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In-depth analysis of the OCBC Voyage card

cover photo by luke ma

This is the second part of a two part article on the OCBC Voyage Card. The first part can be found here

The Idea

  • The Voyage Card has a high annual fee of S$488 which is non-waivable
  • Analysis of VM value shows VMs are worth ~3 cents each regardless of whether you redeem them for economy, business or first class. Therefore the Voyage Card is only useful if you intend to redeem economy class tickets.
  • The fixed value of VMs leads me to believe the Voyage Card is really a glorified cashback card with 3% cashback on general spend and a slightly higher cashback on foreign and dining spend
  • I do not recommend applying for this card due to the high annual fee and mediocre earning potential

 The Details

Continuing our analysis where we left off in the introduction, let’s take an in depth look at the features of the OCBC Voyage Card, and more important, the maths behind it

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Annual Fee, Joining Bonus and Other Perks

The annual fee for this card is S$488, and cannot be waived. You get 15,000 VMs as a sign up bonus. The card itself is made of metal- probably the first mass affluent metal card to come out, after the Centurion, DBS Insignia and UOB Reserve.

Perhaps disappointingly for a card targeted at premium users with a high annual fee, the Voyage Card doesn’t come with any Priority Pass. You get 2 visits per calendar year. That’s it.

You get complimentary limo transfer to the airport with a min S$5,000 spend each month. That’s much higher than other providers- ANZ Visa Travel Card offers it with S$2,500.

VM Earning Rates

You earn 1 VM for S$1 of local spending, and 2.3 VMs for S$1 of foreign spending or local/foreign spending on dining.

Intuitively, this is much lower than what other cards offer (eg UOB PRVI Miles with 1.6 miles (soon to be 1.4) on local spending and 2.5 miles on foreign spending, UOB Preferred Platinum with 4 miles on dining). However, we have emphasised repeatedly that VMs are more valuable than Krisflyer miles, because they are not subject to inventory restrictions or conversion fees, plus they earn miles of their own when flown.

VM Spending Rates

Here’s where it gets interesting. Attached below is the published “award chart” for VMs. Because VMs can be redeemed with any airline and destination, there is no fixed award chart like airlines have. What I suspect is that OCBC assigns a VM some monetary value, then works backwards from the cost of a commercial ticket to get the VMs needed.

Note that the chart below does not include taxes and fees ,these are additional (but can be paid using VMs too- way to go for transparency, OCBC)

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Let’s see if we can prove this through some sleuthing work of our own.

When I put together the data points, I get the following table. I’ve made 2 assumptions – first, that the VMs required are for SQ tickets. Second, that for economy tickets, the prices are for a fully-flexible ticket (upgradable)

Destination Base Fare S$ VMs Req Implied cents/VM
Melbourne (F) 7,750 259,000 3.0
Paris (F) 13,400 400,000 3.4
Taiwan (F) N/A 138,000 N/A
Bangkok (J) 1,100 38,000 2.9
London (J) 6,550 218,000 3.0
San Francisco (J) 8,750 238,000 3.7
Bangkok (Y) 520 21,150 2.5
Hong Kong (Y) 698 25,000 2.8
Kuala Lumpur (Y) 290 12,650 2.3
London (Y) 2,080 59,650 3.5
Maldives (Y) 940 31,500 3.0
Melbourne (Y) 1,100 42,400 2.6
Seoul (Y) 1,300 38,150 3.4
Tokyo (Y) 1,425 38,150 3.7

One thing that is coming out of this analysis is the average value of a VM is roughly 3 cents. Suleyman over at HWZ has done similar number crunching and come to a slightly higher conclusion of 3.5 cents

“I did a comparison using SQ Economy (using SQ flexi fares), Business and First/Suite fares. The business and first fares come out consistently to about 34 VM/$ (except for Taiwan as SQ has no First Class fares to Taipei). Economy fares went as high as 4% but I see those as less accurate since there can be quite a bit of seasonal fluctuation in Economy fares.”

