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The good, the bad and the uncertain of SQ’s PPS Club shakeup

I’m not a PPS member, but I aspire to one day rise above my lowly KF Elite Gold status and be ushered away from the leper colony that is the Krisflyer Gold lounge into the promised land of the Silverkris lounge. Hey, it’s good to have dreams.

Image result for silverkris lounge
do not want
Image result for silverkris lounge
want

Well, that value proposition may have changed a bit in light of the enhancements that SQ just announced to its PPS Club. Yeah, they called it “enhancements”, but to be fair, there’s actually some good stuff in here, and some stuff that they should have done a long time ago.

These changes affect all tiers of the PPS program, including regular PPS members, Solitaire members and Solitaire Life members (if you have to ask, you don’t qualify).Image result for pps club

Let’s walk through the changes and what they mean for you. In the analysis below, you can assume that any benefit which applies to PPS members applies to Solitaire PPS members too.

New Benefits for PPS Members

SQ has added some new benefits for PPS members. I know, right?

Non-expiry of miles

The details: Krisflyer miles remain valid so long as you continue to be a PPS member (versus the regular 3 year expiry period). This applies to all miles you earn, be it from flights, credit cards, car rentals, Kaligo etc. The only exception is miles you might win from lucky draws and SQ-sponsored competitions that come with a fixed expiry period.

If you fail to requalify for PPS club membership, your 3 year timer starts from the qualification date of your new tier (be it Gold, Silver or Base Krisflyer) regardless of when the miles were originally earned.

So if you were a PPS member for 5 years and this year fail to requalify, all the miles you have in your account as of today will be given a 3 year lease on life.

Note that if you’re a Solitaire PPS member, the non-expiry only applies to miles you earn and not the miles your supplementary cardholder earns.

My thoughts: Non-expiry of miles is a good perk to have, although I’m of the opinion that you really shouldn’t be holding miles so long that expiry dates become an issue. The philosophy of miles earning should always be earn and burn, because you never know when a devaluation could happen.

That said, I get that if you’re a PPS member you probably earned it through a busy travel schedule, and might not have time to take vacations. So this would be a welcome change, although I’d still urge people to not think of miles as an investment to hold.

Priority redemption of saver awards

The details: Scarce. Very tellingly, the FAQs SQ has provided cover all the other new benefits but remain mum about priority saver awards.

My thoughts: When I read this I got a bit confused because I was under the impression that PPS members already had priority when it came to awards. Then I realised what  was thinking about was the awards waitlist, where your position is prioritised based on your status.

In any case, I have many questions about this new benefit- do PPS members get priority to saver awards for all cabin classes? (it would be a dick move if this were only for economy).

And what exactly does priority mean? Will PPS members will be able to see saver award space at, say, the 12 month mark whereas everyone else can only access it from the 9 month mark? Or will they split saver awards into two further sub buckets, with a larger percentage of that set aside for PPS members? Can SQ’s notoriously bad website even handle a technical requirement like this (sounds simple, but SQ’s website will never cease to amaze you)?

Even if you’re not a PPS member this is going to affect you because it has implications for your award redemptions. I mean, it’s a great benefit to have, even if SQ’s post devaluation saver rates are somewhat inferior to Cathay’s. But we need more details from SQ before we can consider the implications fully.

Complimentary Preferred Seating in PY and Y

The details: A PPS Club member travelling in economy or premium economy class on SQ/MI will be able to access complimentary preferred seats. This benefit does not apply to the PPS Club members travelling companions, even if they’re travelling in the same booking as the PPS Club member.

Preferred seats are the ones with extra legroom due to the presence of the exit row.

Or, perhaps more helpfully-

Image result for sq exit row seat

As a reminder, preferred seats usually cost between US$20 and US$100 per segment, depending on your destination.

My thoughts: This is a long overdue benefit. It seems petty to ask PPS members who are spending upwards of $25K with you each year to shell out an additional $100 for a seat with more legroom. SQ has always insisted the preferred seats were “never meant to be revenue generating, but rather a way for passengers to express a preference for a particular seat”. If that’s the case, why wouldn’t you give them to your most loyal customers?

One thing they haven’t explained in the FAQ is whether these preferred seats will be made available to PPS members at the time of booking, or only upon check in if they’re still available (as is the practice for some airlines that offer this benefit like United, albeit to lower tier elites), but I’m going to assume that this will be done at the time of booking.

