in my classes and track my students and see how they perform over time with these new techniques. Solutions To start things off, you may want to consider that you eat leading up to the exams. I make some recommendations for the exam diet. If the biology is not optimal, then performance is sub-par leading to stagnation and even worse causes debilitating injuries (in the gym for example). Sleep is another important area students must consider as it aids in developing learning for the day and transforming it to long term memory. If they are not on point, then one just won’t remember at all, wasting the time and effort earlier in the day. Also, how a student studies during exam preparations is crucial. I write about this in detail here. And have seen how my student performance transform just by making the simple changes. Bottomline I hope the above resources will help you in your JC student life. And transform the agony of “Why is Singapore-Cambridge A levels so hard?!” to “I can do it and the exams is fun and easy!” And in the process find success Singapore-Cambridge A level exams. All the BEST!

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CCA in JC [thoughts and recommendations] I see many students so busy with CCA in JC that they jeopardize their studies as a result. The truth of the matter is, CCA accomplishment will be insufficient to compensate for the lousy A level results. Many students think that accomplishing something in their CCA means this will help them with university admissions. Unfortunately, they don’t realise that just about everyone else will have the same accomplishments on their transcripts as they too try to get into university. CCA in JC: A case study Let us do a quick calculation. Say for example there are 16+1 JCs and each have 10 CCAs (a gross underestimation). And say a club president is an important position as well as great accomplishment. Tallying up, there will be at least 169 other club presidents therefore. But this does not include the assistant presidents, and other miscellaneous student committee positions. What about getting a medal in a competition in the course of pursuing the CCA? In most if not all of these cases, the competition is at the school level and not national level. If you think you can use this medal as a way of getting into a local university admission by discretionary admissions, so is the thousands of other students. The discretionary admissions is a method of letting students with outstanding achievements gain entry into the university. Think representing Singapore at the international level AND medaling for starters. These people aren’t even competing in the school level competitions to begin with. CCA in JC: the realities For the great majority of JC applicants, this is just not tenable. Working on content mastery and spending effort gaining the best grades you can get is a much better bet to gaining a local university admission. It doesn’t matter if you are president of the [insert anything you like] club if you have a Singapore-Cambridge A level certificate full of C’s and D’s. Have a quick run through of NUS admissions you’d realize that majority of courses want at least a BBC/C and above. For the ultra-competitive courses, absolutely nothing less than an AAA/A will do (e.g. medicine). CCA in JC: forced by the school Many of my students tell me their teachers force them into participating in CCA in JC. My students routinely tell me how such teachers threaten them with failure to enter into a local University if they don’t. Or they will not write letters of recommendation for them during university admissions. That’s a load of bullcrap if you ask me. CCA in JC is just a means for the teachers and school management to hit their KPIs. So that they can get their performance bonuses and brag about their achievement to MOE. There is no concern over development of their students in a holistic manner outside of academics which is the original intent. And if they students cannot manage, that is the student’s fault. They will definitely not take responsibility for your poor grades. CCA in JC: what you need to do For the average student, the time is much better spent gaining mastery of the A level content. This is priority #1! Because the Singapore-Cambridge A levels is HARD. In contrast to the easier international A levels, the Singaporean version has content equivalent to the scope of a year 1 university course. As such, this is by no means a walk in the park. Some students are able to still perform well in O levels preparing in a last minute manner. This however will definitely not work in A levels. In fact some students may have to commit time to tuition in order to grasp the concepts due to how much depth and breath of content is required. I have a checklist to help you narrow down the tutors if you are thinking about it. Once the #1 priority is planned, where time allows, you may consider participating in CCAs. CCA in JC: you can still pursue CCAs! But I suggest looking for opportunities outside of school instead for several reasons. Firstly, it clearly differentiates you from every other JC graduate aiming to apply for the local unviersity. Second, they are often more fulfilling, pragmatic and has real world benefits. This may include gaining a network of friends who may help you in the future. For example writing that testimonial for you for university applications. More importantly, approaching them for future work internships, etc. All that as well as the opportunity to really make a difference. More advantages For students asking what avenues to explore, I will suggest the various non-profit organizations that’s looking for volunteers. There are so many of them. Whilst some are academic, others are special interest groups, sports, activism. Even those that help various types of less fortunate members of the society (the very young, old, single parent, poor, suicidal…) etc. These activities allow you to be take a breather from the heavy academic stuff. And also allows you to see the real lives of specific caches of the community. More importantly even motivate you to do better for yourself and help others. Furthermore, your experiences become fodder during interview time that will make you a very interesting candidate with stories to tell. This will therefore differentiate you from everyone else who just have their CCA in JC. Most importantly and finally, volunteers can decide how much commitment they are willing to contribute. Dial it back when your academic work gets intense and bring it up when you have the time to spare. How to go about it? To start the process, you can look for details of organizations seeking for volunteers here. The list is not exhaustive and there are others out there. Google will help with that. The school teachers and management will never tell their students these things. It’s in their interest not to. Otherwise they cannot justify the millions of dollars spent on the school facilities, the hour allocation for teacher duties etc. Not only that, having an empty report card when MOE HQ ask for justifications to pay increments or promotions is downright embarrassing. As such, no where in the grand scheme of things is there concern about student welfare and student interests. It is just an admin chore to tick in the school’s to-do checklist. Bottomline If you have a skill and you actually enjoy your CCA in JC, that I actually have no problem with though you need to watch out for the amount of time you spend. However, for the majority of students, this is not the case. And not only that, they are routinely hookwinked into thinking what they do will actually make a difference in university admissions. If the school and teachers really care, I won’t have carved out a career tutoring and counseling JC students. These highly stressed students who are used, abused and discarded by the schools in the first place.
