Anatomy of an Award: Last Minute $767 Hawaii Ticket for 17,500 Miles

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I just booked myself a one way award from Honolulu, Hawaii to Charlottesville, Virginia for 17,500 Singapore miles and $6. This was a $767 ticket, so I got 4.3 cents per mile on my award.

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 five days before departure, so I sweated out not having a ticket until the last minute.

I’ve covered booking Singapore awards flying United planes to and from Hawaii several times, most thoroughly here. This is by far the most common way I get to and from 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:

  • Ink Preferred: Business card that offers 80,000 Ultimate Rewards after spending $5,000 in the first three months. Ultimate Rewards transfer 1:1 to United, British Airways, Singapore, Korean, Southwest, Virgin Atlantic, Hyatt, and more.
  • 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.

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 to Virginia from Hawaii, and I had very little flexibility. I was in a wedding on Saturday, and I wanted to watch a basketball game in Virginia at 7 PM on Monday.

I had known about the possibility of taking this trip for about three months and had occasionally looked for award space on all the airlines that could fly me from Honolulu to Washington-Dulles or Charlottesville (American, Delta, United.)

While there was occasionally Saver award space in economy to Washington-Dulles, it would save me some time and rental car fees to fly into Charlottesville, so I didn’t book. 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 to Charlottesville. 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 me flying all day Sunday and getting in late Sunday night, requiring an extra night in Charlottesville, 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.

Five days before departure, my patience was rewarded. United opened up Saver space on the shortest itinerary from Honolulu to Charlottesville, and I would get into town the morning of the game.

In fact, I had two choices for itineraries of the same length that only differed in the length of layovers in San Francisco and Washington. I chose the one with the shorter layover in San Francisco and longer layover in Washington. I always try to have my shorter layovers earlier in the trip because it gives more rebooking options in case of irregular operations.

There was also an itinerary on united.com that had some First Class award space. Specifically Honolulu to San Francisco was in economy, San Francisco to Washington in First Class, and the sub-one-hour flight in economy (one cabin plane.)

I could have booked this for 30,000 Singapore miles–the full First Class price–but I didn’t think paying an extra 12,500 miles, which I value around $200, was a good deal for less than five hours flying in First Class in a recliner seat.

Transferring Miles

Transfers from Ultimate Rewards, Membership Rewards, and Citi ThankYou Points to Singapore miles all take about 19-48 hours. Normally once I find award space, I initiate the transfer, but in this case I had already transferred Ultimate Rewards to Singapore miles weeks in advance 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

You always contact the airline whose miles you’re using, so I called Singapore Airlines to book the award. I called 800-742-3333 and was ready with my 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 8 SGD ($6.) From dialing to hanging up, the call took me about 10 minutes.

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

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.”

Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 2.42.41 PM

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.

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.”
Screen Shot 2016-08-02 at 4.49.59 PM

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.

  • Ink Preferred: Business card that offers 80,000 Ultimate Rewards after spending $5,000 in the first three months. Ultimate Rewards transfer 1:1 to United, British Airways, Singapore, Korean, Southwest, Virgin Atlantic, Hyatt, and more.
  • 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.

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

If I didn’t have miles, I would have paid over for the cheapest itinerary, which was 32 hours…

…or $767 for my exact itinerary.

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.


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4 COMMENTS

    • United charges 22,500 miles for these flights; Singapore 17,500. That’s just what their award charts say.

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