Tag Archives: airlines

SQ has devalued its Krisflyer award chart. Here’s what you need to know

(EDIT: In addition to this article you might want to check out some additional thoughts on the devaluation I published here)

Wow. Back when I wrote about the Krisflyer devaluation that took place in May of 2016 I confidently said the program was safe for at least another year, since no one would devalue a program twice in quick succession (To be fair, the May 2016 devaluation wasn’t really much of a devaluation; award prices largely remained the same (with the exception of the consolidating Europe into one zone))

Shows what I know. Here’s SQ’s 70th anniversary present to you, a surprise email announcing a devaluation effective 23 March 2017. The old award chart is here. The new award chart is here. To summarize-

The Good

  • SQ has removed its much maligned fuel surcharges from award redemptions. I nearly fell off my seat when I read this, because the cynic in me has always seen that as an easy money maker for SQ.

The Bad

  • Award prices are going up across the board (we’ll look at how much in the detailed analysis) and there is no longer any 15% discount for online redemptions

Detailed Analysis

What you need to realise is that this devaluation changes everything.

That sounds dramatic, but the fact is that the underlying math has changed, and now we need to reconsider a lot of the conclusions I’ve come to in other articles on this site. They’ll be updated gradually, but let’s do some analysis here first.

How much have award prices increased?

Standard awards, saver/standard upgrade awards and premium economy saver awards have not been touched in one sense, but in another they now all cost 15% more because of the removal of the online redemption discount. 

I’ve put together the new and old saver redemption rates for comparison-

click to enlarge

Observations-

  • Surprisingly, the awards that have gone up the most (in % terms) are Economy Savers to Japan/South Korea and Australia (ex Perth and Darwin) + NZ. These awards go up by ~30%.
  • But premium cabin awards to medium and long haul destinations have also been hit hard. Business and First Class to Japan/South Korea/Australia (ex Perth and Darwin)/ New Zealand/ Europe and the USA have all gone up by 25-30%
  • Short haul and China routes see the smallest increases- Business and First Class to South East Asia and China have gone up by 18%

A 30% increase is certainly not to be sniffed at, and it’s going to hurt those people who have been trying to save up for an award only to see the goalposts moved 30% further.

Why would SQ remove the online redemption discount? I’m sure the original reason for introducing it was because it costs less (in terms of customer service time and overheads) to issue an online award ticket than one issued over the phone. However, SQ’s crappy website meant that people had to call in to book the following types of awards

  • Upgrades that required waitlisting
  • Upgrading one leg after the first leg had been flown
  • Mixed cabin awards

In practice these would all receive 15% redemption discounts too because they couldn’t be done online. So perhaps SQ felt it was time to face that reality and simply stop discounting. Or perhaps the creation of a channel through which 15% discounts could be obtained created the idea in peoples’ minds that they should never be paying full price, even when they used the call centre for an award that could be easily ticketed online. It was probably easier for SQ to eliminate this altogether than have to deal with (admittedly unreasonable) customers like this.

That said, it would be unfair to straight away conclude that all Krisflyer award tickets are now “worse value” because we need to first consider the carrot that SQ has thrown us…

What are the implications of removing fuel surcharges?

Image result for Airplane refuelling

This has the potential to be a silver lining. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again that fuel surcharges are the junkiest of all charges. They make absolutely no sense. It’s like a restaurant charging you separately for ingredients and saying your base price only includes the cooking.

I applaud SQ for removing fuel surcharges (the conspiracy theorist in me is now wondering if Singapore is going to introduce legislation ala HK, the Philippines and Brazil that outlaws fuel surcharges in the next few months…) because that’s the right thing to do.

The question then is- does the absence of fuel surcharges make up for higher redemption rates?

I’ve pulled out a few award bookings I made in the past few months to check the YQ (Fuel surcharge) component. Here’s what I found (fuel surcharges in SGD)

It seems that on long haul flights (SYD, JFK, IAH), the savings in terms of fuel surcharges do not offset the additional miles you need to pay. 

