I’m booked on the inaugural Air Travel Bubble flight to Hong Kong

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The first ATB flight between Singapore and Hong Kong leaves on 22 November, and I've got my ticket. Here's how I'm planning the trip.

Singapore and Hong Kong have released the full details of the upcoming Air Travel Bubble (ATB), which will commence from 22 November 2020. 

On that Sunday morning, SQ890 will depart Changi Airport bound for Hong Kong. Onboard this A350-900 will be 200 passengers, the pioneer batch of ATB travelers. And among them will be yours truly, who managed to snag a seat on the now sold out inaugural flight. 

I’ve already written a separate piece covering the full details of the ATB, from the flight options right down to insurance matters and testing regimes. You can have a read of that below, but in this post, I want to talk specifically about how I’m planning my ATB trip. 

Full details of Singapore-Hong Kong Air Travel Bubble (ATB): Flights, cost, award space, insurance and more

Booking ATB flights to Hong Kong

Once the news broke about the approved ATB flights, I immediately went on the Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific websites to check fares and award space. 

As expected, there was no award space on Singapore Airlines for the rest of 2020. Cathay Pacific had some, but it was almost exclusively in their more expensive Choice/Tailored award buckets, and only on random dates in December. I wanted to be on the inaugural, so I had to look at cash fares. 

These weren’t as astronomical as I feared- I was able to find a SIN-HKG return Economy Class ticket for S$571.80 (fares have since increased significantly). It’s no doubt more than before, but at least I could use my AMEX Platinum Charge’s S$400 air travel credit to offset the cost. 

I wonder why the inaugural has a unique departure timing, when the subsequent flights leave at 0735 (0800 on 23 Nov 20). Part of me hopes there’s a gate party…

I was also careful to ensure my stay in Hong Kong would be less than 72 hours, so as to reduce the number of COVID-19 PCR tests I’d need to do by one. If you’re staying more than 72 hours, you’ll need to do a total of three tests:

  1. Within 72 hours of departing Singapore
  2. Upon arrival in Hong Kong
  3. Within 72 hours of departing Hong Kong (not necessary if stay in Hong Kong is <72 hours)

SQ890/891 will be operated by one of Singapore Airlines’ long-haul configured A350-900s, which means I can expect the following Economy Class seat. 

Photo credit: TPG

At least social distancing regulations and capacity restrictions mean I’ll almost certainly get an empty seat next to me. And in any case, it’s a rather short flight at 3 hours 45 mins- you’re likely to spend more time waiting at the Hong Kong airport for your COVID-19 results upon arrival. 

Applying for COVID-19 PCR test approval

This won’t be an issue come December, but up till 30 November 2020, it’s necessary to seek approval in order to take a voluntary COVID-19 PCR test.

Apply for pre-departure PCR test

Applications must be submitted at least 7 days before departure, and can be done via this form. It’s fairly straightforward, and the two approved flights (CX 734, SQ 890) are already pre-populated in the flight number field. You’ll need to provide some additional information like your Booking Reference Number and passport details, but the whole thing takes less than 3 minutes. 

Approval is not instantaneous; but it’s pretty darn fast. You’re quoted an official processing time of 3 working days, but I submitted my request at 5.46 p.m on Wednesday and received approval at 7.34 a.m on Thursday. 

So let’s do some math. COVID-19 tests need to be done between 48-72 hours before you fly (any earlier and the test may not be good, any later and your results may not arrive in time). This means that even if you’re departing in early December (at least the first two days), you’ll still need to apply for approval. 

