Airlines

The Milelion’s KrisFlyer Guide: Upgrading Singapore Airlines flights

KrisFlyer miles can be used to upgrade Singapore Airlines cash tickets...but is it a good use of them?
I’m currently writing a KrisFlyer guide over on www.creditcardcompare.com.au, which I’m reproducing with edits for a Singapore audience. You can read the original post here
The Milelion’s KrisFlyer Guide

Part 1: Introduction to KrisFlyer
Part 2: How do I earn KrisFlyer miles?
Part 3: Basics of award flight redemptions
Part 4: Changes and cancellation fees on KrisFlyer award tickets
Part 5: Redeeming miles for Singapore Airlines Flights
Part 6: Singapore Airlines First & Business Class Seats
Part 7: Redeeming miles for Singapore Airlines upgrades
Part 8: Redeeming miles for partner flights
Part 9: Redeeming miles for partner flight upgrades
Part 10: Redeeming miles for non-flight options

You might already know that your KrisFlyer miles can be used to upgrade tickets purchased with cash. But what types of tickets can be upgraded? What cabins can you upgrade to? How much does it cost? Do upgrades represent a good use of miles? 

In this guide, we’ll go through the ground rules for upgrading tickets, analyze the pricing and answer a few FAQs about the upgrade process.

Is your ticket eligible for upgrading?

In January 2018, Singapore Airlines introduced three new fare types – Lite, Standard and Flexi. Each of these fare types has different rules about baggage allowances, cancellations, changes and upgrades.

In the table below, I’ve listed the fare buckets that fall into each fare type, as well as whether they can be upgraded. 

LiteStandardFlexi
Fare Buckets
EconomyQ, N, V, KM, H, WY, B, E
Premium EconomyRPS, T
BusinessDUZ, C, J
Upgradable? NoYesYes

How do you know your fare bucket? It’ll appear when you’re booking your ticket online. Simply click on the “More details” drop down option at the top right, and you’ll see the fare bucket.

If someone else booked your ticket, or you’re already past the booking stage, you can still find the fare bucket listed under “Booking Class” on your e-ticket. 

Your upgrade eligibility does not depend on where you buy your ticket from (e.g. Singapore Airlines website, corporate travel agent, OTAs like Expedia); rather, all that matters is the fare bucket. 

One final point to note: codeshare flights are not eligible for upgrading, so for example if you purchase a Lufthansa codeshare flight operated by Singapore Airlines you won’t be able to upgrade your ticket. 

What cabin can you upgrade to?

Singapore Airlines used to operate a strict “one-cabin upgrade” policy:

  • If the aircraft you were flying on offered both Economy and Premium Economy, you could only upgrade from Economy to Premium Economy
  • If the aircraft did not offer Premium Economy, you could upgrade directly from Economy to Business

That policy has since changed, and Economy passengers can now pay extra to upgrade directly to Business Class, even on aircraft where Premium Economy exists. Premium Economy passengers, however, can only upgrade to Business Class. 

Original Cabin
EconomyPremium EconomyBusiness
 

Upgrade To

Premium Economy
Business 
First

Is there upgrade space available?

Upgrade space and full awards come from the same bucket. That’s to say- if there are 3 seats available for Business Saver full awards, there are 3 seats available for Business Saver upgrade awards.

Note: there are people online who claim that upgrades and full awards do not come from the same inventory. However, I have never found a situation where the upgrade space was ≠ full award space. Until then, my stance is that they’re all from the same bucket.

In the example below, we see that there are two seats available for Business Saver awards between SYD and SIN. Therefore, there must also be two seats available for Business Class Saver upgrade awards. 

Therefore, if your intention is to purchase a more expensive fare bucket and upgrade it with miles, you should run a quick search for that particular date to see if award space is available first. 

How much does your upgrade cost?

You can find out how many miles your upgrade will cost by referring to the KrisFlyer upgrade chart. There are seven upgrade charts to cover the seven different upgrade scenarios:

  1. Economy Standard to Premium Economy
  2. Economy Flexi to Premium Economy
  3. Economy Standard to Business 
  4. Economy Flexi to Business
  5. Premium Economy Standard to Business
  6. Premium Economy Flexi to Business
  7. Business Standard/Flexi to First (Business Standard & Flexi rates are combined into one chart because there is no difference in the miles required to upgrade them)

You use the chart in exactly the same way you would for a full award – simply match up the zone you’re flying from with the zone you’re flying to. 

