Blog, Finance, Listicles, Travel

[UPDATED FOR 2019] The best travel credit cards in the Philippines + ranking (Part 2 of 2 – Non-airline-specific cards and verdicts)

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Aloy Chua (2019)

In the previous part of this two-part article, I listed down five airline co-branded credit cards in the Philippines that I deemed had a shot at being among our great travel credit cards. In this part, I list down eleven non-airline-specific cards, as well as summarize the information at the end, and then give my verdict.


I feel the mark of a truly great travel credit card doesn’t lie just in the miles rewards, but also in the other benefits and features, like dual-currency billing, promos, lounge access, travel insurance, even the schedules of fees that are a perennial reality of credit cards – these are the little things that add up to create the best package for you.

With that, after scouring the Philippine banks and financial sites for the best travel credit cards, I have expanded the list here to seventeen such cards, including airline-specific ones. I also graded them out of five in four different parameters: a) miles ratios; b) fees; c) lounge access; and d) other features.

The list seems really long, from nine last year (though some of the additions have been existing since then). However, this goes to show how the Philippine financial market, in response to the rapidly-growing aviation market here, has also taken its offerings up a notch. Because of this, I will split the airline co-branded cards from those that are not for the discussion.

Note: All information are valid as of this writing. Should there be any changes, I will provide updates.

1. BDO Platinum American Express

AMEX-Plat-AMEX-website-product-page.jpg
American Express

If you want an Amex, but not the exclusivity to Cathay Pacific (or you don’t need Marco Polo), the standard Platinum Amex – take note, this is a Philippine-exclusive offering distinct from The Platinum Card – is your go-to, from our largest bank, BDO Unibank (the only bank that, as of this writing, has hit the ₱2 trillion [~US$ 38.4 billion] asset mark). This is another of the “holy trinity” of cards I see most often, and for good reason.

The tearjerking ₱5,000.00 annual fee (which, like the Cathay Amex, is automatically waived with a total swipe of ₱600,000.00) is made up for in many ways. The first five supplementary cardholders have ZERO annual fees, yaaaaas family yaaaaaas. Second, you enjoy dual-currency billing. Third, you have six airlines to choose from for your miles redemption, which sits at ₱45.00 to a mile for Cathay Pacific, Delta Air Lines, Malaysia Airlines, Singapore Airlines, and Thai Airways, but almost ₱96.00 for Philippine Airlines (why, PAL, why?). Fourth, you have not one, not two, but three lounges to access in the Philippines for free (one each in NAIA 1, NAIA 3, and Clark – the only time in this whole lot that this next big gateway is added) – AND with plus ones! There’s no more generous offer than that.

Best for: NAIA 1, 3, and Clark flyers; Amex-friendly country visitors; families

  • Miles grade: 3.25 / 5.00
  • Fees grade: 3.75 / 5.00
  • Lounge grade: 3.75 / 5.00
  • Others grade: 3.75 / 5.00
  • Final grade: 3.63 / 5.00

2.  BDO Diners Club Premiere

bdo-diners-club-prem_0
BDO Unibank Inc. / iMoney

If Amex isn’t your cup of tea, try the Diners Club Premiere (the higher-level of the two Diners cards, the lower one being International) – again now exclusively issued by BDO, taking over from Security Bank. It features the lowest standard miles ratio in the country with ₱30.00 (~US$0.60) to a point – now for both Philippine Airlines and Cathay Pacific. This offer becomes even more mouthwatering when one learns that the ratio is doubled at dining establishments (it’s called Diners Club for a reason), for a heart-stopping ₱15.00 (~US$0.30) to a mile! That is, until one realizes Diners Club isn’t as widely supported as Visa and MasterCard. But still.

Diners Club was the first credit card company in the world, and is also a brand of worldwide airport lounges. Sadly, the Diners Club Premiere gives you complementary access only twice a year – including Manila, Cebu, and Davao. This would’ve been okay for the regular International card (which offers only one free pass), but for the premium-level card, five or even ten passes would be a better choice.

