Redeeming Krisflyer Miles for Star Alliance Partner Awards

[the original article has been replaced with this post in light of the recent *A award chart devaluation. You can read the original (out of date) post here]

Star Alliance Award Chart Devaluation

Here’s the existing award chart, and the new award chart that will take effect from 7th December.

What’s changed for flights from Singapore?

Here’s how the award chart changes for Star Alliance partner flights originating in Singapore.

Round trip prices

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.

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ANA’s very excellent Business Class

The question, then, is how much more does it cost to redeem a Star Alliance award instead of an SQ saver?

Click to enlarge. Prices here refer to one-way awards. *A:SQ Saver refers to how much more expensive a *A award is compared to an SQ Saver. *A: SQ Standard refers to how much cheaper a *A award is compared to an SQ Standard.

My thoughts:

  • 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

Round Trip Prices

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

Round Trip Prices

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)

I previously listed four sweet spots on the Star Alliance partner chart.

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.

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Lufthansa A330 First Class

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

Conclusion

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?


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32 comments

  1. Hey there,

    I want to fly business from SIN to either Munich or Toulouse (latter being preferred) from June 29t 2016 until August 7th 2016. Do you have any magic fares lurking around? I will soon have 155k KrisFlyer miles and also still have 100k Aegean Miles&More miles. What would you suggest? I personally do not need any miles for keeping gold for next year as I am flying business at Christmas….my wife, who will only fly from the 29th of June until July 15th, will need miles though. Anyway, any help would be awesome.

    Cheers,

    Wolfgang

    1. sorry- totally missed this post. i would strongly suggest you don’t burn KF miles for star alliance redmeptions. Lifemiles is the answer! were you able to get in on the latest lifemiles sale? there should be another one around christmas

  2. Hi Aaron

    I am trying to redeem miles for a business class ticket to Europe in May, but am having no luck on available tickets. Am surprised as its more than 6 months later and it’s already on wait list. Care to share your tips on how to snag the business class tickets?

    Thanks

    1. hi cindy!

      need more details- what route? business saver is almost impossible to get for periods <9 months and >2 weeks to departure. it’s just like that sadly.
      i would suggest you look at cathay. you can waitlist without any miles in your account, if it clears transfer miles and book. have this as your backup option (hopefully you kept your miles in your dbs/uob account in point form so you can transfer to asiamiles at 1:1 ratio too). in fact you should count yourself lucky that business saver waitlist is open…for a lot of US flights business saver wont even be available. otherwise…lifemiles?

        1. I haven’t exactly fixed my routes yet as I really want to fly business with my mum as a surprise so it’s kind of dependent on which routes are available. London is a must and preferably Barcelona. I currently have 89k krisflyer points (22k which expires in nov) , 110k in Citibank, 50k in DBS (think it’s only krisflyer redeemable?) and $13k with Amex. Think I have just enough to scrap 2 business class on krisflyer. Appreciate your help!

  3. I wouldn’t say its not worth while in terms of mileage required but the surcharges they charge is atrocious. I have redeemed a flight on Turkish Airlines to Europe on business and they charge a whopping $300 for surcharges even though if you redeem the same ticket on United or with Turkish, surcharges are less than $50. I have written a feedback letter to them but I have not heard from them yet. Obviously the surcharges is going to them and not to Turkish and there is no justification for that. Interested to hear your thoughts on this.

    1. let me know what they say because i’m not clear on that too. i mean, lifemiles doesn’t charge any fuel surcharges on any award tickets but SQ does. does this mean that lifemiles eats the surcharges when customers redeem sq tickets? and similarly, for UA/ other ffps that don’t levy surcharges, who eats that? Unless the surcharges are really low and a good amount of that is a disguised fee to sq, which i wouldn’t put past them actually

  4. Hi Aaron,

    Would you happen to know how redemption can be done for Star Alliance flights, using Krisflyer miles?

    I happen to want to travel from Singapore to Sapporo, and SIA doesn’t serve the route, except during a niche period in the December.

    However, I can make a redemption with ANA, transiting in Tokyo, and be able to enjoy ANA Business/First Class, albeit at the cost of some miles.

    I found the routing using United Airlines search tool, and it states the number of miles and the taxes, however, is that indicative, or does Krisflyer charge an extra “fuel surcharge” or “tax for using other airlines”?

    It all seems to be a big black box…

  5. Hi Aaron

    Have u taken a domestic flight in US by redeeming ur miles on a star alliance flight?
    If so can u recommend a star alliance carrier with an acceptable business class product?
    Also, how do you go about redeeming with that carrier using Kris flyer miles?

