How I Saved RM 5,024.94 in 2014 — using Credit Cards

In 2014, I saved RM 5,024.94 by using my credit cards.

I’m not sure if that’s considered a lot or not for most people. But it’s significant for me.

I didn’t plan to save that much though. It just happened because I had the right advice, right cards, and just enough stingy-ness to want great benefits for free. Hopefully by reading this — you’ll find some good ideas on how to optimize your credit card usage too.

Here’s how I did it.

1. Credit Cards I Used in 2014 (and Tax Incurred)

These are the cards I used in 2014:

  1. Maybankard 2 American Express (AMEX) and MasterCard
  2. Alliance Visa Infinite (received RM 50 cashback to offset service tax)
  3. Maybank Visa Signature
  4. RHB MasterCard Platinum (received RM 50 cashback to offset service tax)
  5. CIMB Visa Signature (terminated in April 2014)

My basis for choosing these cards? Mainly from reading Mr. GenXGenYGenZ’s blog. Make sure to check it out if you want to learn how to choose the best credit cards. If you don’t have time to read through all his articles, just check out this one for awesome recommendations.

For the whole of 2014, I only paid RM 100 tax for four cards (five if you consider the Maybankard AMEX and MasterCard as separate). You probably know that the service tax for every credit card in Malaysia is RM 50 per year. However, most banks grant you an RM 50 cashback to encourage you to sign up for their cards. That’s how I got RM 100 off.

Total Tax: RM 100.00

2. Late Payment Charges and Finance Charges

The rest of this article is going to promote credit card usage as if it’s the cure for cancer. But I’m not ignorant. I know that plenty of people get into financial trouble using credit cards. So let me say this very clearly. When using credit cards…

Pay off 100% of your bill every month. If you can’t afford to do that — DO NOT use them.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t disciplined enough in 2014. Sometimes I forgot to pay my cards on time. So I got hit with the below charges:

  1. Maybankard 2 AMEX finance charges: RM 2.79
  2. Alliance Visa Infinite late payment charges: RM 10.00 (from just one violation!)
  3. Alliance Visa Infinite finance charges: RM 1.09

Total Charges: RM 13.88

3. Cashback Earned

Let’s move on to the fun stuff. We’ll start with the most direct benefit of credit cards — cashback. Here’s how much I got in cashbacks for the whole of 2014:

Total Cashback Earned: RM 351.38

The bulk of my cashback came from the Maybankard 2 AMEX. Which gives a significant 5% cashback on weekends (Saturdays/Sundays). You can find a comprehensive review of it here. The Visa Signature is great too. It gives 5% cashback on all petrol and groceries every single day of the week — no conditions.

What’s so great about that, you ask? Sure, some other cards promise 5x or 6x points, or 10% cashback on petrol. But they always come with burdensome terms and conditions — like you need to swipe your card at least 10 times within the billing period. Or you need to register by SMS and choose a certain “plan”. Or you only get cashback once you reach a certain ridiculous figure, like RM 1,000 per month.

Sorry — I just can’t afford the monthly effort to check if I’ve passed those Terms & Conditions. As Mr. GenXGenYGenZ himself would say: it’s insincere.

That’s why I think the Maybankard 2 cards are the absolute best credit cards for the everyday Malaysian. To accumulate cashbacks and points easily. Free for life too, and the annual income to get them isn’t high.

One more thing. I’ve had the Maybankard 2 cards for almost three years now. And I’ve made late payments numerous times. (Usually 1–3 days late because I’m lazy and forgetful. Don’t be like me!) As far as I remember, they have never ever charged me a late payment fee. They charged me RM 2.79 of interest in 2014 because I was late for about 6 days. But even then, there was no RM 10 charge like the Alliance card.

How’s that for an awesome credit card?

4. Points Earned (and RM Equivalent)

The second easiest way to calculate credit card “earnings” is to calculate reward points and the RM equivalent. Here’s what I racked up in 2014:

  1. Maybankard 2 AMEX & MasterCard: 186,250 points = RM 745.00
  2. Alliance Visa Infinite: 39,701 points = RM 86.08
  3. Maybank Visa Signature: 46 points (too low to convert to RM)
  4. RHB MasterCard Platinum: 36 points (too low to convert to RM)
  5. CIMB Visa Signature: 10 points only. But I did redeem 80,500 points (from previous years) for RM 400 MPH and Haagen Daz vouchers.

