How To: Get on Your Way to Earning Miles (Part 2)

TRAVEL HACKING

Miles


Piqued your interest?

What's with this obsession with airline miles? Well, you should read on and get acquainted with them!

 A China Airlines jet taxiing into position 

A China Airlines jet taxiing into position 

Ever wondered how people get ‘free flights’ or just want your plane food to arrive with white linen and champagne, and not aluminium foil with plastic cup wine? Miles are your best friend.

Welcome to Part 2 of my series on frequent flier miles and their importance to the modern traveller. This article will focus on how miles can be earned - the first step to gaining access to the many perks of frequent flying.

Learn to earn

 

We all know how to earn money and respect, buy Instagram followers but how does one earn miles?

Let’s first discredit the biggest misconception of flying. While many people think that earning miles (and free business class seats) can only be done by literally getting on a plane, this could be further from the truth! I’d also wager that most miles these days aren’t earned in this way.

1. The bum-in-seat method

If you find yourself on a plane, it’s likely that you’ll be able to earn miles for your journey. However, with everything else in travel, there are some important caveats.

Firstly, you have to be travelling on a fare class that allows you to accrue mileage for your flight. Take note that many airlines deliberately choose to not allow heavily discounted/promotional fares to accrue any miles. If this is the case, you’re out of luck.

 
 Fare Class 'I' will allow you to accrue miles on CX flights

Fare Class 'I' will allow you to accrue miles on CX flights

Okay, you’ve confirmed that you are flying on an eligible fare class - but will you get the full mileage for the distance flown? Not likely, especially if you’re flying economy. If your fare class is eligible for mileage accrual, the same fare class/code will specify how many miles you are going to earn. Percentages can range from as low as 10% accrual on discounted economy tickets to an eye watering 300% for first class travel. 

 
 Fare Class 'K' allows for 10% mileage accrual, this flight netted me 137 miles

Fare Class 'K' allows for 10% mileage accrual, this flight netted me 137 miles

Miles can also be earned if you travel on airlines that are in the same alliance as the airline that owns the frequent flyer program that you are crediting to. Simply put, fly on a partner airline and credit those flown miles to the airline FFP of your choice. For most of us in Singapore, this means that we can earn Krisflyer miles by flying with Star Alliance members and on six other partner airlines. Note however, that accrual rates are decided by the carrier you are crediting to and not the carrier you are flying with. 

For example, Fare Class 'Q' on Thai (TG) accrues 100% on Krisflyer. Another point to take note - while all airlines use roughly the same letter codes to denote their fare classes, the assigned accrual percentages to each letter code differ by airline.

With all of these percentages in mind, how then can one estimate how many miles are up for accrual? Most airlines will calculate the shortest distance between your origin and destination using the great-circle distance method. Therefore, mileage accrual is based on this ‘shortest distance’ and not the actual flight path of the plane as this will vary based on factors like real time weather conditions.

If you have frequent flier status with your airline, it is also likely that you will earn more miles on your flights due to the accrual bonuses that are given by virtue of your status. Therefore, don’t let your travel agent/cousin/travel gnome open a new frequent flier program with the particular airline you’re flying on - pool all of your flight earnings with your favourite airline and ALWAYS fly within your chosen alliance (unless its Air India)!

2. Debit and credit cards that award miles for spending

Despite presenting a tragically deficient miles earning proposition compared to its US counterparts, credit cards in Singapore can offer some great earning opportunities if the right cards (and strategies) are chosen.

Common ‘miles’ credit cards are:
- UOB Privimiles (Visa, Mastercard and AMEX)
- DBS Altitude Visa
- Citibank Premiermiles
- Krisflyer AMEX portfolio of cards 

These cards allow you to earn reward points (your bank’s) for spending money through those cards. Once you’ve accumulated enough of them, these points can later be converted into airline miles with the airline of your choice. Earning rates can range from 1.1 miles per dollars (bad) to about 1.4 miles per dollar (decent). Overseas spend will also increase your miles-per-dollar earning quantum, but these are mainly in place because a foreign currency fee is imposed on such expenditure. 

There are also two other important points to consider. Firstly, your cards may not actually allow conversion to miles with the airline of your choice. The UOB Privmiles and DBS Altitude only allow conversion to Krisflyer (SQ) and Asiamiles (CX), while Citibank, by virtue of their worldwide presence, has 11 airline transfer partners.

There are also other cards available for higher income earners that can include perks like (marginally) better earning rates, complimentary lounge access through the Priority Pass program, and discounted airport transfers. Therefore, if you haven’t already done so, getting these cards are a no brainer if you’re starting out in the miles game. This is especially the case when the various cashback credit cards on the market have a plethora of confusing exclusions, ridiculous minimum spends and low caps on how much cashback can be earned.

