Airlines

5 airline products I’m aiming to try in 2020 (and how you can book them)

On my list for 2020: QSuites, Emirates' new First, EVA's Dreamliner Business Class, ANA's new 77W premium cabins...and a certain grounded aircraft.

There are few things more thrilling than trying a new cabin product or aircraft for the first time. My firsts this year included Cathay Pacific’s A350-1000 Business Class and B77W First Class (yes, I’m only a few years late), Singapore Airlines’ B787-10 Regional Business Class, and Qatar’s recliner-equipped A320 (not nearly as thrilling as the rest).

For 2020, I’ve set a goal to review the five products below. Some will be easier to redeem than others, and while I don’t expect to attain 100% completion, I’ll be actively planning my vacations around this.

If you’re keen to join me, I’ve also included some information on which routes these seats can be found on, and which programs offer good value!

(1) Qatar Airways QSuites

Ah, QSuites- the one that got away. In September, I was all set to have my virgin experience, positioning myself to Kuala Lumpur just to snag a QSuites plane on the KUL-DOH leg of a SIN-KUL-DOH-KBP itinerary.

Photo credit: Upgraded Points

But the scheduling gods have a wicked sense of humour, and shortly before I was due to fly, QSuites routes were reshuffled, wrecking my carefully laid plans. We all know that equipment swaps are part and parcel of this hobby, but that doesn’t make it less painful when it happens to you.

The good news is that with every month which passes, more and more QSuites-equipped aircraft join the Qatar Airways fleet. I feel pretty good about my chances of ticking this off in 2020, probably with a SIN-DOH-BOS/ORD/JFK/PHL/IAD flight to get the full experience.

Book it yourself: Routes

If you fancy trying the QSuites, they’re currently available on the following routes out of Doha (credit to premium-flights.com for tracking this).

Routes are subject to change, and may not be operated daily by QSuites-equipped planes. What you can do is look up the flight number on FlightRadar24 and take note of the aircraft registration (A7-XXX). You can then cross reference it with this Flyertalk Wiki to see if you’re likely to have a QSuites plane.

Award space, in my experience, isn’t particularly difficult to find, and you should be able to secure at least 2 seats on the SIN-DOH route on most days.

Book it yourself: Prices

There are so many potential QSuites routes (and yet, the one I’m supposed to fly on gets swapped…hah!) that it’s hard to tell you which FFP offers the best value- it depends on the route you have in mind.

My advice is to go to awardhacker.com, enter your start and end points and see which program it recommends using (do note that it’s a US-based site, so not all the FFPs it lists will be available to us in Singapore).

Possible options for Singapore-based flyers include Asia Miles and Qantas Frequent Flyer, and Qatar Privilege Club. Please don’t use Qatar Privilege Club, however, as it’s a terrible program. The award chart is poor value, the program does massive, unannounced devaluations, and they slap on a “redemption booking fee” on top of the already hefty fuel surcharge- this can be as much as US$300 on a round-trip, one-stop award!

(2) Emirates B777-300ER New First Class

Photo Credit: TPG
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What more can you say about Emirates’ new First Class? Six suites to a cabin, NASA-inspired zero-gravity seating, floor to ceiling doors, a video-call system, chandelier-style lights, a full length wardrobe, gimmicks like like binoculars and virtual windows in the middle seats…. it’s a complete sensory overload, and that’s just alright with me.

The problem? This seat is only available on selected B777-300ERs, and as of today, only nine aircraft in the entire fleet have the new First Class seat. You heard me- the product was launched more than two years ago, and the number of planes fitted with it is still in the single digits.

Book it yourself: Routes

With only nine aircraft in play, route selection becomes a more nuanced exercise. The following routes out of Dubai currently have the new First Class, and given that KWI and RUH are way too short to enjoy it, your realistic options are Europe or Tokyo-Haneda.

Again, routes are subject to change, and may not be operated daily with the new First Class. The same SOP applies- look on FlightRadar24 for the flight number, then look out for A6-EQH, I, J, K, L, M, N, O and P. You can monitor this Flyertalk thread for the latest route updates. Otherwise, there is an excellent spreadsheet here that you can refer to, which tracks the B777-300ER registration numbers with the new First Class.

What has been observed is that award seats do open up two days before departure, in cases where at least four of the six seats are left for sale (HT: OMAAT). I personally was able to find award space on routes to FRA, GVA and BRU, so if you’re able to travel last minute, this is your best shot.

