Fare hacking: How to buy Business Class tickets to Europe from S$1,000

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Cheap Business Class fares can be made even cheaper through a combination of Travel with OCBC and CardUp. Here's how.

Europe has emerged as a surprising sweet spot for Business Class fares out of Singapore during the pandemic period. Just a few months ago, we were seeing some insane deals that started as low as S$1,400 round-trip, about the price you’d pay for an Economy Class ticket pre-COVID!

While we’ve yet to see a return of such deals in 2022, one pattern I’ve noticed is that you can reliably find return Business Class fares to Europe between the S$2,000 to S$2,500 mark. This may not be as sensational as what we saw previously, but there’s a way of bringing them down even further. 

Now, a caveat before we begin: this trick only works for those with an OCBC VOYAGE or OCBC 90N Mastercard, and who have a good-sized amount of bills to pay. 

But assuming that’s not an issue, here’s the three-step process to buy return Business Class tickets from just over S$1,000.

(1) Find a cheap Business Class fare

Turkish Airlines B787 Business Class

The first thing to do is find a good value Business Class fare, and for this task, Google Flights’ Explore feature is your friend.

Select “Business”, set the price filter to S$2,500 (or whatever you’re willing to pay), and enter your proposed travel dates (if you’re flexible and just want the cheapest fares, select “1-week trip in the next 6 months”).

You can then move the map around and explore your options. Here’s some interesting ones I found (all quotes are for round-trip Business Class):

DestinationAirlineFare
AthensGulf AirS$1,837
MilanTurkish AirlinesS$2,173
CopenhagenQatar AirwaysS$2,310
VeniceQatar AirwaysS$2,313
BarcelonaTurkish AirlinesS$2,331
ZurichTurkish AirlinesS$2,335
RomeTurkish AirlinesS$2,337
GenevaTurkish AirlinesS$2,422
OsloTurkish AirlinesS$2,433
MunichTurkish AirlinesS$2,495

Most of these options are with Qatar Airways or Turkish Airlines. Apart from fares, how else should we be weighing up the two? Well, Qatar Airways arguably has a superior Business Class product to Turkish Airlines, but if you’re planning to fly in the next couple of months, I’d say Turkish Airlines has the advantage thanks to VTL status. 

If you’re planning to book a Turkish Airlines ticket, make sure you select the Sunday TK54 service from Istanbul to Singapore. Fly on any other day, and you’ll enter Singapore under Category II rules (i.e. a 7-day SHN at home). 

Qatar’s proposed addition to the VTL scheme on 6 December 2021 ended up getting postponed due to concerns about the Omicron variant. No new date has been announced for the launch, though I’d be very surprised if it didn’t happen by the end of March. 

In other words, so long as you’re planning to fly from Q2 2022 onwards, I’d feel more comfortable about picking Qatar Airways. We don’t know yet which QR flights from Doha to Singapore will be designated as VTL services, but Qatar Airways is offering unlimited free changes to all tickets until 30 September 2022. 

🌍Reminder: Europe VTL countries
  • Netherlands
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • Turkey
  • United Kingdom

Now, these obviously aren’t as good as the S$1,400 ones we saw on Etihad and Turkish Airlines last year, but paying S$2,000-2,500 for a return Business Class ticket to Europe, all things considered, isn’t terrible. 

Besides, it’s about to get a lot better. 

(2) Check out how many Travel$/ VOYAGE Miles you need via Travel with OCBC

Travel with OCBC

I recently wrote about Travel with OCBC, a platform that allows you to redeem Travel$ and VOYAGE Miles for flights at excellent rates. 

When you book tickets via Travel with OCBC, you’re basically buying a cash fare, which means no blackout dates, no capacity restrictions, instant confirmation, and the ability to accrue miles and elite status credits.

The main difference is that you can use your Travel$/VOYAGE Miles to pay, and Travel with OCBC offers a superb 2.52 cents per Travel$/VOYAGE Mile valuation for Business Class fares.

Value per point for airfares on Travel via OCBC
 Travel$VOYAGE MilesOCBC$
Economy0.870.900.36
Premium Economy1.221.350.36
Business2.522.520.36
First2.883.060.36
Valuations are accurate as of date of publishing and may be subject to change in the future

These were positioned as “introductory” rates that were supposed to be nerfed from 1 December 2021- but for reasons unknown to me, that nerfing hasn’t happened yet (not that I’m complaining!).

To help fully appreciate how amazing a 2.52 cents per Travel$/VOYAGE Mile valuation is, let’s take one of the fares we found in the previous step: Singapore to Barcelona. Travel with OCBC is pricing this out at S$2,419 (slightly more expensive than Google Flights at S$2,331), but if you paid entirely with Travel$, you’ll pay 95,718 Travel$/VOYAGE Miles instead (partial cash/points payments are possible too).

