Tag Archives: jeriel

Revisiting the value of a mile

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!


I noticed some reader comments on the recent article on the latest Krisflyer promotion asking if it was worth redeeming Premium Economy and Economy awards at around 2.8 to 3.5 cents per mile (after factoring in the additional 15% discount). The response given to those questions (and rightly so) was ‘it depends’, but I suppose that isn’t the most helpful answer if you’re deciding whether or not to pull the trigger on a redemption. This article is a whole lot longer answer to those questions. Be warned though; it may just be equally unhelpful. 😀

My basis thesis is this: all decisions that we make when playing this game boils down to one simple, existential question we each must answer for ourselves: how much do we value a mile? This is not only limited to making award redemptions (using miles), but also when choosing the credit card with which to make day to day purchases (earning miles). If you have accurately and confidently valued the miles for yourself, then making decisions like the ones encountered by our readers should be a little easier.

In one of the very first Milelion articles, Aaron explained how the value of a mile is variable, depending on the class of travel you redeem for. Using the formula; value per mile = (revenue ticket cost – taxes) / no. of miles used, redemptions for Economy tickets generally get you about 2-3c/mile, Business ticket redemptions will fetch you 4-6c/mile, and First Class tickets will give you a return of about 6-9c/mile. That’s all well and good, but if that is the case, why does one of the world’s most well-known (and well-flown) travel hacker only value SQ Krisflyer miles at 1.5 US Cents (around 2.1 cents) each?

I shall try to explain this by exploring two different perspectives; using miles and earning miles.

  1. Using Miles

Put simply, although it feels and looks good, it is overly simplistic to tag the value of the mile to what a revenue ticket would otherwise cost.

It is certainly click-bait when you say something like ‘I’m flying on a S$20,000 plane ticket and I got it for free!’, and that’s what some travel bloggers do to boost readership. It also makes you feel that you’ve gamed the system and ‘earned’ that S$20,000 ticket through your genius credit card strategies. After all, assuming an earn rate of 4 miles per dollar on specific categories of spending (excluding limited time promotions and sign-up bonuses), theoretically an award redemption on a First Class ticket will give you 9 cents x 4 miles = 36 cents per dollar! That is essentially a 36% rebate on every dollar you’ve spent.

However, if you take a step back and think about it rationally, something about this just doesn’t feel quite right. Are you really getting 36 cents of cold hard cash back for every dollar you’ve spent as you’re stretched out on your double bed sipping away at Krug and shoving caviar in your face at 40,000ft? My argument is probably not.

Another way to think about it is this: imagine that ABC Bank has decided to launch a cashback card with a 36% cashback rate. You hear about it first on Milelion and are one of the first people to get the card. After a year of spending, you found that you have accumulated S$17,850 in cashback credit, which you decide you want to use to go on a holiday to New York. Would you spend all that cash on a return ticket in SQ Suites to JFK, or fly in plain ol’ economy and use the remaining S$16,000 on the other holiday expenses (and probably still have some change left over?) My bet would be on the latter.

In short, thinking you’re actually getting 6-9c of real, monetary value back even when making a First Class award redemption is just being naïve. Ditto for the 4-6c/mile you think you’re getting when making Business Class redemptions.

sin-jfk

Even if you could afford this… Would you really?

Well, what then is a mile really worth? The closest you can get to its real, tangible value is the 1-2 cents/mile on Economy redemptions. This is because the revenue cost of the economy ticket is exactly what you would have paid to fly from destination A to B had you not made an award redemption.

At the same time, we know that a mile is definitely worth more than 1-2 cents when we make premium redemptions. The additional space, better food, increased baggage allowance, lounge access and better service are all real and tangible and are surely worth something.

Value and worth are subjective. There are some people who have no qualms about shelling out hundreds of dollars to dine at Michelin-starred restaurants, and others who just cannot understand what the fuss is about, even if they could easily afford it. Similarly, a Business/First class ticket is worth different things to different people. This could be subject to a myriad of factors. To the businessman who flies Business Class for work every week, the premium experience may be worth so little that he’d rather take a road trip than fly for a holiday. To the honeymoon couple who have never flown premium in their lives, they may just be willing to pay a little more for the special occasion.

A simple mental exercise to value a mile could go something like this: imagine an open bidding system for a Business or First class ticket. How much would you pay in actual cash to fly premium? Ask yourself honestly and you may be close to a comfortable cent per mile valuation for your purposes.

If I haven’t done enough to burst your mile valuation bubble (if you had one), there is also the issue of the illiquidity of miles as a currency. So far, all the numbers I’ve given are based on SQ Saver level awards, factoring in the 15% online discount. But as anyone who has even attempted award redemption will tell you, life is not always a bed of roses. More often than not, the exact award you want will not be available. On our end we do our best to remain flexible in our travel times and dates, but sometimes it will be inevitable that one may have to redeem for Standard awards or even Partner awards, which represent less value. The inflexibility in the ability of miles to purchase the exact ticket you want subtracts significantly from its inherent value as a currency.