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Travel hacking: Choosing airline FFPs [2018] And so the travel hacking starts. Earlier I admit to being a total noob and starting with 0 miles and 0 frequent flyer programs (FFPs) under my belt. Whilst I am still figuring out the how-to’s of collecting miles, I now have 2 FFPs under my belt. FFPs are essential because these accounts are where you transfer your miles to. When you accumulate sufficient miles, you can then redeem them for preium cbin seats such as business or first class in airlines. After much detective work, I whittle down my choices to 2. I don’t want to register for every single FFP out there. My reasons for NOT registering for every single FFPs First because I don’t want to scatter my precious miles everywhere. Second, I don’t want to keep track of so many programs all with expiring miles. Third, routine rocks my boat and if I figure out what works, then I repeat it. Until I achieve my target. Rules are different for different FFPs. More FFPs more rules, more to think about. Finally, I do not want to be in a situation where I commit to unnecessary spending. Recently, Iberia released a great promotion and it took the mile chasing world by storm. My friend took advantage of it. But I did not. In order to take advantage of it, I will need to register for an Iberia Avios account. Spend a small sum of money on booking trips which will unlock 90 000 Avios miles. My thinking is that I don’t travel alot to begin with. And I already have a specific travel plan. Getting the easy bonus miles will mean nothing to me if I can’t make use of them. And THE MILES EXPIRE… Main reason for choosing certain FFPs Some of the FFPs are incredibly hard to earn miles sufficient for premium cabin redemption. Because the redemption values suck. Like for example Qatar Airways FFP, Privilege club. The FFP asks for such an astronomical number of points, it makes redemption for premium cabin impossible. I will avoid these FFPs and opt for those whose redemption options I can actually achieve. A quick search on the internet and you will find seasoned travel hackers mention some reasonable FFPs. And so I chose… So one of the FFPs I end up registering for is the Alaska Air’s FFP. This is despite my airport base being Changi. This is surprising to some of my fellow Singaporeans. Alaska Air doesn’t even have flights to Changi airport! But hear me out. They are one of the smaller boutique airlines with no international presence and doesn’t belong to any alliance. To make their FFP worth-it, they have direct agreements with many airlines. So if I collect Alaskan FFP miles, I don’t have to fly Alaska! I can redeem those miles for premium cabin seats in partner airlines. Conversely, if I fly these partner airlines on flights where I pay the tickets for, I can credit them to my Alaska FFP. Why Alaska’s FFP? Why them? Because they are one of the few airlines left that still credit the number of miles flown rather than dollars spent. And the mileage credit is generous! If you happen to chance upon and buy a cheap premium cabin ticket, you get quite a bit of bonus miles. And elite status increases the miles bonus. Such huge bonuses are a rarity in the miles chasing world. And this will go a long ways towards using those miles for booking the next trip. Also, Alaskan Air’s FFP have generous rules for flyers using their program. For example, up to a single free stopover is allowed when redeeming miles for premium cabin seats. A stopover, is a stop in the flight itinerary that exceeds an airline determined number of hours. Passengers disembarks and exits immigration spending day(s) at the stopover city. And can subsequently embark on the next part of the journey. Very few airlines allow that (without requiring more miles or money upfront). On top of that, they actually sell miles (very few other airlines do). Sometimes they sell miles with bonuses. Allowing one to buy them far cheaper that the actual tickets. Collecting miles either through credit card spend or flying is an arduous process which I am about to begin. This is a way to