Anatomy of an Award: Using Singapore Airlines Miles to Book United Award to Europe

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This week I posted that it is cheaper to use Singapore Airlines miles to book United flights to Europe in economy than it is to book the same flights with United miles. Check out that full post.

Yesterday I booked myself an award from Washington DC to Madrid in May with Singapore miles on a United flight.

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Source: gcmap.com

Questions this article will answer:

  • Why did I use Singapore miles?
  • Which points transfer to Singapore miles and how long does the transfer take?
  • How did I search for award space?
  • How did I book award space?
  • How did I select seats?

Why Singapore Miles

As explained in “Using Singapore Miles to Europe in Economy is Better Than Using United Miles,” a United economy flight from the United States to Europe costs 30,000 United miles or 27,500 Singapore miles.

My most important priority was booking a direct flight, since they are so much more convenient than connecting itineraries. The only airline that flies from Washington DC to Madrid is United. I would have preferred to book this flight in Business Class on a flat bed, but Business Class award space is not available at the moment as a Saver award. It may open up in the future, but I just wanted to lock this award in, and I can handle seven-and-a-half hours in economy, especially since the flight takes off so early that I wouldn’t have slept any way.

I used Singapore miles to book the economy award because, first, I wanted to save 2,500 miles.

Second, I wanted to use Singapore miles instead of United miles because I have more “potential” Singapore miles (ie transferable points that transfer to Singapore miles) than potential United miles. I’ll discuss this point further in the section on transferring points to Singapore miles.

Searching for Award Space

I searched for award space on united.com before transferring points to Singapore because transfers are irreversible. The flight I wanted had Saver award space in economy. (Here’s how to search united.com.)

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Singapore Airlines only has access to the flights on united.com with a blue button in the Saver award column.

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Which Points Transfer to Singapore Miles?

All major transferable points transfer to Singapore miles including Citi ThankYou Points, Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, and SPG Starpoints. It is all these partners that makes getting Singapore miles so easy, which allows things like: One Person Can Open Four Cards and Fly Six Roundtrips to Hawaii.

If you have all four types of transferable points, which should you transfer to ThankYou Points? The ones that you have the fewest other high value uses for.

For me, I’d transfer ThankYou Points, Membership Rewards, Ultimate Rewards, Starpoints in that order because that is my order from least valuable (1.8 cents each for ThankYou Points) to most valuable (2.5 cents each for Starpoints.)

I already had 12,500 Singapore miles in my account, so I needed to transfer 15,000 points. I transferred 4,000 ThankYou Points to draw down that account (temporarily until I get the 40,000 bonus points on my Citi Prestige.)

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Then I transferred 11,000 Ultimate Rewards.

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Both transfers are performed online inside your credit card account. Both transfers resulted in immediate confirmation emails, though it takes 24-48 hours for the Singapore miles to show up. In this case, I transferred on Thursday at 9:30 AM ET, and the points had arrived by Friday at 3:30 PM ET, or in 30 hours at most.

Re-Running the Search

Once my points posted, I re-ran my search, and my award space was still available.

There is a possibility that you transfer points to Singapore miles, and in the 24-48 hours that the transfer takes, the space disappears. In that case, you’re basically out of luck because transfers are irreversible.

I didn’t worry too much about that possibility because United award space tends to increase not decrease in the last month, and because if I were “stuck” with 27,500 Singapore miles, I’d find a quick use for them to Europe, Hawaii, or South America or booking Singapore Suites.

Booking Award Space

I called Singapore Airlines at 213-404-0301 to book the flight. To book all Singapore partners, you have to call Singapore, but luckily there is no phone fee.

I fed the agent my date, flight number, and cabin, and she quickly found and booked the award space for 27,500 Singapore miles + 31.60 SGD ($23.) The whole call took 13 minutes.
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I paid with my Citi Prestige® Card because it has a $250 airfare credit per calendar year that includes airfare, award taxes, bag fees, upgrades, and more. That means that the $23 will be credited back to my account. This benefit is per calendar year, so in the first 12 months of holding this card, I will get $500 worth of free flights and award taxes. This more than offsets the $450 annual fee, and makes the 40,000 point sign up bonus and free lounge access worldwide even more valuable. All this is Why I Got the Citi Prestige.

How Did I Select Seats?

The general rule is that you must select seats with the operating carrier, in this case United. It is usually important to ask at the time of booking for the confirmation number for each operating carrier, so that you can contact them and quickly select seats.

In this case, the Singapore agent proactively offered me the United confirmation number.

That’s actually not necessary in this case because typing in either the Singapore or United confirmation number on united.com where it says “Change or View Reservations” will allow for seat selection.

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I picked the window seat furthest to the front. I was offered the chance to buy an Economy Plus seat upgrade from $109. Anyone with a ticket, no matter how you got it, always has the chance to buy Economy Plus.Screen Shot 2015-04-17 at 5.09.44 PM

Bottom Line

Singapore miles are cheaper than United miles for booking United economy awards to Europe. I used my Singapore miles to book myself a one way flight to Madrid next month to kick off four months in Europe. Transferring ThankYou Points and Ultimate Rewards to Singapore, searching for the space, and booking the award were all seamless.

Right now you can earn oodles of Singapore miles. Start with the Citi Prestige® Card, which comes with 40,000 bonus ThankYou Points after $4,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months the account is open. The card also comes earns 3x points on airfare and hotels and has a host of benefits like lounge access and $250 in free airfare per year.


Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

The comments section below is not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all questions are answered.

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36 COMMENTS

  1. On Singapore miles transfers to United, will I be granted automatic economy plus seating if I am a United elite? Does the same rule apply if I use United miles on a Lufthansa flight?

    Thank you.

    • There are no transfers of Singapore miles to United miles.