Take SIN-SYD for example. I now need to pay 16,250 more miles, for which i save S$195.30 in fuel surcharges. This values one of my miles at 1.2 cents, which is way below the 2 cent threshold. Same goes for JFK and IAH.

It’s interesting to note that for my Bali and Bangkok redemptions, I do get a bit more in the way of value per mile. I wouldn’t call this enough to make the increase less painful however, given that I don’t advise people to redeem miles for short haul routes.

Long story short- no. Fuel surcharges are annoying, but you don’t come out on top with their removal because the number of miles needed has increased.

Are premium economy redemptions now worth it?

IMG_20160123_144830

When SQ made premium economy saver redemptions available in May 2016, I said that they weren’t worth it because they cost ~80% the price of a business class award. Given the huge gap in comfort and the small gap in miles, I advised people to save up just a bit more.

Here’s what the ratio between premium economy and business saver awards is before and after the devaluation.

As you can see, it’s still not a good deal. Premium Economy awards still require 75-85% the miles of a Business award. I’d stay clear of these.

Are Star Alliance awards better value now?

Star Alliance awards were not touched by this devaluation, and they never had a 15% discount for online redemptions, thereby leaving the effective price the same.

I wrote an article not too long ago comparing the cost of Star Alliance awards to Krisflyer awards. That obviously needs to be reworked, and the revised working is very interesting

click to enlarge. The % in the last 6 columns refer to the premium (in miles) that you are paying for redeeming via *A as opposed as to via SQ

It is now cheaper to redeem Star Alliance partner awards than Krisflyer awards for certain locations.  Ignoring fuel surcharges for a moment (some partner airlines will charge them, others will not)

  • Singapore to North America in F: 112,500 miles with *A vs 118-120,000 with SQ
  • Singapore to Europe in F: 107,500 miles with *A vs 115,000 with SQ
  • Singapore to Europe in J: 80,000 miles with *A vs 85,000 with SQ
  • Singapore to Australia in F: 75,000 miles with *A vs 80,000 with SQ
  • Singapore to Australia in J: 55,000 miles with *A vs 58,000 with SQ
  • Singapore to Japan/S Korea in F: 60,000 miles with *A vs 65,000 with SQ
  • Singapore to Japan/S Korea in J: 40,000 miles with *A vs 43,000 with SQ

That’s a really, really interesting dynamic change, because I always assumed SQ was actively trying to encourage people to redeem awards on SQ metal rather than *A metal (to avoid having to pay *A partners a reimbursement fee). And now that SQ doesn’t even collect fuel surcharges on award tickets, does the elimination of more miles from their balance sheet outweigh the potential higher volume of cash outflow to *A partners for award redemptions?

More thoughts on this later. In the meantime I’d strongly consider you to think about a Star Alliance award if you cannot find saver space with SQ. It’ll be a good time to try some different products. 

Conclusion

I’ve always felt SQ’s award chart was much “better” compared to those of competitors because award costs were much lower. That evidently needs a rethink. SQ rightly pointed out that the last devaluation took place in 2012 and to their credit they didn’t try to spin this as an enhancement, but it does seem a bit on the nose to do this in the year they’re celebrating their 70th anniversary.

I will have a lot more to write about this in the days and weeks to come, I’m sure. How does this affect the valuation of a mile? Should you start looking at alternative programs like Asia Miles?

If you have an existing award ticket, my advice to you would be to hold on to it, because I don’t think when you factor in the additional miles required you don’t come out on top by saving fuel surcharges.

Breathe people. Breathe.

