Upgrading Singapore Airlines tickets with miles

“Should I use my miles to upgrade my ticket?”

That’s a question I’m asked a lot. After the January 2019 devaluation, all focus was on the revised chart for full award redemptions. However, Singapore Airlines also tweaked the award charts for upgrades, and changed the rules regarding them. This makes it a good time to take a closer look at the value proposition of using miles for upgrades.

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?

Back in January 2018, Singapore Airlines introduced new fare types– Lite, Standard and Flexi. Each of these fares has its own rules about baggage allowance, advanced seat selection, cancellations, changes and, most relevant here, upgrades.

LiteStandardFlexi
Upgradable?NoYesYes

As the table above shows, only Standard and Flexi fares can be upgraded. Here are the relevant buckets for each fare type:

  • Economy Standard: M, H, W
  • Economy Flexi: Y, B, E
  • Premium Economy Standard: P
  • Premium Economy Flexi: S, T
  • Business Standard: U
  • Business Flexi: Z, C, J

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 you’re already past that stage, you can look up your fare bucket in your e-ticket under “Booking Class”.

Upgrade eligibility does not depend on whether you buy your ticket directly from Singapore Airlines or through an OTA like Expedia. All that matters is your fare bucket.

A word of caution- codeshare flights cannot be upgraded. If you buy a codeshare flight operated by Singapore Airlines, you’re out of luck.

What cabin can you upgrade to?

Original Cabin
EconomyPremium EconomyBusiness
 

Upgrade To

Premium Economy
Business 
First

Singapore Airlines used to practice 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.
Curious about which aircraft offer what cabins and seats? Check out The Milelion’s SQ Fleet and Seats Guide!

That all changed in January, however. The carrot to the devaluation stick was that Singapore Airlines now allowed passengers in Economy to upgrade directly to Business, even on aircraft where Premium Economy was offered. It costs more miles, of course, but at least it’s an option.

How do I check upgrade space/ where does upgrade space come from?

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 SQ 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]

So if you’re deciding whether or not to spend a bit more on a Standard/Flexi ticket because you want to upgrade it, it helps to do a dummy award search for that particular date and flight number to see if space is available before buying.

Is it worth upgrading my ticket?

Now that you understand what tickets can be upgraded, what cabins can be upgraded to and how to find upgrade space, it’s time to deal with the elephant in the room: does it make sense to use my miles for upgrades?

Here’s a link to the KrisFlyer upgrade charts. There are seven different charts here to cover the seven different possible upgrade scenarios:

  1. Economy Standard to Premium Economy
  2. Economy Flexi to Premium Economy
  3. Economy Standard to Business Class
  4. Economy Flexi to Business Class
  5. Premium Economy Standard to Business Class
  6. Premium Economy Flexi to Business Class
  7. Business Standard/Flexi to First/Suites Class*

*Why no separate chart for Business Standard and Flexi? Because there’s no difference in the mileage requirement

Upgrading from Economy to Premium Economy

Edit (22/2): There’s a good discussion in the comments about whether we should be taking into account the fact that revenue tickets earn miles and elite status credit, whereas award tickets do not. That’s fair enough- in my original analysis I ignored this because within a given Zone you have multiple destinations, and it’d be kind of arbitrary to pick one for comparison. To give an indicative picture of how the equation changes, however, I’ve updated the analysis below to show the “accrual adjusted” cost. This is the net number of miles you pay to upgrade, after you take into account the miles you earn on your revenue ticket. Tl;dr- it doesn’t change the conclusion. 

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. 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!
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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
  • 114K miles (net 108K miles) + $1,368.60 for an Economy Saver ticket plus an upgrade to Business Saver

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
  • 94K miles (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
  • 85K miles (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.

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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
  • 64K miles (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)

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
  • 104K miles (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.

A few final points

Upgraded passengers get the full entitlements of the upgraded cabin

Passengers who upgrade to Business Class will enjoy SilverKris lounge access

I sometimes get questions from people asking whether they’re entitled to lounge access (or even to Book the Cook) if they upgrade from Economy to Business. Yes, you are. Unlike other airlines (ahem Qatar ahem) which treat upgraded passengers as second class citizens, SQ does not discriminate among passengers within a cabin. Your lounge access, priority baggage, priority boarding and onboard service are exactly the same as someone who paid full price.

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

Upgrades can be waitlisted

Remember how full awards and upgrades come out of the same bucket? That means if a Business Saver seat is available for waitlisting on a full redemption, passengers who wish to upgrade can waitlist for it too.

Unfortunately, SQ’s IT system tends to be confusing here. If there are no upgraded seats available for immediate confirmation, the system will show you a flat out “unavailable” message when you try to upgrade online. Many people think this means “unavailable, end of story”. But a simple call to KrisFlyer membership services will allow them to manually waitlist you for an upgrade.

The waitlist procedure for upgrades is exactly the same as that for full redemptions– keep your fingers crossed and keep bugging them to send chasers! If your upgrade clears, you will be given a certain time period to confirm it (you can let it lapse without penalty).

Upgrades can be cancelled for a fee

If you decide to change your mind about an upgrade, it can be cancelled subject to the same rules as a full redemption ticket. In other words, it costs US$75 to cancel a Saver upgrade, and US$50 to cancel an Advantage upgrade (you fool).

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

I hope the above information is useful for anyone who’s thinking about upgrading! Tl;dr: It generally does not make sense to pay for a revenue ticket with the express purpose of upgrading it. You still fight for the same award space as anyone else, and in most cases the miles required for an upgrade are a significant percentage of the miles required for a full redemption.

Even if you’re short on miles, it’s much better to look for cheaper ways to buy miles rather than buy a revenue ticket to upgrade.

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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.

Confused about which seats you can expect in First and Business Class? Read The Milelion’s Guide to Singapore Airlines Business Class and First/Suites Class seats!

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