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First Class for the Family: Hacking the SQ waitlist

First Class for the Family – Melbourne 2017

Hacking the SQ Waitlist
SIN MEL 777-300ER First Class Review
Krisflyer First Class Lounge Melbourne Review
MEL SIN A380 Suites Class Review


Hacking the SQ Waitlist

We have all heard of the adage, ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’. Well, my wife and I certainly do not plan to spare the rod with our head-strong 2 year old. Besides, I can think of much better ways to spoil her than ‘sparing the rod.’ Flying her First Class for her 2 year old birthday trip could certainly count as one of those ways!

Planning travel with a young child can be challenging. One of the primary considerations for parents is the timing of the flight. Do you fly red-eye and arrive at your destination tired from the relatively poor quality of sleep, but increase the chance of your child sleeping through the flight? Or do you pick a day flight and risk spending the entire ride chasing after a bored infant, giving embarrassed and apologetic looks to everyone in your cabin. My wife and I (and most of the parents with young children we know) prefer the former. Of course, flying premium does help mitigate the part about the poor quality of sleep on a red-eye.

Whatever your preference is, chances are you will face a lot more restrictions on your travel time compared to the average traveller. As we all know, this can’t be good when considering award availability.

We only got around planning this family trip to Melbourne in about early January, about 2 months out from our intended date of travel. Although there were still scattered availability for 2 adults here and there, it was no surprise that saver awards for most of the flights were on waitlist on both Business and First class. At that time, the only available tickets to and fro was an outbound arriving on Monday, and an inbound departing on Thursday. 3.5 days for a holiday doesn’t exactly sound very enticing, but sometimes you’d do anything to get out of the country.

Now I’ve previously written about the SQ Waitlist here.  Aaron has a pretty good overview article here, and has also done some pretty good analysis on award availability here .

If you find yourself in my situation and the current available flights are not ideal, and/or you’d like some more time to think about it while putting the available award flights ‘on hold’ without subjecting yourself to change fees later on, here’s a nifty little trick you can use to ‘hack’ the waitlist.

For example, I wish to fly to NRT around the middle of August this year. The only available First Saver award is on the 17 of August, but I’d prefer to fly earlier or on a weekend if possible. For now, I would like to hold this available saver award.

I first make a reservation for this saver award on the 17th of August as one normally would, going through all the steps (including seat selection) until the payment page.

Selection of the only available flight

After entering your details, go to seat selection, and then proceed on to the payment page.

After entering your details, go to seat selection

When you’ve reached the payment page, exit the booking process by closing the page, or clicking any of the links on the SQ toolbar. I usually just click the Singapore Airlines logo on the top left hand corner of the page.

Now, head to the ‘Bookings’ tab under your account profile. You should see a booking reference number for that flight, even though the transaction wasn’t completed.

Booking Reference number for the ‘sham’ booking

If you attempt to select the ‘Manage Booking’ tab, this will return an error message and prompt you to complete the booking process offline.

Proceed to make the same booking again. This time, the flight should be on waitlist.

Same flight now on waitlist

Proceed to waitlist yourself on the flight. In about 15 to 20 minutes, the first reservation you’ve made should be automatically cancelled by the system after the ticketing time limit has lapsed. You will know this has happened when the booking reference disappears from the list of reservations under the ‘Bookings’ tab of your Krisflyer account. Almost immediately, you should receive a text message telling you that your waitlisted flight (the second reservation) is now available for confirmation. This is because you should be the next in line for an available award ticket on that flight.

Usually, when a waitlisted flight is made available for confirmation, you are given about 3 days or so to pay the miles / taxes and ticket your flight. Just like that, you have now bought yourself another 3 days to think about whether you want that flight or not. If you choose not to ticket in the end, just let the time lapse or cancel the waitlisted booking. There is no penalty for doing so.

In practice, I’ve found this useful to hold a suboptimal ticket while waiting for my waitlisted tickets on my preferred flights, especially for this trip. I held tickets for the Monday / Thursday flight, and eventually better flights opened up which I then ticketed on.

Theoretically, I guess one could repeat this process infinitely to hold the award for weeks, but you run the risk of someone else of higher Krisflyer status also waitlisting or buying a Standard level award on the same flight, thus beating you to the available ticket.

Experiment a little and see what works best for your travel plans. Of course with all things, use with consideration for others who may also be eyeing travel on the same flights as you. Stay tuned for my review of the SQ 77W First Class coming up!

