How Singapore-based flyers can get cheap(er) premium cabin tickets

Singapore is number one in a lot of things. Unfortunately, that also includes cost of living. The good folks at the EIU have been telling us as much for a long while now.

Even more unfortunately, it seems that airfares are not immune from the high cost environment we have here either- the relative wealth in Singapore means that airlines consider it to be a “premium” market. Therefore, you don’t see very good fare deals in premium cabins originating from Singapore.

As much as we talk about redeeming  miles and never having to pay for premium cabin travel, there are some times where you simply can’t get your awards to clear and may want to consider looking at revenue fares. What then?

Starting your journey from outside Singapore

If flying from Singapore in premium cabins is too expensive, why not position ourselves elsewhere to start our trip? There are certain cities that are well-known for cheap premium cabin fares.

Qatar Airways, for example, is known to offer great fare deals for flights originating from Cairo and Colombo.

Image result for qatar business class
Qatar business class. YMMV may vary though- as their 777 aircraft have 2-2-2 full flat configurations. This is the configuration you’ll find on the A350s and 787s.

Some examples of recent great fare deals from Cairo include (all fares round trip)

  • US$1,150 Cairo to New York in Qatar Business Class
  • US$1,070 Cairo to Los Angeles in Qatar Business Class
  • US$1,150 Cairo to Bangkok in Qatar Business Class
  • US$2,660 Cairo to Sydney in Qatar Business Class

And from Colombo (all fares round trip)

  • US$4,700  Colombo to Los Angeles in Etihad and BA First Class (+ 1 leg in Sri Lankan Business)
  • US$1,105 Colombo to Boston in Qatar Business Class
  • US$600 Colombo to Casablanca in Qatar Business Class

Source: One Mile at a Time

I realise that for most Singaporeans it’s difficult to position yourself to Cairo (especially since SQ has terminated its Cairo route for quite a while now). Colombo is somewhat more do-able (~4 hours flight) especially if you’re going onwards to Europe or the East Coast of the US, but are there any closer starting points if you’re in Singapore (and headed in the opposite direction, say Australia?)

Flying from Bangkok and KL

If you’re not able to position yourself to Colombo or Cairo to take advantage of premium cabin deals deals (I don’t know about you but I’d sure as heck buy a cheap ticket to Colombo to get to Boston in business class for $1.1K…), then consider 2 of our neighbour cities, Bangkok and KL.

Bangkok and KL are easily accessible by budget airlines. I am not saying that you will definitely find better deals ex-BK/ex-KUL than ex-SIN. What I am saying is that if you’re paying out of pocket for premium cabins and have the time,  you could potentially save a lot of money by buying a cheap budget flight to Bangkok or KL and starting from there.

Let’s look at some examples for round trip business class travel to key destinations in the USA, Europe and Australia.

Non Stop 1 Stop 2 Stops
SIN-FRA S$6,641 S$2,779 S$4,380
BKK-FRA S$5,188 S$2,898 S$3,304
KUL-FRA N/A S$3,406 S$3,488
SIN-LHR S$5,839 S$3,103 S$3,736
BKK-LHR S$4,690 S$3,240 S$3,815
KUL-LHR S$3,871 S$3,030 S$4,086
SIN-JFK N/A S$4,500 S$5,142
BKK-JFK N/A S$3,541 S$3,545
KUL-JFK N/A S$5,663 S$5,079
SIN-SFO S$8,668 S$4,035 S$4,220
BKK-SFO N/A S$2,930 S$2,616
KUL-SFO N/A S$4,910 S$4,296
SIN-SYD S$4,097 S$2,351 S$2,724
BKK-SYD S$3,580 S$2,193 S$2,044
KUL-SYD S$2,779 S$2,157 S$1,950
SIN-MEL S$4,084 S$2,581 S$2,710
BKK-MEL S$3,079 S$2,903 S$2,881
KUL-MEL S$3,287 S$2,146 S$2,815

A few caveats about the above analysis-

(1) I simply plugged in two random dates and looked at the prices for flights originating from Singapore, Bangkok and KL respectively. There may be other dates on which the fare differential is higher/lower.