For my own purposes, I have valued my KF miles at 2.5 cents / mile. At 91,375 miles for a one way ticket to Europe / U.S. West Coast on First/Suites Class, that means I’m prepared to pay about S$2284 to fly First on that route. That sum may be higher or lower for you, so that’s something you’ll have to figure out for yourself.

  1. Earning Miles

At this juncture I’m sure some of you must have your hands up in the air. How can I possibly be valuing award redemptions in terms of spending real cash when these are rewards points gotten free?

Well, the purchasing power of a mile may be variable, but we acquire or earn our miles at a very real, tangible cost which is more or less fixed; its opportunity cost.

Have you ever called for a bill at a restaurant and proudly took out your UOB Preferred Platinum Amex or your HSBC Advance Visa Platinum, all ready to earn the 4 miles/dollar, only for the wait staff to intone ‘eh Sir, got 15% off if you use DBS card leh.’ You have a DBS Altitude Card in your wallet, but you know that only gives you 1.2 miles/dollar. That a massive difference of 2.8 miles and your upcoming plans to fly Suites to London flashes before your eyes. You hesitate and ask yourself in a hushed whisper ‘What would Milelion Do (WWMD)?’

It is easy to see the opportunity cost here. You are essentially choosing between 2.6 miles/dollar OR 15% off your bill. Assuming a bill of S$100, it comes down to 260 miles vs. a S$15 discount. If you choose the miles, you have ‘paid’ S$15/260 miles = 5.8 cents/mile. You remember that Suites redemptions give you value of 6-9 cents/mile and you are satisfied with your decision.

But wait a minute, the S$15 you’ve given up is as good as cash, there’s no variable value there. Taken to the extreme, if all the miles you have were obtained at such an opportunity cost, suddenly the one-way Suites ticket to London I was talking about would balloon to 91375 miles x 0.058 = S$3944. Doesn’t look too value for money now does it?

Of course, this is just one possible scenario to illustrate opportunity cost. There are other, more complicated examples with similar consequences. One scenario which I’ve spent countless hours arguing with some friends about involve the ‘enhanced interest rate savings accounts’ offered by quite a few banks here. This includes the famous OCBC 360 Account, Standard Chartered Bonus$aver Account and similar offerings by the other banks. Do you choose to meet the minimum spend on the prescribed credit/debit card (which usually has little to no rewards points) to hit the 3+% of interest on your account balance, or use a points-earning credit card? That interest earned is too a real, tangible opportunity cost to alternate, mile-earning credit card strategies.

This is where a reasonable valuation of your miles come in handy. Using my example of 2.5 cents a mile, at an earn rate of 4 miles/dollar, I’m essentially saying that I will only accept an opportunity cost only up to 10 cents/dollar (or a 10% discount). I can then use that value to quickly calculate at the point of sale if it is worth it to go for the miles, or take the other option. In the above example, the incremental 2.6 miles is only worth 6.5 cents (or 6.5%). So while I wouldn’t know WWMD exactly, I for one would go for the 15% discount in a heartbeat.

If you keep strictly to your valuation, you ensure that none of your miles have been obtained for a higher opportunity cost than your pre-defined value (in my case, 2.5 cents/mile). This then comes full circle when I make a redemption. Obviously, I still try to redeem for premium tickets to maximize the value I’m getting, but if push comes to shove and I have to redeem for a less than ideal product (for e.g. Economy or even Silkair Business Class), I am comfortable with making the decision as I know exactly how much I am ‘paying’ for it.

To illustrate this, take my recent trip to Siem Reap under the 50% Silkair redemption promotion. I used 40,000 miles in total for return Business Class tickets for my wife and myself. Some may not be comfortable using hard-earned miles on an inferior product. It was a pretty last minute trip, so economy tickets on the same carrier (Silkair) and even on budget airlines were going for S$800/pax return. Revenue tickets on SIN REP Business Class on Silkair goes for about S$1750/pax return. Based on that revenue ticket cost, I was getting about 7-8 cents/mile on that redemption. While it was thus a good redemption to make on paper, I can confidently say very little of us will value 2 hours in Silkair Biz at S$1.7k, so that 7-8 cents/mile is not a very reliable metric on which to base my decision on.

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No champagne, meals are essentially economy grub in glassware… Who even pays revenue prices?

However, the decision becomes easier when using my valuation of 2.5 cents/mile. Thinking from that perspective, I ‘paid’ S$500 per ticket. That is even less that what I would have paid for a (albeit overpriced) economy ticket for the dates I wanted to travel on. With that logic, it was an acceptable redemption to make.

