Anatomy of An Award: $1,200 Hawaii Flight for 17,500 Miles

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I just booked myself a $1,233 economy flight from Hawaii to Chicago for 17,500 Singapore miles and $5.

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You probably already have the miles I used, so you’re only a 10 minute phone call away from a trip to Hawaii that costs thousands of miles fewer than it “should.”

The basic idea is that you don’t want to use United, American Airlines, or Delta miles to fly to Hawaii. You want to use their planes, but you want to book those flights with miles issued by foreign airlines, which for whatever reason, offer far cheaper award prices to Hawaii.

My flight is a direct flight from Honolulu to Chicago on United. It is cheaper to book the exact same United flights to Hawaii with Singapore KrisFlyer miles than with United miles.

  • United charges 22,500 miles each way in economy and 40,000 miles in First Class between the mainland and Hawaii
  • Singapore charges 17,500 miles each way in economy and 30,000 miles each way in First Class between the mainland and Hawaii

That’s a humongous difference. Instead of costing 90,000 United miles to get two people from your home airport to Hawaii and back, you could pay 70,000 Singapore miles. Instead of paying 160,000 United miles for two roundtrip First Class tickets, you could pay 120,000 Singapore miles–even occasionally for flat beds!

To reiterate, these are the exact same flights with vastly different prices depending on which miles you use. Singapore has access to all the same Saver award space United releases to people with United miles (except for some space set aside only for United elites and credit card holders.)

For similar examples and even cheaper awards, look at this post about booking Delta flights to Hawaii with Korean, not Delta, miles or this post about booking American Airlines flights to Hawaii with British Airways Avios.

What’s the catch? For bookings to Hawaii, there really isn’t one.

  • Singapore awards cost fewer miles than United awards
  • Singapore awards are way cheaper to change or cancel than United awards if your plans change
  • Singapore awards do not have a fee for booking within three weeks of departure like United awards do (though here is how to get out of that fee on United awards)
  • Singapore awards of United flights do not have fuel surcharges, so both types of awards will just have identical taxes of around $11 roundtrip.
  • Singapore miles are easier to get than United miles, and even share a key transfer partner.

Getting Singapore Miles

Singapore miles are a partner of the four major transferable points program:

  1. Chase Ultimate Rewards, 1:1
  2. Citi ThankYou Points, 1:1
  3. American Express Membership Rewards, 1:1
  4. SPG Starpoints, 1:1 with a bonus. Every 20,000 Starpoints transferred earns a 5,000 mile bonus, so the ideal transfers are in exact increments of 20,000 Starpoints to 25,000 Singapore miles.

Right now, the best cards to earn Singapore miles are:

  • The Ink Plus is a business card that offers 60,000 Ultimate Rewards after spending $5,000 in the first three months. Ultimate Rewards transfer 1:1 to United, British Airways, Singapore, Korean, Southwest, Virgin Atlantic, Hyatt, and more.
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred: 50,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards after $4,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months, 5,000 more bonus points for adding an authorized user.

To compare this to earning United miles, United has its own co-branded personal and business cards plus is a 1:1 transfer partner of Ultimate Rewards but not any of the other three transferable points programs.

Searching for Award Space, Transferring Miles, and Booking the Awards

I need to get from Hawaii to Chicago in October. The direct United flight is definitely my preferred option for convenience.

To book United flights with Singapore miles, you have to search for award space on united.com; then you call Singapore Airlines at 312-843-5333 to book the awards.

Here’s how to search united.com. Make sure that you do NOT sign into united.com when searching for award space that you plan to book with another type of miles because signing in can cause award space set aside for elites or credit card holders to appear, and that space is not bookable with other types of miles like Singapore miles.

I found Saver award space on my date in Economy, but none in First Class.

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I would prefer to pay 12,500 extra Singapore miles for First Class even though it’s just this recliner First Class I reviewed from Houston to Honolulu.

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I used my method to estimate the likelihood of First Class award space opening on the flight later. Things don’t look good, though, as award space isn’t available any time in the next two months on the flight in First Class.

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Even if First Class award space was likely to open though, I’d probably book economy now because I wouldn’t want to miss out on booking my preferred date and because Singapore’s change and cancellation fees are minimal.

  1. United charges $200 to cancel an award booking and get your miles back. Singapore charges $30.
  2. United charges $75 to $100 to change an award booking. Singapore charges $20.

Transferring Miles

Transfers from Ultimate Rewards, Membership Rewards, and Citi ThankYou Points to Singapore miles all take about 19-48 hours. SPG transfers take at least as long as the other three.

Normally once I find award space, I initiate the transfer, though in this case I already had enough Singapore miles to book the award.

Award space changes all the time, so in a worst case scenario, your award space could disappear before your miles post from a points transfer. If you can’t handle this outcome, transfer Ultimate Rewards to United miles instantly instead, and pay the extra miles.

I can handle the small chance that my award space will disappear. Maybe it will reappear later. If not, I can always use Singapore miles in the future for a different high value award.

How to Book Singapore Awards

Once your miles post, you have to call Singapore Airlines to book the award. I called 312-843-5333 and was ready with your Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer account number and six digit PIN.

The agent readily found my award space and quoted me a price of 17,500 Singapore miles and 7.20 SGD ($5.37.) From dialing to hanging up, the call took me 10 minutes.

Within a few minutes, I got an email from Singapore Airlines with an attachment like this.

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Picking Seats

To pick my seats and confirm that my reservation was ticketed correctly, I headed to united.com and input the Singapore Airlines confirmation number on the home page where it says “My trips.” The Singapore Airlines confirmation number is the six letter/number code listed on your email attachment next to “Booking Reference.”

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United.com will recognize the Singapore Airlines confirmation number. You can select your seats and note your United confirmation number, which will be a different six letter/number code.

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You can also permanently add this reservation to your united.com account, which will be convenient for checking in without having to search for it again. To do that, click “Save to my Account” from the tiny links above “United Confirmation Number.”
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Bottom Line

Use Singapore miles instead of United miles to book economy and First Class awards to Hawaii on United flights. You’ll pay fewer miles, lower fees, and be able to book the exact same seats. Plus Singapore miles are so easy to get as a transfer partner of pretty much everyone.

  • The Ink Plus is a business card that offers 60,000 Ultimate Rewards after spending $5,000 in the first three months. Ultimate Rewards transfer 1:1 to United, British Airways, Singapore, Korean, Southwest, Virgin Atlantic, Hyatt, and more.
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred: 50,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards after $4,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months, 5,000 more bonus points for adding an authorized user.

If I didn’t have miles, I would have paid $1,233 for the same flight or, more likely, slogged through a much worse itinerary for $370.
Screen Shot 2016-08-02 at 4.47.01 PMOr if I had miles, but didn’t know the right ones to use, I might assume that United miles are best for booking United flights and paid 22,500 miles for my ticket instead of the 17,500 I did pay.

For more info on booking awards to Hawaii with Singapore miles, see Complete Guide to Booking Singapore Awards to Hawaii on United Planes


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.

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1 COMMENT

  1. I’m still trying to find first saver availability for my flight from HNL>DEN in Sept. No luck after weeks. Do you use ExpertFlyer to monitor first class award availability? Or do you wait until days prior to departure for availability to open up?

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