Cabin downgraded on Singapore Airlines: Now what?

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Singapore Airlines' upcoming winter schedule has thrown a spanner into the works of some travellers. Here's what to do if you've been downgraded.

Singapore Airlines recently announced some schedule changes for the Northern Winter season, boosting flights to Japan and India, while increasing Los Angeles and Paris services to twice daily and 12x weekly respectively. This comes on the back of strong demand, with capacity estimated to reach 81% of pre-pandemic levels by end-December.

While that’s good news for some, others will be less happy. The reshuffle has had a knock-on effect on other flights, and the aircraft musical chairs has resulted in some passengers getting downgraded from their original cabin. There’s been several reports of this in the Telegram Group, as well as a dedicated Flyertalk thread.

If you’re on the receiving end of a downgrade, here’s what’s going on, and what your options are.

The “Flight Update” email

The news of a downgrade is presented rather innocuously, in the form of an email with the subject line “SQXXX” Flight Update”. It’s so innocuous you might even miss the punchline if you’re not paying close attention.

Here’s an email a reader received regarding a change to his SQ326 flight from Frankfurt.

The timing change is plain to see, but what’s not mentioned is the cabin change. SQ326, formerly operated by a B777-300ER with First Class seats, is now operated by an A350-900 that maxes out at Business Class.

It’s only after clicking the “accept” button that a second email is generated showing the downgrade.

We regret to inform you that due to operational requirements, we are unable to provide you with the original seat and/or cabin class that you have selected.

….

If there has been a change in your cabin class, we will be contacting you to assist with your bookings. We seek your patience as we will be contacting affected customers progressively.

For urgent requests for bookings made directly via the Singapore Airlines website, mobile app, reservation hotline or local office, please contact your local Singapore Airlines office. For bookings made through a travel agent or partner airline, please contact them directly for assistance.

Please be informed that rebooking to your original seat and/or cabin class is subject to availability.

Needless to say, this is very, very poor UX. While the first email may be a generic notification used for all sorts of changes, it’s a rude shock for customers to click “accept” and find that there’s a cabin downgrade lurking too. I’d wager that cabin downgrades hit just as hard (if not harder) than any schedule change, and as such they need to be prominently signposted. 

It’s something that needs immediate fixing, and I sure hope the relevant teams are looking at it.

Why is this happening?

Only a handful of Singapore Airlines aircraft offer a First Class cabin

To understand what’s going on, you first need to understand the different types of aircraft in the Singapore Airlines fleet.

✈️ Singapore Airlines Fleet
 FJPYY
A350-900 (ULR)  
A350-900 (LH) 
A350-900 (MH)  
A380-800
B737-8  
B737-800  
B777-300ER
B787-10  
F= First, J= Business, PY= Premium Economy, Y= Economy
ULR= Ultra-long range, serving the non-stop routes to EWR, JFK, SFO
LH= Long-haul (2013J seat, row 22 is last row of Business Class)
MH= Medium-haul (2018RJ seat, row 21 is last row of Business Class)

While all Singapore Airlines flights have Business and Economy Class, First and Premium Economy Class are only offered on selected aircraft:

  • Suites/First Class: A380-800, B777-300ER
  • Premium Economy: A350-900ULR, A350-900LH, A380-800, B777-300ER

Therefore, what’s happened is that the aircraft operating your flight been swapped to a different type, without the cabin you originally booked.

For example, the boosting of Paris services requires more B777-300ERs, which need to come from somewhere. These get taken off routes like Frankfurt and London, to be replaced by A350-900s without First Class cabins.

⚠️ Equipment downgrades are not downgrades!

While frequent flyers know that not all seats are made equal, an equipment downgrade does not constitute a downgrade.

For example, if your Business Class flight was originally operated by a B737-8 but got downgraded to a B737-800, you’ve gone from a full-flat seat to a recliner. That’s unfortunate, but as far as Singapore Airlines (and consumer protection laws) sees it, Business Class is Business Class. You might receive some goodwill compensation, but you’re not entitled to anything beyond that.

What should you do?

Singapore Airlines A380 Suites

I looked through Singapore Airlines’ Conditions of Carriage, which interestingly enough is silent regarding the matter of involuntary downgrades.

