The airline and credit card industries have spawned a whole new industry of bloggers who advise consumers about how to master the complex and arcane rules of airline loyalty programs and to arbitrage differences amongst them.
Thanks to MileValue I got a neat 12.5% saving on a recent frequent flier mileage redemption. It turns out that United deducts 20,000 miles for a one-way from the mainland US to Hawaii but the same seat is 17,500 miles if booked through United's Star Alliance Partner, Singapore Airlines.
But the process is tedious, and a few suggestions:
a) Creating the Krisflyer account is relatively easy, but it still takes some time. I suggest anyone planning to use this feature should do it now and have it set up.
b) One thing that is not obvious with Krisflyer is that they require "Nominees" to be added to your account for them to fly using tickets from your account. A member can have up to 5 nominees. So when you create the account, add the details for your Nominees (spouse,kids, anyone likely to use your miles) at the same time. Be careful though a nominee once added cannot be removed for 6 months. (Not a big deal as you can always transfer MR rewards to say your spouse or children's own Krisflyer accounts, and they can have 5 nominees too). The same screen will ask for dates of birth and ID information.
c) As already pointed out, you have to call to book partner awards (in this case, UA). The reps while extremely courteous are also extremely slow. It took me about 30 minutes to book the above flight. They asked me for the flight dates, the names, then put me on hold, then got back, asked for passport information, date of birth, credit card information to pay taxes & fees etc. then put me on hold, then said they would send an email to confirm the reservation - i.e. they did not give me a PNR number in real-time. Between my accent and her accent it took us a while to get the names straight but she got them all right in the end. All this would have been avoided had I added the nominees in the first place.
d) The good news is that the call center is open 24 hours a day, so I called them and did all this at 1 in the morning. The bad news is that just after I finished the whole process my cell phone rang with an unfamiliar caller ID. (In hindsight I think it was from a Singapore number as it was 65...). Given how late it was I was about to ignore it as a crank call. Luckily I picked it up and it was THE SAME (kudos to SQ for good customer service) agent who I had talked to for half an hour calling to ask me to add the nominees to my account (see above) before she could issue the award tickets. In other words, just giving them all the information when they book the tickets is not enough, the passengers have to be your official account nominees. I did that while she stayed on the line and confirmed. Their website is a bit slow so it took another 5 minutes to add the two nominees.
e) Use a card that does not charge foreign transaction fees. The fees for the 3 tickets were 9.90 SINGAPORE dollars (about USD 2.25/ticket). This is a trifle compared to the ridiculous "fuel" surcharges and taxes that Lufthansa and British Airways charge (does United get me Hawaii without any fuel?). But it is still irritating to be charged a pesky foreign transaction fee, or 3 of them. (I think each ticket was charged separately, I will figure it out when I look at the credit card statement).
I hung up and got email messages in less than a minute with all 3 ticket numbers and the itinerary.