Book it yourself: Prices

Dubai to Europe, one-way First Class
85,000 miles  85,500 miles

Emirates Skywards does not have an award chart, but Dubai to Europe tends to cost 85,000 miles and S$625 of surcharges

The same routing would cost 85,500 miles on Qantas (with the same surcharges), but it’s much easier to earn Qantas miles in Singapore than Emirates. Qantas partners with DBS and Citibank, so there are opportunities to earn 4 mpd on certain categories of transactions.

Emirates partners with AMEX and SCB. The earn rates on the Platinum cards are very low (0.78 mpd for the Platinum Charge, 0.69 mpd for others), and your SCB X Card’s points transfer to Emirates at a 3.5:1 ratio instead of the usual 2.5:1. This makes your “100,000 miles sign up bonus” more like 71,429, and spending S$1 on the SCB X Card earns you not 1.2 mpd, but 0.86 mpd where Emirates is concerned.

You could also redeem Alaska Mileage Plan miles for Emirates First Class, but redemptions aren’t possible between Europe and the Middle East. You’d have to fly Europe to Dubai to North America at a cost of 180,000 miles. On the plus side, there won’t be any fuel surcharges.

EVA Air B787-9/10 Business Class

EVA took delivery of the first of 24 B787s in October 2018, and each of them will be equipped with a gorgeous new Business Class product designed by BMW Designworks. These 23 inch wide seats recline into 76 inch flatbeds, with adjustable privacy panels, generous storage cabinets and upgraded 18 inch HD touchscreen monitors.

I’m already a big fan of EVA’s Business Class soft product, which includes touches you’d usually only find in First Class. Think vintage champagne (Krug or Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame, depending on your route), Salvatore Ferragamo amenities kits (no more Rimowa, sadly), and pajamas by Jason Wu (who designed Michelle Obama’s dresses for the inauguration). It’s a no-brainer to want to pair that with this amazing-looking new seat.

Book it yourself: Routes

EVA currently has eight B787-9/10s in its fleet, operating the following routes out of Taipei.

Exception: AMS is served from BKK, not TPE
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Most of these are short haul flights, and the only long haul options for now are Brisbane, Vienna and Amsterdam (out of BKK). I haven’t taken a serious look for long haul award space yet, but a quick search didn’t turn up anything so this may prove tricky.

Book it yourself: Prices

Taipei to Vienna, one-way Business Class
75,000
105,500
45,000
67,500
75,000

You’ll have to pay fuel surcharges for EVA Air redemptions unless you redeem through United MileagePlus (or LifeMiles, but it’s not a credit card transfer partner so I left it out of the table). Given the poor earn rate for MileagePlus on the SCB X Card, and the best program here is probably Turkish Miles&Smiles, which charges only 45,000 miles for a one-way Business Class award between Taipei and Vienna.

Alternatively, if you’re able to find award space between Taipei and Brisbane, here’s how it’d price.

Taipei to Brisbane, one-way Business Class
75,000
74,000
75,000
52,500
55,000

Again, despite the fact that United MileagePlus and Miles&More seem to have lower mileage requirements, remember the only way you can earn them is through the SCB X Card, and at a 3.5:1 ratio (same as Emirates above).

Not showing Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, which is a transfer partner of every bank in Singapore

ANA B777-300ER New First/Business Class

ANA’s new First and Business Class seats really came out of nowhere. While most airlines announce new products months or years in advance (ahem), ANA unveiled theirs in July 2019, then promptly started flying it the month after.

ANA’s new First Class boasts the world’s first 4K IFE screens, measuring a whopping 43 inches wide. They also allow for couple dining with privacy partitions that can be lowered.

As good as First Class looks, however, Business Class may be even better. The 64 seats have fully-closing privacy doors, and a QSuites-esque forward/rearward 1-2-1 configuration. What’s incredible is how wide they appear to be- ANA says they’re double the width of the previous Business Class seats, which would make them 42 inches wide.

Book it yourself: Routes

ANA is flying the B777-300ERs with the new products to London Heathrow and New York JFK. Frankfurt will be added by March 2020. The London route operates out of Tokyo Haneda, while New York operates out of Haneda and Narita.

Note: Frankfurt to be added by March 2020

Here’s the tough bit: from what I’ve gathered, there’s hardly any award space available. Your best bet may be to book a flight on a route with the old seat (like SFO) and hope it gets changed.

Book it yourself: Prices

Assuming you can find seats, here’s how much you’ll pay to redeem awards:

Tokyo to New York, one-way award
  Business Class First Class
87,500 105,000
115,000 140,000
67,500 100,000
71,000 111,000
80,000 110,000
Tokyo to London, one-way award
  Business Class First Class
92,500 127,500
111,000 153,000
45,000 67,500
71,000 111,000
75,000 115,000

For me, this is an academic exercise until award space becomes more readily available. Once it is, I’ll be looking to book with Turkish Miles&Smiles, since fuel surcharges across programs will be the same (no fuel surcharges for MileagePlus, but see above comments about X Card transfer ratios).