What I can tell you based on personal experience is that the default behaviour of CSOs is to offer two options: 

  1. Cancel the flight, with a full refund and waiver of any applicable fees
  2. Accept the changes, with a partial refund of the difference in miles and taxes (if any) 

If you opt for (1), that’s the end of the story. 

If you opt for (2), make sure the adjustment is calculated on the basis of the award chart in place at the time of booking (remember: on 5 July, Singapore Airlines devalued the KrisFlyer award chart).

For example, suppose I redeemed 125,000 miles or a First Class Saver award to London before the KrisFlyer devaluation. I’m now downgraded to Business Class. I should be receiving a refund of 33,000 miles, based on the pre-devaluation 92,000 miles cost of a Business Class Saver award to London.

What should not be happening is that I receive a refund of 18,000 miles, based on the post-devaluation 107,000 miles cost of a Business Saver award to London. CSOs need to manually calculate the refund, and some may goof up, so be alert!

Anything beyond options (1) and (2) is a product of negotiation, and here’s where the usual YMMV caveat applies: you’re more likely to get a favourable outcome if you’re a Solitaire PPS Club member than a lowly KrisFlyer member, for example. 

I should also add that the frontline CSOs have only so much discretion. As frustrating as the situation may be, don’t take it out on them. Escalate the matter to a supervisor if necessary, and keep in mind you’re more likely to catch flies with honey than vinegar.

❓ Does EU261 apply?

People have been asking me if EU261 applies in this scenario, and my honest answer is I don’t know. 

What I can tell you is that EU261 applies in the following scenarios:

  • If your flight is within the EU and is operated either by an EU or a non-EU airline
  • If your flight arrives in the EU from outside the EU and is operated by an EU airline
  • If your flight departs from the EU to a non-EU country operated by an EU or a non-EU airline
  • If you have not already received benefits (compensation, re-routing, assistance from the airline) for flight related problems for this journey under the relevant law of a non-EU country.

Note: Norway and Switzerland are not part of the EU, but are still covered under this legislation. The UK has a similar provision.

Therefore, a customer flying SIN-FRA on Singapore Airlines would not be covered, but a customer flying FRA-SIN on Singapore Airlines would be. Compensation for downgrades is:

  1. 30% – flights of 1,500 km or less
  2. 50% – flights within the EU of more than 1,500 km (except flights between the EU and French overseas departments), and all other flights between 1,500 and 3,500 km
  3. 75% – flights not falling under (a) or (b), including flights between the EU and French overseas departments.

There’s two points of uncertainty here. First, while EU261 is equally applicable to flights redeemed with frequent flyer miles, there’s no clear indication on how the downgrade compensation calculation is done. Based on Flyertalk reports, compensation may include a refund in miles, but cash may also be offered.

The second is how much notice invalidates the need for compensation. EU261 compensation for cancellations does not apply if the cancellation is made at least 14 days before departure. However, the legislation is silent on a timeframe for downgrades.

tl;dr: It’s worth enquiring about assuming you meet the eligibility criteria, but I can’t advise as to your chances of success.

Below are some of the things I would propose if I were in this situation. 

Scenario 1: First Class/Premium Economy still available

In some scenarios, First Class/Premium Economy will still be available on the route in question, just not your particular flight.

For example, one reader told me his flight to London had been downgraded from First to Business Class. If I had to guess, he’s on SQ318, which gets swapped from a B777-300ER to an A350-900 starting 30 October 2022. However, there are still other flights to London offering First Class, namely SQ306, SQ308, and SQ322. 

In this case, I would push for Singapore Airlines to reaccommodate me on a same-day flight on a different flight number. 

If no seats are available (and by available, I’m referring to physical capacity, not award capacity- I don’t think passengers should be subject to the vagaries of award space through no fault of their own), then I would look at the same route on different days, or perhaps a nearby destination (within the same award zone) that has a similar cabin.

Scenario 2: First Class/Premium Economy no longer available

If First Class/Premium Economy is no longer available on the route in question, then the options get more straightforward.

I’d tend to accept the downgrade in this case, since it’s genuinely a case of that cabin no longer being available to this destination. You can still try asking for a change to a nearby destination (within the same award zone) that has a similar cabin, but like above it’s a bit of a long shot.

❓ What about reaccommodation on a different airline?

Reaccommodation on a different airline is a trickier question.

