While the addition of eight European and North American countries to the VTL scheme was no doubt a cause for celebration, I tend to think it was the announcement of South Korea that caused Singapore Airlines’ website, service centre and phone lines to collectively meltdown.
After all, there’s no country that quite captures the Singapore imagination like Korea. It speaks volumes that despite our small size, Singaporeans were the 12th largest group of visitors to Korea pre-COVID, with Seoul ranking as the 4th most popular destination for Singaporean travellers in 2019.
I’ll be upfront with you: I’m far from a true believer. My knowledge of Korean pop culture is limited to rhetorical questions concerning where you got that body from, “Squid Game” is something Spongebob does to annoy his neighbour, and at the risk of causing a diplomatic spat, I’m not much for kimchi either.
But the people have spoken, and they have spoken clearly:
Looks like it’s time to get the lowdown on the South Korea VTL.
Seoul Game Plan
|✈ S. Korea VTL Plan|
|To Seoul||To Singapore|
18 Nov 2021 (Thu)
21 Nov 2021 (Sun)
When the South Korea VTL was first announced, I quickly snapped up a seat on the first available flight to Seoul — SQ600 on 16 November (the VTL commences on 15 November but there’s no SIA flight on that day) — only to later realise I wouldn’t actually be able to take it.
That’s because of the requirement that your 14-day travel history before entering South Korea can only consist of Singapore and South Korea, and I’m taking returning on 4 November from a trip to Germany with the Milelioness (trip planning post to come soon).
|✈️ Summary: South Korea VTL
|To South Korea 🇰🇷|
|To Singapore 🇸🇬|
|Full Details: Korea VTL|
|CAAS Summary: SG-ROK VTL
So I rebooked myself on SQ600 on 18 November instead, returning to Singapore on SQ607 on 21 November.
Yes, it’s a short trip, but just like my inaugural VTL voyage to Munich, the mission is to observe and report. I’m there to figure out what the post-COVID situation is like on the ground, what kind of restrictions are in place, and how that affects someone planning an actual holiday there. In other words, everything you need to know.
Now you may have noticed I booked Economy Saver on the outbound. It’s 50% because Business Class was completely unavailable, and 50% because it’s a 6-hour long daytime flight, and it’d be good to review the post-COVID Economy Class experience.
On the return leg I’ve bitten the bullet and paid Business Advantage rates, which believe me, I’m not happy about. Advantage awards from Seoul (70,000 miles) cost ~50% more than Savers (47,000 miles). For comparison, Advantage awards from Europe (120,000 miles) are a much more modest 30% premium over Saver (92,000 miles).
Ah, the things I do for the site…
Since I have close to zero knowledge about the geography of Seoul, I haven’t figured out where to spend my three nights yet.
What I do know is that I could make use of my Hilton Diamond status to stay at:
- Conrad Seoul
- Millennium Hilton Seoul
Alternatively, since I know people with Hyatt Globalist status, I could request them to book a Guest of Honor stay at:
- Andaz Seoul Gangnam
- Grand Hyatt Seoul
- Park Hyatt Seoul
I could burn my Accor Plus free night certificate (courtesy of the AMEX HighFlyer Business Card) in Seoul, but the main options I see are rather uninspiring Novotels.
Surprisingly, there is no GHA hotel in Seoul (or in South Korea for that matter, apart from an Avani in Busan). And since I’m a lowly Marriott Gold, I figure there’s little point in booking stays with them.
Of course I’m open to other ideas too: Four Seasons Seoul? The Shilla? Potential options for spending the AMEX Platinum Charge’s S$400 hotel credit there too.
Here’s where I could use some input from you Koreaphiles- where’s a good place to stay? I’m completely fine with changing hotels every night; in fact, I’ll probably be doing that in order to get more reviews in.
For my previous Munich VTL trip, I purchased travel insurance from Aviva. I paid just S$68 for five days of coverage, thanks to a 30% discount for MINDEF Group Term Life policyholders, and a further 18% off with the code TRAVEL18.
I wanted to do the same this time round, but there’s a problem. The South Korean authorities require travellers to purchase travel insurance with a minimum coverage of 30,000,000 KRW (~S$34,000) for COVID-19-related medical treatment and hospitalisation costs.
Just my luck that Aviva is the only COVID-19 travel insurance policy that falls below this threshold!
|Provider||COVID-19 Medical Expense Coverage|
So I need to think of something else, and I’m leaning towards Sompo’s COVID-19 insurance policy, since it provides a S$100 per day quarantine allowance (important should my pre-departure test in Korea come back positive).
I previously rejected Sompo because it required travellers to take a pre-departure PCR test in Singapore (even if the country you’re travelling to doesn’t require it, like Germany), but that’s not an issue here since South Korea requires it anyway.
To be clear: you only need to buy travel insurance for the intended duration of your trip. If a covered incident occurs that causes an extension to your trip, you will still receive coverage. You can find this in your policy wording under “automatic extensions” or some similar title.
|Example: AXA Smart Traveller|
Your insurance cover will automatically be extended without additional premium for:
(a) up to 30 days if You are Hospitalised (or placed under compulsory quarantine) while Overseas upon the written advice of a Doctor or the local government authority in the case of a Quarantine Order; or
(b) up to 72 hours if You are unable to complete Your trip as planned due to Public Transport delays that are not Your fault.
South Korea COVID-19 restrictions
I’m sure there are many questions about what life is like in South Korea now, and whether it’s even worth visiting with all the restrictions in place.
The best resource I’ve found so far is this summary of social distancing measures (Seoul is currently under Level 4 restrictions), which says that gathering sizes are limited, restaurants and entertainment facilities don’t operate past 10 p.m, and amusement parks are limited to 50% capacity.
I’m still researching the topic further, and aim to provide some answers to the following:
- What are COVID-19 restrictions in South Korea 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 South Korea?
- What happens if you test positive in South Korea?
My goal is to come up with something similar to the two posts below. The first one is a summary of the various rules and restrictions, the second is my firsthand experience with them.
My last visit to Seoul came in 2016 as part of my 2016 RTW trip. I stayed at the Westin Chosun and W Walkerhill (no longer part of the chain) since I was an SPG Platinum, and spent most of my time in the hotel room working.
There’ll be more time for shenanigans this time round, so let me know what you’re keen to read about or what questions you have about the South Korea VTL.
What questions would you like this trip report to answer about the South Korea VTL?