Analysis KrisFlyer Singapore Airlines

Your guide to Singapore Airlines fifth freedom routes

Singapore Airlines has fifth freedom traffic rights on six routes that don't even touch its Changi hub. What do we know about them?

SQ A350v2 SFO (Sinagapore Airlines)

The combined fleet of 120 Singapore Airlines jets flies over 260 flights per day around the world. A small fraction of those, just a dozen in fact, don’t involve Singapore at either end of their flight. Those few services operate between two airports thousands of miles away from the airline’s Changi hub. With a couple of exceptions, they are known as “fifth freedom” routes.

You can buy a ticket on them, or redeem your KrisFlyer miles too, so are they any use? Let’s take a look.

What’s a “fifth freedom” route?

The fifth freedom of the air applies to commercial aviation, which is handy being SIA’s primary business. It is defined by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) as:

“The right to fly between two foreign countries on a flight originating or ending in one’s own country.” (Simplified, Wikipedia)

The full (legal) text is a bit more long-winded and comes from ICAO Document 9626, the Manual on the Regulation of International Air Transport:

“The Fifth Freedom of the Air is the right or privilege, in respect of scheduled international air services, granted by one State to another State to put down and to take on, in the territory of the first State, traffic coming from or destined to a third State.” (ICAO Document 9626)

This is where the regulation (legal speak) is important, and why the simplified (Wikipedia) definition is wrong.

The fifth freedom of the air is not actually the right to fly between a ‘foreign’ city pair on an international journey to or from your home country (almost every airline can do this as part of the second freedom of the air), it in fact also grants traffic rights.

The third to ninth freedoms of the air are all traffic rights, not operational rights.

That means Singapore Airlines can carry revenue traffic in these cases on flights between foreign countries which form part of a service connecting to the airline’s own country.

For example passengers can fly on Singapore Airlines from San Francisco to Hong Kong on SQ1, which continues to Singapore, with no intention or obligation to continue to Singapore. The governments (or regulatory authorities) agreeing to such an arrangement in this case are the United States of America (‘the first state’) and Hong Kong (‘the third state’).

SQ A380 Landing ZRH (Peter Gronemann).jpg
The only current fifth freedom route Singapore Airlines flies using the Airbus A380 is a daily service between Frankfurt and New York. (Photo: Peter Gronemann)

The same rights are almost always granted reciprocally (for the return sector, the Hong Kong becomes ‘the first state’ and the USA becomes ‘the third state’).

“Having” and “using” traffic rights aren’t the same thing

We hear a lot of people say “Singapore Airlines has fifth freedom rights between Germany and the USA”, for example. What they actually mean is that they use fifth freedom rights on such a route.

Remember there is a difference between having fifth freedom traffic rights and using them. SIA still holds fifth freedom rights on flights between Germany and the United Kingdom, and between the USA and South Korea, but does not currently make use of these.

Similarly Qantas has fifth freedom rights between Singapore and Germany, France and Italy. The airline isn’t going to give up these rights as they may need them in the future, but they are currently unused.

Where it doesn’t work

Singapore Airlines does not have fifth freedom rights on two of these ‘other’ flights it operates outside Singapore; between Sydney and Canberra and between Johannesburg and Cape Town.

That’s because the fifth freedom of the air is not applicable to domestic flights in a ‘foreign’ country.

In order to carry revenue passengers on domestic sectors wholly within in a ‘foreign’ country on a flight ultimately operating to or from their own country, airlines need eighth freedom traffic rights (also known as “consecutive cabotage”). These rights are common in Europe, but are very rarely sought or approved elsewhere.

Cape Town Table Mountain.jpg
Singapore Airlines cannot sell tickets on its flights between Cape Town and Johannesburg (though it would definitely like to!). The fifth freedom of the air does not apply on these routes.

Singapore Airlines does not hold eighth freedom rights for operations within either Australia or South Africa, nor does it need them to run those services the way it does (since passengers cannot buy domestic tickets on SQ flights in these examples, they must be travelling to or from Singapore).

