Singapore Airlines And United Bury The Hatchet?

Singapore Airlines joined Star Alliance 22 years ago. You’d expect that when they look to feed passengers to and from their U.S. flights they’d work hand-in-hand with United. Except that’s not what’s happened over the years.

The Southeast Asian carrier has partnered with JetBlue. They’ve partnered with Virgin America and then Alaska. They’ve even run contests in the U.S. where prizes included travel on a partner other than United.

United Airlines launched service in Los Angeles to compete with Singapore’s non-stops as well as service from San Francisco. And United has even pulled Singapore Airlines award flights off of its website so that members wouldn’t know about them.

For several years Singapore undermined United’s revenue-based rewards program by continuing to offer one mile per mile flown on United flights.

In other words, United and Singapore have been frenemies… at best. And that’s why it was striking to me to see an expanded codeshare agreement between the two carriers.

United’s customers will be able to connect to nine new codeshare destinations in the SIA Group network. Of these, seven points are in South East Asia. These are Brunei’s capital Bandar Seri Begawan, Siem Reap in Cambodia, Kuala Lumpur and Penang in Malaysia, and Denpasar (Bali), Jakarta and Surabaya in Indonesia. They may also connect to Perth in Australia, as well as Male in the Maldives with SIA.

SIA customers may connect on United’s flights out of Los Angeles to 10 new codeshare destinations in the US. These are Austin, Baltimore, Boise, Cleveland, Denver, Honolulu, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Reno and Sacramento. This complements the existing connections available on United’s network from Houston to Atlanta, Austin, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Ft. Lauderdale, Miami, New Orleans, Orlando and Tampa.

Singapore gets feed for its Los Angeles services from United. United no longer tries to operate its own Los Angeles – Singapore non-stop, but this potentially does trade off with passengers who might fly United’s San Francisco – Singapore flight. Singapore also gets feed off of United’s San Francisco – Singapore flight, onward to several new destinations, while helping United sell that long haul to customers who aren’t terminating their journey in Singapore.

Perhaps this expanded codeshare signals a rapprochement between the long-time alliance-mates.

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 »

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  1. My 2¢. But I think this is more about SQ trying to replace Cathay as the player in the Asia global hub.

  2. Excellent news because Singapore Airlines has superb service, and Singapore Airlines doesn’t break guitars.

  3. Now if only they’d make it a JV…

    I imagine if they could get approval, an AC/UA/NH/SQ JV would be powerful.

  4. SQ and UA didn’t partner much in the past for a number of reasons. SQ has traditionally done its own thing in Star Alliance (there was even a spat over the logo jet and placement). UA also simply wasn’t up to par with SQ’s service standards (and largely, still isn’t) but has made enough improvements for the two carriers to mend fences a bit, particularly given the fact that HKG’s best days as an Asian hub are behind it, and the competition is heating up for its replacement, with few carriers better positioned than SQ to replace CX in that role for the region.

    UA’s LAX-SIN route failed because the plane took penalties on the LAX-SIN leg and the corporate traffic simply wasn’t there and the connecting feed not big enough to warrant it on the SIN end and so UA consolidated it at SFO.

  5. Woah! This explains something that mystified me yesterday!

    I was in the process of booking *A award tickets for the upcoming “reboot” of my annual 4-week Year-end Asian Escapade™ — suspended since 2020 because of the pandemic — when I noticed that for nearly all intra-Asia flights I checked (e.g., BKK-DPS) there was SQ award availability galore on the UA website, not only for economy tickets, which one could find from time to time, but also for business tickets, which were previously bookable only through SQ using one’s SQ account! When I did a similar search in 2019 for intra-Asia *A awards on the UA website, SQ awards were nowhere to be found, Especially for travel in SE Asia, TG reigned supreme. So, welcome back, SQ!

    This is a great development because it’s happened right after I transferred nearly 250K Chase UR and AMEX MR points to SQ miles to earn the program’s Gold status (and *A Gold) without flying, while also putting at my disposal more than 300K redeemable SQ miles with an immutable “shelf life” of 3 years to use or lose. Fortunately, because of the pandemic, SQ has also automatically extended the Gold status to December 2023, thus giving me the time to both enjoy the Gold status and spend the miles before they expire…

  6. @DCS, shorthaul SQ business awards were always bookable via partner miles.
    Its longhaul J that is missing from partner inventory.

