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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
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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-

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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.

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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.

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(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?

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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.

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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.

First Class for the Family: SQ F Ground Experience and TPR

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!


First Class for the Family – Melbourne 2017

Hacking the SQ Waitlist
First Class for the Family – Ground Experience and The Private Room
SIN MEL 777-300ER First Class Review
Krisflyer First Class Lounge Melbourne Review
MEL SIN A380 Suites Class Review


About 2 weeks out from our intended travel dates, our outbound leg was still booked in Business Class. I had waitlisted First on the same flight, but when I tried to make a dummy revenue booking, there were 7 out of 8 seats occupied on the seatmap. I was pretty much resigned to flying J.

Why the need to fly F? Our primary concern was for our daughter. This red-eye was scheduled to depart at 2345hrs, and we were hoping that she would be sleeping by the time we boarded the plane. As anyone who has been to the SilverKris Business class lounge would know, it certainly isn’t an ideal place to coax a toddler to sleep. The Private Room would provide significantly more space, peace and quiet. In particular, there is a dedicated parents’ room at the back of TPR. While it is hopelessly under equipped, it still meant we would be able to turn down the lights and get her snoozing.

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Looks nice, until you try to squash your feet into that little recess there and sleep diagonally

On the flight itself, J isn’t so bad. I would say the only perk about flying with an infant in J is that you are almost guaranteed the bassinet seat. There is a significant difference in the hard product between the bulkhead and regular international business class seats on SQ. Bulkhead seats have a full ottoman, whereas the regular seats only have a small cubby for your feet. This makes a world of a difference when the bed is deployed, especially for taller individuals like myself. The bassinet seats are all bulkhead seats and are routinely blocked out for pre-selection by other passengers. Once you have your tickets confirmed, call the SQ hotline to purchase your infant-in-lap ticket and at the same time, request for them to assign the bassinet seat for you.

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Same seat, but much better. The ottoman allows you to sleep straight

Well, Imagine my surprise when our F waitlist cleared about 36 hours prior to departure. This presented somewhat of a conumdrum though: should I spend almost 34k miles and a couple hundred bucks (for the infant ticket) more to upgrade my family to First? School never prepared us for difficult, first-world problems like these… After waffling for about 3 hours, it was already midnight and my wife snapped, ‘just upgrade the bloody flight and go to sleep la!’ Thus it was decided.

Was it worth it in the end? Most definitely not. On hindsight, if I were given a choice again I’d probably have stuck with J for a number of reasons. But I guess this is what the Milelion is for, sharing expensive mistakes so that we all can maximize the miles and points we have painstakingly collected for better travel experiences.

Since I’ve written about the First Class check-in experience and TPR before here, instead of the usual review, I hope to examine some of the more esoteric considerations one may have to think about when deciding between J and F over the next 2 posts, especially in the context of travelling with a young family. Hopefully some of you may find this helpful.

1) Check in Process – All Style but no Substance

Flying First or Suites entitles you to use the First Class check in lobby at Terminal 3. Now I really think this area is quite beautiful. The driveway is huge and the room is beautifully appointed with lots of space and seating. We were the only people using the area (as you probably would be since the process is usually quick and seamless), so my daughter had a great time running around and exploring the different sofas and chairs.

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Driveway of First Class Check in Lobby
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Not another passenger in sight.

Well it definitely makes you feel special, but practically speaking this area offers little more than the dedicated queue in the main hall. You have a porter to carry your bags to the counter and a nice place to sit (instead of stand), but that’s about it.

With children, the main check in hall has so many attractions and displays which will probably keep them entertained for far longer. In my opinion, this is a nice facility to use once in your life perhaps, but definitely should not factor in much when deciding between J and F.

This is a huge pity though, as I’m sure it certainly wasn’t cheap to build and isn’t cheap to staff and maintain. Why Changi cannot collaborate with SQ to come up with a more seamless First Class experience befitting its status as the best airport in the world (like the FCT in Frankfurt or the TG First Class ground service in BKK) really escapes me.

This was made painfully obvious during this particular trip, where we encountered a snag right at the check-in counter, but there was no ‘extra mile’ in the service afforded to us when it mattered most.

