Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer Vs. United Airlines MileagePlus


Well, I don’t usually write much for my ‘personal’ category, but the frustration with KrisFlyer has been so high that I thought the topic would be a good one to write something about. Perhaps others with similar experience could share theirs?

I had high regard for Singapore Airlines back in the days. They were known for providing good inflight service and while in NZ, more often than not, I used to pay a bit more to fly SQ (typically ~NZD100-200) compared to Thai/Malaysian Airlines when flying to Colombo. I have been a long time loyal/devoted KrisFlyer member since ~2005 (not long enough compared to some..but still) and was an Elite Gold Member for a year, and Elite Silver Member for a couple of years (just short of making it to Gold) as well. Over the past I have been accruing miles, almost a 100% through flying, but had never tried to redeem anything to-date. My miles expired a few times, but I wasn’t planning to go anywhere. I usually delete most of the emails and whatever statements I have left show I had at least 16,000+ miles expired in the past. E.g.,

image image

I currently have ~94,000 miles and ~26,000 miles are expiring at end of August 2012 (7k in July, and 19k in August), so I’ve been looking at how to redeem some of them. We (my wife and I) are planning to go to Sri Lanka this year, so I was hoping I could get a return ticket for at least 1 person using my KF miles. Here are a number of issues/frustrations I have encountered when trying to book an award ticket using KF miles (compared to United):

1. No easy way of knowing on what dates award tickets are available
2. Extremely high fuel surcharge
3. Premier benefits
4. Baggage allowance
5. Extremely poor flexibility of points
6. Difficult/impossible to book an award ticket (with more than 1 stop or long layover?)
7. Horrible user interaction
8. Buggy user interface
9. Poor segment aggregation
10. Mileage expiration policy

Sorry for the long narrative, but if you don’t want to read it all, you can jump to My Case to see why I’m not a happy KF customer!

1. No easy way of knowing on what dates award tickets are available

SQ booking system is decent if you are trying to book a paid ticket since you can do a +/-3 day search and get a grid with prices as shown below:

image

However, if you are trying to book using KF miles, there’s no way to do this! You have to literally enter the various combinations and find out what’s available and what’s not. I see no reason why SQ can’t implement this feature in the website. Perhaps they can show the same grid as above, but show miles instead?

On the other hand, if I go to United, this is what I see for award tickets where I can quickly see when the cheapest fares are available:

image

Most importantly, on the United website, you can actually book award travel on partner airlines (i.e., Star Alliance carriers). On the other hand, the only way to book partner airline travel with KF miles is by calling their Call Centre. This is a painful process, especially when there are no seats available on the dates you want to travel. You have to keep asking them for various dates, alternative routes as well as transit times etc. You might look online for what’s available, and then call the Call Centre only to find out that there no ‘award tickets’ available on that flight. You can imagine how convenient it is when you can at least check for availability yourself (and ideally, also do the booking online).

2. Extremely high fuel surcharge:

This is probably the most frustrating/annoying issue, which has been raised by others previously (e.g., Why are Singapore Airlines Award Redemption Taxes/Charges so HIGH?, Airline Fuel and Insurance Surcharge; Kris Flyer: You need lots of miles to fly a little way). For instance, here are three specific examples:

a) JFK-SIN Return

Using the user-friendly UA booking interface, I see the following:

imageimage

Then I can go ahead and make the booking if needed:

imageimage

Total price: 65,000 miles + USD 42.10

On the other hand, if I go to SQ and try the same ticket (note that I have picked exactly the same flights), I get the following:

imageimage

As you can see, tickets are available, but I just can’t book it since the ‘buggy’ (covered later) SQ booking system says I haven’t selected all segments although I have. Very annoying!image

So just to get an idea of how many miles I need and associated costs, I did a one way search for the same two flights:

imageimage

So on SQ:
Total price: 63,750 miles + USD 688.35 (vs 65,000 miles + USD 42.10 on UA)

Amazingly, this is flying on Singapore Airlines flights (note SQ25 and SQ26)! You would think using miles on a different airline would be more expensive eh. Singapore Airlines can’t give a decent deal to their own KF members flying on their own airline!

b) AKL-CMB Return

One may argue that JFK is a US destination and SQ is primarily an Asian airline. Not sure about the validity of the argument, so just for the sake of it, I compared flying from Auckland to Colombo.

Using Mileage Plus, this is what we have:

imageimage

Using KF:

image

image

Roughly the same number of miles needed, but look at the price difference!

59,500 miles + USD 546.94 (vs 60,000 miles + USD 65.50 on UA)

c) JFK-DXB Return

I wanted to see if I could get a return ticket to Dubai from JFK so that I could at least get half-way using the KF points. This is what the customer service representative gave me:

image

Then she said total cost would be 75,000 points + SGD 937.30 (~USD 740.47).