There are also spending strategies to employ (to maximise your earnings) by simply spending on the correct cards. I’ll quickly explain the one that’s easiest to implement:

Step 1 - Use the UOB Premier Platinum Visa for payWave/some online transactions (specialised spending) and earn 4mpd
Step 2 - Use the UOB Privimiles card to earn 1.4mpd on all other general spend (chip transactions)
Step 3 - Pool these earnings together and (cash)miles-out whenever you’re ready
Step 4 - Laugh at how the Krisflyer AMEX cards can even dare to offer a measly rate of 1.1 mpd.

But what about those below 21?

As of 2017, there is only one card that allows you to accrue miles without a credit facility, the easy to hate Krisflyer-UOB debit card. For those who don’t meet the MAS’s mandated minimum annual income of $30,000 or are below the age of 21, this is your only option.

While there are some bright spots to the program, opinions on the product are generally negative and can be found here

Lazy to click those links? Here are the elements that are putting people off:
1. High minimum deposit balance of $3,000
2. Minimum spend of $500 (a generally high amount for those <21)
3. Bonus miles capped at 5% of Monthly Average Balance (MAB); after which, only the base 0.4 mpd will be earned for every dollar spent
4. No interest is accrued on the deposit balance
5. The weird proposition where the account ‘rewards’ you for spending with the card AND saving in the account

Despite its shortcomings however, I personally use this card because there are simply no other debit card mileage earning options available on the market. Cashback debit cards on the other hand (just like their credit card brethren), have value propositions that are anaemic at best. Furthermore, the card is pretty well designed especially for those in love with the sarong kebaya.

3. Spending through rewards portals, apps or through in-flight purchases

Mileslife

Mileslife is an app that allows you to earn miles for every dollar spent with participating restaurants in Singapore, Beijing and Shanghai. The app used to run terrific promotions like 3x miles accrual which is accrued on top of the 3 miles per dollar offered by some restaurants. That’s a whopping 9 mpd and isn’t inclusive of the miles earned through spending with your linked credit card. 

Since launch, the list of participating restaurants has steadily grown, and the Mileslife portfolio has now grown to include hotels, spas and other lifestyle activities. I think it’s quite exciting to see how Mileslife is going to impact the future development of the miles game in Singapore and I hope that this will help Singaporeans flyers especially when the earning opportunities currently available are quite weak. 

One other compelling feature of Mileslife, though this probably only applies to a minority, is that it allows you to credit to 13 airline partners. This will be attractive for those who are heavily invested in the FFPs of other airlines. Furthermore, Mileslife in conjunction with some partners, have ran promotions in the past offering accelerated miles earning. This happened most recently with EVA and Qatar. 

If you’d like to sign up for Mileslife, you can do so here or by using the code 'BONUSMILES'. Using this link will give you a head start of a 1000 miles after a $49 minimum spend and I’ll also get a token sum for your efforts. 

Shopping Portals like Krisflyer Spree, MileagePlus shopping and Asia Miles iShop

Shopping portals aren’t new to Singapore, but the ability to earn miles through one presents an interesting proposition. Sites like Krisflyer Spree, et al. allows you to earn miles on products that you would have bought anyway. For Singaporeans, its best to use either Krisflyer Spree or Asia Miles iShop as local merchants like Lazada, Guardian and Expedia are more likely to be represented. 

How does this work? By using Krisflyer Spree, Singapore Airlines earns money from your purchase as the merchants you are shopping with actually pay the airline for every successful transaction routed through them. What happens here is that SQ pockets this money and awards its shoppers with miles on its frequent flyer program. 

Because these sites don’t add any cost to your purchases other than the ‘inconvenience’ of going through their site, you have no excuse to not earn extra miles on the dollar. 
  
Full disclosure: Sites like Shopback also operate under the same merchant-site arrangement and can actually provide you with more value over Krisflyer Spree, in the form of real cashback. Thus, do your due diligence while shopping to see which option provides you with the best value. 

Airline malls and inflight purchases

While you may think that in flight purchases are a scam peddling venture stocked with inferior goods and exorbitant prices, you’re actually probably right. However, you’d be happy to note that your purchases (if you really need to get them this way) are mileage accruable, especially if you’re shopping with KrisShop or Lufthansa WorldShop (Miles & More).

Buying miles

Usually applicable when we’re talking about non-Asian carriers. Airlines like Aegean, Avianca and Alaska routinely offer mileage buying promotions to their flyers. 

This opens interesting arbitrage opportunities especially if you know how to use the cheaply bought miles to book award flights with partner airlines. Note however, that this method is fraught with complications like the nonavailability of partner award spaces for some carriers (looking at you SQ). 

Stuck in coach? Don't fret for long 

Mileage earning opportunities aren’t that tragic for Singapore fliers if you know where to look and how to use them. However, before you attempt them, just make sure you know what you are getting into. Furthermore, always spend within your means especially whilst use credit cards. Paying a 20% interest on the credit balance you haven’t paid off is the easiest way to negate any of the value on the miles you’ve earned.

To those just starting out, all the best. For those already stuck in the sink-hole of the miles game, let me know when the next scheduled KF Amex roast is.

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