It’s priced lower than the Amexes, at ₱4,500.00 a year (and no free supplementaries). It’s still quite exclusive, but a little less so than Cathay, with an income requirement of ₱1,000,000.00 per annum (~US$20,000.00). It scores higher than the Cathay Amex primarily because of the lounge access, though in practice, if you’re a jetsetter who’s away more often than home, you’re probably better off earning more Asia Miles for your buck and just getting another card for your lounge access privileges.

But that ₱15.00…

Best for: Philippine Airlines or Cathay Pacific loyalists; frequent eaters out

  • Miles grade: 4.50 / 5.00
  • Fees grade: 3.50 / 5.00
  • Lounge grade: 2.75 / 5.00
  • Others grade: 3.75 / 5.00
  • Final grade: 3.63 / 5.00

3. BDO JCB Platinum

img_applying16.png
JCB Philippines

No, I don’t have a bias towards BDO – quite the opposite, actually. But it’s the only bank in the country that offers all the credit card brands we have, and they make very good offers with them, too. Hence, their take on JCB’s Platinum.

Although not as big as Visa and MasterCard, or even Amex, I’d argue, JCB – an initialism of Japan Credit Bureau – the only international credit card company from Japan, is expanding. For the frequent traveler to Japan (and even just a patronizer of Japanese brands), it is worth having a JCB card due to its frequent promos and discounts.

Like the Platinum Amex, it waives annual fees for several supplementaries – this time six – and is slightly cheaper, to boot. Unlike the Platinum Amex, though, it does not offer dual-currency billing, and is limited to only three airlines to redeem miles from (Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific, or Cathay Pacific) – and more expensive, while we’re at it. 

It is when you travel, especially to Japan, where the JCB Platinum shines. Throughout Japan and Japanese-frequented cities and countries around the world, JCB cardholders, especially premium ones, have complimentary access to so-called JCB Plaza Lounges, which are dedicated spaces for JCB cardholders in malls or commercial centers where they can enjoy free wi-fi, internet, printing, and even tourist booking services. You also get twice-a-year-free access to JCB airport lounges in Japan, Hawaii, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea, or Thailand.

JCB Platinum also offers a wide range of services, such as discounts or freebies at Hertz car rentals, airport pickup, or golf courses and restaurants in Japan.

Best for: Frequent travelers to Japan, Singapore, China, Thailand, Korea, or Hawaii

  • Miles grade: 2.75 / 5.00
  • Fees grade: 4.00 / 5.00
  • Lounge grade: 2.50 / 5.00
  • Others grade: 3.50 / 5.00
  • Final grade: 3.19 / 5.00

4. RCBC JCB Platinum

RCBCBankard_JCBPlatinum.png
RCBC Bankard

Unlike Amex and Diners Club, which BDO has exclusively taken over, JCB is shared with RCBC – though arguably, a main advantage BDO would hold over RCBC is the former’s lower foreign transaction fee rates (see above). RCBC, on the other hand, has a lower annual fee – ₱3,600.00, the second-lowest Platinum fee in our list – although it waives supplementary annual fees only for the first three cards, and its miles ratio is higher than the already-high BDO JCB’s – ₱108.00 or ₱375.00 for supermarkets, gas stations, or drug stores. And it also doesn’t have dual-currency billing.

Since it’s also Platinum, the other perks are shared with BDO’s.

Best for: Frequent travelers to Japan, Singapore, China, Thailand, Korea, or Hawaii

  • Miles grade: 2.00 / 5.00
  • Fees grade: 4.25 / 5.00
  • Lounge grade: 2.50 / 5.00
  • Others grade: 3.50 / 5.00
  • Final grade: 3.06 / 5.00

5. BPI Signature Visa

c257b53c-9c562444-2018-VISA-SIGNATURE-Card---Francis-Javellana-286x178.jpg
BPI Cards

The newest offering of the country’s fourth-largest bank (as of this writing) is a premium and travel credit card that is now lauded as the bank’s “highest” card, surpassing its SkyMiles Platinum MasterCard. It has the second-highest annual fee in this list at ₱5,500.00 (BPI’s highest overall), with only one supplementary card enjoying waived-for-life fees, but comes with great benefits worth the fees.