Departure date Last day to get approval Last day to take PCR test
22 Nov 20 15 Nov 20 20 Nov 20
23 Nov 20 16 Nov 20 21 Nov 20
24 Nov 20 17 Nov 20 22 Nov 20
25 Nov 20 18 Nov 20 23 Nov 20
26 Nov 20 19 Nov 20 24 Nov 20
27 Nov 20 20 Nov 20 25 Nov 20
28 Nov 20 21 Nov 20 26 Nov 20
29 Nov 20 22 Nov 20 27 Nov 20
30 Nov 20 23 Nov 20 28 Nov 20
1 Dec 20 24 Nov 20 29 Nov 20
2 Dec 20 25 Nov 20 30 Nov 20

MOH used to publish a list of COVID-19 PCR test providers that included information on how much they charge, but that list no longer exists. The new list simply states that all charges should not exceed S$200, inclusive of GST. 

It’s my hope that the cost of testing comes down soon, because S$200 per head is really going to add up for families. 

Booking a COVID-19 PCR test in Hong Kong

As mentioned, I’ll be staying in Hong Kong for less than 72 hours, so I won’t need to do a pre-departure test in Hong Kong before returning to Singapore.

However, I will need to do a COVID-19 PCR test on arrival at HKIA, and this needs to be booked in advance for HKD 499 (~S$87). The booking platform is not live yet, but should be up shortly. 

All along I assumed you’d be swabbed again in Hong Kong, but as per the video HK Airport has released, it appears passengers will be doing a saliva PCR test instead. 

That means one less thing up your nose, which can only be good news. 

You’ll be able to clear immigration after providing your sample, but can only claim your bag and leave the secure area once a negative result has been received. The bad news is you’ll have to wait 4-6 hours for the results, and this doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence:

When asked how long the process would take, Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) director-general Kevin Shum said it would likely take “less than six hours”. Ong expressed hopes that it would take four hours, and that drinks and amenities would be provided.

Better preload some Netflix.

Buying travel insurance

The CAAS has stated that travelers who become COVID-19 positive while in Singapore or Hong Kong will be on the hook for the full cost of medical treatment. 

Should travellers become COVID-19 positive while in Singapore or Hong Kong, they will need to bear the full cost of any medical treatment, subject to the respective cities’ prevailing medical and healthcare policies

That sounds scary, but fortunately, certain travel insurance policies provide COVID-19 coverage.

Even though I booked through a third party (AMEX Travel), I was still able to add on Singapore Airlines’ in-house travel insurance coverage, underwritten by AIG. This cost S$57 for my trip of four days. 

Under this policy, I’ll enjoy the following COVID-19 coverage on top of the usual travel insurance protection. 

☂️ AIG Travel Insurance COVID-19 Coverage
Policy Wording
Medical Expenses while Overseas S$350,000
Overseas Hospitalisation Allowance N/A
Trip Cancellation S$7,000
Trip Curtailment S$7,000
Quarantine (at destination) S$150 per day, up to 14 days

This does not cover travel against official government advisories, but will cover travel under pre-agreed official agreements. Here’s an excerpt from the Singapore Airlines travel insurance FAQ (emphasis mine):

If a passenger travels to a destination for which Singapore’s Ministry of Health has already established a Reciprocal Green Lane arrangement (RGL) and he/she meets the condition of the RGL, is he/she covered?

Yes. The passenger will be covered for COVID-19 if he/she is travelling under a pre-agreed official arrangement, for example, the Reciprocal Green Lane which facilitates short-term essential business and official travel between Singapore and Malaysia. Please review Terms and Conditions carefully for a full description of the coverage.

I fully expect we’ll see more and more travel insurance providers add coverage for COVID-19, so long as travel takes place under approved travel bubbles. It’s not like they have much of a choice anyway- if they don’t include this, no one’s going to travel, and they’re not going to sell any policies. 

Hotels in Hong Kong?

Shangri-La Kowloon

I haven’t decided yet where I’ll be staying in Hong Kong, but goodness me, hotels are going at rock-bottom prices. According to Kayak, 4-Star and 5-Star hotels are pricing from S$40 and S$70 per night respectively for the period I’m looking to stay. Un.believe.able.