Total Points (in RM) Earned: RM 831.08

That’s even higher than my cashback amount. So how did I get 186,250 Maybank points in one year? Consider that there are still a lot of cards in the market which grant you a miserly 1 point for every RM1 spent. This means I would have had to spend the equivalent of RM 186,250 to get the same amount of points.

Well I didn’t. Most of these points came from my Maybankard 2 AMEX — which gives 5X points every single day (except if used to pay for government/education related bills).

How much is a credit card point worth? Depends on which bank we’re talking about. But the general standard is that a credit card point is worth between RM 0.004 to RM 0.0045.

For Maybank, we’ll consider that 1 Maybank point = RM 0.004. Because it takes 12,500 points to get an RM50 voucher.

(Update June 2015: Maybank recently revised their terms & conditions, so 1 Maybank point is now worth only RM 0.0025. You can still get the old conversion rate at their “Treats Fair” event though)

Unfortunately an Alliance point is worth much less. Almost half the value of a “standard” point. This is also based on how many points it takes to get an RM50 voucher. From their website:

23,060 Alliance points = RM 50 voucher
 So 1 Alliance point = 50 / 23,060 = RM 0.00216825672…

5. Indirect Money Saved

This is where the calculations get a bit tricky. And arguable. Some of you will say “Hey, that’s great. I didn’t know you could get all that stuff for free.” Some of you will say “That’s not fair. You can’t consider such stuff in your calculations of how much you ‘earned’. You’re just inflating the number to make you seem cooler.”

Fair point. And to be honest — I struggled with what I was going to put in the list below.

But to decide, I finally asked myself these 3 questions:

  • How frequently did I utilize the benefit?
  • Did it really save me money — or at the very least — time or energy?
  • If I wasn’t getting it for free, would I be willing to pay for it?

So I excluded some items. Like two free hotel stays I got — worth at least RM 3,000 — through credit card tie-ups with vacation clubs. Because I would have never spent that money if it wasn’t free.

Here’s what made the “indirect savings” list:

a. Waivers

  1. Alliance Visa Infinite: Annual fee waiver = RM 800.00
  2. RHB MasterCard Platinum: Annual fee waiver = RM 500.00
  3. Maybank Visa Signature: Annual fee waiver = RM 550.00
  4. Maybank Visa Signature: Waiver on Maybank Balance Transfer fee = 3% of 17,380 = RM 521.40

Like me, no one should be paying for annual fees nowadays. If your bank wants to charge you for it — ask for a waiver. If they refuse — ask to cancel the card. Then they’ll probably even give you RM 50 to pay for the government service tax.

b. Interest-free Payment Plans
 
(Assuming I would have to pay 10% interest per annum without the interest-free payment plans)

  1. Maybankard 2 AMEX: 10 months interest-free payment of RM 1,523.37
     = 1,523.37 * 10% annual interest / 12 months * 10 months = RM 126.95
  2. Maybank Visa Signature: 3 months interest-free payment of 1,448.33
     1,448.33 * 10% annual interest / 12 months * 3 months = RM 36.21
  3. RHB MasterCard Platinum: 3 months interest-free payment of 5,800.00
     5,800 * 10% annual interest / 12 months * 3 months = RM 145.00

Items 2 and 3 above were part of my strategy to pay off a lump sum RM 34,800 education loan. I’ll save the full story for another day — but for now — not only did the credit cards save me interest, they allowed me to pay off a huge debt quickly (and spread it over 15-months with the banks instead). Plus I got 34,800 points from that :)

If you’re not sure what an interest-free payment plan is, you can find out more here.

c. Frequently Used Privileges

  1. Alliance Visa Infinite: Priority Pass Prestige Membership (access to international airport lounges)
     = USD 399 = RM 1,276.80

(Assume 1 USD = MYR 3.20)

Total “Indirect Savings”: RM 3,956.36

6. Grand Total

= Total Cashback Earned + Total Points Earned + Indirect Savings — Charges — Taxes

= 351.38 + 831.08 + 3,956.36–13.88–100.00

= RM 5,024.94

There you have it. How i saved five thousand bucks in 2014 while getting lots of really cool benefits. It was really easy too.

Some people call maximizing points and benefits “hacking”. Google “travel hacking” and you’ll know what I mean. But personally, I think that’s just a clever marketing spin. The word “hack” is overused nowadays.

There’s actually nothing magical about getting loads of points and rewards. All it needs is some good online resources, discipline — so you don’t abuse your credit cards, and a good measure of stingy-ness — wanting great benefits for free.

You could do it too.

The question is — will you?


Originally published at mr-stingy.com.

Pic Credit: Pixabay