SFO – SEA United Business First

SFO – SEA United Business First

Sometimes in Asia we forget how good the hard product on our regional flights can be. I had the opportunity to try United’s Business First class on a short hop between San Francisco and Seattle one Friday night in July this year so lets see how it measured up…


As I hold KrisFlyer Gold and knew I would have checked luggage I chose to fly United on the 90-120 minute SFO-SEA route.
While booking in Economy the United website engine offered me an upgrade to Business First for USD$99 which, while not a great deal for such a short flight I decided to take anyway. I have flown United Economy before and I figured if nothing else it would give me something to write about here!
Anyway, the booking process died when I tried to take the upgrade. I repeated this a couple more times before giving up and confirming in Economy. I went back to the website to check my booking a few weeks later and found the same upgrade was being offered for $500, so concluded the original offer was just a mistake.
More time passed and I received my credit card bill showing 4 transactions with United – the original ticket and three upgrades! A call to United’s Singapore ticketing hotline achieved nothing except advice to fill in refund claims online and call website support. Happily I just called website support (staffed out of the Philippines) and they were able to refund 2 of the charges and grant me my original upgrade. Business was back on!

SFO Airport

SFO has a ‘Gold Track’ which was almost, but not entirely, useless. It allows Star Golds to skip the first ID control queue but then you join the general population for security. If you travel a lot out of US airports TSA Precheck would be a better investment.
United does not grant lounge access to its own Gold members in Economy, but under the terms of Star Alliance it has to let partner Star Golds flying Economy in, so I did. Review to follow.
Unfortunately the flight had a late gate change and ended up being delayed almost two hours.
Boarding is a bit of scrum even up front because luggage charges encourage everyone to max out their carry on allowance and a narrow-body jet like our 737 just does not have enough compartment space.

The Flight

Business seating is in a 2-2 layout so the seats are pretty wide and you get plenty of legroom. The seats do not go anywhere near flat and just have a simple single recline button but they are quite comfortable. It’s pretty much the same as Malaysian Airlines 737 Business Class. My apologies for not getting a good picture of the seat, but boarding was a scrum.
My grandparents used to tell me how they made their own entertainment before they got a television. I had a chance to relive their experience and made my own fun with cheap whiskey served by the cabin attendants.
Seat back
The entertainment system was not extensive
One we finally got airborne the flight was only 90 minutes so there was no meal service. I did get a bag of pretzels and some cheap scotch so that was nice.

Arriving into Seattle

Luggage came out after about 15 minutes and as it was a domestic flight we were straight out onto the street. Having spent most of my life living on small islands almost all my flights have been international, so it actually felt pretty weird not having to maintain an honest and trustworthy expression while wheeling bags out through customs.
The flight was so delayed that the the LINE tram service into the city had stopped so I took an Uber which was very easy. They have a pretty good system at SEA with a section of short-term parking reserved for private hire pickups and within a few minutes I was away to the city.


So would I pay extra for United Business First on a short haul flight again? Probably not to be honest. Star Gold already gets you free luggage, priority checkin and lounge access, so the only benefit for me was the seat, which is probably not worth a dollar a minute. It was fun, but time to move on and try something else.
What’s the best lounge in Changi T3 for economy passengers?

What’s the best lounge in Changi T3 for economy passengers?

Star Alliance Economy passengers passing through Changi Terminal 3 with Gold status and Priority Pass membership  have a choice of two neighbouring lounges to entertain themselves in – Singapore Airlines Gold Lounge or SATS Premier. On my last flight out of Changi I visited both so here we have my definitive comparative review – the lounge-off!

SATS closest to camera. Gold is at the end
SATS closest to camera. Gold is past the divider towards the end

Singapore Airlines Gold Lounge

SQ Gold

SQ Gold is upstairs in the lounge district of T3. It sits opposite  DBS Treasures and round the corner from SQ’s SilverKris Business Class lounge. [Side comment: Normally Silver comes below Gold in the pantheon of precious metals, but not in Singapore Airlines lounge designations. Gold is definitely inferior here.]

