It is cheaper to book the exact same United flights to Hawaii with Singapore KrisFlyer miles than with United miles.

  • United charges 22,500 miles each way in economy and 40,000 miles in First Class between the mainland and Hawaii
  • Singapore charges 17,500 miles each way in economy and 30,000 miles each way in First Class between the mainland and Hawaii

That’s a humongous difference. Instead of costing 90,000 United miles to get two people from your home airport to Hawaii and back, you could pay 70,000 Singapore miles. Instead of paying 160,000 United miles for two roundtrip First Class tickets, you could pay 120,000 Singapore miles–even occasionally for flat beds!

To reiterate, these are the exact same flights with vastly different prices depending on which miles you use. Singapore has access to all the same Saver award space United releases to people with United miles (except for some space set aside only for United elites and credit card holders.)

For a very similar example, look at this post about booking Delta flights to Hawaii with Korean, not Delta miles.

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 fast are:

  • the Ink Business Preferred: 80,000 Ultimate Rewards after spending $5,000 in the first three months. Ultimate Rewards transfer 1:1 to Aer Lingus, United, British Airways, Iberia, Singapore, Korean, Southwest, Virgin Atlantic, Hyatt, and more.
  • the 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.
  • the Citi ThankYou Premier Card: 50,000 bonus ThankYou Points after $4,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months the account is open.

Credit card links have been removed from posts and added to the menu bar at the top of every page of MileValue under the heading Top Credit Cards.

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

You will have to search for award space on the United flights on united.com; then you will call Singapore Airlines at 213-404-0301 to book the awards.

Here’s how to search united.com. Make sure that you do NOT sign into united.com when searching for award space that you plan to book with another type of miles because signing in can cause award space set aside for elites or credit card holders to appear, and that space is not bookable with other types of miles like Singapore miles.

How to Interpret the Calendar

Update August 2016: This has changed slightly. Now a line represents Saver economy and dots represent Saver First Class.

The first thing you’ll notice when you search for award space to Hawaii on united.com is that it’s widely available for much of the year. Here’s a calendar from Houston to Honolulu. Yellow days have Saver economy award space; blue days have Saver First Class space; green days have Saver space in both cabins. Singapore miles can book all the Saver space that is depicted on these calendars.

Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 2.08.25 PM

How to Interpret the Itineraries

Once you select a date, the itineraries will be displayed from fewest miles in economy to most miles in economy. Most results will have three columns of award space. You can ignore the First Standard Award column. Singapore miles cannot book that space.
Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 2.08.52 PM

We’re looking for award space in the Economy column that says “Saver Award 22.5k” and award space in the First Saver column. Singapore miles can book all such space.

For instance, Singapore miles can book this itinerary in economy and First Class because the economy column says “Saver Award 22.5k” and because there is space in the second column (First Saver.)

Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 2.10.31 PMSingapore miles cannot book this award space because the economy column doesn’t say “Saver Award 22.5k.”

Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 2.09.03 PM

Two vs. Three Cabin First Class

The vast majority of United’s domestic flights have two cabins that are sold as Economy and First. Internationally, United’s two cabin flights are sold as Economy and BusinessFirst. Whenever United operates a two-cabin plane, the premium cabin’s awards are priced at the Business Class award price by United and by Singapore. And in fact, you should call the award space “Business Class” when talking with a Singapore agent.

Extremely rarely, you will encounter a plane on a domestic route with three cabins: Economy, Business, and First. Whenever any itinerary is available with any flight with three cabins, the three columns you’re used to seeing on the search results turn into five columns.

United charges 50,000 miles if any of the segments is in First Class on a three cabin plane. Singapore would charge 40,000 miles. But again, these flights are rare, and you can get flat beds in two cabin planes for 30,000 Singapore miles.

Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 8.05.53 PM

Flat Beds

Both Business and First Class on three cabin planes have flat beds.

On two cabin planes, you can occasionally find flat beds in First Class. To find out if your plane has flat beds, click View Seats on the itinerary. Regular seats look like squares with rounded edges.
Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 8.01.21 PM

Beds look like little beds.Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 8.02.26 PM

Some 777-200s feature flat beds, and all 767-400ERs feature flat beds. Flights from Newark and Washington-Dulles to Honolulu all feature flat beds, and some San Francisco and Houston flights feature flat beds.

