Airlines

Short haul award sweet spots: exploring the region for less

Here's how to get around the region for fewer miles.

Regular readers will know I don’t advocate redeeming miles for economy, much less economy on short haul flights. After all, with so many low cost budget carriers operating in the region, is there really a need to redeem miles for such journeys?

However, I’ll begrudgingly concede that there may be situations where such redemptions can make sense. Maybe you have a small miles balance that’s going to expire. Maybe you’re booking at a peak period where revenue flight prices are through the roof. Maybe you just have too many miles.

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In such cases, it’s helpful to know which programs offer good value redemptions on short hops around the region.

Baseline- how much does KrisFlyer charge?

Let’s start off by looking at how much KrisFlyer would charge for redemptions around the region, because that’s what most people would draw comparisons with.

KrisFlyer divides South East Asia into two zones- Zone 2 (Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei) and Zone 3 (Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos). Here are the one-way award costs by cabin for Saver awards within the region, starting from Singapore

  • Zone 2: 7.5K/17.5K for Economy/Business
  • Zone 3: 12.5K/20K for Economy/Business

So you’re looking at a round trip cost of 15,000 miles for popular destinations like Bali, and 25,000 miles for Bangkok, Koh Samui, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh etc.

Remember that your bank points transfer at the same ratio regardless of which FFP you choose. That’s to say, if I hold a Citibank PremierMiles card, 1 point is equal to 1 mile whether I choose KrisFlyer, Avios, Qantas or any of the FFPs on offer. This implies that you can maximize the value of your points by transferring them to the right FFP- the one with the lowest mileage requirement for your preferred route*.

(*of course this rule only applies if your points indeed transfer at the same ratio- don’t go comparing the Lifemiles and KrisFlyer award charts on a 1:1 basis because that simply doesn’t make sense)

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British Airways Avios

Destination (Economy, RT)AviosKrisFlyer
BKK15,000 + S$135.2025,000 + S$80.60
KUL9,000 + S$177.0015,000 + S$59.60
KCH9,000 + S$177.00N/A- no *A service
CMB20,000 + S$325.6037,000 + S$115.60
PER25,000 + S$150.0040,000 + S$154.10

British Airways is well past its glory days, and I certainly wouldn’t pay top dollar (or mile) to fly their premium cabin products. The airline is for all intents and purposes run like a budget carrier these days.

British Airways Business Class. Can anyone say “high density”? | Photo Credit: Manu Venkat, Airline Reporter

But we don’t accumulate Avios to fly with BA anyway. Far from it. The Avios award chart’s main use to those of us in Singapore is simple: short haul awards.

Here’s the Avios award chart, which is distance-based. If you Google the full version you’ll see it has off-peak and peak awards, but if you’re redeeming a partner award you’re going to want to look at the peak column only.

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Here’s an example of how this can work for you. Check out SIN-BKK, flown via CX (it has fifth freedom rights on this route). 15,000 miles for round trip economy, plus S$135.20 of taxes.

You’d no doubt be able to get a budget flight between S$200-300 which is why I’m generally reluctant to recommend redeeming miles in this way, but there will be times when even budget flights skyrocket for whatever reason. Plus, remember you’re getting complimentary checked bags and meals with Cathay. Redeeming this same route costs 20,000 Asia Miles, so Avios are definitely a better option.

Flying in Business Class on the same route costs 30,000 miles round trip, plus the same amount of taxes. CX operates its A350-900 on this route, so you’ll get a really nice full flat bed for the short flight.

Here’s an important quirk of the Avios system that you should take note of. Avios prices by segments, then distance. What does that mean? Consider the below hypothetical routing from SIN-KUL-REP.

GC Map tells me this is a total flown distance of 931 miles. Great, you think. That’s Zone 2, so it’s 7,500 miles one-way for economy class right?

Not quite. Look what the Avios engine tells you:

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Where did that 12,000 figure come from? What’s happening is that Avios is pricing this as two awards- one from SIN-KUL and one from KUL-REP:

  • SIN-KUL is a distance of 184 miles, so that prices at 4,500 miles
  • KUL-REP is a distance of 747 miles, so that prices at 7,500 miles

Because of this, I’d say the main use of Avios within South East Asia is for direct flights, either SIN-BKK via CX, or any MH route served direct from Singapore. I’d also keep a close eye on those pesky surcharges, because depending on how much they are, you might really be better off with a budget flight after all. If you’re willing to cast your net a bit wider, you can reach PER and CMB for 25,000 and 20,000 miles round trip respectively too.

British Airways Avios can be earned through Citibank credit cards (such as the Citibank Rewards and Citi Prestige), American Express, or Mileslife (where, full disclosure, I’m currently employed). You can currently buy SPG points at 35% off and transfer them to Avios at a 1:1 ratio, with a 5,000 mile bonus for every 20,000 points transferred (1.82 US cents each, in other words). Avios points don’t expire so long as you’ve earned or redeemed at least one point within the last 3 years.

United Mileage Plus

Destination (Economy RT)United Mileage PlusKrisFlyer
SGN16,000 + S$77.4025,000 + S$77.40

Just like BA, I wouldn’t consider flights on United to be a particularly aspirational redemption (maaaaaybe Polaris, just once), but their award chart does have one key use for those of us in South East Asia.

