The partnership between Virgin America and Singapore Air has deepened with the announcement this week of frequent flyer reciprocity between the two programs. Members in both programs will be able to earn and redeem points for flights on the partner. Virgin America is celebrating by offering 500 free points to all their members. Mostly great news, really, though the devil is in the details.
For Virgin America’s Elevate members the earning rates for Singapore Air-operated flights are pretty meager:
Yes, I get that Elevate is a revenue-based program rather than a distance-based one so the 1:1 ratio doesn’t necessarily line up perfectly. But a 70% earning rate for paid Suites cabin travel is pretty darn low. A paid business class ticket from San Francisco to Singapore will net 4,220 points or roughly $100 in Elevate credit. That same flight will earn between 10,000 and 17,000 points when credited to a Star Alliance partner of Singapore Air; it is hard to value that at less than the $100 Elevate is offering and quite easy to do better than the $100 level.
Redeeming Elevate points for travel on Singapore Air is similarly challenging. A return trip in business class on SFO-SIN rings in at 95,000 points. Just over 22 round trip flights will net you enough points to redeem for one. That’s roughly double the rate required from most other Singapore Air partners.
For short-haul redemptions in SE Asia, however, the Elevate option may be a reasonable one. Singapore to Bangkok is only 6,000 points and $46 in taxes/fees for a return trip in economy; it is 13,000 in business. That’s roughly $200-350 worth of points and fees. The next closest I can find is 20,000 from ANA or 25,000 points from a host of other carriers for an economy class ticket. Redeeming Elevate points would be a win there, at least compared to the other programs. Or you can look at is as a paid business class SFO-SIN gets you a free economy onward to Bangkok at some later point. Not necessarily the best deal but not completely awful either. And with 136 new routes now available plenty of opportunity to suss out the deals. Just don’t expect a lot of premium cabin inventory to show up, especially on long-haul routes.
For Singapore Air’s KrisFlyer members earning on Virgin American-operated flights actually looks like a pretty good deal. The accrual rates are a minimum of 100% of the miles flown with a 50% bonus for C, D and J class tickets. No bonus for Main Cabin Select but that’s not too surprising. The redemption rates on Virgin America metal are a bit complex, and not particularly great (40K for transcon return in economy) but there is an option for Main Cabin Select redemption if you’re in to that. It is not clear what fare bucket the awards come out of so access to the seats may be limited.
Overall this is a solid partnership, especially for KrisFlyer members. And there are even a few gems in there for the Elevate members, too.
Flying up front is always a good thing. A flat bed is even better. Getting a double bed comfortable enough for two people to lay next to each other and still sleep well is simply ridiculous. Fortunately, Singapore Air offers such a setup on their A380 planes in "Suites" class and I finally got to experience it. As an added bonus the flight happened to be an inaugural of sorts – the first A380 from San Francisco to Asia (Hong Kong in this case) so we we treated to a few extra surprises as well.
Believe it or not, the Singapore SilverKris Lounge at SFO wasn’t our lounge of choice for this particular flight. It is nice enough and there is the advantage of hot food available there but this time, thanks to our first class tickets, we chose to spend the time prior to the flight in United Airlines’ GlobalFirst lounge instead. More space, similar booze and closer to the gate were the main reasons we went with the GFL. The fact that the SKL is so crowded with the larger plane that they block even their own elites from accessing it made me quite comfortable in that decision. We were one of only two parties in the GFL and quite enjoyed the time there.
In addition to the lounge time there was a bit of a party set up in honor of the inaugural flight. Singapore Air had a number of sales/marketing executives at the gate and a buffet spread set up with small sandwiches and desserts on offer. I also had the opportunity to speak with many of the execs there and talk about the plane, the route and their excitement in having the larger aircraft running the route. They did quite a nice job with that aspect of things, though obviously don’t expect that every time. It was quite entertaining when they all called my wife by name as we boarded, even though they hadn’t met her, only because of our prior conversations that evening.
