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Comparing Singapore Airlines’ business and premium economy on the same 448-mile route

Feb. 11, 2022
12 min read
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I haven’t been to Asia in over two years, and with many countries there continuing to enforce strict border controls, I don’t have plans to return just yet.

That said, I’ve recently been missing some of my favorite mega-cities there, including Tokyo, Singapore and Hong Kong.

Since I don't have plans to visit Asia just yet, the next-best option for this aviation enthusiast is flying on one of Asia's, if not the world's, most well-regarded airlines.

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So, imagine how excited I was when I learned that Singapore Airlines would be adding a new fifth-freedom route within Europe, which means that the carrier can fly passengers between two foreign countries, despite being registered in Singapore.

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

The moment I read about the Singapore Airlines route from Milan (MXP) to Barcelona (BCN), on an Airbus A350-900, I added it to my “wish list.” I promised myself I would fly it the next time I was in Europe.

Fortunately, that opportunity came after my recent Air France Airbus A220 flight to Bologna (BLQ).

But, I did things a bit differently than other travelers. Instead of just flying the route in one direction, I wanted to maximize my time on board the plane and enjoy the quirky route, so I booked it as a round-trip, flying the outbound in premium economy and the return in business class.

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

So, what’s it like — and is it worth upgrading to either class for such a short flight? Read on to find out.

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Singapore Airlines' new European route

Singapore Airlines operates this fifth-freedom service as part of a longer, round-trip route from Singapore Changi Airport (SIN) to Milan, onward to Barcelona, and then back the same way, to Milan and then Singapore.

The airline deploys its “standard” Airbus A350-900 on the route, which has three cabins: business, premium economy and economy (compared to the two-cabin ultra-long-range version that it flies to cities like New York).

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

As mentioned, I opted to fly in premium economy for the first sector, which cost $150 for the one-way flight.

Interestingly, Singapore Airlines isn’t posting any award seats in any of the three cabins, possibly because the airline hasn’t gotten around to releasing KrisFlyer award space on the newly approved fifth-freedom route.

Singapore Airlines premium economy on the Airbus A350

My time with Singapore Airlines began bright and early in Milan, just before 5 a.m. local time, when I arrived at the airport's practically deserted departures hall.

While the thrill of flying with Singapore was enough to get me out of bed at that unseemly hour, it might not be for everyone. In order to optimize flight times for arrival in Singapore, the fifth-freedom route departs Milan at 7:20 a.m., making for a very early wake-up.

Perhaps it was the pre-dawn timing that scared others away — there were only seven total passengers (all appeared to be men, interestingly) boarding the plane in Milan.

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Boarding was as orderly as you’d expect for such a light load of passengers.

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Because the plane operates within the Schengen zone, the airline bused us to the plane’s parking position at the international terminal.

Once on board, I was excited to learn that I’d be the only premium economy flyer on the 448-mile journey. I had the entire 24-seat cabin to myself — not bad for a $150 fare.

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

The premium economy cabin is spread across three rows in a 2-4-2 configuration.

As the only passenger, I had my pick of seats. I stuck to the third row window seat, but would’ve been happy with the bulkhead thanks to the additional legroom it provided.

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Note that Singapore Airlines charges $25 extra for bulkhead premium economy seat assignments, but it can’t hurt to ask at the gate for a free upgrade if there are seats left in row 31.

(Screenshot from Singapore Airlines)

The one (potentially big) downside to the bulkhead is that the entertainment monitors are fixed into the cabin wall, making for an uncomfortable viewing angle for shorter passengers.

The remaining premium economy recliners are created equally — and that’s a good thing. These 20-inch wide seats are some of the best in the sky for this class of service and feature nearly 40 inches of pitch.

The manual seat controls are located on the side of each seat. The seats are incredibly well-padded and offer generous recline, along with a leg rest and footrest for ergonomic support.

In terms of entertainment, each passenger has a 13-inch, high-definition screen loaded with the airline’s KrisWorld software and content. You’ll need more than a 90-minute flight to even scratch the surface of what’s available.

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

The only content I watched during the flight was the safety briefing, which was filmed at various popular locations throughout Singapore. When the video panned to Gardens by the Bay and the Marina Bay area, I made a mental note to include them on my next trip to Singapore.

Waiting at my seat during boarding was a medium-sized pillow and blanket — a nice, luxurious touch that you’d almost never find on an intra-European route on other carriers, even in so-called "business class."

Despite the short flight time, my devices stayed fully charged thanks to my seat's AC outlet and two USB-A ports.

The A350 also features satellite-based Panasonic Wi-Fi so you can stay connected if you need to. Packages range in price based on usage and time, and they start at $3.99 for messaging access.

(Screenshot from Singapore Airlines)

It was a very short flight once we were airborne, but that didn’t stop the spectacular crew from hustling to provide a snack service.

