KrisFlyer College SilkAir Singapore Airlines

KrisFlyer College: Part 4 – Upgrade with miles on Singapore Airlines

Everything you ever needed to know about upgrading your Singapore Airlines flight with KrisFlyer miles

2013 F (Singapore Airlines)

There are two ways to use your KrisFlyer miles to upgrade a regular commercial (cash) ticket, the first is on a Singapore Airlines or SilkAir flight and the second is on a Star Alliance member airline operated flight.

KF Logo trans.png

In this part we’re looking at upgrades on Singapore Airlines and SilkAir, as we’ll look at Star Alliance upgrades in a future instalment.

What upgrade types are possible?

From Economy you can upgrade either to Premium Economy (if installed) or to Business Class. Even if the aircraft you’re flying on does have a Premium Economy cabin, upgrade directly from Economy to Business is permitted, so you can ‘leapfrog’ the Premium cabin on those flights.

Y to WJ.jpg

From Premium Economy you can upgrade to Business Class.

W to J.jpg

From Business Class you can upgrade to First / Suites (if installed).

J to F.jpg

Prior to the January 2019 KrisFlyer scheme changes only a single cabin upgrade was permitted, meaning it was not possible to upgrade an Economy Class ticket to Business Class on aircraft with a Premium Economy Class cabin installed.

However since 3rd January 2019 this is now possible, at the applicable Economy to Business upgrade rates.

Which planes have which cabins?

Believe it or not, Business Class is the only cabin common to all Singapore Airlines aircraft. Economy Class is fitted to most planes (except the A350 ULR), and both Premium Economy and First Class are installed only on selected aircraft.

Aircraft Type Code Eco. Prem. Biz First
A330 333 Tick.png Cross.png Tick.png
2009 J
Cross.png
A350
Standard
359 Tick.png Tick.png Tick.png
2013 J
Cross.png
A350
Regional
359 R Tick.png Cross.png Tick.png
2018 RJ
Cross.png
A350
ULR
359 ULR Cross.png Tick.png Tick.png
2013 J
Cross.png
A380 388 Tick.png Tick.png Tick.png
2006 J
2017 J
Tick.png
2006 R
2017 R
777-200 772 Tick.png Cross.png Tick.png
2009 RJ
Cross.png
777-200ER 772 ER Tick.png Cross.png Tick.png
2006 J
Cross.png
777-300 773 Tick.png Cross.png Tick.png
2009 RJ
Tick.png
2006 F
777-300ER 77W Tick.png Tick.png Tick.png
2013 J
Tick.png
2013 F
787-10 787 Tick.png Cross.png Tick.png
2018 RJ
Cross.png

For example between Singapore and Bali, a route currently using 2-class A330s and 787s, you can only upgrade a valid fare type from Economy Class to Business Class using KrisFlyer miles.

On a 777-300ER flight from Singapore to Sydney however you can upgrade from Economy to Premium Economy or Business Class, Premium Economy to Business Class or Business Class to First Class, a total of four possibilities.

You’ll notice for Business Class and First Class we have also shown the seat types installed on each aircraft in the table above. If you’re not familiar with the abbreviations, we have a guide for each seat.

Singapore Airlines Business Class seat types
SQ 77W 2006J (miya.m) Window Pair J.jpg 12Aoverview.jpg 94A_2.jpg Seat 11A.jpg
2006 J 2009 RJ 2013 J 2017 J 2018 RJ
Singapore Airlines First Class seat types
A Seats.jpg 1F Overview Low.jpg 3F.jpg 3A Seat.jpg
2006 F 2013 F 2006 R 2017 R

When upgrading to Business Class in particular, you might want to avoid the older 2006 J and 2009 RJ seats, which are being phased out but can still be found on several routes.

Which routes have which planes?

There’s one benefit with all Singapore Airlines aircraft having Business Class installed. Our continuously updated (at least monthly) Business Class Seats by Route page shows you which aircraft is operating your flight for every route and each flight number on that route.

From this list you can quickly determine which other cabins are operating on the same aircraft as follows:

Take the Singapore – San Francisco route for example. Our Business Class Seats by Route page shows that there are up to to six options (i.e. three flights in each direction).

SFO J Example.jpg

Even though in Business Class all three flights have the same seat type, they are operated by aircraft with different cabin configurations.

By cross-referencing from the table in the previous section you can see that the SQ1/2 is a 4-class 777-300ER offering Economy, Premium, Business and First. SQ31/32 is a Standard A350, which means a 3-class variant offering Economy, Premium and Business. Finally SQ33/34 is an A350 ULR offering only Premium and Business.

SQ A350 SFO
SIA’s San Francisco route has a variety of upgrade options depending on which flight you book. (Photo: Singapore Airlines)

In all cases you’ve got a great Business Class seat to upgrade into here, the popular 2013 J product. If it’s an upgrade to First on SQ1/2 you’re interested in, our First Class Seats by Route page shows you that for San Francisco it’s the 2013 F seat you will get, rather than a Suites product (though don’t let that put you off).

1D Bed Sign.jpg
Not a ‘suite’, but we still rate the 2013 First Class on the 777-300ER highly. See our full review. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

Which ticket types can be upgraded?

