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Expat Travel: Choosing Between United MileagePlus and Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer

by on March 26, 2012 · 23 comments

in Elite Status, Singapore Airlines, United

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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.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Saviob

    Poor comparison. Doesn’t take into account some better options with other *A carriers.

  • leidage

    A rookie question: When you fly Singapore airlines and accrue miles to United, do those miles count towards United elite status?

  • Nate

    Yes, you earn elite miles on MileagePlus when flying any Star Alliance partner.

  • Nate

    Thanks for the comment. We plan to compare the other Star Alliance carriers in Asia to the US carriers in other installments. Stay tuned.

  • Benthelefty

    It was a very GOOD comparison between United and Singapore. There are always going to be other carriers in the *A, but this one focused on two major ones he’s involved with. Give him a break. Great post Nate!

  • Nate

    The other great benefit that I forgot to mention is the Global Entry Reimbursement that United will offer starting in Q2. You qualify at Premier Platinum (75K PQM). It might be difficult to arrange while living abroad but as TPG has pointed out, Global Entry is awesome!

  • http://twitter.com/n8phillips Nate Phillips

    The comparison is actually very relevant for me as well. In fact, for US citizens living in Singapore, UA and SQ are really the two largest options, are they not?

  • MM

    Does Singapore charge any fuel surcharges on award tickets?

  • Dave Op

    How good or bad are the award availability using saver awards on Krisflyer? Does Krisflyer let you hold award redemptions? (For example, I need to transfer points from Amex to Krisflyer.)

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_7DRLHKIYJJ2L2PE7K22BU5ZKHA luv_craps

    Last I checked was a few months ago. YQ on SQ is nuts!!!! reminded me of BA surcharges when flying on award tickets via London.

    UA is far far better. I’d agree with Nate any day (well, until UA adds YQ to award tix)! I think the best strategy for me, is to accrue UA. Redeem on SQ!

  • Nate

    I just booked an award ticket (LAX-SIN RT) through United’s new tool on Singapore Air and was charged $16 for two fees, aviation levy and passenger service. So the fees are minimal for awards.

  • Nate

    I just did a search for the same award on KrisFlyer (LAX-SIN RT) and the fees were $600 (USD), $500 being fuel surcharges. The full fare flight was $2100 and a saver award was available for 59,500 miles. This is another reason to go with United. I booked the same award for 65,000 miles and $70 in fees!

  • Nate

    From what I have heard in the past, the saver award availability and all award availability has not been that great. This is improving though with their new announcement that saver awards will now be available on all A380, 777W and A340 flights (http://thepointsguy.com/2012/02/singapore-airlines-enhances-saver-award-policy/). This is improving things as. The award I referenced below is on an A380.

  • hendrik

    Hi, actually I do have KF Gold right now and I always use SQ from US to Asia. The reason why I keep KF instead of UA because I can enjoy Lounge free of charge when I fly within US (even no connecting to international flight).

  • Nate

    I just don’t know if that outweighs the other benefits on MileagePlus. You can get lounge access with United Club (includes all Star Alliance members) for $475 or $425 as a Premier Gold to use for domestic travel in the US. Are you based in the US?

  • hendrik

    Yes, right now I’m based in States. Actually, I am also considering to change to MileagePlus but I dont want to lose the privilege from being KF gold. I flew back around 2 times / yr and they sometimes upgrade me to Business class, which is really good. Moreover, there are special lounge in Singapore at T2 and T3 for KF Gold.
    Actually, I have MileagePlus right now but I dont have Elite member, I use it for transferring miles that can not be earned in SQ (sometimes because of booking class).

  • Antonio C

    It is true Nate, great post. It will be interesting how this post evolves, specially if you could consider Oneworld and CX.

    I lived in Malaysia for few years using CX-AA and it was awesome.

  • Britt

    Does SQ do children’s fares at a lesser rate than adult fares? Unlike most (if not all) American carriers, a lot of Asian carriers have cheaper fares for kids – lots of the Chinese ones have fares that are 50% of Y class fares for kids, but their tickets still show as Y class, which can be good for upgrades AND save money for family trips, at least as compared to other carriers that charge the same per seat, regardless of age.

  • Nate

    We definitely plan to do a post on Cathay Pacific’s Asia Miles versus AAdvantage.

  • Nate

    Yes, they do have a children’s fare that is at 75% of an adult fare for children between 2-11. Infants under the age of 2 fly without a seat for 10% of an adult fare. We have been traveling with our 9-month old and SQ is the most friendly airline I have been on with our child.

  • Markdolph

    Great post! I’ve made the same decision under more or less the same considerations.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/I4LE6OC6W6DDRQCM7VCBN4NZGQ CKT

    Great post here… I was in the same dilemma 5 months ago and I wished this was written then. I make 5 trips between LAX and Shanghai the last 5 months on United, and posted on Krisflyer. No bonus miles. Now that I wanted to get award ticket, it was quite limited to get flight from LAX to Hawaii but I got it eventually.

  • Michael

    Thanks for the post. I moved to Singapore 6 months ago and with the new year, I’ve been debating these same points. I called SQ KrisFlyer and they confirmed the limited upgrade program and they told me getting temporary elite status wasn’t even an option. Staying with 1K on United is the right way to go.

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