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

The flight attendants came around with a choice of either a tuna sandwich or a focaccia sandwich with tomato. I selected the latter and was impressed with the fresh taste of it. I was even offered a selection of packaged snacks after I quickly finished the main course.

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Singapore Airlines' crews are (rightly) considered to be some of the best in the sky, and the flight attendants working this particular service were no exception. My glass of water was refilled at least four times, each time with a smile as I was addressed by my last name. (Beers, wines and hot drinks were also available on a complimentary basis.)

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Before long, we landed in Barcelona, and the crew bid me farewell. Little did they know I’d see them again in less than an hour for the return leg to Milan.

Singapore Airlines business class on the Airbus A350

The return sector was perhaps even more memorable.

Though the plane was considerably more crowded this time around (with many passengers staying on board to continue on to Singapore), I was the only passenger seated in the smaller, rear business-class cabin.

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Singapore Airlines' A350’s have two business-class cabins, a larger, forward cabin with 26 seats, as well as a smaller, four-row mini-cabin behind the second exit door with 16 seats.

The seats are some of the widest in the sky, giving each passenger plenty of personal space.

While they look great in pictures, however, there are several downsides to the Singapore Airlines business-class product, which I detail in my 2020 review of the (then) world’s longest flight from Newark to Singapore.

The drawbacks include limited recline in seat mode, narrow footwells and a seat that flips over to create a bed, which some people think is too firm.

Plus, the 18-inch inflight entertainment system is encased in a plastic covering, which increases glare and makes it hard to watch with the window shades up.

(If you’re looking to avoid some of the downsides, stick with a bulkhead pod on Singapore, which offers an unparalleled 43 inches of unobstructed foot space rather than a footwell.)

Nonetheless, it was a treat to fly in Singapore Airlines business class for such a short flight. In fact, the overall product is easily one of the most luxurious you can find on an intra-European route, especially once the seat is converted to bed mode.

Of course, the seat is a major upgrade compared to premium economy — and the pricing reflected that. My one-way airfare was $260, representing a roughly $100 buy-up.

Everyone’s going to value their time and money differently, but flying Singapore business class for an intra-European flight is a thrill not to miss.

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

In addition to the nicer seat, business-class passengers are given slippers, socks and an eyeshade. The lavatories are stocked with all the other amenities you’d typically find in long-haul business class, such as dental kits and shaving sets.

The upgraded amenities also include a pair of active noise-canceling headphones that are noticeably more comfortable and offer better sound quality than the ones in premium economy.

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

While the flight would have been a resounding success just for the seat, the catering was the cherry on top.

Sure, the smoked salmon baguette with side salad was fresh and tasty, but the real highlight was the Singapore sling, the airline’s signature cocktail.

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

I have many fond memories of enjoying a Singapore sling both in the air on Singapore Airlines and on the ground at the Long Bar at the Raffles in Singapore, home to the original version of the iconic libation.

This one — the first I’ve had since January 2020 — hit a bit differently after two years of the pandemic (and no, I’m not referring to the gin). Along with the tropical, fruity notes, I couldn't help but detect a dash of nostalgia as well.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, including my time with Singapore Airlines.

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Before I knew it, we were touching down on Milan Malpensa’s runway 35L, bringing my journey to a close.

Moments later, the day had come full circle. We parked at the same gate in the international terminal as we had departed from earlier that morning, and a bus was waiting to bring the terminating passengers back to the Schengen gates.

Bottom line

Flying on Singapore Airlines for the short 448-mile trip from Milan to Barcelona (and back) was a thrill — and a much-upgraded method of getting around Europe.

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

If this particular flight's timetable fits into your schedule, then there’s no question it’s the best way to get between Milan and Barcelona.

The prices for premium economy and business are noticeably higher than the $30 fares you can find with Ryanair, Vueling and EasyJet, the three ultra-low-cost carriers which also operate this route.

But if you’re looking for a taste of Singapore Airlines’ long-haul experience without having to sit on a plane for 12-plus hours — or you just want the maximum comfort for a European flight — then you can’t go wrong trying its fifth-freedom service.

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

You don’t even need to splurge for a premium cabin to get a taste of the Singapore Airlines experience. Coach fares start at around $60 one-way. After factoring in the ancillary fees that you’d be charged with one of the budget carriers, you could even come out ahead by choosing Singapore instead.

Ultimately, however, the experience was much more than just a fancy flight for me.

The best airlines are the ones that make you feel like you’ve set foot in their home country from the moment you step on board.

Singapore knocked that part out of the park — and left me eager for the prospect of visiting Singapore (and the region) when it begins to reopen more fully to tourists.

Featured image by Zach Griff/The Points Guy
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

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  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases