How I’d change the KrisFlyer waitlist

The waitlist is one of the biggest pain points for KrisFlyer members. Should it be removed, or does it just need reform?

If you’ve ever tried to book a Singapore Airlines award flight, you must have crossed paths with the infamous waitlist. It’s basically SIA’s way of saying, “there’s nothing available now, but maybe later…”

Waitlists. Waitlists everywhere

The waitlist can be kind or cruel. It could clear the following day, or it could keep you hanging all the way till two weeks before departure, then dash your hopes with an automated “better luck next time!” message. Whether you love or loathe it really boils down to your track record. Some people’s waitlists never clear, others clear so regularly it’s like they made some sort of Faustian pact. My personal average is about 20%, which is not great, not terrible.

One thing’s for sure: the waitlist is the source of a lot of uncertainty, stress, and calls to the KrisFlyer hotline. So should Singapore Airlines do away with it altogether, or are there benefits to keeping it around? And if it’s to be kept, are there ways it can be improved?

⏳ Quick Primer: KrisFlyer waitlist
  • Waitlisting is only possible for Singapore Airlines flights
  • You must have sufficient miles for a given flight to waitlist, but joining the waitlist does not affect your balance. For example, if you have 80,000 miles in your account, you can join the waitlist on any route that costs 80,000 miles or less
  • There is no limit to the number of waitlists you can join
  • You can join the waitlist up to 21 days before departure. All waitlist requests are filled or killed 14 days before departure
  • If your waitlist clears, you typically have 72 hours to confirm it, though it can sometimes be longer
  • There is no obligation to confirm a cleared waitlist
  • Waitlists usually clear within one month of departure, if at all

Arguments for the waitlist

Removes the need to keep checking

Most people don’t have the time or inclination to continually check the SIA website and see if redemption seats have opened up. The waitlist removes the need, since it’s fully automated. As soon as a seat opens up, you get a notification.

❓ Fully automated?
I hear some people reaching for their keyboards right now, so let me qualify this statement: I’ve heard of instances where the waitlist clearing email was not triggered, despite redemption seats becoming available on the website. I’ve never experienced this myself, but if you really want your flight, it doesn’t hurt to perform the occasional manual check.

It benefits elite fliers

Contrary to popular belief, the waitlist is not first come first serve- members with elite status get to cut the queue. It’s not known to what extent exactly this serves as a tiebreaker, but all things equal, Singapore Airlines is more likely to clear the waitlist of a Solitaire PPS Club member than a regular KrisFlyer one.

So if you hold elite status, you might like the waitlist, since it lets you book your flights later and still have a better chance of a favourable outcome. 

It can be a fairer way of allocating award seats

The waitlist is a way of ensuring award seats go to those who expressed interest first, rather than those who got lucky with timing

Most airlines don’t release all their award seats at one go. In fact, it’s a common practice to open up more award seats towards departure, when it becomes clear those seats are likely to fly empty otherwise. 

Singapore Airlines also does this, though perhaps not to the extent of some other carriers (the airline is a firm believer in “cabin protection”, which says that it’s better to maintain the prestige of the cabin by flying with some empty seats rather than fill it to the brim with award bookings). And when award seats open, the waitlist is a way of allocating them to those who expressed interest first, rather than someone who just happened to load the website at the right time.

“Maybe” is better than “no”

This is debatable (see next section), but for some people, a “maybe” is better than “no”. 

Having a waitlist at least means there’s a chance you could end up on the flight, versus a hard no if the waitlist didn’t exist. The odds may be fuzzy, but some chance is better than no chance at all.

Arguments against the waitlist

You’re in limbo

Being on the waitlist keeps you from locking in any non-refundable plans

You know how I just said that “maybe” is better than “no”? I’m quite certain others will disagree. It’s a bit like asking a girl to the prom, and she keeps saying “maybe” (totally not speaking from personal experience (because the answer I get is always “no”)), which keeps you on tenterhooks and limits your ability to make backup plans. 

So long as your waitlist remains in limbo, you don’t know whether to block your leave. You don’t know whether to tell your travel companions to block their leave. You can’t make any non-refundable reservations- not for connecting flights, not for hotels, not for rental cars, not for activities. And given that the waitlist can remain unfilled up to 14 days prior to departure, you may be on the hook for hefty last-minute prices should it not come through (or even if it comes through, but late in the game).

Since the flight is the most crucial component of your entire vacation, the waitlist makes advance planning really difficult.

The process lacks transparency

Singapore Airlines does not provide customers with an indication of their position on the waitlist, or how likely it is to clear (though there may be good reasons for that, as I’ll touch on later). 