TL;DR?

Set an (essentially) arbitrary cent per mile value with which you can make decisions on earning and redeeming miles. I recommend this to be between 2 to 3 cents per mile.

Do you agree with my logic? How do you value your miles and craft your spending strategies to truly maximize the value you get out of your spending? Share your thoughts in the comment section below!

Hitting the Suite spot, or another SQ Suites review

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 LHR on Singapore Airlines Suites Class

We made our way to our gate slowly, and arrived about 5 minutes before boarding was due to start. I took the opportunity to take some photos of the beast which was going to carry us to London.

Seeing this never gets old

I must have stood there for a good 3 minutes or so just staring at the plane; specifically at the front few windows of the main deck. You can make out 9 windows at the front arranged 2-2-3-2, for the 4 rows of Suites (row 3 has 3 windows). What secret luxuries lie hidden behind those windows? It was an amazing feeling to know that I was just a few minutes away from finding out.

This flight was obviously the best flight I’ve had in my life. I mean, people actually pay more than double the price of a Business Class ticket to fly this product, so it has to be good right. But was the service perfect? Far from it. I suppose travelling during the June holidays with the Suites cabin 11/12 full contributed to the slight dip in standards. The hard product is undoubtedly amazing though, and I’ve never slept better on a flight. Instead of waxing lyrical, I shall try to be as balanced as possible in this report.

SQ308
Singapore (SIN) – London (LHR)
Date: Friday, 10 June 2016
Dep: 0905hrs
Arr: 1540hrs
Aircraft: Airbus A380-841 (9V-SKS)
Seat: 3C/3D (Suites Class)
Cost: 91,375 Krisflyer Miles (after 15% online disc.) + S$274.20 per person one way

We turned into the dedicated Suites’ air-bridge with a grin on our faces, and walked slowly down so as to savour the feeling of win for as long as possible. The Leading Stewardess (LS), Chief Steward (CS) and the In-Flight Supervisor (IFS) were waiting by the door to the aircraft and smiled at us. By the time we reached around the halfway point the smiles were getting a little too awkward, so the LS walked forward to meet us on the air-bridge, checked our tickets, and escorted us to our seats. We were greeted of course, but not by name, which is apparently supposed to be a thing when flying First Class. On hindsight, I wonder how hard that would have been, seeing as we were the only Chinese couple in the cabin. 😛

We were shown to our seats, and we promptly set about exploring our surroundings. As you can see, the seats were the refurbished, brown leather finish ones. That being said, 9V-SKS is one of the newer A380s in the SQ fleet, so I’m not sure if it ever saw the old, light brown finish. Irrelevant aircraft enthusiast musings. Anyhow, I like the new finish better as I feel it fits much more nicely with the door and table colours.

Seat 3A across the aisle before it was occupied

Lovely rays from the morning sun in seat 3A

The corridor showing the Suites’ doors. They are about 5 feet high

Seat 3A

IFE and light controls immediately to your side on the door. Seat controls (not pictured) on the hand-rest, which only controls back incline and the calf/foot rest

Power plug, headphone jack, 2 USB ports, RCA and LAN cable inputs on the table console to your other side

Noise-cancelling Bose headphones already in one of the many cubby holes. Great improvement over the Business Class Phi-tech ones. iPhone in background sold separately.

Vanity mirror on one side of the TV

The usual in-flight reading material. Note the small strip of see-through material on the window shade.

Small wardrobe with hangers outside your seat for your clothes

Coat hanger on the inside of the door panel. Because a personal coat wardrobe outside your seat is not enough

Whew! That was a lot of photographs for just one seat!

There were a good 4-5 more little cubby holes to put your personal belongings scattered around the suite which I couldn’t be bothered to post pictures of. When your personal area can fit at least 4-6 economy seats, rest assured that space won’t really be an issue. You must have noticed the absence of the overhead bin compartments as well, which adds to the feeling of height and spaciousness. Carry-ons are stowed under the ottoman in front of your seat.

I must really emphasize the space you get in this seat. I’m more than 6 feet tall, and even in SQ International business class my feet get cramped up in the small leg cubby hole to the side (if you’ve flown it before you’d know what I mean). But here, I could barely reach the ottoman with my feet when sitting upright. The ottoman itself is huge and I found it more comfortable to sit there so that I could face my wife for conversation. With both of us in our actual seats it felt like there was a gulf separating us (apart from when the double bed was made of course). I had to stretch just to touch her arm!