Prices are so low that this may be a good time to book some AMEX Fine Hotels & Resorts or other preferred program rates, as the hotel credit you get (up to US$100) could offset a large portion of the nightly rate. Yes, I’ll need to move hotels every night to maximize this, you’re talking to the guy who hopped between the Four Points Pudong and Sheraton Pudong every night just to status run. 

Cordis Hong Kong
Cordis Hong Kong

On my hotel shortlist right now:

  • Conrad Hong Kong: US$240 a night with breakfast, guaranteed 8 a.m check-in, US$90 hotel credit per night (via official website)
  • Cordis Hong Kong: US$311 for 2 nights with room upgrade, breakfast, US$100 hotel credit (via THC)
  • Gateway Hong Kong: US$128 a night with US$77 dining credits per night and full GHA Black benefits (via official website)
  • Marco Polo Hong Kong: US$183 a night with US$168 dining credits per night, and full GHA Black benefits (I’m having trouble believing this is real, but that’s what it says here. Reviews are mediocre though)
  • Shangri-La Kowloon: US$140 a night with double upgrade, breakfast, guaranteed 4 p.m check-out and US$50 hotel credit (via Luxury Circle)
  • Langham Hong Kong: US$170 a night with room upgrade, breakfast, guaranteed 4 p.m check-out and US$100 hotel credit (via FHR)

This probably warrants a separate post in itself, actually.

Do chime in if you know of some other hotels in Hong Kong worth reviewing- I’m hoping for something near the Airport Express station, or at least an MTR. Too bad I have no guaranteed lounge access anymore- Hilton Gold and Marriott Gold is as good as it gets for me these days. 

What could go wrong?

I test positive for COVID-19 in Singapore before departing

I feel perfectly fine right now, but it’s always possible I could be asymptomatic without knowing it. Should my pre-departure COVID-19 test show a positive result, my AIG travel insurance policy will cover up to S$7,000 worth of non-recoverable hotel and airfare costs. 

We will pay up to the amount shown in the table of benefits in Your Policy if the cancellation or postponement of Your Trip, for which You have paid under a contract and which is not refundable, is necessary and unavoidable as a result of You or Your Relative being diagnosed with COVID-19 prior to the scheduled Trip departure date

I test positive for COVID-19 on arrival in Hong Kong

The other possibility is that I test positive for COVID-19 upon landing in Hong Kong. Here’s what the HKTB FAQ has to say about this.

If a traveller is tested positive for the PCR nucleic acid test, the testing institution will inform the Department of Health. The relevant staff will contact the traveller concerned and arrange his/her admission to hospital for medical treatment. His/her travel companion(s) and close contacts will be sent to quarantine centres for quarantine (even if their test results are negative). If the traveller who is tested positive is not a Hong Kong resident, he/she will be charged the medical fee applicable to non-eligible persons

That’s obviously not ideal, but my travel insurance will cover any medical expenses up to S$350,000. I’ll also be eligible for up to S$7,000 in travel curtailment costs.

We will pay up to the amount listed in the table of benefits in Your Policy if the disruption of Your Trip is necessary and unavoidable because You or Your Relative are diagnosed with COVID-19 while travelling and need to return to Singapore earlier than planned. In that event, We will cover:
1. reasonable and necessary travel and accommodation expenses for which You have paid, and which are not refundable.
2. reasonable and necessary additional travel costs to return back to Singapore.

ATB is suspended due to spike in cases

Both Singapore and Hong Kong have agreed that the ATB will be suspended for two weeks if the seven-day moving average of the daily unlinked COVID-19 cases is more than 5 in either city. 

This might be an issue if you’re traveling later on, but since I’m going on literally the first day, it’s not a concern for me (unless there’s somehow 35 unlinked cases on the day I arrive…)

Conclusion

22 November is less than two weeks away, so I’m going to have to get cracking on the hotel planning soon. I’m really spoiled for choice here, and realistically speaking, I doubt 200 additional visitors a day (not all of whom will be staying in hotels, mind) will cause hotels to hike rates. 

Any Milelioners in Hong Kong who want to meet up for a drink, do give a shout out!

