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Yesterday we got the great news that Chase added an 11th transfer partner of the Ultimate Rewards program: Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer. Singapore Airlines is known for top-notch service and they’re a member of Star Alliance, which opens up a lot of other booking options as well. However, United MileagePlus is also a Star Alliance member, so I wanted to take a look at redeeming with KrisFlyer vs. MileagePlus and why you’d want to consider Singapore, even though they generally have higher taxes/fees. A year ago it would have been harder to justify choosing Singapore vs. United, but after United’s massive February 1 devaluation, there are now a lot more reasons to consider using KrisFlyer. Note: You can also transfer American Express Membership Rewards points to Singapore KrisFlyer, but those transfers may take up to 48 hours versus near instant transfers with Chase Ultimate Rewards.
Key Differences Between KrisFlyer and MileagePlus
1) Singapore releases exponentially more Saver award availability to their own frequent flyer program members than the rest of Star Alliance. So, many Singapore awards are simply not bookable using MileagePlus miles. The same is not true for United- generally all Saver availability is bookable using other Star Alliance currencies, like Krisflyer.
2) KrisFlyer discounts awards booked online by 15%. Granted, you can only book Singapore operated flights, but this discount can offset the additional fees you might incur by helping you save many thousands of miles on the redemption.
3) KrisFlyer does not charge last minute ticketing fees, whereas MileagePlus tacks on a $75 fee for all awards booked within 21 days (waived for elite members).
4) KrisFlyer has 6 key non-Star Alliance partners: Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Australia, Virgin America, US Airways, TAM and Air India.
5) Change fees are lower with KrisFlyer vs. United for non-elites. For example, KrisFlyer charges just $30 to redeposit an unused award ticket vs $200 with United. To change routes on partner awards with KrisFlyer you’re looking at $20 vs $75 on United ($100 within 21 days of departure).
When Transferring to KrisFlyer May Make More Sense Than To United
1) Round The World Awards
Perhaps the biggest advantage to KrisFlyer vs. United is their generous Round The World awards. Singapore offers a Star Alliance Round The World Award which allows you to build in seven stopovers for just 180/240/360k miles in economy/business/first . United allows RTW awards with 5 stopovers (16 segments) for a whopping 200/350/450k miles in economy/business/first. I haven’t seen much written about this and finding information on rules is difficult, so I’m going to plan and book my own Singapore RTW trip soon and report back on my experience. Stay tuned, but I still thought I’d highlight what is possibly an incredibly good deal.
2) Flying to Europe on Singapore/ Star Alliance partners.
Let’s say you want to fly JFK to Frankfurt. The major options are Lufthansa and Singapore. For Economy/Business/First United charges 30/70/110k miles each way for partner awards and $2.50 (plus $75 if booked 21 days or closer to departure). Singapore charges 20/57.5/67.5k for economy/business/first and if you book on Sinagpore airlines online, those numbers drop to 17/48.9/57.4k miles and $181.50 in taxes/fees for economy and $218.50 in business/first.
Let’s take Business Class on Lufthansa using United miles vs. Business Class on Singapore using KrisFlyer one-way JFK to Frankfurt. United charges 70,000 miles and $77.50 for a flight leaving next week. KrisFlyer charges 48,875 miles and $208.50. So, by paying $131 in extra fees, you save 21,125 miles and get to fly in a much better seat. Even if you avoided the $75 late ticketing fee (which is hard to do these days since many premium awards are being released within 2 weeks of departure), you’re paying $206 to save 21,125 miles, which is valuing Chase points at about 1 cent a piece, which is a terrible value to “redeem” for Chase points.
The value proposition drops for economy awards: United charges 60,000 miles and $131.40 roundtrip vs. 34,000 and $489 for Singapore awards booked online using KrisFlyer miles. So you pay $358 more with KrisFlyer to save 26,000 Chase points, just under 1.4 cents each, which is still a pretty low redemption though not terrible. If you’re flush with Chase points and low on cash, I’d consider going via United, but if you want to maximize your Chase points, Singapore redemptions may make more sense on these routes.
3) Domestic US Business Class Awards
United charges 50,000 miles and $5 (plus $75 last minute ticketed fee for flights within 21 days) for domestic US awards, like Newark-Los Angeles. Singapore only charges 40,000 miles and $5. Remember: Singapore is also a partner with Virgin America, so when you call, always check to see if those awards are available as well.
4) US to Hawaii
United charges 45/80k miles for economy/business roundtrip to Hawaii versus 35/60k miles with KrisFlyer (and no last minute ticketing fees).
5) LA/ San Francisco to Hong Kong/Seoul/ Tokyo
Singapore flies from San Francisco to Hong Kong and Seoul and Los Angeles to Tokyo (then continuing on to Singapore, but you can book just book the flights to northern Asia separately.)
First Class (Suites) San Francisco to Hong Kong is only 140,250 miles and $290.28 roundtrip. To fly United’s old 747 you’d pay 160,000 miles and $35.50. More miles to fly a dumpier product with no premium champagne? No thanks! I could easily make up the $260 difference in fees via Dom Perignon consumption.
Los Angeles to Tokyo roundtrip business class is 131,750 miles and $386.31 roundtrip. United on that route is 130,000 and $35.50, but Saver availability on United metal is nearly nonexistent and if booked on ANA the award jumps to 150,000 miles with similar fees.
The bottom line is that Singapore KrisFlyer can be a smart option even if the fees are higher than United on certain awards. It takes a little time to get used to their website (United’s is far superior, especially for partner awards), but you can alway search for Star Alliance partner award availability using sites like United.com and Aeroplan.com and then call Singapore to book them- with no phone booking fee.
It’s also important to take into account KrisFlyer’s reasonable fee schedule, having the flexibility to cancel an award and get all of your miles back for just $30 is an awesome insurance policy. Plus, flying on Singapore is an experience unto itself, though be warned- once you start flying top-notch carriers like Singapore, you won’t want to go back to US/European carriers!
To boost your Ultimate Rewards account, the current sign-up bonuses on the three main cards are: 60,000 points after $5,000 spent within 3 months on the Ink Plus and Ink Bold products and 40,000 points after $3,000 spent within three months on the Sapphire Preferred. All cards have a $95 annual fee, waived the first year.