How to Fly Singapore Airlines First Class for (Almost!) Free
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As a follow-up to last week’s post on how to book Singapore Airlines first class awards, TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen takes a look at both award availability and mileage requirements for several specific routes, and the credit cards you can use to fly them for (almost) free.
Singapore Airlines first class has been one of the most sought-after experiences for airline enthusiasts thanks to unparalleled service, an exciting food and beverage program, and some of the most opulent suites in the skies.
I won’t go into detail on the Suites and all their amenities here since you can find that information in previous posts, but suffice it to say that they’re pretty spectacular. Not only are the 12 Suites on each A380 semi-private, with fully closing doors, but they convert into full-length beds dressed in specially commissioned Givenchy linens. The airline also employs a panel of celebrity chefs to create its menus, and has highly attentive service.
The airline is also introducing a new first class seat on its new 777-300ER’s, which are in limited service so far on a few select routes such as Singapore to London and Singapore to Tokyo. The rest of its 777-300 aircraft have the old first class, which (though dated) still looks pretty nice and confers all the soft perks of the Suites experience, just without the same quality of hard product.
As far as I can tell, the only way to see if your flight is aboard one of the new 777-300ER’s is to check the seating chart. If there are just four seats abreast in a single row of first class, and the rest of the plane is business and economy, then you should be on one of the newer aircraft.
How is it Free?
This is the real question. While Singapore’s first class is among the most expensive onboard experiences in the world, savvy award travelers have several great options to use points and miles to fly it nearly for free.
First, a note on Singapore miles and awards. Singapore Airlines actually blocks its first class award space from partners (such as fellow Star Alliance programs like United MileagePlus and Air Canada Aeroplan), but Singapore releases a fair amount of it to members of its own KrisFlyer mileage program.
Furthermore, you get a 15% mileage discount when you book a Singapore award online through KrisFlyer, which can make certain redemptions a downright bargain.
So if you want to book a Singapore Airlines first class award, you’re going to need KrisFlyer miles. Fortunately, KrisFlyer is a 1:1 transfer partner of all four major transferable points programs:
- American Express Membership Rewards
- Chase Ultimate Rewards
- Citi ThankYou Rewards
- Starwood Preferred Guest
You have a ton of great transfer options available to you, depending on which credit cards you carry. Here’s a quick rundown of the top credit card offers each program is currently fielding, followed by ideas for how to maximize their sign-up and spending bonuses to earn your way to a first class award.
- Platinum Card — 60,000 points when you spend $5,000 on purchases in your first 3 months.
- Premier Rewards Gold Card — 25,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Also earn 3x points on airfare (booked directly through airlines), 2x points per dollar at US gas stations and US supermarkets.
- EveryDay Preferred Card — 15,000 points after you make $1,000 in purchases within the first 3 months. Earn 3x points at supermarkets (on up to $6,000 in purchases per year), 2x points at US gas stations. Earn 50% more points when you make 30 or more purchases with your card in a billing period.
- Ink Plus Business Card — 60,000 bonus points when you spend $5,000 in 3 months. Also earn 5x points at office supply stores and on telecommunications, and 2x points on gas and hotels.
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card — 50,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 in 3 months. Also earn 2x points on travel and dining purchases.
- Citi Prestige Card: Earn 50,000 bonus ThankYou points after $3,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months the account is open, plus some very compelling benefits. Also earn 3x points on air travel and hotels, 2x on dining and entertainment.
- Citi Premier Card — Earn 50,000 points after $3,000 in purchases in the first 3 months of card opening. Also earn 3x points for travel expenses, and 2x on dining and entertainment.
Starwood Preferred Guest
- Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express: Currently offers 25,000 Starpoints after you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months of card membership.
- Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express: Currently offers 10,000 Starpoints upon your first use of the card, and 15,000 more Starpoints after you spend $5,000 in the first 6 months of card membership.
