The First Class Premium
Part 1: Tracing the evolution of First and Business Class on Singapore Airlines
Part 2: How does First and Business Class compare on Singapore Airlines?
Part 3: Number crunching First vs Business Class on Singapore Airlines
Part 4: How does First and Business Class compare on other airlines?
Ah, the ultimate first world problem.
Having looked at the evolution of SQ’s First and Business Class products and how the two compare today, it’s time to do some number crunching to see under what circumstances it makes sense to spend your miles on First Class over Business.
Here is SQ’s award chart for one way saver redemptions between Singapore and various destinations. The 15% online redemption discount has not yet been reflected. You can see that the average premium you pay for first class over business is about 40%. The premium generally decreases as the distance gets longer.
| Z2: Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei
| Z3: Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos
| Z4: Hong Kong, Taiwan
| Z5: Beijing, Shanghai
| Z6: India, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Bangladesh
| Z7: Japan, South Korea
| Z8: Perth & Darwin
| Z9: Rest of Australia & NZ
| Z10: Middle East & Turkey
| Z11: Europe
| Z12: San Francisco, Los Angeles
| Z13: New York, Houston
I reached out to a few of our trusty guestwriters to get their opinions on when paying for First Class made sense. Here are some of their views-
Jeriel: I thought it would be useful to divide the discussion to 2 sets of considerations. Firstly, the redemption zones –
1) Regional / Medium Haul flights (i.e. redemption zones 1 to 8) and 2) Long Haul flights (i.e. redemption zones 9 to 14).
Secondly, the type of aircraft –
1) B777-300ER and
Zones 1 to 8
To begin with, many of the aircraft operating flights in this category do not even have First Class cabins. The first step is to double-check whether your flight even has an option for First Class! (Milelion note: even though there is no First Class on these routes (eg SIN-BKK), there is still a line in the award chart for First Class so that people routing from outside Singapore (eg SFO-ICN-SIN-BKK can see the cost of the award. You’d fly F from SFO-ICN-SIN and J from SIN-BKK)
In general, First Saver redemptions from Zones 1 to 8 cost about 36-50% more miles than Business Saver redemptions. Let’s take a look at a few examples for some popular destinations.
||Business Saver (1-way, -15%)
||First Saver (1-way, -15%)
|HKG (Zone 4)
|PVG (Zone 5)
|NRT (Zone 7)
While the incremental miles required to fly First may not be high, sometimes this can represent quite a high percentage premium over a Business Class product that is already excellent. Japan and Korea in Zone 7 is one such example. 50% more miles would really make one think twice!
There are only a few scenarios in which I can imagine how a First Saver redemption in this category would make sense. I feel this way because with a total flight time from 3-7 hours, sleep is not that big a consideration for me (refer to section on sleep below).
Scenario 1: Where it gives you access to the Suites Experience
I wholeheartedly agree with Aaron that the whole point of playing the miles and points game is to create access to experiences that one would otherwise not be able to experience. Flying Suites, experiencing sleeping in a double bed on the A380… these are definitely bucket-list experiences which would not otherwise be available to mere mortals.
When you’re talking about regular flights, HKG at 31,875 miles is the cheapest destination with which you can make your Suites dream come through. Some time back, I wrote about an even cheaper opportunity to fly suites which has sadly now lapsed.
While the short flight time leaves much to be desired, paying a couple hundred bucks and a bunch of miles for free flow premium champagne, experiencing The Private Room, good food, endless selfie opportunities and the customary photo of the golden tickets for bragging rights… Sounds like a good deal to me!
Also, while the credit card strategies in this blog would give you a respectable earn rate on your points, at the end of the day you’d still need to spend to get those points. A return ticket on First Saver for 2 pax to zones 11-12 will set you back at least 365k miles after the online discount. Even if you earn at the maximum rate of 4 miles per dollar (which is near impossible for all you spending), you’d still need to spend almost $100k to get there. If you don’t have any massive spend lined up, it can take quite some time to get there. These short to medium haul First Class flights may be your best bet for now!
Scenario 2: When Business Saver award space is not available
If you have to make a trip and Business Saver is not available, do not despair! Take a quick peek at First Saver availability and you might be surprised. Business Standard awards cost even more than First Saver, so you’d be kicking yourself if you pulled the trigger and redeemed for Biz Standard when First Saver was still available.
I was in this exact situation when trying to make a flight redemption to HKG for my mother who urgently needed to fly up to meet a relative. Business Saver was unavailable and even Business Standard was on waitlist. She was disappointed and started searching for the cheapest revenue Economy ticket. All it took for me was a quick check online and an additional 8,500 miles for my mum to be enjoying the flight of her lifetime a couple of weeks later!
Zones 9 to 14
The situation for long haul flights is slightly different. Firstly, the percentage premium of First Saver redemptions over Business Saver is slightly lower.
||Business Saver (1-way, -15%)
||First Saver (1-way, -15%)
|SYD (Zone 9)
|LHR (Zone 11)
LAX (Zone 12)
|JFK (Zone 13)
|GRU (Zone 14)
Note: as the one-stop flights on SQ to GRU are now being pulled, it now seems that one has to fly through FRA-JFK and then codeshare on a LATAM Airlines 767-300 on the JFK/GRU leg. The last leg does not have First Class, so it looks like there will no longer be any way to fly First Class all the way to GRU on SQ.
