Krisflyer miles redemption guide: How to start playing the miles game in Singapore

PHOTO: Singapore Airlines

So, you've finally decided to become a full-fledged travel hacker - to start collecting miles in order to fulfil to your dream of travelling the world. You've told all your friends and posted an Instagram story about it… but, erm, now what?

Before you start texting your boss to ask for a sabbatical and applying for the best air mile credit card there is, first read this 5-step guide to figure out how exactly you can earn, calculate and redeem your KrisFlyer miles.

(Note: This article talks about KrisFlyer miles as it's the most popular frequent flyer programme in Singapore. General principles apply for other programmes like Asia Miles, but the specifics differ.)

STEP 1: SIGN UP FOR KRISFLYER MEMBERSHIP

First of all, if you aren't a member already, you'd need to sign up for KrisFlyer membership. You just need to fill in the registration form online. KrisFlyer membership is free.

You may want to check the Singapore Airlines website for a sign up promotion, which is rare but does happen once in a while. Earlier this year, KrisFlyer gave away 1,000 miles to new signups, but sadly the promo ended in March 2018.

KrisFlyer is a loyalty programme that primarily rewards customers for spending on the following airlines:

- Singapore Airlines

- SilkAir

- Scoot

- Star Alliance airlines (e.g. ANA, Thai Airways, Lufthansa, SWISS, United Airlines)

- SQ partner airlines (Alaska Airlines, JetBlue, Virgin, Vistara)

For most of these, you'd earn 50 per cent to 100 per cent of the actual miles flown, as KrisFlyer miles. For example, a return trip from Singapore to Bangkok is 1,760 miles.

Now comes the confusing bit.

Assuming you're flying Economy, you can earn 50 per cent (880 miles), 75 per cent (1,320 miles) or 100 per cent (1,760 miles) in KrisFlyer miles, depending which fare class you book your tickets under. The fare class is indicated as a letter of the alphabet when you book.

If you fly Premium Economy, Business or First class, you can get 125 per cent to 200 per cent in KrisFlyer miles. On the other hand, if you take the same flight on Scoot, you earn only 10 per cent to 20 per cent of the mileage in KrisFlyer miles. Again, there's a range because it depends on which fare class you buy.

It also means that if you're very serious about earning miles, you might not want to fly budget.

You can refer to this KrisFlyer miles chart for earning miles to see the miles accrual rates. KrisFlyer also has a miles calculator to help you figure out the mileage for your flight.

Other ways to earn KrisFlyer miles are by spending on KrisShop and with SQ's partners, such as hotel chains and car rental companies.

STEP 2: EARN KRISFLYER MILES WITH YOUR REGULAR SPENDING

Obviously, you can earn KrisFlyer miles by buying air tickets… but that's kind of a**-backwards, right? The whole point of earning miles is to NOT pay for your flights!

What you really want is to earn KrisFlyer miles with your regular spending. That way, you'd be getting your flights for "free".

Ideally, you would put every single dollar of expenses towards earning KrisFlyer miles. This takes commitment. It's a lot more than just picking one credit card and hoping for the best. To play the whole miles game properly, you need to really geek out and do lots of reading up on the following ways to earn miles.

REWARDS PROGRAMMES: Browse through the KrisFlyer partner pages and find out which rewards programmes you can sign up for. This includes not just travel/hospitality, but also stuff like petrol kiosks, supermarkets and telcos.

KRISFLYER SPREE: About to check out your shopping cart? HALT RIGHT THERE. Before you buy a single thing online, make sure you go through KrisFlyer Spree to earn miles on popular sites like iHerb, ASOS and BookDepository.

MILESLIFE: Again, before you enter any restaurant, STOP and check if it's on Mileslife. This is a rewards programme that lets you earn KrisFlyer miles at some of the fancier restaurants and cafes around town. (If you've got a $12 Daily Cut work lunch habit, that's $240 a month you could be turning into miles!)

AIR MILES CREDIT CARDS: A good miles credit card is a must-have for any miles chaser - even more so if you travel a lot and/or have high local expenses. Consider getting a card with a welcome miles promotion to kick-start your KrisFlyer account balance.