shorten the process to redemption. Let me work out the sums below: A case study Say I choose to book a business class flight to Japan flying Japan airlines for 1. The ticket prices out as illustrated below on google flights. The ticket price is all in plus taxes. Now look at how much it costs using Alaska FFP: Applying the stopover rule at Tokyo, starting the travel at Changi and returning at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It costs S$613.86 approximately to purchase those points (bonus miles included in calculations). Add the taxes of US$61.40 (S$82.23). Plus a cheap air ticket back to Changi S$100 (over-estimation). This works out to be S$796.09 all in. And represents more than 70% savings off the actual ticket! Just for kicks, let me show you the cost of flying to Tokyo on the same itinerary economy ticket cost: The thrill of saving money for a trip you are embarking on anyway is exciting! Besides Alaska Air FFP, I also have Asiamiles in my FFP repertoire. This is the FFP from Cathay Pacific which belongs to the OneWorld airline alliance. I will do a quick run through of what is an airline alliance. So that this may help some of you new to the game. What are airline alliances? There are 3 major airline alliances. OneWorld, Star Alliance and SkyTeam. Each airline alliance have a group of airlines which work closely together. This allows frequent flyers to reap benefits of flying within the alliance. They share lounge access for premium cabin flyers. This may be important for some. Because the airlines in their base airports usually setup flagship lounges. They generally provide a better experience than the other contract lounges. So if you fly airline A for example, you can gain access to airline B’s flagship lounge since they belong to the same alliance. For OneWorld, notable flagship lounges include Cathay’s The Pier and The Wings. Also the Qantas first class lounge in Sydney. JAL’s first class lounges in Haneda and Narita Tokyo. These are worth checking out and spending time in. In addition, flying within the airline alliance allows checking through the luggage if connecting to another airline. For example, flying from Singapore to Tokyo on JAL and then immediately connecting to Hong Kong n Cathay Pacific. More importantly, your mile-earning tickets can be credited to the FFP you own. You can also redeem miles for premium cabin seats in partner airlines. This allows you to travel to more countries by redeeming miles. Choosing OneWorld’s Cathay Pacific’s FFP The unfortunate thing about Alaska Air is that they are not part of the 3 airline alliance. However, they do partner with a number of OneWorld airlines. This is helpful as I can redeem my miles from Alaska Air as well as Cathay Pacific in building my itinerary. Which creates more flexibility. So the 2 FFPs are synergistic. Which is why I pick OneWorld over the other 2 airline alliances. Within the alliance, Cathay Pacific’s Asiamiles seems to be more reasonable in mile redemption versus other members in OneWorld. For example, Qantas charges 280,000 points for planning a round-the-world trip redemption in business class up to 35,000 miles. Cathay in contrast only requires 210,000 for the same. That is a whopping 70 000 miles difference. Assuming the earning rate for miles are the same, Asiamiles comes out miles ahead (pun unintended). So this is the FFP I will chose within the alliance. Also, Changi is a stone throw away from Kuala Lumpur. So positioning a flight from the latter may be cheaper if I do decide to pay for my tickets. Or fly on Malaysian airlines which is also a OneWorld airline. Finally, all my Singaporean credit cards points can transfer to Asiamiles easily. Since I earn credit card points for necessary spending, subsequent flight redemption will be almost free! Bottomline: FFPs I hope by describing my decision making process, I help you decide what is best for you. Since everyone’s situation is a little different. In the next post, I write about my experience with earning miles from credit card spend. The tips and tricks I adopt to hasten the miles accumulation process.
