Regional Running: Trip Planning
Singapore Airlines SilverKris Lounge Terminal 3 MNL
Singapore Airlines B777-300 Regional Business Class MNL SIN
Changi Airport Terminal 4 – Through the Lens of 2 Classes
Cathay Pacific A350-900 Business Class SIN BKK
Cathay Pacific Business Class Lounge BKK
Cathay Pacific B77W Business Class BKK SIN
Aaron gives me endless grief about what he describes as my ‘obsession with short haul J’. There are many reasons why he has a valid point. From a numbers point of view, the cent per mile (cpm) value you are getting on a short haul redemption is almost always lower than that on long haul. This has become even more pronounced in recent years where we have seen lower and lower promo J fares. For example, saver award redemptions to popular regional destinations like DPS and BKK will only give you about 2.6 to 3.4 cpm of value. In contrast, snagging a return J saver award to LHR gives you close to a 5 cpm return on your miles.
It has already been repeated ad nauseum in previous articles by Aaron and myself how to determine the value of a mile, but to summarize most will agree of a value at acquisition of about 2 cpm. With a 2.6 to 3.4 cpm value at redemption, that only gives an incremental value of about 0.6 to 1.4 cpm. Those are hardly compelling numbers considering the pain and lengths we go through to accumulate miles.
There are certain exceptions where you can get a higher cpm at redemption for regional flights. This includes popular but monopolized routes like SIN USM where even economy tickets can run up to S$800. Also, with the recent (and hopefully more regular) Krisflyer redemption promos, the redemption cost can sometimes be reduced to a point where you are getting a decent return.
Of course, the numbers are just one side of the story. The appeal of a miles-focused strategy has always been the access it gives to otherwise unattainable travel experiences. SQ regional J may be a nicer ride than the back of the bus, but it’s really the First Class travel that is the holy-grail. Not only is the hard product on regional routes a far cry from First or even international Business, but the short flight duration usually precludes really enjoying the service and experience.
With all that being said, there are some scenarios to seriously consider award redemption on a regional route. Upcoming expiry of your miles is one, but if you have 2 or more trips planned in the next 12 months, utilization of the ‘$100 Bangkok Trip‘ trick should definitely be considered. For those of us who are just starting out, accumulation of the ~340k miles required for return J redemption to Europe may seem a daunting task. If a quick calculation on your Average Spend x Card Strategy puts such a trip out of reach, then setting your sights on a more attainable target is also perfectly reasonable.
Recent promos on revenue Business Class travel (usually on ME3 carriers) have been getting more regular, and puts paid J tickets within reach of the average family if one is willing to splurge just a little more. I have found this to be the case especially for 5th freedom routes. A good example is SIN-DPS on KLM business class, which retails routinely for <S$600. This is a nice product (B/E Aerospace Diamond) which is also found on Thai Airways’ B787s, and although it is in a 2-2-2 configuration, it is lie-flat, and for some inexplicable reason, my wife prefers it even to SQ’s international J. While it is by no means a cheap fare, but it is not that far off from the often ridiculously priced economy tickets on our national carrier, and for a special occasion, may be worth it.
In summary, I always keep all options on the table when planning any trips (even the short hops), whether that may be revenue economy, revenue business, or award redemption. You’d be surprised how much you can stretch your miles and cash budget if you do so!
I had 3 work trips coming up; back to back trips to MNL and BKK in late November / early December, and another one to PER next March. MNL was to be self-funded, whereas there would be some partial reimbursement for the BKK and PER trips.
The options for MNL were pretty straight forward. Return flights on budget carriers were averaging around S$250. It was a relatively last minute booking, so economy tickets on SQ were going for about S$800 to S$1000 (in contrast, super saver fares are usually around S$350 return). The October Spontaneous Escapes promotion was on at that time, and I was sorely tempted by the 30% discount offered on the redemption award rates. At the discounted 28000 miles return, that would work out to about 5.3 cpm (if you take revenue business fare), or 3.2 cpm (if you take the SQ economy fare at that point in time) at redemption. I thought those were pretty reasonable redemption values. However, I am also planning a large redemption next year for my anniversary, and while I could squeeze out those 28k miles, it wouldn’t really be worth the stretch given I also had BKK and PER to plan for.
Wait a minute! Multiple trips on opposite sides of Singapore? Sounds like the perfect opportunity to take advantage of the paid stopover feature on award flights! Aaron had previously explained it in the second episode of his iPayMy Webinar, and the idiot proof text explanation can also be found here, but essentially we use the stopover feature available to redeem another flight leg for US$100 more, but little or no incremental miles. As such, my final decision was to fly to MNL on a budget carrier, and redeem a MNL-SIN-PER ticket for 32500 miles (same cost as a single leg SIN-PER award) and add the stopover so that I’d only fly the SIN-PER leg next march. That would also allow me to review the relatively new SilverKris Lounge in MNL, as well as provide some respite in a rather hectic week of travelling.