Per my understanding, SIA only allows rebooking on a different airline when there are last minute changes and no SIA alternatives available. Given that SIA is swapping aircraft rather than cancelling flights, and given that passengers are getting almost four month’s notice (the changes affect flights from 30 October onwards), I think your chances are close to zero.

Further complications

Multi-leg journeys

Singapore Airlines Premium Economy, A350-900 ULR | Photo: The Points Guy

In all of the above analysis, I’ve assumed that you’re flying out of Singapore. It gets significantly more complicated if you’re flying through Singapore. 

For example, suppose a passenger books FRA-SIN-SYD in Premium Economy, and the SIN-SYD leg gets downgraded to Economy due to an aircraft swap.

Technically speaking (and I know this will infuriate a lot of people) no refund of miles is due. Why? Because there’s no price difference between a FRA-SIN-SYD itinerary in Premium Economy, and a FRA-SIN-SYD itinerary with the first FRA-SIN leg in Premium Economy and the SIN-SYD leg in Economy. 

That sounds counterintuitive, but it’s a by-product of how the KrisFlyer award chart works- the highest cabin determines the pricing of the entire itinerary (in an extreme case, a CGK-SIN-JFK award with CGK-SIN in First and SIN-JFK in Economy would price as a First Class award!)

In an ideal world, they’d do some sort of pro-rated refund of the distance flown in the lower cabin, but you need to be mentally prepared for the CSO to tell you “no dice”. If they go by the book, the only way you’ll receive a refund is if you downgrade the entire journey to the lower cabin, e.g. FRA-SIN in our example above. 

If you’re in this situation, I’d be very interested to know what you’re offered by way of compensation. 

Subsequent aircraft swaps

Given that aircraft rosters aren’t set in stone, it’s not impossible that your aircraft type may change again before you fly. 

In a hypothetical scenario, you may be initially downgraded to an aircraft without First Class or Premium Economy Class, only for a subsequent swap to restore that same aircraft type again!

I have no idea whether this has actually happened to anyone before, but if so I’d say you have every right to ask for a restoration of your original booking, with applicable mileage and tax adjustments. Of course this will require manual intervention, and probably a few long phone calls, but that’s my take on such a situation. 

Conclusion

Singapore Airlines’ Northern Winter schedule sees expanded service to certain destinations, but with no additional First Class capacity until the B777Xs get here, paying Paul means robbing Peter (new aircraft with Premium Economy cabins are still being delivered, however).

If you’ve been downgraded, I’d definitely get on the phone with customer service ASAP and see what can be worked out (especially if different flights on the same route still offer your original cabin, since it’s first come first serve). 

Have you been downgraded? What options were you offered?

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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Happy Camper

This just happened to me! For a booking to Tokyo Haneda next Feb.. and they swapped out B777 for A350 and we got bumped down from F to J.. I phoned them up immediately to reroute SIN>NRT and back, instead.. no longer avail seats for redemption but avail for sale.. CS said she would submit for approval and get back to me today..

Annoyingly, this is the second time we’ve been bumped down.. and the last time, “nothing could be done” and we and to suck it up with the downgrade..

Vincent

Just curious, what did you receive (ie. compensation) the previous time you are downgraded?
I mean, since you are just told that “nothing could be done”, surely SQ should give you something for that downgrade. There are serious ticket price or points difference between F and J.

Happy Camper

Last time, was a long time ago.. if memory serves, I think that they did was return the miles difference.. I’m 99% sure of that..

Switched off

They’ve had a long time to fix that awful email. I first got one back in 2020!

Salmon Lee

Thanks Aaron as always. IMHO you’re placing too much faith on SQ being customer service-oriented enough to ensure you do not feel slighted or short-changed. I really believe they don’t care less, especially now it’s clearly a case of demand far outstripping supply. And in all practicalities, I really don’t think you can get through to SQ / Krisflyer on the phone, or their online chat function. I’ve exercised immense patience, waiting for hours on end in the queue for a CSO to speak to, only to be kicked out each time with a generic apology note saying that there… Read more »

Yiwei

Do try using another language when you call their hotline. I just called yesterday to make a change for my booking in Aug and selected Mandarin instead of English, got through almost immediately and it was 1030am. Not sure if just lucky but the other languages option usually less congested; you could still speak English to the CSO even if you have chosen Mandarin

Last edited 3 months ago by Yiwei
intransitmostlikely

tl;dr – don’t fly with SQ. Simple as that.

