With the recent 100k American Express Platinum sign up bonus–now dead–and 75k American Express Business Gold card–available until 1/28/13–it is time to update and enhance Tahsir’s series on Membership Rewards. This is the first installment.
American Express Platinum, Gold, Green, Centurion, and Corporate cards earn Membership Rewards points, which are transferable to dozens of hotel and airline points at varying ratios. Each article in this series focuses on one of the best options.
There are two reasons I like to transfer Membership Rewards to Singapore KrisFlyer miles: cheaper domestic Star Alliance awards and it’s the only way to get into Singapore’s premium cabins.
Singapore Airlines is recognized as one of the most luxurious airlines in the world. Their commitment to service and fairly new cabin layouts change long haul travel from a chore to a pleasure. To get a seat on Singapore Airlines (even in economy) is an experience in itself. And Singapore releases way more award space–especially in its over-the-top Suites Class–to its own award program, meaning this is a program worthy of study.
American Express Membership Rewards transfer 1:1 to Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer miles. That makes Singapore one of three Star Alliance transfer partners of Membership Rewards–the other two being ANA and Air Canada’s Aeroplan. Since the Star Alliance often has the best award availability, certainly it does in business class to Europe, we have another reason to closely study Singapore’s program.
To start, let’s look at Singapore’s Star Alliance redemption chart:
And it’s definition of those regions:
This chart is the relevant chart when you want to use your KrisFlyer miles on a Star Alliance airline other than Singapore itself.
What Stands Out?
Domestic US in first
The first thing that stands out is Singapore’s award pricing of awards within the continental US, Alaska, and Canada.
If you travel a lot in premium cabins domesticall, there is actually an awesome redemption available through KrisFlyer. You see, like most airlines, Singapore codes domestic first class on two-cabin planes as business class.
That means that most first class seats with United Airlines and US Airways are coded at the business class rate on Singapore’s chart, which is only 20k miles each way. This includes Dreamliner beds when the 787 is operating domestic routes, since United’s Dreamliner is a two-cabin plane. (See Tahsir’s United 787 Trip Report from their first day in operation.)
First class on a three-cabin plane prices at the higher level of 30k each way, like JFK-LAX in United p.s. Other than those flights, you can book into first class for a roundtrip of only 40,000 points–a 25% discount over the 50,000 miles charged by United and US Airways for the same seats.
Singapore Airlines requires you to call into their service center anytime you need to book a Star Alliance award. Before calling into their center, do some research with United’s online award search program. (Here’s how.) After finding the flights you want, call Singapore at 213-404-0301, and give the agent the date, cabin, and flight number of your desired flights
Note: Some people may get a busy tone. I’ve singled this out to be a Verizon Wireless issue only. Hang up and dial from a non-Verizon phone.
Singapore’s miles price from the continental US to Hawaii is cheaper than United’s in all three cabins.
35,000 miles roundtrip is a 5,000 mile discount over United in economy class though it’s far from The Cheapest Ways to Get to Hawaii. 60,000 miles roundtrip for domestic first class is a 20,000 mile discount over United. And 80,000 miles for three-cabin first class is also a 20,000 mile discount over United, which does fly some three-cabin planes to my favorite state.
I find using Singapore miles on other routes to be a bad deal because the surcharges Singapore charges on international awards are usually prohibitive.
What about booking Singapore Airlines flights?
Singapore Airlines categorizes awards on its own planes into three miles-prices: Saver, Standard, and Full. Like always, we’re only interested in the cheapest awards–in this case, Saver awards. Singapore Airlines has a separate chart for travel using just Singapore-operated flights. Here is the saver award chart:
Unlike the Star Alliance chart, the prices quoted are for oneway awards.
If you are trying to go to Singapore, the first column is what you need to look at. For example, JFK-SIN is 37,500 miles in economy, 85,000 in business, and 110,000 in first. But if you book an award online, Singapore will discount your miles needed by 15%. So New York to Singapore is really 31,875/72,250/93,500 each way in economy/business/first if you book online.
In the US, Singapore flies out of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, Newark, and New York-JFK.
From these points, Singapore Airlines offers a ton of availability to any of its destinations, and Singapore has a very strong route network. But Singapore only releases its premium seats to its own program. Singapore doesn’t release any business or first class long haul seats to its Star Alliance partners.
This makes Membership Rewards the only way most of us can get into Singapore premium cabins, since few of us credit miles to KrisFlyer accounts otherwise.
Singapore Airlines recently started releasing saver availability on their new A380 Suites Class (better than normal first class), and those redemptions can be quite a good deal, especially after the 15% discount!
A First Class trip on the new A380 oneway from the West Coast to Singapore will cost you 91,375 miles plus taxes, fees, and fuel surcharges of $342. Considering that you can get on an A380 Suite for almost 20 hours, 91,375 and $342 may be a good value for some luxury lovers.