Secondly, it is on these long-haul flights that you really get to savor the experience in all its glory, and where some of the small differences between the classes begin. Passengers flying First get the Salvatore Ferragamo amenity kits, and (the now un-branded) pajamas. You’d get at least 2 meals, and a good stretch of time to experience what it feels like to sleep like a baby at 40,000 feet.
These are nice collectibles, but are they really worth the additional ~20k miles? Especially if you have already flown the product before, perhaps not so. If you take a KF mile to be worth about 2 cents each, 20k miles can be valued at about S$400. You can buy 2 bottles of Dom Perignon, or even a pair of Ferragamo heels with that!
From Aaron’s excellent history lesson of SQ’s premium offerings over the years, you can clearly see the difference in the First Class offerings in the 2 different planes. The soft product may be the same, but the hard product is miles apart, with the A380 Suites offering unparalleled privacy and the option of a double-bed. This to me is huge when considering whether or not to make the upgrade. I’d choose Suites over plain ol’ First Class any day, and would even go as far to say I think it is difficult to find a compelling reason to fly First Class over long haul Business.
For me, there are only a few reasons for which I would commit the additional miles for a First / Suites ticket.
This is the most compelling point for me. When you take your first ever flight in a full-flat Business seat, the very fact that you are lying horizontally when flying would seem like an amazing thing. You’d definitely be able to catch more shut-eye than in Economy, but after a while you come to realize that the ‘bed’ is really not a bed at all.
Even in SQ’s excellent long-haul offering, I find the foot cubby-hole way too small and cramped. It doesn’t help that at 1.86m tall, I have to make use of every millimeter to really lie flat. I find my feet squashed and contorted into the foot cubby, which wakes me up multiple times throughout my nap. I guess if you’re around the average Singaporean height, this may not apply to you as much. My wife who’s about a foot shorter than me has no such problems.
Also, by virtue of the fact that you’re in a larger cabin, the foot traffic by other passengers and the flight crew is a significant distraction, especially if you are a light sleeper. On my recent CDG-SIN flight in June this year, a lady from across the aisle decided to stay up the whole flight reading her book with the bright LED reading light on. Having just flown my outbound in Suites with the memory of the absolute privacy it afforded fresh in my mind, I found myself incredibly irritated and must have took at least an hour to fall asleep. First world problems, I know. 😀
This is especially important on a long-haul flight where you’d want a really good long nap to hit the ground running when you land, and/or to minimize any jetlag. Perhaps less so on a 5 hour flight where any nap will only be about 2-3 hours anyway. (Milelion: I’m really going to disagree with Jeriel here- in fact the dynamic I’m thinking of is that if you want sleep, go for Business, if you want luxury, go for First. In First it feels very fei to sleep because you want to enjoy the experience more. In Business on the other hand, it’s all about maximising rest. I agree that First has a better bed for sure, but the Business bed is good enough for most people. Not everyone will agree with me on this though)
It’s your honeymoon or Jubilee anniversary and you want to spoil your spouse’s expectations for future travel forever. ‘nuff said.
I was asked to provide a family-orientated perspective to this discussion. When considering this question in the context of flying with my young family, I would definitely tend towards sticking with Business Saver redemptions.
Milelion: I’m going to add a few points to Jeriel’s of how I decide whether or not to spring for First.
(1) Is it an A380?
I’d be much more willing to pay the premium for the excellent Suites product over regular F, for obvious reasons.
(2) If it’s not an A380, is it the new F or old F?
The new First Class seat is a thing of beauty and the last generation F seat just looks really tired right now. Comfort wise it’s not like you’ll be miserable in the Old F, it’s just that the new seat is that much more impressive. Ceterus paribus, I’d be very hard pressed to pay the premium for old F.
(3) Am I departing from SIN or going back to SIN?
The ground experience in SIN for First is definitely several levels above Business (Private Room!). The experience is somewhat different overseas, unless you’re departing from JFK where F passengers can assess the Virgin Clubhouse.
In my mind, there is one question that determines whether you should go for First or Business class (assuming you have the miles, and saver is available for both)
Comfort vs Experience
For comfort, Business Class is more than sufficient. SQ’s full flat Business seat is every bit as comfortable as its First Class peer. (and if you’re on one of their A330s with the less comfortable angled flat regional Business Class seat, First Class won’t be an option anyway) You’ll get a good amount of rest, the catering and service will be good quality and you’ll arrive at your destination ready to go.
For experience, it’s still hard to beat SQ’s First Class product. You can read about the nitty gritty here, but to summarise, if this is a once in a lifetime trip, there’s every reason why you should save up 30-40% more miles to make it extra memorable.
As reader Damian (look out for his guest post coming soon) puts it
Business Class: Yu Pian Mi Fen
First Class: Lobster Noodles
I think that’s as good a summary as any of what you can expect out of either one.
We’ve looked at the case for First and Business Class on SQ, but what if you intend to fly on other airlines? How different is the product and how many more miles can you expect to pay? Stay tuned for the fourth and final part of this article where we look at exactly that.