Megan and I recently completed our first trip to Asia, visiting Singapore and Hong Kong while traveling in first and business class with Singapore Airlines. It was a lot of “firsts” for us, and we enjoyed ourselves tremendously. Just looking at the table of contents for this trip report, it looks like it might take a couple weeks to talk about all the stuff we did!
- Hyatt Regency San Francisco
- Singapore Airlines First Class SFO-SIN (SQ 15) – Part 1
- Singapore Airlines First Class SFO-SIN (SQ 15) – Part 2
- Grand Hyatt Singapore
- Historical Sights, Ethnic Neighborhoods, and Raffles Hotel
- Modern Singapore at Marina Bay and Orchard Road
- Birthday at the Night Safari
- Where to Eat in Singapore
- Singapore First Class Departure and The Private Room
- Singapore Airlines First Class SIN-HKG (SQ 866)
- Grand Hyatt Hong Kong
- Central District Parks and Victoria Peak
- Exploring the Markets of Kowloon and Mong Kok
- Day Trip to Stanley Harbor
- Where to Eat in Hong Kong
- Singapore Airlines Business Class HKG-SFO (SQ 2)
- Concluding Remarks
Earlier this summer, Singapore Airlines updated their computer reservations system, and all of their award space became available to United Airlines’ MileagePlus program. Normally Singapore keeps a tight lid on their award space. It’s always hard to get space in their Suites class on the A380, but other awards are reasonably available to their own SilverKris members (try transferring points from American Express Membership Rewards if you’re not a regular SQ passenger). The same generosity is rarely extended to Star Alliance partners like United and US Airways.
When the fence came down, it was like open season. Lots of business and first class space across Singapore’s network, and a few intrepid individuals even managed to figure out which routes were likely to be later upgraded to Suites class and got themselves booked in normal First for a chance at being automatically moved up. I didn’t especially care about a suite, nor did I want to go to Melbourne (the route most people booked to achieve this). But since Megan and I had never been to Asia, we thought this would be the best opportunity to get there. Besides, we had over half a million United miles between us that weren’t doing anything productive.
It took four separate calls to book this reservation. For the most part the process was straightforward. United had SQ space showing on its own search engine, so I looked up the flights we wanted and started out just booking the SQ legs out of San Francisco. I was on our way to the airport to fly home from Branson, MO, and didn’t want to worry about connecting legs to and from Seattle. Fortunately, as a United Premier 1K I can call back and add those flights on at any time without a change fee.
The first agent booked us in first class from San Francisco to Singapore, but then business class from Singapore to Hong Kong and from Hong Kong to San Francisco. No first class space was available returning from Hong Kong unless I wanted to fly with United, and I figured business class on Singapore was still superior.
However, awards to either city are the same price, so our middle segment from Singapore to Hong Kong should cost the same in either first or business. In other words, we can either have a one-way award to Singapore in first with a business class return via HKG, or a one-way award to Hong Kong in first via SIN with a business class return. (Although I describe it as two one-way awards, keep in mind you need to book a roundtrip with United to get a free stopover.) I said I still wanted first class from Singapore to Hong Kong, but she never made that fix and it took call #2 to sort that out.
Our outbound flight was an afternoon departure from San Francisco stopping in Seoul on its way to Singapore. That was the only thing I would change about this reservation in the future because it caused a lot of other headaches, but our stop actually made for a nice surprise.
Total cost: only 260K miles and $126 for two people!
These tickets would normally cost well over $10,000 each. Since I roughly value my United miles and Ultimate Rewards points at 2 cents each, I was effectively valuing them at $2,663 each, but I earned them much more cheaply through credit card bonuses and flying. As a 1K, I already earn 200K miles a year just by requalifying (100K miles flown x 100% bonus), and Megan and I each have several hundred thousand Ultimate Rewards points from our Sapphire Preferred and Ink Bold cards with Chase. I did need to transfer a few miles over from Ultimate Rewards to pay for these awards, but the transfer process was almost instant and completed by the time I logged out of Chase and into MileagePlus.
Updating the Itinerary
I called a week later to add our positioning flights to and from Seattle. Megan didn’t want to miss another half day of work, and we didn’t want to risk missing our outbound flight at 2 in the afternoon, so we booked a late night departure from Seattle on Friday and planned to spend the night at the Hyatt Regency Embarcadero. We both love the Ferry Terminal farmers market across the street, and I’ve always wanted to stay at this hotel since visiting San Francisco frequently as a child. It was a good opportunity.
Domestic first class was only available on the outbound, but fortunately two seats opened up on the return the morning of our departure from Hong Kong. For about 25 cents I used Skype to call from my hotel room and grabbed the last two adjacent seats. So even though it came down to the wire, everything worked out in the end.]