Hong Kong ATB (A Travel Backlog)- Trip Planning

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The Singapore-Hong Kong Air Travel Bubble (ATB) starts on 22 November, and I'll be on the first flight. Here's the game plan.


The last trip report I wrote came in early February, when I jetted off to New York for 48 hours to review ANA’s new First and Business Class products.

There was a surreal feeling throughout the city as people calmly went about their lives, oblivious to the talking heads on TV discussing a strange, as yet unnamed new virus spreading throughout China. Among everyone I met, there was an overwhelming sense that it was an over there problem. The pharmacy cashier didn’t even bat an eyelid when I dumped a basket full of hand sanitizer and masks on the counter (“Doing some spring cleaning?” she chirped). 

A month later, over there became over here, as New York City turned into ground zero with overflowing hospitals, mobile morgues and mass graves. And here we are nine months later, in a world completely upended by COVID-19. 

So even though a simple round-trip to Hong Kong is a far cry from my complicated itineraries of yesteryear, it’s a not-so-minor miracle that leisure travel is even possible at all in 2020. 

And for that, we should be very grateful. 

Flights

  Approved ATB flights
 
To HKG SQ890 (0735/1120)* CX734 (1500/1900)
To SIN SQ891 (1230/1630)^ CX759 (0910/1300)
*Exceptions: 22 Nov 1000/1400, 23 Nov 0800/1145
^Exceptions: 23 Nov 1255/1655

Normally, this section would be all about mixing and matching different airlines, exploring alternative frequent flyer programs, and brainstorming creative routings. 

But the equation is extremely straightforward this time round. The ATB has two airlines, one flight per day, and zero award space (at least not at the time I booked; it’s since opened up a bit). 

As soon as the news broke on 11 November about approved ATB flights, I rushed over to the Singapore Airlines website to book a seat on the inaugural. Thankfully, there were still seats for sale (I was worried they might block off the entire flight for media and dignitaries), and I snapped up an Economy Class ticket with cash. 

The total cost was S$571.80, but I managed to offset S$400 with the air travel credit on my AMEX Platinum Charge

SQ890/891 is operated by an Airbus A350-900, which I’ve flown many times before. But the pandemic puts a whole new spin on things, which is why you can look forward to a review of…

SIN-HKG: Singapore Airlines A350-900 Economy Class

Singapore Airlines has 187 Economy Class seats in a 3-3-3 layout on its A350-900s, but what’s less clear is exactly the type of seat you can expect on these planes. 

Singapore Airlines has 26 long-haul configured A350-900s, of which 21 (-SMA to SMU) have the 2013 Economy Class seat, and five (SMV, SMW, SMY, SMZ, SJA) have the 2017 Economy Class seat.

The 2013 Economy Class seat is identical to what you’ll find on the B777-300ERs. IFE is touchscreen and comes with a touchscreen controller; each seat has a power outlet and USB port (protip: keep your devices fully charged en route to Hong Kong, because you’ve got a 4-6 hour wait for test results and there’s no guarantee there’ll be enough outlets in the waiting area for everyone). 

Singapore Airlines 2013 Economy Class Seat | Photo credit: TPG

The 2017 Economy Class seat is identical to what you’ll find on the B787-10. Features wise, it’s quite similar to the 2013 seat except that it doesn’t have an IFE controller at all (unless you’re in the bulkhead seats)- the only way of controlling the IFE is via the seatback mounted touchscreen. 

Singapore Airlines 2017 Economy Class Seat

There’s no real way of knowing which aircraft SIA will assign to this route, since the switch to an A350-900 only happens on the day of the inaugural itself (SQ890/891 is currently flown by a B787-10). 

The other interesting thing is that Singapore Airlines does not appear to be blocking seats for social distancing. If I were so inclined, I could select a middle seat in Economy, with passengers to my left and right.

It remains to be seen if they do onboard reallocations, however, and in any case, since a maximum of 200 out of 253 seats will be filled on this flight, I might yet get an empty seat next to me.

HKG-SIN: Singapore Airlines A350-900 Business Class

I thought it’d be good to review both the Economy and Business Class “new normal” experiences, so I paid 25,000 KrisFlyer miles to upgrade my return leg to Business Class.

Now, for the record, I don’t think it’s a good idea to buy an Economy Class ticket and pay the miles to upgrade it. For perspective, a full redemption of a one-way Business Class Saver award from Hong Kong to Singapore costs 30,500 miles, so my upgrade required 80% of the miles for a full redemption, plus a cash outlay of S$571.80! It’s clearly poor value, and I wouldn’t dream of doing it if not for review purposes. 

Why not just redeem a Business Class ticket outright from HKG-SIN, you ask? Award space only opened up after I bought my round-trip Economy Class ticket, so I didn’t have a choice.

It’s still much better than the nonsensical bids that Singapore Airlines’ upgrade platform is coming up with though. The minimum bid to upgrade from Economy to Business Class is an astounding 30,870 miles. That’s more than the cost of an full redemption, and it doesn’t even guarantee you anything!

While there’s some ambiguity about what Economy Class seat I’ll have on the outbound leg, the inbound leg will definitely be the good ol’ 2013 Business Class seat, which goes full flat with all aisle access. 

2013 Business Class Seat
2013 Business Class Seat

Lounges

SATS Premier Lounge, Changi Airport Terminal 3

Since I’m flying Economy Class out of Singapore, I won’t have access to the SilverKris Lounge at Changi Airport. 

The alternative option at Terminal 3 would be the SATS Premier Lounge, which isn’t what you’d call life-changing, but is the only game in town right now (the Marhaba and Ambassador Transit lounges are closed). 

SATS Premier Lounge Changi Terminal 3 | Photo Credit: Points Hacks

Plaza Premium Lounge, Hong Kong International Airport

The SilverKris Lounge in Hong Kong is currently closed, and Singapore Airlines Business Class passengers are instead invited to the Plaza Premium Lounge.

Plaza Premium Lounge, Hong Kong Airport
Plaza Premium Lounge, Hong Kong Airport

I remember this lounge was packed the last time I visited Hong Kong, with long lines spilling out the entrance. I imagine it’ll be a lot more empty this time round, which should make for easier photos.

Sadly neither the Plaza Premium First Lounge nor the Centurion Lounge will be open. 

Hotels

Gateway Hotel

Gateway Hotel Hong Kong
Gateway Hotel Hong Kong

My flight lands at 2 p.m on the first day, but I’ve been warned that COVID-19 testing may take 4-6 hours to complete. If so, that means I could only be out of the airport in the evening, and the day is pretty much gone.

Therefore I didn’t want to spend too much on the first night’s accommodation, and settled on the Gourmet Getaway package at the Gateway Hotel. This costs HK$989 nett (S$170 nett) per night, but rebates HK$600 (S$104) in F&B credit.

I’ll also be entitled to a guaranteed 10 a.m check-in (not that it does me a lot of good), 4 p.m check-out and a room upgrade, plus GHA Black benefits and another local experience for staying at a new brand (Marco Polo Hotels). 

Superior Room, Gateway Hotel Hong Kong
Gateway Hotel Hong Kong Superior Room

The base category room here measures 37 sqm in size, with Queen-sized beds and bathtubs. 

The Langham, Hong Kong

The Langham, Hong Kong
The Langham, Hong Kong

The following day, I’ll move across the road from the Gateway to The Langham Hong Kong

In case you’re not familiar with the Langham brand, it’s a Hong Kong based luxury hotel operator with just over 30 properties worldwide. The brand’s heritage dates back to 1865, when the Langham London opened as Europe’s first “Grand Hotel” (yes, that’s an actual term) boasting hot and cold running water, hydraulic lifts, and an early form of air-conditioning. 

I used my AMEX Platinum Charge to book a Fine Hotels & Resorts (FHR) rate of just S$229.60 nett, which includes a US$100 (~S$135) F&B credit. That brings the overall cost to below S$100, fantastic value for a hotel of this caliber (not to mention the other FHR benefits like a room upgrade, early check-in/late check-out and breakfast). 

Superior Courtyard Room
The Langham, Hong Kong Superior Courtyard Room

The base category here is a measures in at 32 sqm, with bathtubs standard in every room. 

Cordis Hotel Hong Kong

Cordis Hong Kong
Cordis Hong Kong

On the final night, I’ll be visiting the Cordis Hong Kong in Mongkok on a media invite from the hotel’s team.

The Cordis Hotels and Resorts brand is under the Langham umbrella (see above), and focuses on affordable luxury. That’s not to say it’s down market by any means; it’s still a 5-Star establishment with full-fledged facilities and a two-Michelin Star restaurant. 

Cordis Hong Kong Club Studio
Cordis Hong Kong Club Studio

I’ll be staying in a Club Studio room that measures 40 sqm and comes with club lounge access. Reviews look pretty excellent (the hotel ranks #10 on TripAdvisor’s Hong Kong list), and that heated rooftop pool should be nice on a chilly evening. 

Cordis Hong Kong swimming pool
Cordis Hong Kong swimming pool

Conclusion

While [email protected] and Restaurant A380 were fun, they’re mere cosplay compared to the real thing. Even if flying now comes with swabs, health declarations and masks, it’s still flying, and 2020 has shown us we shouldn’t take that for granted.

The inaugural flight on 22 November departs at 10 a.m, notably later than the 7.35 a.m schedule for subsequent ATB flights. I can only surmise they’re going to have some sort of pre-boarding festivities, and can’t wait to see what’s in store. 

It’s good to be flying again. 

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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Seb

Where are you planning on getting the pre-flight COVID testing done in Singapore?

Amos

Wish I was there. As much as the thought may be ridiculed at this time, and while I’ve never had HKG on my top 3 destinations, I miss the sounds, the smells, and the aroma of winter air in HKG – not to mention my #1 all time favourite of dry braised beef noodles and congee.

Did I mention I miss the smell of jet fuel too?

Ben

Are you one of those potato eaters, Aaron. And don’t speak Chinese. Makes the people think you are Chinese. Either English or Cantonese.

James Low

Thanks for braving the uncertainties for the sake of a set of I’m sure comprehensive reviews. For the lesser mortals like me, will await to travel with you through yr vivid words and pictures.

Alian

Cordis is one of my Fav hotels and stayed there many times. The Ming court is pretty good recommendation especially the Ying and Yang menu. The hotel pool is heated in winter, the spa and gym is awesome too and being on the top floor the view is great. All in the heart of Mong Kok with great food and shopping. Have fun

darn it I’m super jealous

Cindy

Thought of upgrade but read Book the Cook service will not be available for flights from Hong Kong effective 17 February 2020 so not really worth right?

Kel

wow, you will enjoy staying at Cordis. I stay at Cordis all the time whenever I visit HK. You can try out the steam bath and sauna in the morning.

love the smell of the hotel lobby and it’s located at the heart of Mongkok. Many good food near by and the food at Ming court is good.

during Christmas Eve the restaurant serves foie gras for buffet. Heading there for Christmas Eve via sq, can’t wait!!

Gary

Have a good trip.

Do you notice is there any ticket refund in case the travel bubble has to be halted?

Gallen

Bloomberg:
Hong Kong Virus Cases Surge Again as City Sees ‘Fourth Wave’
Jump in infections threatens air travel bubble with Singapore
Officials report 21 new local cases Friday, most since Aug. 26

TS77

Has any EP holder managed to get the right to return to Singapore? MoM seem to be saying that the application can only happen when the EP holder lands in HK, the ATB makes no difference.

Travel seems a 2021 dream.

invisible

With these conditions one should be prepared that your travel ends up to be one way ticket.

I am waiting until end of March to fly to US and get my vaccine shot there. If I can return – great, if not – well, would be the reason to start life again.

invisible

It would be really funny if after departing the bubble is cancelled and all returned travelers are obligated to serve SHN at the dedicated hotels and charged $2500 for that.

Yang

That is why they decide to delay the start instead.

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