On the road again to Rio: SQ A380 Business Class review

On the road again to Rio: Introduction
Singapore Airlines Business Class SIN-FRA
Lufthansa Premium Economy FRA-GIG
Sheraton Grand Rio Hotel & Resort
Star Alliance Lounge Rio
Lufthansa Business Class GIG-FRA
Sheraton Frankurt Airport Hotel
Singapore Airlines Business Class FRA-SIN


I woke up (or rather, jetlag woke me up) bright and early at 7 in the morning at the Sheraton Frankfurt Airport hotel. After dawdling around with breakfast and what not, I finally left the hotel at around 930am for an 1140am departure.

Frankurt Airport was quiet this Monday morning, with very short queues and not a lot of foot traffic. There were similarly no queues at any of the SQ check in desks. My bags were tagged to Singapore but curiously, the first boarding pass that printed out was to Rio de Janeiro. I only realised it after I left the counter and had to double back. I can’t really explain why that happened, because the two bookings were on separate PNRs. It was one of those weird moments.

It’s no secret that SQ’s premium economy product has sold very poorly, and the airline has been taking steps to try and monetize the empty seats. They recently started a bidding program that lets you place a bid for an empty PY seat, and they’re selling upgrades at the counter too. I didn’t ask what the prices were.

I think the fundamental problem is how expensive SQ prices its PY product. They’re doing the typical SQ “our product is better than everyone else’s and you should be thankful we let you fly it”, and that strategy hasn’t really been working for them. SQ has an amazing product, but it’s appalling how rigid and inflexible the mindsets of their senior management can be.

I had a choice of lounges to visit post immigration. I decided on the Air Canada Maple Leaf lounge, having visited the very underwhelming Lufthansa Senator lounge numerous times before.

Many SQ passengers will go through FRA and never find this lounge, because of the abundance of LH lounge signs near the gate where they disembark during the JFK-SIN layover.

Size wise, it’s definitely smaller than the LH Senator lounge but I find it a lot more quiet and tranquil.

There is plenty of seating in the lounge

. Great views of the tarmac too. I didn’t know Air Canada operates enough flights out of FRA to justify having its own lounge (26 flights a week), but I imagine they earn back the operating costs by charging other Star partners for access.

Hello, what’s that in the background….

It was indeed SQ25, just landed from JFK and ready to do its turn. While the aircraft refueled, so did I.

The Air Canada lounge has a much better selection of food than the Lufthansa Senator lounge in my opinion. It was breakfast time so the breakfast spread was out.

I assembled myself a plate and resumed plane watching.

Boarding began on time and, as you can imagine for an A380 flight, there was a scrum at the gate. It did seem like a lot of people for a Monday morning flight.

SQ has its business class seats on the upper deck of the A380. The version they fly on SQ25 has an all business class upper deck configuration with 86 flatbed seats.

In terms of product design, it’s hard to believe that SQ’s A380s are already closing in on 10 years old. I mean, these seats are much superior to a lot of the current-gen business class products you’ll find on other airlines. And they’re 10 years old! As much as I dislike the policies of SQ management, I have to say that their product design team is light years ahead of the game. Which makes me even more excited to see what the new A380s will have…

In terms of condition, however, the seats are showing their age. Look closely and you’ll start seeing various battle scars, of repeated pressurization and depressurization cycles, of spilled wine and juice, of nicks and scratches from bags, zips and other pointy things.

The poet in me might suggest that every blemish tells a story, but the critic asked whether it was too much to ask for a mid cabin refresh (the type SQ did with their Suites seats where they went from this

Image result for singapore airlines old suites

to this)

Image result for singapore airlines old suites

It’s probably a very different financial proposition to refurbish 12 seats (Suites) per A380 versus 86, however.

The seat is thoughtfully designed with a lot of ports and storage space. You get 2 USB ports, in seat power and something that looks like an Ethernet cable.

You have two small reading lights on your left and right shoulder with various brightness settings

The excellent noise cancelling PhiTek headphones make an appearance.

And each passenger gets eyeshades, slippers and socks. Earplugs are available upon request.

