|Update: Singapore and Hong Kong have now officially announced the resumption of the ATB. Refer to this post for the full details.|
After an ill-fated launch and numerous subsequent delays, the Singapore – Hong Kong ATB is finally set to get underway. According to a report by Bloomberg, the highly-anticipated travel bubble will commence on 26 May 2021. The original announcement was supposed to have been made last week, but was reportedly postponed by the Singapore side.
Under the agreement, quarantine-free travel between the two cities will be permitted for any purpose, including leisure. A limited number of flights will operate during the first month, with an increase set for 26 June 2021 if the COVID-19 situation remains stable on both sides.
Will vaccinations be required?
When ATB discussions resumed in March, the Hong Kong authorities suggested that vaccinations would be mandatory for Hong Kong residents travelling to Singapore. It stands to reason that the same requirement will apply in reverse, and if so, the ATB will be off-limits to most Singapore residents for now.
Singapore residents under the age of 45 will only have access to the vaccine from June, and the ~1 month time lag between the first jab and full effectiveness would rule out ATB travel for most Singaporeans until July at least.
|Dose 1||Dose 1|
|▼ +21 days||▼ +28 days|
|Dose 2||Dose 2|
|▼ +14 days||▼ +14 days|
|Fully Vaccinated||Fully Vaccinated|
|Total time ≥ 35 days||Total time ≥ 42 days|
What about COVID-19 testing?
Regardless of whether vaccinations are required, testing will certainly be. As per the previous arrangement, travelers from Singapore could expect to do three to four COVID-19 PCR tests:
|#1||Pre-departure in Singapore||S$135-200|
|#2||Post-arrival in Hong Kong||HK$499|
|#3||Pre-departure in Hong Kong*||HK$240-2,000|
|#4||Post-arrival in Singapore||S$160|
|*This test is not required if your return flight from Hong Kong is within 72 hours of your second test|
The good news is that the cost of testing has fallen in Singapore. When the ATB was first announced, a test would cost around S$200. Now, the prices have dropped to as low as S$135, with further decreases likely to follow. Four tests will still cost you a lot of money (at least S$420 by my estimate), but it’s simply part and parcel of getting on a plane right now.
What flights will be available?
Under the previous ATB arrangement, Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific were to kick off the ATB with one flight per day in each direction. The plans called for an increase to two flights per day after two weeks, but well, we never got that far.
At the moment, Singapore Airlines only operates a single flight to Hong Kong, SQ 882. I’d wager that this will become the ATB flight, unless they decide to add an entirely different one.
For the moment, airfares are still a relatively reasonable S$557 for a round-trip journey in Economy Class, although I’ve been monitoring this route and they have increased from the S$340 or so I saw a few weeks ago (those were Economy Lite tickets though, while S$557 is for an Economy Standard fare).
As we saw during the last ATB, that’s liable to spike even further once things become official. Singapore Airlines is anyways offering unlimited free rebookings for tickets issued by 30 June 2021, so if you’re set on going to Hong Kong, it might be worth a punt (keep in mind you’ll still have to pay the fare differences though, which could be substantial).
As for award space, it’s still possible to find Economy Saver awards on SQ 882 on 26 May and the days after. Again, this will probably disappear in record time should the bubble be confirmed (but may reappear later), so you’ll have to decide whether you’re in a gambling mood.
Business Class awards are all waitlisted from 26 May onwards; perhaps a sign that someone knows more than they’re letting on…
If you’re willing to wait till June, however, then there’s even the prospect of flying in First Class…provided you’re willing to pay Advantage prices. As I wrote about last week, Singapore Airlines is bringing back First Class from June 2021 on selected routes including Hong Kong, operated by its B777-300ER aircraft (no Suites, sadly).
For those looking to fly with Cathay Pacific instead, the earliest date you can choose is 27 May. Cathay’s current schedule calls for flights to Singapore on alternating days, although they’d presumably be keen to ramp that up once the bubble is launched.
Will travel insurance cover my trip?
During the initial bubble, the stance was that travelers who contract COVID-19 would need to bear the full cost of any medical treatment, subject to prevailing medical and healthcare policies.
There are two possible scenarios that can happen:
- You test positive for COVID-19 after returning to Singapore, in which case your regular medical insurance kicks in
- You test positive for COVID-19 while in Hong Kong, in which case your travel insurance provides coverage
Let’s look at options for the latter.
Singapore Airlines passengers can opt to purchase the airline’s travel insurance (underwritten by AIG), which includes coverage for COVID-19 related medical expenses and emergency evacuation. This is provided the passenger is traveling under a pre-agreed official agreement like the ATB.
The policy covers up to S$350,000 of medical expenses and evacuation, and provides a daily allowance of up to S$200 (S$100 for Hong Kong specifically) should you test positive for COVID-19 while overseas and be placed into mandatory quarantine.
Alternatively, Cathay Pacific provides all passengers with free COVID-19 coverage (underwritten by AXA), provided their travel dates are on or before 31 May 2021. This has the potential to be further extended, so keep an eye out.
Overseas medical expenses are covered up to US$200,000, while evacuation is covered at actual cost. An overseas quarantine allowance of US$100 per day is also payable.
Travelers can also opt for third-party insurance policies from the following underwriters, which explicitly cover COVID-19:
You’ll want to read the policy wording of each carefully for coverage and exclusions.
The COVID-19 situation in Hong Kong appears to be under control at the moment, with the 7-day moving average of unknown source cases at a mere 1.29. In Singapore, the latest report shows no community or dormitory cases, so fingers crossed this works out.
If Bloomberg’s report is right, we should have more details tomorrow, including travel procedures, testing regimes, ATB flights and vaccination requirements. Stay tuned.