Going gaga outside of Lady Gaga

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TAP AND GO. This M1 Prepaid MasterCard offers cashless shopping for relatively small purchases at selected establishments. PHOTO BY ANGELA IGNACIO

Ahh, the great Singapore Sale. Those eight golden weeks between May and July must spell insanity for credit card holders who happen to find themselves in the Lion City at that time.

I found that out myself, as Inquirer Lifestyle, with media from Southeast Asia, was recently given a taste of the perks that MasterCard holders can enjoy during this crazy period.

Coming from the Changi Airport terminal via a limousine airport transfer (a black Chrysler 300C, or “mafia car,” as my chauffeur for the day jokingly put it), I was billeted in a spacious suite at Fairmont Hotel. With impeccable room service and gourmet food available 24/7, the hotel is conveniently located along Bras Basah Road and just across the street from Raffles Mall and the sprawling CHIJMES hangout venue.

Welcome package

The welcome package included a black M1 Prepaid MasterCard, courtesy of our host. I was certainly no stranger to the temptations a credit card presented, much to my mother’s consternation. She introduced me to credit cards at a young age, but eventually discontinued my supplementary account, saying that “last pair” or “mall-wide sale” did not fall under “household emergencies.”

In an attempt to act like a smart, financially responsible adult, I’d ultimately decided to avoid credit cards altogether until I learned how to curb my irrepressible spending habits.

But now, staring at my shiny new toy, I knew I was in for quite a ride. Being a concertphile as well as a shopaholic spelled double trouble for me, because not only was I there as a VIP guest on the third night of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way Ball,” I was also to have my first GSS experience.

On the flip side, I realized that this might be a good way to test my newly reinforced self-restraint.

Red carpet treatment

RED CARPET treatment. The Singapore Indoor Stadium’s VIP entrance grants access from the private driveway to the MasterCard Lounge reserved for invited guests. PHOTO BY ANGELA IGNACIO

We were invited to experience the red carpet treatment at the new MasterCard Lounge at the Singapore Indoor Stadium (SIS). Our party was brought straight to the private driveway at the back of the venue, past the long lines of concertgoers who stared after our mini-bus in the hope of catching a glimpse of Mother Monster.

After registering for our VIP passes and tickets, we were asked to choose from a display of Lady Gaga-inspired accessories to wear (and keep), then were ushered to the Lounge to enjoy canapés, free-flowing wine and mini-buffet spread.

Renamed the MasterCard Lounge, the Stadium’s spacious, split-level VIP area entitles guests to food and refreshments throughout the event, to traffic-free access to VIP seats, and access to parking via private driveway.

This tie-up is the latest of the company’s notable acquisitions, such as Beijing’s MasterCard Center (the iconic 18,000-seat arena used for the 2008 Olympics) and sponsorship of the Grammys and the BRIT Awards, among others.

MasterCard Worldwide executives were also around, as were the lucky shoppers who had been randomly spotted using their cards in the malls.

At the SIS, I was struck by how similar the interior was to the SM Mall of Asia Arena. The Lounge had no access to the Patron area below, but our Terrace seats provided an unobstructed view of the stage and proximity to the Lounge entrance, so we could come and go as we please.

There was also no Wi-Fi hotspot at the Lounge, but since there was a strict “no photos” policy, there was no way to send envy-inducing status updates to  your social network friends. Without such distractions, we enjoyed at least the visual spectacle that was Lady Gaga.

The sky’s the limit … Not

Fresh from our red carpet pampering, we spent the rest of our stay testing our new prepaid cards. As the official GSS card for nine years now, MasterCard has discounts and gifts in store for its patrons. Our cards were primarily used for “cashless shopping,” possessing a credit limit of S$100 which can be reloaded or topped up to a maximum of S$1,000. This meant that it was good for small purchases; not that I was planning to buy out an entire Louis Vuitton store, but at least it would help me control my spending.

Channeling my inner Becky Bloomwood was easy enough; exorcising her, meanwhile, proved to be a monumental challenge.

THE SUITE life. The Fairmont Hotel offers cozy, spacious rooms, impeccable room service and a convenient shopping location. PHOTO BY ANGELA IGNACIO

My shopaholic eyes immediately zeroed in on the PayPass logo in almost all boutiques that struck my fancy—from Topshop, Miss Selfridge and TCC Café at the enormous ION Orchard Mall, to the nearest Watsons, and all the way to an accessories shop in tiangge-styled Bugis Street. It can even be used in selected taxis!

It didn’t take long for the simple “tap-and-go” payment process to make me feel like I was living out my shopaholic fantasies. It wasn’t until I’d lined up in the supermarket for some last-minute pasalubong, however, that the sting of rejection brought me back to reality. “Your card has been denied,” the cashier deadpanned.

Confused, I did a mental calculation of things I’d purchased using the card; it finally hit me that if the total amount exceeded the remaining balance, it wouldn’t accept the transaction at all, even if you offered to pay for the excess in cash. Duh. My face pink with embarrassment, I started fishing out some bills for the first time on that trip. Talk about a crash course in smart shopping.

Lessons learned

Thoroughly chastened, I hied off to the airport, purposefully cutting it close to my flight departure time if only to avoid last-minute temptations at Changi’s endless rows of boutiques.

Moral of the story? All good things come to an end, especially when it comes to prepaid card with a modest maximum value. You can spoil yourself silly and shop till you drop, but only up to a point.

It was a lesson well taught, and one I wouldn’t mind learning over and over again.

The Great Singapore Sale 2012 runs May 25-July 22. For more info visit the GSS 2012 official website at greatsingaporesale.com.sg, or like the official Facebook page for exclusive content and contests. Special thanks to MasterCard Worldwide, Weber Shandwick Singapore and Fuentes Manila.

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