An interesting new fifth freedom flight from Singapore was announced this week by Dubai-based Emirates, with the carrier revealing that it would extend one of its four daily Dubai – Singapore services to the Malaysian island of Penang.
The route, set to launch in early April 2020, will be operated by a Boeing 777-300ER. That means the addition of closed-door Suites in First Class and lie-flat beds in Business Class on this 90-minute flight.
Penang is Emirates’ second route in Malaysia, with the airline already operating three Airbus A380 flights per day between Dubai and Kuala Lumpur, based on GDS schedules in April 2020.
Farewell Brisbane, hello Penang
As many of you will know, in September last year Emirates sought to end its Singapore – Brisbane fifth freedom route due to what the airline described as “substantial losses”.
Since Emirates was operating in partnership on the route with Qantas, in order to stop flying the daily service the matter had to be passed to the Competition Commission, with a period of public consultation.
In November last year the commission approved the request, and Emirates announced it would cease the route from late March 2020.
That’s where Penang comes in.
The airline is clearly not willing to give up the slots at Changi it was using for the Brisbane service, so it is instead using these to commence another fifth freedom flight around 10 days after the Brisbane service ceases, using the same flight numbers.
Emirates already codeshares on Jetstar Asia services between Singapore and Penang and so will already have very good data on how many passengers fly on its codeshare services with Jetstar to and from this destination as part of a wider itinerary.
Here’s how Emirates will be extending its EK348 service to Penang from April 2020:
From 9th April 2020
|Flight||From / To||Aircraft||Days|
|EK348||DXB0230 – SIN1405||77W||Daily|
|EK348||SIN1535 – PEN1715||77W||Daily|
|EK349||PEN2220 – SIN2350||77W||Daily|
|EK349||SIN0140 – DXB0455||77W||Daily|
* Next day
The timing of this service is conducive to taking a half day off work, especially on a Friday for example, then hitting Georgetown’s famous street food in time for dinner.
On the way back to Singapore, you’ll really maximise your last day in Penang with a 10pm departure, though of course you may stuck be without a hotel room from around lunchtime.
Emirates operates its 3-class Boeing 777-300ER aircraft in four different configurations.
- 354 seats (new First / new Business)
- 354 seats (old First / old Business)
- 356 seats (old First / new Business)
- 360 seats* (old First / old Business)
* No crew rest installed
The airline has planned its sub-fleet with 354 seats featuring the older cabin products for this Penang Route.
The aircraft is laid out with 8 closed-door First Class Suites, 42 Business Class lie-flat seats in a 2-3-2 configuration, and 304 Economy Class seats in a mostly 3-4-3 configuration.
These aircraft are equipped with a crew rest compartment and are typically used on long-haul / ultra long-haul routes, suggesting the crew operating these Penang services will fly two sectors from Dubai then overnight in Penang, rather than Singapore.
Not all the capacity will be for the Singapore – Penang – Singapore sectors of course, with Emirates hoping for a large number of customers flying all the way to and from Dubai (and in that case mostly connecting to other cities on its network, such as European ports).
For example the airline is offering only two First Class seats for sale on each SIN-PEN flight at this stage, in the expectation that the other six seats will be needed for long-haul passengers through its Dubai hub.
Who else flies?
There are already 107 flights per week programmed in April 2020 between Singapore and Penang, not including these additional seven times weekly Emirates flights.
- SilkAir: 42 per week
- AirAsia: 35 per week
- Scoot: 18 per week
- Jetstar: 12 per week
That puts Emirates up against mainly low-cost competition in the Economy Class cabin, which as you’ll see shortly reflects in the fares on offer.
This will also be the only wide-body passenger service between Singapore and Penang, which Emirates notes will allow up to 15 tonnes of cargo on each flight – an important revenue driver.
The only other airline operating between Penang and the Middle East is Qatar Airways, with their five-times weekly Doha service.
Occasionally one of the 12 newer 777-300ERs with a crew rest compartment (but not the new First Class Suite) are substituted on these routes, and these have the new Business Class cabin. You’ll be able to tell the difference only from the Economy Class seat map, which has two more seats (50A and 50B).
These aircraft may pop up on the Dubai – Singapore – Penang flights (as they did occasionally on the Dubai – Singapore – Brisbane services), but this is not planned and would therefore be a short term operational change.
Pro Tip: If you’re keen to try Emirates’ new Boeing 777 Business Class product, the daily EK404/405 flights between Singapore and both Melbourne and Dubai are always planned with this fit (old First / new Business) at the time of writing.
Emirates currently has no plans to fly its new fully-enclosed Suites product (see our review) on its Singapore routes, with only nine aircraft currently sporting the configuration they are currently found flying between Dubai and:
- Kuwait City
- London Stansted
- Tokyo Haneda
If you want to use miles or points to redeem Emirates flights between Singapore and Penang, these are the rates you’ll pay by frequent flyer programme.
* First Class redemptions on Emirates flights are not possible using Malaysia Airlines Enrich miles.
You can transfer points and miles into these schemes from the following credit cards in Singapore:
- Emirates Skywards: American Express, Standard Chartered
- Qantas Frequent Flyer: Citi, DBS, Standard Chartered
- Malaysia Airlines Enrich: American Express, Citi, Standard Chartered
Award space has not yet been loaded for this route, though that should change in due course. Edit: Award availability has now started to become available.
