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I just booked myself a one way award from Washington-Dulles to Honolulu, Hawaii for 17,500 Singapore miles and $6. There were a few interesting things about the award:

  1. I got the award for 5,000 miles less than it “should” have cost.
  2. The award space I wanted didn’t open up until three days before departure, so I sweated out not having a ticket until the last minute.
  3. I learned a few Singapore Airlines routing rules.

I’ve covered booking Singapore awards flying United planes to Hawaii several times, most thoroughly here. This is by far the most common way I get to Hawaii because United tends to release a lot of award space, and Singapore can book that award space cheaply: 17,500 miles one way in economy and 30,000 in First. (Yes, booking Delta flights with Korean miles is cheaper, but Delta releases a lot less award space than United. And booking American or Alaska flights with British Airways Avios is cheaper if you fly from the West Coast to Hawaii, but I usually fly from the East Coast.)

What’s the catch? For bookings to Hawaii, there really isn’t one.

  • Singapore awards cost fewer miles than United awards
  • Singapore awards are way cheaper to change or cancel than United awards if your plans change
  • Singapore awards do not have a fee for booking within three weeks of departure like United awards do (though here is how to get out of that fee on United awards)
  • Singapore awards of United flights do not have fuel surcharges, so both types of awards will just have identical taxes of around $11 roundtrip.
  • Singapore miles are easier to get than United miles, and even share a key transfer partner.

Getting Singapore Miles

Singapore miles are a partner of the four major transferable points program:

  1. Chase Ultimate Rewards, 1:1
  2. Citi ThankYou Points, 1:1
  3. American Express Membership Rewards, 1:1
  4. SPG Starpoints, 1:1 with a bonus. Every 20,000 Starpoints transferred earns a 5,000 mile bonus, so the ideal transfers are in exact increments of 20,000 Starpoints to 25,000 Singapore miles.

Right now, the best cards to earn Singapore miles are:

  • Chase Sapphire Reserve®: 100,000 Ultimate Rewards after spending $4,000 in the first three months. Ultimate Rewards transfer 1:1 to United, British Airways, Singapore, Korean, Southwest, Virgin Atlantic, Hyatt, and more.
  • Ink Plus: Business card that offers 60,000 Ultimate Rewards after spending $5,000 in the first three months.
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred: 50,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards after $4,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months, 5,000 more bonus points for adding an authorized user.

All of these are Chase cards, so you will only get approved if you follow the 5/24 rule.

To compare this to earning United miles, United has its own co-branded personal and business cards plus is a 1:1 transfer partner of Ultimate Rewards but not any of the other three transferable points programs.

Searching for Award Space, Transferring Miles, and Booking the Awards

I needed to get from Virginia to Hawaii last weekend. I had known about the need to book this flight for maybe six months and had occasionally looked for award space on all the airlines that could fly me from Washington-Dulles to Honolulu (American, Delta, United, Alaska.) There was never any Saver award space in any cabin. I wasn’t worried because about a month before departure, award space often opens up to Hawaii.

About a month ago, I started searching aa.com, united.com, and delta.com daily, and there was still no award space in any cabin. I still wasn’t worried because united.com showed a lot of award space within a month of departure, just not on the Sunday I wanted to fly, and I expected award space to open up by a week before departure. AA.com and delta.com showed horrific award space, even close to departure, making me think award space would not open up on those airlines. (This is just a specific restatement of my general way of estimating the likelihood that last minute award space will open.)

Two weeks before departure, some award space opened on united.com in economy on the day I wanted. But it had a long layover of five hours on the West Coast, so I decided not to book, hoping better space would open up. Then that award space disappeared, and there was again no award space on my preferred travel date.

Four-and-a-half days before departure, the award space reappeared. I still didn’t want it, but it beat flying out a day later and missing a day in paradise. I decided to bite the bullet and book the itinerary with a five hour layover.

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To book United flights with Singapore miles, you call Singapore Airlines at 800-742-3333. When I gave the agent my date of travel, he said there was no United award space. I pulled up the same award space on aeroplan.com while on the call to confirm it wasn’t phantom award space–if two award search engines see the same space, it is almost certain to be real and available for booking with all partner miles.

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But even when I fed the agent the flight numbers, he said there was no United award space, so I used the oldest trick in the book: HUCA, hang up; call again. The second agent again said there was no award space, but did find it when I fed her the flight numbers. Unfortunately she quoted a price of 17,500 miles and 172 SGD ($126.) When I said I expected taxes to be $6, she put me on hold and came back with the explanation that layovers were limited to 4 hours on domestic awards, so I was being charged $100 for a stopover.