The waitlist is basically a black box, and while you can get a sense of how many seats remain by making dummy commercial bookings or checking the loads with tools like Expert Flyer or KVS, physical availability is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the waitlist to clear. In other words, just because there are seats available for sale does not mean they’ll be released for redemptions. 

Because of this, it’s hard for travellers to know whether they stand a good chance, or whether they need to start firming up Plan B.

Removal, or reform?

The waitlist is a rarity among frequent flyer programmes today. Apart from KrisFlyer, the only other programmes I’m aware of with a waitlist are ANA Mileage Club and EVA Air Infinity MileageLands.

ANA Mileage Club also features waitlists

Cathay Pacific Asia offered a waitlist until October 2021, then switched to a more traditional “it’s either there or it isn’t” system. Should Singapore Airlines do likewise? Well, I can see the benefits to having a waitlist (though maybe I’ll be less sanguine once I lose my elite status), but I still think some reform is in order.

The last time we saw a shake up was in 2019, when the 14-day fill-or-kill rule was introduced, and the waitlist closed 21 days before departure. Prior to this, you waitlist could technically clear at any time- even on the way to the airport!

That was a good start, but I don’t think it goes far enough. The way I see it, the problem is that people:

  • Add themselves to too many waitlists
  • Don’t cancel waitlists when they’re not needed anymore
  • May not confirm waitlists even when offered

For the record, I’m guilty of this too. But that’s because the system  doesn’t disincentivise such behaviour; on the contrary, it encourages it.

So here’s my proposed solutions. 

Cap the number of waitlists passengers can add themselves to

Because the system does not limit the number of waitlists you can add yourself to, of course it makes sense for an individual to hedge their bets by waitlisting on as many flights as possible. 

On the waitlist for Paris? Why not add London, Brussels and Amsterdam as well, since they’re a short flight/train away? And why not waitlist on all of them +/- 1 day for good measure too? Such decisions are logical on an individual level, but they have the cumulative effect of clogging up the waitlist.

My proposal is that the system caps each member at a certain number of waitlists, which would force them to prioritise which ones they want. The cap could scale with status, e.g. five waitlists for entry-level KrisFlyer members, 10 waitlists for PPS Club members etc., and members who hit their cap would need to cancel one of their existing waitlist requests before adding another.

Alternatively, instead of a fixed cap, it could be that the system puts a hold on the miles required for each waitlist you add yourself to. For example, if I have 300,000 miles and I waitlist myself on three flights that cost 80,000 miles each, I will only be able to use 60,000 miles in the interim. 

The hold need not be 100% of course; it could be a more modest figure like 10-20%. But the general idea behind this and the fixed cap is to make waitlists a finite resource, something that involves trade-offs. As it is, the current situation just rewards spamming. 

Require periodic waitlist reconfirmations

Since waitlisting does not put a hold on miles, and there’s no penalty for not confirming a cleared waitlist, the current system facilitates the creation of what I call “zombie waitlists”- waitlists that have no realistic chance of being ticketed even if cleared. 

These are held by passengers who have already cleared the waitlist on another flight, or booked tickets with another carrier, or have changed their travel plans entirely. Needless to say, this is a major flaw. These waitlists, even if they clear, will not be filled, and that denies someone else who would have ticketed had they been offered.

To deal with the problem of “zombie waitlists”, passengers should be required to reconfirm their place every month or so. This could be in the form of a reminder email that says “click this link within X days to reconfirm your place the waitlist.”

Some restaurants already do a version of this with their queue systems; every now and then you get an update on your queue position, and a link to cancel if you’ve made other plans already. 

I’m sure some passengers will miss these mails and raise an almighty stink when they realise they’re no longer on the waitlist, but you know what? Tough. If you’re really serious about getting those flights, I don’t think it’d kill you to reply to an occasional email.

Shorter confirmation windows

When a waitlist clears, you usually have at least 72 hours to confirm it. But you often get much more time. Here’s a sampling of my own data points: 

  • 7 days to confirm a flight from Bangkok to Singapore which cleared with 44 days to go
  • 9 days to confirm a flight from Adelaide to Singapore which cleared with 87 days to go
  • 14 days to confirm a flight from Singapore to San Francisco which cleared with 91 days to go
  • 21 days to confirm a flight from Tokyo Narita to Singapore which cleared with 164 days to go
  • 49 days to confirm a flight from Christchurch to Singapore which cleared with 105 days to go

While I appreciate having more time to consider my options, this is another example of something that’s good on an individual level, but bad in aggregate.

If I have 49 days to confirm a flight but ultimately choose not to, that’s 49 days that someone else is bottlenecked from moving forward with their own plans. And that’s not to mention situations closer to departure where a passenger’s ticketing deadline bleeds into the T-14 day window, meaning that if they decline to confirm, that seat can’t be offered to anyone else on the waitlist (because all outstanding waitlists will have been cancelled).