How does this Krisflyer devaluation compare to previous ones?

Devaluations, like award show mix ups and male pattern hair loss, are an inevitable part of life.

The reaction from many frequent flyers to devaluations follows a predictable trend

  • Denial- “This is just a rumour. There’s no way the airline would do something so nasty to its customers”
  • Anger- “How dare they do this to me after I’ve been so loyal to them!”
  • Bargaining- “Ok so they’ve done this but maybe they’ll throw us something nice in the next few months”
  • Depression- “So all the miles I’ve been working so hard for are now worthless/ worth less (depending on the drama quotient of the speaker)
  • Acceptance- “There’s no way I’m going to switch carriers anyway”

The stages need not be in that order but they always, invariably, end in acceptance. I’ll bet you that 90% of the outraged posters on FT/SQTalk/Straits Times Forum/reunion dinner still fly SQ regularly.

We see the same reactions to Krisflyer’s latest devaluation. But how does this devaluation compare to the ones that came before it? Is it as bad as it looks?

How often do devaluations happen?

Image result for airline devaluation
Everyone’s favourite thing to see.

The last two devaluation exercises happened in 2007 and 2012. So I’d say 5 years is par the course for a big one.

However, inbetween big ones you have smaller, mini devaluations. Technically speaking, anything that makes award flights more expensive or difficult to obtain should certainly be seen as a devaluation. A devaluation does not necessarily mean award prices need to be increased. It could be a move that makes awards harder to obtain, or that imposes additional restrictions on existing award (eg 2016 when Krisflyer changed its rules so only premium economy tickets could be upgraded to Business class)

In the quest for great justice, I spent the better part of two days looking for whatever I could find on the previous devaluations.

Let me emphasize how difficult this was. In the spirit of transparency, SQ puts script in its site that prevents the Wayback Machine from effectively trawling the site. Which means I have to piece together information based on scraps I pick up on Flyertalk and SQTalk. And most of those forum posts have links to the SQ website, which have since expired. Which means I have to figure out what people are talking about without actually seeing the document they’re referring to.

Behold, my research skills. SQ laojiaos, please feel free to chime in.

A history of devaluations

2007 Devaluation

How much notice did they give?

Officially: 2 months. The news came on 27th November and impacted redemptions from 1st Feb onwards.

Unofficially: the news leaked early on the website and was picked up by Flyertalk on 29th September before being quickly taken down

What did they give?

  • South Africa economy class awards went down from 60K to 55K. Well, that’s something, I guess.

What did they take?

  • 23 award zones were consolidated into 14. This led to a de facto increase in award prices for a lot of destinations
  • Redemption rates increased. Unfortunately I don’t have the entire award chart before and after, but I do know from the mailer that economy round trip saver awards increased as follows
    • Adelaide: 40K to 55K
    • Egypt, Middle East: 50K to 55K
    • Japan & Korea: 40K to 45K
    • Australia & NZ: 50K to 55K

(this might be confusing because some of these rates are higher than the current threshold, eg Australia is now 50K return in economy saver [at least until 23 March]. The explanation is that certain economy class awards have a price decrease in 2012- read on)

  • Unrestricted awards (Standard) were increased across the board to 2X the miles of saver. They were previously 1.25 to 2 times.
  • Companion awards were removed. I never even knew that SQ once upon a time had companion awards. These refer to discounted award tickets that you can redeem provided someone in your party has bought a revenue ticket
  • Krisflyer members were barred from redeeming First and Business Class saver awards on the new 777-300ER aircraft (i.e. the new 2006 cabin products). Only unrestricted (standard) awards were made available. Of all the moves, this was probably the most dickish.

Did they say “enhance”?

Nope. I mean even Krisflyer didn’t have the cojones for that.

2008 Devaluation(?)

How much notice did they give?

13 days- Members were notified on 16th September and changes took place from 29th September

What did they give?

  • One way awards now cost 50% of round trip instead of 70%. I guess we still take it for granted that one way awards should be 50% of round trip but it’s not the case across all programs even today, eg Asia Miles
  • Introduced “Full” awards. The joke goes you’d have to be a “full” to book one, because they cost more than 5X the miles needed for a saver

What did they take?

  • There was concern that the introduction of Full awards would reduce seat availability for Saver and Standard awards, despite the fact that the FAQ explicitly denied this. Probably points to trust issues engendered amongst Krisflyer members after the PPS devaluation and the removal of lifetime membership.