You can only upgrade Standard and Flexi full fare tickets on Singapore Airlines and SilkAir flights booked with an SQ or MI flight prefix using your KrisFlyer miles.

The SQ or MI flight prefix is important. If you are booked on a Singapore Airlines flight under a codeshare flight number (e.g. LH – Lufthansa or VA – Virgin Australia), you won’t be able to upgrade your ticket using KrisFlyer miles. (Note: It may be possible to upgrade using the frequent flyer miles of the ticketing carrier in some cases.)

Lite fares are not upgradable using miles in any class.

These are the fare codes used by Singapore Airlines. Those in red cannot be upgraded using KrisFlyer miles, including of course First / Suites fares, because no higher travel class exists:

Economy

  • Economy Lite – Q, N, V, K
  • Economy Standard – M, H, W
  • Economy Flexi – Y, B, E

Premium Economy

  • Premium Economy Lite – R
  • Premium Economy Standard – P
  • Premium Economy Flexi – S, T

Business

  • Business Lite – D
  • Business Standard – U
  • Business Flexi – Z, C, J

First / Suites

  • First / Suites – F, A

When you book a Singapore Airlines flight using the website or mobile app it’s made clear on a sector-by-sector basis that you either will or won’t be eligible to upgrade with miles, and as you can see Lite fares are all excluded from the option.

Economy Fares

Y Upgrades 2.jpg

Premium Economy Fares

W Upgrades.jpg

Business Fares

J Upgrades

You may be booking a Singapore Airlines flight through an online travel agent, and in this case the booking class will probably be hidden somewhere in the finer details before you commit to the purchase.

On Expedia for example, it’s shown prior to the payment stage.

Expedia Example.jpg
This one’s an Economy Flexi fare, so you’ll be able to upgrade subject to availability. (Image: expedia.com.sg)

As we mentioned provided you are making a Singapore Airlines booking through the SIA website it’s clear whether you are buying a Lite, Standard or Flexi fare during the process, but to be sure you can click to view the details at the second stage before you enter the passenger names.

View Details.jpg

This reveals the more detailed information regarding your flight booking, including the fare code for each sector.

Fare Code.jpg

If you already have a Singapore Airlines booking, or someone has made one on your behalf, you can see the fare code in the ‘manage booking’ section on the website.

Here’s our summary of the fare codes you can hold for a commercial booking on Singapore Airlines or SilkAir and the upgrade possibilities from each one, assuming the respective cabin type you wish to upgrade to is operated on your flight and upgrade awards are available.

Can I upgrade using KrisFlyer miles?
Upgrading to 2013 W (Singapore Airlines).jpg
Premium
SQ 77W J (MM).jpg
Business
1A Seat.jpg
First
Existing booking
Economy
Q, N, V, K
Cross.png Cross.png Cross.png
M, H, W
Tick.png Tick.png Cross.png
Y, B, E
Tick.png Tick.png Cross.png
Premium
R
Cross.png Cross.png
P
Tick.png Cross.png
S, T
Tick.png Cross.png
Business
D
Cross.png
U
Tick.png
Z, C, J
Tick.png

Can I upgrade an award ticket?

These award charts are only for upgrading revenue tickets, i.e. those purchased with cash. If you have an award booking and wish to travel in a higher cabin class you can’t simply top up using the miles rates shown in these charts. Instead you will have to either:

  • Book an available redemption in a higher class on your flight then cancel your original award booking and pay the miles redeposit fee, or
  • Call Singapore Airlines and have your award booking reissued in a higher cabin class, subject to availability and payment of the additional miles and the change fee.

If you used miles and cash to make your booking (we never recommend this due to the lousy rate of 1 cent per mile), then it is treated as a cash booking and provided you booked in an eligible fare class you can then upgrade using miles.

How many miles are needed?

You’ll obviously want to determine whether upgrading a cash ticket using KrisFlyer miles is a good deal for you, so for that you’ll need to check the charts showing the miles required for your routing.

Singapore_Airlines.png SilkAir.png SQ and MI Upgrade Award Chart

Due to the number of upgrade possibilities on each route there are a lot of tables, no fewer than seven in fact, so the first trick is to look at the right one. The tables show the following upgrade types:

  • Economy Standard (M, H, W) to Premium Economy
  • Economy Flexi (Y, B, E) to Premium Economy
  • Economy Standard (M, H, W) to Business
  • Economy Flexi (Y, B, E) to Business
  • Premium Economy Standard (P) to Business
  • Premium Economy Flexi (S, T) to Business
  • Business Standard/Flexi (U, Z, C, J) to First/Suites

In all cases the miles required to upgrade a Standard fare are higher than to upgrade a (more expensive) Flexi fare, with the exception of Business Class where the upgrade rate to First / Suites is identical for both Standard (U) and Flexi (Z, C, J) bookings.

If you’re booking a Business Class ticket with the intention of upgrading to First Class you should therefore try to book a cheaper Standard fare where possible, as the miles needed to upgrade are no different than from a Flexi fare.

Once you’ve got over the fact that there are seven award tables, and determined which applies to your proposed upgrade, the process is relatively simple. It’s just like any other Singapore Airlines award chart (see Part 1 – The basics). Just determine your required miles ‘zone to zone’.