Two thirds of the Gold lounge is enclosed with mostly armchair seating, plus a few bar stools and a lonely set of table and chairs. Plug sockets are few and far between in the armchair section but well provisioned on the bar seating.



There is nice, if small, selection of hot food and, during the day, scones and cream. Drinks include excellent teas from TWG, a coffee machine and the standard selection of basic alcohol.


Tea & Scones!
Tea, scones & bread pudding!


The lounge also has a large balcony section open to the wider terminal and overlooking a beautiful koi pond.

Wifi is good.Gold

Toilets are, well, outside in the main terminal a few minutes walk away. Go before you enter. Showers are also sadly absent if you are in transit.

SATS Premier

Plaza Premium

The Premier sits next door to SQ Gold so shares some design features with the same partially enclosed section and a large open balcony within the wider terminal.

Most seating inside and out is low armchair style similar to the Gold, but there are far more power sockets available. Close to the buffet section are high bar style seats.

SATS Premier SATS Premier

Food is pretty good with a large selection of hot meals and a self service laksa station. There is tea from Twinings and coffee machine. Alcohol is the standard non-premium selection.


Wifi is mediocre. I actually got a better signal from the Gold lounge next door, but that could just have been where I was sitting. Either way it was fine for web browsing.premier

There are a row of desks along one wall which are useful for working, though you will probably want noise cancelling headphones as it is not a quiet environment.

There are also a few massage chairs if you fancy some automated poking and prodding.


Now brace yourself for a shock – this lounge has both toilets and showers! Yes, we do indeed live in a golden age of indoor plumbing.



So, welcome if you skipped straight to the end of this article – I have a conditional result:

  • If you have a day flight and want afternoon tea head straight to the Gold lounge for great TWG tea and scones.
  • At any other time head to Plaza Premium for better food, working facilities, and running water.





BA Terraces Lounge Seattle

BA Terraces Lounge Seattle

I visited the BA Terraces Lounge at SEA as a guest of EVA who are subcontracting access to it for their  premium and Star Gold passengers. I thought OneWorld and Star mixed like oil and water, so I did a double take at checkin when the EVA agent invited me to the BA lounge. Perhaps she gets this a lot so she took the time to write it out on the lounge invitation card.

SEA, home of Boeing, is quite a sprawling airport and after negotiating TSA’s tender investigative mercies I set off to find the BA Terraces Lounge.

Many escalators, a train ride, some more escalators and a flight of stairs brought me to the S gates where the BA lounge and our EVA 777-300ER were waiting.

One more flight of stairs
One more flight of stairs

The BA Terraces Lounge SEA is pretty small. The bulk of the lounge is a random selection of low blueish armchair seating that give the impression that they came from thrift stores. Power is only found along the wall seats which are also treated to a partial view of planes on the runway. There is also small section of high bar stool seating should that appeal to you. It was almost midnight when I arrived for a 2AM flight so the lounge was quiet, but even then the good window seats were mostly taken.

BA Terraces Lounge

Should you feel the need there is a joylessly title Combiz section open plan style ‘office’.


Perhaps due to the late hour the food selection consisted of a plate of sandwiches, crisps (chips), pot noodles and some fruit.

The Buffet
The Buffet

I spent some time hunting through the fridge looking for a beer to wash down my sumptuous feast but found only fruit juice. Getting desperate I wandered back out to the front desk to ask if they had any there and was directed down a corridor to knock on a door. A hostess popped out and after a bit of confusion was able to offer me a bottle of Heineken. I returned to my seat in triumph and went online to find out what was going on. Apparently Washington State has banned self service alcohol so the lounge normally has a bar ‘hatch’ which was closed during my visit.

Other facilities include wifi, toilets and a shower. All pretty standard.

