How to Book Singapore Airlines First Class Awards
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As I took off on my whirlwind trip to Seoul and China, I got to experience one of the most sought-after experiences in the skies: Singapore Airlines first class. You'll find out more about how I booked it and the experience itself in a later post, but for now I asked TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen to give us a refresher on what routes Singapore operates with the new first class, as well as its signature Suites, and how you can book them as awards.
Increasingly, international airlines—notably the M3 out of the Middle East—are rolling bigger, newer and more blinged-out first class cabins on new aircraft like the 787 and the A350. Even amidst this competition, though, Singapore Airlines’ flagship First Suites have continued to rank among the top-rated first class seats in the skies since their introduction back in 2007.
The airline is also installing all-new first and business class seats on its new 777-300ERs, and will be retrofitting its existing fleet of 777-300ERs and 777-300s with the new cabins throughout 2015-2016. While that’s ultimately good news for flyers, it does make it a little confusing as to whether your flight will actually have the new seats—so I’ll offer a little insight on that later in this post. In the meantime, note that these new seats aren't suites like on the A380, but they still look pretty amazing.
Suite Amenities and Specs
Singapore’s First Suites were the first such seat to be introduced by a commercial airline, and are found exclusively aboard the airline’s A380s. The airline is gradually updating the Suites on its A380 fleet with cosmetic tweaks, mainly to the leather seat-upholstery and accents.
The first class cabin is at the front of the plane’s lower deck, and consists of just 12 First Suites in a slightly staggered 1 x 2 x 1 configuration. There are three rows along the sides of the cabin, but just two rows of two seats each running down the middle, which can be combined into a kind of super-suite if you’re traveling with a companion.
The seat map looks like this:
Now for the fun details. These mini-cabins were designed by French yacht designer Jean-Jacques Coste. The hand-stitched Italian leather armchair in each is Cognac-colored—though with the updated design, this is actually going to be a much darker brown.
It's a roomy 35 inches wide with the armrest down, and reclines up to 130 degrees. When it’s time to take a snooze, though, flight attendants offer a signature turndown service that converts the chair into an 81-inch fully lie-flat bed dressed in specially commissioned Givenchy linens, a duvet and full-size pillows. While that’s going on, passengers can slip into the lavatory to change into their Givenchy pajamas and have their clothes hung up in their Suite’s personal storage wardrobe.
There's plenty to keep you occupied before bed, though. Each First Suite has its own 23-inch personal entertainment screen controlled by a handheld remote. There's also a panel with a universal adapter and USB port.
In terms of meal service, the airline has pulled out all the stops with its “Book the Cook Service.” This amenity lets first class passengers pre-order from a menu of over 60 dishes created by Singapore Airlines’ "Culinary Panel" of celebrity chefs, and served on Givenchy china. To pair with the food, the airline has a fairly extensive wine list focused on French selections, including some big names from Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne.
After dinner, flyers can freshen up with their award-winning Ferragamo amenity kit. Ladies get a black-and-white clutch with Ferragamo’s Signorina products, while the gents get an all-black bag stocked with the Acqua Essenziale line of products for men.
The new first class seats were designed by BMW Group Designworks USA and dubbed “mini-suites” by the airlines since they are not enclosed. Rather, they're fixed-back shells with slightly curved walls. These seats are also 35 inches wide and get up to 82 inches long when converted into a bed. Like the A380 Suites, they are configured in a 1 x 2 x 1 layout.
Storage includes a personal space underneath the footrest/ottoman, and a laptop compartment with power ports. The entertainment screen is 24 inches.
Singapore already has 19 A380s in four configurations, all with a first class cabin of First Suites, with a further five A380s on order.
According to the most current information provided by the airline, Singapore currently operates its A380s on the following routes:
- Singapore to Auckland daily
- Singapore to Beijing daily
- Singapore to Frankfurt daily
- Singapore to Hong Kong daily
- Singapore to London twice daily
- Singapore to Los Angeles (via Tokyo) daily
- Singapore to Mumbai daily
- Singapore to New Delhi daily
- Singapore to New York JFK (via Frankfurt) daily
- Singapore to Paris daily
- Singapore to Shanghai daily
- Singapore to Sydney daily
- Singapore to Tokyo Narita daily
- Singapore to Zurich daily
- Frankfurt to New York JFK daily
- Tokyo Narita to Los Angeles daily
From mid-June to mid-July, Singapore will also add another daily A380 flight from Singapore to Sydney, and one from Singapore to Melbourne sporadically during that time as well, with (according to RoutesOnline) some additional flights taking place in September and October.
