Many frequent flyer programmes – and hotel loyalty programmes for that matter – offer the option to buy their miles or points to top-up your account. The rate offered is usually pretty unattractive, as you’d expect, while promotional purchase offers with these schemes usually only bring the price down to what most would consider closer to their ‘real value’.
However, Singapore Airlines, on the face of it at least, has no such facility. You earn your KrisFlyer miles by flying with the airline and its alliance cohorts, or collecting through credit cards and other partner earning options, but you can’t buy miles directly.
Well… that’s not exactly true.
While KrisFlyer doesn’t currently have a pure “no questions asked” miles purchase facility, Singapore Airlines will ‘help you out’ 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 to use this option, meaning you can only top-up a maximum of 50%.
Miles can be purchased for award travel on Singapore Airlines, Star Alliance carriers like United, and SIA’s partner airlines like Virgin Australia.
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. The team would then make the redemption booking and charge your credit card for the extra miles you needed.
Thankfully technology has moved on and the process can now be completed online through the usual KrisFlyer redemption at singaporeair.com, or through 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 this 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 for another purpose. In fact, you’ll never actually ‘see’ these purchased miles in your account balance – they are bought and used instantly.
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 simply 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 more accurately ‘top-up’ by.
At current exchange rates, it means paying about 5.4 Singapore cents per mile.
As our regular readers will know, we don’t endorse ‘buying’ miles at anything more than 1.9 Singapore cents each. We actually achieve an average 2.4 cents per mile value when we redeem in Business Class, but we still don’t personally ‘buy’ miles over 1.9 cents and don’t recommend for others to either.
That’s because it’s hard to guarantee your miles 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 conservative in most cases.
Don’t forget though, when you’re buying KrisFlyer miles, you’re exchanging something very fluid (cash) for something often very restrictive (saver award availability). It therefore makes little sense to buy miles at your average redemption rate – a decent buffer is needed.
Using the KrisFlyer miles ‘top-up’ for a redemption at 5.4 cents per mile is therefore 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 should 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 this method 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 137,000 miles in total. Unfortunately his wife Emma couldn’t get the time off work, so Ken went ahead and made plans just for himself.
However, two days prior to departure Emma returns home with good news – turns out she can 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 one additional Business Class Saver redemption is still available on the flights he’s already taking.
Good news – one saver redemption is still available in both directions on those flights. Two days out from the first departure – what luck! Then Ken glances at the top right of his screen and his heart sinks – 134,562 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.
Since most of those don’t transfer instantly, it’s too late now to transfer them 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 Class return ticket for Emma will cost 137,000 miles and that’s 2,438 miles more than Ken has in his account. That means he’ll be forced to part with 2.438 x US$40 (US$98, or S$132 total).
Not a very nice amount of money to ‘acquire’ 2,438 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 lock in the trip instantly with his wife by his side the whole way? For Ken, this is a lifeline.
Miles and purchase costs are non-refundable
Rather cruelly, if you do follow this method and pay to top up your miles, but then it turns out you can’t take the trip and you ask for your miles to be redeposited, there’s a line in the terms and conditions which you won’t like at all.
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.
You also won’t get any refund for the cash used to top up the miles, which could be seriously painful, especially if you purchased a significant quantity.
This is definitely something to consider carefully if you’re purchasing anything other than a small top-up.
Try instant miles top-up options first
Before you dive in with the (expensive) KrisFlyer miles top-up option, if you’re short of miles to make a redemption booking it’s very much worth considering six other instant ways to refresh your balance, plus a further four methods we know of where transfers will only take around 24 hours.
We’ve got a full updated guide on your latest list of options.
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 available, and you fall only slightly short of the miles requirement, this is a very easy way to secure a redemption ticket without the risk of awaiting fresh miles in your account.
Importantly though, there are a number of ways to instantly top-up your KrisFlyer miles balance, including LinkPoints and HSBC T1 credit card points transfers, or even purchase at a Kris+ merchant, and you should definitely be exhausting these first if possible, prior to considering this expensive method.
In short, don’t rely on KrisFlyer’s miles top-up option, but keep it in the back of your mind – you never know when Ken’s conundrum might well affect you too.
(Cover Photo: Shutterstock)