The crew came over to serve welcome drinks. Unlike the fantastic crew we had out of SIN, this crew was very mechanical and stoic. Passengers weren’t addressed by name, no introductions were made and although the crew did everything perfectly fine, it’s quite easy to tell when a crew is “into it”.

No alcohol is served on ground due to customs regulations so I had some OJ.

Take off views were nothing special this frigid Monday morning.

I read through the menu after take off. The menu cover had the same CNY-inspired design as that on SQ326 over to Frankfurt.

The options, however, were non-festive. I think they only do the special CNY treats ex-SIN. Lunch would be served after takeoff with the following options

There was the usual extensive drinks list that formed the bulk of the menu

The crew came around to serve more drinks after takeoff. Was it too early for champagne? I thought, before deciding that no, it was never too early for champagne. Or for poorly taken photos where you can totally see the guy taking it in the reflection.

As is usually the case with SQ lunch services (except the one I took ex-SIN during CNY), the meal started with satay. I’ve been quite surprised at the consistency of the satay regardless of which station I’m flying out of. Of course it doesn’t compare to what you can find back home, but it’s perfectly passable.

I’ve come to realise that SQ’s appetizers tend to be some variation of prawns. I personally like prawns so I don’t have an issue with this. I would imagine those allergic to them would have some issue. Garlic bread was served as well.

Craving Asian food, I opted for the duck curry for the main. It didn’t look too appetizing but was actually pretty good. Biggest downside was the veggies were mush.

The desert cart came around and I had some raspberry ice cream. How I long for simpler flavors. You could just give me vanilla every single time and I’d never complain.

A fruit basket was also brought around.

The loos on the A380 have these glamor style mirror lights. I would have thought that when you’re a mixture of dehydrated and bedhead, bright lighting would be the last thing you want.

The taps on the A380 are automatic though, which should appeal to the germophobes out there (guilty). You know what I really want? Toilets with auto opening doors. Like you wave your hand or something and the door opens. I always cringe when I have to touch the latch after I’m done.

I then flipped the seat into bed mode and passed out. If you want to see photos of the seat in bed mode  (and photos of me with more hair) you can check out this older trip report to San Francisco

I awoke somewhere over Afghanistan with 6 hours left on the flight.

I will keep repeating this until it changes, but SQ does not have a great snack selection. Its hot items are limited to nicely plated and garnished instant noodles. Contrast that with what Etihad has (I know this is comparing F to J, but SQ’s F snack menu isn’t much better)  and tell me that doesn’t look much better than these options.

Anyway, I had what I think was chicken noodles. I couldn’t tell because it appears they forgot to put the chicken garnish on it.

And then did some work, and went back to sleep.

I awoke for breakfast. SQ was doing that “wake everyone up 2.5 hours before landing” thing that I still can’t figure out.

Fruit was the standard starter for everyone. Random: does anyone actually like grapefruit? I suppose there must be such people out there, but I have yet to meet one of them.

I had the pad thai for the main, still in my “i need Asian food so badly I’ll settle for a bad version of it” stage. The dish was awful- it tasted like someone had dumped a whole load of lime juice on it. You couldn’t take more than a few bites without making a sourpuss face.

I think this would overall be one of my more average SQ flights. That said, SQ’s average is still miles ahead of many other airlines’ best.

SQ’s A380 seats have had their time in the sun and I’m glad we’ll be seeing something new this year. I am holding out hope for mini-suites with doors in Business class, which I think is the natural evolution of the product.

Until the next long trip!

 

An Unplanned Flight on the BB-8 plane

ANA First off the checklist too!

Flown August 2016
Published January 2017

At Narita Airport

It has been some time since my last entry and I finally got the time to share my first flight report for this blog, which is not going to be very common since I prefer to focus on hotels.

Maybe this is considered the second, but I guess my Medical Emergency does not really count as a flight report, does it?

Continue reading An Unplanned Flight on the BB-8 plane