This is indeed a rule you can find on singaporeair.com

screen-shot-2016-09-28-at-1-53-29-amI had a flash of inspiration, though, and said, “I get a free stopover on roundtrip awards, right? I have an existing Singapore award from Honolulu to Chicago. If I change that award to include Washington-Dulles to Honolulu, can I get the stopover for free?” She put me on hold and came back with a “no,” pointing me to another rule on singaporeair.com.

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Stymied, I thanked her, hung up, and assessed my options.

I knew that you have to book Singapore partner awards at least 72 hours before travel–an annoying rule–so I only had about 36 hours left for United to open better award space that I could book with Singapore miles. If that never happened, my backup plan was to use United miles to book the United flights because United lets you book awards up to the scheduled departure time. I’d pay 5,000 extra miles, but I’d rather risk that than pay a certain $100 stopover fee to Singapore. (United would charge me a $75 fee online for my last minute booking, but I have a way around that.)

My plan paid off. About 80 hours before my desired flight time, as I sat in the Lufthansa First Class Terminal in Frankfurt, I found award space with a one hour layover.

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I decided to go for the earlier itinerary to get to Hawaii earlier, and to not be on the last flight of the day to Honolulu, in case my first flight was delayed.

Transferring Miles

Transfers from Ultimate Rewards, Membership Rewards, and Citi ThankYou Points to Singapore miles all take about 19-48 hours. SPG transfers take at least as long as the other three. Because of that, I had transferred points to Singapore miles weeks in advance in order to be ready to pounce on award space as soon as I saw it.

Normally once I find award space, I initiate the transfer, but I changed the order because I was booking at the last minute.

Award space changes all the time, so in a worst case scenario, your award space could disappear before your miles post from a points transfer. (Or in my case, award space could have never opened.) If you can’t handle this outcome, transfer Ultimate Rewards to United miles instantly instead, and pay the extra miles.

I can handle the small chance that my award space will disappear. Maybe it will reappear later. If not, I can always use Singapore miles in the future for a different high value award.

How to Book Singapore Awards

From the First Class Terminal, I called Singapore Airlines to book the award. I called 800-742-3333 and was ready with your Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer account number and six digit PIN.

The agent readily found my award space and quoted me a price of 17,500 Singapore miles and 7.70 SGD ($6.) From dialing to hanging up, the call took me 9 minutes.

As I hung up, I got an email from Singapore Airlines with this attachment.

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Picking Seats

To pick my seats and confirm that my reservation was ticketed correctly, I headed to united.com and input the Singapore Airlines confirmation number on the home page where it says “My trips.” The Singapore Airlines confirmation number is the six letter/number code listed on your email attachment next to “Booking Reference.”

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United.com will recognize the Singapore Airlines confirmation number. You can select your seats and note your United confirmation number, which will be a different six letter/number code.

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You can also permanently add this reservation to your united.com account, which will be convenient for checking in without having to search for it again. To do that, click “Save to my Account” from the tiny links above “United Confirmation Number.”
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Bottom Line

Use Singapore miles instead of United miles to book economy and First Class awards to Hawaii on United flights. You’ll pay fewer miles, lower fees, and be able to book the exact same seats. Plus Singapore miles are so easy to get as a transfer partner of pretty much everyone.

  • Chase Sapphire Reserve®: 100,000 Ultimate Rewards after spending $4,000 in the first three months. Ultimate Rewards transfer 1:1 to United, British Airways, Singapore, Korean, Southwest, Virgin Atlantic, Hyatt, and more.
  • Ink Plus: Business card that offers 60,000 Ultimate Rewards after spending $5,000 in the first three months.
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred: 50,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards after $4,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months, 5,000 more bonus points for adding an authorized user.

If I didn’t have miles, I would have paid around $500 for the flights.

Or if I had miles, but didn’t know the right ones to use, I might assume that United miles are best for booking United flights and paid 22,500 miles for my ticket instead of the 17,500 I did pay.

For more info on booking awards to Hawaii with Singapore miles, see Complete Guide to Booking Singapore Awards to Hawaii on United Planes

Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

Just getting started in the world of points and miles? The Chase Sapphire Preferred is the best card for you to start with.

With a bonus of 60,000 points after $4,000 spend in the first 3 months, 5x points on travel booked through the Chase Travel Portal and 3x points on restaurants, streaming services, and online groceries (excluding Target, Walmart, and wholesale clubs), this card truly cannot be beat for getting started!


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