Aaron Wong
Aaron founded The Milelion with the intention of helping people travel better for less and impressing chiobu. He was 50% successful.

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Robs

Not that you’ll have any shortage of things to eat/drink, but super highly recommend Quinary for drinks and Hotal Colombo for food lol

Name

the plan looks good, however given this covid situation I am not sure if not taking the test before after arriving to Singapore is a wise one. I wonder if for the reason why there isnt any PCR test on arrival in Singapore.

There is a risk that you get infected in that 3 days of touring and then come back to spread to your family members etc.

JW19

Thanks for taking one for the team again. With the details laid out from a trustworthy source (not from media wannabes) it would be much easier for us subsequently.

CK Lim

Regarding social distancing on board the flight, I’ve called Singapore Airlines to enquire about this as I have an upcoming business trip to Taiwan at the end of Nov, and I was informed that there’s no social distancing regulations on board flights. The only form of social distancing they are doing on board flights are segregating transit passengers from the other passengers.

sammy

HK Shangrila so cheap.

Lyn

Rosewood Hong Kong looks beautiful, you might want to check that out.

Weijie

If you arrive in HK at 1120hrs (day 1) and depart at 1230hrs (day 3) on SQ, does this still qualify as less than 72 hours?

Mei

I’m very interested to know exactly how long the waiting time will be at HKIA for the results. Looking fwd to your HK trip report!

ithh

HK authorities have advised a wait time of at least four hours.

Dee

I was wondering how this will affect your future stays in SG as I have a few staycations lined up. If I do visit HK and did the declaration that I travelled. Any idea what the current or future stance is?

Chris Cook

I’m going on the 24th. For EP holders, NB you have to get reentry permission from the mom before leaving as well.

This morning the automated version had not been updated (SHN still required) on their website but I imagine it will be very soon.

Conrad a good choice for the double nights benefit towards (reduced) status thresholds

Sud G

Did you apply for re-entry permission from MOM already? What is the process and cost of that?

TS77

I just wanted to double check, am I correct in thinking EP holders need to get permission to return? I spoke to MoM earlier, unless they are confused that was the message I got?

Sud G

Yes you are correct. Your employer needs to apply on your behalf.

Louis

The Langham has a promo where u get yr room rate equivalent in dining credits I believe so may save you hotel hopping.

zachary

I am flying on this plane SQ890 as well. cheers

SH Lim

I am in HK and went through the tests. The wait of 4-6hours for the test result at the airport is real. Some sharing. 1. Bring a portable battery pack. There are only a few charging points and they are hogged. 2. Don’t skip the meal on the plane and bring some food. No cafes/restaurants are opened at the waiting area. Only biscuits and cold sandwiches are available. 3. Bring water — water dispensers usually found at HKIA are sealed off. 4. Install Uber if you intend to get a ride and esp. if you don’t speak cantonese. They just… Read more »

SH Lim

Waiting area at the HKIA. Reminded me about my common exam days….

78A66F78-907C-4F92-A22D-58EB3F6B03BE.jpeg
Amos

Holy moly! I wonder if there’ll be kids on these flights…after PSLE. That’ll be like deja vu.

SH Lim

Yeah and there’re invigilators walking up and down to prevent mingling. Exactly like exams!

Ed

All the best!!

Astrid

good luck and hope covid19 avoid you in HK!

Cindy

I’m going on 22-Nov also, anyone know how to travel from HKIA airport to town area? There is no proper information regarding transport revision due to Covid.

Bbron

Once you pass customs, it is restriction free travel as before *subject to the local covid regulations against crowding etc.

Last edited 9 days ago by Bbron
Sunray

It seems like SQ890 has had timing change to 0735-1120 (from the original 1000-1400), do you think that will impact your <72 hour planning. I.e. will you have to take the 3rd COVID test?

Tayhj

Going on the 23th , haven’t book my test yet will do tomorrow . Will have to stay about 1 month . Thanks for the informative read

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