I think I’ve mentioned somewhere that in the world of Travel Hacking, there are perhaps 4 or 5 truly aspirational experiences- to shower onboard an Emirates A380, to lounge in The Apartments on Etihad (The Residence, sadly, is not bookable with points and likely will never be), and to sleep in a double bed in Suites on Singapore Airlines.
As of right now, I’m 1/3 of the way there.
To fully appreciate how monumental the Suites experience is, you need a bit of background about how the product came about. Back in the early 2000s when SQ was designing its cabin products for the A380, it decided that as the launch customer of the largest airliner since the B747, they had to create an experience that was befitting of the occasion.
I don’t think it’s any coincidence that Airbus agreed to let SQ be the launch customer of the A380 as opposed to some “lesser” airline- it’s no secret that every aircraft executive wants to see their products displayed in the best possible light. Although budget airlines had expressed interest in taking A380s on lease to do a 700+ seat configuration, images of passengers lodged together like sardines do not particularly make for good aspirational press.
And aspirational they made it. When SQ announced its cabin product line up in 2007, the focus wasn’t on economy, or even business, though both products were extremely solid and ahead of the curve vis a vie competitors. All the fanfare went to the First Class cabin, nay, Suites. SQ’s PR team was careful to continually re-emphasise that this was “a class beyond First”. That this exclusive cabin would make First Class seem woefully inadequate.
The idea that it was now possible to fall asleep in a private enclosed cabin within a cabin, in a double bed no less, made aviation geeks worldwide soil their collective underpants. It was also reassuring to know that for an airline so stodgy about trying new things, Singapore Airlines was demonstrating genuine innovation here, doing something different, something exciting.
Although the product is already 7 years old, a mid-cycle refresh has seen the Suites seats re-upholstered to a more professional black leather, and (presumably due to less usage) the wear and tear is less evident on these seats as opposed to business class
My adventure started as the taxi rolled up to the Changi Airport Terminal 3 driveway. I felt almost embarrassed as I told the Uncle “First Class, please”. I briefly contemplated if I should add a disclaimer behind to the tune of “But I don’t ever fly First Class and I only got this ticket through lots of company-sponsored credit card spending and careful stockpiling of my miles, along with religious inventory searches to find 2 available First saver tickets during this peak period”. Fortunately for Uncle, the First Class reception is the first exit from the driveway and he didn’t have to listen to all this.
At the driveway you are greeted by the so-called “premium services team”. There are always two porters to take your bags, and a customer service rep to make small talk while showing you to the check in desks. Since this area is only for Singapore Airlines First Class and Solitaire passengers, there is never any queue for counters. The busiest I ever saw it was when there are 3 people being checked in at the 5 manned desks.
I’ve often thought that it’s a bit of a missed opportunity to lightly cater this area. I know this is not meant to be the main attraction- people don’t linger here, this is a brief distraction before heading onwards into the lounge. But on this occasion I had to wait for my travelling companion and in the 15 minutes that followed there really wasn’t much in the way of distractions. Even a small water dispenser and some biscuits would have gone a long way. Given how obsessive SQ usually is about the small things, this was a bit of a let down.
At this juncture I feel it is important that I qualify all criticism contained in this trip report. I realise that I am extremely blessed to have this experience, even if it was earned through credit card spending rather than paid out of pocket. When I say “let down”, I mean it in the context of my colleague once casually remarking to me “the office pantry was all out of Evian so I had to drink Perrier”. Even if the champagne were house brand, the food was terrible and the seats didn’t recline properly, the experience would still be miles ahead of what you’re get in economy. So any criticism is given in the context of “compared to other First class experiences” as opposed to anything else.
Formalities complete, we were issued with our boarding passes and invitations to the hallowed ground of The Private Room. Unlike my last trip report, this time I had access to The Private Room on the grounds that I was actually flying in First Class. More on that shortly.
We went through immigration and headed straight for the lounge. There’s a dedicated immigration channel for First Class and Solitaire passengers a short walk from the check in area. Unnecessary for Singapore, but a nice touch nonetheless.
The Private Room is a lounge within a lounge within a lounge. When you first go in, you are checked once by a lounge dragon. This is to ensure that you’re in the right lounge (SQ is remarkably stingy with Star Gold members in the sense that they’ve gone out of their way to build a separate Star Gold lounge in Changi Airport that is devoid of showers, champagne or happiness). Beyond that, you’re escorted to a second lounge, the First Class lounge. This lounge is inside the Business Class lounge. Another cursory document inspection, then it’s off to The Private Room.