Chart Example.jpg

In the above example we already know we hold (or are about to book) an Economy Flexi fare, and wish to fly in Business Class, so we’ve entered the charts in the right place.

We’re looking to upgrade our Singapore (Zone 1) to Hong Kong (Zone 4) flight into the Business Saver category, and the chart shows it will cost us 18,500 KrisFlyer miles one-way.

You can’t ‘double upgrade’

You may be wondering whether you can combine the miles needed in two of the above charts together to generate a ‘double upgrade’. This would only be applicable if you’re booked in Premium Economy and wish to fly in First / Suites.

Don’t get your hopes up because it is not possible, you can only upgrade once in accordance with one of the valid upgrade methods in the seven tables above. The process cannot be repeated again as you will no longer hold a commercial fare code once the upgrade has been confirmed (you will have an award fare code, which is not eligible for upgrade with miles).

1F Overview Night.jpg
A full fare Premium Economy ticket isn’t going to get you into a seat like this, no matter how many KrisFlyer miles you throw at it. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

If you do want to fly First Class while holding a Premium Economy ticket, you’ll first have to pay cash to reissue to an eligible Business Class fare (U, Z, C or J), then use KrisFlyer miles to upgrade into First Class (subject to availability) in accordance with the Business Standard/Flexi to First/Suites table.

Alternatively you can have your Premium Economy ticket reissued in First Class by paying cash.

Both of these methods will be very expensive, as they involve the fare difference and a reissue fee (on top of the extra miles in the first example).

The upgrade with miles process

Once you’ve booked your eligible ticket you can immediately upgrade using miles via the manage booking portal on the Singapore Airlines website.

This is also where you’ll learn whether an upgrade with miles is even possible, which is down to the booking class and fare code as we’ve already outlined above.

Here’s an example of a booking that can’t be upgraded using KrisFlyer miles for one of the reasons mentioned (e.g. an award booking, ineligible fare code, no higher class exists).

Upgrade Negative.jpg

While here is a booking that can be upgraded using KrisFlyer miles.

Upgrade Positive.jpg

Note: If the Upgrade with miles option is greyed out on a booking you believe should be eligible, you’ll have to call Singapore Airlines for assistance.

If you’re able to upgrade the process can be completed wholly online, simply follow the steps and get ready to part with some of your KrisFlyer miles at the end of the process.

Upgrade Step 2.jpg

It’s important to note here that you can upgrade sector-by-sector for multi-sector and round-trip bookings, but that all passengers in the booking will be upgraded.

You can’t upgrade yourself and leave the other members of your party (on the same booking) in the original class. If that is your intention you should make separate bookings from the outset.

Upgrade Step 3.jpg

Upgrade availability is then displayed and as you can see in this example there is sufficient saver award availability in Business Class on both flights. Since the original booking is an Economy Flexi fare for one passenger, the upgrade cost to Business Class is 18,500 miles in each direction (37,000 miles total), as we saw in the example shown earlier in the ‘How many miles are needed’ section.

Upgrade Step 4.jpg

A final review shows the fare code you’ll be booked into (the Business award code in this case – “I”). Confirm the upgrade, your miles will be deducted, and that’s all there is to it. If additional taxes and fees are due, you’ll pay them at the final stage.

You can follow the exact same process on the SingaporeAir mobile app if you prefer.

Can I cancel the upgrade?

If you change your mind after upgrading with miles you can go back to your original plan (e.g. in the above example back to Economy Class) and have the miles refunded, though it’s not a simple process.

In this case you will have to pay the miles redeposit fee (US$75 for a saver upgrade award or US$50 for an advantage upgrade award). Additionally you will be subject to pay the cabin class change fee (US$25) and any fare difference applicable in the original booked class since you made your reservation.

That’s starting to add up to a lot of money, so don’t upgrade with miles “on a whim”, thinking you can easily take it back later if you change your mind.

Can I cancel the flight?

Yes. In this case you will have two fees to pay. The fare rules for any ticket you have used miles to upgrade are the underlying fare rules for the original booked class (the rules of the purchased ticket). These are always refundable, since we already know non-refundable (Lite) fares cannot be upgraded in the first place.

Additionally to refund the miles used to upgrade you will have to pay the miles redeposit fee applicable to the upgrade type.

That mean’s forking out an extra US$75 for saver upgrade awards or US$50 for advantage upgrade awards.

Here are the fare rules of the originally purchased ticket used in the upgrade example above.

Y Flexi Fare Rules.jpg

As you can see you’ll be able to cancel for S$68.80 (actually US$50 at the exchange rate prevailing on the booking date, so it does fluctuate slightly). Note that you don’t get charged twice for refunding both sectors of a return booking like this.

Now S$69 isn’t bad, but to have the 37,000 KrisFlyer miles redeposited to your account will cost an additional US$75 (more than S$100), so it’s not as “cheap” a process as refunding a full award ticket.

If you upgraded from a standard fare code the cancellation penalties are even higher. If any sector on your booking is a Lite fare (e.g. the outbound flight of a return itinerary), the whole booking will be non-refundable.

There must be availability for your whole party

Here’s an issue if you’re making a cash booking for multiple passengers with the intention to upgrade.