The other, interesting conclusion Suleyman has

“Because the ‘rebate’ percentage is consistent across all classes, the card is actually better for redeeming Economy class tickets rather than premium class seats.

When redeeming from KF charts, miles are worth about 2c each when redeeming economy, 4.5c for business and 6c for first (this takes into account surcharges that needs to be paid for award tickets). So, this card will trump the best general miles earning card out there (UOB PRVI Miles – 1.6 miles/$ or 3.2c/$) when redeeming in Economy. For dining & overseas spend, it will still compare favorably with the 10x cards like UOB Preferred Platinum Amex & UOB Visa Signature (7.82 c/$, compared to 8c/$), but you have no issue with award availability and earns miles on the ticket

Conclusion is that this is the miles card to get if you are looking to fly economy class (perhaps even budget as well), which is an odd place to be in for a card targeting affluent/HNW…”

He’s hit the nail on the head here. So let’s say a VM has a fixed value of 3 cents. Recall that we said the value of a KF Mile varies depending on how you redeem it– from as low as 2 cents in economy to 7 cents in first.

S$1 General spending on the VM card gets you 1 VM (3 cents), whereas spending on the UOB PRVIMiles card gets 1.4 miles (from 15 May onwards) which is 2.8 cents if you redeem economy class tickets.

Based on this math, the only sensible way of using the Voyage Card is to use it for general spending and earn economy class tickets (the Voyage Card loses out on specialised spend- S$1 on dining earns you 2.3 VMs ( 6.9 cents) versus 4 miles (8 cents economy, 16 cents business, 28 cents first) on the UOB Preferred Platinum card)

However, it’s good to emphasise again that the maths is not conclusive- you need to decide how much value you place on certainty. A Krisflyer mile is worth 4-5 cents IF you can redeem it for a business class saver ticket. A VM is ALWAYS worth 3 cents because you’re guaranteed a seat so long as commercial availability is present.

The value of a VM increases slightly when you consider how many miles you will earn from a VM-redeemed ticket. I’m not able to think of a way to value this option, but when you factor in the high annual fee and the lack of other perks I’m sure there’s some offsetting going on.

I realise this is a lot to take in, so my final thought on this is- if you ALWAYS redeem for business or first saver (or don’t redeem if neither is available), the Voyage Card is a bad deal.

Conclusion

The Voyage Card is so hard to assess precisely because we’ve never had anything quite like it in Singapore. On the one hand, I applaud OCBC for coming up with something new- the ability to redeem miles on any airline. On the other, I can’t help but feel this is more like a glorified cashback card. The VMs they give to you have a fixed value- OCBC is essentially giving you a 3% cashback card with special cashback bonuses for overseas and dining spend. Viewed this way the Voyage Card is really another failed attempt by OCBC to break into the miles market. They’d better hope people really have a fetish for metal cards, because the math certainly isn’t in their favour.

Why not learn about some better miles-earning cards here?

 

Etihad’s fourth alliance and its uses

photo by curlmedia

The Idea

  • Although not officially an alliance, Etihad’s diverse range of reciprocal mile earning and benefits arrangements make Etihad Guest a potential accrual option outside of Krisflyer
  • Due to is wide range of partners, oprhan miles can be accured in an Etihad Guest account and cashed out via PointsPay virtual Visa cards
  • Etihad Guest miles can be earned in Singapore through Citibank PremierMiles Cards

The Details

We mentioned previously that there were 3 airline alliances- Star Alliance, OneWorld and SkyTeam. These airlines have previously courted Etihad, informally or otherwise. What’s worth noting is that until Qatar joined OneWorld, none of the Big 3 Middle Eastern airlines (Emirate, Etihad, Qatar) was aligned with any alliance. The closest candidate would be Saudia with SkyTeam, but that’s hardly a prestige partnership.