Wei

Got that email early this morning at 3+am. I booked a LHR-SIN-SYD F with a stopover. The LHR-SIN leg was downgraded to a J on the same flight, same day. For a moment, I thought I was bumped by some VIP who booked out F. Then I realised it was less dramatic than that after reading this email. I tried the online chat, couldn’t get through after 2 tries. Decided to concurrently try the hotline. Caught me by total surprise that it was picked-up after making all the necessary selection, without even hearing so much of a beep or the… Read more »

Veron

We were involuntarily downgraded from First class to Business class on an upcoming SIN-LHR flight due to an aircraft swap (received the email yesterday). I called the KrisFlyer hotline requesting to be moved to First class on another flight that still had ample First class vacancies. The agent was not able to make the swap for me as they had no availability for First class miles redemption. The same seats can be bought using cash though. When I asked if I would get refunded back for the miles difference arising from the involuntary downgrade, the agent said that I would… Read more »

Captain Pete

All the more reason to discard SQ.

Stevie Chew

I’m thinking really hard whether to continue the practice of “buying miles” for SQ redemption. First off I have been browsing business class award and noticed 99.5% are waitlisted. Secondly I have been having problems with flat out SQ cash bookings for the past year. I’m not sure if my profile or credit card had been flagged but I could never complete a transaction with ticket issued. I had to resort to OTA. Not a bad thing though, the OTA is more responsive and better terms. The downside being I honestly have no idea if redemption is gonna be a… Read more »

Lenny

you might want to try a different CSO. Flight got rescheduled on 3 flights, was told the same reason that its not available on redemption but was available on revenue. Submitted for approval and got approved.

SQuat

Don’t bother calling or applying for approval. Just show up at ION service centre and have a go at banging the SQ table. Sometimes it works.

P.S. Just did this on 7 Jul right after I got the email on the 6th. My family’s flight got changed to shitty red eye timings. They wanted me to top up 100k miles to in order to reissue our biz class seats on a better flight time. Told them this was daylight robbery. I’m flying with toddlers so perhaps that helped my case in the end.

Veron

Did you have to pay a fee at all at ION? How long was the waiting time?

SQuat

I didn’t have to pay for anything. But I can’t say the same for all cases. Mine could be an exception. I went on a weekday afternoon and waited about 30mins before I was attended to. But all in I spent 90 mins there.

You might want to go early because after a certain time, they would close the queues by saying all queue numbers for the day have been issued out, even if it’s only 4.30pm.

Veron

Thanks for the tip! Will update if I’m successful, or otherwise in any case.

Veron

Went to ION today. The wait wasn’t too long, thankfully. Very disappointingly, they couldn’t do much for me. The staff said that she still had to escalate my case via email to the relevant team and I would hear back from someone, though she couldn’t tell us how long this might take.

freedom

EU 261 deals with flight cancellation(reads whole flight), not reservation cancellation

Alian

I did not get bumped for my Dec Tokyo flight but rather they pushed my dates 1 day later for my outbound and inbound

I use the terms of carriage that since they failed to get me to my destination on the date of ticket they would be liable for all my expense incurred such as transport and hotel booking and work leave

Miraculously I got my original dates back within an hour. Albeit it’s Narita for outbound as the only change. Timing difference is negligible.

Last edited 2 months ago by Alian
Meowlion

SQ336 from A380 Suites to B77W First… not email from SQ at all

Kayden

Same flight here. Feb 2023. did u manage to get back any compensation?

ScrewedOver

Had my return from Osaka in December downgraded from Premium Economy (34500 miles).

Was told by our dear Singapore Airlines that they can do a full refund of 34500 and taxes and they will waive the re-booking fee.

Thereafter they can reserve me on econony advantage at 45000 miles.

Downgraded and have to top up. Still on the line after asking for a manager.

ScrewedOver

feels so staged. after waiting 15 mins, CSO comes back and offers to give us the economy seats without top-up of miles.

No longer need to refund and rebook.

U could see it a mile coming but there’s nothing we can do but suck thumb. SG Boleh.