We had arrived at Changi almost 5.5 hours prior to our scheduled take off, intending to fully utilize the facilities at the lounge. That proved to be a fortunate decision as we found ourselves in a messy situation with our tickets.

What happened was; as I wasn’t expecting my waitlist of F to clear, I had already ticketed my family on J prior to the upgrade. The CSO who processed my upgrade request had cancelled my daughter’s return ticket, but somehow only re-issued a one-way outbound ticket in return. Basically, she didn’t have a ticket for the trip home.

I have no doubt it was merely an honest mistake on the part of the CSO. It just needed to be rectified before take-off. As my whole family had valid outbound tickets, I was expecting that we could wait for the staff to resolve this issue while we headed up to The Private Room. I was told by the check-in staff member at the First Class area this was not possible. In fact, I was told I couldn’t even wait in the First Class check-in area, but had to make my way out to the SQ Ticketing counter in the main hall to approach the ticketing staff to resolve this. In the end, we had to wait for about 1.5 hours standing at the SQ ticketing desk in the main check-in area waiting for this issue to be sorted out. I can’t even remember how many rounds I walked around the Terminal 3 hall carrying my daughter singing ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’.

After about 30 minutes of waiting, I again politely suggested to the ticketing staff members that we be allowed to go air-side to enjoy the lounge facilities (also because it was getting late and my daughter was getting cranky). We were again denied that request. Another hour elapsed before the ticketing staff asked for permission from their manager for us to head up to TPR. It took another half hour before we were finally issued the new tickets. Thankfully by this time, we were in the comfort of the lounge.

Now, the service at SQ Ticketing wasn’t bad per se. The staff member there assisting me gave me her full attention and set about trying to rectify the situation as quickly as she could. However, shouldn’t prompt and attentive service should be the baseline level provided to any passenger in my situation, regardless of the class of travel? My experience exposes the gaps in the ‘service coverage’ for premium passengers. The service within the confines of The Private Room and during the flight itself is probably amongst the world’s best. From the time you leave home till you reach TPR, and during that short journey from TPR to the doors of the aircraft, it seems you’re pretty much on your own.

In my particular situation, I would have saved myself the long wait if we had simply kept our original tickets. But for now, don’t count on the supposed better service you get as an F passenger to help you get out of sticky situations comfortably.

2) TPR

The Private Room experience has to be one of the big reasons why one would choose F over J. The SilverKris Business Lounge is almost perpetually crowded and noisy, and at times, the First Class Lounge is not much better. TPR, even at its busiest, is truly a sanctuary of peace and quiet. Well, at least until some joker (yours truly) brings their infant over!

The layout of the area is still the same as our previous reviews, but here are some photos anyway.

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View from the Entrance
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View from the back
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Work Area
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One of two snooze rooms
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Dining Area
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The First Class Loo
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Same Tuscan Soul amenities as available in-flight

A positive development seems to be an update in the menu. Previously, a simplified menu was provided based on the time of day. Departing SIN LHR on a 9am flight I had received the truncated breakfast menu, whereas Aaron on his SIN CDG flight received the lunch and dinner menu. This time, we received a nice leather-bound folder with the entire menu, complete with the selection of available beverages. Here is the menu in all its glory (correct as of March ‘17). The wait staff told me that the menu is changed slightly every few months though.

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This looks a lot more presentable doesn’t it?

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Overall a good selection of drinks, but I thought the food menu was not as extensive as it used to be. The Charles Hiedsieck Blanc Des Millenaires on offer was good, but we all know better than to fill up on champagne before the flight itself…

The service was attentive but not intrusive. I received faux shock and dismay at the appalling experience we had at check in. We were shown to the family room and a staff member stayed on hand to make sure we had everything we needed as we put our daughter to bed (we just laid a blanket on the carpeted floor as a makeshift bed).

After she was asleep we had a nice, relaxing meal at the dining area. We had the Sauteed Lobster with Linguine to share, which was delicious. The lobster was fresh and the meat was succulent and QQ, and the pasta was done just right al dente.

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Sauteed Lobster with Linguine

The wait staff recommended Chocolate Therapy for dessert, which worked like a charm. All the injustice from earlier on was forgiven (but definitely not forgotten).

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This. Is. Super.

It was only then could I stretch my legs and look forward to flying the new 77W First Class product.