I’ll be honest with you — Malaysian credit card privileges suck right now.
They’re a far cry from the glory years of 2013 – 2014, when banks were handing out credit card benefits like free popcorn samples.
While I don’t know for sure, rumor has it that Bank Negara (BNM) has asked banks to be stricter about issuing credit cards (which is probably a good thing). But worse for kiasu people like me — apparently BNM has also asked the banks to reduce existing credit card benefits.
While I applaud them for trying to tackle Malaysian household debt, it’s now become harder to save money using credit cards. But you know me — I always try.
For lean times like these, here are strategies on how to still optimize your credit cards.
1. Look for Free-for-Life Cards
Sorry to keep talking about the glory years of 2013 – 2014. But back then, nobody had to pay annual fees.
Bank didn’t want to waive your annual fee? No problem — you just needed to ask to cancel the card; and most times they’d immediately waive the fees.
Times have changed.
I can’t claim to speak for all banks, but I recently had to cancel my Maybank Visa Signature because I couldn’t afford the annual fee anymore. I wasn’t even able to negotiate a waiver for one year. Even ultimate Credit Card Jedi Master GenX was recently denied an annual fee waiver.
I think it’s a sign of the times — banks are being stingy with their waivers.
Which tells me that your and my focus should now be on “free-for-life” credit cards. That way, you don’t have to worry about begging for annual fee waivers every year.
Recommendation: Maybank 2 Cards
While the Maybank 2 Cards aren’t the undisputed king of credit cards in Malaysia anymore, I still think they’re a must-have. The American Express gives you 5% cashback on weekend dining and 5x points on most transactions. Which is basically a 1.25% rebate.
And the minimum income requirement is low for such great cards: just RM 2,500.
Unbeatable, if compared to all other free-for-life cards.
2. Have Cards for Different Categories
We used to have supercards. Like the Maybank 2 AMEX which used to give you 5% cashback + 5x points on everything. But then credit card Armageddon came; and took our super privileges away.
Nowadays, if you really want to save money via credit cards, you can’t rely on just one “best” card anymore.
Instead, look at where you’re spending most of your money, and consider getting a cashback card for those categories.
For petrol and groceries (the bulk of my spending aside from dining), I used to adore the Maybank Visa Signature’s 5% cashback. Like I mentioned above, I can’t afford the annual fee anymore. So I recently applied for the Maybank Islamic MasterCard Ikhwan instead. Which is the best alternative I could find: 5% cashback on petrol and groceries — on Fridays and Saturdays.
For Petrol & Groceries: Maybank Islamic MasterCard Ikhwan
Benefits as above, plus the bank will donate money to charity based on your spending on the Maybank Islamic MasterCard Ikhwan. And it’s free for life!
For Groceries, Dining & Online Transactions: Public Bank Visa Signature
This card has an outstanding 6% cashback on groceries, dining and online transactions — every single day. Well done, Public Bank — you’re certainly improving.
The only thing stopping me from getting this card is the RM 411.28 annual fee. Which is waived if you use the card at least 12 times a year. But hey, sometimes I get lazy keeping track of so many terms and conditions. (More on that later…)
The cashback is capped at RM 50 per month. But the great thing about this card is they don’t combine the cap between primary and supplementary cards. So you can have up to RM 50 cashback on your primary plus more cashback on your supplementary cards.
If You’re Really Kiasu: Hong Leong Wise Gold Card
I like the idea behind the Hong Leong WISE Card: 10% cashback on 2 of your chosen categories (e.g. Utilities, Petrol, Entertainment + 1 mandatory category: Mobile). I hate the implementation: you need to swipe your card at least 10 times (amount > RM 50) a month to eligible.
I know the bank wants to encourage spending, but I don’t think anyone has time to track transactions like that. If you’d like to prove me wrong though…
Update 18th September 2016: Hong Leong Bank has revised their terms and conditions for the WISE Card. There’s no more need to swipe 10 times a month, but you need minimum spending of RM 2,000 per month to be eligible for cash back. 🙁
3. LOOK FOR SIMPLICITY
Banks have a habit of making statements like “Up to 8% cashback everyday!” But when you look at the fine print, you realize that it’s only 8% cashback if you spend a lot of money (e.g. > RM 2,000 per month). And it’s only applicable at xxx mall, and only on the first weekend of the month.
8% may be a pretty good discount, but like I said above, ain’t nobody got time for burdensome terms and conditions. I suspect most people just get pulled in by marketing promises, but don’t get anywhere near to maximum benefit.
(Who the hell spends more than RM 2,000 per month on their cards anyway?)
Instead, here’s what I suggest: go for the simplest, most uncomplicated card that you can find — which still serves your purpose. That way, you fully understand the privileges you’re getting, and can maximize the benefits. Of course, all banks have their own terms and conditions. But you’ll save yourself a lot of gray hairs if you choose one that’s reasonable.
Recommendation: Ambank Visa Infinite / World Mastercard
Most banks recently reduced their airport lounge privileges; but AmBank improved theirs. The AmBank Visa Infinite and World MasterCard now allow unlimited lounge access to Plaza Premium lounges in over 26 airports (till 31st December 2016). No conditions.
You also get 5x points on all transactions outside Malaysia, excluding online transactions. Apart from that, again — no conditions.
But even if AmBank reimposes difficult terms and conditions, pulls back all privileges, or downgrades them — you can still keep these cards forever without worry. Why? Because they’re free for life.
See what I said about simplicity?
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While it’s a lot harder than it used to be, hopefully the above has given you some ideas to save your hard-earned money in difficult times.
Let’s hope the winds of change blow again soon, and banks start re-introducing better privileges. Till then, let’s hang on tight, and keep adapting our strategies to the market. And stay on the lookout for better cards and even better strategies.
I’ll let you know if I find any.
Originally published at mr-stingy’s column on iMoney.
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Pic from Pexels.