Travel Hacking: Credit Card game [3 tricks] With details of choosing FFPs out of the way, it’s time to talk about how to make travel hacking possible. Let’s talk about credit card spend for starters. I am writing this fresh off the trip spending S$796.09 on a business class cabin to Tokyo, Japan. Now that I know how traveling in premium cabin is like, I want more of it. But I also want to spend almost nothing to experience preferential treatment for flying in premium cabin. And as I learn about the finer details of travel hacking, I hope the experience will allow you to pick up a thing or 2. So that you can earn for yourself the experience as well! Earning miles through flying frequently on the airline of your choice is NOT travel hacking. That is the hard way. An easier way to travel hacking is via credit card spend. Every time you spend on your credit cards, the banks rewards you points for the transaction. And these points can be exchanged for airline miles. The key is that different transactions give you different returns depending on which credit card you have. And credit cards are not equal in rewarding you for the spend. In Singapore for example, DBS Woman’s World mastercard (men can have the card too) will reward online transactions at 10X DBS points. But the same card only gives you 1X points for other types of non-foreign transactions. So I keep my online transactions exclusively to this card to get my 10X points. And use other cards for other types of transactions. Choosing a bank and their credit card offerings This gets confusing so you need to sift out each back’s peculiarities and see what works for you. Some banks do not have a rewards program that includes air miles (CIMB). OR, have cards that are not included in reward programs (frequently debit cards). So will not help you in your attempt in travel hacking. Other banks may not have airline partners for you to transfer your points to. OCBC for example can only transfer points to SIA’s FFP. There are banks that also will not pool your points if you have multiple credit cards from them. Citibank is one such example. And they will charge you for conversion for each card’s reward points to air miles. For me I have a repertoire of cards from UOB and DBS that suits me best. I have 2-3 credit cards from each bank that covers most of my spending patterns. Where I can get bonus miles for each category of expenditure as well as pooling of points. Plus they also are able to transfer to my Cathay Pacific FFP. Most people make the transfer when bank points are about to expire. Or when they run promotions for bank transfers of points giving bonus miles in addition to those transferred. Once you have chosen the bank and the card, it’s time to strategize the spend. I will specifically document one type of credit card spend that I routinely take advantage of. Online purchases. What kind of online transactions for credit card spend? Before I discuss this further, I need to state that I’m an advocator for prudent credit card spending. If you are spending beyond your means to get these airline miles, it defeats the purpose of getting them. Especially if you are charged interest for not being able to pay back the expenditure in full. If you are able to make full payments timely for your credit cards, then read on! The trick is to convert as much of your NORMAL expenditure as possible to online purchases. For example, I now buy grocery items that are less perishable from iHerb instead of the local grocery stores. For items such as cooking oils, vitamins, personal care products etc. There are several advantages to this. First, these items keep for longer periods of time and you do not need to pick them in a display unlike say apples. Second, these online service providers usually have free deliveries. So no more lugging heavy bags home. Third, you can always anticipate your requirements ahead of time and do price comparisons for cheaper options. Since, these items are what I originally want, I am not spending more money on top of my normal expenditure. I am instead converting some of my normal expenditure into online purchase so that I can reap the rewards! Stacking promotions/points in online credit card spend Another trick I use is to stack as many promotions/points in online spend as I can. This requires you to sniff out 3rd party platforms that are trying to reward new users. These platforms usually drive traffic to the online sellers who in return get a cut of purchase as referral fees. The professionals call this affiliate marketing. They then pass a portion of their earnings back to you. Most importantly, there is no mark-up for this kind of traffic redirection. So it is a win-win-win situation for everyone. But even more so for the travel hackers. As this allows me to get rewards/points multiple times for a single purchase. For example, recently I made an online purchase to replace a worn-out electric shaver at Lazada. Instead of clicking through to the website directly, I choose instead to go from shopback instead. Shopback pays me part of their commissions in the form of cashback. So I get reward points from the bank after my online purchase. In addition, I also get a percentage of my purchase back in cash! The travel hacking circles call this double-dipping. There are situations where tripple-dipping is possible. And it is super awesome knowing how much you are gaining for the normal expenditure. Think about the time when you just blindly pay for these expenditures without getting anything in return!! Inevitable spend e.g. TAXES Unfortunately in life, taxes are as unavoidable as death. Taxes in the form of income or property are one of the payments individuals make to governments. And they usually involve large sums of monies. It is frustrating that one doesn’t get anything back from debiting these frequently large sums of monies. That is until the advent of payment services such as ipaymy and the likes. What they do is to charge your payment to the government to your credit card. Then they make the transfer to the government agencies designated by you. In return, you get bank reward points. They charge a nominal service fee for each transaction to make it worthwhile for you and them. I use them for my payments on a monthly basis. Allowing me to finally gain reward points for such expenditures! Bottomline: Credit card spend So its not difficult travel hacking my way to premium cabin I find out. A bit of due diligence, planning, and reading the terms and conditions, you can be on your way to premium cabin travel too. Let me include a document religiously maintained by dedicated folks who document what credit card transactions does or does not get bonus points from each bank, FYI. After strategically placing my expenditures in the past year, I successfully confirmed 2 business class seats. One for my sister and the other for my mum, return tickets to Hong Kong. This is the first time, either of them are going to experience premium cabin travel. And I check off one of the most important items on my travel hacking wish-list as well. I can’t wait for that trip to commence! There is so much to credit card spend as yet. I will be detailing how to for other types of spending onto the credit card.