Singapore falls into the South Asia zone on United’s award chart, along with Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Laos, Macau, Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma), Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam (it’s curious that Bangladesh and Bhutan are both included in this zone, although Bhutan’s inclusion is sort of pointless given that no Star Alliance carrier operates flights there).

What I’m looking at is the 8,000 mile one-way economy award for non-stop destinations within 800 miles. This would include Kuala Lumpur, Ho Chi Minh and Jakarta. KL and Jakarta would be marginally cheaper through KrisFlyer (7,500 miles), but Ho Chi Minh would cost 12,500 miles so that’s the sweet spot for Mileage Plus.

Even better, United Mileage Plus does not pass on fuel surcharges, so this represents a pure saving of 9,000 miles over KrisFlyer. The flight is operated by SQ, so it’s basically the same flight, the same service, the same timing, the same taxes, with a saving of 9,000 miles.

Sidenote: I know Bangladesh isn’t part of South East Asia, but I just wanted to point out that you can redeem a Business Class award to DAC via United Mileage Plus for 25,000 miles each way (35,000 miles if you used KrisFlyer). Whether or not DAC features in your travel plans is something else. 

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Unfortunately, Mileage Plus miles aren’t the easiest to obtain in Singapore. They can be earned through Mileslife, or bought at a discount several times a year. They remain valid so long as you have earn or redeem at least one mile within an 18 month period.

Etihad Guest

Destination (RT Economy)Etihad GuestKrisFlyer
BKK15,000 + S$189.8025,000 + S$80.60
USM15,000 + S$189.8025,000 + S$80.60

I’ve covered Etihad’s myriad of award charts in this article, but since we’re talking about short haul awards I wanted to mention this again.

Etihad Guest miles can be redeemed on Bangkok Airways, and it costs only 7,500 miles in economy (10,000 in business class) to fly one-way between Singapore and BKK/USM. This is way below the 25,000/40,000 miles required on KrisFlyer, although obviously there’s no comparing Bangkok Airway’s Business Class product to that of Singapore Airlines.

Do note that there are rather hefty fuel surcharges on Bangkok Airways award tickets, but the tradeoff is 10,000 miles for about S$110 of cash which I think most people would be willing to make.

Etihad Guest miles can be earned through Citibank. Miles are valid for 2 years for base level Etihad Guest members.

FlyingBlue

Destination (RT Economy)FlyingBlueKrisFlyer
SGN21,000 + S$159.4025,000 + S$77.40
HAN21,000 + S$166.3025,000 +  S$84.30

FlyingBlue has an annoying award chart that changes depending on the revenue cost of tickets, but you can reliably redeem flights to Ho Chi Min City and Hanoi on Vietnam Airlines for 21,000 miles round trip.

You’ll note that the difference in mileage requirements from KrisFlyer is marginal (4,000 miles), yet taxes and surcharges are double on FlyingBlue. If you value your miles at 2 cents each, then the two options roughly work out to be the same. In that case, however, I’d generally prefer to have cash and would pick KrisFlyer over FlyingBlue. FlyingBlue also lets you redeem flights on the SIN-DPS fifth freedom route operated by KLM, but at 9,000 miles one-way you’d be better off with KrisFlyer at 7,500 miles.

FlyingBlue points can be earned through Citibank credit cards. They expire after 24 months of account inactivity.

Asia Miles

Destination (RT Economy)Asia MilesKrisFlyer
HKG20,000 + S$141.5730,000 + S$91.80
PVG20,000 + S$206.2440,000 + S$65.90

Ok this isn’t South East Asia anymore, but I thought I’d stretch a bit further and talk about a couple of good value redemptions that Asia Miles offers. The revised Asia Miles award chart has a generous 10,000 mile economy band between flights of 751-2,750 miles. That can take you all the way as far north as Shanghai. Again, it’s important to remember that Asia Miles levies fuel surcharges, so the cash component ends up costing more than KrisFlyer, but the mileage difference is also substantial.

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Asia Miles can be earned through pretty much all the credit cards in Singapore, save OCBC and Standard Chartered. They’re valid for 3 years from time of accrual.

Conclusion

Most of the mileage currencies above can also be earned through Kaligo, so that’s another option if you want to earn them quickly. Some of the savings compared to KrisFlyer may seem small, but if you’re flying as a large family and need to make every mile count, picking the right program would be a way of stretching maximum value out of your credit card points. Again- if the route is short enough and if surcharges are high, you should seriously consider flying budget rather than splashing out your hard earned points on short haul flights.

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Ryan
Guest
Ryan

Great post. which airline did you use to calculate the SIN-PVG route with asia miles?

freedom
Guest
freedom

Hkg pvg or bkk, revenue tickets are cheaper in economy most of the time, even with full service airlines.

freedom
Guest
freedom

For usm, actually can choose to fly to bkk on revenue ticket, then redeem Etihad on bkk-usm rt 10k Miles + nominal tax.

Two holiday in one trip and cheaper than 15k + 189. And can choose much better time.

punished pixels
Guest
punished pixels

Great article Aaron, would be great if you could include India and China into this mix, there are probably a lot of people who might be interested in mile redemption options to those two countries.

smt
Guest
smt

If you could talk about China Eastern miles redemption as well, that would be great for me as their website is so unwieldy it gives me a headache. I have orphan miles there (~4500 only, but still) and no idea how to use them, or even how to find the alliance miles redemption chart!

NT
Guest
smt
Guest
smt

Thanks! I could not find this information on the china ceair page

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