Finally, as we boarded the flight we were given small gift boxes. As I settled in to my suite I opened it up to see what they were offering to commemorate the inaugural. The red and gold leather luggage tag is awesome. I’m a big fan!
Speaking of settling in to the seat, I have to say that this is probably the most personal space I’ve ever had on a plane, including Emirates‘ and Thai Airway’s A380 first class products. Simply ridiculous, really. There are extra pillows so you don’t feel too lost in the middle of the seat without an armrest close enough to lean on. It is that wide. No overhead bins, which can be a bit awkward, but my bags actually fit completely in the space under the ottoman in my suite. Really ridiculous amounts of room.
When we had finished dinner and were ready to sleep the flight attendants set our suites into bed mode. The double bed thing really is as incredible as the marketing makes it seem. The seat folds forward making the bed a bit high to climb into for sleeping but incredibly comfortable. And all those pillows, too.
One area where Singapore didn’t really splurge on their first class product is with the lavatories. Part of that is a space consideration given that they are on the lover level, not upstairs like Thai or Emirates has. It definitely reduces some of the fun which can be had. Not that they are bad, really, but just not particularly spacious or special in any way. Still all the usual amenities one would expect to find in the lav, but not incredibly special.
Overall I think that this was the nicest A380 F seat of the three I’ve now experienced. It isn’t trimmed in gold and wood veneer like the Emirates Suite but it is more spacious than what I remember from Emirates and much more subtly luxurious. Less flash, more substance.
I really don’t get the appeal of lobster covered in a cheese sauce. I love lobster and I love cheese sauce in certain circumstances but ne’er the two shall meet in my view. Alas, I was only choosing one of the two main meals we ordered and I lost on the Lobster Thermidor vote for the second meal. After tasting it I still think I’m right. The food was very, very good on board. Neither of us loved the lobster but it was exactly as advertised.
There were snacks available mid-flight in the galley and breakfast was quite good, too. I love when an airline can serve fresh eggs in-flight.
Overall the food was very, very good. Not the absolute best I’ve had on board and not quite to the same level of selection as Emirates offers, but still quite tasty and filling.
The screen is huge. It has to be given how far it is from the seat to the screen, but it is huge.
I’m also a fan of the content selection available. A good mix of new stuff (Pitch Perfect was a lot of fun) and classics available, plenty to keep me occupied throughout the flight when I wasn’t sleeping.
The plane was supposed to have the OnAir internet connectivity available, too. The hotspot was broadcasting but it wasn’t actually able to connect out to the internet. Eventually I asked the flight attendant about the situation and she profusely apologized for the service not being available. A bit disappointing as I was hoping to give it a try; I guess I’ll just have to make another trip with them one of these days.
Singapore Air is known for their service levels. My last flight with them had incredible flight attendants so I had pretty high expectations for this flight. I was not left wanting. Parts of the incredible service were a bit over-the-top. I’m not so sure that I needed four different people to escort me from the gate area to my seat, each one handing me off to another while calling me by name. At the same time, pretty much from the moment we entered the gate area until we left the plane everyone we interacted with was ridiculously good. Much like the seats it wasn’t flashy or in-your-face but subtly exquisite. I can see why they have the reputation they do.
I’ve now taken two flights on Singapore Air, one on the A345 from Newark to Singapore and this one. Both times the service was impeccable and the flight was very, very nice. As a customer on a budget who really will only ever up in those cabins on award redemptions I’m not entirely sure that they are worth going that much out of the way for – other premium cabin offerings I’ve been in are quite nice, too – but the overall experience still is rather special. Probably moreso since I know I won’t be doing it again, but still…
The ability to legitimately earn points in more than one program for a single flight is a rare one; when such an opportunity comes up it is nearly universally worth looking in to in more detail. And so today I’m taking a look at the promotion offered by Singapore Air running through the end of February 2013 allowing for passengers to double dip when flying on certain Virgin America flights as part of a codeshare itinerary via Los Angeles or San Francisco.
