Category Archives: Airlines

Airlines

USM Quick Report: The good, the bad and Silkair

Getting back to work is always a herculean task after a great holiday, but here are some initial insights from my amazing Koh Samui trip. Full reports to follow!

SilkAir MI 772

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photo by kentaro iemoto

One sentence summary: Terrible delay management

The good

The aircraft flew safely from point A to point B

The bad

  • The trip started off on the wrong note when I showed up at Changi Airport at 8:45am for a 10:25am departure only to be told that the flight was delayed by 3.5 hours.
  • The ground staff showed me a notice to that effect, but the fact was no one had contacted me at all, through call, SMS or email. In fact, it was only when I was at the check in desk at 8:55am that a call came through. I received an automated email informing me of the flight delay…at 10:09am, 16 mins before the fight is supposed to depart

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  • Even if you accept 8:55am as the “official” alert time, it’s clearly inadequate to give passengers less than 90 mins notice of a 3.5 hour delay. There’s no reason why an automated SMS/email could not have been sent out as soon as the decision was made to delay the flight. This would have allowed me to request that they rebook me via BKK, which would at least saved a couple of hours off the delay. The most annoying thing is that my waitlist for the earlier flight (MI772) never cleared despite there being 8+ revenue seats available, meaning this whole issue could have been avoided by them simply putting me on the earlier flight.
  • The reason for the delay? “A late disruption to the aircraft allocation schedule”. In other words, the airline decided that another route required the aircraft more, and made the decision to reassign that aircraft. The reason was quite clear when I boarded, as the aircraft was less than 50% full. So unfortunately, I was part of the group that Silkair chose to inconvenience in order to get that aircraft on a fuller-load route.
  • The compensation offered was a $15 meal voucher and “sorry”. Needless to say this is completely unacceptable and I’ve written to Silkair asking for a full refund of the miles and taxes used to purchase this ticket. Let’s see what happens. I’m not optimistic, given that despite an acknowledgement of my complaint, no one from MI has reached out to me yet

The Vana Belle, a Luxury Collection Resort

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One sentence summary: Good villas, excellent service

The good

The service at the Vana Belle was flawless. Some of the really nice small touches

  • Whenever they brought the car around for us to go out, we’d always find 2 chilled bottles of water in the cupholders

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  • They gave us this delicious bottle of cookies which had chocolate chips and cashews in them. I’m a real picky eater, so trust me when I say that these were some of the most amazing cookies I had

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  • They were good at attending to misc requests, like pumping our pool pizza float, getting me a takeaway box for the rest of the delicious cookies, getting a stopper for our champagne bottle etc.

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  • Each evening during turndown service we’d find a new snack on the table, plus a new soap for us to try
  • The staff were very good at anticipating requests- when we checked out, the car was brought around and waiting for us when the buggy brought us to reception. On our last day, we were asked whether we’d need help deflating the pool float we brought. All these little touches made the experience much more polished

The bad

  • The view from the villa was somewhat disappointing- we were placed in Vana 2, which is separated from the ocean by another set of villas and trees. So while you can see a bit of the ocean, the view is rather obstructed

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  • The breakfast items were hit and miss. Some were very good, others were ok and some were really bad (think unseasoned, wilted spinach, overcooked eggs, soggy bacon and waffles and cooked to death steak). This was all the more surprising as 60-70% of the breakfast is cooked to order off an ala carte menu

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Conrad Koh Samui

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One sentence summary: World-class hard product let down by indifferent soft product

The Good

  • The villas have stunning views of the ocean, the type that photos cannot do justice. Watching the sunset in front of you into the ocean from your private pool is a very special experience

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  • For an expensive property, the food at the all-day restaurant was surprisingly reasonable. Think 300THB for a fried rice, the average dish around 450-500THB. Expensive for Thailand? No doubt. Reasonable for a 5 Star property? Definitely

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  • They did a giveaway for Hilton elite members at check-in and we got a 30 min complimentary spa treatment (unfortunately, it was only for one person. The cynic in me suspects it’s part of a strategy to get you to buy one more treatment for your partner)

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  • The rooms are furnished really nicely- think King sized round bathtub with plenty of room for you and a partner, Shanghai Tang bathroom amenities, Apple TV & Bose Sound system (a perk unique to the 300 series rooms, I am told- more on that in the full trip report)

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The Bad

I think the list below might well be the epitome of “first world problems”. That said, given that the starting rate at the Conrad is upwards of $1,000, I think it’s safe to say that no detail should be too small. So here goes…

