One of the best ways Australians can spend their United MileagePlus miles is on Star Alliance flights to Asia, with journeys to Singapore, Hong Kong and Bangkok requiring only 30,000 United miles for a business class ticket with United's partner Singapore Airlines.
But there are catches, and pretty big ones: travel options on Singapore Airlines don’t appear when searching for flights on the United MileagePlus website, while SQ also restricts the types of aircraft that United members can book in business and first class when redeeming their hard-earned miles.
Still, there’s a way to find and book Singapore Airlines business class flights from Australia, including on flights with fully-flat beds at the pointy end: here’s what you need to know.
Booking Singapore Airlines business class using United miles: the basics
Although Singapore Airlines allows its own KrisFlyer members to book business and first class reward flights on its Airbus A380s and Boeing 777-300ERs, it doesn’t afford members of most partner frequent flyer programs – including United MileagePlus – that same privilege.
Instead, United cardholders are free to book business class reward flights on the airline’s Airbus A330, Boeing 777-200, Boeing 777-200ER and the (non-ER) Boeing 777-300, plus on the Airbus A350: although reward availability on the latter can prove scarce.
Despite the restrictions, that still provides options for travellers based in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Canberra and Adelaide, which see a mixture of these ‘allowed’ aircraft.
For instance, Sydneysiders could book business class reward travel on flight SQ252, an Airbus A330 service...
... while Brisbanites could secure seats on all Singapore Airlines departures (pending availability), including the new overnight Boeing 777-200ER legs with A380-style fully-flat beds.
Remember: as long as the actual aircraft operating your flight isn’t an Airbus A380 or a Boeing 777-300ER, you may be in with a shot, even if that aircraft has the same seats as you’d find on the A380, as is the case for Brisbane.
Booking Singapore Airlines business class using United miles: exploring options
Now that you know which Singapore Airlines flights you definitely can’t book using United miles, it’s time to discover which flights you can – and because United doesn’t allow you to search for these using its own website, we instead turn to the independent ExpertFlyer website.
ExpertFlyer is subscription-based software that can search for frequent flyer reward seats across an array of airlines including Qantas, Virgin Australia, and of course, Singapore Airlines. You’ll pay US$10/month (A$13.35) or US$100/year (A$133.50) for the necessary Pro Premium subscription.
Once that’s sorted, log in to your ExpertFlyer account, head to ‘Awards & Upgrades’ and enter precisely what you’re searching for – in this case, one business class reward seat from Sydney to Singapore with Singapore Airlines, three days either side of December 6 2016.
We should highlight that with Singapore Airlines, ExpertFlyer displays only those reward flights which are made available for booking to SQ’s Star Alliance partners, such as United: perfect for our plans.
(Members of Singapore Airlines’ own KrisFlyer scheme should instead search for reward flights directly on the Singapore Airlines website, as more options and aircraft types tend to be offered to KrisFlyer members than those of other programs.)
Our search revealed that on December 4, at least one Singapore Airlines business class reward seat is available using United miles on flight SQ252, but the same can’t be said for December 5:
Performing a similar search from Brisbane shows that business class rewards are open on flights SQ236, SQ266, SQ256 and SQ246 across the week, being served by both Airbus A330 aircraft with angled-flat beds and Boeing 777-200ER aircraft with fully-flat sleepers.
Repeat this process until you find a suitable flight, and if you’re planning a one-stop journey such as Brisbane-Singapore-Hong Kong, you can instead replace ‘Singapore’ with ‘Hong Kong’ in the destination box, keeping your eyes peeled for flights which have a ‘Yes’ next to both legs of the trip:
Booking Singapore Airlines business class using United miles
Once armed with the details of your preferred flights, give the United MileagePlus team a call on 1300 651 815 within Australia between 9am and 6pm Sydney time, Monday to Friday.
Outside these times, you can also call United’s central USA number – +1 800 864 8331 – although international call charges may apply.
(Note, that’s +1 at the start before the main number, not an Australian ‘1800’ line.)
Once connected, just provide your chosen route, travel date and flight number and you should be booked in no time.
In addition to the miles, you’ll also need to pay a small amount to cover airport and government charges. These vary from route to route but usually cost under A$100 each way, often closer to A$60.
And that’s it! It’s not the easiest frequent flyer reward booking you’ll ever make, but for just 30,000 United miles between Australia and South East Asia and with change back from A$100, it’s certainly worth the effort.
Final tip: If you find this process too complicated for your liking, you can instead book flights with Thai Airways using United miles via the United website – although Singapore Airlines flights remain ‘hidden’ from view, available only to those who know this trick.
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Connect with other business travellers in our Singapore Airlines discussion group