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CCA in JC [thoughts and recommendations] I see many students so busy with CCA in JC that they jeopardize their studies as a result. The truth of the matter is, CCA accomplishment will be insufficient to compensate for the lousy A level results. Many students think that accomplishing something in their CCA means this will help them with university admissions. Unfortunately, they don’t realise that just about everyone else will have the same accomplishments on their transcripts as they too try to get into university. CCA in JC: A case study Let us do a quick calculation. Say for example there are 16+1 JCs and each have 10 CCAs (a gross underestimation). And say a club president is an important position as well as great accomplishment. Tallying up, there will be at least 169 other club presidents therefore. But this does not include the assistant presidents, and other miscellaneous student committee positions. What about getting a medal in a competition in the course of pursuing the CCA? In most if not all of these cases, the competition is at the school level and not national level. If you think you can use this medal as a way of getting into a local university admission by discretionary admissions, so is the thousands of other students. The discretionary admissions is a method of letting students with outstanding achievements gain entry into the university. Think representing Singapore at the international level AND medaling for starters. These people aren’t even competing in the school level competitions to begin with. CCA in JC: the realities For the great majority of JC applicants, this is just not tenable. Working on content mastery and spending effort gaining the best grades you can get is a much better bet to gaining a local university admission. It doesn’t matter if you are president of the [insert anything you like] club if you have a Singapore-Cambridge A level certificate full of C’s and D’s. Have a quick run through of NUS admissions you’d realize that majority of courses want at least a BBC/C and above. For the ultra-competitive courses, absolutely nothing less than an AAA/A will do (e.g. medicine). CCA in JC: forced by the school Many of my students tell me their teachers force them into participating in CCA in JC. My students routinely tell me how such teachers threaten them with failure to enter into a local University if they don’t. Or they will not write letters of recommendation for them during university admissions. That’s a load of bullcrap if you ask me. CCA in JC is just a means for the teachers and school management to hit their KPIs. So that they can get their performance bonuses and brag about their achievement to MOE. There is no concern over development of their students in a holistic manner outside of academics which is the original intent. And if they students cannot manage, that is the student’s fault. They will definitely not take responsibility for your poor grades. CCA in JC: what you need to do For the average student, the time is much better spent gaining mastery of the A level content. This is priority #1! Because the Singapore-Cambridge A levels is HARD. In contrast to the easier international A levels, the Singaporean version has content equivalent to the scope of a year 1 university course. As such, this is by no means a walk in the park. Some students are able to still perform well in O levels preparing in a last minute manner. This however will definitely not work in A levels. In fact some students may have to commit time to tuition in order to grasp the concepts due to how much depth and breath of content is required. I have a checklist to help you narrow down the tutors if you are thinking about it. Once the #1 priority is planned, where time allows, you may consider participating in CCAs. CCA in JC: you can still pursue CCAs! But I suggest looking for opportunities outside of school instead for several reasons. Firstly, it clearly differentiates you from every other JC graduate aiming to apply for the local unviersity. Second, they are often more fulfilling, pragmatic and has real world benefits. This may include gaining a network of friends who may help you in the future. For example writing that testimonial for you for university applications. More importantly, approaching them for future work internships, etc. All that as well as the opportunity to really make a difference. More advantages For students asking what avenues to explore, I will suggest the various non-profit organizations that’s looking for volunteers. There are so many of them. Whilst some are academic, others are special interest groups, sports, activism. Even those that help various types of less fortunate members of the society (the very young, old, single parent, poor, suicidal…) etc. These activities allow you to be take a breather from the heavy academic stuff. And also allows you to see the real lives of specific caches of the community. More importantly even motivate you to do better for yourself and help others. Furthermore, your experiences become fodder during interview time that will make you a very interesting candidate with stories to tell. This will therefore differentiate you from everyone else who just have their CCA in JC. Most importantly and finally, volunteers can decide how much commitment they are willing to contribute. Dial it back when your academic work gets intense and bring it up when you have the time to spare. How to go about it? To start the process, you can look for details of organizations seeking for volunteers here. The list is not exhaustive and there are others out there. Google will help with that. The school teachers and management will never tell their students these things. It’s in their interest not to. Otherwise they cannot justify the millions of dollars spent on the school facilities, the hour allocation for teacher duties etc. Not only that, having an empty report card when MOE HQ ask for justifications to pay increments or promotions is downright embarrassing. As such, no where in the grand scheme of things is there concern about student welfare and student interests. It is just an admin chore to tick in the school’s to-do checklist. Bottomline If you have a skill and you actually enjoy your CCA in JC, that I actually have no problem with though you need to watch out for the amount of time you spend. However, for the majority of students, this is not the case. And not only that, they are routinely hookwinked into thinking what they do will actually make a difference in university admissions. If the school and teachers really care, I won’t have carved out a career tutoring and counseling JC students. These highly stressed students who are used, abused and discarded by the schools in the first place.
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Travel hacking: Choosing airline FFPs [2018] And so the travel hacking starts. Earlier I admit to being a total noob and starting with 0 miles and 0 frequent flyer programs (FFPs) under my belt. Whilst I am still figuring out the how-to’s of collecting miles, I now have 2 FFPs under my belt. FFPs are essential because these accounts are where you transfer your miles to. When you accumulate sufficient miles, you can then redeem them for preium cbin seats such as business or first class in airlines. After much detective work, I whittle down my choices to 2. I don’t want to register for every single FFP out there. My reasons for NOT registering for every single FFPs First because I don’t want to scatter my precious miles everywhere. Second, I don’t want to keep track of so many programs all with expiring miles. Third, routine rocks my boat and if I figure out what works, then I repeat it. Until I achieve my target. Rules are different for different FFPs. More FFPs more rules, more to think about. Finally, I do not want to be in a situation where I commit to unnecessary spending. Recently, Iberia released a great promotion and it took the mile chasing world by storm. My friend took advantage of it. But I did not. In order to take advantage of it, I will need to register for an Iberia Avios account. Spend a small sum of money on booking trips which will unlock 90 000 Avios miles. My thinking is that I don’t travel alot to begin with. And I already have a specific travel plan. Getting the easy bonus miles will mean nothing to me if I can’t make use of them. And THE MILES EXPIRE… Main reason for choosing certain FFPs Some of the FFPs are incredibly hard to earn miles sufficient for premium cabin redemption. Because the redemption values suck. Like for example Qatar Airways FFP, Privilege club. The FFP asks for such an astronomical number of points, it makes redemption for premium cabin impossible. I will avoid these FFPs and opt for those whose redemption options I can actually achieve. A quick search on the internet and you will find seasoned travel hackers mention some reasonable FFPs. And so I chose… So one of the FFPs I end up registering for is the Alaska Air’s FFP. This is despite my airport base being Changi. This is surprising to some of my fellow Singaporeans. Alaska Air doesn’t even have flights to Changi airport! But hear me out. They are one of the smaller boutique airlines with no international presence and doesn’t belong to any alliance. To make their FFP worth-it, they have direct agreements with many airlines. So if I collect Alaskan FFP miles, I don’t have to fly Alaska! I can redeem those miles for premium cabin seats in partner airlines. Conversely, if I fly these partner airlines on flights where I pay the tickets for, I can credit them to my Alaska FFP. Why Alaska’s FFP? Why them? Because they are one of the few airlines left that still credit the number of miles flown rather than dollars spent. And the mileage credit is generous! If you happen to chance upon and buy a cheap premium cabin ticket, you get quite a bit of bonus miles. And elite status increases the miles bonus. Such huge bonuses are a rarity in the miles chasing world. And this will go a long ways towards using those miles for booking the next trip. Also, Alaskan Air’s FFP have generous rules for flyers using their program. For example, up to a single free stopover is allowed when redeeming miles for premium cabin seats. A stopover, is a stop in the flight itinerary that exceeds an airline determined number of hours. Passengers disembarks and exits immigration spending day(s) at the stopover city. And can subsequently embark on the next part of the journey. Very few airlines allow that (without requiring more miles or money upfront). On top of that, they actually sell miles (very few other airlines do). Sometimes they sell miles with bonuses. Allowing one to buy them far cheaper that the actual tickets. Collecting miles either through credit card spend or flying is an arduous process which I am about to begin. This is a way to