Where Should You Credit United Flights to Now That They’re Awarding Fewer Miles?

With United’s new revenue-based frequent flyer program for earning miles from flying, you earn miles based on the price of your ticket and not based on the distance you fly when traveling on United.

  • The ‘break-even’ price to earn the same miles in 2015 that you would have earned in 2014 is a ticket that costs about 20 cents per mile.
  • But United’s average fare is significantly less than 15 cents per miles.
  • So on average folks are positioned to earn fewer miles from their flying under the new program.

As a result, it is worth asking whether — if you must fly United — to credit those miles to the MileagePlus program or to credit to a partner airline.

If you are going to earn elite status, credit to United. You may earn fewer miles, but you can still earn status (the revenue requirement for status equates to just 12 cents per mile). You’ll get some upgrades, free checked bags, and airport priority. And elite status bonuses for flown miles help close the gap with what you’ll earn through other programs.

But if you’re an occasional United flyer, you may do better elsewhere. There are still programs out there that will award you with more miles for your United flights than United will.

Unfortunately, one of those options has gone away. Turkish Airlines Miles & Smiles used to award 100% flown miles (at least) on all United fares. They no longer do (HT: Daniel W.)

Here are two good options to consider:

Singapore Airlines Krisflyer

Singapore allows you to earn 100% flown miles on all United flights. (.pdf)

Singapore adds fuel surcharges to awards. Their website is frustrating — you can only book Singapore’s own flights online, and will have difficulty booking awards in mixed classes of service that way.

But they do offer a 15% discount for online bookings. And there’s really one primary use of their miles — that’s that Singapore offers much much much better award availability on their own flights for their own members.

Sure it’s still tough to get 2 first class award seats on their A380 from US destinations to and from Asia. But it’s not impossible. And suites class between other cities are easier. First (on their 777s) and business class awards have better availability.

If you want to fly Singapore Airlines, which really has one of the world’s best first class products, the way to do it is with Singapore’s own miles. And availability is outstanding.

Award prices:

  • San Francisco – Hong Kong in ‘suites class’ is 70,125 miles one-way.
  • Houston – Moscow in first class is 57,375 miles one-way.
  • New York JFK – Frankfurt in suites class is 57,375 miles one-way.

You can have one enroute stopover on a roundtrip award as well.

Other useful awards:

  • US – Hawaii costs 35,000 miles roundtrip in coach, 60,000 miles roundtrip up front (no fuel surcharges)
  • North America domestic first class awards cost just 40,000 miles roundtrip (no fuel surcharges)
  • North America – Europe is 130,000 miles roundtrip in business class; 160,000 miles roundtrip in first.
  • North America – Middle East is 115,000 miles roundtrip in business class, 150,000 miles roundtrip in first.
  • South Africa is 145,000 miles roundtrip in business class.

American Express Membership Rewards and Starwood Starpoints transfer to Singapore. And Chase does too now and so does Citi. That makes Singapore miles among the easiest to get, and easiest to combine with the occasional United flight.

Singapore miles expire after 3 years — not 3 years of account activity, but 3 years after earning. So you need to earn miles, top off via transfers in from other programs, and redeem if you go this route.

Copa Airlines ConnectMiles

Copa — which used to just use United’s MileagePlus as its frequent flyer program — has launched its own.

  • They promise 1 mile = 1 mile “never less.”
  • Their elite status doesn’t have a revenue requirement
  • Top elites earn upgrade certificates that can be used on United

We don’t yet know what their Star Alliance award chart looks like, or whether there will be fuel surcharges (although most programs in the region do not). Their elite status does require flying at least 4 Copa segments, so one roundtrip that connects in say Panama City suffices.

We’ll know more once it’s possible to sign up for the program in May. But for now you can sign up for their email list, and when you use the same address with your new ConnectMiles account you’ll receive 1000 free miles.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. I’m a 1MM on UA–is there a way I can get gold benefits (essentially E+), but still credit my earning to Kris?

  2. Does SQ have a lot of US to Europe business or first class awards?

    Especially from the West Coast?

    Or are you talking about using SQ miles for Star Alliance awards on other Star Alliance airlines?

  3. I have searched Singapore. I have not found any suites class at 70K one way in first I only see the 777 and for well more miles than 70K. Even at saver level on the website I see costs for 82-165,000 one way. That is only 777 not suites class.