And that is about that. The BA Terraces SEA is a reasonable lounge, but its not worth getting to the airport early for.


SilkAir 50% award redemption discount

SilkAir 50% award redemption discount

Between now and 4th August 2016 SilkAir award redemptions booked online will receive a massive 50% discount! The only pieces of troublesome small print are that flights need to be taken by 31st October 2016, it only applies to Saver level awards and to selected destinations.


SilkAir is SQ’s regional wing so flights tend to only be a few hours long, maybe 4 to India at the outside, and do not tend to offer good value for award redemptions. However at these prices it makes sense to have another look.

Sale prices do not seem to be bookable yet, but SQ are advertising 10K miles for J to Koh Samui which compared to buying a ticket at $800 values miles at 8c, so these are pretty good value redemptions.

Screen Shot 2016-07-21 at 5.28.50 PM

Let me know below if you find any particularly good value destinations.



EVA Star Lounge TPE Review

EVA Star Lounge TPE Review

EVA have multiple lounges scattered around TPE airport with the spacious Star Lounge dedicated for Star Alliance Gold, EVA’s Infinity Silver and Gold members and some random Taiwanese credit car holders.

tldr; The Star Lounge is pretty good.

Star Lounge Location

Head up the escalators and turn left

The lounge is airside and upstairs in the international terminal. Walk past the fancier looking Club and Garden lounges and you will reach the joint entrance to the Infinity and Star. KrisFlyer Golds on Economy or Premium Economy tickets will be politely directed left down a corridor away from the Infinity to the large, and quite nicely lit, Star.

The Lounge

There is plenty of low lounge seating placed around coffee tables, plus a few recliners tucked away in a corner for passengers on longer layovers. There is a large dining area with tables and chairs which is well setup for eating, though work could be challenging as there are limited power plugs. There is no shortage of plug sockets around the low chairs.

From the dining area you can look down onto Departures where at certain times of the day large tour groups from the mainland mill around adding to the busy airport experience.

View from Star Lounge

There is also a small office with a few Windows desktops ready for use. I think you would have to be pretty desperate to use them though due to the risk of viruses and keyboard loggers. I would treat them as a hostile environment.

Strangely lit office

On the way in are toilets and showers and even a locker room for larger bags. Take note Singapore Airlines – toilets and showers in a lounge dedicated for frequent flyers. Whatever next?

Wifi is password free and perfectly usable. I am writing this article on it!

The lounge was pretty busy when I arrived around 6pm but it quickly emptied out. There were still plenty of seats to chose from and I settled myself in the dining area to get some food.

Food and Drink


The lounge has a large buffet area supplying western and local dishes. I went straight for the Taiwanese Beef Noodles which were pretty good. I immediately followed this with Haagen Das and red wine. Like a boss.

The bar was self service and contained the standard selection of non-premium beverages. The red wine was fine and I had some Twinings tea.

I skipped the sausages
I skipped the sausages


If you are Star Gold on a regular ticket flying out of TPE there is really no reason not to go to EVA’s Star Lounge. It has plenty of comfortable seating, decent food and passable drinks. It puts Singapore Airline’s efforts for Gold members at Changi to shame.

Singapore Airlines’ Concorde

Singapore Airlines’ Concorde

These days Singapore Airlines fans get excited about their new A350s, but did you know that not too long ago they operated the legendary Concorde in partnership with British Airways?

Concorde G-BOAD London Heathrow
Flickr: Jonathan Francis

BA and SQ began Concorde operations between London Heathrow (LHR), Bahrain (BAH) and Singapore Paya Lebar (QPG) in 1977. The Concorde G-BOAD was painted with SQ livery on its left side and BA on its right, but flew with and was operated by BA crew. Cabin service was 50/50 BA and SQ.

Flickr: Nigel Musgrove

The first attempt at a service in 1977 was suspended after three flights due to noise complaints from Malaysia caused by the sonic boom as it decelerated over the Straits of Malacca. I cannot imagine that wider political tensions between Singapore and Malaysia at the time had anything to do with the decision.