(2) It is obviously not possible to do an apples to apples comparison as we are not comparing the same flights and the premium cabin product among airlines can differ dramatically. That said, I did remove budget carriers like Jetstar and Scoot from this analysis because although they do have a business class product, it’s certainly not in the same league as a full service carrier.

(3) The fares mentioned above are regular fares. I imagine the price differences will become bigger when there are sales ongoing.  (For example, we saw some great deals in the recent Malaysia Airlines sale)

(4) Do remember that when you’re flying out of KUL/BKK the 1 stop in flight effectively becomes 2 stops, since you need to fly SIN-KUL/BKK-Stopover-Destination.

Observation 1: Cheap premium cabin fares from Singapore are possible if you don’t mind long layovers

My first observation is that it is still possible to get some good fares out of Singapore (i.e. no positioning needed) provided you are willing to do a long-ish layover. This means you will fly on one ticket the whole way and no separate budget ticket needs to be bought.

For example, It is possible to fly SIN-HAN-FRA on Vietnam Airlines business class for S$2.8K, if you’re willing to do a 5 hour layover in Hanoi. Vietnam Airlines may not be a world class airline, but you’ll get to fly on their newest cabin product on the 787 from HAN-FRA, which is a reverse herringbone product that could give SQ business a run for its money. At S$2.8K this is much cheaper than the S$6.6K SQ wants for a direct flight. Heck, it’s cheaper than flying SQ premium economy (S$3.5K- and they wonder why they can’t fill the cabin…)

Image result for vietnam airlines business class 787

Similarly, if you’re willing to fly China Eastern and take a 10 hour (!) layover in Shanghai (get out and enjoy the city) then you can fly from SIN-PVG-SFO for S$4K, less than half the price of flying direct. For PVG-SFO you’ll be flying on China Eastern’s 777-300 aircraft. I don’t know about you, but this cabin seating arrangement looks pretty decent to me…

Image result for china eastern 777-300 business class
photo credit: OMAAT

And if you want to go from Singapore to Melbourne and are ok with a 3.5 hour layover in KUL, you can buy a S$2.6K ticket with Malaysia Airlines that will first send you to KL on an unmemorable MAS flight, then onwards to Melbourne on Malaysia Airlines’ new business class on their A330. This is another excellent looking full flat product where the majority of seats (but not all) boast full aisle access. Have a read of a trip report here.

Observation 2: Positioning yourself to BKK/KL can also yield some attractive deals

If you’re not keen on a long layover, it is possible to position yourself to BKK/KL via a budget flight and do a non-stop flight onwards to your final destination. But be warned- budget airlines are unlikely to offer through check-in and this means you may, in a worst case scenario, need to budget time to clear immigration and collect your bags before checking in for your onward flight. All that takes time.

For example, Singapore to Frankfurt direct on SQ will set you back S$6.6K, but flying from Bangkok will cost S$5.2K. TG operates the A380 from BKK-FRA, where you can enjoy the 1-2-1 full flat Thai Business Class.  I think Thai’s business class product is inferior to SQ’s, but it’s still a  full flat and all aisle arrangement (plus, you’ll get to use the Royal Orchid Spa in Bangkok). I think that’s worth saving S$1.4K, provided you can arrange a quick transit in Bangkok.

Image result for thai a380 business class

Similarly, KL to LHR costs S$3,871 direct on Malaysia Airlines (versus S$5,839 on SQ). This is the only route where MAS operates its A380s, and although the business class product here has very little privacy, it’s still a full flat bed.

Image result for malaysia airlines a380 business class

Observation 3: Positioning + 1 stop can yield  some very good deals

You can get to Melbourne in business class for S$2,146 or S$2,245 with Royal Brunei and Thai Airways respectively if you fly out of KL.