Star Alliance lounge access rules allow passengers travelling in First Class to access the designated First Class lounges of Star Alliance partners. However, The Private Room falls under no such jurisdiction. It is the sole domain of passengers travelling in First Class on Singapore Airlines, all others need not apply. The reason is simple- this is where SQ serves the best stuff. In The Private Room, passengers can have cooked-to-order meals and premium champagne, away from the hoi polloi flying in mere First Class.
Upon entering the menu was presented to us. The menu is extensive, featuring a range of Western and Chinese options.
No prizes for guessing that the lobster and burger were immediately ordered, along with hefty servings of champagne. I never actually did find out for sure what they were serving, but I suspect it was PJ. Not a terrible choice by any means, but a fair step down from a couple of years ago where they were serving Grande Dame
The lobster was lovely. Perfectly poached and seasoned. The burger was likewise lovely, with a topping of foie gras on top. But what I really liked was the bun, strangely. It was buttery and warm and I found myself ordering another, scraping off the foie gras and just eating the bun by itself. The salad was salad.
Round two saw us taking on some Asian food- the noodles weren’t very crispy by the time they reached us and I was confused as to why they’d go so big on the scallops and stinge on the prawns. Those scallops were huge but the prawns were the cheap tiny kind.
Dessert was also ordered and enjoyed
Although there were only 2 staff to serve the entire Private Room and despite it being peak period, we found the service to be excellent. Champagne and water glasses were continually topped off, plates were cleared promptly and I didn’t feel judged for ordering a second order of lobsters. At least, not by the servers.
The rest of The Private Room is pleasant if not spectacular
For some strange reason there is also a separate buffet section in The Private Room with some hot dishes (to celebrate SG 50 they were having Nonya food). I didn’t see anyone taking from this section though- why would you when you can have hot food cooked to order?
I had come straight from work so I wanted to take a shower before the flight. Again, nitpicking but SQ really needs to have higher quality toiletries in their showers. Push pump shampoo and soap dispenses don’t exactly scream la vida loca. I remember reading in other people’s trip reports that the Emirates and Etihad showers in their respective home lounges have branded toiletries in bottle form, so this is definitely an area of improvement (or deliberate cost cutting) from SQ
Also, the bathrooms aren’t “private” in the sense that they’re located within the toilets themselves. In most other airline lounges showers are built as private cabanas, located outside the loo. Check out the cabanas in the Cathay Pacific first class lounge and you’ll know what i’m talking about. More work for SQ here then.
Departure was delayed by an hour, apparently to accommodate some guests transiting from Kunming. SQ 336 started boarding at 1240am.
We hung out in the lounge till the last minute before heading to the gate. Boarding passes scanned, we walked down the bridge to start the magic.
We were greeted by name immediately upon boarding. I surmised that this was because we were the only Chinese couple travelling in Suites, so it wasn’t hard to figure out who we were.
We were in seats 3C and D. Obviously, the layout of the seats only presents 2 seating opportunities if you want the double bed- either 2C and D or 3C and D.
2C and D is often blocked because those are the only seats with bassinets. I’ve never seen a baby flying in Suites before but presumably there are some lucky babies out there and SQ wants to make sure that these parents can be guaranteed bassinet seats if the need arises.
The seats are enclosed in their own partition, hence the Suite concept
As mentioned previously, the Suites product has had a mid-cycle refresh. Gone is the beige leather upholstery and in is the black matte finished leather. Each suite has a small standy tag with the name of the ground staff who serviced the Suite. This is a nice touch in theory, as it lends a bit of personality to the experience and feeds into the whole bespoke vibe. However, the effect is somewhat lost when you don’t get the name of a person, but a company instead, as seen below.
