Krisflyer members got the following email in their inbox yesterday:
As part of our ongoing efforts to give our members greater convenience, we are pleased to inform you that KrisFlyer members will be able to redeem miles for flights on Star Alliance and other partner airlines on singaporeair.com or via our mobile app from 7 December 2017.
At the same time, updates have also been made to redemption award levels for Star Alliance carriers and will take effect on the same day. Click here to view the new Star Alliance Award Chart.
The good news: from 7th December, Krisflyer members will finally be able to redeem Star Alliance partner awards online.
The bad news: from 7th December, the Star Alliance chart will be devalued.
Krisflyer gives, and Krisflyer takes away. Let’s break it down.
Star Alliance Award Chart Devaluation
What’s changed for flights from Singapore?
Here’s how the award chart changes for Star Alliance partner flights originating in Singapore.
As a reminder, here’s what the various zones refer to:
To summarize the changes:
- There are no changes to the economy awards
- In business class, North Asia 1, MENA and South West Pacific are the hardest hit. Business class awards to Hong Kong and Taiwan in particular will now cost 36% more. Awards to places like the UAE and Turkey will cost 30% more
- In first class, South West Pacific, North America, Hawaii/Central America, Europe and MENA all increase by ~20%. North Asia 1 increases by 27%
First Class awards have been hit quite hard with ~20%+ increases to lucrative long haul destinations.I wouldn’t call this “gutting” the award chart, but it’s certainly going to sting. To be fair, SQ hasn’t done a partner award chart devaluation since 2012 (see below) so it could easily have been much worse.
How does the Star Alliance chart now compare to the SQ award chart?
Star Alliance awards aren’t just useful when you want to fly to a place that SQ doesn’t serve; they’re also useful when you can’t find instantly confirmable SQ saver space (which is the rule rather than the exception on quite a few popular routes).
Rather than play waitlist roulette with SQ, you can see if there are awards available on Star Alliance carriers. For example, SQ is quite stingy with business saver awards to SFO, but EVA and ANA release quite a bit of space, especially when you’re within a month of departure.
The question, then, is how much more does it cost to redeem a Star Alliance award instead of an SQ saver?
- It’s quite clear that if an SQ saver award is not available, it’s almost always better to go for a Star Alliance partner award than pay the miles needed for an SQ standard ticket. The exception is flights to Perth where SQ Standard is slightly cheaper than Star Alliance, which says more about how inflated the Star Alliance chart is than anything else
- In most cases, opting for a *A partner award is a 10-30% mileage premium over a SQ saver award. That might well be a premium you’d be willing to pay in exchange for the certainty of a confirmed ticket rather than waitlist limbo
- You also need to remember that even though Krisflyer has eliminated fuel surcharges on SQ award tickets, partner airlines may still charge them
- From a cost point of view, you should be indifferent between *A and SQ awards for destinations like Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Japan, South Korea and business class to Europe as they’re the same price
Closing the loops
One might argue that this devaluation was a long time coming, because with the recent Krisflyer devaluation there were actually some instances where it was cheaper to redeem a Star Alliance award that featured an SQ flight than an SQ saver ticket. That was the case with the awards below
- Singapore to North America in F: 112,500 miles with *A vs 118-120,000 with SQ
- Singapore to Europe in F: 107,500 miles with *A vs 115,000 with SQ
- Singapore to Europe in J: 80,000 miles with *A vs 85,000 with SQ
- Singapore to Australia in F: 75,000 miles with *A vs 80,000 with SQ
- Singapore to Australia in J: 55,000 miles with *A vs 58,000 with SQ
- Singapore to Japan/S Korea in F: 60,000 miles with *A vs 65,000 with SQ
- Singapore to Japan/S Korea in J: 40,000 miles with *A vs 43,000 with SQ
You could therefore have a situation where you might fly SIN-HKG-SFO-PDX in First Class with SQ operating SIN-HKG-SFO and United operating SFO-PDX and pay 112,500 miles, versus paying 118,000 miles if you redeemed a First Class Saver award with SQ alone from SIN-HKG-SFO. That made very little sense and I’m surprised it stayed around as long as it did.
This has now been fixed and such arbitrage will no longer be possible. Better lock in your flights quickly.
How does this compare to previous Star Alliance chart devaluations?
Here’s the two Star Alliance award charts that preceded the current one. Uploading these for posterity.
When we compare historical trends, here’s what we see for business class
What really surprises me is that for 8 years, the mileage needed for business class flights from SIN to SEA 1,2 have remained the same. Granted these are short haul flights, but that’s still quite impressive. Flights to the Americas took a hefty devaluation in 2012, but have stayed constant at the current level this time round. SW Pacific has seen fairly constant devaluations of about 20% each time, whereas South Asia has seen barely any movement.