I think a system where you have 24 hours to confirm a waitlisted flight would be much more fair- provided of course that if a passenger fails to confirm within 24 hours, that seat is immediately offered to another passenger.

Keep in mind, this is not nearly as draconian as some of the other ideas I initially thought of, like compelling passengers to ticket waitlisted bookings or else lose a deposit.

Give elite members a limited number of “force clears”

Should elite members get a certain number of guaranteed waitlist clears each year?

One way to mitigate the waitlist problem would be to give elite members a limited number of “force clears” each year. What this means is that so long as a flight is available for waitlist, an elite member can use this to guarantee a waitlist clear.

Obviously, this would have to be restricted to the top echelons only, namely Solitaire PPS and PPS Club members (or further restricted by making it a PPS Reward). Moreover, it would probably max out at Business Class; otherwise Suites and First would be perpetually full. 

I’m drawing an analogy from Marriott’s Suite Night Awards, which allow members to prioritise upgrades on the stays that matter most to them. For example, they may not really care about a suite upgrade on a one-night stay on a business trip, but may really value it on an annual vacation with their family.

In the same way, these “force clears” allow elite members to designate a particular trip as important to them, avoid the limbo of the waitlist and start making the rest of their plans immediately.

A waitlist tracker?

I’m putting this with a question mark, because as much as I’d love greater transparency in the waitlist process, I can see this creating a whole new set of problems.

The idea goes that passengers would be able to view a list that shows their relative position on the waitlist, or if that’s too granular, a needle that shows whether you have a poor/average/good chance of the waitlist clearing.

Image result for upgrade list gate screen
Airlines in the USA show the relative order of upgrade preference at the gate

But as soon as I say this aloud, I can see how this could create more problems than it solves. Unfortunately, I can imagine passengers calling up customer service and giving the CSOs a hard time, like “the indicator told me “good chance” so why didn’t my waitlist clear?”/ “why did my position on the waitlist fall, DYKWIA?”

So this should probably be filed under “nice on paper”. If you can think of a way to add more transparency to the waitlist process without stuff like this happening, I’m all ears. 

Conclusion

The KrisFlyer waitlist is one of the most frustrating aspects of the overall frequent flyer programme, but I do think there are some low-hanging ways to improve it, such as capping the number of waitlist bookings, requiring waitlist reconfirmations, shortening the confirmation windows, and giving elite members a certain number of “force clears” each year.

For a guide to how the waitlist works, and some things you can do to improve your chances, refer to the post below.

Guide: Surviving the Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer waitlist

How would you improve the waitlist if you were Singapore Airlines?

(Cover photo: TPG)

Aaron Wong
Aaron Wong
Aaron founded The Milelion to help people travel better for less and impress chiobu. He was 50% successful.

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Nightmare_Angel

Capping the number of waitlist bookings and shortening the confirmation windows are in my own opinion fair and should be easy to implement. But oh well…

Matrix.RX1

these are all very valid and constructively proposed ideas, I fully support them.

Cee Mee

Great suggestions Aaron. Hope SQ takes all of these into consideration.

W A

I think you’re overthinking this one. Just do away with waitlist entirely, like the rest of the airlines. Sure, once in a while I reckon the airlne readjust award inventory along the way, so that’s why there’s a waitlist concept, but most of the time I bet award space is pretty well predicted by now, so ad hoc adjustments are less necessary & thus waitlists are rarely cleared. I would also dispute the statement – “20% success rate is not terrible”. Yes, 20% is terrible. Noone can plan any meaningful travel with such a low rate. Finally points are never… Read more »

N T

It depends. Had a situation where family member booked on later flight and I take a flight earlier due to lack of seats. Waitlisted and get cleared to travel together. Dont think there was an adjustment on the availability since the number of saver tickets on that route remained capped at 3 each day. But very rare to be in such situation.

Ben Jamin

It certainly is a mystery. I’ve seen flights were only Advantage was available and then Saver waitlist becomes available and it immediately clears. I’ve had waitlist Saver clear for flights comprising multiple legs (SYD-SIN-NRT) when the individual waitlisted legs don’t clear. I’ve had multiple waitlisted flights to a specific destination not clear even though I booked them many months out. It’s completely hit or miss.

Renz

Or make the availability almost not possible for any class above Y.. just like what Cathay is doing now lol lol

Ben Jamin

Limiting the number of waitlists you can be on is a good idea – just make it a fixed limit. Having to reserve miles for waitlists which may/may not clear is a terrible idea. Having to periodically reconfirm your place on a waitlist is a good idea. Reducing the time needed to confirm once it clears is a good idea – reducing it to 24 hours is a bad idea – it should be at least 5 days so those of us without a bottomless pit of miles have time to transfer points into Krisflyer.

