Best Travel Hack: Ditching The Credit Card For Discounted Airfares

Best Travel Hack: Ditching The Credit Card For Discounted Airfares

Xiaoming Han

It’s year-end holiday season again! If you happen to be planning a trip, this article may serve as a useful guide to note how payment preferences can save you a ton of money.

Budget carriers and hidden costs

We are focusing on the Low-cost carriers: Tigerair, SCOOT, Jetstar which has revolutionized the way people traveled. Needless to say, cheap fares come with caveats. Many of us would have come to learn that ancillary charges for check-in luggage, meals, or even seat reservation can add up quickly.

Every booking page seems to be a trap to up-sell you a preferred seat or additional stuff. After going through all the fine print for check-in luggage, meals and seat reservation there is a final segment which may present an unpleasant surprise – The payment mode.

Key Takeaway: Never pay for budget carrier tickets using Credit Cards

  • Budget carriers often do not absorb credit card fees (18 to 20SGD)
  • There are often other options such as AXS machines or Internet banking methods which cost no or low fees
  • Unless you have a big compelling reason to spend that extra money on the plane ticket (e.g urgency) or online card spend rebates
  • Simply, the budget carriers have already driven the ticket costs so low that this amount can cost up to 10% of the full ticket price depending on location
Flight DetailsSG to BoracaySG to KLSG to BKK
Total Flight Price$189$58$103
Credit Card Fees (A)$18$18$20
Alternative Payment Fees (B)$5 (AXS)$4 (iBank)$0 (SAM)
Savings (A-B)$13$14$20

Edit: No more SAM machines, now are all AXS due to integration with TigerAir

Further Reading: Differences between daily card usage vs Booking air tickets

Credit card payments at the supermarket and restaurants usually come with no charges. This is because these outlets are often paying for the charges incurred on credit cards payment instead of the consumers.

Very often, consumers may even get rebates for using a certain card when footing the bill to encourage repeat patronage and the improved ease of payments. In fact this has spread online where it has become the default mode of payment when selecting the payment option. Budget carriers, however, do not provide this service free of charge.

TigerAir vs AirAsia vs Scoot

To understand the impact of credit card charges on airfares, we look at fares on these 3 routes as examples:

  • Singapore to Boracay return (on Tigerair)
  • Singapore to Kuala Lumpur return (on AirAsia)
  • Return to Singapore to Bangkok (on Scoot)

While the list above is certainly not exhaustive, they should serve as a good reference since they are among the largest LCCs operating out of Changi.

Experiment 1: Singapore-Boracay on TigerAir ($13 savings)

So I did a quick search on TigerAir for a return flight from Singapore to Boracay, Philippines, a fairly popular beach destination. The departing flight is on 19th Oct while the return leg is on 23rd Oct.

At S$188.24, I would say it’s quite a bargain! However, at this point, costs would begin to add up if one does not watch his screen carefully. Besides the usual rhetoric involving luggage, travel insurance, seat selection and meals, let’s narrow down on the last component of the booking: PAYMENT.

TigerAir Singapore Credit Card Booking

When paying by credit card, the Tigerair website charges S$18 as processing fee (as seen above). Considering the ticket price is only S$188, the fee is an additional 10% to the overall price. In comparison, the use of AXS terminal decreases booking fee by about two thirds to S$6 (S$5 charged by the carrier and S$1 by AXS). On top of that, AXS terminals are conveniently located near MRT stations (as seen below).

TigerAir Singapore AXS Card Booking

Experiment 2: Singapore-Kuala Lumpur on AirAsia ($14 savings)

Well, if a 10% surcharge is not sufficient to dissuade you. Let’s take a look at another example. Again I randomly pulled out the itinerary for an AirAsia flight from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The departing flight is on 11th Oct while the return leg is on 13rd Oct. This amounts to a total of S$58.

Similar to TigerAir, AirAsia also levies a S$18 processing fee for payment made via credit card. Remembering that the airfare being only S$58, the fee easily amounts to a surcharge of more than 30%. In contrast, when paying via eNETs, which requires internet banking facility, the fee will decrease S$4. That is more than a 4 times difference.

AirAsia Processing Fee Direct Debit

Experiment 3: Singapore-Bangkok on Scoot ($20 savings)

Technically Scoot and Tigerair are both SIA subsidiaries, so it’s small wonder that the approach to payment is fairly similar. I pulled an itinerary for Bangkok, departing 18th Oct and returning 25th Oct. At S$102.68, it’s a reasonable deal, but can still be good for a quick getaway.

Credit card payments again attract a S$20 credit card processing fee, which adds about 17% to the package.

Scoot Payment Page

Payment for Scoot has its own limitations. It is restricted to either credit cards or voucher. An important point to note will be that such vouchers are limited to only Scoot flights. Scoot does not really inform their passengers about the limitations of the vouchers up front. I have had a rather unpleasant surprise because of this not too long ago).

It was until recently when I saw that payment via SingPost post office or SAM machines can be an option. Without a doubt, it is likely to be cheaper than paying via that plastic card. While the queues at post offices can be quite challenging at times, SAM machines are often conveniently accessible (much like their AXS counterparts).

Scoot Payment SAM Page

I suspect paying via SingPost is still on trial for Scoot, since that option has been intermittent. Furthermore, it’s unlikely that the processing charge will remain S$0 (there is no free lunch in the world, less so on budget carriers). Nevertheless, judging by Tigerair’s practice, the processing fee for paying via Singpost is likely to be significantly cheaper than paying via credit card.

Scoot allows their vouchers to be purchased. While it is technically possible to purchase a voucher and use it to book tickets at zero fees, there are risks associated with it. For one, ticket prices fluctuate and you might find that the voucher is insufficient to cover the ticket price, and you have to pay the balance by credit card (imagine paying S$20 as processing fee for a balance of S$5!). Secondly, note that Scoot sells Tigerair itineraries on its website, but vouchers cannot be applied for those bookings.

Read also: Stop Paying For These 11 Things Today!


Having invested the effort to do your research and budgeting carefully, it is unwise to allow unpleasant cost surprises at the final mile of planning ruin your holiday. It’s great practice to always have your iBanking token ready or start to know the AXS and SAM machines around you. Cheers to a great holiday!

Disclaimer: Prices are taken as of 21 Sep and 25 Sep 2016. Some prices may appear different as ticket prices may fluctuate at times of taking screenshots.

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