Let’s say you’re a couple and for the flight you are interested in you have already found that there is one saver and two advantage awards available for redemption. No problem, you decide that one of you will pay the miles for a saver upgrade and the other will fork out for an advantage one.

Well you’ll get a shock when you come to upgrade because that’s not possible. Availability must exist in the upgrade class for your entire party, so you will both have to pay advantage rates (even though one saver award is available).

If you want to follow your original proposal you will have to split the booking, or (even easier) just book separately for each passenger from the outset.

You can’t upgrade someone not on your redemption nominee list

As we mentioned above, there is no halfway house when it comes to upgrading an eligible Singapore Airlines booking using KrisFlyer miles, either all the passengers in a single booking are upgraded or none are.

It is possible to split the booking later if, let’s say on a booking for four people, two of you want to use miles to upgrade and the other two want to stay in the original cabin class. You’ll have to call Singapore Airlines to do this, then go ahead and upgrade the booking for the couple wishing to do so once the passengers have been separated onto different PNRs.

The problem then lies in whose miles are going to be used. The miles used to upgrade can only come from one account per booking.

If there are two passengers on the above Hong Kong booking, friends Jack and Tom, it will be 37,000 miles each (74,000 miles total) for them to both upgrade to Business Class on both sectors.

Jack has plenty of KrisFlyer miles, so he’s happy to upgrade both of them. Since all the miles must come from one account, it seems like a simple solution. There’s a problem though, Tom is not one of Jack’s redemption nominees, so this is not allowed.

The only options are for Jack to add Tom as a redemption nominee, or for the booking to be split (again) allowing Tom to upgrade from his own KrisFlyer account.

Phew!

Make individual bookings if you plan to upgrade

The moral of these stories? It’s better to make individual bookings, one for each passenger, if you plan to use KrisFlyer miles to upgrade your cabin class.

This will allow optimum access to the available saver awards and removes complication over who will (or is even able to) pay for the upgrades in miles.

Upgrade award availability

Searching availability for upgrade awards isn’t quite as simple as searching for a regular full award ticket on Singapore Airlines. That’s because upgrade awards come from a different availability ‘bucket’ than regular award inventory.

Take Business Class for example. Award bookings, regardless of whether they are regular full saver awards, saver upgrade awards or Star Alliance awards, all book into the “I” fare class.

The “I” fare class however has several sub-buckets for availability. You have probably already seen a situation where a saver award seat was available to KrisFlyer members but not Star Alliance members, and vice-versa. Unfortunately the upgrade bucket is also not the same as the full award bucket.

If your flight has Saver award availability in Business Class for example, it doesn’t mean you will be able to upgrade an eligible Economy Class or Premium Economy Class full fare ticket at the Saver upgrade rate. For example only Advantage upgrades may be available for that flight.

There’s some good news though, even though the availability buckets are not identical, they usually match closely, so availability for full award space is a good indication that you will be able to upgrade.

Calling before you book won’t help

One option you might have thought of if you were considering booking a cash ticket on Singapore Airlines with the intention of upgrading, where full saver award availability in the proposed class exists for KrisFlyer members on the same flight (checked through a simple search) is to call Singapore Airlines to ensure you’ll be able to upgrade after booking your flight.

Unfortunately the phone agent can only see what you are seeing – full saver award “I” class availability. The upgrade award availability sub-bucket, which may be more restrictive on your flight, is not visible to them because the booking system (Amadeus) is not structured to display it (yes, even at the reservations centre).

That means even tools like KVS won’t help you here, they too can only see the full award space in “I” class.

The only time it becomes apparent that the upgrade availability bucket is smaller than the full award availability bucket is when you try to upgrade an eligible ticket on an affected flight, and it says no.

Calling does now help

Let’s say you decided to book an Economy Flexi fare to Sydney, with the intention of upgrading to Business Class. You did the right thing and checked for Business Saver award availability on the same flight through a separate search beforehand, which showed immediately confirmable Business saver space, so went ahead and booked the flight.

Now you check the manage booking portal to upgrade with miles and it’s bad news – only Advantage upgrades are available.

With full saver awards still showing in Business Class on your flight you will now need to call Singapore Airlines to try and resolve the situation. In our experience the process is then as follows:

  1. Them being confused that you can’t upgrade even though they see sufficient saver award space in Business Class on your flight.
  2. Them realising, and then telling you that award upgrades are a sub-bucket inventory and there is insufficient space for your request on your flight.
  3. You saying how ridiculous that is.
  4. Escalation to a manager / supervisor.
  5. Them eventually relenting and confirming your upgrade.
Frustrated Computer
If the upgrade award availability does not match the full award availability on your flight, it can be a frustrating process to get it ‘fixed’

We have been through this process before and it is painful to say the least. It can take a few days!

Waitlisting upgrade awards

Unfortunately if your flight is waitlisted for award seats in your proposed travel class it is not possible to add yourself to the waitlist online for a seat to become available, the website will simply state that upgrades are not available (in that category).

Again we’re checking waitlist availability here through the normal full award seats, which we understand has largely the same inventory as for upgrade awards (i.e. if you can waitlist for a full saver award you can waitlist for an upgrade saver award – probable but not guaranteed).