shorten the process to redemption. Let me work out the sums below: A case study Say I choose to book a business class flight to Japan flying Japan airlines for 1. The ticket prices out as illustrated below on google flights. The ticket price is all in plus taxes. Now look at how much it costs using Alaska FFP: Applying the stopover rule at Tokyo, starting the travel at Changi and returning at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It costs S$613.86 approximately to purchase those points (bonus miles included in calculations). Add the taxes of US$61.40 (S$82.23). Plus a cheap air ticket back to Changi S$100 (over-estimation). This works out to be S$796.09 all in. And represents more than 70% savings off the actual ticket! Just for kicks, let me show you the cost of flying to Tokyo on the same itinerary economy ticket cost: The thrill of saving money for a trip you are embarking on anyway is exciting! Besides Alaska Air FFP, I also have Asiamiles in my FFP repertoire. This is the FFP from Cathay Pacific which belongs to the OneWorld airline alliance. I will do a quick run through of what is an airline alliance. So that this may help some of you new to the game. What are airline alliances? There are 3 major airline alliances. OneWorld, Star Alliance and SkyTeam. Each airline alliance have a group of airlines which work closely together. This allows frequent flyers to reap benefits of flying within the alliance. They share lounge access for premium cabin flyers. This may be important for some. Because the airlines in their base airports usually setup flagship lounges. They generally provide a better experience than the other contract lounges. So if you fly airline A for example, you can gain access to airline B’s flagship lounge since they belong to the same alliance. For OneWorld, notable flagship lounges include Cathay’s The Pier and The Wings. Also the Qantas first class lounge in Sydney. JAL’s first class lounges in Haneda and Narita Tokyo. These are worth checking out and spending time in. In addition, flying within the airline alliance allows checking through the luggage if connecting to another airline. For example, flying from Singapore to Tokyo on JAL and then immediately connecting to Hong Kong n Cathay Pacific. More importantly, your mile-earning tickets can be credited to the FFP you own. You can also redeem miles for premium cabin seats in partner airlines. This allows you to travel to more countries by redeeming miles. Choosing OneWorld’s Cathay Pacific’s FFP The unfortunate thing about Alaska Air is that they are not part of the 3 airline alliance. However, they do partner with a number of OneWorld airlines. This is helpful as I can redeem my miles from Alaska Air as well as Cathay Pacific in building my itinerary. Which creates more flexibility. So the 2 FFPs are synergistic. Which is why I pick OneWorld over the other 2 airline alliances. Within the alliance, Cathay Pacific’s Asiamiles seems to be more reasonable in mile redemption versus other members in OneWorld. For example, Qantas charges 280,000 points for planning a round-the-world trip redemption in business class up to 35,000 miles. Cathay in contrast only requires 210,000 for the same. That is a whopping 70 000 miles difference. Assuming the earning rate for miles are the same, Asiamiles comes out miles ahead (pun unintended). So this is the FFP I will chose within the alliance. Also, Changi is a stone throw away from Kuala Lumpur. So positioning a flight from the latter may be cheaper if I do decide to pay for my tickets. Or fly on Malaysian airlines which is also a OneWorld airline. Finally, all my Singaporean credit cards points can transfer to Asiamiles easily. Since I earn credit card points for necessary spending, subsequent flight redemption will be almost free! Bottomline: FFPs I hope by describing my decision making process, I help you decide what is best for you. Since everyone’s situation is a little different. In the next post, I write about my experience with earning miles from credit card spend. The tips and tricks I adopt to hasten the miles accumulation process.