For starters, BPI has – in my experience – the second-lowest foreign fees in the Philippines after BDO, though experience shows us that BPI may sometimes be actually lower than BDO when we’re traveling. While its miles ratio is high, it is relatively mid-level in our list (₱60.00 for a GetGo Point, Mabuhay Mile, or KrisFlyer Mile; ₱40.00 for an AirAsia Big Point). And speaking of low and high, cardholders enjoy special foreign currency exchange rates just by presenting said card at any branch.

Other nice privileges include complimentary access with plus one at NAIA 3’s Club Pacific Lounge – not the SkyView one most other cards give you access to – given its sister SkyMiles card’s affiliation with Delta Air Lines, which uses said lounge for its business class passengers (the SkyMiles Platinum also offers the same lounge access); free upgrades at El Nido Resorts in Palawan; and DragonPass lounge discounts. For all this prestige, however, there is no dual-currency billing – quite a turn-off especially for a Signature, which outranks Platinum and is itself surpassed by only Infinite.

Best for: NAIA-3 flyers; foreign currency-heavy travelers

  • Miles grade: 3.00 / 5.00
  • Fees grade: 3.25 / 5.00
  • Lounge grade: 2.50 / 5.00
  • Others grade: 4.25 / 5.00
  • Final grade: 3.25 / 5.00

6. Citibank PremierMiles Signature Visa

premiermiles-card
Citibank Philippines

Hands-down, this card issued by Citibank Philippines (and also in other countries, like Hong Kong and Singapore) offers the best non-situational miles ratio, for just ₱30.00 (~US$0.60) – but on more than one airline, the broadest portfolio in the country:

  • Air France-KLM Flying Blue
  • British Airways Executive Club
  • Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
  • Cebu Pacific GetGo
  • Etihad Airways Guest
  • EVA Air Infinity MileageLands
  • Garuda Indonesia GarudaMiles
  • JetAirways JetPrivilege (though now defunct)
  • Malaysia Airlines Enrich
  • Philippine Airlines Mabuhay Miles
  • Qantas Frequent Flyer
  • Qatar Airways Privilege Club
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
  • Thai Airways Royal Orchid Plus
  • Turkish Airlines Miles&Smiles
  • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

That’s a whopping sixteen airlines, not to mention the subsidiaries and airline alliance partners of said airlines that your miles can get you on! Hence, this being my go-to card (though not overseas), and why I see it so often on family and elders: the third of the “holy trinity”.

You can even redeem your PremierMiles for hotel memberships with Club Carlson or the IHG Rewards Club. Personally, I’d like to see ANA Mileage Club, Asiana Club, Emirates Skywards, JAL Mileage Bank, or Korean Air SKYPASS, as well as SPG Preferred Guest, in the list, but with fifteen (active) airline and two hotel chain partners, who am I to complain? Although, admittedly, British Airways, Garuda Indonesia, and Virgin Atlantic don’t fly to Manila as of this writing, so it won’t be very much useful unless you were based overseas.

Unfortunately, their lounge access downgraded effective the end of January 2018 – when, prior, customers could access NAIA and Plaza Premium lounges endlessly for just one mile. Today, customers are granted a complementary DragonPass membership to access said lounges, but only TWO complementary passes per membership year, including Manila – subsequent ones need to be paid for (with, of course, a nice discount if this card is used), just like the BDO Diners Club Premiere. This seems to be quite penny-pinching, and an annoyance, as if you were being teased with a goodie that was yanked back from you the moment you got your fingertips on it. Hope Citibank and NAIA could grant unlimited access to the latter’s lounges, and reserve the two complementary passes for other airports instead.

And for a hefty ₱5,000.00 (~US$100.00) annual fee too, with no complimentary supplementary cards, nor dual-currency billing. On the plus side, the income requirement is relatively low – ₱30,000.00 (~US$600.00) per month for a first credit card, halved if you’ve already another card for at least six months. On the minus side, with a very high 3.525% foreign transaction rate, I cannot justify using this card overseas except for the lounge access, and I don’t.