You will have to call Singapore Airlines to have yourself added to the upgrade award waitlist in these cases. As far as we understand you join the same queue in the same place (see Part 2 – The Waitlist) and you will be emailed to confirm your upgrade award within a specific time limit if you are successful.

Can you upgrade with miles at check-in?

Some airlines, like Qatar Airways, do allow you to use your miles to secure an upgrade (subject to availability) at the check-in desk, however Singapore Airlines does not support this.

We have heard of people saying they have managed it, but there is no formal policy to fall back on so we can’t really speak from experience here.

Cash upgrades may be available at check-in, or if you’re lucky you may receive a complimentary upgrade for operational reasons.

2013J 77W Overview (Matt@TWN)
Operational upgrades on Singapore Airlines are rare, but they do happen. (Photo: Matt@PEK via Flickr)

Other things to know

Here are a few other things you should know about upgrading your ticket using KrisFlyer miles:

  • You can upgrade sector-by-sector for multi-city or roundtrip bookings, but the fare basis for the sector you are upgrading must be eligible (for example it’s possible to book Economy Lite outbound and Economy Standard on the way back, so you can’t upgrade the outbound flight in this case).
Mixed Fares.jpg
If you only want to upgrade one sector of a return journey, you can save some money by booking a Lite fare on the ‘other’ flight. In this example the return cost to Brisbane is S$350 less. Note that the cancellation, change and no show fees now apply for the most restrictive fare code.
  • You can only upgrade up to 24 hours in advance of your flight departure time (for the sector(s) you are upgrading). While there are some success stories, upgrade with miles at the airport is not normally allowed.
  • KrisFlyer miles and Elite miles are earned on the original (paid) fare.
  • You can still credit the miles accrued on your original fare to another frequent flyer program (e.g. Alaska miles / LifeMiles), even though you have used KrisFlyer miles to upgrade. The frequent flyer program and membership number attached to your booking is quite separate from your use of KrisFlyer miles to upgrade, and can be amended at any time.
Alaska Air 737 (Alaska Air).jpg
You can credit the miles earned from your original fare code to another frequent flyer program, even though you used KrisFlyer miles to upgrade. (Photo: Alaska Airlines)
  • Benefits such as check-in, baggage allowance and lounge access are applicable to the upgraded class (i.e. the class you actually travel in).
J Lounge Entrance.jpg
You’ll get all the benefits of your new travel class if you upgrade using miles, including lounge access in Business and First. (Photo: MainlyMiles)
  • You will have to pay any increased taxes and fees associated with flying in your new cabin class, if applicable. As you may recall from Part 3 of our KrisFlyer College series these can be significant, for example an upgrade from Economy Flexi to Business Class from Manchester to Houston will not only cost you 32,000 KrisFlyer miles but you’ll be hit with around S$130 in additional taxes.

Is it good value?

Spoiler alert: generally not.

In the vast majority of cases a regular full award redemption in the saver category, as we always recommend, will give you a better value per mile for your redemption than booking a cash fare from the outset then upgrading with miles.

We took a look at booking a series of return trips from Singapore six months from now; to Bali, Hong Kong, Los Angeles (non-stop), Amsterdam and Cape Town.

In each case we explored the regular saver award redemption option for each cabin class, then looked at booking a full fare ticket and using miles to upgrade instead, to determine which option was better value. We’ve included the miles you would earn from the base fare in the calculations.

Bali

Bali 2.jpg

As we already mentioned earlier in the article, Bali is an easy analysis because Singapore Airlines (and SilkAir) only operate two cabin classes on the route – Economy and Business.

That means only one upgrade type is possible, Economy to Business Class, but of course there are really four in total because eligible Economy fares are Standard and Flexi, and upgradeable Business award categories are Saver and Advantage.

Let’s start by dismissing Advantage upgrades.

Advantage awards are almost never good value whether you make a full redemption or upgrade award using KrisFlyer miles. While they are of course more widely available, we don’t recommend using your KrisFlyer miles this way as the returned value will always be very poor.

We therefore haven’t looked at booking cash tickets and upgrading at Advantage award rates for this or any of the other routes in this analysis.

SIN – DPS – SIN

Cheapest full fare Business Class ticket: $1,121.20.

ECONOMY
(upgrade to Business)
BUSINESS
Standard Flexi Full Saver
Cash Cost $596.20 $811.20 $71.20
Miles Needed 33,000 30,000 38,000
Miles Earned 1,556 2,076 0
Net Miles Cost 31,443 27,924 38,000
Cash Saving $525.00 $310.00 $1,050.00
Value (cpm) 1.67 1.11 2.76

As you can see a full saver redemption in Business Class on this route is getting you 2.76 cents per mile in value against the full cost of the flight (saving $1,050 for 38,000 miles).

The value you are getting from your miles by paying for an Economy ticket then using miles to upgrade to Business is far less at just 1.67 cents per mile for Economy Standard and 1.11 cents per mile for Economy Flexi.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong Skyline (Florian Wehde).jpg
(Photo: Florian Wehde)

Hong Kong has the benefit of all four cabin classes serving the route; 2-class regional jets, 3-class A350s and 4-class 777-300ERs and A380s.