REWARDS CREDIT CARDS: Pair your miles credit card with a rewards card to get the most out of your shopping and day-to-day purchases. The right one can let you earn up to 4 miles per $1 spent.

Here's an example of how you can optimise your spending:

Photo: MoneySmart

STEP 3: CONVERT YOUR REWARDS POINTS TO KRISFLYER MILES

While you go crazy optimising your life for KrisFlyer miles, don't forget that you'll be earning a lot of these KrisFlyer miles indirectly, in the form of rewards points or bank points.

This means that at some point, you need to convert your points to KrisFlyer miles.

I can't cover the conversion procedure of every rewards programme known to man here, but here's a checklist of general things you should note before signing up, so you can plan your miles collecting journey properly.

EXPIRY DATE: Every rewards programme has different validity periods or expiry dates. You must know these and set a reminder to yourself to redeem them before they vanish. Don't let your hard-earned points go to waste!

DENOMINATIONS: Familiarise yourself with the rewards catalogue of all the rewards programmes you're enrolled in. KrisFlyer is supposed to be impartial towards all their partners, so you don't need to compare the "exchange rates". However, the important thing to note is the denominations. Make sure you can collect enough points for the denominations offered within the time frame.

CONVERSION FEE: If you're converting bank points such as Citi Miles or DBS Points to KrisFlyer miles, you usually need to pay a conversion fee of $25 each time you do so. This will eat into your costs, so obviously you should accumulate as many points as possible and convert them in one shot.

LEAD TIME: Few rewards points allow for instantaneous conversion into KrisFlyer miles. You shouldn't convert your points just before you book your round-the-world trip and expect to see them in your KrisFlyer account right away. Buffer about a week or more.

KRISFLYER MILES EXPIRY: Whether you're earning KrisFlyer miles directly or converting them from rewards points, they have a shelf life of 3 years. You can extend this for 6 months, but it'll cost US$12 (S$16) or 1,200 miles. Yikes.

STEP 4: CALCULATE HOW MANY KRISFLYER MILES YOU NEED FOR YOUR TRIP

As you get into the swing of earning miles or rewards points, it's worthwhile to know how many KrisFlyer miles it'll take to get you on that flight of your dreams. This helps you identify a specific target that you can work towards.

Just to give you an idea of things, here's how many miles you'd need to redeem an Economy Saver (i.e. cheapest) return trip to the following destinations:

Photo: MoneySmart

This table is actually a simplification. In fact, there are several factors that determine the "cost" of your flight in KrisFlyer miles.

ZONE: The number of miles needed is not based on the actual distance but by zones. For example, all of Europe is in Zone 11 so it costs the same whether you fly to Greece or Sweden.

CABIN CLASS: It'll cost you more to fly Premium Economy, even more to fly Business, and the most to fly First Class or in the coveted Singapore Airlines Suites. That said, lots of miles chasers would rather save their miles for Business or Suites, because they're so expensive you'd never pay for them in cash.

SAVER OR ADVANTAGE: These are the 2 rates for redeeming flights. As the name suggests, Saver flights cost less in miles, but they're limited in availability. If you want more options, you'll need to spend almost double the miles for Advantage.

All the information is readily available on the KrisFlyer redemption charts. Quick links here:

- Singapore Airlines / SilkAir

- Star Alliance airlines

- SQ partner airlines (Alaska Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Australia, Vistara and Juneyao Airlines)

But let's be real - your brain is probably too fried to understand charts right now. Use MoneySmart's KrisFlyer miles calculator to figure out where you can fly for free instead.

STEP 5: DO THE ACTUAL KRISFLYER MILES REDEMPTION (FINALLY!)