As you can see, unlike Emirates—the airline with the most A380s—Singapore uses its biggest aircraft almost exclusively on long-haul routes. The few exceptions include Singapore to Hong Kong, and arguably to Mumbai and New Delhi, since those flights are just about five hours each. This means there are fewer opportunities to either buy a cheaper short flight just to experience the First Suite, or to use fewer miles on a shorter route.
In terms of the new first class, it’s a bit tricky trying to tell if you'll be on a 777-300ER with the new seat. Know that the airline does fly it on the routes from Singapore to London and Tokyo, as well as on one daily flight each to Sydney and Melbourne, though.
There are a few other clues to look for to see if your flight might feature the new first class. If the plane has just one row of first class and a premium economy section, that means the plane has been refitted. If there's a business class mini-cabin with just two rows of seats, though, that's not a sure sign.
How to Get Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer Miles
Given the staggering price of a ticket in one of these Suites—the going rate for a round-trip flight from LAX-Singapore in June, for instance, is over $13,000—booking them as an award is probably the only feasible option for most travelers. Luckily, there are a few ways to do it.
While Singapore blocks First Class Suite award space from its airline partners, including United, Aeroplan and ANA, it actually releases a fair amount of First Suite awards to members of its own KrisFlyer mileage program.
Here is the Singapore award chart for its own flights. As you can see, it's split into a whopping 15 country-based zones, all radiating out from the hub in Singapore.
I’ve just pasted in the Singapore line of the chart above since most A380 flights originate there. As you can see, the mileage required for one-way First Class Suite awards ranges from 25,000-112,500 miles, depending on how far you fly.
That’s good news for a couple reasons. First, KrisFlyer is a 1:1 transfer partner of four of the major points programs out there: American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest.
You can transfer Amex points you earn with cards like the Amex EveryDay Preferred Card and The Platinum Card from American Express at a 1:1 ratio.
If you want to use Chase Ultimate Rewards points, you must have either the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and/or the Ink Plus Business Card in order to transfer to KrisFlyer.
Singapore was one of 11 airlines to become transfer partners with Citi’s ThankYou Rewards program (affiliated with cards like the Citi Premier® Card and Citi Prestige Card) over the past six months or so as it made an aggressive expansion into the travel space.
Singapore is also a 1:1 transfer partner of Starwood Preferred Guest, the loyalty program of Starwood Hotels. However, when you transfer points in increments of 20,000, you get a 5,000-point bonus (25%). So that makes this option even more attractive. In addition to hotel stays, you can earn SPG points by spending on either the personal card, the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express or the business card, the Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express.
Having all those transfer partners gives travelers a lot of flexibility to combine points from various programs in order to boost their balance without even flying Singapore or its partners. Just beware that it can take up to several days for points transfers to Singapore to post. The quickest it has happened for me was a transfer from Ultimate Rewards to KrisFlyer that took about 36 hours (usually it's one to two business days).
The other major reason for limiting these redemptions to KrisFlyer miles and members is that Singapore gives KrisFlyer members a 15% mileage discount on awards on its own flights that are booked online, so there are some decent values to be had. It also means that if you're booking your award online using your KrisFlyer miles, those first class awards will actually cost you between 21,250 and 95,625 miles each way, once you factor in the discount.
The one other consideration to keep in mind is that Singapore levies sometimes high surcharges and taxes on awards that can range up into the hundreds of dollars per flight, as you'll see in the examples below, so be sure to budget for that.
How to Search for Awards
Just as it blocks its award seats from airline partners like United and Air Canada, Singapore also does not display its award availability through most of its partners’ search engines. The one exception used to be ANA, but with the recent changes to that airline’s Mileage Club program, it looks like the award search is temporarily not pulling in Star Alliance partner availability properly.
I find that, in terms of First Class Suite awards at least, the best option is to log into my KrisFlyer account and just search that way. You can only pull up one day at a time, rather than a week or a month, but it is easy to search the various routes and get a general feel for award availability that way. This is just for searching for awards on Singapore itself since looking for partner awards must be done over the phone. Check out this post for more info on that.
It can get a bit tedious, but use common sense and avoid heavily trafficked routes like Singapore-London or Singapore-Sydney in favor of ones that might be more likely to have some space in first class like Singapore-Zurich or Singapore-Melbourne instead.
Here are a few awards I was able to find in a series of quick searches earlier this week. I will note the number of miles you need one-way based on booking online through Singapore’s website, plus the taxes and fees. Just for some perspective, I will also note how many United and Aeroplan miles you would need for a first class award on each route. However, as I mentioned, you can’t use partner airline miles to book Singapore’s First Suites, so those numbers are just for reference.