Obviously not all the upgrade options will be available on all flights, but since you can be flying a 4-class plane in both directions we’ve analysed them all.

SIN – HKG – SIN

Cheapest full fare Premium Economy Class ticket: $1,059.60.

ECONOMY
(upgrade to Premium)
PREMIUM
Standard Flexi Full Saver
Cash Cost $705.60 $865.60 $95.60
Miles Needed 30,000 18,000 49,000
Miles Earned 2,390 3,186 0
Net Miles Cost 27,610 14,814 49,000
Cash Saving $354.00 $194.00 $964.00
Value (cpm) 1.28 1.31 1.97

You probably don’t need us to remind you that Premium Economy redemptions are rarely good value. As you can see here a full round-trip saver award in this cabin will only just scrape a 2 cent per mile valuation, and that’s assuming you would be willing to fork out close to S$1,100 for the ticket in the first place.

Buying full fare Economy Class in the upgradable fare codes then using KrisFlyer miles to secure Premium Economy is not a good deal in either case as you can see, with valuations of about 1.3 cents per mile even after accounting for the miles you will earn for the base ticket.

SIN – HKG – SIN

Cheapest full fare Business Class ticket: $1,693.90.

ECONOMY
(upgrade to Business)
BUSINESS
Standard Flexi Full Saver
Cash Cost $705.60 $865.60 $107.90
Miles Needed 50,000 37,000 61,000
Miles Earned 2,390 3,186 0
Net Miles Cost 47,610 33,814 61,000
Cash Saving $988.30 $828.30 $1,586.00
Value (cpm) 2.08 2.45 2.60

It’s clear from this route that Business Class redemptions represent much better value for your miles than Premium Economy awards. Again though we see that upgrading with miles from Economy Class, even after accounting for the miles earned for your trip, is a poorer deal than an outright saver redemption.

SIN – HKG – SIN

Cheapest full fare Business Class ticket: $1,693.90.

PREMIUM
(upgrade to Business)
BUSINESS
Standard Flexi Full Saver
Cash Cost $1,059.60 $1,489.60 $107.90
Miles Needed 34,000 26,000 61,000
Miles Earned 3,186 3,982 0
Net Miles Cost 30,814 22,018 61,000
Cash Saving $634.30 $204.30 $1,586.00
Value (cpm) 2.06 0.93 2.60

Premium Economy to Business Class upgrades on this route aren’t awful value at the Standard fare, but become very poor at the Flexi fare (because it is almost as expensive as the Business Lite fare on the route).

SIN – HKG – SIN

Cheapest full fare First Class ticket: $4,707.90.

BUSINESS
(upgrade to First)
FIRST
Standard Flexi Full Saver
Cash Cost $2,187.90 $2,687.90 $107.90
Miles Needed 49,000 49,000 81,000
Miles Earned 3,982 4,779 0
Net Miles Cost 45,018 44,221 81,000
Cash Saving $2,520.00 $2,020.00 $4,600.00
Value (cpm) 5.60 4.57 5.68

You must always be wary of the ‘valuations’ emerging from First Class award tickets, because most people simply would not be willing to spend close to S$5,000 on a return First Class ticket to Hong Kong. This makes the valuation per mile quite false.

Nonetheless for the purposes of this exercise we see that even if you were willing to spend that much, you’ll get better value from a full redemption than an eligible Business Class fare followed by upgrade with miles, even after accounting for the miles earned.

Los Angeles (non-stop)

Los Angeles Downtown.jpg

SIN – LAX – SIN

Cheapest full fare Business Class ticket: $5,726.50.

PREMIUM
(upgrade to Business)
BUSINESS
Standard Flexi Full Saver
Cash Cost $1,798.50 $3,488.50 $80.80
Miles Needed 122,000 96,000 190,000
Miles Earned 17,516 21,895 0
Net Miles Cost 104,484 74,105 190,000
Cash Saving $3,928.00 $2,238.00 $5,645.70
Value (cpm) 3.76 3.02 2.97

A rare example of achieving better value by using miles to upgrade than making a full saver award redemption is the A350 ULR non-stop flights to the USA.

That’s because these routes have been on fire sale in Premium Economy pretty much since day one, with low round-trip fares even in the Standard category. In this example it’s getting you 3.76 cents value per mile.

Amsterdam

Amsterdam.jpg

SIN – AMS – SIN

Cheapest full fare Premium Economy Class ticket: $1,999.30.

ECONOMY
(upgrade to Premium)
PREMIUM
Standard Flexi Full Saver
Cash Cost $1,969.30 $2,719.30 $89.30
Miles Needed 95,000 65,000 129,000
Miles Earned 9,794 13,058 0
Net Miles Cost 85,206 51,942 129,000
Cash Saving $30.00 -$720.00 $1,910.00
Value (cpm) 0.04 -1.39 1.48

Yes we actually found an example where you would get negative value for your miles! On flights to Amsterdam in November the Economy Standard fare is basically identical to the Premium Economy Lite fare, and the Economy Flexi fare significantly exceeds it.

Assuming you actually want to fly Premium Economy and your dates are fixed, there would therefore be no reason not to either purchase the Premium Economy Lite fare outright or just use miles for a full redemption (though that’s at a poor value of 1.48 cents per mile, so we’d definitely pay cash in this case).