Ottoman with Pyjamas and Amenity Kit

We were promptly offered our welcome drink (Krug and Dom Perignon, without hesitation this time) and brought our pyjamas, amenity kit, selection of newspapers and magazines, hot towel, and menu. The stewards and stewardess were scurrying around attending to the 11 of us, so everything was quick, efficient and business-like, no time for the ‘personal touch’. Can’t really blame them as well, seeing the insane number of things they needed to check off the list for each and every passenger.

I amused myself with checking out my fellow revellers in luxury. There was a family of 4 (with 2 young children not more than 6 years) another couple in the double seats in front of us, and another family of 3. Assuming that we were the only ones on Saver level award tickets, SQ must have made a pretty penny (or recovered a significant number of miles from standard/full awards) from this flight! It’s a pity that with the new Suites class product due to be introduced in 2017, we will see a decrease in the number of Suites per aircraft. Although the product is likely to be more competitive with the newest A380 First Class products like the Etihad Apartments (I have my money on a single aisle configuration), award availability will definitely take a hit as well. Better aim to make a redemption soon!

Who needs small talk when you have this?

There was ample time to browse slowly through the menu. One of the biggest first world problems when flying premium with SQ is their Book the Cook service. I mean if you fly premium frequently, tried everything on that menu and have a favourite, then BTC is probably ideal for you. But for the rest of us mere mortals? I think I spent several days agonizing over the many BTC options for First Class/Suites. Even after you’ve made your choice, you wonder if the in-flight options would be better. Well, if you happen to be in a similar conundrum, here’s the current SIN LHR First Class Menu for you.

Breakfast and Lunch menu on SIN LHR Suites

Suffice to say, I was satisfied with our BTC choice of Nasi Briyani and Kyo-Kaiseki for Breakfast service. But more on that later.

Meanwhile, I suddenly found myself in dire need to pee. My glass of Krug must have been refilled a good 3-4 times thus far, even in the midst of all the hustle and bustle. However, it was at this exact moment that the aircraft pushed-back. I hesitated for a moment but thought foolishly; ‘nah, no one will notice me anyway’ and decided to slip off to the loo, only to walk into the whole complement of flight crew in the aft galley. Awkward stares ensued.

‘We’re just about to take off Mr. J, so do return to your seat as soon as possible!’ said the LS cheerfully while holding the lavatory door open for me.

With that, I was addressed by name for the first time since boarding the plane. I think I must have been marked as a potentially difficult passenger from then on! 😀

Anyway, I did what I had to do, and even found time to take some photos of the severely uninspiring First Class toilets.

Ferragamo amenities; WC with bench folded down. Who says you can’t take aircraft loo photos without appearing in them!

A stalk of red orchids and some faux wood trimming the only indicators of luxury in an otherwise standard aircraft lav.

It was noticeably bigger than the Business Class toilets; I could manoeuvre around without having to crouch down at any point in time. But when I am touting that as the best feature of a toilet it is evidence that there is really nothing there. Regarding the new Suites product, we already know there aren’t going to be any showers, and I hope I’m wrong but I doubt we’d see any improvement over the current offering.

Anyhow, I returned to my seat in time for take-off. Sipping premium champers while feeling the lumbering beast claw its way into the air, I couldn’t help but let a small smirk spread across my face.

Breakfast service started promptly after seatbelt signs were turned off. As mentioned, I had BTC-ed the Nasi Briyani and my wife went for the Kyo-Kaiseki. However, one simply doesn’t jump to the main course while sitting up at the very front of the plane. We were asked to choose our breakfast beverage, and offered a wide selection of fresh fruit, yoghurt and cereal first.

At my wife’s behest, I simply had to try the famed Jamaica Blue Mountain, just because I could.

Failed attempt at an artsy insta-worthy photo. I obviously don’t do this much.

We declined the fruit and appetisers, and so the mains came soon after.

It’s so comforting and appealing to my obsessive compulsive traits to see each item being laid out in its exact position. I used the butter for my croissant and when serving another course the LS actually replaced the butter to its original position.

Kyo-Kaiseki first course.

Kyo-Kaiseki second course.

According to the description on SQ’s website, Kyo-Kaiseki is a ‘traditional Japanese array of dishes presented in sequence… reflecting and changing with each season’. In other words, the meal changes from season to season and you’d never know what you’d be getting! My wife loved it so much I didn’t even manage to get a bite before it disappeared.

Nasi Briyani

I really wanted to try a local dish (especially Malay, Indian or Peranakan) to see if SQ could replicate the complex flavours of these hawker favourites in the air. Reviews of BTC dishes on internationally-based blogs generally focus on the Western menu, so I had little to go on. It ended up to be a choice between Chicken Nasi Briyani and Nasi Lemak. I had to flip a coin and ended up with the former. I did not regret the decision.

