How to Upgrade to Europe and Asia Almost Every Time

This week’s announcement about Singapore Airlines allowing their own KrisFlyer members to use miles to redeem for and upgrade into (and from) Premium Economy is a much bigger deal than it might seem at first glance — because mileage upgrades from premium economy are quite reasonable, because a quirk in the program makes it possible to upgrade most of the time (availability usually isn’t an issue), and because the points are easy to get.

That means it’s possible to buy Singapore Airlines tickets and upgrade to business class very easily.

Singapore Airlines Boeing 777-300ER Business Class

Getting Singapore Airlines Miles

When you credit United Airlines flights to Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, you earn full mileage flown (1 mile earned for 1 mile flown) on nearly all fares.

What’s more, Singapore Singapore Airlines Krisflyer is a transfer partner of all the major transferrable points currencies.

  • Chase Ultimate Rewards: Chase Sapphire Preferred Card offers 50,000 points after $4000 spend within 3 months of account opening. The card’s annual fee is $0 the first year then $95, and it earns double points on travel and dining.

  • Citi ThankYou Rewards: Citi Prestige Card offers 50,000 points after $3000 spend within 3 months as a signup bonus. It offers triple points on air and hotel spending and double points on dining and entertainment.

  • Starwood Preferred Guest: Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express earns the the single most valuable points currency.

  • American Express Membership Rewards: Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express

If you’re earning points with one of the currencies I’ve long recommended most, you can get Singapore Airlines miles.

Buying Premium Economy and Upgrading

Singapore Airlines doesn’t have cash co-pays for mileage upgrades the way that United and American do. If upgrade space is available, you can upgrade with miles.

However on aircraft that offer premium economy, Singapore Airlines will let you upgrade from coach to premium economy and from premium economy to business — not economy to business.

Singapore Airlines Boeing 777-300ER Business Class

The good news is that:

  • Premium economy may not be that much more than economy, think of it as a cash co-pay for the upgrade

  • The mileage cost of upgrades from premium economy to business are lower than what Singapore Airlines had been charging from coach to business

Singapore Airlines flies from:

  • New York JFK to Frankfurt (and on to Singapore)
  • Houston to Moscow (and on to Singapore)
  • Los Angeles to Tokyo Narita (and on to Singapore)
  • San Francisco to Seoul (and on to Singapore)
  • San Francisco to Hong Kong (and on to Singapore)

Currently San Francisc- Seoul, Los Angeles – Tokyo, and New York – Frankfurt offer premium economy.

Here are typical fares for New York JFK – Frankfurt roundtrip in premium economy.

That gets you the Airbus A380.

A base fare of just over $300 isn’t bad in my opinion.

Los Angeles – Tokyo roundtrip is more, but still under $2000.

Costs to Upgrade, and Why Upgrades are Usually Available

The most difficult thing about upgrades is getting them. I often find it easier to book award tickets (using miles for travel on partners) than upgrades.

With American and United, for instance, you usually wind up waitlisting and the waitlists are queued by elite status. If you don’t have upper tier status, you usually won’t clear the waitlist.

Singapore Airlines is different in many ways. They make a lot more space available to their own members than they do for partners. And as Milecards reminds Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer offers both saver upgrades and standard upgrades. Standard upgrades are more expensive, but are also usually available.

Singapore is truly unique offering upgrades into a more expensive bucket, thus making upgrades almost always available.

The new one way upgrade award chart, effective June 1, upgrades from premium economy to business between:

  • New York JFK and Frankfurt are 17,850 miles each way (with 15% online redemption discount) at the saver level and 26,350 at the standard level.

  • Los Angeles and Tokyo are 35,700 miles each way (with 15% online redemption discount) at the saver level and 51,000 at the standard level.

  • San Francisco and Seoul are 35,700 miles each way (with 15% online redemption discount) at the saver level and 51,000 at the standard level.

That’s still a lot of miles (although not so much for New York – Frankfurt) but remember there’s no cash co-pay other than buying premium economy rather than standard coach and you’ll usually find standard business class award and upgrade seats available.

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, 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 »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. very pleasantly surprised by those PE prices from JFK>FRA. Not a bad proposition at all for a traveler looking to spice up a trip. Without cash copay that’s nearly better than some of the best Biz deals we’ve seen from lesser products such as BA.

  2. If you purchased Premium Economy and used KrisFlyer to upgrade to Business, would you still have to credit your mileage earnings to KrisFlyer, or could you credit to another Star Alliance program?

  3. Is it possible to credit miles to a program besides KrisFlyer, if you’re using KrisFlyer to upgrade off of the PE fare?

  4. @gary, If I’m flying SQ from SFO-HKG and there is no PE. I can upgrade from economy to business with miles? Do you know how much that will cost?

  5. I was skeptical it would actually make sense to do this, but I think that it does. Using the JFK-FRA example, you would pay $1,099 plus 35,700 miles to book premium economy and upgrade to business. You’d also earn 8,464 miles (assuming you credit to SQ), bringing the actual cost in miles to 27,236.

    Or you could just book a business class seat using miles; it would cost you 97,750 miles (with the online booking discount) and $492.87 in cash. So booking premium economy and upgrading costs you an extra $606.13 but saves you 70,514 miles. That means you’re effectively “buying” those saved miles for 0.86 cents a piece, which is a pretty good deal.

    If you could get the same flight using United miles (I know that’s not as easy as SQ makes more seats available to their own members) then the value proposition is slightly different but still skews in favor of booking premium economy and upgrading. Using United miles it would cost you 140,000 miles and $5.60 roundtrip. That means you’d be paying $1,093.40 to save 112,764 miles, effectively buying those miles for 0.97 cents each.

  6. @Andrew Great comparison. Thanks for doing the math and explaining well. It’ll be interesting to see how this works going forward with the Domestics as they roll out international premium economy to match their partners.

  7. My reaction upon reading the article was that it was murky and missed the boat on comparing apples to apples–you know, giving the kind of information that would be useful instead of leaving it as an ‘exercise for the reader’.

    Then I read @Andrew’s comment above, which gave more of the kind of useful information missing in the OP.

    Sorry, Gary, more and more I’m not seeing you as any kind of “leader” in the field. A real “leader” would have given better information.

    I nominate @Andrew as the real “Thought Leader”, at least for this post!

  8. How does one determine whether upgrade awards are available? I have booked awards with miles on the Singapore website but have not paid cash for a ticket and then upgraded with Kris Flyer miles.

  9. So are you saying the upgrade inventory comes from the same bucket as regular award inventory? e.g., If Saver Award is available then a Saver Upgrade is available, and if Standard Award is available then Saver Upgrade is available?

  10. Gary, are you sure that all PE fares can be upgraded? That was not the case for economy fares at all.

  11. This is very interesting. My home airport is not NY but MSY so what is the best play? I am willing to fly to NY on a separate airline/ticket if needed but wondering if there is anyway to book paid flight, upgrade with Krisflyer points and get a connecting flight from MSY to NY?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *