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.
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:
- Within 72 hours of departing Singapore
- Upon arrival in Hong Kong
- 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.
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.
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.
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
|Medical Expenses while Overseas||S$350,000|
|Overseas Hospitalisation Allowance||N/A|
|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?
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.
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…)
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!