I loved everything about it, from the fragrance and texture of the Basmati rice to the succulent curry chicken thigh and delicious sauce. The only 2 things that reminded me I was not at an Indian eating house was that it wasn’t served on a banana leaf, and that the garnish on the Briyani itself was a little out of place. Otherwise, excellent. Regret not asking for a Milo Dinosaur to top it all off (can SQ even do Milo Dinosaurs??).

It was only about 10am and we had already finished our 3rd full meal of the day, so we slowly went to change into the pyjamas and get ready for some R&R. We requested for the bed to be made as soon as the meal service ended.

Note the hard divider and centre protrusion at the head of the bed.

Of course, it was still mid-morning Singapore time and after that cup of Blue Mountain, there was no way I was going to fall asleep. We settled down for some TV. Krisworld is excellent, as always, and I prepared to catch up on The Big Bang Theory.

It was nice.

It’s difficult to be superlative about lying in bed and watching sitcoms. I’m sure it’s a comforting pastime many of us engage in at home. Lying there next to my wife snuggling under the warm duvets with the doors and shades drawn, it felt exactly like that – home. Never mind the fact that we were cruising at 37,000ft. I think that goes a long way to demonstrate how private and comfortable the set up really is.

There is room for improvement of course. While touted as a double bed, we were really separated by a hard divider throughout the length of the bed which… hindered (‘nuff said).

Anyway, after a couple of hours of laughing too loud because I couldn’t really hear myself with those noise-cancelling Bose headphones on, I decided to try to take a nap. I only slept about 3 hours in the end (it was midday after all), but I must say I slept like a baby. Quite literally.

Those among you who are parents may know that there is a theory explaining why rocking and white-noise help newborns sleep. In the womb, the baby is cushioned by amniotic fluid, and every move the mother makes rocks it gently. It is also continuously surrounded by the hum of blood flowing through maternal blood vessels.

Well, as I curled up in a fetal position, serenaded by the low-pitched whine of the 4 Rolls-Royce Trent engines, and as the plane gently jiggled up and down due to minor turbulence, I slowly but surely drifted off to sleep.

When we woke, it was just about time for the lunch service. I read somewhere before that there is actually a separate stand that can be used to set up the table for a meal service with the bed deployed. I asked the CS if it was possible for us to have our lunch in bed, but all I got in return was a long, awkward pause…

‘Ok you know what, nevermind, I think we will just have the seats back!’

I think I was suffering from Singaporean Economy Class Syndrome. Too paiseh to be an inconvenience to the usually very obliging but overworked stewards/stewardesses in Y! It ended up being the biggest mistake of the flight, as the beds are way more comfortable than the seats, and there were still several hours of flight time left.

I know, I could have asked for the beds to be remade after lunch… But that would just have been a jerk move. If I had paid the full S$15k in cash I might just have done so though…

As the crew were making the bed, my wife and I decided to walk around the rest of the Suites cabin. Most of the other passengers were still asleep. Again, the privacy afforded to the Suite occupant was very apparent. Even at about 186cm tall, I could not peer over the ‘walls’ of the Suite without making significant effort to tiptoe. Reviews always mention the see-through portions of the blinds, but these are relatively small and will require one to intentionally position oneself before you can see anything on the interior of the Suite. Throughout our rest, while the crew did their regular rounds through the cabin, they always walked briskly and we never felt our privacy being intruded.

We ended up chatting with the IFS at the front of the Suites cabin, just by the cockpit door. We talked about the A380, his NSF stint as a dental assistant in the SAF in the 1970s, the various passengers he had encountered in his long career with SQ… I fully agree that it is the informal, personal nature of interactions in a service setting that really sets the best apart. My wife and I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation.

Before long, the seats were ready and we returned for the Lunch service. We started off with the signature Satay canapes, which never fail to impress.

Somehow my only picture of the Satay turned out weird. Wait a minute, why no table cloth!

This was followed by the Chilled Malossol Caviar.

Chilled Malossol Caviar with Melba toast and condiments

At this point, I decided to join my wife in her seat, so you will see the table set for 2.

Creamy Belgium Endive Soup with Mussel and Smoked Haddock; Baby Romaine Lettuce, Lamb Lettuce and Cherry Tomatoes

I’m definitely no caviar connoisseur, so I think ‘tasty’ and ‘interesting’ would be good adjectives to describe the appetiser. The soup was excellent though, with great balance of flavours from the endives to the sweet tang of the mussel to the salty haddock. The salad was salad.

For our lunch choices, my wife had chosen the much-vaunted Grilled Chilean Sea Bass while I went for the Roast Rack of Lamb.

Grilled Chilean Seabass on New England style clam and mussel chowder served with ciabatta crouton.

The seabass was every bit as good as advertised in the many reviews. Fresh, tender fish with just enough QQ. Also, there was an abundant supply of clams and mussels. By abundant, I really mean a lot. It was like a never ending supply. It helps that I love clams and mussels, so I was smitten with this dish.