Mixed Cabin Awards

Many awards on united.com in the premium cabin columns say “Mixed cabin?”

Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 2.09.13 PM

Holding your cursor over “Mixed cabin” launches a pop up that says which cabin is available on each flight.
Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 2.09.19 PM

You always have to pay the full price of the premium cabin award even though part of the award is an inferior cabin.

Singapore Airlines also lets you book mixed cabin awards for the full Business Class price.

In April, I booked myself a mixed cabin award to Hawaii because my first flight was about 2 hours in economy, and the next was 8.5 hours in a flat bed. That seemed worth paying 30,000 Singapore miles.

Transferring Miles

Transfers from Ultimate Rewards, Membership Rewards, and Citi ThankYou Points to Singapore miles all take about 19-48 hours. My most recent transfer in July, 2015 from Citi ThankYou Points to Singapore miles were in my Singapore account when I checked 19 hours after the transfer. SPG transfers take at least as long as the other three.

Once I find award space, I initiate the transfer.

Award space changes all the time, so in a worst case scenario, your award space could disappear before your miles posted. 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

Once your miles post, you have to call Singapore Airlines to book the award. Call 213-404-0301 and be ready with your Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer account number and six digit PIN.

Feed the agent the date, flight number, and cabin of each flight you want.

For cabin, call United First Class on its two cabin planes “Business Class” because that is what the agent needs to search for.

The agent will charge you taxes denominated in Singapore dollars. If you convert that price to US dollars, it should be about $5.60 per person per direction, the standard taxes on domestic awards.

Within a few minutes, you should get an email from Singapore Airlines with an attachment like this.

Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 3.13.16 AM

Picking Seats

To pick your seats and confirm that your reservation was ticketed correctly, head 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.

Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 2.04.58 PM

 

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

Other Benefits of Singapore Airlines Awards Over United Awards

  1. United charges $75 to book an award within 21 days of departure. Singapore charges no fee for such bookings.
  2. United charges $200 to cancel an award booking and get your miles back. Singapore charges $30.
  3. United charges $75 to $100 to change an award booking. Singapore charges $20.

My Experience Booking United to Hawaii with Singapore Miles

April 2015

In April 2015, I found out that my mainland plans had fallen through, so I could start my trip to Hawaii a few days later. Booking so late in the game is no problem because United offers excellent last minute award space to Hawaii.

I needed to book an award from Atlanta to Honolulu, so I searched united.com and found a mixed-cabin award with Atlanta to Houston in economy and Houston to Honolulu in a flat bed in United First Class on a two cabin plane.

A short hop in the back before a long flight in a bed
A short hop in the back before a long flight in a bed

The award would have cost 40,000 United miles and $80.60 to book including United’s $75 fee for booking within 21 days of departure. I noted the flight number, dates, and cabins plus my KrisFlyer number and PIN.

I already had 30,000 Singapore miles in my account because I transferred Citi ThankYou points and Chase Ultimate Rewards weeks earlier in anticipation of booking an award to Hawaii in First Class when I knew what date I wanted to fly.

I called Singapore Airlines and fed the agent the information and called the First Class cabin on my United flight “Business Class.”

He priced the award at 30,000 Singapore KrisFlyer miles + 7.8 Singapore dollars ($5.66.) I booked the ticket with my Citi Prestige® Card because it has no foreign transaction fees and earns 3x points for airfare purchases and got an email confirmation a few minutes later. I input the Singapore confirmation code into the United app on my phone and selected my seat and bed.

July 2015

I had to book myself a one way award from Houston to Honolulu.

From Houston to Honolulu, there is usually a lot of First Class award space if you connect in Los Angeles or San Francisco and a lot of economy space on the direct flight. If you want First Class on the direct flight, which some days features flat beds, you normally have to book within a few days or weeks of departure.

But I got super lucky!

When I searched for award space, the monthly calendar of the direct flight looked like this. There was literally one day with First Class award space, and it was the exact date I wanted to fly.

Screen Shot 2015-07-29 at 2.08.23 PM

I transferred my 30,000 ThankYou Points to Singapore miles, and they posted within 19 hours. Within 20 hours, I had ticketed the award for 30,000 Singapore miles + $6.

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.

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