Mtxj

SQ has always been a airline with if passenger at heart with a disclaimer : you pay for what you get , but do still expect for that personal touch afterall an airline is beyond its hardware , it’s software made up of people matters. If you cry out hearts out / wait on the sq hotline for hours / write multiple emails in appealing tone , I am sure the airline will deal with it for a satisfactory outcome . Yet if youre not a full paying customer , lifetime solitaire PPS , solitaire and PPS level , then… Read more »

derfner

wow, I just checked if my plane changed. Biz Class -> Biz Class, so no email to me. my flight from Zurich to Sg went from A380-800 to B777-300ER. This means from the 2017 biz seats to the 2013 biz seats 🙁

can’t do anything about it right?

Meeeee

That’s kind of a good thing though

Chloe

Im on the same itinerary for Suites to and fro SIN to Zurich and they just change it like that without informing. So disappointing as I dont want to pay the same miles taking 777-300er…

Jjj

My flight from sg to Akl also being swapped from a380 to 777/a350. Seems quite a number A380 flight being affected here

Jeremy

Flights direct to Christchurch from November have disappeared as well. And Christchurch-sg now focus sydney. Haven’t gotten any email from sq so far – anyone else received any info for nz?

Sue

I’ve had several flight changes over the last week, but up to now none for our Christchurch leg in February. We got down graded from BNE to SIN as they have changed the planes. Today our flight from MAN to SIN was changed to the day before, one of those emails you have to click accept on. So I am dreading another change on our SIN to Christchurch, in another 12 hours or so. When will it ever end and do we trust them not to make any more changes over the coming months?

Shahirah

I just got an email about change of seats, nothing about change of aircraft.

I specifically chose the destination, flights and timing because I did not want to fly with Boeing, only Airbus.

I only noticed that they changed the carrier when I took a real close look at the new itinerary.

Does anyone know if this is normal of SIA to do so? To call it a ‘change of seats’ when it’s really a change of an entire aircraft?

Would’ve been better if they were just upfront about change of aircraft from the start..

Alian

Terms of carriage is to get you to your destination and not what aircraft get you there. It’s impossible to guarantee a aircraft type due to operational constraints unless the airline operates a single aircraft type. While one would like to choose a flight based on aircraft it would be fool hardy to think it a given as it may change for any of the many given reasons and airlines are not committed to the aircraft type. While I know you’d like to fly a specific aircraft but there no way to ensure this and one must accept a possibility… Read more »

Shahirah

Thanks for clarifying! I totally understand on the change of aircraft and that it can change depending on circumstances. But I think since they already sent an email anyway mentioning on change of seats – it would be better & so much more clearer to include in the email that’s it’s because of a change of aircraft. Just my two cents on it.

Alian

I totally agree on their poor communication skills but I think in your case it could legal dept choice of words. In my case it was a change of dates via sms and in the email only an accept button which really makes it a no choice situation. They did not have the decency to even give a call to negotiate a change in contract in my case. I know some will say it’s ridiculous to think a company would make 300 phone calls to all passengers but to me if you want to change a contract have some common… Read more »

Philip Jowett

Just had the e mail to say we’ve been down graded to economy from Premium economy for our SIN -BNE leg and return, we are ravelling AMS SIN (STOP OVER) SIN -BNE
E mail says they’ll contact us about the change, being 6’6 i don’t fancy 7+ hours in an economy seat, can i reject any offer and get a refund, will that apply to the unaffected legs (AMS-SIN)

1st and TBH probably last time i will travel with them.

Mandy Peacock

I too have received an email to say I’ve been downgraded to Economy from Premium Economy for the SIN-BNE sector. I contacted the airline and was told that I could have a full refund (on the full flight – LHR – BNE. Just waiting for them to reply as they didnt even offer alternative flights or a better seat in Economy – just that I could have a full refund. Very poor!

Scott Kesby

Got downgraded from premium to economy for 1st leg of Sydney to Rome. Zero compensation offered. Told to cancl if you don’t like it. Fully paying customer, not miles.

Joe

Same here. Full paying. Got an email at 4am that my seats have changed. I noticed the downgrade. No offer on the email to refund the difference. I had to sort this issue on two phone calls with their hotline amounting to a total of 4 hours. I was placed on hold for 10-15. mins for every query I had. I was eventually offered a refund amount. But the current ticket price is probably calculated from the current downgraded class price which could be higher than the price when I booked months ago, but what can I do? Now I… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by Joe

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