On 24th January 1979 service was resumed with a new routing to avoid Malaysian airspace, but it was abandoned for good on 1st November 1980 due to rising oil prices and insufficient loads. 

The flight itself, especially LHR-BAH, was mostly overland which forced the speedbird to stay subsonic for large parts of the route. Even then the whole journey LHR-BAH-SIN took only 9 hours, or 4 less than it takes today. I cannot find details of ticket prices, but I imagine there was a significant price premium to save a few hours and that must have made it a difficult sell.

I can understand why the Concordes were retired, and its no surprise that the London to Singapore route was never successful, but I would have loved the opportunity to travel at twice the speed of sound just once. In the 1980s I lived under the flight path for Heathrow, and every afternoon we would hear the thunderous roar of Concorde’s Olympus engines as she came into land on her return from New York. It was old tech even then, but it looked as if she was cruising in from outer space. Will we ever see her like again?

Sources: Wikipedia ConcordeSST

Flickr photos embedded as per the site’s terms and conditions. Please contact me if you would prefer them removed.

Singapore Airlines mySQupgrade

Singapore Airlines mySQupgrade

I received an unexpected, and quite intriguing, email from Singapore Airlines this morning announcing their new mySQupgrade program that allows passengers in Economy the option to bid on upgrades to the new Premium Economy cabin.

Dear Mr East,
We would like to introduce mySQupgrade, a new invitation-only bidding system to allow customers to make an online bid for a one-cabin upgrade.
mySQupgrade will initially allow invited customers booked to travel in Economy Class, the opportunity to make a bid for a seat in Premium Economy Class. This functionality will be gradually introduced across the network, and provide customers another option to upgrade their class of travel, and enjoy greater levels of comfort when they fly.

This is an interesting development from the airline famous for never issuing operational upgrades from Economy to Business. In ten years of travelling on SQ I have never had a sniff of an upgrade, though I have had quite a few from BA and EVA.

Anecdotally SQ may not be filling their Premium Economy cabins as much as they might have hoped, so this program could be just what they need to increase revenue per seat at minimal extra cost. Several carriers, for example Malaysia and Qatar, have provided bidding systems on Business Class upgrades for some time, so SQ is only cautiously dipping a toe into an existing party pool.

Applying for mySQupgrade


So if you have an Economy booking on a flight with a Premium Economy cabin you may receive an email inviting you to bid on an upgrade about a week out. You’ll have a few days to consider and place a bid.

How much to bid for mySQupgrade?

Well, this is the $99 question. SQ admit in their T&Cs that bid size is not the only criteria, so other factors like original ticket price and status may also be involved. You may want to check the bid experience thread on FT to give you an idea about what might be accepted. How kiasu will you go?

US-Singapore Trusted Traveller Program

US-Singapore Trusted Traveller Program

The US and Singapore governments announced this week the establishment of a new Trusted Traveller Program (TTP) to allow each nation’s citizens to use the others automated arrival gates. Now US citizens visiting Singapore are able to register to use Changi’s automated gates and Singaporeans can join the US Global Entry program to use their entry kiosks.

To be honest this is of limited benefits to US citizens, as applying for the scheme will probably take longer than they would ever spend in an immigration queue at super efficient Changi Airport.

For Singaporeans that regularly travel to the US though this could be the greatest thing since Comfort started accepting MasterPass. Everyone has a horror story about US immigration; whether its a snarky border official or just a painfully long line, but Trusted Traveller should be able to bypass much of that.

Applying for US TTP

According to the US Customs and Border Protection agency its easy:

  1. Register for a GOES account
  2. Pay USD$100
  3. Schedule an interview at the US Embassy. The Straits Times reports this can be done on Wednesdays though its not clear how long the whole process takes.

Once you are approved you should be able to sail past the foreign immigration lines and use the Global Entry kiosks at most US international airports.