    Thanks a bundle!!!

    1. yes i have. are you taking about domestic US? then you’re out of luck. unless you’re flying one of United’s PS routes (SFO/LAX-EWR), you can forget about a decent product. you’ll have recliner style first class seats (see my trip report from the RTW trip). if you’re able to get PS routes you’ll have a full flat seat. all aircraft are narrow body (some exceptions though, they may fly wide body now and then but is exception not the rule)
      on the plus side, KF has very good star alliance partner rates for domestic US (see this article)
      you need to call KF membership svcs to book.

  6. Any idea wat about air Canada from SFO/lax to any Canadian state? Read they got decent business class but unable to confirm the kind of seating for these particular routes

  7. Hi Aaron… I take it you visited the Virgin Atlantic JFK clubhouse before? The services like head massage and haircut is stated as complimentary or $20 if taken as an additional service? any idea what that means?
    Also, if flying out from JFK on business are SIA passengers allowed to access these services too? Thanks again! ?

  8. Hi Aaron!

    Planning a trip to Japan in April / May and would like to experience the first class suites (prob can afford only 1 leg!). The trip plan is roughly to entire fly in to Tokyo and out Osaka or vice versa is also fine. My miles are mostly in Krisflyer at the moment but can transfer to Asiamiles via credit cards too.

    Are you able to recommend which flights are best to experience the first class suites? I recall one of your articles mentioning to be selective on redemption in case the hard earned miles get redeemed on a dud product.

    Btw, is there any websites to check what which are the “good” flights to redeem business and first class suites on? Loathe to keep asking you on this!

    1. sorry Cindy I totally missed your post.
      generally you might want to look for a daytime flight that features lunch or dinner service. supper services (I think these are the ones departing after 9pm although I’m sure there’s a proper cutoff time) don’t have the full meal service (i.e no caviar). I believe the A380 is operated both to KIX and NRT right now, so there’s no issue there.

      didn’t understand the second part of your question about good” flights, explain again?

      1. Thanks Aaron! Sorry… got to explain “Good” flights better. I was trying to ask which are the better planes to take business or first class flights on so as to get a better flight experience. For example, your recent Bkk trip was on an old model. How do we find this out especially if we are not as savvy as you are on plane models.

      2. Hi aaron, just saw your post regarding booking of daytime flights. Im booked on a 0130am flight Suites A380 to Auckland on A380. The original thought was that arriving in the morning in Auckland would save me one day of leave. (and hopefully eat some lobster thermidor). Should I reschedule in light of your advice (but I booked on the old system too….)

  9. Was thinking of flying biz to Montreal next year, anyone know if I redeem SA partner awards, can the 1st leg be by SQ, eg. SIN-Frankfurt by SQ biz and Frankfurt-Montreal by Air Canada?

  10. Hi Aaron, very interesting site with lots of great info thank you! We are long time residents of Singapore, since 1996. We will be repatriating to the US soon, and we have a large # of points from our citibank visa card that we need to transfer to one of their partners for future travel. The primary choices seem to be Kris Flyer or AsiaMiles. I am trying to research which choice would give us the most flexibility going forward, with US domestic travel and occasional overseas travel, but with the easiest logistics to execute the redemptions. Asia Miles and Star Alliance both have US carriers as partners, but I am n ot sure of the ongoing hassle-factor of redemption process through each of the programs with partner airlines, fees comparisons, mileage ‘cost’ of flights, etc. I would love any insight you can provide!

  11. Hey Aaron,
    Since SQ’s changes to the KF program to get rid of surcharge (while also getting rid of the online discount), would the analysis change? Would love to see a more updated assessment of where the sweet spots lie.

    Cheers
    AK

  12. Hi Aaron,

    Thank you so much for this website and telling us all the travel hacks.
    I made my mileage strategies/priorities clear to get award business class long haul flights with mileage thanks to many of your posts. Let me know your thoughts, if possible. I might be in the same situations as many of your readers who start realizing the potential of mileages.

    1, Krisflyer – Without thinking anything, I collected mileages to be qualified as a silver member. I will keep collecting the mileages using credit cards such as DBS Women or Altitude, UOB Preferred, and Sign up bonuses until being qualified as gold member as I want to have lounge access. Once I’m qualified gold member and can redeem a return business flights from one of Star Alliance partners. Will keep the gold membership till the expiry.

    2, Asia Miles and Lifemiles – Shifting the strategy to these 2 programs for more business and above award flights. Credit card spending to earn Asia Miles rather Krisflyer. Lifemiles to get Star Alliance mileages.

    Best regards,
    Sayaka

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