As we were happily digging into the Seabass, the LS came by slowly with a deliberate grimace on her face. ‘Wait a minute… this can’t be good’ I remember thinking to myself.

‘I’m really sorry Mr. J, but I accidentally served your Book the Cook option to another passenger. They were both lamb dishes and I made a mistake. I’m very sorry but can I offer you another choice of a main course?’

I was actually dumbstruck for a moment. Not so much that I was devastated at not being able to consume my rack of lamb, but more because it hadn’t crossed my mind that confusing 2 main dishes when there was a LS, CS and IFS serving 11 passengers was possible!

Since I had not actually replied, the LS continued with;

‘The other passenger’s BTC option was the Indian style Lamb Shank, but since you already had Nasi Briyani for breakfast, I thought you might want to consider the other options instead. How about the Yu Pian Mi Fen? It’s very good.’

I tried to order the Sous Vide Beef Tenderloin, but they were out of that as well. I was really not at all into Yu Pian Mi Fen, which I usually only take when I’m sick, but the other options didn’t really appeal to me as well. I was left with no choice.

Yu Pian Mi Fen.

To be fair, the YPMF was actually quite good. The soup was tasty with generous servings of large and fresh pieces of fish. It’s just that between the Fish Porridge I had earlier in The Private Room, the Mussel and Haddock soup, and the Chilean Seabass with clams and mussels, it was simply just too much seafood for a 10 hour stretch.

Caramelized Apple Crumble with fresh berries, caramel sauce and vanilla Bourbon ice-cream.

We finished up with the dessert options of the Apple Crumble and Red Bean soup with sesame tang yuan. Throughout dessert, the CS followed by the IFS took turns to come by to apologize for the mix up with the main course. I didn’t make any fuss of the issue verbally, but I guess it wasn’t difficult to tell that I was quite disappointed. I reassured the various crew which came by that it was ok, and left it as that.

The LS who made the mistake seemed rather subdued as she continued to serve our seats though, so in an effort to reduce the awkwardness I decided to ask her for any recommendations she might have for London. With that she perked up immediately and started rattling off the various must-try restaurants and her personal favourites. We also chatted a little on the crew schedules and turn-around times. I thought that broke the ice again quite effectively. Either that, or she’s very good at pretending to be interested in making small talk with passengers.

With that, in a blink of an eye, we were approaching London, with the Captain coming on the PA to make the first of his series of arrival announcements.

All good things must come to an end.

We were issued with express immigration passes for LHR, which proved to be invaluable.

Fast Track Immigration passes.

As we were nearing the last 20 minutes of the flight, the Chief Steward came to me with a S$75 in-flight voucher, as a token of apology for the mistake regarding my BTC option. I was certainly not expecting any compensation, but no one rejects money, so I gladly accepted, once again reassuring the crew that it was ok. My wife was probably much happier than I was though; she promptly started browsing through the KrisShop Magazine to look for a purchase.

You’d think that after a mix up in main courses on the main meal service, that would be the extent of the drama on my maiden SQ Suites experience.

After a fairly uneventful approach and landing, we found the plane slowly rolled to a stop, with no attempt to taxi off the runway. Thereafter, the captain came on the PA again to announce that there had been an issue with the steering control, and we had to wait for a tow-truck to get us off the runway.

All in all, we were stranded on the runway for a good 25 minutes. For the passengers back in Economy, as well as the hundred other passengers who probably subject to being held in a holding pattern over one of the busiest airports in the world, I suppose it must have been a hellish wait. But for me, it was a good 25 minutes more of soaking up the last moments of my first Suites experience.

3A was the only seat empty so I hopped in for some tarmac views.

But eventually, we returned to the terminal, and I had to reluctantly leave…

We were originally scheduled to fly back to Singapore from Paris CDG, also on Suites Class, but a family emergency compelled us to reschedule our flight to several days earlier. Of course, we were unable to find Saver Suite availability at such short notice, but thankfully there were some Business Saver awards open for redemption.

We flew back on another A380, which operates the old (not refurbished) long-haul business class product. Being able to compare Suites and Business Class in a relatively short space of time, I must say Suites is more than well worth the additional 23,400 odd miles. While SQ long-haul business is on par with many other airline’s First Class product, the hard and soft product in Suites is the clear winner by a long shot, even when this flight with all its imperfections was used in comparison.

One thing is for sure, I’d definitely be trying to book myself into this cabin in the near future again!

 

A Visit To The Private Room

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!


Introduction and a visit to The Private Room

The day was finally here. Exactly 3.5 years after starting my journey in Miles and Points, my crowning achievement was at hand. I will be taking my wife on a second honeymoon to the UK and Paris, flying SQ Suites Class in and out of London Heathrow and Paris CDG respectively. We even managed to arrange for this trip to be sans child (thanks mum and dad), so everything is awesome!