Operation (remember operating rights aren’t traffic rights) on domestic sectors as a continuation of the international service, sometimes called a ‘double drop’ is permitted under ICAO’s “optional stop right”, where multiple traffic points are usually authorised on a route (e.g. Singapore to Canberra with a ‘traffic point’ stop in Sydney).

For example, Qantas also does not hold eighth freedom rights on its daily Boeing 787 flight from Los Angeles to New York and back. Passengers must be flying all the way on its services to or from Australia on these ‘tag’ flights.

Qantas was recently fined by the US Department of Transportation for selling revenue fares to passengers on its US domestic flights, so Governments do take cabotage seriously.

Singapore Airlines fifth freedom routes

Now that we’ve got the legal context covered and understand what a fifth freedom route is, we can take a look at the ones Singapore Airlines operates. Currently there are six ‘fifth freedom’ routes on the network. These are:

  • Frankfurt – New York (JFK) – Frankfurt
  • Hong Kong – San Francisco – Hong Kong
  • Manchester – Houston – Manchester
  • Melbourne – Wellington – Melbourne
  • Moscow – Stockholm – Moscow
  • Tokyo – Los Angeles – Tokyo

Let’s take a look in more detail at each one.

Frankfurt – New York
FRAJFK2.jpg

The only SIA fifth freedom route currently operating on the Airbus A380 is the daily return Frankfurt to New York flight.

Singapore Airlines also flies daily to New York (Newark) non-stop using a 2-class Airbus A350-900ULR.

Flight Details
Distance: 3,844 miles
Aircraft: A380-800
Seats: 2006 Suites
2006 Business
Flight time: 8h 35m (FRA-JFK)
7h 45m (JFK-FRA)
Schedule
Flight Dep Arr M T W T F S S
SQ26 FRA-JFK 08:35 11:10 Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png
SQ25 JFK-FRA 20:55 10:40* Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png

* Next day 

KrisFlyer Miles Rates
KF Logo trans.png Saver Advantage
First / Suites 86,000 140,000
Business 72,000 85,000
Premium Economy 47,000 n/a
Economy 22,500 40,000
Other operators (non-stop)
Delta_Airlines.png Delta Air Lines 767-300ER
Lufthansa.png Lufthansa A380-800
747-8
United_Airlines.png United Airlines 787-10
Cash fares / Miles value
We found return cash fares three months from now on these Singapore Airlines flights starting at:

  • Economy: S$855
  • Premium: S$1,561
  • Business: S$2,965
  • Suites: S$8,359

That would give you only average value using KrisFlyer miles, so this is probably a route to redeem on when fares are a bit higher for your preferred dates.

Hong Kong – San Francisco
HKGSFO.jpg

By far the longest fifth freedom route on the current SIA network is the SQ1 / SQ2 service between Hong Kong and San Francisco. This flight, upwards of 14 hours flying time, spans nearly 7,000 miles and crosses nine time zones.

We reviewed it in First Class back in 2018, as the part of our journey through to Singapore.

Flight Details
Distance: 6,915 miles
Aircraft: 777-300ER
Seats: 2013 First
2013 Business
Flight time: 12h 45m (HKG-SFO)
14h 20m (SFO-HKG)
Schedule
Flight Dep Arr M T W T F S S
SQ2 HKG-SFO 23:30 21:15* Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png
SQ1 SFO-HKG 01:15 06:35 Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png

* Next day

KrisFlyer Miles Rates
KF Logo trans.png Saver Advantage
First / Suites 104,000 172,000
Business 89,000 115,000
Premium Economy 63,000 n/a
Economy 33,000 60,000
Other operators (non-stop)
Cathay_Pacific.png Cathay Pacific A350-900
777-300ER
Hainan_Airlines.png Hong Kong Airlines A350-900
United_Airlines.png United Airlines 777-300ER
Cash fares / Miles value
We found return cash fares three months from now on these Singapore Airlines flights starting at:

  • Economy: S$856
  • Premium: S$1,609
  • Business: S$7,048
  • First: S$16,988

Not much point at those rates using KrisFlyer miles in Economy or Premium Economy, but Business and First Class come into their own here.

