Back in October, Singapore and Hong Kong announced that they were drawing up plans to form a travel bubble that would cover all kinds of travel, including leisure.
Update as at 25 November 2020: Due to a resurgence in COVID-19 cases in Hong Kong, the ATB has been suspended for a 2-week period. Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific are offering full refunds to affected passengers, without any penalty fees. The tentative date for ATB flights to resume is 7 December 2020, but this depends on the seven-day average of unlinked community cases in Hong Kong.
Travellers from either side would not be required to quarantine on arrival, and could carry on with their regular activities without a controlled itinerary.
We finally have the full details. The first air travel bubble (ATB) flight will commence on 22 November 2020, with one flight per day in each direction. This will increase to two flights per day from 7 December 2020, assuming all goes well.
There’s a lot of information to digest at this point, so here’s a summary of everything you need to know before you pack your bags for Hong Kong.
1. Travel allowed only on an approved ATB flight
At the moment, there are two approved travel bubble flights from Singapore to Hong Kong — either Singapore Airlines SQ890 or Cathay Pacific CX734. The full schedules are provided below.
Singapore to Hong Kong
|22 Nov 20||SQ890||1000/1400|
|23 Nov 20||SQ890||0800/1145|
|24 Nov 20||CX734||1500/1900|
|25 Nov 20||SQ890||0735/1120|
|26 Nov 20||CX734||1500/1900|
|27 Nov 20||SQ890||0735/1120|
|28 Nov 20||CX734||1500/1900|
|29 Nov 20||SQ890||0735/1120|
|30 Nov 20||SQ890||0735/1120|
|1 Dec 20||CX734||1500/1900|
|2 Dec 20||SQ890||0735/1120|
|3 Dec 20||CX734||1500/1900|
|4 Dec 20||SQ890||0735/1120|
|5 Dec 20 onwards (daily)||CX734||1500/1900|
|7 Dec 20 onwards (daily)||SQ890||0735/1120|
Hong Kong to Singapore
|22 Nov 20||CX759||0910/1300|
|23 Nov 20||SQ891||1255/1655|
|24 Nov 20||CX759||0910/1300|
|25 Nov 20||SQ891||0800/1145|
|26 Nov 20||CX759||0910/1300|
|27 Nov 20||SQ891||1230/1630|
|28 Nov 20||CX759||0910/1300|
|29 Nov 20||SQ891||1230/1630|
|30 Nov 20||SQ891||1230/1630|
|1 Dec 20||CX759||0910/1300|
|2 Dec 20||SQ891||1230/1630|
|3 Dec 20||CX759||0910/1300|
|4 Dec 20||SQ891||1230/1630|
|5 Dec 20 onwards (daily)||CX759||0910/1300|
|7 Dec 20 onwards (daily)||SQ891||1230/1630|
Be careful to book the correct flight! There are other flights between Singapore and Hong Kong, but if you book one of those, you will be subject to quarantine on arrival in Hong Kong, or receive a SHN (stay-home notice) in Singapore.
As expected, prices on this route have spiked since the ATB was announced. You’d have to shell out upwards of S$700 for an Economy Class flight and upwards of S$1,500 for Business Class.
2. Award space is virtually non-existent for 2020
While high cash fares may be an incentive to redeem miles (so you get a higher value per mile), award space on ATB flights is, unfortunately, close to non-existent for the rest of 2020.
If you really want to redeem KrisFlyer miles, you’ll have to wait till 1 February 2021, which is when award space opens up again. In fact, it’s not a bad idea to make a speculative award booking now if you want to travel next year, because it’s possible the award space will be pulled closer to the date. At worst, you’ll just pay a US$75 cancellation fee.
If you happen to find award space, here’s how much you can expect to pay in terms of miles. Airport taxes will be slightly under S$90 on a round-trip itinerary.
|KrisFlyer||15,000 miles||30,500 miles|
|Asia Miles||10,000 miles||25,000 miles|
3. You will need to do 3 or 4 COVID-19 PCR tests
Depending on the length of your stay in Hong Kong, you will either need to do a total of 3 or 4 COVID-19 PCR tests.
Test 1: Pre-departure in Singapore (~S$200)
All travellers must do a COVID-19 PCR test in Singapore between 48-72 hours before departure for Hong Kong.
If you intend to take the test till 30 November 2020, you will require pre-approval from the ICA before going down to a clinic. From 1 December 2020 onwards, you can simply make an appointment at any clinic that provides COVID-19 PCR tests with no pre-approval required.
However, bear in mind that because of the time lags involved, you will still need to seek ICA approval if your flight is departing up till 2 December 2020. That’s because the COVID-19 PCR test must be done at least 48 hours before departure, i.e. 30 November 2020 (still within the period where approvals are required).