  • The arrivals area was really small, and probably only had a seating capacity for maybe 10 people at most. There were nearly 20 people at the check-in area when we arrived, all of whom had bags, which made it seem really hectic and noisy- not really the kind of first impression you want to give in a place which is supposedly all about relaxation. The check-in staff might done a better job in quickly moving people out of the check-in area to the villas to minimize the overflow

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  • Our villa was not ready at check in, and given that we arrived at 1pm that was more than fair (official check in is 3pm). We were invited to the restaurant to have a drink and wait. We ordered lunch, and just as lunch came we were told that our villa was ready. I asked if they could take the food to the villa because we were really eager to see it, to which the staff member sort of made a face and said “it would be better if you could take your lunch here first”. Rule number 1 in the luxury hospitality business- the only proper response to a customer request is “certainly!”
  • Because of its size, the entire Conrad Koh Samui relies on a series of buggies for transportation. We are told that buggies can take as much as 10 mins to arrive, but often the wait was 15-20 mins. One particularly long wait was after a spa treatment, where after a 20 min wait still no buggy showed, so much so that the receptionist suggested I walk back to my villa as it would be faster
  • During breakfast, the activities director went around to the different tables hawking paid tours, which seemed a bit unclassy for a place like the Conrad
  • Perhaps it was a communication issue, but when we went to the lobby to collect our car to drive out, the staff just handed me the key. I was a bit confused because I had no idea where the car was, having valet parked it. I asked them and they said “oh, you want us to drive the car to you?” It was a bit of a weird moment
  • Similarly, when we returned from going out and dropped off the car, the reception staff asked if we were checking in. Considering that the Conrad issues all its staff a literal “face book” of all the guests staying there, this would definitely count as a service goof
  • It took a full 2 hours for the pool staff to return the pool float that we had left at the main pool for them to deflate despite 3 calls
  • Anticipating needs is a big part of the service game- at the Vana Belle when we called for help with our bags to check out, when we got to the departure area our car was already there waiting for us. Not so at the Conrad

I do suspect capacity has a thing to do with it- the staff at the Conrad seemed consistently flustered with the large number of guests they had to deal with (I did witness raised voices between 2 members of the staff in the reception area, which was unprofessional to say the least), but in the Vana Belle it seemed much more quiet and the staff more relaxed


Overall, despite the terrible way MI handled the delay, the trip was still fantastic. The full trip reports are in progress and will hopefully be posted within the next week, with tons of photos, so stay tuned for that!

1,000 free Etihad guest miles for 30 seconds of work

Still have the back to work blues after a great trip to Koh Samui (full trip reports to follow shortly), but here’s a mid-week bonus for everyone-

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Heinemann is a duty-free shop that partners with Etihad and Air Berlin to allow shoppers to earn miles when they buy things online. (link here) They’re running a promotion now that allows you to get 1,000 free Etihad Guest miles. Plus, if you’re not already an Etihad Guest member, you can get 1 year of Etihad Silver Status + the 1,000 miles when you sign up

EDIT: Jason has pointed out the following-

FYI the Etihad Silver award has a qualifying criteria: Book one return flight in Economy Class or a one-way flight in Business or First Class between 01.03.2016 and 31.07.2016 will qualify for the offer. This offer is applicable only for the first 1,000 members that meet the enrolment and flight criteria.

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There’s nothing stopping you from creating a new Etihad Guest account to get 1,000 free miles + Silver Status, but if, like me, you already have an Etihad Guest account, it makes more sense to add those 1,000 miles to an existing balance than park them in a Silver status account with only 1,000 miles.

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You can also do the same thing with Topbonus (Airberlin’s FFP) if you already have some miles there to take advantage of the 50% mile discount on award flights.

This offer is valid till 30 April 2016, but is liable to get pulled if too many people jump on it, so I’d get busy now if I were you.

Want to read more about Etihad’s FFP and how you can use it to your advantage? Check out these articles

What to do with orphan miles

Etihad’s fourth alliances and its use

The Etihad upgrade system

cover photo by tearbringer

Thoughts on SIA’s approach to cost cutting

In the wake of more strong SQ financial performance news, I thought it was timely to take a look at how they made that happen. Here is a somewhat dated but otherwise excellent read on HBR about Singapore Airlines’ strategy for competing in the global aviation market. To summarise-

cover photo by Matt Weibo