More obligatory seat shots
Goodie bags were quickly delivered- a male amenities kit for me and a female kit for my partner. Even in First Class, SQ’s amenities kits are decidedly underwhelming. The Ferragamo-branded kit consisted of lip balm, skin cream, some wet wipes and a mini bottle of cologne. I understand that the bathrooms have toothbrushes, razors, combs and cologne inside, and that these kits are meant to compliment that, but when other airlines are distributing fully loaded Rimowa kits, this is another missed opportunity for SQ
As this was an overnight flight, pyjamas were also part of the bounty. SQ used to distribute Givenchy-branded pyjamas in First Class, however they’ve recently removed the branding. This is my first time getting SQ PJs, so I can’t comment as to whether the quality is different. What I will say is that branding is just branding. Even the economy class toiletries kits are Givenchy branded and I doubt those things cost more than $2 a pop to manufacture. In any case the PJs were extremely comfortable and are now part of my regular wardrobe.
The earphones in first class are Bose QC15s, an excellent and comfortable pair to wear. I know many audiophiles believe Bose is severely overrated, but personally I can’t tell the difference
The cabin crew introduced themselves to us and confirmed out BTC options-
U.S. 8 oz. Rib-Eye Steak (for me)
U.S. beef steak with creamy green peppercorn sauce, roasted vegetables and garlic-mashed potatoes
BostonLobster Thermidor (for my partner)
A whole lobster sautéed in butter, flambéed in brandy, sprinkled with cheese, and served with creamy mushroom sauce, garlic and spicy mustard, and buttered asparagus.
Take off was smooth and because the flight was already delayed the crew started meal service immediately so we could get to bed.
The full menu read
Watermelon and Heirloom Tomato Salad
Malossol Caviar with Smoked Balik Salmon
Corn chowder with bacon
Kiam Chye duck soup
Warm sandwich of braised beef brisket
Nonya fish curry
Gratinated pork medallion with mushroom duxelles
Braised egg noodles
Vanilla Pod de Creme with Chocolate and Marcona
I had previously read that Supper flights on SQ did not have caviar service. While this is technically true, caviar is still served, albeit in a scaled-down version. Instead of having a separate caviar course where the eggs are served with melba toast slices and the usual garnishes, on supper flights caviar is integrated as part of an appetiser. Again, Evian and Perrier, but it is confusing why SQ opts to do this when other airlines like CX draw no meaningful distinction between Dinner and Supper flights. If the argument is that the service needs to be abbreviated so that passengers can get to sleep quickly, then the solution is to offer choice, not restrict it. Passengers who want to dine and sleep quickly should have the option of choosing, and passengers who want to stuff their face and take photos should have options too.
I chose the clear Chinese duck soup for the soup course. It was excellent, if a bit salty. I suppose that’s the point of Kiam Chye.
I know that choosing beef, even ribeye, on a plane is a losing proposition. No matter how carefully prepared it is on the ground, upon takeoff the beef has to be reheated in the harsh confines of a microwave. No number of celebrity chefs, no amount of premium ingredients can compensate for that harsh fact. So why did I pick it? I still hold some vain hope that the day will come where I get a perfectly cooked steak on board. I used to think that it was impossible to do poached eggs properly on a plane, but when flying Economy on ANA I was amazed to find that my eggs were still runny in the middle, instead of the nuclear apocalypse I expected. So the impossible can be done, it just takes a bit more trying.
In any case, this steak was cooked to death and tough, despite showing some promising red upon first cutting. After 3 cursory bites I ordered more garlic bread and left the dish alone.
My partner’s lobster thermidor, on the other hand, was an out and out success. The portion was generous, the meat was cooked nicely and the accompaniment of asparagus and tomatoes was neither too raw nor too overcooked. Note to self- pick seafood next time
The vanilla pudding served after dinner was fantastic too. Call me simple but I’d have been happy with some plain old ice cream. I was tempted to ask the crew if economy class was getting ice cream and if so whether I could snag one of those, but I was too tired at this point. Turning down the cheese and fruit basket, I requested for turn down service.
The bed is without a doubt the centrepiece of the SQ Suites experience.
For those of you wondering- the bed is technically a double bed, but not practically so. What do I mean? Look at the partition here- this hard divider splits the bed into two. The staff did lay a quilt over the gap but even when you lay on that you could still feel the hardness of the divider beneath you. Simply put, this was not originally designed as a double bed- it was designed as two separate beds with a partition inbetween that could be lowered. Did this ruin the experience? Not hardly. But still, given the expectations set, I thought there would surely be some more intelligent workaround to this.
The first question many people invariably ask about the SQ Suites experience is whether or not it’s possible to join the mile high club this way. Yes and no. Yes, you certainly have the space to do it. No, the way the suite is designed is that a tall enough person could easily look into the suite from on top. Also, the suite has blinds which are retractable, so there is a small slit from which the crew can look in. And finally, I’m not sure whether this is protocol or deviation from, but the crew tended to knock on the suite doors before opening them, as opposed to waiting for the person inside to respond then opening them.
As the bed was being made I proceeded to check out the bathrooms. The bathrooms are another missed opportunity for SQ, I feel. While I don’t expect them to have the showers of Emirates, is it too much to ask for a bit more space at least? It’s always been a bit of a puzzlement as to why SQ doesn’t do a whole lot about the bathroom experience in its premium cabins. The bathrooms appear to be standard Boeing/Airbus stock design, with some little additional flourishes like higher quality cologne and orchids to separate them from the Economy class ones. While the handicapped bathroom had ample space, the other loo was tiny.
The bed was fantastic. It was simply the most comfortable bed I had ever had on a flight. It was soft, spacious and outfitted with smooth blankets and fluffy pillows. I had worried that the blanket would be the scratchy one they had distributed earlier but apparently that’s a “sitting blanket”. The sleeping blanket is silk smooth.
I must have had about 5-6 hours of sleep in total. While I’ve definitely slept more on flights before (eg in business class to IST where the whole flight was one short, champagne addled blur), I didn’t want to waste the whole time sleeping. There were photos to take.
Feeling peckish halfway through, I ordered from the inflight snack menu. SQ’s snack menu is sadly very basic compared to other airlines.
Compare this to the snack menu reported by Lucky at onemileatatime on an Etihad First Class flight which had…
- Garden salad
- Made to order sandwiches
- Steak sandwich
- Kraftkorn Bagel
- Chicken tortilla
- Fish and chips
- Chesese selection
- Tea cake selection
- Fruit platter
- Ice cream
(I’ve not included the junk food section which matches SQ’s- chips, cookies etc. The point is that you can get many more hot prepared food options on other airlines, whereas SQ’s are mainly instant noodles)
The noodles were alright, but given that you’re in First Class you’d really expect a bit more from the snack menu.
The IFE was extensive with a great selection of current and past movies. It seems that September is the month to travel on SQ though, because a lot of the films I want to watch like Inside Out, Mad Max, Entourage and Genisys are coming out then. The ultra-wide screen made for great viewing. The IFE system on the A380s is still the previous generation version, unlike the touchscreen controller on the 777WNs. But I find myself preferring the older system, insofar as it is more stable and hangs less often than the new version.
About 2 hours prior to landing, breakfast service commenced. Surprisingly, unlike in business class it is not possible to take your meal in bed, at least with the existing setup. Fortunately, the flight crew brought over two trays that attach to the side of the suite. I’m not sure if that’s part of standard service protocol or just them going the extra mile, but either way it was appreciated. I did wonder why there was no default option for this built into the hardware though- I imagine that I’m not the only one who enjoys taking breakfast in his pajamas in bed
I had BTC-ed the poached eggs with lobster, which was absolutely fantastic. The eggs were runny and when paired with the rich Hollandise sauce and meaty lobster chunks made for a lovely breakfast.
My partner had the Kyo Kaseki- average, according to her
Just prior to landing we were issued with priority immigration cards. I don’t travel frequently to CDG so I don’t know what the wait times are usually like, but this was a welcome addition if nothing else
Overall thoughts: SQ’s Suites experience still remains right up there on the list of most aspirational products one can redeem with miles.
Is the entire experience perfect? Hardly. SQ needs to improve several aspects of the overall product such as its lounges on the ground, bathrooms on the plane and the quality of its snack menu. in a time where the Big 3 Middle East carriers (Etihad, Emirates, Qatar) are trying to outdo each other in the bling factor, things like this count when you’re marketing your product as “a class beyond first”. But the hard product, the suites and the service are absolutely top notch.
In theory, you can enjoy the suites experience for “only” 31,875 miles if you manage to snag a seat on the SIN-HKG A380 flight. At 3h 45 mins though, you’re not going to get the full experience but hey, 31,875 miles is quite attainable if you leverage the right sign up bonuses.
I did a dummy search for suites availability on the HKG route- it appears at best you’ll get waitlist, but waitlists do tend to clear within 5 days of departure. Be diligent in calling up the call centre and you might get lucky.