Royal Brunei operates its 787 on the route to Melbourne and, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, the business class cabin looks pretty good too. You will have a 5.5 hour layover in Bandar Seri Begawan. I’ve never been there but I think it’s safe to say it isn’t exactly the entertainment capital of the world. Also, Royal Brunei is a dry airline, so be warned. You won’t be popping bottles in the aisles. Here’s a trip report if you’re curious.

Image result for royal brunei 787 business class

Image result for royal brunei 787 business class

The Thai option seems better in the sense that the layover is only 2 hours. So you’ll find your own way to KL, then go KUL-BKK-MEL for a total flight time of 11 hours (+ 2 hour layover). Sure you’ll need to budget in some time for transit but it’s not that much worse than flying from SIN direct. And S$2.2K for round trip business class is a good deal in my book. Thai operates a 777-300 on this route with a similar product to that on the A380.

Sydney can also be reached from KL and BKK for roughly the same price with 1 stop as well.

Conclusion

I think there’s something to be said here about the comfort vs time trade off. Your leave is precious, and I can understand why people would rather take a 10 hour direct flight in economy than spend 20 hours with connections and layovers. If you’re the sort of person for whom the destination is the point, by all means book economy and enjoy more time on the ground.

I guess I’m weird that way in that the getting there is the highlight of my trip. And if you take it from the point of view that you’re getting an additional stopover in another city while travelling in a better cabin class and paying less, then the equation certainly changes. For example, even if I were ultimately heading to San Francisco, I could certainly make a case for a 10 hour stopover in Shanghai just to take in some sights and food en route (I think the difficulty comes in when the layover is neither here nor there. 5 hours in Hanoi, for example, is a bit too short to do anything meaningful in the city but too long to just wait in the airport)

Are there any other closeby cities to Singapore with good options for premium cabin revenue fares?

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10 thoughts on “How Singapore-based flyers can get cheap(er) premium cabin tickets”

  1. Recently I’ve been flying Malaysia Airlines’s business class to India as its often cheaper than Singapore Economy! MH’s 737 J product is nothing special, but worth taking a couple of hours extra for I think.

  2. Actually, i noticed that if a direct leg on SQ is closed for awards, using an alternate award route such as BKK-SiN-SFO may score an award travel. That way, you can still fly on our national carrier but its just that you’d have to take a budget airline to BKK or KUL to position yourself for the outbound.

    1. need to try that next time round. i know sometimes they allow bkk-sin-sfo when sin-sfo is not available. which is annoying and makes no sense but ok, if it’s going to be like that…

  3. “provided you can arrange a quick transit in Bangkok”
    Or play safe for a carrier that flies direct to BKK. If you get unlucky those traffic jams are a PITA!

    1. Oh yeah i wasnt talking about flying to don maung. I think that would be madness. I’d only consider doing this for a direct flight to bkk

  4. Thanks for the analysis. One big downside of repositioning: you will end up travelling on two separate tickets and you won’t be protected on the second flight should you miss it because of a delay on the first flight. Particularly risky if you are repositioning on budget airlines, which are more prone to delays.

    So you’d need to take into account the cost of an overnighter (money and time) on the outbound (less so on the inbound) to reduce your chances of an expensive misconnect.

  5. Another important factor you need to consider is the tax, for example, in July, when I fly to SFO, I did SIN-HKG-SFO, I bought my ticket to HKG, but redeemed my points for economy ticket for HKG-SFO (luckily got upgraded as a PPS member), the tax I paid was only 700+ HK$ while the tax of the direct flight SIN-SFO is crazily about 700+SGD. Same carrier, much cheaper total price, it’s a very easy choice to make despite the long layover time, and in HK, lots to do…

  6. Hi Aaron, thank you for the article. I have found it very useful, and in April I will fly to Seoul via KL making use of MAS latest sale.

    Re Vietnam Airlines, I am flying to Frankfurt with them in December and the layover in either Sai Gon or Hanoi can be shortened to 2-3 hours for no increase in the price.

    1. Awesome thanks for telling me. This makes it even more worth it in my opinion. Please write me a trip report on their 787 yeah?

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