Travel Hacking: Credit Card game [3 tricks] With details of choosing FFPs out of the way, it’s time to talk about how to make travel hacking possible. Let’s talk about credit card spend for starters. I am writing this fresh off the trip spending S$796.09 on a business class cabin to Tokyo, Japan. Now that I know how traveling in premium cabin is like, I want more of it. But I also want to spend almost nothing to experience preferential treatment for flying in premium cabin. And as I learn about the finer details of travel hacking, I hope the experience will allow you to pick up a thing or 2. So that you can earn for yourself the experience as well! Earning miles through flying frequently on the airline of your choice is NOT travel hacking. That is the hard way. An easier way to travel hacking is via credit card spend. Every time you spend on your credit cards, the banks rewards you points for the transaction. And these points can be exchanged for airline miles. The key is that different transactions give you different returns depending on which credit card you have. And credit cards are not equal in rewarding you for the spend. In Singapore for example, DBS Woman’s World mastercard (men can have the card too) will reward online transactions at 10X DBS points. But the same card only gives you 1X points for other types of non-foreign transactions. So I keep my online transactions exclusively to this card to get my 10X points. And use other cards for other types of transactions. Choosing a bank and their credit card offerings This gets confusing so you need to sift out each back’s peculiarities and see what works for you. Some banks do not have a rewards program that includes air miles (CIMB). OR, have cards that are not included in reward programs (frequently debit cards). So will not help you in your attempt in travel hacking. Other banks may not have airline partners for you to transfer your points to. OCBC for example can only transfer points to SIA’s FFP. There are banks that also will not pool your points if you have multiple credit cards from them. Citibank is one such example. And they will charge you for conversion for each card’s reward points to air miles. For me I have a repertoire of cards from UOB and DBS that suits me best. I have 2-3 credit cards from each bank that covers most of my spending patterns. Where I can get bonus miles for each category of expenditure as well as pooling of points. Plus they also are able to transfer to my Cathay Pacific FFP. Most people make the transfer when bank points are about to expire. Or when they run promotions for bank transfers of points giving bonus miles in addition to those transferred. Once you have chosen the bank and the card, it’s time to strategize the spend. I will specifically document one type of credit card spend that I routinely take advantage of. Online purchases. What kind of online transactions for credit card spend? Before I discuss this further, I need to state that I’m an advocator for prudent credit card spending. If you are spending beyond your means to get these airline miles, it defeats the purpose of getting them. Especially if you are charged interest for not being able to pay back the expenditure in full. If you are able to make full payments timely for your credit cards, then read on! The trick is to convert as much of your NORMAL expenditure as possible to online purchases. For example, I now buy grocery items that are less perishable from iHerb instead of the local grocery stores. For items such as cooking oils, vitamins, personal care products etc. There are several advantages to this. First, these items keep for longer periods of time and you do not need to pick them in a display unlike say apples. Second, these online service providers usually have free deliveries. So no more lugging heavy bags home. Third, you can always anticipate your requirements ahead of time and do price comparisons for cheaper options. Since, these items are what I originally want, I am not spending more money on top of my normal expenditure. I am instead converting some of my normal expenditure into online purchase so that I can reap the rewards! Stacking promotions/points in online credit card spend Another trick I use is to stack as many promotions/points in online spend as I can. This requires you to sniff out 3rd party platforms that are trying to reward new users. These platforms usually drive traffic to the online sellers who in return get a cut of purchase as referral fees. The professionals call this affiliate marketing. They then pass a portion of their earnings back to you. Most importantly, there is no mark-up for this kind of traffic redirection. So it is a win-win-win situation for everyone. But even more so for the travel hackers. As this allows me to get rewards/points multiple times for a single purchase. For example, recently I made an online purchase to replace a worn-out electric shaver at Lazada. Instead of clicking through to the website directly, I choose instead to go from shopback instead. Shopback pays me part of their commissions in the form of cashback. So I get reward points from the bank after my online purchase. In addition, I also get a percentage of my purchase back in cash! The travel hacking circles call this double-dipping. There are situations where tripple-dipping is possible. And it is super awesome knowing how much you are gaining for the normal expenditure. Think about the time when you just blindly pay for these expenditures without getting anything in return!! Inevitable spend e.g. TAXES Unfortunately in life, taxes are as unavoidable as death. Taxes in the form of income or property are one of the payments individuals make to governments. And they usually involve large sums of monies. It is frustrating that one doesn’t get anything back from debiting these frequently large sums of monies. That is until the advent of payment services such as ipaymy and the likes. What they do is to charge your payment to the government to your credit card. Then they make the transfer to the government agencies designated by you. In return, you get bank reward points. They charge a nominal service fee for each transaction to make it worthwhile for you and them. I use them for my payments on a monthly basis. Allowing me to finally gain reward points for such expenditures! Bottomline: Credit card spend So its not difficult travel hacking my way to premium cabin I find out. A bit of due diligence, planning, and reading the terms and conditions, you can be on your way to premium cabin travel too. Let me include a document religiously maintained by dedicated folks who document what credit card transactions does or does not get bonus points from each bank, FYI. After strategically placing my expenditures in the past year, I successfully confirmed 2 business class seats. One for my sister and the other for my mum, return tickets to Hong Kong. This is the first time, either of them are going to experience premium cabin travel. And I check off one of the most important items on my travel hacking wish-list as well. I can’t wait for that trip to commence! There is so much to credit card spend as yet. I will be detailing how to for other types of spending onto the credit card.
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