In March this year, Singapore Airlines unveiled a new regional business class product on its newly-launched B787-10 aircraft. This full flat, all-aisle access seat was a welcome upgrade from the existing angled-flat product found on the A330s, B777-200s and B777-300s. I’ve yet to actually try the new regional business class in a flight setting, although by all accounts it’s a splendid seat.
Now, Singapore Airlines has a bit of a history of restricting premium cabin awards on certain aircraft to partner FFPs like LifeMiles, United Mileage Plus and Aeroplan. . Although members in these programs can on occasion access these “forbidden seats”, such instances remain the exception rather than the norm.
That’s why it was such a pleasant surprise to find that the Business Class cabin on the 787-10s was open for partner redemptions. Be it Perth, Osaka, Bangkok or Bali, partner FFP members could redeem these seats as freely as KrisFlyer members.
Well, it seems that may have changed.
Can partner airlines still book regional business class?
Here are all the destinations that are currently served or will be served by aircraft carrying the new regional business class in January 2019. Note that I don’t say “served by the B787-10” because Adelaide and Jakarta will be served by the regional-configured A350-900 from December this year. It’s a different aircraft with the same seat.
Using the AC search method on the KVS Tool, I ran a power search for 1 Business Class seat every day in January 2019 (if that entire sentence didn’t make any sense to you, consider coming for Power Award Searching!).
Here’s what an Aeroplan member (or any partner FFP for that matter) looking to book Singapore Airlines’ regional business class product in January 2019 would see:
That’s slim pickings. Apart from Jakarta, Taipei, and occasionally Fukuoka, it’s not actually possible to get a seat on SQ’s 2018 regional business class. This is a far cry from the unrestricted availability that partner members enjoyed a few months ago.
To be clear- this isn’t a problem for KrisFlyer members. We see regional business class awards just fine. Look, I can even redeem 6 business class saver awards to Bali.
I wanted to make sure this restriction wasn’t just a seasonal thing, so I looked at June 2019 as well.
The story here is very similar, in that most destinations are still blocked from partner redemptions. However, note that KIX opens up later in the year, after being blocked all of January. This leads me to believe that SQ has not blocked all partner redemptions for its regional business class, just certain routes based on season. This makes our summary table below a lot more complicated…
Why do I care?
Ok, you may think. That’s interesting from an academic point of view, but why do I care what non-KrisFlyer members can and can’t do with their miles?
Well, if you buy LifeMiles or hold any other Star Alliance mileage currency, this change matters to you. Suppose you bought LifeMiles, intending to fly from Singapore to Los Angeles in Business Class. Now, one way of doing that is SIN-NRT-LAX, with SIN-NRT on SQ and NRT-LAX on ANA.
But if SQ is blocking regional business class awards, then SIN-NRT would not be redeemable by LifeMiles members. Add the fact that all the other SIN-NRT flights are operated on “forbidden” aircraft, and you see what the problem is. This routing might be available to a KrisFlyer member, but it would not be to someone using LifeMiles.
The same logic would apply if you wanted to fly SIN-DEL-LHR with SIN-DEL on SQ, or SIN-TPE-LAX with SIN-TPE on SQ. If partner airlines cannot access SQ’s regional business class, then your connectivity options when using partner miles are much more limited.
It’s one thing if SQ blocks long haul premium cabin award space to partners. But blocking regional premium cabins changes the calculus considerably. It means that SIN-based flyers who have purchased LifeMiles or hold other Star Alliance FFP currencies will find it harder to connect to regional destinations like BKK, TPE and DEL. That means fewer opportunities to try TG (nice), BR (awesome) or AI (snigger)’s cabin products.
For now, it’s not that big a deal since there are a fairly large number of aircraft with the 2009 regional business class seat still in the fleet. But SQ is scheduled to return all its A330s to lessors by 2020, and is already phasing out the ageing 777-200s. Assuming that SQ continues to block partner regional business class redemptions, the connectivity problem will become more apparent as the B787-10 and A359 become the de-facto aircraft on these routes.
So overall this is bad news for anyone using partner miles, but hey, their loss is our gain.