First, let’s talk a little on how I made these award flight reservations. One way to guarantee your Suites class saver award tickets is to book them way in advance. On this trip, I had booked both legs the day the booking window opened. I literally camped on my computer 350 odd days before the day of travel and snapped up the award the moment it appeared. Crazy, I know. 🙂

There is a downside to making the flight reservation so far in advance though. I’ve had such a long time to anticipate this trip that today, the prospect of flying Suites no longer captures my imagination as much as it did when I first started accumulating points. I reckon I have read and watched almost every review and YouTube video on SQ Suites available over the past year. It doesn’t help that most reviews of this product uses so much flowery language and hyperbole that my expectations are now impossibly high.

Singapore airlines operates 4 SIN-LHR flights daily, with 2 on an A388 and the other 2 on the B773. The flight schedule is shown below. Playing around with the booking engine, it seems that there are consistently 2 suites saver awards released for SQ308 (departing 0905hrs on an A388) and SQ318 (departing 1235hrs on a B773) when the booking window opens. I guess it is not a surprise that the award tickets are released on the 2 flights which arrive at LHR in the afternoon/evening; as you ‘waste’ the rest of the day, as opposed to the other 2 flights which arrive in the early morning (and can be considered ‘better’ flights). Consequently, if you want to fly on the A388, you have no choice but to opt for SQ308, which departs at 0905.

There are several downsides to this flight. Firstly, your time in The Private Room (TPR) is limited. TPR opens at 0530hrs daily, which allows for a maximum of 3 hours or so in the lounge. Even then, that is only if you’re crazy enough to wake up at 4+am just to spend a little more time in the lounge. Secondly, as mentioned earlier, the arrival time in the afternoon doesn’t really allow for much sightseeing to be done the rest of the day. Lastly, majority of the flight takes place during daytime hours in both Singapore and London time, so I couldn’t really find a good time to sleep. As you can see, these are massive first world problems. Beggars can’t be choosers, so SQ308 it was.

Saver award consistently available

My wife and I arrived at the First Class check-in lobby at around 7am, and were the only ones in the hall. Aaron had previously noted how he thought the lack of a light food and beverage offering in this area was a missed opportunity. I didn’t really feel the same way, seeing that it was only about 5 minutes from the time I left my taxi to the time I cleared immigration. Everything happened so quickly that I didn’t even manage to get photos of the whole process. Here is a quick look back at the First Class check-in hall on the way out.

An empty First Class check-in hall

A quick skip through the dedicated immigration channel and we were air-side, with the escalators to the SilverKris lounge just nearby.

 T3 SilverKris Lounge

For me, The Private Room had been such an aspirational lounge product for such a long time, but it didn’t take much poking around the prominent travel-blogs to realize that TPR is still some ways behind the best First Class ground experiences in the world. Tarmac transfers (or at least, buggy transport around the terminal) and complimentary spa treatment and massages are just some of the perks these other airports offer. TPR felt like just another area in the First Class lounge, albeit with a slightly better dining experience.

I was greeted (not by name) at the entrance at the SilverKris lounge and was accompanied to TPR. Access to TPR requires one to walk through the entire First Class lounge, which adds to the feeling of exclusivity but serves no practical purpose. There is a small reception area and a magazine/newspaper rack, before the lounge proper.

Unmanned reception area to the right

Selection of magazines and newspapers to the left

A super crowded TPR

On the way in, I noticed that the First Class lounge was a lot more crowded as compared to the last time I was there. The seats at the dining area was literally completely occupied, and it was as noisy as the Business Class lounge. I had hoped that TPR would be relatively more private, but I was disappointed. Almost every section was occupied, and my wife and I had to make do with seats by the window.

There were only 2 staff members serving the sit down area, and while they were professional, courteous and there was always a smile of their faces, you could also tell that they were just a tad bit flustered by the number of guests they had to attend to.

We were handed menus for breakfast and offered something to drink. My gripe here is that the menu is ridiculously simple and only contains options for the main meal. I was a little under the weather and when I was asked for a choice of drink, my mind went blank. Champagne? But what champagne do they serve in TPR? Ditto for the wine. What cocktails can I order? In the end, I decided to end the agony and went with water. Noob, I know. Maybe it is just me, but wouldn’t it kill them to have a proper menu with the available drink and food?

TPR Breakfast menu

With such limited choices, my wife and I made up our minds after a grand total of about 2 minutes, but the server was scurrying around attending to the other passengers, so we decided not to stress him further and waited for him to come around. It took him about 10 minutes or so but he did remember us and came to take our orders eventually. He offered to let us know when the food was ready, and I took the opportunity to go around taking more photos.