But Etihad has never shown any serious interest in joining one of these alliances. Instead, it’s been working to form networks and partnerships of its own. These partnerships are not alliances in the strictest sense of the word- there’s no reciprocal benefits given to elites in Etihad’s FFP for example (with some exceptions- see below). However, the basic blueprint of reciprocal mile earning has been established, and that’s why Etihad’s “Fourth Alliance” is so useful. It can be a dumping ground for orphan miles which would otherwise go to waste. Miles deposited here can either be used to redeem Etihad awards or cashed out via PointsPay

Mile Accruing Partnerships

Etihad currently has reciprocal mileage earning agreements with 22 other airlines. Yes, that’s right- 22 other airlines, which would put ahead of SkyTeam and OneWorld if this were a proper alliance on its own. This large network is also the reason why Etihad Guest is one of the best FFPs to dump and cash out on orphan miles, because you’re quite likely to be able to find an airline going your way that partners with Etihad.

Reciprocal Benefits Partnerships

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With the partners listed in the previous section, you’ll be able to cross-credit miles but your status doesn’t carry over. Which means that an Etihad Guest elite flying with ANA won’t get extra baggage allowance or lounge access.

Etihad has equity partnerships with several other airlines. These go one step further than mere mile earning. When you fly with

  • Airberlin
  • Jetairways
  • Aer Lingus
  • Virgin Australia
  • Air Serbia
  • Alitalia
  • Air Seychelles

Etihad Guest elite members are eligible to enjoy perks like lounge access, priority boarding and priority baggage.

Remember that if you’re an existing elite member in an FFP, you can get an Airberlin status match, as mentioned here in  a previous post I’ve done.

Earning Etihad Guest Miles in Singapore

The only way to earn Etihad Guest Miles with Singapore-issued credit cards is via Citibank PremierMiles. Citibank PremierMiles cardholders will earn Etihad Guest miles at a rate of S$1=1.2 miles locally and S$1= 2 miles overseas. Citibank PremierMiles has some lucrative bonus earning opportunities with Kaligo (S$1= 10 miles) and Agoda (S$1= 8 miles)

However, you can also boost your Etihad Guest miles account by writing a hotel review at Hotelcheck for 200 miles (maximum 12 reviews per year)

Etihad Guest Status Match

From time to time Etihad has a status match offer for members of other FFPs. The last offer was in Feb 2015. It’s no longer available but if it goes live again I’ll be sure to update you. I got my Krisflyer Gold matched to Etihad’s Gold tier, which gives me a mileage earning bonus on Etihad flights as well as the usual elite perks.

Trip Report: ANA First class SEA-NRT-SIN

If this post doesn’t convince you about the wonders of Lifemiles, nothing will.

I’ve been travelling around the west coast of the States for the past two weeks and it was finally time to come back. I had a confirmed economy class ticket on EVA, but the idea of sitting upright for 18 + hours didn’t particularly appeal to me. I’d been frantically checking the Lifemiles site to see if a business class redemption opportunity would open up (78,000 miles), but the only option they had was flying Asiana via Seoul. On this route. Asiana still uses their old business class angled-lie flat product, and there’s no way I was going to shell out good miles for that.

3 days before I was scheduled to fly, lo and behold, ANA First class award space opened. I had never tried ANA’s product before but had heard many good things about it, so it was a no brainer- 99,000 miles and $18 of taxes later, and I was all set.

Let’s pause to think about this- if I were to book this ticket on a commercial basis (which I could never afford,  but for argument’s sake), it would cost US$11,250. I instead booked it through Lifemiles, at an effective cost of US$1,503. Yes, that’s more than what I’d have paid for an economy class ticket, but the point is I got to experience a product that would normally have been beyond my wildest dreams. Convinced you should start a Lifemiles account yet?


I’ve never flown from Seattle airport but it’s a smaller-sized international airport (37.5M passengers) compared to others on the West Coast (SFO has 47M, LAX 71M). The only Asian carriers operating out of Seattle are Asiana, EVA, ANA and Korean.

I arrived at Sea-Tac at 1030 for a 1240 departure. My parents were flying back to SFO first for an extra day before going back to Singapore, but I had work on Monday so had to leave first. They had offloaded all their shopping on me so I had 3 bags to check-in, 2 of which were really pushing the 32kg weight limit.