Spoon

Isn’t that the whole point of a 24 hour confirmation? If you don’t have a “bottomless pit of miles” then you’ve basically gone and used the system for multiple waitlists. No wonder you find it a terrible idea for reserving your miles for waitlists. Solution? Don’t spam the waitlists. And if you don’t have enough miles and need to ask for time to transfer miles, then that’s the name of the game. You’re asking to be given the same benefit as someone who has put his miles where his mouth is by transferring miles in advance, ready to ticket the… Read more »

YMMV

Actually no. In the real world I have placed myself on a Business Saver waitlist and then redeemed an Advantage economy on the same flight. When the waitlist cleared I needed to transfer additional miles before I could confirm the business redemption. (I’m not going to cancel my confirmed economy redemption first and hope the miles are refunded in time). I’ve had enough waitlists not clear that I won’t speculatively transfer miles into Krisflyer in the hope the waitlist will clear from my bank(s) where the miles don’t expire and where I can use them in other FF programs.

Spoon

So in other words, you don’t want to have any skin in the game and thus will not keep a buffer of miles in the KF program, but want to be able to enjoy the benefit of holding on to the waitlist for a few days while you transfer the miles, when someone else may be ready to make the payment immediately. Nice.

YMMV

Yep. I end up getting the seat and I don’t end up with 100,000s miles locked up in KF. Just like happened this week on my most recently cleared waitlist. Now that’s nice. With a dash of schadenfreude to sweeten the mix.

Robochon

I am one of those who is on the waitlist but never received the clearance email when a seat becomes available. I encountered this twice. On both occasions, seats were available on the website but I remain on the waiting list without being notified.

Can someone explain to me why sometimes a saver seat is available but an advantage seat is not. There was once I was waitlisted for an advantage seat but actually there was a saver seat available. How silly is this?

Spoon

Simply because advantage seats ticket in the same fare class as one of the cheaper and restricted revenue J class fares.

Elite member

As an elite member, I object :p

Anyway, businesses will always prioritize the best benefits for their most valued customers. SQ will be no different. So don’t kid yourself.

AY 132

Do it like Finnair, do away with the flight waitlist, but introduce an upgrade waitlist and adjust upgrade miles requirements downward to better match relative value. SQ miles upgrades are terrible value compared to redemptions, but the problem with redemptions is needing to settle the trip or onward flights only 3 weeks before flying. I am much more likely to fly with an airline if I can confirm an economy seat first, and this results in better revenue for the airline as well.

Tony

I am not sure having that many waitlisted booking for the same destination really help you. Frankly, most likely with you have tonnes of waitlisted bookings will ended up being ignored. I normally look at the type of commercial fare buckets are available, the pricing of the flight and if there are still at least 6 seats for that booking fare type. I also considered the peak booking season and the fare trend. I was on waitlist for two flights in the same period and after 3 days of waitlist, I decided to just go ahead with commercial booking as… Read more »

Last edited 2 months ago by Tony
Mr Roboto

Force clear = 3 x Saver miles

C. Wong

I like the waitlist transparency idea; I’m not too sure if this applies to Delta, but as an AA flyer the waitlist of pax names only becomes visible at T-12h. As an EXP/CK flyer, I think most of us are reasonably educated as to how the waitlist is organized, so if we were to call up CSO or the gate agent to clear our comp upg they’ll tell us to pound sand (in a Southern-ish accent). The waitlist visibility idea can be implemented successfully if three conditions are met: (i) timing the release of the leaderboard waitlist; (ii) training CSO’s… Read more »

Jack

Question. If I am on a biz class waitlist for SQxxx on 9 Jan, can I confirm a pe class tix for the same day/flight? Then if my waitlist confirms, just switch to biz class? Thz.

YMMV

You can’t just switch. If the waitlist clears you have to confirm the waitlist redemption and cancel the PE redemption. You’ll have to pay the redeposit fee to get the PE miles back.

Jack

Oh man… I see I see. I thought I cld just top up the diff. Thanks for the clarification!

Christian

Seems like a reasonable set of suggestions for a program badly in need of adjustments in this area. I particularly like the waitlist tracker as it at least gives some minimal insight as to whether there’s a reasonable chance of clearing. The maybe/maybe not is what absolutely kills me when I’m trying to make plans.

Alex

Hi, sorry relatively new to the miles-game. How is it when I redeem a return trip and say my first trip is straight approved but the return trip is on waitlist? Say the waitlist does not clear for me, then I am stuck with an outbound flight without a return flight? Or can I back off my outbound flight then when the return flight does not get cleared? thanks a lot in advance

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