For perspective, you’d need 184,000 KrisFlyer miles + S$105 in taxes to redeem a similar ticket on Singapore Airlines. Given that 1 Travel$= 1 KrisFlyer mile, you’re paying ~50% of the miles normally required, and saving on the cash component! 

For argument’s sake, you could also redeem that same itinerary in Business Class on Turkish Airlines for 90,000 miles, but you’d be looking at almost S$900 of fuel surcharges and taxes, be subject to award space constraints, and also earn no miles or elite status credits.

Now, I know it’s not a straight-up comparison because in one instance you fly with Singapore Airlines and in another with Turkish, but consider that when you book the Turkish Airlines option, you:

  • Can choose whatever date you want
  • Get instant confirmation, with no waitlisting
  • Earn miles and elite status credits from your flight

(3) Acquire Travel$/ VOYAGE Miles

This is all good and well if you have a big stash of Travel$/ VOYAGE Miles handy, but what if you don’t? Well, so long as we can generate them for less than 2.52 cents each, we should be looking at some savings. 

The best way of going about this is with a service like CardUp. 

What is CardUp?
CardUp is a bill payment platform that allows users to pay rent, income tax, insurance premiums, MCST fees, season parking, mortgage installments and more with their credit card, earning miles in the process. 

For example, paying rent on CardUp with a 1.79% fee and an OCBC Premier VOYAGE (1.6 mpd) would generate miles at just 1.1 cents per mile. So those 95,718 VOYAGE Miles we saw in the previous section would cost about S$1,053; one heck of a cheap Business Class ticket! 

Even in a more modest scenario where you’re paying CardUp’s usual 2.25% fee with an OCBC 90N Mastercard (1.2 mpd), the cost per mile is 1.83 cents, and that ticket would cost you S$1,752– still very good. 

The table below shows the cost per mile (cpm, in cents) for different sorts of CardUp payments, depending on what OCBC card you use. The figure in brackets is how much you’d actually pay, assuming a round-trip Business Class ticket costs 96,000 Travel$/VOYAGE Miles (i.e. retail value of ~S$2,400). 

Assumption: 96,000 Travel$/VOYAGE Miles required
 1.2 mpd
(90N MC)
1.3 mpd
(regular VOYAGE)
1.6 mpd
(Premier, PPC, BOS VOYAGE)
Rent (1.79%)
SAVERENT179
1.47 cpm
(S$1,407)
1.35 cpm
(S$1,299)
1.10 cpm
(S$1,055)
Recurring Payments (1.85%)
RECURRING185
1.51 cpm
(S$1,453)
1.40 cpm
(S$1,341)
1.14 cpm
(S$1,090)
All other payments (2.25%)
GET225
1.83 cpm
(S$1,760)
1.69 cpm
(S$1,625)
1.38 cpm
(S$1,320)

If this is your first CardUp payment, you can use the promo code MILELION to save S$30 off your first payment, no minimum spend required. This works out to free miles on a payment of up to S$1,154, or about 1,840 free VOYAGE Miles (assuming a 1.6 mpd earn rate). 

Now, I’m fully aware that even with an earn rate of 1.6 mpd, you’d need to make S$60,000 worth of payments to accumulate 96,000 VOYAGE Miles. That’s no small amount, but CardUp does support a very wide range of payment, and if all else fails, there’s a miscellaneous category which covers legal fees, renovations, event services and “purchases of goods and services”. 

CardUp will require an official tax invoice (with the UEN and bank account details of the issuer stated) to approve the payment. 

Conclusion

Turkish Airlines B787 Business Class

Business Class fares to Europe are hovering around the S$2,000 to S$2,500 mark, and if you have an OCBC 90N Mastercard or OCBC VOYAGE, there’s an opportunity to cut the price even further via a combination of Travel with OCBC and CardUp. 

The only caveat I’d give is that Travel with OCBC may change its redemption rates at any time, so it’s a good idea to make your bookings as soon as those Travel$/VOYAGE Miles come into your account. 

(Cover photo: The Points Guy)

Aaron Wong
Aaron Wong
Aaron founded The Milelion to help people travel better for less and impress chiobu. He was 50% successful.

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Nicole

Must the tickets be under the OCBC account holder, or for anyone?

JW19

Under equal footing I would say TK ticket would be more valuable than QR knowing that you will get the full fat J experience rather than the watered down no lounge experience QR are now selling

kevin

is it only worth it for Europe flights ?
i tried flights to australia and prices seems ex

Scorchio

I came to find out that even though they’re cash fares, somehow they are cheaper and have less inventory than voyage concierge.

In my experience I couldn’t book a flight on Travel With OCBC and the team confirmed that there was no inventory for that flight, yet for the same tickets I was quoted a higher miles requirement and managed to redeem them via Voyage Concierge.

Noile lim

Can the tickets accrue miles if they are bought at Travel with OCBC?

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