      However if you use Singapore miles to book United flights, once you add your United account number to the reservation, you should be able to pick free Economy Plus seating if you have Gold Status or higher (and get it at check in if you have Silver.)

  2. Thanks, timely post, today I’m considering flying home early from Ireland on an award ticket. It seems to make more sense to use my orphan 17,000 SQ miles + transfers rather than UA miles. And I’d save the close in booking fee of $75 from United since I have no status.

    • Yes, saving that $75 fee on a United award is nice. If there’s space, transfer soon since there is a delay of up to 48 hours for Singapore miles to post.

  3. What if I wanted to do an economy trip to Europe that included a stopover (in Europe)? Would you still recommend using Singapore Airlines miles over United? The difference is that you would now include an intra-Europe flight that would almost certainly be on Lufthansa and thus would include fuel surcharges. I guess it would depend on exactly how much the fuel surcharge would be, but, in general, would you be better off booking through Singapore Airlines and saving 5000 miles or booking through United and saving the fuel surcharge?

    • Probably better with United miles in that case as long as you have a lot of United miles/Ultimate Rewards. But if you have a lot of TY Points or MR and not a lot of United/UR, then still go with Singapore miles.

  4. What would the mile requirements be for business class and is that also good value using Singapore for United business class flights to Europe ?

    Thanks

  5. Hi Scott,

    You note in other posts that you can purchase a second and third stopover on a Singapore Miles Award booked United/Copa flight for $100 per stopover. However when I called Singapore Airlines twice (HUCA) both agents said that purchasing a stopover on an award ticket was not allowed – only on a purchased Singapore Airlines ticket. Are the agents misinformed? If so how do you work around this “not allowed” situation? Many thanks!

  6. Hello Scott,

    Apparently stopovers are not allowed for Singapore award flight routes on UA that are within Hawaii/PR/USA/Canada. By adding the Costa Rica international flight segment to your example then purchasing additional stopovers are allowed (I was trying to create a route with stops only in PR, Canada and Hawaii). Hopefully purchased stopovers are allowed on flights between Australia and NZ on Air NZ.

  7. Hi Scott,
    I really have been enjoying learning more about FF miles and points. My main goal is to travel as often as possible between Rochester NY and Paris as I have immediate family there. Not terribly interested in premium seats, more trips is the goal. Considering getting the Citi Prestige card but first I need to know if Singapore Airlines has fuel surcharges to Europe when flying on United metal. This post seems to say no but other blogs say yes and I’ve been on hold over 40 min calling Singapore airlines directly.
    Thanks!

  8. I did a google search yesterday and read dozens of posts. I still had open two that just say that there are no fuel surcharges on UA within the US or Americas. Since they did not mention all UA flights I inferred that there would be surcharges to Europe. (I did see an example somewhere…) My sources are:
    thepointsguy.com/2014/10/how-to-avoid-fuel-surcharges-on-award-travel/ “Singapore does not impose fuel surcharges on….UA flights within the Americas”
    upgrd.com/heres-everything-you-need-to-know-about-Singapore-airlines/ “UA flights within the US (including Hawaii)and AC flights within Canada and US do not add fuel surcharges”.
    I sort of got burned with a bonus sign-up on Lufthansa, only to find out that the fuel charges, even on UA metal, to France were astronomical.

    • Different program different rules. Lufthansa collects fuel surcharges on any flight that has them. Singapore doesn’t collect fuel surcharges on any United flights.

  9. When using singapore airline miles to book flights to europe with united, do those flights have to be operated by united for singapire airlines to book them? [i.e., when i search on united it has several of the flights I want are operated by American Dba, so I am wondering if I can actually book those…]

  10. […] If you want to fly United, the cheapest way to book it (and with no fuel surcharges) is with Asiana miles. Paying 40k miles one way in flat bed Business Class or 50k in First Class is outrageously cheap. If you don’t want to burn SPG points/Asiana miles, you can book a cheap roundtrip with ANA miles in United economy or Business Class and pay no fuel surcharges. Singapore miles are a good option for a one way in United economy. […]

  11. […] If your city isn’t on the Promo Awards list, you still have great options to Europe with ThankYou Points. You can transfer 110,000 ThankYou Points to Singapore KrisFlyer miles and book two roundtrips to Europe in United economy with NO fuel surcharges. Singapore has access to the United Saver award space on united.com, so I was easily able to book myself Washington DC to Madrid for 27,500 Singapore miles + $20 last month… […]

  12. If I book a united flight to Hawaii from the US using Singapore miles, will my united platinum benefits ( economy plus seats, upgrades etc.) still apply?

    • I don’t know exactly, but I think if after booking, you go in and add your United account number, you can get some benefits. Definitely not free upgrades to first class.

  13. Hi Scott,
    When I look at United.com without signing in I find Saver award space to Paris on Air Canada flights. Can those flights be booked with Singapore miles and if yes are there fuel surcharges? So far I have booked 4 trips to Europe with Singapore miles this year thanks to your great blog. Even had to change dates on one trip….love the $20 change fee!

  14. I looked up award travel cost on United.com which showed 140,000 miles + $100 for two people to travel from IAD to NRT. I thought Singapore airlines will be similar and transferred 150K miles from MR points to Singapore airlines. But, when I called Singapore airlines award booking, they said the points required are 180,000 + some charges payable by credit card. Now I am transferring 30,000 more MR miles because of my mistake. I should have first called Singapore airlines to verify before transferring the points. The same itinerary on ANA Japan award travel is now showing for 110,000 miles for two people +?? fees.
    Anyway, I thought I will post my experience here so any new award travel users will first call to confirm the final number of points needed before assuming from searching on the Star Alliance award search sites.

    • You don’t need to call. You can just look at the award chart.

      Different miles, different charts, different prices.

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