SIN – AMS – SIN

Cheapest full fare Business Class ticket: $5,149.30.

ECONOMY
(upgrade to Business)
BUSINESS
Standard Flexi Full Saver
Cash Cost $1,969.30 $2,719.30 $89.30
Miles Needed 164,000 134,000 184,000
Miles Earned 9,794 13,058 0
Net Miles Cost 154,206 120,942 184,000
Cash Saving $3,180.00 $2,430.00 $5,060.00
Value (cpm) 2.06 2.01 2.75

Same story as the Hong Kong example here – upgrading with miles from Economy Class to Business Class, even after accounting for the miles earned for your trip, is a poorer deal than an outright saver redemption.

SIN – AMS – SIN

Cheapest full fare Business Class ticket: $5,149.30.

PREMIUM
(upgrade to Business)
BUSINESS
Standard Flexi Full Saver
Cash Cost $3,129.30 $3,889.30 $89.30
Miles Needed 121,000 96,000 184,000
Miles Earned 13,058 16,322 0
Net Miles Cost 107,942 79,678 184,000
Cash Saving $2,020.00 $1,260.00 $5,060.00
Value (cpm) 1.87 1.58 2.75

Since Premium Economy Standard and Flexi fares to and from Amsterdam are quite high, compared to the Los Angeles route for example, the buy and upgrade idea is very poor under both options, falling well short of the value you’ll get from a saver Business class award booking.

Cape Town

Cape Town Table Mountain.jpg

SIN – CPT – SIN

Cheapest full fare Premium Economy Class ticket: $1,795.10.

ECONOMY
(upgrade to Premium)
PREMIUM
Standard Flexi Full Saver
Cash Cost $1,960.10 $2,640.10 $95.10
Miles Needed 88,000 74,000 74,000
Miles Earned 9,247 12,330 0
Net Miles Cost 78,753 61,670 74,000
Cash Saving -$165.00 -$845.00 $1,700.00
Value (cpm) -0.21 -1.37 2.30

Another route with negative value for your miles if you book an Economy Standard or Flexi fare then upgrade to Premium Economy. That’s because the cheapest Premium Economy ticket on this route actually costs less than both those examples.

If you really want to fly in this class on SQ from Singapore to Cape Town and back, buy the full fare ticket or use 74,000 KrisFlyer miles at a (not unreasonable) 2.3 cents per mile value.

SIN – CPT – SIN

Cheapest full fare Business Class ticket: $4,516.10.

ECONOMY
(upgrade to Business)
BUSINESS
Standard Flexi Full Saver
Cash Cost $1,960.10 $2,640.10 $95.10
Miles Needed 88,000 74,000 98,000
Miles Earned 9,247 12,330 0
Net Miles Cost 78,753 61,670 98,000
Cash Saving $2,556.00 $1,876.00 $4,421.00
Value (cpm) 3.25 3.04 4.51

The Cape Town route is known for its excellent value as a KrisFlyer redemption in Business Class. An expensive place to reach, even flying Business Class via the Middle East, the value per mile always comes out strongly on this one.

It’s a common theme with the option to pay for an eligible Economy fare then upgrade to Business however, with a big loss in value for your miles compared to a full saver award ticket.

SIN – CPT – SIN

Cheapest full fare Business Class ticket: $4,516.10.

PREMIUM
(upgrade to Business)
BUSINESS
Standard Flexi Full Saver
Cash Cost $2,790.10 $3,495.10 $95.10
Miles Needed 69,000 54,000 98,000
Miles Earned 12,330 15,412 0
Net Miles Cost 56,670 38,588 98,000
Cash Saving $1,726.00 $1,021.00 $4,421.00
Value (cpm) 3.05 2.65 4.51

Same story here with upgrades from Premium Economy to Business Class. You’re getting much better value with a full saver award.

SQ A380 (Kentaro Iemoto).jpg
Upgrading a paid fare on Singapore Airlines using KrisFlyer miles is usually a poorer deal than a full saver redemption. (Photo: Kentaro Iemoto)

Exceptions

It’s easy to say “you don’t get optimal value from your KrisFlyer miles when using them for upgrades, so don’t do it”, but everyone’s circumstances are different.

The way we see it, there are three clear benefits for using KrisFlyer miles to upgrade your Singapore Airlines flight:

  • If your company pays for your travel, for example if they are sending you to Seattle on an Economy Flexi fare with SIA, you might consider it a good use of your personal KrisFlyer miles (68,000 in this case) to upgrade to Business Class. Note that some corporate travel policies prohibit this.
  • If you are short of miles, but really want to fly in Business Class. Sure, you won’t get as much value per mile as a full redemption in most cases, but this is certainly a better option than the awful ‘pay with miles’ method, and it will make you happy.
  • If you are chasing status, and consider that important over and above the value you get from your miles. Accruing the miles and elite status (and PPS status for Business Class) from the base fare might help you reach an important threshold within your membership year.

Summary

Generally it doesn’t make sense to book a full fare ticket with the intention of using your KrisFlyer miles to upgrade to a higher travel class. It’s difficult to achieve good value for your miles by doing this, as in some cases it’s costing you nearly as many miles to upgrade as a full redemption would cost from the outset.

