At long last, SHN-free travel has become a realistic option for Singapore residents with the upcoming Vaccinated Travel Lanes (or VTL; I need to keep reminding myself not to type VPL).
From 8 September 2021, fully vaccinated passengers arriving from Germany will be exempt from SHN, provided they have spent the last 21 days in Singapore and/or Germany. They will instead undergo a series of PCR tests:
- Within 48 hours before departure in Germany
- On arrival in Singapore
- On Day 3 in Singapore
- On Day 7 in Singapore
Singapore residents are already exempt from quarantine in Germany, so this represents the first truly quarantine-free arrangement ever since Singapore closed its borders in March 2020.
No prizes for guessing who booked his tickets within 15 minutes of the announcement.
Munich Game Plan
I want to be on one of the inaugural VTL flights from Germany (remember: there’s no such thing as a VTL flight to Germany; the scheme is for people entering Singapore), which means I have to head over before the 8 September commencement.
|✈ Inaugural VTL flights|
|From Frankfurt||From Munich|
7 September 2021 (Tue)
Arrive: 1625 (+1)
8 September 2021 (Wed)
Arrive: 0705 (+1)
As it stands I’ll be leaving Singapore for Munich on 5 September 0030 and returning to Singapore on 9 September 0705. Deduct the flight time, and I’ll have just under 80 hours there.
I know that’s short, but at the end of the day it’s basically a work trip and I’m flying solo. My goals are to experience the VTL process, investigate the situation in Germany, and write all about it. The holiday can come later.
In any case, I have prior obligations. 1 & 2 September is blocked for the opening of Oasia Resort Sentosa, 3 September is set aside for cell group (when you’re doing Habakkuk, missing one session means a third of the book), there’s no flight to Munich on 4 September, so the earliest really is 5 September.
Think of me as the advance party. I’m going to recce and report, and in that vein, I need your input on what you’d be most interested to read about.
I’ll of course be doing all the usual trip report stuff: reviews of the airport lounges & flights (even if I’ve done it all before, the post-COVID experience will surely be different), hotels and whatnot.
Beyond that however, the VTL and COVID in general present some unique aspects. Some things I’ll be addressing in my series of articles include:
- What are COVID-19 restrictions in Germany like (rules on mask wearing, maximum group sizes, testing, entertainment, vaccine passes)?
- What is the impact on tourist attractions and restaurants?
- How do you get a PCR test done in Germany?
- What is the VTL post-arrival process in Singapore like?
I realise that restrictions differ by state, which is why I’m low-key toying with the idea of flying into Frankfurt instead and then traveling over to Munich- this would have the added advantage of being able to review the domestic travel situation in Germany.
I’m on the fence, but if that’s something you’d find useful do let me know.
Booking VTL flights from Munich
Once again, there’s no such thing as a VTL flight “to” Munich; the VTL scheme refers to passengers coming to Singapore. You can take any flight you wish from Singapore to Germany; so long as you’re fully vaccinated, it won’t impact your eligibility for quarantine-free travel (unless you pass through an area with variants of concern- an empty list as of today).
There’s no reason not to fly direct though, since getting to Munich isn’t that big an issue. Singapore Airlines has a good amount of Business Saver space available from September to December on SQ328, the sole flight between the two cities.
It’s the return leg that’s slightly trickier. You can find Business Saver space from Munich to Singapore…if you don’t take the VTL flight. Remember, SQ331 is only a VTL flight on Mondays and Wednesdays. Notice below how Friday and Sunday awards cost 92,000 miles, while Monday and Wednesday awards cost 120,000 miles.
From what I can see, Singapore Airlines is blocking Saver space on VTL flights for everyone except PPS/Solitaire PPS Club members. I’m just a lowly Elite Silver, but my dad managed to book a Saver ticket on my behalf using the redemption nominee feature, thereby saving 28,000 miles (too bad I’m too old for family pooling!)
The total cost, therefore, was 184,000 KrisFlyer miles +S$188.90 of taxes. You don’t reckon Munich will appear on Spontaneous Escapes anytime soon, do you?
If you don’t have the miles, the good news is that ticket prices to Germany haven’t spiked the way they did with the Hong Kong ATB. I don’t know if it’s because Germany doesn’t lend itself to short trips, or is more expensive than Hong Kong (is it?), or if fewer people have relatives there, but sub-S$1,000 return fares are very much available still.
I realise I haven’t even addressed the question of why Munich over Frankfurt. No particular reason, honestly. I’ve been to both, and my sense is that Munich is more for tourists while Frankfurt is more of a business city.
I know that the Frankfurt VTL flight is operated by a B777-300ER with First Class, but that cabin is not open for award redemptions anyway. If/when that changes, I might do a separate trip to Frankfurt.
I’ve got a good-sized chunk of Accor, Hilton and Marriott points to burn, which means plenty of accommodation options in Munich.
Unfortunately, I don’t see too much to get me excited- it’s mostly Novotels, Ibis, Mercure, and garden-variety Hiltons and Marriotts. The highest-end chain option is the Sofitel Munich Bayerpost (~S$380/night).
So maybe it’s time to venture elsewhere, in which case the following caught my eye (based on nothing more than TripAdvisor reviews mind):
- Design Hotel Stadt Rosenheim (S$216/night)
- Hotel Munchen Palace (S$316/night)
- Andaz Munich Schwabinger Tor (S$383/night)
- Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten Kempinski (S$600/night)
I’ll also be checking out HoteLux rates and if any seasoned travellers have Munich hotel recommendations, I’m all ears.
More research to come…
The biggest safety precaution that anyone can take for a trip like this is to be vaccinated, and it’s anyways a pre-requisite for VTL travel.
Beyond that, I’ll be purchasing travel insurance with specific coverage for COVID-19 related medical expenses. I’ve also learned that Great Eastern is offering a complimentary post-vaccination protection plan that provides up to S$2,000 of hospitalisation coverage in Singapore and overseas, which can’t hurt to have (that said, this shouldn’t be your only coverage for overseas COVID-19 related medical expenses).
I’m aware of the reports that Germany is now entering a fourth wave fuelled by the Delta variant, and while that’s concerning, we need to remember it’s about outcomes rather than cases per se. 64% of the German population has received at least one vaccination dose, and hospital admissions are currently at a low level. I’ll be monitoring the news in any case, and trust that the Singapore authorities will act as needed if the risk becomes unacceptably high.
While I’m in Germany, the plan is to be in the hotel or outdoors as much as possible, dining al-fresco instead of indoors, avoiding crowds and perhaps opting for taxis over public transport. Ultimately, however, vaccination is still the best defence. I’m actually more concerned about the inconvenience involved with testing positive, rather than serious illness per se.
I suppose we also need to address the elephant in the room: anti-Asian sentiment. It’s no secret that Chinese-looking individuals have been targeted for racial abuse and violence during this period, and well, I’m a Chinese-looking individual.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried at all, but it’s also good to put things into context: 99.999% of the people you meet will either be friendly or indifferent towards you. And of the small number who are antipathetic, an even smaller percentage will actually translate that into violence or abuse. It can (and does) happen, but I’m not going to let that turn me into a recluse.
So the usual precautions apply: don’t attract attention, and safety in numbers. On that note, if any Milelioners happen to be in Munich at the time, I’d be glad to grab a drink or something.
In the weeks to come I’ll be getting more pre-departure research done, particularly regarding COVID-19 restrictions in Germany and testing options over there.
Once again, if there’s anything you’d be interested in reading about, do let me know and I’ll see if it can be worked into the itinerary.