A week ago, I wrote an article about the restrictions SQ imposes on redeeming Business and First Class tickets on certain aircraft where Star Alliance partners are concerned. To summarise, members of Star Alliance FFPs cannot access all of SQ’s award space. Instead, they’re limited to the following cabins as shown below:
No sooner did I post this than comments poster cookies told me that he/she’d managed to redeem United Mileage Plus miles for Business Class on SQ’s 77W aircraft, which by right should not have been possible. Intrigued, I went to check this out and found that indeed, I was seeing business class space on SQ800, operated by a 77W.
Wilson from The Milelion’s Telegram Group reached out to me with two more examples of business class space on the 77W available to partners. Here’s SQ288, a 77W serving Singapore to Sydney…
And SQ281, a 77W serving Singapore to Auckland…
What’s going on?
I think I’ve figured out what’s happening. Here’s my theory:
Partner FFPs can book “restricted cabins” on routes that were formerly operated by “unrestricted” aircraft but have been recently swapped.
Let’s look at SQ288, for example. SQ288 started flying the “Capital Express” route back in September 2016 from Singapore to Canberra to Wellington four times a week on a B777-200. This aircraft has SQ’s angled flat regional Business Class seat, which can be booked by partner FFPs.
It’s no secret this route was heavily subsidized by the Australian government, and was operated more for political rather than commercial reasons. Heck, before SQ came into the picture, no international airline was willing to offer direct service to CBR. Unsurprisingly, the route saw poor demand, and in early January this year it was announced that the flight would be adjusted.
From 1 May 2018, SQ288 will fly SIN-SYD-CBR on a daily basis, and will now be operated by a 77W. Business Class on a 77W cannot be booked by partner FFPs by right, but for whatever reason the internal awards system is still flagging SQ288 as operated by a 777-200, which means the Business Class cabin is open for partner FFP redemptions still.
Further credence to this idea is lent by the fact that wherever we find 77W Business Class space bookable by partners, such flights were historically operated by aircraft which Business Class space were open to partners.
Consider SQ281. This is a seasonal route linking Singapore to Auckland, operated in the Northern Winter season when demand for New Zealand travel increases. In 2017, this route was operated by a 777-200ER, but for 2018, a 777W has been indented.
Or consider SQ800 from Singapore to Beijing. You’ll see from the operational history on Flight Aware that the route was only reliably operated by a 77W from 24 March 2018. Before that, it was a mix of 777-200s and 777-300s, both of which have the regional Business Class cabin product that can be booked by partner FFPs.
What does this mean for partner FFPs?
SQ is in the process of gradually retiring its 777-200s and 777-300s. On the regional routes, we’ll start seeing these birds replaced by 787-10s and the regional version of the A350 when it comes online. However, there may be routes where SQ feels a 77W (264 seats) is more suited to cover the capacity lost by swapping out a 777-200 (266 seats) or 777-300 (284 seats). In such cases, partner members can capitalize on this by booking Business Class seats while SQ’s back end has not yet been updated.
I do not believe that this is a way to book First Class awards on the 77W using partner miles. The 777-200s/200ERs/300s that are being replaced all do not have First Class cabins. It stands to reason therefore that the swap will not end up opening up such space, because there was no space to begin with (unlike the Business Class cabin where there was available partner space on the 200/200ERs/300s)
I do not know how long it takes SQ take to update the aircraft type in its award system, so I can’t comment how long these opportunities stick around. It is an interesting quirk, however, and hopefully solves the mystery of why people were seeing these seats available to partners.