Note that just like full awards, upgrades also feature Saver and Advantage level pricing. Saver awards are cheaper, but have fewer seats available. Advantage awards are more expensive, but have more seats available. 

Do I get good value by upgrading my ticket?

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Does it make more sense to buy a cash ticket and upgrade it with miles, or to redeem a ticket outright? 

To answer this question, we must consider

  • The cabin we are upgrading from and to
  • The difference in miles required for an upgrade versus a full redemption- this figure should be adjusted to account for the miles that would be earned on a cash ticket

Upgrading from Economy to Premium Economy

The chart below summarizes the two possibilities for upgrading from Economy to Premium Economy Saver (I’m only going to look at Saver space in this analysis, given that Advantage space is prohibitively expensive).

Sample destinations used for calculating accrual (zones in bracket): DPS (2), BKK (3), HKG (4), PVG (5), BOM (6), NRT (7), PER (8), SYD (9), IST (10), LHR (11), SFO (12), JFK (13)

Here’s how to read the chart:

  • It costs 15K miles to upgrade a SIN-HKG (Zone 4) Economy Standard ticket to Premium Economy Saver
  • However, I earn 1.2K miles on the Economy Standard ticket
  • Therefore the net cost= 13.8K
  • It costs 24.5K miles to redeem a SIN-HKG (Zone 4) Premium Economy Saver outright
  • Therefore, I need 56% (13.8/24.5) of the miles for a full redemption to upgrade my revenue ticket- that’s the green bar on the extreme left of the chart

All things equal, the greater the %, the “less worth it” it is to upgrade, given that for a smaller incremental you could do a full redemption and not have to buy a revenue ticket in the first place.

The % range for Economy Standard vs Flexi tickets is shown below. As expected, fewer miles are needed to upgrade Flexi tickets as opposed to Standard.

Economy Standard to Premium Economy SaverEconomy Flexi to Premium Economy Saver
Upgrade Cost as % of Full Redemption 56-66%30-40%

Although 30-40% may sound enticing, take a step back and ask yourself how often you’d pay for an Economy Flexi ticket.

If flexibility were the concern, you could buy an Economy Standard fare and still be able to change and refund your booking if needed. Moreover, Economy Flexi can be so expensive sometimes that its price approaches the cost of Premium Economy.

SIN-HND on SQ Economy. Note how Economy Flexi is just $5 less than Premium Economy!

Besides, in my mind the comfort differential between Economy and Premium Economy is not huge. It’s a slightly larger seat with a bit more legroom and somewhat better service, but you still can’t lie flat. There are still middle seats. The food is pretty much Economy Class fare with better plating. There’s no dedicated toilet, lounge access, or any of the creature comforts you’d find in Business Class.

And if you really want to upgrade anyway, there are better ways of doing so. Singapore Airlines already offers passengers the chance to bid for discounted upgrades to this cabin, and you’ll also find fixed-fee upgrade options at the check-in counters of certain outstations.

My advice? Save your miles (and money) and don’t upgrade to Premium Economy.

Upgrading from Economy to Business

Sample destinations used for calculating accrual (zones in bracket): DPS (2), BKK (3), HKG (4), PVG (5), BOM (6), NRT (7), PER (8), SYD (9), IST (10), LHR (11), SFO (12), JFK (13)

If you thought upgrading from Economy to Premium Economy was poor value, wait till you get a load of upgrading from Economy to Business.

If you hold an Economy Standard fare, upgrading that ticket to Business Saver costs anywhere between 78-87% of the miles required for an outright Business Saver redemption!

Economy Standard to Business SaverEconomy Flexi to Business Saver
Upgrade Cost as % of Full Redemption 78-87%55-73%

Or to contextualize it even further, suppose you wanted to fly from Singapore to Sydney, and you bought an Economy Standard ticket for $1,368.60.