New York JFK-Frankfurt FRA
This is a good “off-label” kind of route for the airline since it is a continuation of its flight from Singapore-Frankfurt. It's also a great option for getting from the East Coast to Europe, and blows much of the competition out of the water.
I’ll be honest: this is a popular route, so award availability is tight, and pretty much non-existent much of the year. But every so often you can snag a seat at the last minute, like this award from earlier this week.
As you can see from the pricing page, factoring in the 15% mileage discount, your award would cost 57,375 miles and $203.
Using United miles, you’d need 80,000 miles each way to fly its own metal, or 110,000 miles to fly a partner like Lufthansa first class. With Aeroplan, you’d need 62,500 miles each way to fly first class to Europe.
Los Angeles LAX-Tokyo NRT
This is another continuation route—from Singapore’s flight from Singapore-Tokyo—and a great way for West Coasters to get to Asia. Again, availability can be quite tight. But last-minute seats open up pretty frequently. If you can play it by ear, you might be in luck, like I was in searching for flights later this week:
The total cost of this ticket would be 74,375 miles and $113 in taxes and fees—a bargain for 11.5 hours of flying bliss!
By contrast, United would charge you 80,000 miles each way to fly its own first class, and 110,000 miles each way to fly a partner like ANA or Asiana, while Aeroplan would charge you 105,000 miles each way.
Singapore SIN-Hong Kong HKG
Probably your best bet for a short-haul redemption, there's actually a decent amount of award availability, and the flight lasts four hours—enough to get in a good meal and a nap. This route would require 31,875 miles and SIN$62.50 (US$31.25) one-way.
United would charge you 40,000 miles each way on a partner, and Aeroplan would charge you 25,000 miles.
Singapore SIN-Sydney SYD
Why not swing through Asia on your way to Australia? To take the seven-hour, 40-minute flight from Singapore to Sydney, you would need 63,750 miles and SIN$250.20 (US$184).
Singapore SIN-Zurich ZRH
Singapore’s flights to Europe, including London, Paris and Zurich, are among the longest it operates on the A380 at around 12.5-13.5 hours each. Though the London and Paris routes tend to have very limited award availability, I have had better luck when searching for awards to Zurich, such as this one I found in October for 91,375 miles (there seems to be a little glitch on the page that is misrepresenting the final amount) and SIN$280.80 (US$206).
United would require 115,000 miles each way to fly first class on a partner, while Aeroplan would require 72,500 miles.
Within Asia and to India
If you’re not looking for the full 10+hour experience, then you might want to try your luck on Singapore’s A380 routes to Beijing, Shanghai, Mumbai and Delhi. Award availability tends to be pretty open, and the fact that these flights last around five or six hours each means you have plenty of time to enjoy the First Suite’s amenities.
Here’s a sample award from Singapore to Delhi in July for 42,500 miles and SIN$243 (US$179).
United would charge you 110,000 miles each way and Aeroplan would charge you 60,000 miles.
Here’s another sample award from Singapore to Beijing the same day for 42,500 miles and SIN$220.50 (US$162).
United would charge you 50,000 miles each way and Aeroplan would charge you 25,000 miles.
Melbourne MEL-Singapore SIN
If you want to try out the new first class seat, I’ve found that some of the best award availability is on Singapore’s flights to/from Melbourne. According to Australian Business Traveller, the flight numbers to look for are SQ227 from SIN-MEL and SQ228 from MEL-SIN.
Here’s a sample award for later this week on SQ227 from MEL-SIN in first class for 63,750 miles and AU$290 (US$223).
The Waitlist Option
With such a coveted first class product, Singapore award availability can be rather limited on many of these routes. But the airline also offers a “Waitlist” option on many awards that allows you to waitlist an award at the saver level.
You go through the booking process pretty much the same way you would as if booking an available award seat, except you do not enter your credit card information. Instead, you are issued an email reference number. If an award seat becomes available, the airline will contact you and give you a deadline to book – usually about 24 hours.
From anecdotal evidence, it seems like if Waitlisted awards clear, it's usually within a 10-14 day advance window of the flight. The one big downside to Waitlisting an award is that you must have enough miles in your account to actually book the award if it clears, so you can’t Waitlist an award and then wait until it clears to make a points transfer into your account. Still, it’s a good option to have in your back pocket.
Have any other questions about Singapore’s Suites or strategies on how to book them? Share your questions and tips in the comments section below.