The Other Option –  APEC Card

There is another, potentially more useful option, with the APEC card which should provide priority immigration clearance into the US and most other Asian nations. The US is a transitional member at present, but the card should grant you access to the crew or diplomatic lanes!

I am a foreign national and have an APEC Business Travel Card (ABTC).  Do I have access to an express immigration lane when I enter the United States?

Yes. ABTC cardholders have access to express immigration lanes at all U.S. international airports and pre-clearance locations. In most airports, the express lane is the same as the crew lane. Due to the varying layouts of some airports (such as in Miami), the express lane is the same as the diplomatic lane.


Singapore’s ICA will issue APEC cards to ‘business people’ for $100, so if you travel around the region on a Singaporean passport this could be an excellent investment.

Applicants must be Singapore Citizens, who are:

  • Bona fide business persons (i.e. those who represent an economically-active business entity)
  • Members of professional bodies (e.g. doctors, lawyers, artists)
  • Public officers from Ministries, Government departments, economic agencies and statutory boards who need to travel in their official capacity

Applicants must have a valid Singapore passport, and must not be previously convicted of a criminal offence.



Singaporeans who travel to the US several times a year now have another option to bypass the worse excesses of US immigration.

Long Term Review: Travelpro Platinum Magna 2 21″ Spinner

Long Term Review: Travelpro Platinum Magna 2 21″ Spinner

Smart travel requires good gear, so here goes with a long term review of my favourite carry on luggage; the Travelpro Platinum Magna 2 21″ Spinner Suiter.

tldr; this is a great wheeled carry on bag.

I bought this bag last year in a US Macy’s store after reading online reviews and spending a long time in the luggage department dragging bags around. In the last six months it has been on four international trips, including to Bali, so I feel comfortable pronouncing on this bag.

Choosing the Travelpro Platinum Magna 2 21″ Spinner Suiter

My first decision point was to go with a flexible nylon bag. I have an existing Samsonite hardshell carry on and based on that experience wanted something with external pockets.

Secondly I like the Wirecutter review site and they had just published a long carry on review (which is still worth a look). They gushed over Travelpro bags, but were strongly in favour of two wheel draggers. For me personally I prefer a spinner as I am quite tall and they just seem to work better for me at the cost of some packing space.

So armed with review opinions that I did not particularly agree with I hit San Francisco Macy’s giant luggage department in November 2015 to try every soft spinner that was not silly money (aiming for USD $200).

Of the selection available I found that the Travelpro Platinum Magna 2 21″ Spinner Suiter ran well, had a reasonable amount of space, looked fairly smart, felt sturdy and came with a good warranty, so I bought it. I think I paid around USD $250 which is what its currently available for on Amazon (before shipping) at the moment.

Review of the Travelpro Platinum Magna 2 21″ Spinner Suiter


Travelpro list this bag with dimensions of L9″ x W14″ x H20″. Amazon list it at H21″. I’ve measured mine and its closer to 23″ including wheels! Singapore airlines cabin baggage limit is 7Kg and “Sum of length, width and height of each piece should not exceed 115cm“. I have measured mine and it comes in at L23cm x W35cm x H58cm for a total of 116cm, but really you should have not be concerned. I have seen far larger bashed down plane aisles and I have brought mine on to several carriers without problems. The bag weighs in at 3.6Kg, so not the lightest, but not excessive either.

expansionAs is common with luggage the bag can expand like a chap releasing his belt after a fine meal. Be careful with packing though because if weighty objects are placed in the expansion the bag becomes unwieldy and liable to toppling.


The bag’s exterior is super strong ballistic nylon with Travelpro’s DuraGuard® coating. My adventures with hand carry and checkins have barely scuffed it. The zips feel incredibly sturdy and the carry handles are the best I have ever seen with leather covers and steel screws. The handles also extend a little under strain so you can comfortably grip them.