Priority Immigration

The details: PPS members will now receive priority fast track immigration and security regardless of their travel class at airports where this is available. You can find the current list of airports here.

Solitaire PPS members can claim a reimbursement when they apply for an APEC Business Travel Card, which costs S$100 for Singaporeans. This benefit does not apply to Solitaire PPS supplementary cardholders. Fast track immigration clearance

My thoughts: Priority immigration can really be a life saver at certain airports like Jakarta, Delhi and Bombay (occasionally Bangkok), and having access to fast track security screening could be the difference between making and missing a flight in places like JFK and LAX.

Image result for fast track immigration

I’m glad to see SQ extending this benefit to all PPS members regardless of travel class, because one of the classic gripes of PPS members was that SQ cares about you when you’re in their premium cabins, but once you’re not? GLHF. It presumably costs SQ a bit more to offer this (in most airports, airlines are charged based on the number of passengers they send through priority immigration/security), but it’s a valuable business perk.

The reimbursement of APEC Business Travel Card application fees reminds me a bit of what the US airlines do with Global Entry fees. Again, this is a good perk and all of you, regardless of your current station in life, should be applying for an APEC Business Travel Card because it will save you a lot of time when travelling.

Introduction of PPS Rewards

Apart from the new benefits, SQ is also introducing something called PPS Rewards which encourages people to continue flying with SQ after they make the requalification mark for PPS.

You can find the full T&C for PPS Rewards here, but I’m going to take you through the highlights and potential issues I see with each benefit. Remember, you need $25,000 to requalify for PPS membership

At the $30,000 mark- 2x double Krisflyer miles vouchers

The details: When you hit this mark, you get 2 vouchers that let you earn twice the miles for a single flight segment (meaning that if you’re flying SIN-FRA-JFK you have to pick either SIN-FRA or FRA-JFK to earn double miles).

This benefit can only be used by the principal PPS club member, and only on flights operated by SQ/MI. You obviously don’t earn any miles on award bookings .

My thoughts: This is a rather sad benefit to be offering. It’s better than nothing, but I think loyal PPS members will be disappointed at the paucity.

SQ’s current longest segment is the non-stop flight on SQ32 between Singapore and SFO, which clocks in at about 8,440 miles. Using your double miles voucher on that would net you an additional 8,440 Krisflyer miles.

I don’t know how much SQ values miles internally, but assuming it’s about 1 cent (because that’s the value they’ll give you when you exercise that horrible pay with miles option) then congrats, you’re getting S$84 from SQ. At most. Wheeeee.

At the $40,000 mark- 50,000 Krisflyer miles redemption discount

The details: PPS members who hit this mark will receive a discount voucher that lets them redeem an award booking/ upgrade for 50,000 fewer miles.

This voucher may be used for the PPS member him/herself or his/her redemption nominees. If you subsequently cancel a booking, you’ll get the discount voucher back in your Krisflyer account, as long as it’s still valid (12 month validity)

My thoughts: Definitely a lot better than that miserable $30,000 mark “reward”. I like that this can be used by both the PPS club member and his/her redemption nominees.

Interestingly enough, my reading of the T&C is that this 50,000 discount voucher can be used for all Krisflyer awards. That is, not just SQ, but Star Alliance, Vistara, Virgin Atlantic etc. At least I didn’t see anything that excluded those.

This is important because post the SQ award chart devaluation, some destinations are actually cheaper to get to via Star Alliance partner carriers than SQ.

As a reminder, a return business class ticket to Europe on SQ costs 170,000 miles, so 50,000 is about a 30% discount.

At the $60,000 mark-2x standby one-cabin upgrade vouchers

The details: At the $60,000 mark, PPS members get 2 standby upgrade vouchers that can be submitted at least 48 hours before their flight for a one-cabin upgrade to a commercial booking on SQ/MI.

This can be used by either the PPS club member or their redemption nominee, but only if your original booking is in the following fare buckets

  • Economy: B, E, Y
  • Premium Economy: P, T, S
  • Business: C, D, J, U,Z

One standby upgrade can be used for one flight segment only, so in our SIN-FRA-JFK example you’d have to pick one leg.

