On Thursday I wrote about United’s odd announcement that they’d stop displaying Singapore Airlines award space on united.com a day later. It was phrased as “Singapore Airlines and United have agreed to remove Singapore Airlines inventory from our award flight search results on united.com and on the United Mobile App.”

While I didn’t consider this to be a huge loss as such, I figured there was probably more to it. Singapore doesn’t release any premium cabin award space on routes to/from North America to partner airlines, while they make those routes fairly wide open for those redeeming through their own KrisFlyer program. The only logical explanation I could come up with for these changes was as follows:

So what could be motivating these changes? The only explanation I can come up with is that Singapore is raising their internal reimbursement costs for award redemptions made through partner airlines, and United doesn’t want to pay the higher rates, so they’re not showing the space online in an effort to book as little of it as possible. I’m sure that’s not the reason and there are other explanations, I just can’t come up with any.

Now there were two big questions I had as a result of this change, that we now know the answers to:

Will Singapore Airlines award space stop displaying on the Aeroplan, ANA, and Lifemiles websites?

Okay, so United proactively announced they’d stop displaying Singapore Airlines award space, so the question then was whether the other loyalty programs that displayed Singapore Airlines award space online — including Aeroplan, ANA, and Lifemiles  — would also remove the space. As of now the answer appears to be no. Very interesting…

Aeroplan website award availability

ANA website award availability

Lifemiles website award availability

Will Singapore Airlines decrease the amount of award space they release to partner airlines?

The next logical question was whether they were just changing how much they want to display Singapore award space, or also changing how much Singapore award space is going to be released to begin with. While Singapore Airlines doesn’t release space in premium cabins on a vast majority of their routes to Star Alliance partners, there are some routes where they do. I wrote a post about this last month.

Singapore Airlines A330 business class

Singapore Airlines released a good amount of business class award space (on their non-A380/777-300ER aircraft) to partner airlines for travel between Singapore and Australia/New Zealand. However, as of yesterday they’ve drastically changed their policy on this.

Singapore doesn’t seem to be releasing any business class award space to partner airlines to Australia/New Zealand more than two weeks out now. Space seems to be similar to how it was previously for travel within two weeks:


However, further out than that there’s nothing in business class:


Bottom line

Partnerships between airlines are super-complicated, and I’ll never claim to understand them. Singapore has long been a half a$$ed Star Alliance member — they release much less award space to partner airlines than they do their own members, they incentivize their own members to book Singapore Airlines over partners (by offering an online award booking discount, and only making Singapore award space available on their website), and they don’t allow Star Gold members into their business class lounge, but rather have a separate (inferior) lounge for them.

So any cuts they’re making to partner airlines really don’t come as a surprise. I’m sticking to my original theory, and think that they either did raise reimbursements costs for awards, or tried to. It could be that they tried to and got push back, and as a result they decided to just release even fewer award seats. Or it could be that they did raise reimbursement costs, and as a condition of that other carriers asked them to make even fewer award seats available. Who knows. Regardless, United is all about “controlling costs,” so I’m not surprised to see them remove the award space from their website, as ridiculous as it is.

Anyone have another theory, in light of all this?

  1. December 14th, 2013 at 9:28 am

    Zed said,

    Lucky — thanks for this. It seems like this fall has been a slew of changes for those of us used to the Star Alliance status quo.

    On Monday I booked a Singapore flight from SYD to SIN in J on two cabin 777-200ER refitted. Can’t believe how good my timing was on that.

    Just curious if you or anyone else has flown that product — not tons of info available online, it seems it is basically the A380 hard product, but not the brand new 77W hard product… does that sound right?

  2. December 14th, 2013 at 9:52 am

    Darla Fastelin said,

    Hi Lucky,
    So if I want to fly from SFO or so to BKK how would I book on Singapore with United Miles? (what site?) thanks Darla

  3. December 14th, 2013 at 9:55 am

    Paul said,

    Lucky- United normally pays 40% of the cost of a ticket to book it on a partner airline. This is pretty standard in the industry. You might be dead on that Singapore wants more money. Maybe a response to United raising the miles requirement?

  4. December 14th, 2013 at 10:16 am

    Dat4life said,

    That’s a bummer, but at least Thai has really good F availability from BKK to SYD.

    In fact if you book before 2/1/14, one of the sweetest spots in UA award chart is from Japan to Australia/New Zealand. That costs 40,000 miles for business and 55,000 in first. I manage snag a Thai F HND-BKK–SYD award in May. For comparison sake, if you originate in PEK or HKG the same award would cost 65,000 and 60,000 miles, respectively.

