Airlines

The Milelion’s KrisFlyer Guide: Redeeming miles for partner flight upgrades

KrisFlyer miles aren't limited to just Singapore Airlines- they can also be used to upgrade partner flights. How does this work, and is it a good use of your miles?
I’m currently writing a KrisFlyer guide over on www.creditcardcompare.com.au, which I’m reproducing with edits for a Singapore audience. 
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

So far in this KrisFlyer guide we’ve talked about using miles to redeem and upgrade Singapore Airlines flights, and using miles to redeem partner flights. But did you know that your KrisFlyer miles can also be used to upgrade flights on partner airlines? That’s what we’ll look at in this segment.

What partner airline tickets can be upgraded?

As mentioned in the previous guide, Singapore Airlines has two types of partners:

  • Non-Star Alliance
  • Star Alliance

If you’re holding a ticket on one of SQ’s non-Star Alliance partners (Alaska Airlines, Virgin Australia, Virgin Atlantic, Juneyao and Vistara), then some bad news for you- these tickets cannot be upgraded with KrisFlyer miles. 

However, you will be able to use your KrisFlyer miles to upgrade a Star Alliance partner ticket on the following carriers:

  • Adria Airways
  • Aegean Airlines
  • Air Canada
  • Air China
  • Air India
  • Air New Zealand
  • ANA
  • Asiana Airlines
  • Austrian Airlines
  • Croatia Airlines
  • EGYPTAIR
  • Ethiopian Airlines
  • EVA Air
  • LOT Polish Airlines
  • Lufthansa
  • Scandinavian Airlines
  • Shenzhen Airlines
  • South African Airways
  • SWISS
  • Tap Portugal
  • THAI
  • Turkish Airlines
  • United Airlines

Sharp-eyed readers will note that Star Alliance members Brussels Airlines and Copa Airlines are missing from that list, but whether it’s design or oversight is unclear. I’ve never flown on either airline, so I can’t comment on whether this is possible.

What fare classes can be upgraded?

Even if you’re flying on an eligible carrier, not all tickets can be upgraded. You’ll need to refer to the upgrade tables to see if your particular fare class qualifies for upgrading:

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The upgrade eligibility table is somewhat unhelpful, to the extent it suggests that only two types of upgrades are possible:

  • Economy Class to Business Class
  • Business Class to First Class 

This may lead to the conclusion that it’s not possible to upgrade from Premium Economy to Business Class- which is strange, because it means people who pay for Premium Economy are penalizing themselves. 

Thankfully, that’s not true at all. What KrisFlyer has done is condense both Economy and Premium Economy fare codes into the Economy Class column. Here’s my attempt at reproducing the upgrade eligibility tables, with the fare codes properly split.

 Economy to Business ClassPremium Economy to Business ClassBusiness Class to First Class
Adria AirwaysY, B  
Aegean AirlinesY, B  
Air CanadaY, BO 
Air ChinaY, B, G C, D, J
Air IndiaY, B C, D
Air New ZealandY, BU, E, O 
ANAY, BG, EC, D, J, Z
AsianaY, B C, D
Austrian (3)Y, B  
Avianca BrazilY, B  
Avianca-TACAY, B  
Brussels AirlinesY, B  
Copa AirlinesY, B  
Croatia AirlinesY, B  
EgyptAirY, B C, D (1)
Ethiopian AirlinesY, G, S, B  
EVA AirY, BK 
LOT (3)Y, B  
LufthansaY, BG, EC, D, J
Scandinavian Airlines (SAS)S, Y, B  
Shenzhen AirlinesG, Y, B, M, U G, Y, B, M, U (2) 
South African AirwaysY, B, M  
SWISSY, B, U, M C, D, J
TAPY, B  
THAIY, B C, D
Turkish AirlinesY, B  
UnitedY, B C, D, J
(1) EgyptAir no longer offers First Class, but for some reason the KrisFlyer charts have not been updated
(2) Shenzhen Airlines First Class upgrades are only available on domestic 2-cabin configured aircraft

(3) LOT and Austrian operate Premium Economy cabins, but these are not eligible for upgrades to Business Class

You’ll notice that in general, Y and B class Economy fares can be upgraded to Business Class. The problem is- Y and B are the most expensive Economy fare buckets, with prices often approaching that of a deep discount Business Class fare. So unless you’re flying for work where your employer picks up the cost, it makes little sense to purchase an Economy Class fare and then upgrade with miles. 

