Tag Archives: family

Pooling miles with Japan Airlines

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!


Pooling Miles – Is it Possible?

I often dream of a world in which my frequent flyer account is overflowing with unlimited miles, and every time I want to travel, award availability on premium classes is always wide open. Sadly, that is not to be. With the comparatively meagre credit card sign up bonuses in Singapore, you’ll probably find yourself having to fly coach more often that you’d like. This is especially so when flying in a group (finding 2 award tickets is hard enough, try finding 4 or even 6), or during peak holiday seasons.

Earlier this month, I brought my family and my parents to Japan to catch the spring Sakura blooms. I furiously searched for award flights for the 4 of us adults on both Star Alliance and One World carriers but to no avail. I got close though; I finally managed to find 3 return award tickets on Japan Airlines (redeemable with Asia Miles) but the dates were not too favourable. Also, I didn’t want to be the only one sitting at the back of the plane (realities of life when you travel with your wife and parents), so that plan was scrapped.

We ended up buying the cheapest economy tickets we could find at that point in time, which also happened to be on Japan Airlines (JAL). My default One World account was Asia Miles, so I had initially entered that in while booking the tickets.

Now I think this is a situation that many families face. When buying air tickets for a family holiday, price is usually the foremost consideration, not earning miles. Even though all my family members have Krisflyer accounts, we would definitely not be willing to pay the price difference (it was about $150 more per person in this case) just to fly SQ to earn those measly couple thousand miles each. I was the only one with an Asia Miles account, and it would make no sense for my wife and parents to sign up for a new AM account only for whatever small amount of miles earned to expire in the end. As such, in all likelihood, those butt-in-seat miles would have been ‘wasted’.

Haven’t you thought to yourself, ‘wouldn’t it be nice if I could credit the miles earned from my family members’ tickets to my account.’? Well, you can! With the JAL Mileage Bank program.

So I was randomly navigating through the JAL webpage when I spotted this:

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The JAL Family Club is a program within the JAL Mileage Bank that applies to members residing outside Japan. It seems to be designed to cater to Japanese expats who temporarily relocate their families overseas, but the perks also apply to foreigners not residing in Japan.

The main perk is of course, pooling miles. When signing up, you will be asked to nominate a ‘primary’ member. Miles earned by family of this primary member will all be pooled into his / her Family Club account. Family is defined as the primary member’s spouse, parents and parents-in-law, children (regardless of age) and sons-/daughters-in law, up to a maximum of 8 family members.

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There are other perks as well, as JAL FC members are eligible for various bonus miles promos, discounts etc. Additional details can be found here.

Does it work? Well it certainly did for me! Below you can see the mileage balance in my ‘Family Account’ and my ‘Individual Account’.

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As you can see, there are 4 times as many miles in my Family account as there are in my Individual account (miles from my wife and parents). There is even a little chart showing you where your miles came from.

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Also, you do not need to fly together for the miles to be credited to your family account. Any mile earning flights on JAL (and eligible flights on other One World carriers) flown by any of the registered family members will be credited to your family account.

Is there a catch? Well, signing up for the JAL Mileage Bank program is free, but there is an annual registration fee of 1000 miles per Family Club account (i.e. one fee for the whole family). However, this is offset by the bonus of 1000 miles per FC account when the primary member flies his/her first flight on JAL. You are eligible for this bonus every year after the annual fee is deducted. There is also a one-time registration fee of 1000 miles for each additional family member registered. For me, this fee was waived as there was a promotion when I signed up (that has since ended last month).

The biggest con to me is that, to my knowledge, none of the Singapore banks’ rewards program transfers points to JAL Mileage Bank. Yes, not even American Express Singapore. But most of my credit card point accumulation is geared towards redemption on Krisflyer awards, so this doesn’t really affect me.

The question you are probably pondering is whether it is worth the hassle to sign up for this program (the websites for Japanese carriers are notoriously difficult to navigate). Well that obviously depends very much of the holiday pattern of you and your family.

I don’t know whether this is an isolated experience, but recently I’ve noticed that it is increasingly popular among my friends and family to visit Japan, whether is it for a ski trips, food, shopping, or just a family holiday. I know families who make annual pilgrimages to Japan for various reasons, whether it is to Niseko to hit the slopes, or Kyoto for autumn/spring. If your family falls into that description, then to me it is definitely worth it.

