Expat Travel: Choosing Between United MileagePlus and Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer

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TPG contributor Nate is a US expat living in Singapore. His posts will shed light on choosing the best airline and hotel loyalty programs for Americans living abroad in Asia, starting with this post on deciding between Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer and United MileagePlus. We realize this content isn’t useful to everyone, but from time to time we thought we’d publish some basic posts on various foreign carriers’ frequent flyer programs for TPG readers living abroad.

The Background
My family and I recently relocated to Singapore from Chicago. Before the move, my company’s preferred airline was United, and MileagePlus became my primary frequent flyer program (I’m a Premier 1K elite). Now that we’re in Singapore, my family primarily flies Singapore Airlines within Asia-Pacific, and United when we fly to the US.  We had to make a decision: stick with MileagePlus, or switch our primary frequent flyer program to Singapore Airlines’ KrisFlyer? Here’s how we decided.

Which Program Makes More Sense
Although there are scenarios where it makes sense for expats to enroll and accrue KrisFlyer miles, I calculated that I would actually get more value and benefits by continuing with United, even while flying Singapore regionally—and as TPG has pointed out in previous posts, these points are some of the most valuable out there.

I will break down the pros and cons of each program under the assumption of flying 50,000 and 100,000 miles a year based on my own experience of flying United to and from the States, and Singapore Airlines when flying elsewhere.

50,000 Miles/Year

Benefits at 50K KrisFlyer (Gold/Star Alliance Gold) MileagePlus (Premier Gold/Star Alliance Gold)
Priority Baggage Yes Yes
Baggage Allowance Extra bag or extra 44lbs Extra bag of 44 lbs, or 3 bags at 70 lbs each on UA
Priority Check-In and Boarding Yes Yes
Lounge Access when traveling internationally Yes Yes
Bonus Mileage 25% on SQ, 0% on UA No on SQ, 50% on UA
Award Booking Discount Yes (15%) No
Regional Upgrades No No on SQ, Yes if within US on UA
Global  Upgrades No No











The additional benefits you get from KrisFlyer are the 25% bonus mileage on SQ flights and a 15% discount an award tickets booked on SQ’s website. Assuming you fly only 50,000 miles a year and only on SQ, the mileage bonus doesn’t get you any additional bonus during your first year and would get you an additional 12,500 miles in the subsequent years you were in the region.

KrisFlyer also does not have an upgrade program and provides upgrades only when economy is oversold. Even then, elites are upgraded based on the amount of dollars they have spent year-to-date, so chances are slim unless you’re shelling out a lot of money anyway on premium fares.

Add to that KrisFlyer’s difficult award booking system, and I’m firmly in the MileagePlus column at this level (especially since their award booking has become a lot better since they took over Continental’s search engine).

Now let’s take a look at the breakdown when you fly 100,000 miles a year—not as hard as it seems when you throw in a couple annual trips to the U.S.

100,000 Miles/Year

Benefits at 100K KrisFlyer (Gold/Star Alliance Gold) MileagePlus (Premier 1K/Star Alliance Gold)
Priority Baggage Yes Yes
Baggage Allowance Extra bag or extra 44lbs Extra bag or extra 44lbs, or 3 bags of 70 lbs each on UA
Priority Check-In and Boarding Yes Yes
Lounge Access when traveling internationally Yes Yes
Bonus Mileage 25% on SQ flights O% on SQ, 100% on UA
Award Booking Discount Yes (15%) No
Regional Upgrades No 4 Regional Premier
Global Upgrades No 6 Global Premier

In this scenario, I still come down on the side of United. The deciding factors are those 100% mileage bonuses you get on United flights—which are the big ones my family and I take to the US, resulting in lots of bonus miles—and those super valuable Global Premier upgrades. You can also use the regional upgrades on intra-Asia on United flights (e.g., SIN to HKG).

By way of explanation, many expats on assignment in Asia receive one return trip home per year. My company flies my family home once a year in economy. So for us and anyone else who does not fly home in business, these Global Premier upgrades are a huge factor. For those who do fly home in business class, you can gift these to visiting family or friends. This factor alone is why I recommend all expats and even locals to accrue on US carriers.

The other elite status benefits at this top tier are almost identical except for the bonus mileage. But, if you are flying home on UA and have Premier Gold or Premier 1K, you get bonus of 50% and 100% respectively. With one flight home to the US a year, this can negate the only benefit of accruing Singapore miles with KrisFlyer.

In a future post, I’ll get into the differences between United’s Global Services and Singapore’s PPS Club, and how those might sway your decision one way or another, but since both are dependent on rather substantial spending on each airline, I think that affects fewer flyers.

What I Did
I decided to stick with MileagePlus. I feel like I am getting the best of both worlds flying Singapore while accruing miles with United. Singapore Airlines is the best economy class product I have ever experienced, and I get to progress toward Premier 1K status and earn those precious Global Premier upgrades and bonus miles on United flights.

Although my experience was between two Star Alliance partners, others may be faced with deciding between AAdvantage and Cathay Pacific’s Asia Miles or Qantas’ frequent flyer program, or between Delta SkyMiles and Korean Air’s SkyPass program. The decision will be impacted by what city you are based in and the flight options out of that city within Asia and back to the US. I will be doing installments on the other loyalty programs in Asia, so stay tuned.  For those of you that plan to take advantage of Delta’s low fares to Singapore, please comment below or contact me on Twitter @njlawler if you want any tips on hotels and things to do. Singapore is a fantastic place to visit and I would love to show any TPG reader the city.

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