A Visit To The Private Room

Since discovering the Miles and Points game 3 years ago, Jeriel has now spent a disproportionate amount of time reading the T&Cs of credit cards and frequent flyer programs. His grand plans for round-the-world premium travel has taken a hit since the arrival of his daughter, but he is still determined to fly as far, frequently and luxuriously as possible on Miles and Points. Expect more family-orientated trip reports and travel tips from him!


Introduction and a visit to The Private Room

The day was finally here. Exactly 3.5 years after starting my journey in Miles and Points, my crowning achievement was at hand. I will be taking my wife on a second honeymoon to the UK and Paris, flying SQ Suites Class in and out of London Heathrow and Paris CDG respectively. We even managed to arrange for this trip to be sans child (thanks mum and dad), so everything is awesome!

First, let’s talk a little on how I made these award flight reservations. One way to guarantee your Suites class saver award tickets is to book them way in advance. On this trip, I had booked both legs the day the booking window opened. I literally camped on my computer 350 odd days before the day of travel and snapped up the award the moment it appeared. Crazy, I know. 🙂

There is a downside to making the flight reservation so far in advance though. I’ve had such a long time to anticipate this trip that today, the prospect of flying Suites no longer captures my imagination as much as it did when I first started accumulating points. I reckon I have read and watched almost every review and YouTube video on SQ Suites available over the past year. It doesn’t help that most reviews of this product uses so much flowery language and hyperbole that my expectations are now impossibly high.

Singapore airlines operates 4 SIN-LHR flights daily, with 2 on an A388 and the other 2 on the B773. The flight schedule is shown below. Playing around with the booking engine, it seems that there are consistently 2 suites saver awards released for SQ308 (departing 0905hrs on an A388) and SQ318 (departing 1235hrs on a B773) when the booking window opens. I guess it is not a surprise that the award tickets are released on the 2 flights which arrive at LHR in the afternoon/evening; as you ‘waste’ the rest of the day, as opposed to the other 2 flights which arrive in the early morning (and can be considered ‘better’ flights). Consequently, if you want to fly on the A388, you have no choice but to opt for SQ308, which departs at 0905.

There are several downsides to this flight. Firstly, your time in The Private Room (TPR) is limited. TPR opens at 0530hrs daily, which allows for a maximum of 3 hours or so in the lounge. Even then, that is only if you’re crazy enough to wake up at 4+am just to spend a little more time in the lounge. Secondly, as mentioned earlier, the arrival time in the afternoon doesn’t really allow for much sightseeing to be done the rest of the day. Lastly, majority of the flight takes place during daytime hours in both Singapore and London time, so I couldn’t really find a good time to sleep. As you can see, these are massive first world problems. Beggars can’t be choosers, so SQ308 it was.

Saver award consistently available

My wife and I arrived at the First Class check-in lobby at around 7am, and were the only ones in the hall. Aaron had previously noted how he thought the lack of a light food and beverage offering in this area was a missed opportunity. I didn’t really feel the same way, seeing that it was only about 5 minutes from the time I left my taxi to the time I cleared immigration. Everything happened so quickly that I didn’t even manage to get photos of the whole process. Here is a quick look back at the First Class check-in hall on the way out.

An empty First Class check-in hall

A quick skip through the dedicated immigration channel and we were air-side, with the escalators to the SilverKris lounge just nearby.

 T3 SilverKris Lounge

For me, The Private Room had been such an aspirational lounge product for such a long time, but it didn’t take much poking around the prominent travel-blogs to realize that TPR is still some ways behind the best First Class ground experiences in the world. Tarmac transfers (or at least, buggy transport around the terminal) and complimentary spa treatment and massages are just some of the perks these other airports offer. TPR felt like just another area in the First Class lounge, albeit with a slightly better dining experience.

I was greeted (not by name) at the entrance at the SilverKris lounge and was accompanied to TPR. Access to TPR requires one to walk through the entire First Class lounge, which adds to the feeling of exclusivity but serves no practical purpose. There is a small reception area and a magazine/newspaper rack, before the lounge proper.

Unmanned reception area to the right

Selection of magazines and newspapers to the left

A super crowded TPR

On the way in, I noticed that the First Class lounge was a lot more crowded as compared to the last time I was there. The seats at the dining area was literally completely occupied, and it was as noisy as the Business Class lounge. I had hoped that TPR would be relatively more private, but I was disappointed. Almost every section was occupied, and my wife and I had to make do with seats by the window.

There were only 2 staff members serving the sit down area, and while they were professional, courteous and there was always a smile of their faces, you could also tell that they were just a tad bit flustered by the number of guests they had to attend to.

We were handed menus for breakfast and offered something to drink. My gripe here is that the menu is ridiculously simple and only contains options for the main meal. I was a little under the weather and when I was asked for a choice of drink, my mind went blank. Champagne? But what champagne do they serve in TPR? Ditto for the wine. What cocktails can I order? In the end, I decided to end the agony and went with water. Noob, I know. Maybe it is just me, but wouldn’t it kill them to have a proper menu with the available drink and food?