A family trip to the US can also see you accumulating a significant number of miles. When paying for long-haul travel, I tend to gravitate towards SQ because I am biased know I can be assured of a certain level of comfort. However, the experience on JAL, whether it be the hard or soft product, is definitely comparable to the other reputable carriers. Their prices are also reasonable (definitely lower than SQ), and it doesn’t hurt that you get to pool miles!

A quick look at the JAL award chart for JAL Group flights, and Partner flights show that it is comparable to the Asia Miles chart. 35,000 miles for a round trip redemption on JAL from SIN to Japan in Economy is means you’re getting 1 free flight for every 10 flown. It also helps that in general, award availability on JAL flights is much better than the other more popular carriers. Although you can’t transfer your credit card points to this program, you also can buy JAL Mileage Bank miles through SPG, albeit being slightly complicated. JAL is also a partner with Emirates, and with the recent Alaskan Miles devaluation, perhaps buying JAL points through SPG is now the best way to get to shower in the sky.

In summary, this program probably isn’t for everyone, especially if you don’t travel (or have no plans) to Japan or the US with your family. However, if you have a relatively big family and travel together often, you might very well find this a very attractive alternative to the Asia Miles program.

What do you think of this feature of the JAL Mileage Bank? Would you sign up for this? I don’t profess to be an expert on this topic, but it would be great to have a discussion in the comment section below!

Trip Report: SIN-PER (SQ Business)

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!


 

SIN-PER on Singapore Airlines with a visit to the Changi T3 SilverKris First Class Lounge

The birth of my daughter in April 2015 meant that my wife and I have not had the chance to travel together (besides across the causeway) for more than 1.5 years. We were thrilled to be able to fly again, but also apprehensive about travelling with an 8 month old infant for the first time. What do you do when confronted with the possibility of dealing with a screaming baby for 5.5 hours? Fly Business of course!

SQ 223
Singapore (SIN) – Perth (PER)
Monday, 21 December 2015
Depart:           0925hrs
Arrive:             1440hrs
Duration:        5hr15min
Aircraft:          Boeing 777-200
Seat:               17H (Business Class)
Cost:               27625 Krisflyer Miles (after 15% online discount) + S$220.50 (per person 1-way)
1-way Infant-in-Lap ticket for S$259.10
 

We arrived at Changi T3 at about 7am. My wife needed some time to nurse before boarding, and I readily agreed to the early start to the day as that would give us more time to check out the lounge and do some window shopping. There was no queue at the Business Class row and our bags were tagged and checked-in within 5 minutes. We cleared immigration quickly and promptly made our way to the SilverKris Lounge.

The T3 SilverKris Lounge is a short walk towards the ‘A’ gates (turn left after immigration) and on the 3rd floor. We presented our boarding passes at the reception and were directed into the Business Class section. In the past, we would have made a beeline for the buffet and bar for a quick snack, this time it was to the nearest attendant we could find. “May I know where the lounge nursing room is?”

The attendant confidently replied “There’s no nursing room in the lounge”, at which my wife immediately shot me a death stare.

Now if you are travelling with children, Changi Airport has one of the most comprehensive kid-friendly facilities around the world. There are a multitude of diaper-change rooms and nursing rooms both ground- and air-side, and even an entire ‘Family Zone’ in Terminal 2 (http://www.changiairport.com/en/airport-experience/attractions-and-services/baby-care-room.html). In fact, I’ve read some local parenting blogs which extol Changi as an excellent place for a family excursion for kids of all ages; even when ground-side there is a wide selection of food and entertainment options. I know I could spend at least an hour gawking at the life-sized X-Wing and TIE fighter display, for one!

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I was so tempted to queue…
As such, I found it difficult to believe that the flagship lounge of our famed national carrier, in the best airport in the world, does not have a nursing room. And also because I have already done my research. 🙂

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Anyway, not wanting to argue, I made my way back to the reception and asked the staff there the same question. This time I was pleasantly surprised by the response.

“I’m so sorry but the nursing room in the Business Class section is currently under renovation. Allow me to bring you to the First Class section”. Well that made for a good start to our first family holiday! I was genuinely pleased with that bit of service and thought it was a nice touch that they ‘upgraded’ us without even any hesitation on their part.