  7. @Bob — They were bookable but seldom available on the UA website, at least that was my experience, which led me to get a SQ account for the sole purpose of accessing SQ awards. What I stated above has been true for many years – searches of *A awards on the UA site yielded almost no availability of SQ awards. I ought to know because I have been doing the Asian Escapade annually since 2011…

    Try now and see. They are all over the place.

  8. Prior to Scott Kirby repositioning UA as a proper full service airline, it just doesn’t make sense for SQ to partner with UA for US pax feeds as the service level disparity is huge therefore detrimental to SQ’s meticulously cultivated premium branding/image. Now that UA has stepped up its own game, SQ is now much more amenable to working with UA who obviously has the greater commercial potential (versus AS & B6)

  9. @Bob – short haul flights were bookable through United by phone but were intentionally removed from website booking for a period of time.

  10. I moved back to UA after years of being SQ Gold because I thought UA had better redemption. Normally just 2 round trip flights and some regional travel would assure me Gold, but under UA’s program, I just barely have Silver which I get for free from Marriott.

    The downside of SQ is that my miles expire even when having their credit card which is something I appreciate about United.

    Now I’m thinking I should find a new Star Alliance partner that doesn’t complicate things as much as UA, yet flexible on rewards with means of retaining miles.

  11. It is interesting to see SIN jockey to replace HKG as the Asia hub. Some do not like how security is at each gate in SIN. Otherwise, it is a fantastic airport.

  12. Gary, any word on enhanced mileage / PQP earning? Perhaps at least moving SQ up to a UA preferred partner?

  13. Why wouldn’t every passenger prefer security at the gate? Other than a ~15 minute window around 45 minutes before departure, gate security has no line. *Huge* improvement over massive lines to go through consolidated security in the US!

    Now, from a cost perspective, I understand why airlines might prefer to only pay for a few people in a central location. But for the passenger? Security at the gate is so much better!

  14. T4 at Changi is consolidated security at the entrance to the terminal.

    In T3, more and more gates have security consolidated for ~5-gates.

  15. This raises a very interesting, more general question. Should United flyers credit their miles to Singapore? For that matter, should Delta flyers credit their flight miles to Virgin? Should American flyers credit their flight miles to Qatar or JAL? Which foreign programs still have a real award chart, and real full-Alliance availability?

  16. @Ron and Shoeguy,

    Service standards had nothing to do with SQ and UA not being closer. UA really doesn’t need SQ. SQ teamed up with US Airways and jetBlue, and I would hardly call US and B6 premium service carriers. This was back when US charged for a glass of water at the time in coach and had ads on the tray tables, and B6 which doesn’t even have a premium cabin in most of their aircraft. SQ just teamed up with whoever was available and not a direct competitor.

    The fact is SQ needs UA way more than UA needs SQ. The US point of sale requires access to markets outside gateways SQ flies, and UA can carry all the traffic on its own to Singapore, India, China etc; something B6 and US couldn’t do. The prorated fares UA gets into the US from SQ is likely peanuts, so not really worth displacing other higher revenue potential on their own metal.

    The markets that UA is going to codeshare beyond SIN are smaller and I would assume don’t add much additional market penetration outside the major cities already served by UA and JV carriers.

    In addition, NH satisfies pretty much most markets that SQ flies to, but under a JV, so UA is likely more inclined to send passengers over Tokyo than SIN.

  17. @wpr8e — Very well articulated. I knew that typical comments that denigrated UA based some bogus and opaque standards of excellence against which US airlines are measured relative to wholly state-subsidized foreign airlines did not at square with reality. Compared to UA’s combine domestic and global reach, SQ is a minor player that should be happy with precisely what UA just offered it.

    I believe that prior “bad blood” between the two airlines might have been due to SQ adopting a ‘prima donna’ attitude based on accolades it’s received, deservedly so, for its service and thinking that it could use that to dictate to UA the terms of engagements, but it miscalculated and was rebuffed.

    As @2wpr8e just argued quite plausibly, SQ needs and gets more out of this rapprochement than does UA…

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