With the exception of using Qantas points for a First Class or Business Class redemption, none of these rates look to represent good value for your miles against cash fares offered on this route.
Fifth freedom routes like these are often better value using cash, since the airline typically has a large volume of seats to sell to a market unfamiliar with its existence on the particular city pair.
Cash fares start at just S$62 one-way in Economy Class.
Fares starting in Singapore
Fares starting in Penang
Perhaps the best value here is a roundtrip from Penang to Singapore and back in Business Class. At S$535 per person, including lounge access at both ends.
These fares are available practically every day, with the exception of the Christmas 2020 period in Economy Class where Emirates is hoping to collect a little more revenue on the route.
Upgrades to Business Class from a cash ticket start from 10,000 Emirates Skywards miles on this route (if you fork our for an Economy Flex Plus ticket), or 13,000 miles from an Economy Flex ticket.
Business Class passengers can upgrade to First Class for 10,000 Skywards miles, subject to availability.
Emirates hasn’t revealed which lounge it will be using in Penang for First and Business Class passengers heading to Singapore and Dubai, but it’s likely to be the Plaza Premium Lounge.
The only other option at the airport – the Cathay Pacific Lounge – isn’t open for the Emirates flight departure time.
The Plaza Premium Lounge on Penang’s International Departures side is also on Priority Pass. By all accounts it’s small, windowless, and alcohol-free (with the exception of canned beer).
In Singapore you’ll be directed to use the Emirates combined First and Business Class lounge, located near the C gates in Terminal 1 (right next door to the brand new Qatar lounge).
The Emirates lounge was refurbished in 2017 with a slightly more contemporary look, and is open daily during the following hours:
- 6.40am – 10:25am (for EK404 & EK405)
- 12.35pm – 15:35pm (for EK348)
- 5.40pm – 1.40am (for EK355, EK353 & EK349)
As you can see it’s the lunchtime opening that caters for passengers on the Penang flight, and those disembarking EK348 in Singapore at 2pm for the brief layover before continuing to Penang.
That means the lounge should be nice and quiet for at least the first hour to 90 minutes from opening, with only Penang-bound passengers eligible.
Those flying First Class on Emirates will no doubt want to spend some time in the brand new (and truly excellent) Qantas Singapore First Lounge.
Unfortunately it opens at 2.30pm each day, so this flight won’t get you inside for more than about 15-20 minutes. That might be just enough time for a Salt and Pepper Squid washed down with a glass of Tattinger, but then it will be time to go to the gate.
Flying Business you could also quickly dive into the Qantas Singapore Business Lounge at 2.30pm (opening time) for one of the daily live cooking options (the regular Laksa is a treat), but again you’re time is quite limited.
Remember your gate will close strictly at the very latest 10 minutes before departure time, after which point there’s a high risk of being offloaded. With some Terminal 1 gates a good 10-minute walk from the lounges, we would strongly advise being on your way to the gate by 3pm at the very latest.
Don’t ‘misuse’ your boarding card
In case you’re tempted to book or redeem a First or Business Class ticket on this new service simply to get the boarding card then lounge-surf all afternoon, deliberately missing your flight then heading home with a belly full of fine food and Champagne – beware!
The police take a very dim view of this (it is actually an offence in Singapore), and you can be charged. Around one passenger per week is arrested for doing this – so please don’t risk it.
While this is more specifically designed to prevent duty free shopping (tax evasion), the law does not specifically state that and lounge-hopping can be regarded equally severely.
Emirates offers complimentary chauffeur drive service for arriving and departing passengers in Business Class and First Class in Singapore (island-wide, including Sentosa).
Before you get too excited, though the airline has not announced whether any chauffeur drive options will be included in Penang, it’s unlikely in our opinion.
Remember you’ll only get a chauffeur in Singapore if you’re booked in First or Business Class on a cash fare. Award tickets and upgrades are not eligible (with the exception of upgrades from a cash Business fare to First Class).
If you are lucky enough to receive a complimentary upgrade from Economy Class to Business Class, you’re also out of luck – you can’t use the chauffeur drive service.
Emirates offers 20MB free Wi-Fi to Economy Class passengers flying on its Boeing 777-300ERs (you won’t be getting that on Scoot, Jetstar or SilkAir!), while for Skywards members flying in Business or First Class there is an unlimited complimentary allowance.
It’s free to join Skywards, so that’s a no brainer if you’re flying at the pointy end.
A very interesting new fifth freedom route for our Singapore-based readers, Penang is popular for its street food in particular and a favourite destination for many.
This new Emirates service will suit those who can take a half day of leave (or better still, sneak out of the office at lunchtime) and maximise their short break. For those in Business Class or First Class, it even includes a (very brief) visit to the Qantas lounges in Singapore when they are at their quietest, in addition to the recently renovated Emirates facility.
In Economy Class, you’ll benefit from complimentary food and beverages, 30kg baggage allowance, plus 20MB free Wi-Fi, when flying with Emirates compared with a low-cost alternative to or from Penang like Scoot or Jetstar.
With Qatar Airways already offering non-stop flights between Penang and Doha, mostly for connections to and from Europe, plus over 100 weekly local options on the route with better-known carriers, it will be interesting to see if this new Emirates service is a long-term proposition or just a ‘slot holder’ at Changi while they explore a better option.
(Cover Photo: Emirates)