TPG contributor Jason Steele delves deeper into Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer program to shed more light on taxes and fees on partner awards, so you can make the best decision when deciding if this program makes the most sense for your needs
Last week, Chase announced that the Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer program will become its 11th transfer partner, and the 6th airline partner. In fact, Singapore is now just the second airline (after British Airways) that is a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, and Starwood Preferred Guest programs.
Singapore Airlines is notoriously stingy with the number of award seats on its own flights that it releases to partners, but it releases far more award seats to travelers redeeming miles from the KrisFlyer program. That said, the KrisFlyer program can also be useful for redemptions on its 25 Star Alliance partners and 6 other airline partners. While Star Alliance was already accessible to Ultimate Rewards members via United Airlines, the new partnership with Singapore opens up other booking options.
To help you maximize your award itineraries with the added transfer opportunities, this post will run down everything you need to know about KrisFlyer partner awards.
The KrisFlyer program has multiple award charts, including:
- One for flights solely on Singapore and its low-cost subsidiary SilkAir.
- One for flights on Star Alliance carriers only or in combination with flights operated by Singapore/SilkAir. This chart also applies to awards on US Airways and TAM, which are not part of Star Alliance.
- Four separate non-alliance partner award charts for Virgin America, Virgin Australia, Virgin Atlantic, and Air India. Presumably the separate Air India chart will disappear if and when the carrier joins Star Alliance in July as scheduled.
How to book awards
Awards on Singapore and SilkAir can be booked online, and travelers even receive a 15% mileage discount for doing so. Nevertheless, any award that requires use of a partner airline must be booked by calling Singapore. Fortunately, their U.S. call center is open 24 hours a day and they do not charge telephone booking fees. Their number is (213) 404-0301. I made several calls to this number, all of which were answered quickly and professionally. Just be advised that when their representatives quote prices in dollars, they are referring to Singapore dollars (which are presently worth about 80 cents).
Every airline has its own rules that determine which flights you can and cannot book with your miles. You can read their entire terms and conditions, but here are the highlights:
- Most partners flights can be combined. You can combine Singapore/SilkAir flights with flights from other Star Alliance carriers, but flights on Virgin Australia, Virgin America, and Virgin Atlantic must be ticketed separately in accordance with their own award charts. The same is true of Air India until they join Star Alliance later this summer.
- One way awards are permitted for flights on all carriers except Scandinavian, TAP Air Portugal, and Virgin Atlantic. Where round-trip prices are listed, one-way awards cost half the miles.
- No backtracking. Singapore airline has a “no-backtracking” rule that doesn’t seem to be very specific. The terms and conditions simply say that “Travel must be made via the most direct route.” Clearly one can’t backtrack across regions, as most airlines forbid on award tickets, but there are reports that even small backtracking segments are not permitted.
- One free stopover is permitted on round-trip awards, but three additional stopovers can be purchased for $100 each (other than flights within Europe, or within/between the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico or U.S. Virgin Islands). Stopovers are defined as any layover over 24 hours, or anything over 4 hours within or between the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico or U.S. Virgin Islands. There are no free stopovers on one-way awards.
- One open jaw is permitted. You do not have to depart from your outbound destination, or you may return to a city other than your origin, but not both.
As is the case with most foreign carriers, Singapore imposes fuel surcharges on most award tickets. Fuel surcharges are added to its own flights and to most partner awards where carriers include those in their ticket prices. Current exceptions include flights operated by:
- US Airways domestic
- United Airlines within the Americas
- Virgin America
- Virgin Australia domestic
Some sample prices for one way flights including all taxes, fees, and fuel surcharges:
- Warsaw to New York JFK in business class on LOT flight #26: $99
- Denver to Tokyo-Narita on United flight #139 in business or economy class: $297
- Philadelphia to Frankfurt on US Airways flight #700 in economy class: $212
As you can see, these fuel surcharges are substantial, but LOT Polish typically charges the least among all European carriers. Some bloggers have reported that Singapore will not impose fuel surcharges on any United flights, but that is not the case according to the Singapore representatives I spoke to.
I also asked the Singapore Airlines call center to search for flights on Virgin America, which operates its own fare-based award travel redemption system. In general, I found excellent availability relative to the meager award space dolled out by United, Delta, US Airways, and American Airlines on their domestic flights.
I also searched Delta.com along some popular routes within Australia for award space on Virgin Australia, and found availability to be nearly as generous.
The best partner awards
Here are some examples of partner awards for which you’ll come out ahead by transferring points to Singapore KrisFlyer:
- North America to Southern South America in business class. Singapore charges 100,000 vs. 110,000 on United. Flights on United, TAM, or Avianca/TACA will have no fuel surcharges.
- Mainland North America to Hawaii. United charges 45/80/100 for three class flights (45/80 for two class) to Hawaii while Singapore’s chart shows 35/60/80.
- North American flights in business and first class. Flights within the United States and Canada (excluding Hawaii) are priced at 40,000 for first class on a two-class flight or business on a three-class flight. 60,000 miles are needed for a first class award on a three-class flight. In contrast, United charges 50,000 and 70,000 miles, respectively.
- Flights within “Hawaii/Central America”. Singapore’s chart considers Hawaii and Central America to be within the same zone, which also includes Bermuda, the Caribbean, Mexico, and Puerto Rico. Flights within this region are 35,000 miles for economy and 60,000 miles for business. Conceivably, you could fly round-trip from Aruba to Hawaii on one award for as little as 35,000 miles. To take advantage of this, you might pre-position yourself in the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America or Bermuda before beginning an award to Hawaii, with a stopover in your home city in each direction (the second stop-over will cost $100), and an open-jaw return to another destination within the Central America/Hawaii zone (not including Puerto Rico or the US Virgin Islands). It would take a lot of planning, but you should be able to get two additional one-way tickets to Bermuda, Central America, or the Caribbean for the same number of miles as a simple Hawaii award, plus an additional $100. This would seem to work best if you live in a United or Air Canada hub, or any city from which those partners serve Hawaii.
With routine devaluations occurring across much of the points and miles world, it’s encouraging to see value being added to some programs. The options presented above are just some of the many ways you can make use of the Krisflyer program and its new partnership with Chase Ultimate Rewards.
How do you plan on utilizing the newest Ultimate Rewards transfer partner? Please share your ideas in the comments below.
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