Still, frankly, I’d expect a bit more for a Signature. At least it does come with the profusion of behind-the-scene privileges that premium Visa cardholders can enjoy. And the miles redemption program makes it oh so much worth it.

Best for: Any overseas traveler who has a different credit card, or cash, for actual overseas spending. And overseas travelers in general.

  • Miles grade: 4.75 / 5.00
  • Fees grade: 2.75 / 5.00
  • Lounge grade: 2.75 / 5.00
  • Others grade: 2.50 / 5.00
  • Final grade: 3.19 / 5.00

7. HSBC Platinum Visa

platinum-visa.jpg
HSBC Philippines

Making the rounds of local financial advice sites these days is the Platinum Visa card by HSBC, which is actually the bank’s lowest rewards Visa card – its Gold is now Cash Back, and its “classic”-equivalent card is the Red MasterCard. Unfortunately, it is also the lowest ranker in our list here, for several reasons.

Like its fellow foreign bank, Citibank, HSBC cards employ high foreign transaction fees, which makes its main attraction not worth availing of – the overseas miles ratio. It’s a very generous ₱25.00 for Asia or KrisFlyer Miles, and a still-very-generous ₱30.00 for Mabuhay Miles. But with high foreign transaction rates, why would I use it abroad?

Using it here in the Philippines, on the other hand, I get those miles for ₱33.33 and ₱40.00 respectively in only selected (though admittedly popular) establishments (the list of which is here) – but outside said establishments, it’s ₱100.00 and ₱120.00, respectively. No, thanks.

It also has zero lounge access whatsoever, joining PNB’s Mabuhay Miles card for the dubious honor of being a premium card with no lounges. It doesn’t offer dual-currency billing, and it joins the other expensive Platinum cards with a ₱5,000.00 annual fee and no waived fees for supplementary cards. Its one redeeming grace is rebates at Caltex – if you happen to be a customer with them.

Best for: Caltex customers; frequent shoppers and diners

  • Miles grade: 3.25 / 5.00
  • Fees grade: 2.75 / 5.00
  • Lounge grade: 0.00 / 5.00
  • Others grade: 3.00 / 5.00
  • Final grade: 2.25 / 5.00

8. Metrobank Travel Platinum Visa

 

Platinum Travel card Visa 278x177px
Metrobank Card
 

This is Metrobank’s newest offering as of this writing, having been released only in 2017, and for a travel card, the second-largest bank is off to a good start. Not great, but good.

Although its standard miles ratio is austere at ₱50.00 (~US$1.00) to a Mabuhay, Asia, or KrisFlyer mile, this is tripled when used overseas or at airlines and hotels, bringing the ratio down to a nerve-tingling ₱17.00 (~US$0.34) – one of the lowest of them all (and the lowest for Asia and Kris). Unfortunately, with an also-sky-high foreign transaction rate, I don’t see myself using this card abroad, but only to book tickets or bookings billed to me in PHP.

The lounge access is where it falls flat on its face. Only Priority Pass Standard is granted (meaning, you have to pay to actually get inside the lounges). RCBC’s Black Card Platinum MasterCard and Infinite Visa do both issue Priority Pass Standard memberships as well, but also unlimited NAIA lounge access for you and a plus-one. C’mon, Metrobank. At least grant us NAIA lounge access too – you made a travel card, might as well go all out.

There’s also no dual-currency billing – again, a bit of a turn-off coming from a self-styled travel card – and the annual fee is one of the higher ones, at ₱5,000.00 (~US$100.00), like the BDO Amexes, with only one complimentary supplementary.

Best for: Travelers who make their bookings in Philippine peso.

  • Miles grade: 3.25 / 5.00
  • Fees grade: 2.75 / 5.00
  • Lounge grade: 1.00 / 5.00
  • Others grade: 3.25 / 5.00
  • Final grade: 2.56 / 5.00

9. BDO Platinum MasterCard

platinum-card-image.png
BDO Unibank

While BDO relatively impresses with their less universal card brands, their MasterCard is also a relative force to be contended with – though, admittedly, it’s the invitation to upgrade to World Elite (the highest MasterCard level) and its accompanying perks that serves as one of the most attractive appeals. I see this commonly on not just globetrotting relatives – it’s a common card in general with Chinese-Filipinos given the wide range of rewards and promos.