Now on to BKK. Sometimes, trying to fly premium when you only have a partial reimbursement of travel expenses may be even more difficult. If you make a simple award redemption you sure ain’t gonna get your miles reimbursed, and (at my job grade) most companies will only allow reimbursement for Economy or at most Premium Economy travel. That whittles down the option to buying a full fare economy ticket, and topping up some miles for the upgrade. If you plan to do that, make sure you can get a no-questions asked full price reimbursement of your ticket, as full Y fares can sometimes be through-the-roof ridiculous.
For my case, I was to be given up to a relatively generous US$400 reimbursement for my airfare to and fro BKK, having to top up the difference myself. That would put economy fares on all the full service carriers within reach, so budget flights were thankfully out of the picture this time. But could I get more out of what I had?
Remember that CX operates a 5th freedom route from SIN to BKK, and the B77Ws and A359s they operate on that route feature Premium Economy. That was definitely an option, and on its website, Cathay PY was retailing for about S$700. While Milelion has not had a CX PY review, the other reviews and pictures online were honestly not too enticing. That being said, SQ Business was retailing at about S$1000+ and J on CX was going for S$935 on their website, so that was over what I was willing to pay. TG Business was about S$700+, but I’ve flown their regional J before; it’s really nothing to shout about and definitely not worth the additional S$200 I’d have to fork out. The prices were cross checked with Google Flights, and I was unable to figure out any other way to fly J on this route.
Resigned to CX PY, I set about figuring out the best way to pay for it. Online payment on the CX website with the DBS Women’s World MasterCard would give me 4mpd, but the UOB PRVI Miles Visa card does give 6mpd on flight bookings with some airlines. I did a quick check and found that CX was in that list. The 6mpd for UOB PRVI Miles is given on certain airlines on Expedia and UOB Travel (and also for hotel bookings on Agoda.com), but be sure to use the appropriate affiliate link (best to click on from the UOB PRVI Miles website itself) to make sure you get the bonus miles. Now I usually use Expedia, but just for the fun of it I decided to check out the UOB Travel website before I placed a reservation.
Now wasn’t I pleasantly surprised! Don’t get me wrong, the website was clunky, slow and clumsy to use, but UOB Travel seems to have access to an even cheaper bucket of CX fares than other travel websites, and also definitely cheaper than what CX (and Google Flights) was advertising on their website. At that point in time, the fares (especially premium fares) were all about 20-30% cheaper than what was readily available on other sources. I ran a couple of routes (both regional and long-haul), and that seems to hold true for most CX flights. Fares for economy were also cheaper, but only by about 20%. Unfortunately, when I checked again while writing this article, the discount off CX’s website seems to have dropped to about 18-20%. Nevertheless, I thought it was still worth a mention. Here are some examples which I ran on an arbitrary travel dates of 9/10/18 to 13/10/18 on Business Class.
|CX Website||Google Flights||UOB Travel|
In my case, that meant CX J was going for S$650, and since I would be reimbursed about S$560, that meant I would only need to fork out an additional S$90. It didn’t take me long to decide to pull the trigger. For a while, I was worried that it was a mistake fare and that UOB Travel was not going to honor the fare. This fear was compounded when I read through all the fine print and found this small clause in its terms and conditions that states ‘All prices displayed are deemed as an ‘invitation to treat’ and do not constitute to ‘an offer’ by UOB Travel planners or its partners.’ Now that sounds exactly like the UOB we know. I sat on nails for the next day, but lo and behold, the tickets were issued, and my flight was confirmed.
A bit of digging around revealed that this fare bucket seems to be shared with Orbitz, another travel website. I surmise this to mean that it is a legit fare bucket, and not a mistake fare. Why was it only seen on these 2 websites but not the rest? That’s anyone’s guess, but I have a feeling it may be because UOB Travel is set up like a traditional travel agent instead of a 3rd party travel website, and as such have access to some fare buckets which are reserved for travel agencies. On the surface, my ticket still codes as class ‘I’, so I’m really not sure if I am right. Nevertheless, it is absolutely great that UOB Travel are passing on their savings to us consumers.
A 30% discount may not be anything to scream about like we did with the Philly-Pho fares and the Garuda 10% redemption promo awhile back, but nevertheless, it is still useful to know about. CX flies really solid products, and is also known for its consistently professional service. With the recent Krisflyer devaluation, I was planning to move some of my bank points to the Asia Miles program anyway. Sure doesn’t hurt to be earning some revenue miles with CX! I’d also get to try the new Cathay Pacific lounge at T4 (which Aaron has beat me to).
The next time you’re planning a trip to somewhere serviced by CX, be sure to check out UOB Travel! And of course, for those of you who are more familiar with the fare buckets sold by Travel Agencies / Online 3rd Party Travel Websites, do feel free to share what you know in the comment section below!