But if you’re like me, you want to avoid fuel surcharges, so you have one option. Perhaps the best redemption you can make with Singapore Airlines miles is a First Class seat from Sao Paulo, Brazil to Barcelona, Spain because flights originating in Brazil can’t charge fuel surcharges.
For 58,225 miles and $36 you can get 10 hours in Singapore First Class on a 777-300ER. Not only are there no fuel surcharges, but the miles outlay is low too. American charges 90,000 miles oneway from Brazil to Europe in first class.
Economy on the same flight is even better because it is only 17,000 miles one way! To put that into perspective, United charges 47,500 one way for the same flight. In addition, because there are no fuel surcharges levied from Brazil, this flight would only cost you $36 in taxes!
(Hat Tip: Amol for this gem.)
What’s the catch?
The big downside to KrisFlyer is that they have fuel surcharges on most flights. This can drastically reduce the value of your ticket because these surcharges can often get over $500 for a roundtrip flight. The way to get around this is to fly airlines or routes with your Singapore miles that don’t incur surcharges. I’ve mentioned these already: United and US Airways domestic flights and Sao Paulo to Barcelona on Singapore itself.
On roundtrips, Singapore allows one stopover. On oneways, you don’t get a stopover.
How to Book
I’ll show how to book New York to Mumbai roundtrip on Singapore metal.
First, you have to sign up for a KrisFlyer account and click Book a Flight.
- Make sure the KrisFlyer redemption box is check marked.
- If you want to do a one way trip, click the “one way trip?” button.
- This won’t search for other Star Alliance availability, just Singapore’s own space.
- If you need a stopover, just call in because it will be a lot easier. In my experience, Singapore agents are super knowledgeable and friendly.
- Flights are displayed in segments (JFK-SIN)(SIN-BOM) so make sure you select both for the outbound and both for the inbound.
- You need to find Saver space listed as Available. If it says Waitlist, look for another day.
- Click the display total cost button to see how many miles it comes out to with the online discount.
- These images are just showing how to book a flight on the Krisflyer system. The actual itinerary itself is really horrible because 89,250 miles plus $936 in cash is a horrible price in economy class to India. The going rate for a roundtrip flight on these exact flights was about $1836 when I checked, and that trip earns miles.
- If you want to avoid fuel surcharges, use United miles if you have any because I was able to find the same exact flight on the same exact day for 80,000 United miles plus $57 in taxes. A savings of $890 and almost 10,000 miles! Or you could get the flights for 80k US Airways miles and $107.
- If you see any redemption with Silkair (a subsidiary of Singapore), you cannot book those on other Star Alliance partners because Silkair is not a Star Alliance partner.
Do the points transfer instantly?
AMEX Membership Rewards do not transfer instantly. FlyerTalkers report it takes 12-48 hours for them to post. For me, the transfer posts in about 24 hours. This is an issue because some people report that Singapore doesn’t allow you to hold award tickets. I kind of debunked this myth because I was able to put my flights on hold for two days while my points came in from AMEX. In addition, I’ve noticed that if you transfer points before 10AM Pacific Time, the points should post exactly at midnight that day.
What if I don’t have enough miles?
Singapore requires that you have at least 50% of the miles you need for a redemption in your account before you can buy anymore for a redemption. They will let you buy points at an extremely high $40 per 1,000 miles or 4 cents each. Don’t buy miles for 4 cents.
The best way to get around this is to call American Express and have them loan you however many points you need. American Express loans up to 15,000 points for Gold cardholders and up to 60,000 for Platinum members. You have a year to earn these points back or else they charge 2.5 cents per point. This is still far better than the 4 cents per point that Singapore will charge you.
Getting Membership Rewards
This week is a good time to get Membership Rewards. The Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN has a 75k Membership Rewards sign up bonus. Bill explained why you may not want to get this card, though. Hint: $10k spending requirement in the first four months to unlock the bonus.
You can pair that with the personal Mercedes-Benz American Express Platinum with 50,000 Membership Rewards after spending $1,000 in three months, $100 credit for Global Entry signup, $200 calendar-year airline-fee credit, and free airport lounge access. Note: You don’t need to be affiliated with Mercedes-Benz, and this version of the card has a better sign up bonus than the “regular” version.
This card has a $475 annual fee not waived the first year, but I count $500+ in benefits in the first year not even including the Membership Rewards.
There are two good reasons to transfer Membership Rewards to Singapore Airlines: to get discounts on awards within the US and to fly Singapore Suites, First, and Business classes.
To book partners, refer to the Star Alliance chart, and call Singapore. To book Singapore flights, book online and enjoy a 15% miles discount for doing so.
Getting Membership Rewards is easy, especially before the 75k Business Gold card offer expires.