TPR Breakfast menu

With such limited choices, my wife and I made up our minds after a grand total of about 2 minutes, but the server was scurrying around attending to the other passengers, so we decided not to stress him further and waited for him to come around. It took him about 10 minutes or so but he did remember us and came to take our orders eventually. He offered to let us know when the food was ready, and I took the opportunity to go around taking more photos.

The Private Room is a longish-shaped room facing some of the ‘A’ gates on the tarmac. The tarmac view doesn’t really get a lot of mention in the other travel blogs but it was what I personally found most appealing about this lounge. It is impossibly difficult to find good tarmac views in Changi. There is a public viewing gallery (landside) in T3, but the area where you stand is still about a good 15 odd meters away from the actual windows. While the terminal is more or less full height glass, the view is obscured by large metal louvres, so you don’t get to see much. There is no view from the Business section of the SilverKris lounge, and from the First Class section all you see is a gate-waiting area. From TPR I had relatively good (but still partially obscured) views of the runway, a couple of SQ B773s and an A380 (not the one I would be flying, unfortunately).

SQ Planes at their gates, with an Eva Air 747 Cargo taking off. Views obscured but probably the best you’d get at Changi.

Other than that, nothing really mind-blowingly amazing. There are 2 quiet rooms with a nice couch for rest or phone calls, but I didn’t manage to get a photo as they were both occupied. The family / baby changing room was a significant upgrade over the one in the First Class section though. A small work station with an iMac and a PC, and a fancy sit-down dining area.

View from the far end of The Private Room

Small workstation

The family room (note the baby changing station and the mini furniture)

Dining area

The toilets were near the entrance, and were clean and well stocked with Ferragamo and L’occitane amenities. The showers only had a soap-dispenser with makeshift ‘Shampoo/Conditioner’ and ‘Shower Gel’ labels, which as Aaron has mentioned before, isn’t exactly the luxury defined. I realized I didn’t manage to get photos of the urinals and stalls, but rest assured they were very normal urinals and stalls. At the end of the day, the toilet served its intended purpose, and I returned to the lounge adequately relieved and ready for breakfast. 

Toiletries

Shower room

The best SQ has to offer

My food (and wife) was already waiting for me when I got back. I had ordered the Fish Congee (not feeling well, remember) and my wife went with the eggs with grilled asparagus, mushrooms, tomatoes and toast.

Breakfast spread

The fish congee was surprisingly good. Tasty with huge, fresh and succulent pieces of fish. Just the light breakfast that I needed to prime my stomach for the feast that awaited on board. The eggs and sides were normal, good to eat but nothing to shout about.

There is a tiny self-serve buffet area in the dining room, with a selection of bread, cold cuts, fruits and juices, cereal and muesli, yoghurt etc. It’s definitely not a lousy selection; in fact, everything looks really good. Perhaps because not a single item looked like it had been touched. This point has also been mentioned before in other travel blogs – the self-serve area in TPR seems redundant. While I was browsing (and trying to look inconspicuous taking photos), the 2 staff in the dining room were constantly hovering around me. I would not have been surprised if they offered to plate the items for me and bring it to my table if I had made a move to take anything on my own. That would be the kind of level of service one would expect in a ultra-premium lounge offering like TPR. If the buffet area only serves as a kind of visual menu to let passengers know what’s available, won’t all that space be saved if they had a proper menu?

Anyway, all that nit-picking aside, happily sated with breakfast in our tummies, my wife and I proceeded to leave The Private Room to make a leisurely walk over to our gate, and what we hoped would be the flight of our lifetime…

The Private Room experience has now been ticked off my aviation bucket list. Being familiar with the product after all the reviews I’ve read, I was neither disappointed nor impressed. Objectively, this isn’t really a premium ground service that I would value significantly more than let’s say SilverKris First Class lounge access. There is only a slight increase in the feel of exclusivity, but everything else from the hard to soft product is almost exactly the same.

It is really a pity that SQ chose not to outdo or even just match the premium ground service for First Class passengers offered by their competitors. Of course, I guess it makes good business sense if the SQ bean-counters decide that the additional cost will not translate to more income for the airline. However, on all fronts (ground service, in-flight hard and soft products), SQ is rapidly losing ground to their competitors like Cathay and the ME3. Even other regional competitors like Thai are not as good all-round, but offer more bang for the buck with complimentary spa and massages, buggy service from lounge to gate, etc.

I’m really looking forward to SQ unveiling their new Suites product due to arrive in 2017 with their new batch of 5 A380s. However, any major jaw-dropping improvement to the ground services will probably only come with the completion of Terminal 5 in like a decade’s time. With the huge scale of the future Changi Airport, can we expect a separate First Class Terminal like the Lufthansa First Class Terminal in Frankfurt, with tarmac transfers like the La Premiere First Class Lounge Service in Paris CDG? I sure do hope so, but we will have to make do with TPR for the time being!

Conceptual layout of Changi Terminal 5, taken from the Singapore Ministry of Transport website. The new Terminal 5 is bigger than Terminals 1 to 4 combined!

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