For US residents booked on a Virgin America-operated flight under the Singapore Air code it will be possible to collect both KrisFlyer points and Elevate points on the same flight. Because the Elevate program earning is based on spending but there is no direct spending with the codeshare flights the companies have come up with a fixed earning table to cover the eligible flights:
Registration is required for this promotion.
This isn’t the sort of promotion which will revolutionize your earning potential. It covers a very narrow set of flights (who is buying VX codeshares as add-ons to a SQ flight??) and a relatively short window of dates. Still, not the worst thing ever published. And it always is nice to have the ability to double dip from time to time.
A report from Australia Business Traveler this week indicates that Singapore Air is upgrading a number of their long-haul aircraft to offer a better in-flight experience in the business class cabin. The Boeing 777-200ER planes are currently used to service a number of destinations in Europe with an angled-flat bed. The upgrades will see the seat replaced with a model comparable to those in use on the carrier’s A380 fleet with the most significant improvement being that they are fully flat beds. The first route to consistently see the new seats is Singapore – Amsterdam; other routes will be announced as more planes are converted to the new layout.
This is great news for passengers buying seats on the flights – they get a newer, more comfortable seat as part of the ride. But for passengers looking to redeem frequent flyer points the "upgrade" might not actually be so great. The airline has been notoriously stingy when it comes to releasing seats on their newer configurations for award travel, especially for partner carriers to redeem. The 772ERs used to be a decent option for getting access to award seats. It is not yet clear if Singapore Air will be pulling that inventory back or not. But I’m betting against us.
Win some, lose some, I suppose.
Singapore Airlines announced this morning an order for 25 new widebody aircraft from Airbus with delivery expected starting in 2017. That’s not huge news, really, but there is a part of the transaction which makes it such: Airbus will be buying back five A340-500 planes from Singapore Air as part of the deal. Those five planes happen to be the aircraft configured in an all business class operation to serve the world’s two longest routes. By the end of 2013 the carrier will no longer operate the nonstop flights to Los Angeles or Newark.
Singapore Airlines’ CEO Goh Choon Phong noted as part of the announcement, “Although disappointing that we will be halting these services, we remain very committed to the US market. Over the past two years we have increased capacity to both Los Angeles and New York by deploying A380 superjumbos on flights via Tokyo and Frankfurt. We will also continue to explore additional options to enhance our US services.”
These ultra-long-haul flights have teetered on the edge of profitable in recent years due to the significant fuel requirements to operate and the increases in fuel costs airlines have faced. The carrier has shifted between all business class service and a mix of business and premium economy seats in an effort to make the route work financially. This latest move will allow the carrier to keep their fleet young, something the carrier focuses heavily on historically (their last 747-400 was removed from passenger service earlier this year), while also removing the operating cost issues associated with these flights and aircraft.
I was fortunate enough to get a seat on the Newark – Singapore flight as an award trip back in March. I saved at least a few hours going with the non-stop flight rather than one of the many connecting options. Still, it was a very, very long time in the air. Almost too long. The carrier has since added in-flight internet connectivity to the planes so that would probably help pass the time a bit more easily, but it is still a 19 hour flight.
At the end of the day, this is a slightly sad change in that the legend of these flights is pretty significant. That said, they are rarely available for award travel and it is a very limited number of seats flying each day. On horribly inefficient aircraft which burn a ton of fuel to make the trip. I cannot actually say I’m sad that they’re going away.
Ever wondered what those two guys sitting on the far side of the lounge talking like they were recording something were doing? Well, in the case of Stephan and me in the Singapore KrisFlyer Lounge in T3 around 2am Tuesday, it was recording episode 10 of the PointsHoarder podcast. Before anyone freaks out at our horribly obnoxious behavior, it is probably worth noting that we were the only people in the lounge so we weren’t actually disturbing other guests.
This week’s episode covers our mileage run to Singapore over Labor Day weekend. We actually left the airport for just over 50 hours (closer to 55 after the delays on the return) so it wasn’t a "pure" mileage run, but it was my trip to get over 1K so I say it counts. Plus, why else would I visit Singapore. Well, listen to the podcast and you’ll hear a few of the reasons, pretty much all centered on food.