Passengers flying First or Suites class on Singapore are entitled to use The Private Room. As such, the First Class section is mainly used by Solitaire PPS Club members not flying F or R, and First Class passengers on other Star Alliance carriers. As such, most of the patrons were also holding Business Class boarding passes, and I felt right at home looking around!

tr3Changi T3 SilverKris First Class Lounge

tr4View of the Bar

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Seating Area

The lounge is understandably smaller, and the décor is largely similar to the Business Class section, with large comfy seats in leather, and a mix of marble and carpeted floors. The darker colour theme gave the lounge a more dignified feel, and I loved the high ceilings throughout the lounge. There were a number of partitions creating sub-sections of seats, imparting a more private feel as a whole. For example, there was a large family of 5 with young children seated in the far section in the last picture above, and I did not even notice they were there until I ventured to take a peek around the partition.

The large, full height windows overlooked the large common ‘A’ gate (gates A1-5), which was super crowded at that point in time with 2 flights due for departure. I was sure reminded of why we spend so much effort accumulating points to fly premium!

The service was far more attentive than that in the often crowded J area. I had coffee, snacks from the tea trolley, stocked up my thermos with hot water for the flight ahead, all while seated in a sofa and without lifting a finger. 🙂

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It is difficult to select a seat when there are so many to choose from, but this was the one I chose eventually. First world problems.       

tr7Staffed bar, with the staff missing in the photo

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Sit-down dining area

Besides the staffed bar, which had a large selection of coffees, TWG tea, and an expanded collection of booze, the lounge also had a dedicated sit-down dining area. The food on offer was not much of an upgrade from the Business Class section. There were a few ‘live’ stations with local delicacies but besides that it wasn’t overly impressive. In fact, the dining area was pretty crowded, and my wife and I decided to head back to the Business Class section (where we rightfully belonged – she’s not as thick-skinned as me and felt paiseh for hanging around the First Class section for as long as we did) for our breakfast. Kudos to the staff who in no way made us feel that we have over-stayed our welcome. I doubt any of them besides the reception staff even knew we were not supposed to be there!

For those who need to work, there is a quiet work section with desks and computers.

tr9Work area with desks and computers

A quick note of the nursing facilities if you happen to be in need of one. My wife describes it as adequate but underwhelming.

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First Class Lounge Diaper-change and Nursing Room

As mentioned, for an airport with comprehensive family facilities, which are spacious and well stocked even ground-side, this room was a little cramped, felt bare, and lacked even a hot water dispenser. There was a basket of amenities (pictured) which included (of all things) small cups, mouth rinse (???) and lotion, but that was about it. You don’t need to be a parent to know that those are pretty useless items when trying to deal with a hungry or soiled child. Even the children’s stickers on the wall and mirror looked sad. Maybe it was me setting unrealistic expectations but I thought it would look better than a common heartland mall’s nursing room.
That being said, my wife was very pleased with the large leather couch and side table available.

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Large couch and table for baby paraphernalia

In all fairness, I doubt many Solitaire PPS Club members would be in need of such facilities. Also, there aren’t many First Class passengers on other Star Alliance carriers to begin with, much less those with nursing infants. For us, hot water was hand-delivered to the nursing room on demand, so the point about the dispenser is moot. J

On hindsight, I guess I should be pleased that they even had a nursing room. Neither the Qantas Club lounge in PER, nor the 5 Royal Orchid / Silk Lounges in BKK had a nursing room; and their idea of a diaper change facility is a plastic fold-down changing table in a normal toilet so…

With the whole family satiated, we made our way to our gate and whizzed past the economy crowd unto the plane. Damn that never gets old (at least not yet)!

SQ223 is a Boeing 777-200 which features the standard SQ regional angled-flat business class product in a 2-2-2 configuration. There are 4 flights from SIN to PER daily, 2 of which are on the Airbus A330-300 with the other 2 on the B772. The hard product is identical on both planes, but business class on the B772 is divided into 2 separate cabins. The front cabin has 20 seats, whereas the one closer to the economy cabin has 18. In contrast, the A333 has a single Business Class cabin with 30 seats. It’s a minor difference between the 2 planes but I do feel a smaller cabin does give a cosier feel.
We were placed into the aft cabin due to our request for a bassinet seat, which turned out to be an excellent thing given that it was all but empty except for us and 2 other solo travellers.

tr13Standard SQ regional Business Class seats

tr14Almost empty aft business class cabin. No wonder there was abundant saver award space!

Compared to other regional products, I really feel SQ has one of the best in the market. The fixed back shell with the little extensions at the side gives it a similar feel to the old long haul seat (haven’t had the chance to try the new one yet!), and at 27 inches the seat width is even wider than some other carriers’ long-haul business class products. There are some that say a wider seat is not necessarily better, which I agree with in principle. However, I’d like to say that a wider seat certainly can’t hurt!