Note how a First Class saver award on this route is only 17% more expensive than for Business Class. Typically a First Class saver award will cost you 35% to 50% more than Business Class across the rest of the network, so this one is really worth going for. As always, actual fares in First Class are astronomic but very few people would pay them.

Manchester – Houston
MANIAH.jpg

Singapore Airlines flies to Houston via Manchester five times per week. That gives rise to this second transatlantic fifth freedom route, between Manchester and Houston itself. The airline is the only operator on the route.

Flight Details
Distance: 4,712 miles
Aircraft: A350-900
Seats: 2013 Business
Flight time: 9h 50m (MAN-IAH)
8h 55m (IAH-MAN)
Schedule
Flight Dep Arr M T W T F S S
SQ52 MAN-IAH 10:40 14:30 Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png
SQ51 IAH-MAN 19:10 10:05* Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png

* Next day

KrisFlyer Miles Rates
KF Logo trans.png Saver Advantage
Business 72,000 85,000
Premium Economy 47,000 n/a
Economy 22,500 40,000
Cash fares / Miles value
We found return cash fares three months from now on these Singapore Airlines flights starting at:

  • Economy: S$724
  • Premium: S$2,597
  • Business: S$4,648

If a non-stop flight between Manchester and Houston suits you perfectly then you’ll get generally good value using your miles on this route. With SIA being the sole operator, fares are relatively high and the miles rate, especially in Economy Class, is quite competitive.

If simply flying between the UK and the USA is your aim though, there is a lot of choice and competition with several airlines across the cabin classes, and so you miles are probably best saved in that case.

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Melbourne – Wellington
MELWLG.jpg

This Trans-Tasman flight runs four days a week on the older 777-200 aircraft.

Flight Details
Distance: 1,615 miles
Aircraft: 777-200
Seats: 2009 Regional Business
Flight time: 3h 20m (MEL-WLG)
3h 55m (WLG-MEL)
Schedule
Flight Dep Arr M T W T F S S
SQ247 MEL-WLG 06:50 12:10 Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png
SQ248 WLG-MEL 13:30 15:25 Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png
KrisFlyer Miles Rates
KF Logo trans.png Saver Advantage
Business 31,000 35,000
Economy 12,500 15,000
Other operators (non-stop)
Air_New_Zealand.png Air New Zealand A320-200
Qantas.png Qantas 737-800
Cash fares / Miles value
We found return cash fares three months from now on these Singapore Airlines flights starting at:

  • Economy: S$451
  • Business: S$1,027

Economy Class might actually be a good redemption on this flight at 12,500 KrisFlyer miles each way, but fares in Business Class are relatively low and so you’re better using cash in that cabin unless you stumble upon a really expensive travel date.

On very expensive days don’t discount the Advantage redemption rates on this route – they’re only marginally higher than Saver rates.

Moscow – Stockholm
DMEARN.jpg

If one Singapore Airlines fifth freedom route has to be the longest then one has to be the shortest too, and this is it. The short 2-hour hop from Moscow to Stockholm and back is the continuation of a five times weekly flight from Singapore on the Airbus A350.