Searching for Awards
Pretty much the only place to look for Singapore Airlines first class awards these days is on Singapore’s own site. In order to do so, you must sign up for a free KrisFlyer account (it takes about two minutes), and you can then log in and search specific routes.
Searching this way can get a bit tedious since you can only pull up one day at a time (rather than a week or a month), but it’s easy to search the various routes and get a general feel for award availability. You can also price out awards even if no seats are available on the flights you want, which makes it handy for estimating taxes and fees.
Finally, even if no award is available on the days/flights you wish to fly, you can put yourself onto the wait list in case an award seat becomes available. To do so, you complete the booking process normally, except you won’t be prompted for payment information. The airline will instead email you with a reference number, and if an award seat becomes available (anecdotal evidence suggests this is usually about 10-14 days out), you’ll be sent another email notification that you can book your award seat, and you should have 24 hours to do so.
Quick View of Routes and Miles
Before I get into the specific routes and credit card strategies you can use to fly first class for free, here’s a quick table of the routes we’ll be looking at with decent award availability, the miles and taxes required, and the type of first class product you’ll find onboard.
|Route||Mileage + Taxes||Aircraft Type|
|New York JFK-Frankfurt FRA||57,375 + $203||A380 – Suites|
|New York JFK-Frankfurt FRA-Singapore SIN||93,750 + $285||A380 – Suites|
|San Francisco SFO-Seoul ICN||74,375 + $203||777-300ER – Non-Suites|
|San Francisco SFO-Hong Kong HKG||70,125 + $51||777-300ER – Non-Suites|
|Houston IAH-Moscow DME||57,375 + $212||777-300ER – Non-Suites|
|Hong Kong HKG-Singapore SIN||31,875 + $28||A380 – Suites|
|Barcelona BCN-Singapore SIN||91,375 + $206||777-300ER – Non-Suites|
|Zurich ZRH-Singapore SIN||91,375 + $220||A380 – Suites|
Sample Awards and Credit Card Strategies
Let’s start with some of the most popular routes for Americans to fly leaving from North America. First has to be the New York JFK-Frankfurt route. Here’s an award I found for this week:
As you can see, it prices out at 57,375 miles and $203 in taxes:
Singapore also operates a flight from Houston IAH to Moscow DME on a 777-300ER with the old first class:
Those awards price out at the same level as the JFK-FRA awards (57,375 miles and $212):
You have a couple great “one-and-done” credit card options here for either flight.
The Chase Ink Plus not only offers a sign-up bonus of 60,000 points when you spend $5,000 in 3 months, but you can pretty much rack up all the miles you need after hitting that minimum spend requirement by taking advantage of the card’s category spending bonuses and earning 5x miles on some office supply and telecommunications purchases, and 2x on gas and hotels.
The other simple option is the Citi Prestige card, which is also currently offering a 50,000-point sign-up bonus when you spend $3,000 in the first three months. It too offers category spending bonuses on airfare, hotels, dining and entertainment, so with a little strategizing, you could earn the points you need simply by hitting that minimum spend requirement. Furthermore, one of the Prestige Card’s standout benefits is that $250 annual airline credit, which you can apply to the taxes and fees on this ticket and essentially fly for free.
The Citi Premier has also just launched a new offer of 50,000 points when you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months, so that’s another great option if you don’t care about the Prestige Card’s lounge access or you prefer to avoid its $450 annual fee.
Let’s say you wanted to fly the whole route from New York JFK-Frankfurt-Singapore. That would require 93,750 miles + $285 in taxes/fees.
In this case, you could get both the Ink Plus and the Citi Prestige, or you could keep it all in either the Chase or Citi card families.
For instance, you could get the Ink Plus and earn its 60,000-point bonus, and then also apply for the Sapphire Preferred, which offers 50,000 points when you spend $4,000 in 3 months, plus an extra 5,000 points for adding an authorized user. Altogether (not even taking into account category spending bonuses) you’re looking at 115,000 Ultimate Rewards points, which is enough for this award.