My thoughts: This is the moneyshot. This is what PPS members have been waiting for for the longest time. This is the fabled SQ upgrade, the thing that “simply doesn’t happen”.

And yet, I see problems.

(1) Only certain fare classes are eligible for these upgrades.

As you can see, B,E and Y ticket classes are full fare economy, which are the priciest. You won’t be able to upgrade super saver or sweet deals SQ tickets.

And furthermore, remember that these upgrades are one cabin only. Frankly, I can’t see too many people buying full fare economy just for the opportunity to upgrade to premium economy class, given that the comfort upgrade isn’t substantial.

Image result for sq premium economy

(2) You’d have to buy a premium economy class ticket to access the business class cabin.

Given how expensive SQ’s premium economy product is, are people (even well-heeled PPS members) really going to shell out their own money to buy a premium economy ticket on their leisure travels just so they can get a business class upgrade?

Look at the pricing for SQ’s premium economy to London- it’s S$4.5K round trip (you could get a sweet deals ticket for about S$1.1K)

Business class is S$8.5K round trip.

S$4.5K is a substantial amount of money to pay for any flight, even if you conceptualise it as a ~50% discount on a business class ticket.

I think this benefit may be more useful for PPS members who are travelling on company money in business class and want to try out first class.

I certainly wouldn’t want to pay $4.5K of my own money for the possibility of an upgrade. And speaking of which, how do these upgrades work anyway?

(3)  Do upgrades come from the revenue bucket, or the award bucket?  If they come from the award bucket, is it the standard or the saver bucket?

This is a crucial question. The T&C say that upgrades are not guaranteed upon application of the PPS Reward, and are subject to seat availability upon check in at the airport.

But what does seat availability mean? In an ideal world, this would mean commercial space availability. That is, so long as the first class cabin is not full, a PPS member flying in business class will get the upgrade. Given SQ’s track record, I have doubts about this.

But then does it mean there needs to be award space available? If so, this benefit becomes much less valuable because we all know that certain popular routes have little to no award space available.

If SQ goes with the latter option, I do hope they mean standard or saver award space, because if these upgrades can only happen when there is saver award space available, well, then…

It also remains to be seen what happens when SQ’s new A380 cabin products are launched. Will upgrades to these cabins be allowed? SQ brands its suites as “a class above first”- will they then allow business class passengers to upgrade to first on flights where a Suites cabin is offered?

We’ll know all this soon enough, I suppose.

(4) Why only upgrade one segment as opposed to one flight?

I see no reason why the policy needs to be a one segment upgrade only. This makes the benefit much less useful on long haul, one-stop flights (I’m thinking flights to the USA, although with the arrival of the A350 long range versions hopefully those will become non-stop). And how does that work for luggage allowances? If I’m flying in PY on one leg and J on the other, do I get the J allowance throughout? Wouldn’t it be logistically simpler to upgrade the whole flight?

At the $75,000 and $100,000 mark- 1x advance one-cabin upgrade voucher

The details: At the $75K and $100K marks, PPS members will get 1x one-cabin upgrade voucher that can be used in advance. That is, if there is availability in the next higher cabin at the time you buy the ticket, you’ll get upgraded (as opposed to at check in).

My thoughts: See above. The usefulness of this all hinges on whether the upgrades pull from award space or commercial space.

Changes in qualification requirements for Solitaire PPS members

This, I suppose, is the other shoe. SQ is making it easier to qualify for Solitaire PPS but harder to retain it, at least for new members. Fortunately, all Solitaire PPS members who qualify for the scheme by 31 May 2018 will stay on the existing scheme.

It used to be that you’d need to accumulate S$250K over 5 consecutive years, but now you “just” need to accumulate S$50K over one year to get Solitaire.

However, you used to have to accumulate S$25K to renew your Solitaire PPS status, but from 1 June 2018 that will be S$50K. Do note that if you’re already a Solitaire PPS member as of 1 June 2018 you will continue to remain on the old membership structure of S$25K requalification.

The other big change if you’re on the new structure is that your PPS reserve value (the accumulated value you can use to requalify for PPS in future years if you do not make the amount in that particular year) will only be valid for 3 years instead of 6. That’s a bummer for people who are approaching retirement and intend to use their Solitaire benefits while the travel the world- 3 years is a lot shorter than 6 (said Captain Obvious).