Now, if we go to United, and try to get a return ticket from JFK to DXB for same dates, this is what we get:

imageimage

Note that the above is with a much shorter transit time as well. I just tried looking at the same itinerary SQ gave me in UA – I couldn’t find the Swiss connection back to JFK, but managed to find the same LH connection out of JFK:

imageimage

I don’t think I need to say anything here since the choice is not a hard one. It’s:

75,000 points + USD 740.47 with KF vs. 80,000 miles + USD 74.40 with MP.

Table below shows the summary for the three specific examples I’ve used (thanks for summarizing this Lifehack!):

Roundtrip
Program
Miles
Fees (USD)
Singapore – New York
Krisflyer
63,750
688.35
Mileage Plus
65,000
42.10
Auckland – Colombo
Krisflyer
59,500
546.94
Mileage Plus
60,000
65.50
New York – Dubai
Krisflyer
75,000
740.47
Mileage Plus
80,000
74.40

3. Premier benefits:

Several others have already talked about this (just Google KrisFlyer vs MileagePlus), and I haven’t really done a good enough comparison/thorough analysis where these benefits are concerned, but here are some of my observations:

a) MP is pretty good in terms of giving at least 100% award miles for almost all booking classes:

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Compare this with KF’s:

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So if you generally go for the cheapest Economy option, you may not always get KF miles. I remember back in the days when I used to book flights from Auckland to Colombo, the KF eligible booking class tickets were exactly NZD100 more expensive than the non-eligible one.

b) Complementary upgrades: I must have flown SQ so many times, but never ever did I get a single free upgrade. As a KF Gold, I once flew Economy from LAX-IAD on United and both my wife and I were freely upgraded to Premium-Economy. For all fairness, this was a domestic flight whereas most of SQ flights are international. MP Gold members perhaps don’t get free upgrades on international travel, in which case this point is not so valid, although in several forums I have read that KF is pretty ‘stingy’ in terms of free upgrades.

c) Other Elite benefits:

Compare the following benefits for MP Elite members flying on United:

clip_image003clip_image004clip_image005clip_image006clip_image007

with the equivalent for KF Elite members flying Singapore Airlines:

clip_image008clip_image009clip_image010clip_image011

Again, one may argue that United has many domestic flights whereas SQ has mainly international, but I’m sure SQ can afford to at least give 50% bonus miles to the Gold members?

4. Baggage Allowance:

This is not really KF or MP related, but on SQ, there is a 20kg per bag limit:

clip_image012

On United flights, this is 23kg per bag.

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This is a 3kg difference, but if you have status, then it’s a different story since on United, you get two extra 32kg bags vs just one 23kg bag on SQ. So effectively, if you are a Star Gold and flying United, you get 56kgs extra! (32kg x 3 – 20kg x 2). This extra amount is more than double of what you get flying SQ.

clip_image014

5. Extremely poor flexibility of points:

This is a real frustration with KrisFlyer! If you look at MP, you see a whole bunch of ways to make use of your points other than booking air travel or upgrades – see http://www.united.com/web/en-US/content/mileageplus/awards/default.aspx for a list of possibilities. Now in all fairness, United is a US based airline, so one could argue that it would be a lot easier to administer a program within the same country. US is so many times bigger than Singapore, so United can partner with so many different vendors to offer a variety of ways to use miles. Fine, I can live with that limitation of KrisFlyer, but what really annoys me is that there is no way to share miles! Now there should be no excuse for this. If a family is travelling for instance, all of them could be KrisFlyer members, but it’ll often be difficult for each member to travel enough to actually make use of the points before they expire. On the other hand, if all family members could combine their points, perhaps they could get at least one award ticket. You can do this with MP (for a fee..but still it’s an option!), but with KrisFlyer the best you can do is ‘nominate’ someone.

6.  Difficult/impossible to book an award ticket (with more than 1 stop or long layover?):

If I’m paying in full for instance, I can see a number of flights from JFK-CMB. As you can see, there are plenty of seats available for early Sep departure and early Oct return.

image

When I click on one, all segments are available as well, starting from ‘sweet deals’.

image

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However, if I click ‘KrisFlyer redemption’, I don’t get anything back:

image

image

I have tried all sorts of different dates, and it’s always been the same result. Just to prove the point, I selected the last possible dates, that is, 350 days away from now to get the same ‘no flights available’ screen.

image

I believe SQ doesn’t show the route for award tickets if there are more than two stops or a long layover, but that’s only a guess.

No such problems with MileagePlus, which happily found me a multiple routes from JFK-CMB for same dates. There were much shorter options, but here is the direct comparison flying SQ:

imageimage

According to others, “one stopover is allowed on a roundtrip saver award, though none are allowed on a one-way saver award” on SQ, so may be this is the reason I was having trouble booking the above award tickets. This may be so, but still I don’t find it a good enough excuse as a customer to not be able to book the ticket I want.