6. With the introduction of the Full award, will there be fewer seats available for the Saver award and Standard award?

No, seats for the Full award will be made available in addition to the seats set aside for the Saver award and Standard award.

  • I’m not thrilled by the availability of saver space still, but I don’t think Full awards had any sort of impact on award space. Full awards were pretty much  “last seat availability”- you could redeem them so long as a revenue ticket was available for sale. But why would you? In any case I put a (?) behind the devaluation in this heading because the changes were mostly positive. I’m guessing SQ really got a lot of backlash for the 2007 devaluation and had to throw something out there to appease customers.

Trivia

  • They also renamed the “unrestricted” award “standard”, which is the terminology we have today

Did they say “enhance”?

  • Yes, but probably justifiably so in this case

As part of our ongoing commitment to making your membership more rewarding, we will be introducing a number of redemption enhancements to the KrisFlyer programme on 29 September 2008 – offering you greater value, convenience and flexibility in redeeming your KrisFlyer miles for award tickets.

2012 Devaluation

How much notice did they give?

Slightly under one month. Changes were announced Feb 3 and took effect March 1.

What did they give?

  • Krisflyer members were now allowed to make First and Business class saver award bookings on the latest cabin products (777-300ER, A380, A340-500). However, Suites saver awards were still blocked from redemption
  • Some economy class saver prices decreased, by ~2.5K miles in most categories

What did they take?

  • Business and First saver awards increased in price as new zones were created and others removed. Amazingly, I managed to piece together the pre-2012 award chart
click to enlarge. all prices here before 15% online redemption discount. *Prior to 2012, the UK had its own redemption zone that was priced at 60/90K miles for business/first saver. Post 2012 the UK was grouped into Europe 2 for an increase of 33% and 19% for business/first saver respectively
  • Europe was the hardest hit region- if you wanted to go to Germany, Spain, the UK, Switzerland or France you’d be looking to pay as much as 45% and 30% additional for business and first class respectively.  Italy, the Netherlands and Denmark were relatively unscathed with only a 9% increase. This is probably due to the fact that at the time, such destinations were still being served by SQ’s old 777 aircraft with Spacebeds and not the full flat product. The whole point of this devaluation was to throw Krisflyer members a bone by opening up saver redemptions for the new cabin products, but making them pay more for it
  • North America also saw significant devaluations of 26-33% in business and 13-19% in first
  • Africa, the Middle East, Western Australia and ASEAN saw virtually no increases in award prices
  • The Star Alliance award chart was devalued as well
    • Economy Awards increased by 20-30K miles for long haul flights eg SIN-Europe/North America. Round trip Singapore to North America increased from 80K to 110K
    •  Business/first class awards for long haul flights eg SIN-Europe/North America increased by up to 55K miles. Round trip Singapore to North America increased from 140K to 195K

Did they say “enhance”?

Oh yes, yes they did.

We appreciate your invaluable feedback and are pleased to announce that we will also be enhancing our seat award redemption offerings. Currently Saver Award is only available for selected First and Business Class flights. With this improvement, you will be able to redeem Saver Award for First and Business Class on most flights, including First and Business Class on our B777-300ER flights; and Business Class on our A380 and A340-500 flights

2012 Second devaluation(?)

How much notice did they give?

None. Changes were announced on 28th November and immediately took place.

What did they give?

  • One of the things Krisflyer members had been hankering for since the product launched- Suites saver redemptions. Probably wrong to call this a devaluation

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

What did they take?

  • Some standard and full awards for first class increased in price. I think it speaks volumes about how giddy everyone was that on the forum threads I can’t find anyone mentioning how much the awards increased

Did they say “enhance”?

Nope. Maybe they don’t use that term as much as we think.

2016 Devaluation

Singapore-Premium-Economy

How much notice did they give?

7 days. The devaluation was announced 17th May and changes took place from 24 May.

What did they take?

  • The ability to upgrade to business class from a full fare economy ticket. Upgrades are one cabin only- if the aircraft is Y/J/F you can upgrade from Y to J, but if it’s Y/PY/J/F, you can only upgrade from Y to PY, and PY to J
  • Full awards were removed. No tears were shed
  • Europe 1 and 2 were combined into a single zone. This had the effect of increasing the cost of award tickets in Business and First Class to Athens, Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Rome and moved the prices in line with the rest of Europe

What did they give?