The silly thing is- you can book a RTW Star Alliance ticket with seven cities for 240,000 Krisflyer miles in business class. A round trip ticket to the USA is already 195,000 and South America is 220,000. If you can make the dates work…
And here’s First Class
I’d say that in terms of quantum, the First Class partner award chart has been hit way harder. Look at North America + Hawaii/Central America, going from 200K to 270K miles in 8 years. Round trip awards to Europe now cost a quarter of a million miles, which means traveling to Paris as a newly-wed couple is going to take some serious saving up.
What about flying between other regions?
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to think the Star Alliance award chart is only for flights out of Singapore.
On the contrary, the chart can come in very useful when you’re flying between two different regions overseas, eg throughout Europe or the USA as part of your vacation, or when you need to position yourself to a different city to fly home because there’s no SQ award space from the city you flew in (eg SIN-SFO-LAX-SIN)
Intra North America Flights
You can still redeem 12,500/20,000 miles for one-way economy/business class awards within the US and Canada. Remember that business class in this context is actually first class, and although domestic first class in the US is nothing to get excited about, it’s still better than the back of the bus.
Europe to the Middle East
This award is gone, sadly. At 35,000 miles for a First Class award under the old system, it was your best chance of trying the Lufthansa First Class terminal for less (LH operates F to Riyadh and Dubai). The revised rate is 60,000 miles for First Class. I’d still consider it a good deal, given the amazing ground experience in Frankfurt, but nowhere as amazing as the old deal.
Singapore to Europe
This no longer exists now that SQ has combined two Europe zones into one.
Singapore to Thailand
This still exists, although I was probably a bit over generous in calling it a sweet spot. It’s a good option to have, but ever since SQ eliminated fuel surcharges on award tickets, you should think of this more as an alternative if no saver space is available rather than a sweet spot.
Star Alliance upgrade chart untouched
Although the Star Alliance chart has been devalued, the *A upgrade chart remains untouched…for now. One wonders how long this will last given the chart still has some excellent value for business class upgrades to first between certain zones (eg Europe and the Middle East).
Online Redemption of Partner Awards
What surprised me more than the devaluation was the fact that after so many years, SQ is finally making it possible to redeem *A partner awards online. Maybe they read my press release.
The conspiracy theorist in me always thought that SQ deliberately didn’t display partner awards online because it wanted to minimize reimbursement payments. Whenever a Krisflyer member books an award on a *A partner, SQ needs to reimburse that particular carrier. So rather than leave themselves open to that, the bean counters thought it better to only display SQ inventory online (which they can control) and make it really difficult for members to redeem *A awards by having them call the call centre. And trust me, if you’re an average user who doesn’t know how to search for award space online before calling, you’re going to find the trial and error process over the phone soul-destroying.
I guess somewhere along the road they realised that their call centre resources were better used dealing with other matters, and from 7 December you will be able to see *A awards online as well. This is certainly convenient, but it isn’t anything you couldn’t already have done for yourself if you used the United/Aeroplan search methods. Moreover, I am interested to see how the system plays out in real life, because SQ is notorious for having really, really crappy IT systems.
Key questions on my mind include:
- Will mixed cabin redemptions be possible to do online?
- This is especially important if you’re thinking about redeeming for First Class, as quite a few *A carriers do not offer it at all or on particular routes. So if, say, you wanted to try Thai’s First Class product to Japan, you’d need a SIN-BKK leg to be open in business class before you could redeem BKK-NRT for example
- Will the online system display the full set of inventory or just selected awards?
- I call this the “United problem”, after United Airlines, which until recently did not display SQ award space online. If you wanted to book an SQ award with United Mileageplus, you had to call up the call centre to get it done
- Other carriers like CX are only able to display selected partner awards on the website due to “technical limitations”. If you want to book the full range, you still need to get on the phone
- Will SQ follow suit? I could see this happening for awards that have higher reimbursement costs, but I’ll reserve judgment until the new awards engine goes online
This announcement follows SQ’s pattern of “soften the blow of a devaluation by giving them something they always should have had anyway”. We saw this in 2012 when SQ devalued its award chart significantly but started allowing saver level redemptions for the 2006 first and business class products. We saw this in 2016 when SQ slightly devalued its Europe award chart but started allowing Premium Economy redemptions. And now we see it again with SQ finally offering online partner redemption awards, but devaluing the award chart in the process
This may be a somewhat unpopular view, but I’m of the opinion that SQ has been rather measured with Star Alliance award chart devaluations. 5+ years since the last devaluation means 5+ years of cheap miles flooding into the system (thanks, Americans) and the fact of the matter is that miles are the worst investment to hold- they don’t earn interest, they’re not insured and they can only be devalued. Moral of the story: earn and burn.
Final point: does this constitute sufficient notice? We’ve received just under a month, which is in the ballpark of what SQ has historically given but still below what other programs do. I hope those of you who have pending travel plans will be able to lock them in soon and enjoy the old rates.
If you’ve got time, why not have a read of my CSI piece on a history of SQ devaluations?