On 1st July 2021 the popular Thai resort island of Phuket reopened to fully vaccinated foreign tourists under its new ‘sandbox’ scheme, with no quarantine on arrival subject to negative COVID-19 tests, allowing travellers to roam the island freely.
After 14 days, these visitors are then able to travel to the rest of Thailand without restriction if they wish.
Airlines have been building up their schedules in response, including Singapore Airlines, which is increasing to twice daily service out of Changi from 19th July according to its latest schedule update. We’ve noticed load factors of over 60% on some of these services so far since the scheme started, welcome news for our beleaguered national carrier.
Though some travellers are making the journey from Singapore, most are transit passengers from Europe, the USA and Southeast Asia.
Other airlines to return to Phuket so far include Qatar Airways, Etihad and El Al.
Jetstar is restarting Phuket flights
Singapore’s smallest airline, Jetstar Asia, which has returned to nine destinations on its pre-COVID network at the time of writing, is also planning a return to Phuket from September this year.
The Qantas Group carrier will operate twice weekly service on Fridays and Sundays from 3rd September 2021, its 10th route reinstatement.
Jetstar will fly an evening service to and from Phuket each Friday, with a lunchtime flight on Sundays, as shown below.
From 3rd September 2021
The airline is advertising fares on the route starting from S$79, while Singapore Airlines is charging around S$135 for Economy Lite fares in early September.
The Phuket ‘sandbox’ principle, which launched on 1st July 2021, allows fully vaccinated Thai nationals and foreign tourists from 68 countries to visit the island with no quarantine on arrival, instead completing a COVID-19 testing regime both prior to and after arrival.
Unvaccinated children under the age of 18 can travel with fully vaccinated adults without quarantine.
Key points to note about the scheme include:
- You must stay in an SHA+ accredited hotel in Phuket for the duration of your stay, or the first 14 nights, whichever is shorter.
- You can swap between SHA+ accredited hotels, but you must stay for at least 7 nights in your first SHA+ hotel before you can move to another SHA+ hotel.
- After the first 14 nights, you can move to private accommodation if you wish (e.g. friend’s house, condo, Airbnb).
- You must fly to Phuket from overseas. Transit in Bangkok is not allowed.
- If you are staying less than 14 days in Phuket, you must fly out of Phuket Airport to an international destination.
- If you are staying for 14 days or more in Phuket, you can then travel to any domestic destination in Thailand if you wish.
Full requirements can be checked here.
Hotel SHN still applies on return to Singapore
One of the major factors putting most Singapore residents off a trip to Phuket is the requirement to undergo a mandatory 14-day SHN period in a hotel on return, at a cost of S$2,000 per room (plus testing fees).
This can also be served in a specific hotel suite of your choice at one of nine properties, including the Westin, the Conrad and the Swissotel, though rates start at S$5,000 per room (which you can share with a family member).
The good news is that Singapore plans to progressively move into an ‘endemic COVID’ strategy in the coming months, as full vaccination in the population increases beyond two-thirds and even as high as 80% based on some estimates.
This will involve opening to countries and regions with relatively low COVID-19 case totals (2 to 3 each day per 100,000 population) and high vaccination.
With Phuket now sealed off from the rest of Thailand, as far as tourism is concerned, 84% partial vaccination among its residents (67% fully vaccinated), and only around 0.9 daily new cases per 100,000 of its population, there’s potential for it to be a candidate for some relaxation on the Singapore side in due course.
The rest of Jetstar’s network
Here’s how Jetstar Asia’s network looks from Changi Airport once the Phuket route has been reinstated in September 2021.
|Ho Chi Minh||5/wk||5/wk|
Overall Jetstar will operate 98 services per week to and from Singapore by September 2021. Note that Singapore – Ho Chi Minh flights are cargo-only services, carrying passengers solely on their return to Singapore.
Prior to COVID-19, the airline was operating around 600 flights per week, so it is returning to around 16% of previous capacity by flight volumes.
Jetstar Asia already announced its intention to operate with a smaller fleet of 13 Airbus A320s post-COVID, having previously had a fleet of 18.
Another benefit for Jetstar is that it not only has approval to carry transit passengers through Changi on its own network, but since April 2021 is now also approved to carry transit passengers to or from Emirates services, as part of its codeshare agreement with the airline.
Travel vouchers have been extended
Unlike Singapore Airlines and Scoot, Jetstar Asia customers were not given the option of a cash refund after flight cancellations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Instead only a credit voucher towards a future Jetstar flight was offered, meaning many of our readers are still sitting on these, waiting for travel to rebound. Vouchers were initially valid for 6 months, later extended to 12 months.
The good news is that Jetstar has recently extended the validity of these vouchers again, which can now be redeemed against future bookings made by 31st December 2022.
Since Jetstar flights are bookable one year in advance, this means the vouchers can be used for flight departure dates up to 31st December 2023, well over two years from now.
Vouchers are valid for multiple bookings across the Jetstar network, so any outstanding credit remaining from one booking can be used towards another.
Flexible award bookings
As part of the Qantas “Flexible Classic Flight Rewards” policy, if you use your Qantas Frequent Flyer points to book any Qantas or Jetstar flight before 31st July 2021, you can change your plans until 28th February 2022.
- If you change your travel dates, Qantas will waive the change fee.
- If you decide to cancel, Qantas will waive the cancellation fee. The total Qantas Points used and any taxes, fees and carrier charges paid will be refunded.
Qantas Frequent Flyer rates on Jetstar Asia
One caveat is that redeeming Qantas points on Jetstar flights isn’t usually good value, because flights with higher fares are generally not made available as Classic Rewards.
It’s a promising sign that the usually cautious Jetstar Asia is planning to revive Singapore – Phuket flights in September.
Flights will cater to those willing to quarantine on return to Singapore, and to transit passengers, but hopefully as we move into ‘endemic COVID’ strategy in the months ahead there may be some relaxation for those returning from well-controlled locations like this.
The popular Thai resort island of Koh Samui is also set to open to fully vaccinated tourists on 15th July under a similar ‘Samui Plus’ programme, however there are no longer any Singapore-based airlines operating aircraft compatible with its small airport.
(Cover Photo: Sudpoth Sirirattanasakul / Shutterstock)