Here's a list of what you can do with those KrisFlyer miles you spent all that time collecting, with quick links to the relevant pages:

- Redeem free flights on Singapore Airlines & SilkAir

- Redeem free flights on Star Alliance

- Redeem free flights on SQ partner airlines

- Upgrade paid flights on Singapore Airlines & SilkAir

- Upgrade paid flights on Star Alliance & SQ partner airlines

- Use KrisFlyer miles to pay for Scoot flights

- Use KrisFlyer miles to pay for non-flight stuff

REDEEM FREE FLIGHTS: You can redeem free flights, known as "award flights", on Singapore Airlines or SilkAir through singaporeair.com. Star Alliance airlines and SQ partner airlines, however, are only integrated with KrisFlyer miles to some degree. If you cannot redeem your flight online, you can fill in a reservation form or call KrisFlyer to book.

UPGRADE PAID FLIGHTS: If you don't have enough KrisFlyer miles for the flight you want, you can use your miles to upgrade your (paid) flight to the next cabin class, i.e. upgrade to Premium Economy or Business.

USE KRISFLYER MILES TO PAY FOR SCOOT: Singapore Airlines has discontinued vouchers for Scoot flights, but you can still use your KrisFlyer miles as "cash" to pay for your Scoot airfare. (You'll definitely get judged by fellow travel hackers, but hey, it's your life.)

USE KRISFLYER MILES TO PAY FOR OTHER STUFF: It's hardly worth mentioning, but you can also use KrisFlyer miles as money to pay for stuff like KrisShop purchases or to KrisPay merchants. I guess it's a nice way to use up random leftover miles that are expiring soon.

FAQS ABOUT KRISFLYER MILES REDEMPTION & FEES

If you've followed this guide all the way through, you should be all set for your free trip! Or perhaps some questions popped into your head:

ARE THERE ANY COSTS WHEN YOU REDEEM KRISFLYER MILES FOR FLIGHTS?

Yes, your award flights won't be 100 per cent free. You need to pay taxes and miscellaneous charges in cash. This is only a fraction of the airfare anyway, but it's something to bear in mind.

Don't forget you can earn miles on those extra costs if you use your air miles card to pay for that final bit of your flight!

CAN YOU TRANSFER KRISFLYER MILES TO ANYONE ELSE?

No, you can't transfer your miles to anyone else. So if you and your partner are both chasing miles, you might want to consolidate everything in one account.

That said, KrisFlyer members can select up to 5 people to form your "Redemption Group". These nominees are allowed to use your account to book flights and collect tickets, so you can "share" your account in this way with friends/family.

Selecting your KrisFlyer nominees is a commitment because if you ever change your mind, it'll cost you US$30 or 3,000 miles each time you make changes.

WHAT IF YOU DON'T HAVE ENOUGH KRISFLYER MILES FOR THE FLIGHT YOU WANT?

Tough luck. Consider changing your destination to a cheaper one, flying on a lower cabin class, or waiting till you have more miles.

But if all these are out of the question, there is the option to top up extra miles with cash. It'll cost you though. Top ups are sold in blocks of 1,000 miles and they cost US$40 per block.

Another way to "buy" KrisFlyer miles is to pay the annual fee on certain miles cards. For example, if you pay the annual fee of S$192.60 on the Citi PremierMiles or DBS Altitude, you get 10,000 miles.

That's less than S$20 for 1,000 miles, which is way cheaper than KrisFlyer's top up rate!

WHAT IF YOU WANT TO MAKE CHANGES TO YOUR AWARD FLIGHTS?

Book your award flights carefully, because there's pretty much no turning back once you've booked. (Unless you booked Advantage, which allows you to change the date/time to suit your schedule.)

Here's a table of fees you'll have to pay if you want to make changes to your flight:

Photo: MoneySmart

KRISFLYER CONTACT DETAILS

For enquiries and certain award flight bookings (e.g. on SQ partner airlines), you will need to contact KrisFlyer Membership Services the old school way - by phone.

TEL: +65 6789 8188 (24 hours)

FAX: +65 6789 8777

ADDRESS:

KrisFlyer Membership Services

PO Box 177

Singapore Post Centre Post Office

Singapore 914006

For non-urgent enquiries, there's also an online feedback form.

Alternatively you can try to call Singapore Airlines' ticketing office or go down to the counter to bang table, though I'm not sure how effective they'll be at addressing KrisFlyer-specific issues.

This article was first published in MoneySmart

Purchase this article for republication.

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