7.  Horrible user interaction:

I can’t believe how bad the SQ booking system is for a top airliner. It was so not user-friendly, but at least after the recent (July 2012) upgrade I was hoping they would improve on the usability, but doesn’t look like there were any improvements. A number of others have documented/complained about this before (there’s a whole thread devoted to website issues here) and here are some of my observations.

If I do a JFK-SIN search for instance, I end up on the following page:

image

Now if I hit ‘Change details’ and update the From and To fields as follows:

image

and then decide to look at ‘KrisFlyer redemption’, the ‘From’ field automatically gets updated to what it was before!

image

So I have to type CMB into the ‘From’ field again and press ‘Update results’:

image

I end up in the homepage with an update ‘To’ field as shown below:

image

Looks like the site ‘remembers’ the previous successful selection, or the very first selection you entered from the homepage, and somehow displays those when the system can’t find seats for the most recent from/to selection. These are suppose to be commercial websites, and I’m sure they are paying top dollars as well to whoever designs these websites. On top of all the initial development effort, don’t they do any sort of user acceptance/interaction type testing before releasing a website to the public? Turns out Singapore Airlines said sorry for dodgy site back in July 14th 2011, so I can only imagine that this was worse back then (I recall running into some issues last year after the new site was launched, but wasn’t actively trying to book travel, so can’t comment on anything specific).

8. Buggy user interface:

Somewhat related to the previous point, but at least the previous one was not a deal breaker, rather a big time inconvenience. The following I bet is an actual bug!

So I did a JFK-SIN one way search (previous was JFK-CMB with 2 stops) using KF redemption and landed on the following page:

image

As you can see, I have selected the respective flights for both segments and now when I click ‘Continue’, I get the following error:

image

So basically there’s no way to make this booking using the website although it is a pretty simple one-way flight.

9.  Poor segment aggregation:

If I search JFK to SIN using KF redemption, I get the following:

image

and then if I do SIN-CMB, I get the following:

image

Logically, you would think that now if you do a JFK-CMB for the 16th, you would get the above two combined. However, the following is what you end up with:

image

I mentioned this when I called SQ, and the agent was saying that this is because SQ doesn’t allow to book flights when there’s a long transit (or something to that effect). I explained to her how that decision needs to be left to the customer and not made by the ‘system’. It makes no sense at all to show the individual segments as ‘available’ but not allow a customer to book it if they don’t mind the long transit. Anyway, finally I managed to put some sense into the agent and she said she would call me back. Upon returning my call, she said they could make the booking for me and also give me the 15% discount for online redemption, so I’m guessing this is indeed a bug, which hopefully will get fixed at some point. Cost for this is:

44,625 points + sg671 (~US$530)

10.  Mileage expiration policy:

KF miles expire in 3 years from the date you acquired them – for instance, if you got 10k miles on 1st May 2010, and another 15k on 1 Oct 2010, 10k miles will expire on 1st May 2013 and 15k miles will expire on 1 Oct 2013 (you can extend miles for another year if you are Silver or higher). On the other hand with MP, you can literally have no expiration since all miles get updated to (activity date+18 months) every time there is some activity in the MP account. I’d imagine it’s not hard to have some sort of activity (e.g., hotel stay) once every 18 months. If you are in the US, it’s actually pretty easy to find some way to have some activity on the MP account without flying.

My Case:

Right now I’m sitting on almost 94,000 KF miles:

image

and I have no idea what to do with them. I have tried so many different routes on various partner airlines like JFK->SIN->CMB; JFK->Dubai->CMB; JFK->FRA->SIN->CMB; JFK->Doha->CMB; JFK->AUH->CMB; Basically I’ve been trying to get an award one-way ticket, and then just buy a one-way ticket for the return, or vice-versa. Alternatively, I have been trying to get a return ticket to half-way, like to Doha, Abu Dhabi, Doha, Kuwait or somewhere from JFK and buying the other segment myself, or vice-versa, but no matter what I try, SQ customer service representative tells me ‘no seats available’, or gives me some ridiculously high ‘fuel surcharge’ like USD 900 which will end up costing me pretty much the same as buying a new ticket. Taking one of the options I’m given, I’ll basically use all my miles and spend more or less the same amount of money. If I buy a new ticket, I’ll at least accumulate some new miles!