The Platinum MasterCard itself has the same fees and miles ratios as the JCB Platinum – that is to say, respectively, nice and meh. It also has dual currency billing. Where it differs with JCB is the lack of JCB Plaza and Lounge access – in its case, it partners with LoungeKey. However, there seems to be no complimentary access, like with Metrobank’s Priority Pass. World Elite, on the other hand, offers ten free passes a year.

Best for: General credit card users.

  • Miles grade: 2.75 / 5.00
  • Fees grade: 4.00 / 5.00
  • Lounge grade: 1.00 / 5.00
  • Others grade: 3.75 / 5.00
  • Final grade: 2.88 / 5.00

10. Security Bank Platinum MasterCard

New-Mastercard-Platinum-Tile.png
Security Bank

It’s funny how Security Bank refers to its Platinum and World MasterCards as their “Travel Credit Cards” (they have no other credit card product lines besides Classic to World MasterCards and CashBack) – as if travel was an exclusive premium privilege. In some ways, it is, but I’ve always found the classification odd and a bit elitist – at least other banks have travel-specific cards or card lines. But I digress.

Anyhow, the one big appeal of this card – on paper, at least – is that it has no foreign transaction fees at all (as well as all other Security Bank cards). I decided to put it to the test in 2018, and again in 2019 (after my Classic card was upgraded to Platinum), by making small purchases in Hong Kong dollars (HKD) and Thai baht (THB) respectively, comparing it with my BPI card. The BPI card always had the lower rate, despite having a 1.85% foreign transaction fee. So there’s something going on…

That bump aside, Security Bank’s Platinum card is still worth bringing overseas with you. The annual fee is one of the cheaper ones, at ₱4,000.00. It offers dual-currency billing, which only BDO, PNB, and Bank of Commerce match (the Platinum level of PNB’s Mabuhay Miles card also has DCB, and BDO offers it down to the Gold level). It used to provide just access for you and a plus one to NAIA Terminal 3’s SkyView lounge, but now instead provides twice-a-year free access to LoungeKey lounges (the World card grants six a year). Shame they removed unlimited NAIA access; they could’ve kept it in to make it even nicer…

It’s the miles redemption where Security Bank fails miserably, though – the highest ratio in our list, in fact. Although it hits the sweet spot in that it partnered with Mabuhay Miles, Asia Miles, and KrisFlyer (this is my holy trinity of frequent flyer programs), the ratios are, respectively, the scandalous ₱156.80, ₱130.00, and ₱180.00. You could get six KrisFlyer Miles with Citibank PremierMiles for the same amount.

Best for: Travelers with no BPI or BDO card; NAIA 3 flyers; overseas travelers in general

  • Miles grade: 1.50 / 5.00
  • Fees grade: 3.75 / 5.00
  • Lounge grade: 2.75 / 5.00
  • Others grade: 3.75 / 5.00
  • Final grade: 2.94 / 5.00

11. RCBC Infinite Visa

Visa-Infinite.png
RCBC Bankard

A cashback and rewards card in one? With travel privileges and a low annual fee to boot? Sign me up now! RCBC’s top Visa card may seem too good to be true, but it’s not: it’s good and true, not impossibly good and true.

Although the miles ratio is still at a sorry rate, equal to the JCB Platinum’s ₱108.00 (₱375.00 for groceries, gas stations, and drugstores), the card uniquely makes up for it through cash back – 5% on local and international non-department store clothing store purchases that are not in installments, so long as the sum of all other swipes exceeds the former. There’s a cap of ₱5,000.00 cash back per calendar year.

