In July of last year, a much publicized phenomenon took hold for about 72 hours – in the midst of system upgrades, Singapore Airlines made First Class award inventory typically reserved only for members of its own KrisFlyer program available to all Star Alliance partner airlines.
While Suites Class, which is the top tier product on the Singapore Airlines A380s was not available as part of this availability wave, Singapore Airlines still has one of the most highly regarded First Class products on its long haul fleet of 777-300ERs and those seats were easily available during this window.
Mrs. Points Honeymooner and I had flown Cathay Pacific First Class to Bali in 2012 and were blown away by the difference in service and comfort between Cathay First and every other business class product we had tried till that point. Given that Singapore Airlines First Class was in some ways even more highly rated than Cathay First Class, we decided it would be worth spending 70,000 United Miles per person for a one way flight from Singapore to Seattle via San Francisco.
Since we only have the time for one Asia trip each year, this meant we would put the perfectly formulated Malaysia and Air France A380 incorporating trip to the Maldives in jeopardy, but I knew that the opportunity to fly Singapore Airlines First Class may not come by again whilst opportunities to fly the A380 would continue growing over time.
Thus, I quickly got to transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards points into United miles and ticketed the one way flights from Singapore to Seattle, knowing that I could later book the flights to get to our desired destination in South East Asia (now back to Phuket) and then onward to Singapore.
As time wore on, I started looking at potential ways to get to Phuket, and one very compelling option presented itself: flying the ANA 787 from Seattle to Tokyo, flying United from Tokyo to Hong Kong, and flying Thai from Hong Kong to Phuket. Whilst the flights from NRT – HKG and HKG – HKT would only have regional business class products (with United operating a measly 737 from NRT to HKG!), the flat bed ANA 787 business class seats with oversized windows had me just as excited as flying the A380 business class in the previously booked itinerary.
Once again, things appeared to be falling into place – our flights from Seattle to Phuket were booked, with the longest leg being on the 787, and the United ticket containing the Singapore Airlines First Class legs was modified to add Thai Airways flights from HKT to SIN via BKK with no additional miles required.
As our travel date approached, two very significant things happened – (1) happened a while before (2), but the impact of both was very significant:
(1) Singapore Airlines announced that it would change the aircraft type operating the SIN – (HKG) – SFO route from a 777-300ER to an A380 for the first few months of 2013, covering our date of travel. This made me ecstatic since we would now be flying Suites Class on the A380, which until recently, required an absurd amount of KrisFlyer miles to book (they still remain impossible to book using partner airlines) and hence were considered unobtainable by most.
(2) Two weeks prior to our departure, the 787 was grounded due to concerns with its Lithium ion battery. This caused ANA to cancel SEA – NRT flights on some day whilst changing the equipment to a 777 on others. As it turned out, the flight was cancelled entirely the day we were booked and rather than endure the transpacific flight on a United 777, we opted to move our entire itinerary by one day and fly the ANA 777 instead. Since this was an involuntary change, we were also able to change our NRT – HKG – HKT flights to a NRT – BKK – HKT routing for free, thereby avoiding the 6 hour NRT – HKG leg on a 737, a flight which I was not looking forward to (relative to all the other premium products we were flying). The best part, however, was that the NRT-BKK leg was operated by a Thai A380 and the only reason there was availability on that flight in business class was that were making these changes only a few days out.
Fast forward to our day of travel when I woke up to the ANA website informing me that our flight from SEA to NRT had been delayed by 3 hours, leaving us with a connection time in Tokyo of minus 30 minutes. Heartbroken, I called United who, given a sold out business class cabin, offered to put us on the United 777 operating around the same time in economy, which seemed like a hard pill to swallow given that we started out hoping to try the ANA 787 flat bed business class for this leg. Having the United site open while on the call, I noticed that they had first class seats still available from SEA – NRT and to top that, Thai had opened up first class seats on their A380 from NRT – BKK on the connecting flight. The agent confirmed that she could put us on those flights for an additional 10,000 miles per passenger (the difference in cost between business and first class on a one-way from the US to South East Asia), and without hesitation, I told her to go ahead and make the change.
Despite all the cancellations, delays and equipment changes, it looked like it had all come together fairly well, but nature still had one more curve ball to throw – when we got to the airport and cleared security, we saw the board saying the United flight had now also been delayed by 3 hours due to heavy fog in Seattle which caused the arriving aircraft to divert, which again left us with a misconnect in Tokyo. Back on the phone United, I was able to get our flights moved to the next day whilst retaining the Thai Airways A380 leg since there was now space available on the following day too.
It took several hours on the phone with United to get each of the schedule and flight changes made and ticketed. It was stressful and at times gut wrenching since these changes were at times being made just 2-3 hours from departure, just before leaving the airport, or from an airport lounge. Despite all that, the trip allowed us to try several new products: United GlobalFirst in their 777-200, Thai First in an A380 (and their domestic B747-400, although that was first class seat with business service), Thai Business Class on their B777-200 and A300-600 (never thought I’d fly that aircraft again!) and to top it all, the Singapore Airlines A380 in Suites Class.