  4. @wco81 – you can use sq miles for star alliance awards on their partners, but they give extra availability to their own members for their own singapore flights

  5. @Michael T – change your account # after check-in (easiest on one way tickets, you’ll need to change # back after flight to use benefits again on the return — at least for those benefits where you need the # in the reservation rather than merely flashing the card)

  6. If you credit to SQ, just make sure it’s not the cheapest fare class on UA (N class).
    That’s the only UA fare class gets you 0% if you credit to SQ.

  7. I think Singapore is a poor program to bank to. The miles expiring 3 years after earning is the very reason why my family stopped banking Asia miles and moved over to BA instead even when living in Hong Kong

  8. @Andy, but here in the USA we can easily top up our SQ accounts from UR/MR/TY/SPG. Two years ago, that wasn’t the case since MR/SPG were the only SQ partner back then.

  9. If I’ve already booked a flight on United, how would I get the miles credited to Singapore Air? Do I call United and ask them, or would I have had to book the flight w/ Singapore?

  10. The Gold status level seems to be a threshold. UA silver is pretty much worthless if can get a card with similar benefits. With the changes at UA my family and extended family have switched from UA to now being proud SQ members. My son will not have a UA account but will start in AA and SQ. As a IK I am likely to stay with UA to meet the threshold, maybe, but travel beyond that may be used to build status on AA or other.

  11. Can you create an account for SQ and do award searches without transferring any UR points to it?

    Would want to see what kind of saver award availability they have for TATL ex SFO.

  12. @robertw – Sq did at one point have the A380 on that route. SQ1/2 has always been a tough award. SFO only has 777s currently, but try looking at space on SQ15/16 (SFO-ICN)…

  13. Could they be blind to the effect this change may make for driving away economy fliers? I will not no longer book United flights except for my Opinion Miles earnings which I’m going to try changing to American too.

    This is more than just encouraging upscale travelers, this is showing economy fliers the door!

  14. I thought that I would credit our few UA flights to Lifemiles as they are so easy to top up through constant buy miles promotions. (We usually fly oneworld and rarely star alliance )

    Only problem it looks like you need to phone in. Any recommendations as to who to contact at Lifemiles to get credit.

    Also some of our tickets are United P fares which don’t earn lifemiles credit. So I tried to send them to Aeroplan but Aeroplan won’t accept the tickets as we set up the Aeroplan account after we flew the UA flights.

    Any suggestions

  15. @turgutbey – fuel surcharges aren’t really dependent on the airline issuing the awards, usually — those programs that add them will add the fuel surcharge that would have applied on an identical paid ticket. So look up the paid ticket, and the fuel surcharge component will be what you can expect to pay.

  16. Thanks for this, Gary — always very helpful to have your updated thinking as FF programs change/devalue. You didn’t say anything about Air Canada’s program — has it deteriorated to the point you don’t think it’s a viable alternative? (Especially for those of us who may not be able to amass the SQ miles, even with transfers from Chase, for a desired trips within 3 yrs from the starting gun.)

  17. @ScottB – Aeroplan doesn’t award full mileage on most of the lowest United fares, and only is an Amex and SPG transfer partner (not Chase/Citi).

  18. @wco81- I can tell you without even looking- zero availability. SQ does not show partner flights on-line, and only flies from SFO transpacific.

    You are unlikely to find much availability on any Asian carrier for a TATL flight.

  19. @George

    I figured as much. I guess I can look at them for occasional flights to Asia.

    Sounds like they may have some TATL flights from the East Coast though.

  20. I didn’t think the Turkish “gaping hole” would last forever but UA closed that faster than I even imagined. The Singapore “hole” might last longer but I bet it’s on life support. Nobody knows for sure but I just can’t imagine that UA will allow 100% on Copa…. The new program seems to need UA more than UA needs Copa — so it would be shocking to see it become the refugee center for disaffected UA MP folks. ( In my uninformed opinion. )
    I guess I’ll stick with flying AA and crediting to Alaska until AA goes the way of UA and DL and a revenue based program–and I have no doubt that they will and likely next year.

  21. Thanks, Gary, for the info RE: Aeroplan.
    RE:SQ miles expiration: Must the trip commence (or be completed) within 3 yrs of earning the miles used? Or must the ticket be issued within 3 yrs — which would mean, if ticketed as far in advance as SQ flights are available, that a trip could occur closer to 4 years after earning the miles used.

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