The card is also unique in that it features both standard Priority Pass membership and NAIA 3 SkyView Lounge access for both you and a plus one, and waived card fees for a whopping nine supplementary cards. This puts me in a more forgiving mood towards that miles ratio…

Best for: NAIA 3 flyers; frequent clothes shoppers

  • Miles grade: 2.00 / 5.00
  • Fees grade: 4.50 / 5.00
  • Lounge grade: 2.75 / 5.00
  • Others grade: 3.75 / 5.00
  • Final grade: 3.25 / 5.00

12. UnionBank Miles+ Platinum Visa

card-miles
UnionBank of the Philippines

If you’re a local airline loyalist (and not necessarily either PAL or CebPac, but both), and you want a cheaper annual fee, and NAIA lounge access, and a relatively low miles ratio, look no further with UnionBank’s Miles+ Platinum Visa. While the “relatively” low ratio is actually ₱50.00 (~US$1.00) to a Mabuhay Mile or GetGo Point, and an overseas/travel ratio of ₱33.33 (~US$0.67) to a mile, excluding perpetually-waived fees from other banks, the Miles+ has the cheapest annual fee at ₱3,000.00. And remember: it’s a Platinum card.

It also boasts rather generous lounge access, with unlimited access to Club Manila in NAIA 1 and SkyView Lounge in NAIA 3, though as is standard UnionBank perk, sans plus ones. It used to have access to the MIASCOR lounge in NAIA 1 and Davao, but no longer since the termination of the MIASCOR contract. Now if only the lounge in Clark could be negotiated in, just like BDO’s Platinum Amex.

Take note that there is a “classic” variant that retains the privileges, but has a slightly higher miles ratio of ₱55.00 (~US$1.10), with overseas/travel ratio of ₱36.68 (~US$0.74). Neither variant offers dual-currency billing, though. 

Best for: Philippine Airlines and/or Cebu Pacific loyalists; NAIA 1 and 3 flyers

  • Miles grade: 3.25 / 5.00
  • Fees grade: 4.50 / 5.00
  • Lounge grade: 3.00 / 5.00
  • Others grade: 2.50 / 5.00
  • Final grade: 3.31 / 5.00

Verdict

After re-inputting the values in my spreadsheet and computing the average, I present to you the top eight travel credit cards in the Philippines for 2019:

Third Runners-Up – 3.19 / 5.00

  • BDO Platinum JCB
  • Citibank PremierMiles Signature Visa

Second Runners-Up – 3.25 / 5.00

  • BPI Signature Visa
  • RCBC Infinite Visa
  • UnionBank GetGo Platinum Visa

First Runner-Up – 3.31 / 5.00

  • UnionBank Miles+ Platinum Visa

Champions – 3.63 / 5.00

  • BDO Platinum American Express
  • BDO Diners Club Premiere

The two winning BDOs really sweat it out on the features they were good at: the Platinum Amex in lounge offering, waived fees for five supplementary holders, and very low foreign transaction fees; the Diners Club Premier in mile ratio and international lounge exposure. UnionBank’s Miles+ appeals with its very low annual fee for a premium card, generous NAIA lounge access, and okay miles ratio.

BPI’s Signature Visa makes up for its hefty price tag with unlimited NAIA 3 lounge access, relatively fine miles ratio, and extra features; RCBC’s Infinite Visa woos with low annual fees and many waived supplementary fees, NAIA 3 lounge access and Priority Pass exposure, and cash back; UnionBank’s GetGo Platinum Visa wows with low and quick conversion to Cebu Pacific points, lounge access, and basically pampering as a high-ranking GetGo member. BDO’s Platinum JCB influences with its network of lounges and plazas, and free half-dozen supplementary cards; and Citibank’s PremierMiles blows away the competition in terms of mileage programs and twice-a-year free global lounge access.

But, at the end of the day, the choice of best travel credit card is really up to you: how you’ll use it, the airline/s you want to patronize, where you want to go. My card of choice isn’t even in the top five, and I’d still use it even if I had all the other cards (I don’t). This is just a guide that presents an updated overview of the travel credit card scene in the Philippines, and I hope it helps.

Summary

 

Travel CC Airline.jpg
Aloy Chua (2019)
Travel CC Non-Airline.jpg
Aloy Chua (2019)

1 thought on “[UPDATED FOR 2019] The best travel credit cards in the Philippines + ranking (Part 2 of 2 – Non-airline-specific cards and verdicts)”

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