If you want to upgrade that ticket to Business Class Saver, you’d pay 57K miles each way, or 114K miles for a round trip upgrade (108K after taking mileage accrual into account). If you redeemed a Business Class Saver outright, you’d pay 62K miles each way, or 124K miles for a round trip upgrade.

See how insane that is? You’re basically choosing between paying:

  • 124K miles + $168.60 for a Business Saver redemption
  • Net 108K miles + $1,368.60 for an Economy Saver ticket plus an upgrade to Business Saver
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Does saving 16K miles justify paying $1,200? Not unless you valued your miles at 7.5 cents each!

The only situation where this might make sense is if your employer was paying for your ticket, and you were upgrading out of your own mileage account. But if not, you’ll always run into the cold hard fact that upgrading from Economy Standard to Business Saver is abysmal value.

Does the picture improve if you buy Economy Flexi? Not really.

If you hold an Economy Flexi fare, upgrading that ticket to Business Saver costs anywhere between 55-73% of the miles required for an outright Business Saver redemption. 

Going back again to our Sydney example, an Economy Flexi ticket between SIN-SYD will cost you $1,648.60, and the upgrade a further 47K miles each way, or 94K miles for a round trip upgrade (86K after taking mileage accrual into account)

Your choice now becomes:

  • 124K miles + $168.60 for a Business Saver redemption
  • Net 86K miles+ $1,648.60 for an Economy Flexi ticket plus an upgrade to Business Saver

$1,480 to save 38K miles? Not unless you value your miles at 3.9 cents each.

Upgrading from Premium Economy to Business

Sample destinations used for calculating accrual (zones in bracket): DPS (2), BKK (3), HKG (4), PVG (5), BOM (6), NRT (7), PER (8), SYD (9), IST (10), LHR (11), SFO (12), JFK (13)

If you hold an Premium Economy Standard fare, upgrading that ticket to Business Saver costs anywhere between 51-62% of the miles required for an outright Business Saver redemption. 

Premium Economy Standard to Business SaverPremium Economy Flexi to Business Saver
Upgrade Cost as % of Full Redemption 51-62%36-44%

I suppose the question then becomes whether you’d be willing to buy a Premium Economy revenue ticket in the first place. In my mind, this scenario is most likely if you work for an employer which adopts a “one cabin above Economy” policy.

A Premium Economy Saver ticket between Singapore and Sydney costs $1,838.60, and the upgrade a further 42.5K miles each way, or 85K miles for a round trip upgrade (77K after taking mileage accrual into account).

Therefore your options are:

  • 124K miles + $168.60 for a Business Saver redemption
  • Net 77K miles + $1,838.60 for an Premium Economy Standard ticket plus an upgrade to Business Saver

$1,670 to save 47K miles values them at 3.6 cents each, still way too high.

But suppose, for whatever reason, you find yourself with a Premium Economy Flexi ticket. If you hold an Premium Economy Flexi fare, upgrading that ticket to Business Saver costs anywhere between 36-44% of the miles required for an outright Business Saver redemption. 

In our Sydney example, a Premium Economy Flexi fare costs a staggering $2,638.60, plus an upgrade fee of 32K miles one way, or 64K miles for a round trip upgrade (54K after taking mileage accrual into account).

The choices:

  • 124K miles + $168.60 for a Business Saver redemption
  • Net 54K miles + $2,638.60 for an Premium Economy Flexi ticket plus an upgrade to Business Saver

Paying $2,470 to save 70K miles still values them at 3.5 cents each, not much better than if you bought Premium Economy Standard, but if your employer is paying for the ticket, then this might be fair game.

I guess my main objection here is that Singapore Airlines Premium Economy fares are simply too expensive to justify buying in order to upgrade to Business Class. I’d rather use miles I acquired cheaply from the right card strategy to do an outright redemption.

Upgrading from Business to First

Sample destinations used for calculating accrual (zones in bracket): DPS (2), BKK (3), HKG (4), PVG (5), BOM (6), NRT (7), PER (8), SYD (9), IST (10), LHR (11), SFO (12), JFK (13)
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Although it costs the same number of miles to upgrade Business Standard tickets as it does Business Flexi, both tickets will earn slightly different accrual rates (125 vs 150%) so I’ve shown them as two bars.