On the Citi side of things, you could score 50,000-point sign-up bonuses from both the Prestige Card and ThankYou Premier for a total 100,000-point payday.
If you’re lucky enough to get a targeted offer from American Express of 100,000 points (after spending $3,000 in 3 months) on the Platinum Card, that single sign-up bonus could take care of this award for you.
Looking at flights from the West Coast, there are several other great options. The first is the route that TPG flew earlier this month from San Francisco to Seoul Incheon:
That ticket prices out at 74,375 miles plus $203 in taxes/fees:
In order to earn the points necessary for this flight, you could get in on one of the 50,000-point bonuses I mentioned above, and get the Starwood Preferred Guest Card from Amex to earn an additional 25,000 points (when you spend $5,000 in 6 months). Remember that SPG points transfer to KrisFlyer at a 1:1 rate, but when you transfer 20,000 points at a time, you get a nice 5,000-point bonus, so you would need just 50,000 Ultimate Rewards or ThankYou points plus 20,000 Starpoints for this redemption.
You could also swap out the SPG Amex for the Premier Rewards Gold, which currently offers 25,000 points after you spend $2,000 in purchases in the first 3 months. Because this card offers category spending bonuses of 3x on airfare and 2x on gas and groceries, you can easily score even more bonus points on your minimum spending requirement if you use your card strategically.
The same approach could also be employed for Singapore’s other flight out of San Francisco (to Hong Kong):
Which only requires 70,125 miles and $51:
As a side note, Singapore also flies from Los Angeles to Tokyo Narita, and a first class award on that flight would cost the same 74,375 miles as SFO-ICN, but with a lower $113 in taxes/fees.
Let’s take a look at two Singapore Airlines flights with decent award availability from its hub to Europe. While the airline’s flights to Paris and London tend to have very limited award space, its routes to Zurich (aboard an A380 with suites) and Barcelona (on a 777-300 with the old first class) tend to have greater availability.
Here is a Zurich-Singapore flight with a first class award going for 91,375 miles plus $220.
And here is a Barcelona-Singapore flight for 91,375 miles + $206.
This would be another great opportunity to use that 100,000-point Amex Platinum bonus if you’re targeted. Otherwise, a combination of any two of the Sapphire Preferred, Ink Plus, Citi Prestige, or Citi Premier would work equally well, with the Prestige’s $250 air credit coming in handy to cover those taxes/fees. You could also use miles from the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card to cover taxes/fees, or better yet, use the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard, since you get a 5% refund on redeemed miles.
Let’s take a look at one last great flight option if you have fewer miles at your disposal: Singapore to Hong Kong on an A380. There’s usually pretty good award availability on this flight, which is just shy of 4 hours. A first class award (and these are Suites because it’s aboard an A380) is just 31,875 miles + $28 in taxes/fees.
You would need to transfer just 27,000 Starwood Preferred Guest points to score this ticket, which you could earn by meeting the $5,000 spending requirement and earning the sign-up bonus on the Starwood Amex Card.
Depending on your spending strategy, this could be another good opportunity to put the Premier Rewards Gold’s welcome bonus to use. Or you could even get the Amex EveryDay Preferred, which comes with a 15,000-point sign-up bonus when you spend $1,000 in 3 months, but also offers lucrative category spending bonuses of 3x at US supermarkets and 2x at US gas stations, plus a 50% bonus on all points when you make 30 or more purchases with your card in a billing period, making it even easier to rack up the points you would need quickly.
Though Singapore Airlines’ first class is one of the most exclusive experiences in the skies, it’s easier than ever to book awards in it if you play your credit cards right. Because KrisFlyer is a transfer partner of all four major transferable points programs, and because the airline makes first class awards fairly available to its Krisflyer mileage program members, there are more opportunities than ever to fly this incredible product just by getting the right credit cards and keeping track of your spending.
Have any more questions about booking Singapore Airlines first class awards? Leave a comment below!