If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
That seems to be the approach Qantas is taking with Emirates, a carrier they’ve seen heated competition with in recent years. Emirates has been very aggressive in attacking pretty much everyone in the "Kangaroo Run" market, making it increasingly difficult for other carriers to compete profitably. With this move Qantas will be terminating its partnership with British Airways and shifting its Kangaroo traffic to Dubai, Emirates’ hub, as of April 2013. Between the two carriers there will be 98 weekly flights between Dubai and Australia, many of them on the Airbus A380.
The deal will allow for integrated network collaboration, coordinated pricing, sales and scheduling between the two carriers. Similar to other major ATI agreements this effectively means that the two will operate as a single business when it comes to operations in the covered markets. And the covered markets are significant; there are 70 destinations in Europe, Africa and the Middle East served by Emirates with a single connection. Qantas will become the only carrier other than Emirates to operate into Dubai’s Terminal 3. The deal will also see an alignment of frequent flyer program earning, redemption and other benefits. Lounge access and elite recognition reciprocity will be part of the deal.
At first blush, this move appears to be good for Qantas customers in just about every way. They’ll have access to many more destinations with just a single connection and connecting in Dubai isn’t all that bad a situation. Additionally, according to Qantas CEO Alan Joyce, the move will allow several of the SE Asia flights to be re-timed to allow for better timing of the flights for passengers actually in those markets rather than the folks continuing on to Europe. And, with the most significant price competition now in a joint marketing and profit-sharing agreement, it would seem that Qantas will be able to stem some of the losses they’ve been seeing in their long-haul operations. Actually, this last one might not be so great for the customers but it is always good when the airline can avoid going out of business.
Then again, Emirates has historically been somewhat predatory in their pricing and other tactics. This could be a situation where joining forces doesn’t actually make things better for both parties. And it seems likely that Qantas would be the one to lose were that the case.
The move also raises a couple interesting questions around the future marketing plans for Qantas. Currently the carrier serves as a cornerstone of the oneworld alliance. That made connectivity with British Airways, Cathay Pacific and JAL in Asia quite reasonable. And connectivity with American Airlines in North America was similarly useful. Rumors have Qatar trying to edge in on oneworld, however, and Etihad has also just signed a similar deal with Virgin Australia. These developments within the Middle East – Australia market certainly will make things interesting. For the Americas market it certainly makes sense for Qantas to remain in oneworld. For the African, European and Asian markets the benefits aren’t quite so clear anymore, though having partners for local traffic in those regions will still be valuable and there aren’t many independents left.
Interesting potential for change, indeed.
More coverage here on the new Qantas/Emirate partnership from Australian Business Traveler.
We had been sitting in the lounge for far too long, waiting out the overnight prior to our scheduled 5:15 am flight when the first TripAlert email from United Airlines rolled in: Our flight from Singapore to Hong Kong was going to be delayed approximately 45 minutes. With just over two hours on the connection that wasn’t catastrophic, but we soon realized that the 45 minute estimate was a pipe dream. And that was ultimately a bigger problem than not.
The transfer desk opened eventually and we went to get our boarding passes. It was then we were informed that our flights had all been changed and that we were now getting home about 5 hours late. Not the end of the world, to be sure, but when the plan was originally that we’d be home for dinner that was not such great news. Perhaps there was a better option available, one which would get us home closer to on time? It turns out that there was but United did not want us to have it. And I’m not so sure they were correct on that move.
My first try was to get us rebooked on the non-stop flight operated by Singapore Airlines. That was clearly a long shot and I didn’t expect them to agree to it. They didn’t. But at least they had a decent reason and they intimated that they would had our delay been more significant. All of the other options involved connections in Tokyo. Not awful as a routing, but the flights which got us home on time (or close to it) were not available. Well, they were, but not in coach and the folks at United were not willing to oversell the back or confirm us in business. Their view was that the five hour delay was acceptable even though there were seats on the plane and the delay was their fault.
Another in our group is flying to Houston. His upgrade on Hong Kong – Chicago had cleared well in advance. And there were business class seats for sale on Narita – Houston. But the rebooking engine skipped the natural, non-stop flight in favor of an extra connection which got in later and which had a 50 minute connection in SFO (not sure that meets the MCT, much less is reasonable). That wasn’t even a case of having to change the booking cabin. Fortunately that one was resolved pretty quickly on the phone.
And this is where the conundrum comes into play. I called in to the Global Services desk to try to get on those flights and was given a somewhat perplexing option. It actually was possible for them to force the seats available without a fare difference; I just had to redeem a GPU (f/k/a SWU). Even though the upgrade inventory wasn’t there the agent would be willing to force that open for me (pending approval by a supervisor). But they would not just do it on their own. In other words, I could either accept the 5 hour delay, getting home close to midnight, or pay up for the upgrade to force the issue. Which brings me to the crux of the issue: should I have accepted the "extortion" to get home on time or should it have been free?
Ultimately it worked in that I scrounged up the GPU and got the rebooking completed. And, yes, I’m going to be riding upstairs on the 747 rather than likely in a middle seat down the back somewhere. So I did realize value from the transaction. But I’m still not so sure that it was a choice I should have been forced in to or that the realized value of redeeming the GPU for the flight was what it should have been. Getting listed for the Singapore – Tokyo segment was not possible even though I was now redeeming the upgrade, and several passengers ended up clearing into both business and first on the segment. Assuming the next connection actually is on time I’ll still make it home for dinner, albeit an hour later than planned. But it came with a personal cost that I’m not so sure was reasonable.
And the ultimate irony is that the SIN-HKG flight ended up getting to HKG early enough that we probably would have made the connection anyways. Smart not to gamble on that, I think, but annoying when it cost us GPUs.
Looking to get a reasonably cheap hotel stay at a decent brand where the loyalty program is mostly worthless? Boy do I have a deal for you. Accor Hotels is running a sale through 28 August 2012 offering up to 50% off on hotels in most of the regions they operate.
The stay dates for the promo vary and the 50% thing will vary based on the specific property but I just booked a room in Singapore for this coming weekend at just over 40% off after taxes and such were included. Considering the consistency of the product Accor offers and the price point for the room (~$110/night for 2 guests) I’m very happy with that deal.
That said, I don’t really consider the points I’ll accrue or the other aspects of the Le Club AccorHotels loyalty program to be all that compelling. The points expire too quickly and the redemption value isn’t all that significant. So I just ignore the points side of this deal and look at the bottom line. The rate is still too good to pass up. Some days it isn’t all about the points. This is one of them.
Booking through the sale does mean giving up on the 3% back for Ibis bookings or the 5% back via hotels.com but the rate beats those rebates without any difficulty. Not a hard decision to make.
Singapore Airlines, the launch customer of the A380, is holding a contest to give away seats on the delivery flight of their 19th A380 in September. Delivery flights are definitely different than regular operations. Part party and part technical acceptance testing, it is an opportunity that very few get to experience. As the airline states:
Being on a delivery flight is a unique experience usually restricted to a small number of cabin and technical crew, as well as a handful of other SIA staff involved in accepting the aircraft. The operational nature of the flight means service is limited, but its exclusive nature offers a sneak peek into the real workings of the airline industry.
The contest covers a flight from any Singapore Airlines gateway to Toulouse, two nights in town, a tour of the factory and the city and the flight from Toulouse to Singapore. And they’ll fly you back to the gateway when the trip is over. Naturally I’ll be choosing Newark as my gateway should I win in hopes that they don’t mind putting me on the A345.
The contest is open through August 28, 2012, and only requires that you create an account on their SIAJourneys.com website. Go here, fill in the form, and good luck!
If you want a hint of what the A380 factory tour is like, check out these bits from my visit back in 2009.