The Private Room is a longish-shaped room facing some of the ‘A’ gates on the tarmac. The tarmac view doesn’t really get a lot of mention in the other travel blogs but it was what I personally found most appealing about this lounge. It is impossibly difficult to find good tarmac views in Changi. There is a public viewing gallery (landside) in T3, but the area where you stand is still about a good 15 odd meters away from the actual windows. While the terminal is more or less full height glass, the view is obscured by large metal louvres, so you don’t get to see much. There is no view from the Business section of the SilverKris lounge, and from the First Class section all you see is a gate-waiting area. From TPR I had relatively good (but still partially obscured) views of the runway, a couple of SQ B773s and an A380 (not the one I would be flying, unfortunately).

SQ Planes at their gates, with an Eva Air 747 Cargo taking off. Views obscured but probably the best you’d get at Changi.

Other than that, nothing really mind-blowingly amazing. There are 2 quiet rooms with a nice couch for rest or phone calls, but I didn’t manage to get a photo as they were both occupied. The family / baby changing room was a significant upgrade over the one in the First Class section though. A small work station with an iMac and a PC, and a fancy sit-down dining area.

View from the far end of The Private Room

Small workstation

The family room (note the baby changing station and the mini furniture)

Dining area

The toilets were near the entrance, and were clean and well stocked with Ferragamo and L’occitane amenities. The showers only had a soap-dispenser with makeshift ‘Shampoo/Conditioner’ and ‘Shower Gel’ labels, which as Aaron has mentioned before, isn’t exactly the luxury defined. I realized I didn’t manage to get photos of the urinals and stalls, but rest assured they were very normal urinals and stalls. At the end of the day, the toilet served its intended purpose, and I returned to the lounge adequately relieved and ready for breakfast. 

Toiletries

Shower room

The best SQ has to offer

My food (and wife) was already waiting for me when I got back. I had ordered the Fish Congee (not feeling well, remember) and my wife went with the eggs with grilled asparagus, mushrooms, tomatoes and toast.

Breakfast spread

The fish congee was surprisingly good. Tasty with huge, fresh and succulent pieces of fish. Just the light breakfast that I needed to prime my stomach for the feast that awaited on board. The eggs and sides were normal, good to eat but nothing to shout about.

There is a tiny self-serve buffet area in the dining room, with a selection of bread, cold cuts, fruits and juices, cereal and muesli, yoghurt etc. It’s definitely not a lousy selection; in fact, everything looks really good. Perhaps because not a single item looked like it had been touched. This point has also been mentioned before in other travel blogs – the self-serve area in TPR seems redundant. While I was browsing (and trying to look inconspicuous taking photos), the 2 staff in the dining room were constantly hovering around me. I would not have been surprised if they offered to plate the items for me and bring it to my table if I had made a move to take anything on my own. That would be the kind of level of service one would expect in a ultra-premium lounge offering like TPR. If the buffet area only serves as a kind of visual menu to let passengers know what’s available, won’t all that space be saved if they had a proper menu?

Anyway, all that nit-picking aside, happily sated with breakfast in our tummies, my wife and I proceeded to leave The Private Room to make a leisurely walk over to our gate, and what we hoped would be the flight of our lifetime…

The Private Room experience has now been ticked off my aviation bucket list. Being familiar with the product after all the reviews I’ve read, I was neither disappointed nor impressed. Objectively, this isn’t really a premium ground service that I would value significantly more than let’s say SilverKris First Class lounge access. There is only a slight increase in the feel of exclusivity, but everything else from the hard to soft product is almost exactly the same.

It is really a pity that SQ chose not to outdo or even just match the premium ground service for First Class passengers offered by their competitors. Of course, I guess it makes good business sense if the SQ bean-counters decide that the additional cost will not translate to more income for the airline. However, on all fronts (ground service, in-flight hard and soft products), SQ is rapidly losing ground to their competitors like Cathay and the ME3. Even other regional competitors like Thai are not as good all-round, but offer more bang for the buck with complimentary spa and massages, buggy service from lounge to gate, etc.

I’m really looking forward to SQ unveiling their new Suites product due to arrive in 2017 with their new batch of 5 A380s. However, any major jaw-dropping improvement to the ground services will probably only come with the completion of Terminal 5 in like a decade’s time. With the huge scale of the future Changi Airport, can we expect a separate First Class Terminal like the Lufthansa First Class Terminal in Frankfurt, with tarmac transfers like the La Premiere First Class Lounge Service in Paris CDG? I sure do hope so, but we will have to make do with TPR for the time being!

Conceptual layout of Changi Terminal 5, taken from the Singapore Ministry of Transport website. The new Terminal 5 is bigger than Terminals 1 to 4 combined!