Conclusion

These changes will be welcomed by most PPS members, as it brings the program in line with what other major airlines offer their top tier flyers. I do think there were other easy wins that SQ could have given out, like complimentary onboard Wifi access, but hey, gotta take what they give.

As a non-PPS member, I will be more interested to see what the priority access to saver awards means for the rest of us.

Does Singapore Airlines “give chance” with elite status requalification?

Image result for krisflyer elite

In order to qualify for Krisflyer elite status, you need to earn 25,000 or 50,000 elite miles within a 12 month period for Silver and Gold respectively.

Krisflyer Silver has fairly few benefits but Gold is a decent enough proposition for the frequent traveller. You get priority check-in, luggage and boarding, plus lounge access. You also get to say you’re part of the same (non-swimming) club as Joseph Schooling.

Access to an extensive network of lounges

I can’t say the Krisflyer Gold lounge in Singapore is anywhere near my list of favourite lounges (no toilets, showers, champagne or happiness), but you are able to access the Silverkris lounges outside of Singapore, including the very nice “Home” themed ones they’re gradually rolling out.

Image result for silverkris home lounge

Image result for silverkris home lounge

50,000 miles, however, is a hefty target to meet especially if you only do regional travel (Singapore to SFO- 8,440 miles. Singapore to Bangkok- 890 miles).

So what if you’re just short of that target? This was the case of my colleague who was 70 miles short of re-qualifying for Krisflyer Gold.

She asked me whether she could write in and ask for an exception. I laughed. Loudly. Tears streamed down my face as I chortled at her naivety. “Do we remember the man who almost climbed Mount Everest?” I said in my most condescending tone. “Or the guy who almost discovered America?” (I’m not an easy colleague to have). I patted her on the head and told her that there was no way on earth an airline that doesn’t upgrade its highest tier Solitaire PPS members unless it absolutely positively has to would make an exception.

She said something to the tune of “up yours” (we’re a flat organization) and went to write in to membership services. And  got an email a few days later congratulating her on re-qualifying.

To say I’m surprised she got an exception is beyond an understatement. But I asked around and found another friend who had managed to get a waiver of a 150 mile difference a few years back. Another reader wrote to me and said that SQ had given him an additional 2 months to requalify for PPS when he was a few hundred dollars of PPS value short and had imminent business travel planned.

So credit where it’s due, it does appear that SQ has some degree of flexibility in renewing memberships. If you’re just short of a little bit, I’d encourage you to write in and try your luck.

Remember that if you’re working for a fairly large-ish firm and have existing status with a competing airline + a lot of forward travel booked with SQ, you might be able to apply for a status match on a case by case basis.

Krisflyer DOES status match. Who knew?

I always assumed that status matching, like upgrades, lifetime status, giving elite economy class flyers a half decent lounge in Singapore or caring about mileage brokers, was something that SQ simply didn’t do.

Well, shows what I know, because in the course of poking around my company’s intranet I came across this document.

Download (PDF, 467KB)

That’s right, this is an application for a status match with SQ. Now before you get all excited, it’s only for Krisflyer Gold status, and you need to come from an eligible company in order to submit the form. I have no idea what companies are eligible, but I’m guessing they’d have to be fairly sizable.

Image result for krisflyer elite gold

As per the T&C, submitting the form does not guarantee the status match. If you do get matched, you have Gold status for 12 months and need to requalify in the normal way subsequently.

You need to present proof that you hold the equivalent of Elite Gold status in another FFP, although it doesn’t specify which FFPs are acceptable. You also need to hold a senior position within your company and/or travel regularly in the next 12 months. The form asks you for your future travel, and says that you should have forward bookings on SQ and show future commitment.

I always suspected that if Krisflyer had a status match program they’d be super niao about it. Although it’s “only” Krisflyer Gold status, they’re not going to give it out without a fight. I mean, when you have airlines like airberlin who will match your status with a simple email (need to put your home country as Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Poland, Netherlands and USA though), or Delta which will do pretty much the same, or Alitalia which was doing it for a limited period no questions asked, it’s quite amusing how many hoops Krisflyer wants you to jump through.

But if you desire to be part of the same club that Joseph Schooling is in (airline, not swimming), and if you’re working in a fairly large-sized company with status in another airline, and if you think you can catch the Krisflyer membership department in a good mood, why not give it a try.

He said, rhetorically.