We settled right in with the customary hot towel and welcome drinks. It was a challenge keeping my daughter from trying to get a taste of my Taittinger Brut though!

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Welcome drinks

There was a long taxi to the runway followed by a queue, but after about 15 minutes we were airborne.

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Take-off queue

Meal service started soon after. Now at this point the flight became a bit of a blur because my daughter was rudely awakened from her blissful nap by the take-off and started morphing into a Kraken (remember that scene from Pirates of the Caribbean?). We had to take our meals in turn, beginning with my daughter’s post-weaning meal.

It was described as ‘Minced chicken with mash potatoes and steamed pumpkin’. And we loved it. We meaning all 3 of us. My daughter finished about a quarter of the relatively huge serving, and my wife and I gobbled up the rest. This is in stark contrast to when we flew on Thai Airways on the return leg, where we were brandished 2 ice-cold packets of baby food. SQ even made a fair attempt at plating food for a baby!

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SQ Post-weaning meal. This tastes A LOT better than it looks.

It was our turn now, and no SQ flight would be complete without their Chicken and Beef Satay. As usual, the meat serving was generous and juicy, and the peanut sauce was great.

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Chicken and Beef Satay

This was followed by the appetizer; the prawns were huge and succulent, baut the cheese was a little on the bland side. Can’t be faulted for that I guess, overall an excellent starter.

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Marinated King Prawn and Bocconcini with grilled vegetable
and basil pesto

We had opted for the Book the Cook service prior to the flight, and it did not disappoint. My wife had the Chargrilled Soya-flavoured Beef. In the air, picking the red meat dish is sometimes hit and miss because it can be easily overdone and tough. But this dish was perfect. My wife and I both like our beef marbled, as opposed to the beefier dry-aged taste, so we were lucky that what was offered was exactly our cup of tea. In fact, this meal is the best meal I’ve had on a plane thus far. Now I know I’m not that well-travelled, but I am picky about my steaks even when on land, and I am still craving another bite of that beef now that I’m looking at its picture.

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Chargrilled Soya-flavoured Beef

tr21Classic Lobster Thermidor

It was the Classic Lobster Thermidor for me, which was tasty and had generous servings of juicy lobster, but it paled in comparison to the beef.
For those interested, the regular menu for the SIN PER lunch service reads as follows;

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SIN PER Lunch Menu

Service on the flight was standard SQ – quick, efficient, professional and always done with a smile. They accommodated our many requests without hesitation. Some trip reports do say that while it is polished and standardized across the board, the in-flight service on Singapore Airlines can be robotic and impersonal at times. That was difficult for me to appreciate in the past, but I must say I felt a little of that on this flight. Travelling with children inevitably makes one a more ‘difficult’ passenger – I needed to make more weird requests, not to mention the countless times clogging up the galley with my crying baby (we figured we’d rather disturb the FAs than the other passengers). The FAs were always present and willing to help, but did not bother trying to engage us (or my daughter) on a personal level.

This is in contrast to our return leg on Thai Airways Royal Silk Class. While the FAs were not as polished as our Singapore Girls (I was handed an unfolded tablecloth and had to lay it out myself), I found that they were much more engaging. The senior flight steward on the TG flight even offered to carry and entertain my daughter while my wife and I ate.

I know this is being picky, and it doesn’t really affect my view of the airline much. However, seeing as how much of SQ’s marketing still continues to revolve around the Singapore Girl, it is always worth keeping a tab on.

A closing note on infant tickets. As to be expected, the 1-way infant-in-lap ticket was pricey and not value for money. I was charged S$259.10, when a return ticket would have only cost around S$350. Theoretically an infant-in-lap ticket only costs 10% of the adult fare, but it is usually on the adult full fare, and the taxes and surcharges are sometimes not waived (this differs from carrier to carrier). On Economy the fare would usually be quite affordable, but when flying premium things add up pretty quickly. Before getting too excited and snapping up those Saver award seats, it is worth giving the carrier a call to get a rough gauge of the prices both return and 1-way. I was shocked when TG charged me S$560.70 for a 1-way infant-in-lap ticket on our return (PER-BKK-SIN) leg!

In summary, SQ Regional Business Class probably will not feature very highly one’s lists of aspirational products to fly, but for that added comfort and convenience on a family holiday, I feel it is well worth it shelling out the miles for.