  • Premium economy class was made available for saver award redemption

IMG_20160123_144830

Did they say “enhance”?

Nope. Although I’m quite sure they worked the thesaurus overtime.

Adding it all up- how does this devaluation compare to historical?

The 2012 devaluation was probably more severe than the one we just witnessed in that at the upper end, award prices went up as much as 45%. On the other hand, in 2012 there were other regions (eg South China, Middle East) that had no increases at all.

This time round every single award has increased (saver, standard, upgrade) simply by virtue of the fact the 15% online redemption discount is no more. Add this to the fact that we’re seeing some significant increase in long haul first and business class awards and I’ll say this devaluation feels a lot more painful than 2012’s.

What’s the silver lining here? I’ll give you a hint- it’s coming in October and it’s a double decker.  Yup- it’s SQ’s new cabin products that will launch this year.

Here’s my crazy theory- SQ wants to avoid the member backlash it got the last time round in 2007 when they barred Krisflyer members from redeeming SQ’s new cabin products at the saver level. So they’ve pre-emptively raised award rates ahead of this new product launch so they can make them available at launch for saver awards. This has the effect of removing some of the ill will the devaluation generates (unlike from 2007-2012 where KF members were left stewing at the fact that saver awards were not available for the latest cabin products). It’s clever, and I’m sure it’ll placate more than a few people.

But the flip side of the coin is this- for this strategy to work, SQ’s new cabin products need to be amazing. And I don’t just mean bigger TV screen, 3 more lounging positions amazing. I mean the kind of thing that sends a message to the ME3 and the rest of the pack that SQ is taking back its role as a leader in product innovation.

Many ideas have been put forth as to what the new products will look like. Few concrete facts have come to light. What I do know for sure is that this devaluation has set expectations in Krisflyer members’ minds about the new products, and October beckons. Get this wrong, and the mob will be at Airline House with pitchforks and torches. And I’ll never fly SQ again.

Ah, who am I kidding.

More implications of the Krisflyer devaluation

Ecclesiastes 1:2-3

“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless”. What do people gain from all their labors  at which they toil under the sun?

You’d forgive many a Krisflyer member for feeling like Solomon on a Thursday morning as we take stock of the sudden Krisflyer carnage visited upon us last night.

Here’s a link to my initial take on the changes. After sleeping it over I’ve thought of some additional pointers raised by this devaluation. There will no doubt be more analysis in the days to come.

You should chase your waitlist to clear

I’m intrigued to see what SQ’s revenue management team will be doing in the 3 weeks we have before the devaluation takes place. We all know that the Krisflyer waitlist is cleared manually. But does the revenue management team

(A) Clear as many awards as possible between now and 23 March so as to maximise the money SQ collects from fuel surcharges or

(B) Deliberately hold up clearing the waitlist till 23 March so as to maximise the miles SQ clears off its balance sheet

It’s certainly an interesting thought exercise and I’m sure SQ management must have considered this already. The “fair” approach to take would be for SQ revenue management to follow exactly the same heuristics as they do now when clearing waitlists, but there’s nothing obliging them to do it.

Remember: it doesn’t matter when you waitlisted your award booking. All that matters is when it is ticketed. If you ticket before 23 March, you enjoy the old rates. If you ticket on 23 March or later, you pay the new rates (but no fuel surcharges).

I’ve established in my first article that the savings on fuel surcharges do not offset the higher mile requirements, so I’d recommend you pick up the phone and start chasing SQ.

SQ’s new cabin products will cost you more

Image result for singapore airlines suites
soon to be replaced

Part of me wonders whether the timing of this devaluation has anything to do with the fact that SQ is intending to launch new cabin products for its A380 aircraft some time this year.

If so, this would suggest that SQ will not prevent KF members from redeeming its new cabin products at saver rates, a tactic it has used before when unveiling the 2006 new First and Business Class seats and the 2007 Suites product.

Of course there’s nothing stopping you from locking in award tickets at the current rates for 2018 now and hoping your aircraft gets switched to a new one, which brings me to my next point…

Your existing awards are protected even if your dates change

In theory, any ticket you redeem now will be protected against the future price increase so long as whatever changes you make do not require a reissuance of a ticket. 

Date changes do not trigger a reissuance. So if I lock in a round trip first class ticket to SFO today at 182,750 miles and subsequently change my dates in August, I will not be required to pay anything new.