If you hold a Business Standard/Flexi fare, upgrading that ticket to First Saver costs anywhere between 42-60% of the miles required for an outright First Saver redemption. 

Business Standard to First SaverBusiness Flexi to First Saver
Upgrade Cost as % of Full Redemption 43-60%42-58%

Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t envision anyone paying for Business Class out of his/her own pocket with the sole purpose of upgrading it to First Class. It’s not like there’s additional First Class award space available for people who upgrade their tickets- you’d still be competing with people trying to redeem outright First Class awards.

But for completeness’ sake, let’s look at the math anyway. In our Sydney example, it costs $4,593.90 for a Business Standard ticket, then an upgrade fee of 52K miles one way, or 104K miles for a round-trip upgrade (94K after taking mileage accrual into account).

The options:

  • 170K miles + $168.90 for a First Saver redemption
  • Net 94K miles + $4,593.90 for a Business Standard ticket plus an upgrade to First Saver

I love miles as much as the next guy, but I’d rather have $4,425 than 76K miles. If you travel for business and your employer allows you to buy Business Class tickets, then perhaps you may once in a while want to treat yourself to First Class. Viewed that way, this is like getting a discount on the miles normally required. However, you’d have to be a bit mental to pay out of your own pocket for Business Class just so you could upgrade.

Other points to note about upgrades

Upgraded passengers get the full entitlements of the upgraded cabin

Passengers who upgrade to Business Class will enjoy SilverKris lounge access

Singapore Airlines does not discriminate between upgraded passengers and those who purchased full fare tickets (unlike other airlines, such as Qatar Airways). As long as you’re in the same cabin, you’ll enjoy the same treatment. As a Business Class passenger, that means access to Book the Cook pre-order meals, lounges, priority baggage and priority boarding. 

The only difference is that the miles you earn will accrue according to your original ticket class.

Upgrades can be waitlisted

In the previous guide to redeeming Singapore Airlines awards, we talked about the KrisFlyer waitlist system. What this means is that award space is currently not available, but you can put your name down and the system will alert you if a seat opens up. 

The Singapore Airlines website is rather unhelpful because it shows an “unavailable” message with no option to waitlist should an upgraded seat not be available for immediate confirmation. A simple call to KrisFlyer membership services can get you added to the waitlist, and after that it’s a matter of crossing your fingers and hoping the waitlist clears. Remember, there’s no obligation to take the upgrade even if it does. 

The recent changes to the KrisFlyer waitlist system have not affected waitlisting for upgrades. Although the waitlist for full awards closes 21 days before departure and all waitlists are cleared or denied 14 days before departure, the waitlist for upgrades can continue all the way up to departure time.

Upgrades can be cancelled or changed, subject to a fee

Upgrades follow the same rules as full awards when it comes to changes or cancellations. In other words, it costs US$75 to cancel a Saver ticket (US$50 for Advantage). 

If you’ve secured an upgrade, but subsequently need to change the date you fly on, things get a little trickier:

  • If there is upgrade space available on the new date you wish to fly, you pay a US$25 change fee (assuming Saver) plus whatever change fees apply on your revenue ticket
  • If there is no upgrade space available on the new date you wish to fly, you pay a US$75 cancellation fee (assuming Saver) to refund your miles, plus whatever change fees apply on your revenue ticket

Conceptually, just think of upgrades as an award ticket tied on to your revenue ticket. It follows the same rules and penalties as a full award.

Conclusion

Because Singapore Airlines revenue tickets tend to be more expensive than competitors, it generally doesn’t make sense to buy a ticket and upgrade it with miles. You’d get much better value by redeeming an award ticket outright.

However, passengers who are flying for work may find it a nice treat to live a little by upgrading themselves once in a while – and now you know how.

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Final point: should you decide to take the plunge and spend your miles on an upgrade, be sure you get the “right” cabin products! There’s nothing worse than wasting your miles on an inferior experience.


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Loo fern

Is it worthwhile to convert miles from Std Chartered X card to Emirates instead of SIA.