Flight Details
Distance: 793 miles
Aircraft: A350-900
Seats: 2013 Business
Flight time: 2h 20m (DME-ARN)
2h 15m (ARN-DME)
Schedule
Flight Dep Arr M T W T F S S
SQ362 DME-ARN 07:15 08:35 Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png
SQ361 ARN-DME 10:15 13:30 Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png
KrisFlyer Miles Rates
KF Logo trans.png Saver Advantage
Business 30,500 35,000
Premium Economy 17,000 n/a
Economy 10,000 15,000
Other operators (non-stop)
Aeroflot.png Aeroflot A320-200
737-800
Cash fares / Miles value
We found return cash fares three months from now on these Singapore Airlines flights starting at:

  • Economy: S$216
  • Premium: S$657
  • Business: S$1,114

With cash fares like these it makes no sense to use your KrisFlyer miles on one of the Singapore Airlines flights between Moscow and Stockholm, even at the competitive intra-Europe 10,000-mile rate.

Tokyo – Los Angeles
NRTLAX.jpg

Another transpacific option here, if flying between Japan and California is a useful routing to you then Singapore Airlines can help you out once per day with its 4-class Boeing 777-300ER service.

Flight Details
Distance: 5,458 miles
Aircraft: 777-300ER
Seats: 2013 First
2013 Business
Flight time: 10h 10m (NRT-LAX)
11h 30m (LAX-NRT)
Schedule
Flight Dep Arr M T W T F S S
SQ12 NRT-LAX 19:00 13:10 Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png
SQ11 LAX-NRT 15:30 19:00* Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png Takeoff Icon.png

* Next day

KrisFlyer Miles Rates
KF Logo trans.png Saver Advantage
First / Suites 107,000 182,000
Business 92,000 120,000
Premium Economy 66,000 n/a
Economy 35,000 65,000
Other operators (non-stop)
All_Nippon_Air.png All Nippon Airways 777-300ER
American_Airlines.png American Airlines 777-300ER
787-9
Delta_Airlines.png Delta Air Lines A350-900
Japan_Airlines.png Japan Airlines 777-300ER
United_Airlines.png United Airlines 787-9
Cash fares / Miles value
We found return cash fares three months from now on these Singapore Airlines flights starting at:

  • Economy: S$947
  • Premium: S$2,166
  • Business: S$3,577
  • First: S$14,012

First Class fares certainly justify a miles redemption on this route, but we found perfectly acceptable cash alternatives in the other classes, and with five other competitors to choose from (including Delta’s One Suite in Business Class), this might be one route to save your miles on and book confirmed.

Do any airlines use fifth freedom rights from Singapore?

Yes, quite a few actually. These include:

  • Air Mauritius and Ethiopian to/from Kuala Lumpur
  • British Airways to/from Sydney
  • Cathay Pacific to/from Bangkok
  • Delta to/from Tokyo
  • Emirates to/from Brisbane and Melbourne
  • Jetstar (JQ) and KLM to/from Bali
  • Qantas to/from London

Other Singapore based airlines also hold fifth freedom traffic rights, for example Scoot has such rights between Taiwan and Japan, allowing them to sell flights such as Taipei to Tokyo as standalone sectors.

Freedoms of the air (video)

If the five (or is it nine?) freedoms of the air interest you, and you have 15 minutes to spare, this YouTube presentation by Wendover Productions is worth a watch. While it deals with worldwide examples it’s pretty easy to see how Singapore Airlines also makes use of these regulations to its advantage.

Summary

Fifth freedom traffic rights, and the freedoms of the air themselves, are a little misunderstood. Once you get your head around them though – it’s simple enough.

Countless airlines use these rights on flights all over the world, indeed they are often the difference between a route’s success or failure. If SIA couldn’t pick up ‘fresh’ passengers in Manchester heading to Houston for example, the route itself might not even be viable.

2013 J A350 (Daniel Gillespia).jpg
30,500 miles for a 2-hour intra-Europe flight in this A350 Business Class seat isn’t worth it, with cash fares from less than S$600 one way. (Photo: Daniel Gillespia)

In terms of KrisFlyer redemptions, some of these routes will give you very good value, while the nature of other fifth freedom flights is that low fares mean they are worth just paying cash for.

Have you flown on any of Singapore Airlines’ fifth freedom routes? Let us know in the comments section below.

(Cover Photo: Edwin Leong)

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