(5) SilkAir B737 Max 8 Business Class

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Nope, that’s not a typo. As soon as the Boeing 737 Max 8 gets clearance to fly, I’d like to do a review of SilkAir’s new(ish) Business Class product on these jets.

Don’t get me wrong. I think what happened with the Max 8 was a travesty. I’ve read all the damning reports about how Boeing’s culture and desperation to keep up with Airbus contributed to the tragedies, how warning signs were ignored, how a multi-million dollar piece of equipment relied on a single sensor. It’s sobering stuff, and I sincerely hope that those responsible are held to account.

Some people have sworn off ever setting foot on a Max 8, and I guess I can understand that to an extent. But realistically speaking, the plane isn’t going anywhere- more than 500 are already built and a further 5,000 are on order. One way or another, you may very well encounter a Max 8 in the future.

That’s why I’m curious to see what steps airlines are taking to reassure customers it’s safe to get on a plane that only 53% of those surveyed say they’re willing to fly.

The NY Times has reported that Boeing’s prepared a full set of strategies to help airlines convince travelers that the Max 8 is safe.

For instance, if a traveler doesn’t want to fly after buying a ticket, getting to the airport gate or even after boarding the plane, Boeing says the airline could offer to rebook a flight, have flight attendants or pilots talk to the concerned passenger or hand out 3-by-5-inch information cards detailing why the Max is safe.

I’d like to see what this translates into in real life, and how crew and passengers (many of whom I’m sure won’t know they’re on a Max 8 until someone tells them) handle it.

Moreover, we know the days of SilkAir are numbered. The brand will be merged into Singapore Airlines, after which SilkAir planes will get a swanky new full-flat Business Class. There may not be many future opportunities to review the Max 8 recliner seat. 

Photo credit: Airliners.net

Singapore Airlines has even been making use of the enforced downtime on the Max 8s to repaint at least one of them (9V-MBN) in SIA livery. I don’t know what the timeline is to install the new Business Class seats, but there’s the odd chance that you might get lucky if you pick the right route.

SilkAir’s alleged new Business Class seats will be similar to those on flydubai

Book it yourself: Routes

The routes below were being served by the Max 8 at the time of its grounding. Destinations like Hiroshima, Darwin and Cairns are probably good candidates to get the Max 8 again as soon as it returns to service.

I don’t anticipate much difficulty getting award space on any of these routes.

Book it yourself: Prices

SilkAir flights can only be booked through KrisFlyer, and we’ve seen Business Class awards go on sale periodically during Spontaneous Escapes. For January’s edition, we saw Darwin and Hiroshima on 30% off (25,500 and 32,900 miles respectively). I fully expect to see at least some of the erstwhile Max 8 routes on sale in the future too.

Conclusion

So that’s my wish list for flying in 2020! In addition to the ones I’ve mentioned above, there are a few other aspirational products I’ve yet to try, like Etihad’s First Apartments and the Emirates A380 First Class experience. Those are definitely on the to-do list, even if I’m very late to the party. 

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Have you tried or are you aiming to try any of the seats above? Let me know your experience with award space!


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freedom
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freedom

Why no mention of lifemiles for *A redemption? especially for TPE-BNE, LM only requires 40k miles without fuel surcharge.

Nick
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Nick

“We all know that equipment swaps are part and parcel of this hobby, but that doesn’t make it less painful when it happens to you.”

Imagine my pain a few weeks back when my CZ flight from Guangzhou to Beijing got downgauged from an A359 to a B738. 🙁

Russ2441
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Russ2441

Is it easy to get EVA award tics from Sin to Vienna/Europe using Turkish Miles and smiles program?

lifeonthego_k
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lifeonthego_k

While SIN-DOH might be available quite easily for reward redemption in Qsuites, routes to the US have become extremely hard to to get, especially for 2pax. I was reading up on this and also experienced it myself as I’m going to the US in 2020 and was researching award availability. Blogs say it could be because earlier this year QR awards become bookable online on AA.

Haja
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Haja

is the miles transfer from Citi to Turkish program at the same rate as KF? If so, they represent great value

CH Lim
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CH Lim

You can fly the 737 MAX yourself. Just remember to do your will and CPF nomination before you step on that jet.

Ttansiri
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Ttansiri

Might be worth mentioning QR’s policy on equipment changes on Qsuite flights. Am not speaking from personal experience but read it in Flyertalk:

https://www.flyertalk.com/forum/31585036-post2709.html

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