Many frequent flyer programs – and hotel loyalty programs for that matter – offer the option to ‘buy’ their miles or points to top up your account. The rate offered is usually pretty bad, as you’d expect. Even promotional purchase offers with these schemes usually only bring the price down to what most would consider close to their ‘real value’.
Singapore Airlines however, on the face of it, have no such facility. You earn your miles flying with them or collecting through credit cards and other partners – but you can’t buy miles directly.
Well that’s not exactly true.
While there is indeed no pure miles purchase facility, Singapore Airlines will ‘help’ you if you need to make a flight redemption but don’t have sufficient miles in your account to proceed with the booking.
How it works
First and foremost you must have at least 50% of the required miles in your account at the time, you can only top-up a maximum of 50%.
Miles can be purchased for award travel on Singapore Airlines, SilkAir, Star Alliance carriers and SIA partner airlines.
The workings used to be a bit archaic. In the past you had to fill out a form with all the details and either email or fax it to Singapore Airlines. They would then make the redemption booking and charge your credit card for the extra miles you need.
Thankfully technology has moved on and the process can now be completed online through the usual KrisFlyer redemption at singaporeair.com or the mobile app.
Unless you’re excited by the prospect of firing up that old fax machine which is gathering dust in the corner of your room we would strongly recommend the online method. For one thing if you send the form the manual processing time by Singapore Airlines might result in you losing out on the redemption seat(s) you need.
Remember whichever method you choose – you must use the ‘purchased’ miles immediately for a specific redemption, you can’t just sit on them.
What’s the rate?
Up to now it was all sounding rather positive. A bit of flexibility at the last minute to get you over the line for a flight redemption you want, or more likely ‘need’.
Here’s the bad news – it’ll set you back US$40 for every block of 1,000 KrisFlyer miles you need to purchase or ‘top-up’. At current exchange rates it means paying about 5.4 cents per mile (SGD).
As our regular readers will know, we don’t endorse ‘buying’ miles at anything more than 2 cents each (SGD). We actually achieve an average 2.9 cents per mile of value when we redeem, but we still don’t personally ‘buy’ miles over 2 cents and still don’t recommend for others to.
That’s because it’s hard to guarantee they will return value at a higher rate than that, especially if you redeem in economy class, though for most people redeeming in business class our threshold is also conservative and accounts for a sudden ‘hard devaluation’ of the scheme, say by 20%.
Using the KrisFlyer miles ‘top-up’ for a redemption at 5.4 cents per mile therefore is almost always a terrible idea and will seldom return any value to you.
Is it ever useful?
Given the atrociously high rate at which these miles are being ‘sold’ to you it’s easy to say that you would never do this under any circumstances. No doubt – you certainly shouldn’t plan to.
There are occasions though we can conceive where a very small number of miles are needed at short notice to lock in an available redemption where it might work out.
Ken is flying from Singapore to Sydney and back in business class on a saver redemption ticket he locked in months ago to visit his daughter. It set him back a cool 116,000 miles in total. Unfortunately his wife Emma couldn’t get the time off work, so Ken went ahead and made plans just for himself.
2 days prior to departure however Emma comes home with good news – turns out she can now have the time off at the last minute and join Ken on the trip after all. First thing Ken does is log on to KrisFlyer and check whether 1 additional business saver redemption is still available on the flights he’s already taking.
Good news – 1 saver redemption is exactly what’s left in both directions on those flights. Two days out from the first departure – what luck! Then he glances at the top right of his screen and his heart sinks – 112,562 KrisFlyer miles is the balance displayed. Ken doesn’t even need to check – he knows it’s not enough. Close, but not enough.
The annoying thing is Ken does have more miles… locked up in credit card loyalty points. It’s too late now to transfer these to KrisFlyer for this trip. Even if it just took a day (which it sometimes does, but let’s face it – not when you need it to!), there’s no guarantee those perfect saver seats he’s currently staring at on the screen in both directions of the trip will still be there even in a few hours, let alone tomorrow.
There’s a solution though and that’s to buy the small number of KrisFlyer miles he needs from Singapore Airlines.
Redeeming the saver business return ticket for Emma will cost 116,000 miles and that’s 3,438 miles more than Ken has in his account. Since you can only top-up in blocks of 1,000 miles he’ll be forced to part with 4 x US$40 (US$160, or S$215 total).
Not a very nice amount of money to ‘acquire’ 4,000 miles he basically already has (in his credit card loyalty accounts). Not good value by any stretch of the imagination to a bystander. But to make the trip work with his wife by his side the whole way? For Ken, this is a lifeline.
Rather cruelly, if you do follow this method and pay to top up your miles then it turns out you can’t take the trip and ask for your miles to be redeposited there’s a line in the terms and conditions which you won’t like at all.
“Miles purchased are non-refundable. In the event that miles from a completely unused award ticket are redeposited into a member’s account, any purchased miles will not be refunded.”
So you’ll only be refunded the miles you already had in your account (after paying the mileage redeposit fee) not the miles you had to purchase. It’s not totally clear whether you would be refunded for the money used to top up the miles but if you weren’t that could be seriously painful, especially if you purchased a significant quantity.
Sadly there are very few other methods that result in topping up your KrisFlyer account instantly.
Passion Card is one of them (for whatever reason transferring their points to KrisFlyer is always immediate) but it’s unlikely you do that much grocery shopping to be able to have a substantial enough volume here to assist with a redemption.
You’re then left taking the risk on how long it will take for credit card loyalty points to transfer into KrisFlyer, or you could purchase SPG miles then transfer to KrisFlyer (with their current 35% discount you’re buying at a much more palatable 2.6 cents per mile). It’ll still take a couple of days to complete the transfer though.
You could also top up your Mileslife wallet, earning 300, 3,000, 7,500 or 20,000 miles for topping up S$300, S$2,500, S$5,000 or S$10,000 respectively. Same problem though, while transfer into KrisFlyer is quick it’s not instant and may take a few days.
We are by no means advocating buying KrisFlyer miles at 5.4 cents each by topping-up for a redemption every time you fall short of the required miles. In fact we think you should positively avoid ever having to even consider this option.
What we are saying is that in limited circumstances when time is critical, the redemption is there, and you fall only slightly short of the miles requirement, this might be a very easy way to secure an otherwise impossible redemption ticket.
Don’t rely on it but keep it in the back of your mind – you never know when Ken’s conundrum might well affect you too.
(Cover Photo: Kentaro Iemoto)