Even if you were so inclined to purchase a full-fare Economy Class ticket, it may be that the desired fare code is simply not offered on a particular route. Look at the example below from Singapore to Bangkok on Thai Airways. Note that even though I’ve selected the most expensive Economy Class ticket possible (Full Flex), the code it books me into is “Q”, which will not be eligible for upgrading.

It’s generally much easier to upgrade from Business Class to First Class because discounted Business Class D fares are eligible for upgrading. In this case, the problem has to do more with availability. Only the following Star Alliance carriers operate First Class, and even then, some restrictions about upgrades apply:

  • Air India
  • Air China
  • ANA
  • Thai Airways
  • Lufthansa (First Class upgrades/awards only available within 14 days of departure)
  • SWISS (First Class upgrades/awards only available to elite members of Miles & More)

Upgrade eligibility has everything to do with the fare class and nothing to do with where you buy your ticket from (e.g. OTA, official airline website, travel agent). Do note, however, that codeshare flights cannot be upgraded. 

How much does an upgrade cost?

To determine the cost of an upgrade, refer to upgrade table and find where your origin and destination zones intersect. Do remember that these zones may be different from the Singapore Airlines award chart; for example, Singapore Airlines splits the USA into West and East coast, but the whole of the USA is under a single zone in the upgrade chart. 

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Although it is possible to upgrade from Premium Economy to Business Class, it will cost you the same number of miles as upgrading from Economy to Business Class- there’s no discount! 

It is not possible to use KrisFlyer miles to upgrade from:

  • Economy to Premium Economy Class
  • Economy to First Class
  • Premium Economy to First Class

Is upgrading Star Alliance partner tickets a good use of KrisFlyer miles?

In the chart below, I’ve compared the miles required to upgrade an Economy to Business upgrade with the miles required to redeem a full Business Class award on a Star Alliance partner airline. 

The numbers aren’t kind. It’s pretty staggering to note that in some cases (e.g SEA 1 & SEA 2), the number of miles needed to upgrade a ticket is the same/almost the same as that for an outright redemption! 

Even if you look at other zones, the value generally isn’t there. On average, an upgrade requires 75% of the miles for an outright redemption. Keep in mind that you’ll also have to purchase a very expensive Economy Class fare, which means that the use case for upgrading a ticket just isn’t there (unless someone else buys your ticket for you). 

How do I find partner award space?

Upgrades and full awards generally come out of the same inventory, so you’ll search for Star Alliance upgrade space the same way you search for Star Alliance awards.

As mentioned previously, the KrisFlyer website is not the best place to search for Star Alliance award space. Instead, consider using United MileagePlus, ANA Mileage Club or Air Canada Aeroplan for a more complete picture.

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In the screenshot below, I’ve used Air Canada’s Aeroplan website to search for Business Class awards between Sydney and Chengdu. I can see that there is a Business Class award seat available on Air China on 8 June 2019, which means the same seat should be available for upgrades. 

As a side point: don’t get confused by the 67,500 miles figure you see in the screenshot above. That’s not relevant to us; it’s the price an Aeroplan member would pay to redeem this ticket. Remember: we are using the Aeroplan website to search for availability, not pricing. The pricing will follow the KrisFlyer Star Alliance upgrade chart. 

How do I upgrade a ticket?

Partner upgrades cannot be done on the Singapore Airlines website, so once I’ve found the award space I’ll need to call up KrisFlyer membership services. 

I’ll let them know that I want to upgrade a Star Alliance revenue ticket, give them my e-ticket number and the dates of travel, and they should handle the rest. It’s a generally painless process, but do remember to double-check the miles they quote against the award chart.

In most cases, there should be no additional taxes payable because the airport taxes payable on an Economy (or Business) Class ticket should be the same as a Business (or First) Class ticket. However, there are certain jurisdictions which adopt a different practice. For example, the UK applies a higher rate of APD (Air Passenger Duty) for Business Class tickets compared to Economy Class ones. 

For a better understanding of the taxes payable on award tickets, have a read of this article

Conclusion

Photo credit: One Mile at a Time

Upgrades can be neat. I once managed to experience the Lufthansa First Class terminal for a mere 28,000 KrisFlyer miles by upgrading a Lufthansa Business Class Frankfurt to Riyadh ticket. That price has since increased slightly to 30,000, but it’s still a great opportunity if you happen to find yourself in that part of the world with a revenue Business Class ticket.

On the whole however, you won’t really find yourself using the partner award upgrade feature all that often. It’s good to be familiar with how it works, but you’ll find the use cases to be very limited.

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Cover photo: Airways Mag


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