The wheels are probably the first part to fail as they are basically toughened castors, but these ones feel pretty good. They also have a clever magnetic locking system which will always try to correct to keep the bag rolling straight. This works surprisingly well on hard floors, though less well on Changi Airport’s frustrating carpets.



The extendable handle is solid and has a comfortable grip, which combined with the magnetic wheels allows the bag to run alongside you, rather than being dragged behind.

The front of the bag contains a small document compartment and a larger laptop pocket. Again be careful loading anything too heavy outside the bag’s centre of gravity.

I inspected my bag carefully and the only damage I could find were a few loose threads on a seam and perhaps a few minor scuffs. The wheels are rolling well, though I’ve not taken them particularly cross country.

The bag does not come with a TSA lock, though one is available as an inducement for returning the warranty card. Which reminds me, the bag comes with an excellent lifetime warranty against manufacturing defects, plus airlines damage. So, if you are ever treated to the sad sight of a shredded bag rumbling towards you on the carousel you should know that you can claim from the airline and Travelpro. One flaw is that there is no Asian regional repair centre, so you would need to ship it back to the US at your own cost, though they would return it without charge.


So it is worth remembering that four wheel spinners have less space than two wheel draggers, but this bag makes the most of what it has.


The interior is lined with nylon and there is a large pocket in the lid. Two small pockets are placed on the inside long edges, one of which is waterproof.


The bag has a reasonable compression system which can also stop lighter loads from rattling around. notice more pockets in the flaps.


The last interesting feature is the addition of a suit bag – or ‘suiter’ as the Americans seem to call them. I am more of a casual traveller and have not actually used it, but it can carry shirts and a suit or dress safely folded into the interiour lid pocket. If you need to travel with formal wear this would be a neat addition. Some bags have these built in, but it is separate in the spinner model, so scruffs like myself can remove it to save space.

Where to buy

I was lucky enough to pick one up in the US where they are easy to find, but that is not the case in Singapore. Amazon wants to add USD$100 for shipping so that seems to be a non starter. Travelpro has a local reseller; Lohmun Leather Products (Pte) Ltd, which seem to be the holding company for The Travel Store, so they might be worth a look. eBags have a slightly smaller version for SGD$400+, but I have never tried them and its only marginally cheaper than Amazon.


The Travelpro Platinum Magna 2 21″ Spinner Suiter is the best carry on bag I have ever owned and I hope to keep it for many years to come. It rolls beautifully, holds everything I need for a long weekend and is tough as nails. Recommended!

Where will your KrisFlyer Miles take you?

Where will your KrisFlyer Miles take you?

This interactive map shows how many KrisFlyer Miles are required for one way Saver redemptions from Singapore to all destinations that Singapore Airlines and Silk Air fly to. It is based upon Singapore Airlines reward redemption chart and does not include the 15% discount we can get from booking online.

To see how many miles are required for one way Saver reward redemptions in Economy, Business and First/Suites hover over a country. To price a return just double the number. Standard and Full redemptions are significantly more expensive, so I do not recommend them unless your schedule is fixed and you have plenty of miles to burn. I have ignored Premium Economy for now, though SQ has recently opened it to reward redemptions. It’s worth noting that many routes on the list do not actually offer First, but I’ve included them as they are in SQ’s table. I think the chances of burning 25K miles flying in First to KL are pretty slim!
The map also only shows redemptions on SQ/MI metal which is why so much of the world is grey. Even then the only destination in South America, Sao Paulo, is being withdrawn in October 2016.

Do remember that SQ add a lot of fuel surcharges and taxes to reward redemptions, so be prepared to pay cash on top of the miles listed here.

Partner Awards

Partner flights are generally more expensive in miles and there is no 15% online discount, so if you have KrisFlyer miles try to use them on SQ or MI. Putting together an equivalent partner or Star Alliance map will take a bit more time so I’ll save that project for another day.

Do let me know in the comments ↓ if you find any errors and feel free to share this page. Thanks!