That’s the theory at least. Whether front line SQ phone agents will be bright enough to see this logic remains to be seen, and I fully anticipate we’ll see more than a few complaints about this. If the agents refuse to honor the old rates, ask to speak to a supervisor. Let’s see how this goes.

You should now be channel agnostic when buying SQ tickets

Airlines do not discriminate among channels when awarding miles for air tickets. A Y fare class bought from Expedia enjoys the same accrual rates as a Y fare class bought from Priceline as a Y fare class bought directly from Singaporeair.com.

However, if you want to upgrade your full fare economy/premium economy/business class ticket to the next highest fare class using miles, you’d traditionally need to buy direct from SQ in order to enjoy the 15% miles discount.

I learned this the hard way after buying a premium economy ticket from SIN-FRA via Expedia in order to take advantage of the UOB PRVI 6mpd promotion.

I went online to try and upgrade my ticket to business class, but found that SQ was unwilling to offer the 15% online redemption upgrade discount because I’d bought the ticket through a 3rd party.

The additional 15% I had to spend ended up offsetting the additional 2mpd I earned through paying with my UOB PRVI Miles AMEX as opposed to my HSBC Advance.

UOB PRVI 6mpd promotion

With the removal of the 15% discount, however, there’s really no incentive to buy your tickets directly from SQ. This might be one of the unintended consequences of the Krisflyer devaluation (although Krisflyer might very well make a new rule that only tickets bought directly from SQ can be upgraded using miles. We shall see)

There are some loopholes in the Star Alliance award chart

I pointed out in my first article on the devaluation that it was now cheaper to redeem Star Alliance first class. It seems I’m not the only one who has noticed this, as the US blogs have picked it up. Their examples are US centric, so let’s take this from a Singapore point of view.

click to enlarge- the % in the last 6 columns refer to the premium you are paying to redeem via *A as opposed to via SQ

Suppose I wanted to fly to a destination in the US that’s unserved by SQ. Think Miami, Seattle, Portland, Washington DC, Las Vegas, Boston etc. All awesome cities, but not served by SQ.

If I wanted to use Krisflyer miles what I’d traditionally do is book an award ticket to the closest SQ-served destination and buy a cheap economy ticket for the rest of the way. This is because the additional Krisflyer miles I’d need to spend to redeem a Star Alliance award would more than offset whatever savings I’d have by not having to buy a separate revenue ticket.

In other words, a one way itinerary like SIN-HKG-SFO-PDX in First Class would price (before the devaluation) at

  • 112,500 miles with *A
  • 91,375 miles with Krisflyer (and I need to buy an additional ticket to get from SFO-PDX)

After the devaluation

  • 112,500 miles with *A
  • 118,000 miles with Krisflyer (and I need to buy an additional ticket to get from SFO-PDX)

What I’d do in this case is call up Krisflyer membership services and ask to book a Star Alliance award from SIN-PDX in First. Assuming award space is available, they’ll give me SIN-HKG-SFO in First and a connection on UA from SFO-PDX, also in First. So it costs me less to get to where I need to go!

This is certainly an interesting opportunity for any Krisflyer member who wants to explore more of the US and it remains to be seen how long this loophole will exist.

Your valuation of a mile needs to change

Let’s talk theoretical value as opposed to actual value, because, as I mentioned in my iPayMy webinar presentation on airlines, actual value is the product of some complex considerations including how much you value certainty, how available saver space is, how much you would really have been willing to pay for a ticket etc.

sample revenue prices and miles prices for selected destinations. click to enlarge

The theoretical value of a mile  has traditionally been 1-2 cents for economy, 4-5 for business and 7-8 for first.

With the devaluation, it comes down ever so slightly.  1-2 cents is still the threshold for economy class (in the example above I’ve used SQ’s lowest possible economy fares, which strictly speaking will not be a fair comparison because award tickets can be changed or refunded with minimal to no charges, whereas these cheap economy fares will not be), 3-4.5 cents for business and 4.5-7.5 for first.

Keep in mind that I’ve also not considered airport taxes on award tickets as part of the equation because they should be minimal, but that will bring down the valuation ever so slightly.

Conclusion

I’m sure this is only the tip of the iceberg. I know a lot of people are asking about Asia Miles now and whether they should transfer their DBS/UOB points there instead of to Krisflyer. I promise you we’re looking at that and will publish something shortly.

Guestwriters, help.