Testing cost varies according to clinic, but should not exceed S$200.
Test 2: Post-arrival in Hong Kong (~S$87)
Upon arrival in Hong Kong, all travellers will be required to do a second COVID-19 PCR test. This needs to be pre-booked and paid for before arrival (the website has not been set up yet). The good news is that unlike the swab test done in Singapore, the test you’ll undergo upon arrival in Hong Kong involves providing a saliva sample. This is much less intrusive and, significantly, more comfortable.
The bad news is that you will likely have to wait 4-6 hours for your results to be released. During this time, you can clear immigration, but you’ll be kept in a sterile holding area until clearance is received.
The cost of the test is a fixed HK$499 (~S$87).
Test 3: Pre-departure in Hong Kong (~S$122-347)
Before returning to Singapore, all travellers will be required to do a third COVID-19 PCR test in Hong Kong, at any of the government approved clinics. An exception is made for travellers who are staying in Hong Kong for less than 72 hours (measured by the time between your second test and flight departure).
The cost of the test will vary by clinic and can range from HK$700-2,000 (~S$122-347).
Test 4: Post-arrival in Singapore (S$196)
After arrival in Singapore, all travellers must do a fourth COVID-19 PCR test at the airport, at a cost of S$196. They will be required to head directly home and self-isolate until the results are sent to them.
4. Certain travel insurance plans will cover overseas COVID-19 medical expenses
When the ATB was first announced, the CAAS made this rather worrying statement:
Should travellers become COVID-19 positive while in Singapore or Hong Kong, they will need to bear the full cost of any medical treatment, subject to the respective cities’ prevailing medical and healthcare policies.
‘Full cost of any medical treatment’ certainly sounds scary, but the good news is that certain travel insurance policies provide COVID-19 coverage.
The simplest solution for those travelling on Singapore Airlines is to simply purchase their in-house travel insurance plan underwritten by AIG. This provides coverage for up to S$350,000 of COVID-19 related medical expenses, plus additional protection for trip cancellation or curtailment as shown below.
|Medical Expenses while overseas||S$350,000|
|Overseas hospitalisation allowance||N/A|
|Quarantine (at destination)||S$150 per day, up to 14 days|
It’s likely we’ll see other travel insurance providers extend coverage to travel under the ATB, so stay tuned.
5. The ATB may be suspended if cases spike
The Singapore and Hong Kong governments will be taking a slow approach towards opening borders, and the ATB will be suspended if the seven-day moving average of the daily number of unlinked COVID-19 cases exceeds 5 in Hong Kong or Singapore.
Should that happen, I imagine airlines will reaccommodate passengers accordingly. However, it’s still a good idea to purchase travel insurance as soon as you book your trip, in case you’re incurring any non-refundable expenses (for instance, certain hotel bookings).
6. Hotels in Hong Kong are really cheap right now
Speaking of hotel bookings, the good news is that prices in Hong Kong are as low as I can ever recall. According to hotel search engine Kayak, 4-Star hotels start from S$40 per night, and 5-Star hotels from S$70. Those are just incredible prices and great for bargain-hunters (your wallet will certainly be lighter after all that COVID-19 testing).
Low hotel prices mean it’s probably not worth redeeming any hotel points you have — these should be saved for periods when hotel prices are high.
In case you were worried that Hong Kong hotel prices might spike the way airfares have, let me reassure you that this is highly unlikely. It all comes down to demand and supply — there is currently only one travel bubble flight per day. In contrast, there are more than 300 hotels in Hong Kong with 85,000 rooms, most of which are empty on account of border closures. An additional 200 guests per day is hardly going to move the needle.
The main barrier at this point is the cost of testing. If you’re staying more than 72 hours in Hong Kong, you’ll be paying at least S$400 per person in testing alone. Imagine this multiplied by a family of four, and it becomes pretty hard to swallow.
For the ATB to provide a genuine boost to tourism, the cost of testing needs to be brought down as well as the waiting time for results (it’s a big ask for passengers to wait 4-6 hours in the airport). But assuming you’re willing to deal with all that, there’s hope yet for a year-end getaway — just not the same way you remember it.
Read these next:
Worried About KrisFlyer Miles Expiring Soon? Singapore Airlines Extends Them
Green Lanes, Travel Bubbles, Air Bridges From Singapore: Where Can I Go Now?
How Different Will Travel Be Post COVID-19?
Travel Insurance Promotions and Discounts
Reciprocal Green Lane (RGL) Guide For Essential Travellers To Malaysia and Brunei
By Aaron Wong
Aaron started The MileLion to help people travel better for less and impress “chiobu”. He was 50% successful. This is his story.