There is some benefit from ‘offsetting’ the cost with miles earned for the paid fare class, but even then it doesn’t have a big impact and for most routes doesn’t improve the value over and above that you’d get from a full saver redemption.

What did we learn in this part of KrisFlyer College?

How it works
  • You should start by knowing the seat types you can upgrade into on the flight and route you’ll be travelling on. Some flights use the older products and that makes them less attractive options.
  • Apart from the cheapest ‘Lite’ fares, you can use your KrisFlyer miles to upgrade a cash ticket to the next higher cabin (or two cabins up from Economy Class to Business Class on aircraft with a Premium Economy cabin).
  • It’s important to know how many miles it will cost, with seven tables to decipher based on the fare type, aircraft type (for cabin availability) and routing.
  • If you do decide to go ahead, the whole process can normally be completed online.
A few complications
  • You should preferably have firm travel plans if you are going to upgrade with miles, as for any subsequent cancellation you’ll pay the miles redeposit fee on top of the base ticket cancellation charges. If one sector of a round-trip booking is in the Lite fare code, the entire ticket will be non refundable.
  • It’s best to split your group into separate bookings to access all the individual saver upgrade awards available on your flight, otherwise you may all end up paying advantage rates. This also allows some of your party to remain in the original booked class and some to upgrade, if they wish, and additionally means passengers can use their individual miles balances to pay for their upgrade.
  • Full award availability and upgrade award availability are not always identical, but they usually match closely. If the manage booking portal won’t allow you to upgrade using miles despite having an eligible fare and regular saver award(s) being available on the same flight, pester SQ until they agree to give you the upgrade. It usually works.
  • You’ll have to call to waitlist for an upgrade award, this can’t be done online.
Whether it’s worth it
  • Even if you would be willing to part with your own cash for a Singapore Airlines flight in a premium cabin (most people wouldn’t as cheaper alternatives are available), upgrading using miles almost never gives you better value compared to a full saver award redemption, with the exception of some non-stop routes to the USA which have heavily discounted Premium Economy prices even among the Standard fare codes.

What’s your experience of upgrading with miles on Singapore Airlines flights? Let us know in the comments section below.

(Cover Photo: Singapore Airlines)

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KrisFlyer College Series

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10 comments

  1. Just got back from Houston via Manchester. Managed to upgrade at check-in with miles from Economy Flexi (B) to Business.

    Waitlisted unsuccessfully for the upgrade, but saw empty seats on ExpertFlyer, so asked check-in staff if upgrade with miles was available.

    He checked and said it was, and pulled out a piece of paper detailing the amount needed (Cash or Miles) needed to upgrade based on booking class. At the counter, upgrade with miles cost 100,000 KF miles.

    While upgrade online (70,500 miles) and saver redemption (99,000 miles) cost less miles, I took the offer because
    a) I had miles expiring soon and I wouldn’t be travelling much in the next year or so
    b) I was on company travel, so I felt an additional 1,000 miles was worth it considering I had paid $0 for the economy fare, and had no additional taxes to pay.
    c) enjoyed business class on one of the longest business class routes on SIA’s network.

    No regrets!

    1. Thanks that’s interesting. First of all I’m glad you have no regrets, it is a really long route and provided your redemption made you happy then it was worth it!

      The 100,000 miles rate appears to be the Economy Flexi to Business Advantage upgrade rate on that routing. Were Business Advantage award seats available on your flight (I assume you were waitlisted for Saver)?

      1. A dummy redemption booking showed that only Saver waitlist was available, and no Advantage was available online. I checked before arriving at the airport.

        When I was placed on the waitlist via phone agent, there wasn’t any Advantage option online via dummy booking, and I wasn’t offered an Advantage upgrade.

      2. Interesting thanks, so it seems upgrade with miles at the airport is a possibility at some stations, subject to some (not exactly transparent) availability criteria.

        If you don’t mind me asking, what was the cash upgrade quote from Economy Flexi > Business?

      3. If I recall it was around US$2,500.

        The paper used was well worn, so it seems that rate hasn’t changed in a while.

        I only thought of asking because I recall my friend asked about a cash upgrade on her return from JFK. So I thought I’d try my luck.

    1. When I worked for a company in the UK the corporate travel policy was Economy Class up to 6 hours, Premium Economy for long-haul daytime and Business Class for long-haul overnight flights (e.g. New York to London).

      Upgrading your ticket with your own personal frequent flyer miles was prohibited.

      I believe the reason was if you were on the same flight as your boss, you couldn’t be seen to be flying Business while he/she flew ‘down the back’!

      I thought it was a stupid rule and ignored it, but I loved flying Business Class much more than I loved that job so I was willing to take the risk of getting a slap on the wrist (they never noticed of course!).

  2. WIll the fare be regarded as PPS Value if we use miles to upgrade from Economy/Premium to Business class? Thanks

    1. No only the base fare counts so no PPS Value in this example. You have to upgrade with miles from Business to First to get any PPS Value.

  3. just wanted to leave a note to say this Krisflyer college series is extremely useful! thanks very much for listing down the do’s and don’ts of upgrading. Looking forward to the next article! 🙂

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