Anyway, I realized this high fuel surcharge sometime last year, and prudently joined MileagePlus. I’m thinking of the opportunity cost however, where if I had the same amount of miles on MileagePlus, I would have had 2 great options:

Option (1): Getting a return ticket from JFK-CMB for just USD 105.70

imageimageimage

Option (2): Flying Business Class one way! I have ~20k miles in MP already, so if I had the 94k KF miles in MP, it probably would have been a sweet return business class trip all the way back! 😦

imageimageimage

Based on what I’m finding, I wonder if there is any good reason for anyone to join KF, unless they are based in Singapore, and perhaps SQ is the only airline they fly. But for the average traveller, probably flying 2-3 times a year, I’d think MP would easily be a much better choice as discussed above. This combined with MP’s expiration policy makes me kick myself for ever joining KF!

Apologies in advance if I have made any error in what I’ve said here. This was based on my own personal experience rather than a thorough analysis, so happy to take any comments/suggestions/criticism, and improve this entry.

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16 Responses to Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer Vs. United Airlines MileagePlus

  1. Steve says:

    I enjoyed reading your analysis here. Clever work and good exposure! Keep up the great work!

  2. Bernard says:

    Love your posts. Made me open my eyes about KrisFlyer. Thanks

  3. Anonymous says:

    Brilliant work. You did all the work to completely confirm what I thought all along.

  4. Rohit says:

    Great analysis dude! I been thinking whether to join krisflyer or mileageplus and after reading ur post I think the answer is pretty clear.

  5. Arun says:

    I read your post after a call I just had with a KF representative on the cost of the surcharges. I was trying to explain to her for $100 more I could get the same flight without using any miles as their surcharges were so high. Singapore Airline have good service but their KF benefits are lousy compared to UA. Your analysis on the fuel surcharges are absolutely on the money. I am switching back to UA.

  6. shira says:

    I totally agree with you – KrisFlyer does not offer any benefits at all.
    The fees and charges are never below $200 and quite often higher – which – in many cases – equates a fully paid fee without the use of points redemption.
    Worst frequent flyer program available – totally unrecommended.

  7. Ruchi says:

    I have been paying the extra $100 each time I fly with Singapore so I get into a class that’s eligible for Krisflyer mile. Raked up about 35,000 points before I thought of using it for my usual AKL – COL flight and was hoping to get the SIN – COL leg using the miles (SIN – COL leg costs 27000 points). It turns out that it is actually cheaper for me to buy the ticket outright than using Krisflyer points to buy the SIN – COL return leg.

    Option 1 – Using Krisflyer Miles for Part journey
    If I split the journey, I can get the AKL – SIN return for $1550; Using the 27,000 points i can buy the SIN – COL return but it requires an additional $350 as tax/fuel etc etc. So the total comes to $1900.

    Option 2 – Just pay for the full ticket
    The cost of the full fare is $1850NZD. The cost of the full fare if I don’t want a class that is eligible for miles is $1750NZD.

    Moral of the story: Krisflyer doesn’t really work out for multi stop journeys

    PS: Good post 🙂

  8. Duleepa says:

    Good comparison… I wonder how Emirates Skywards program compares with MileagePlus. I am seriously thinking of joining Skywards after this year cos they got better flights, better deals and better lounges 🙂

  9. Claudia Simanjuntak says:

    This is exactly what i’m experiencing now. I booked my ticket since Jan 25, 13 for Suites Award ticket and until now they still could not confirm my ticket. I will definitely switch my airline from SQ. Thank you for your post.

  10. Seshan says:

    Good analysis and I agree KF sucks. However one key point has been missed out. Irrespective of whether its MileagePlus or KF miles, it is the airline that you buy the ticket from that matters as well (on the taxes+fuel sucharge context). So even if I was a United MileagePlus member, if I purchased a Lufthansa ticket from Frankfurt to India using miles, I will need to not only shell out 55K miles but some 30K Rupees (~550 INR) in taxes and fuel surcharges. This is because its a Lufthansa ticket (note Lufthansa is also part of Star Alliance).
    My limited point is we cannot compare MileagePlus and KrisFlyer in this context of fuel surcharges andtazes. All other points are absolutely valid.
    I have some 140K miles on KrisFlyer now and not sure what to do with it. 🙂

  11. Anonymous says:

    I am having the same problem as u now! Will switch to MP on my next flight onwards

  12. Anonymous says:

    Hey there! I’ve been following your web site for a long time now and finally got the courage to go ahead and give you a shout out from Austin Tx! Just wanted to mention keep up the excellent work!

  13. Anonymous says:

    Thank you so much for the post! I am definitely will go for United.

  14. Ron says:

    Even being based in Singapore, after seeing your analysis, I am changing to MP now. Take SQ flight and clock towards MP. 12 years of flying SQ all I get is one lousy upgrade and it is due to over booked. Even Cathay have upgraded me 3 times just being a Marco Polo member

  15. Jimmy says:

    Great analysis. Went through the same experience as you. I’m ditching SQ and going for UA. The marketing gimmick of “Singapore Girls” just wouldn’t do it for me.

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