  5. December 14th, 2013 at 11:51 am

    ffi said,

    The 40% quoted is not confirmed. I think it is just an opinion or estimate. If it was exactly 40%, they would have made that more transparent as costs increased.
    On FT there are threads that UA was paying LH 300-400$ for a TATL bz class.
    So it may not be a case of losing money, but just not getting enough profit from the FF program to the parent airline

  6. December 14th, 2013 at 1:00 pm

    The Global Traveller said,

    This is awful for *A members based in Australia/NZ.

    NZ already has no awards in business (other than AKL-PVG and sometimes AKL-NRT).

    UA premium awards to/from Australia have dried up.

    With this move by SQ, there is only TG and OZ (plus NZ’s AKL-PVG) for premium awards booked more than a fortnight in advance.

  7. December 14th, 2013 at 2:52 pm

    pw said,

    Does any other united partner offer connections to Maldives via Asia? Was thinking about using my miles for LA – MLE – ICN – LA

  8. December 14th, 2013 at 3:21 pm

    lucky said,

    @ Zed — Haven’t flown it yet, but should be an identical product to what I reviewed here (basically the “current” 777-300ER/A380 product):

  9. December 14th, 2013 at 3:22 pm

    lucky said,

    @ Darla — In first or business class you can’t, as they don’t release space between the US and Asia. If you want to fly Singapore then you have to redeem through their own KrisFlyer program.

  10. December 14th, 2013 at 3:23 pm

    lucky said,

    @ Paul — Having recently been “exposed” to partner airline reimbursements, 40% for a premium cabin ticket is *way* on the high side. A few hundred dollars is more in line for what airlines are getting reimbursed for a one-way business class ticket, so I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Singapore wanted more.

  11. December 14th, 2013 at 3:23 pm

    lucky said,

    @ pw — Not via Asia, sadly.

  12. December 14th, 2013 at 5:41 pm

    Kris said,

    So you are telling me United paid partners $25K for my two partner redemptions this year? No chance. At all. Ever.

  13. December 14th, 2013 at 6:24 pm

    Damian said,

    Seeing all this, I consider myself extremely lucky to have been able to use my UA miles to fly on SQ in August. I was able to book CPH-SIN-AKL about 5 weeks out. CPH-SIN was the new configuration on the 777-200 and it was fabulous. But, SIN-AKL was in the old layout. You could tell that even the crew couldn’t wait for the upgraded cabin.

  14. December 14th, 2013 at 7:15 pm

    Jorge said,

    Hmm makes me wonder if this is all related to LifeMiles awards and hacker “tricks” that have been exploited to the max by flyers over there….

  15. December 15th, 2013 at 11:39 pm

    anat0l said,

    A data point: called US Dividend Miles today to enquire about a simple Business redemption between Australia and Singapore next May on the SQ A330 regional product.

    From previous experience and as most Australians in the FF game will know, SQ A330 Business availability is typically plentiful. And if you can’t find availability today, you can often find it tomorrow, and if not for a week, then the aliens have invaded.

    Got onto US DM and immediately the space found was Economy only. I asked for Business and the agent could not find any availability for May or a month either side. The same for all flights over the same period in the opposite direction.

    We all know the aliens haven’t invaded.

    Looks like this is it…….

  16. December 16th, 2013 at 7:49 am

    Texpat said,

    My opinion is that the change was because SQ has been disingenuous in its *A “membership.” Since SQ almost never has anything except economy award seats, SQ connections were making the United award calendar display look wrong. That is, “mixed cabin” almost always meant that the long-haul segment on SQ was not available.

  17. January 19th, 2014 at 11:58 pm

    eminere said,

    An SQ spokesperson has now laid the blame squarely on UA.

  18. March 7th, 2014 at 2:07 pm

    Mr. Cool said,

    is it possible to book an SQ award through the UA phone center if the space is visible on lifemiles please?

  19. March 7th, 2014 at 7:48 pm

    lucky said,

    @ Mr. Cool — Lifemiles has access to more award space than many other Star Alliance partners, so just because you see it there doesn’t mean it’s bookable via United.

  20. March 7th, 2014 at 8:07 pm

    Mr. Cool said,

    @lucky thanks for the fast reply. interesting.. what if the award flight is available on the SQ website @ the saver level.. safe to assume i can book it using UA miles by calling UA? thanks

  21. March 7th, 2014 at 8:41 pm

    lucky said,

    @ Mr. Cool — Nope, Singapore also releases more space to their own members than United members, so that wouldn’t be accurate either.

  22. March 7th, 2014 at 8:46 pm

    Mr. Cool said,

    @lucky i see. bit of a conundrum. in your opinion, what is the best way to search for SQ award space to be booked with UA miles plz? thanks again

  23. March 7th, 2014 at 8:49 pm

    lucky said,

    @ Mr. Cool — Best place to accurately search space is ANA or Aeroplan’s websites. United should have access to similar award space.

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