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It turns out the bags were 28 and 29kg respectively. All the bags were checked through to SIN, and my 1A seat on both legs was confirmed

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Seattle is supposed to be one of the new airports that has express lanes for Star Alliance Gold members, but I didn’t see any standees or anything that would indicate such a thing existing. These are always useful to have because you’re bound to run into airport officials who don’t know their stuff and think you’re trying to cut.

In any case there’s a line for business and first class passengers which was much shorter than the regular line. It took me ~15 mins to clear security, which, for an American airport, is really pretty impressive.

After security I headed straight to the lounge. Fun fact: ANA doesn’t actually operate any lounges of its own outside of Japan. In Seattle they use a non-airline partner lounge, The Club at SEA (which can also be accessed through a wide variety of partner cards, as seen below)

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The lounge is adequate but nothing worth coming to the airport early for. In many ways it’s typical of a lounge that is part of a paid-club program. The food is mostly pre-packaged snacks and cookies. There are soft drinks, some stale bread and instant noodles.

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But more surprisingly, the lounge also has a full-service bar. The more I think about it the more I’m convinced that ANA is bankrolling everyone’s alcohol, at least around windows where it operates flights. I’ve never seen a paid lounge club offering free flow of alcohol, much less Piper Heidsieck champagne. What I suspect is the arrangement is that outside of ANA flight times, alcohol is offered on a paid basis. But because it’s not practicable to distinguish ANA passengers from other lounge guests, everyone gets a free drink during happy/ANA hour.

There is a separate first-class area in the lounge which has waiter service, but because there’s really no access control anyone can walk in and use that area. I saw the waitress craning her neck quite hard trying to verify my boarding pass the first time she came over though.

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The selection of snacks is exactly the same as outside, just that there’s a food menu you can order from. Again, nothing substantial, but it’s nice to have things come to you.

I had a chocolate chip cookie with my champagne and did some more work on Milelion- announcing the winners of our launch contest!

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Boarding was called on-time. The boarding area was really crowded- I had no idea the SEA-NRT route was so popular. But then again, it makes sense, given the number of technology companies located in Seattle.

L1010002  An ANA ground staff escorted me to the front of the line and without further ceremony I entered JA736A for my first ever ANA first class experience. It wasn’t disappointing.

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ANA has its latest first class product on its 777s, in a 1-2-1 configuration.

seatmap

The seat is called the “First Square”. So named for the shape, I suppose. Even though there is no door, the seat is incredibly private and when you’re seated you can’t see anyone else. The cabin was only 3/8 full today, and we were all spaced out very evenly, so that helped things even more.

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The suite is outfitted in wood panels with tons of storage space for your personal items- so much so that I worried I’d leave things behind.

The stewardess, Aya, came over and introduced herself. Her English wasn’t perfect (but then again, I don’t speak any Japanese so I’m not really in a position to criticise) but she was extremely friendly and eager to please. She informed me of the flight time today, a disappointingly-short 8h45min.

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Waiting at my seat were all the goodies- a Samsonite-branded amenity kit (ANA used to have Rimowa kits, but those have been phased out. I can’t decide if Rimowa is better or Samsonite. First world problems), pajamas and a cardigan.

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Inside the toiletries kit were earplugs, a toothbrush (an actual good quality one, not the flimsy ones airlines usually give), a Ginza-branded toiletries set, an eye mask and some refreshing wipes.

One strange thing about the headphones that ANA uses is their plug is not the standard airline jack. That means you can’t use an adapter and plug in your own headphones. This would be more of an issue if you’re travelling in economy and want to use your own buds, because the headset they provide in First class is excellent- SONY branded.

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ANA has in-flight wifi, but the rates are ridiculously steep. 20MB for US$24? Come on, this is 2015. Onair, which is ANA’s provider, generally charges ridiculous rates. I much prefer the service offered by T-mobile, which gives you an all you can use pass for 24 hours for US$17.95 or so.

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Service began with a hot towel, after which the menu was presented to me.

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I had already resolved to take the Western option out of SEA and the Japanese option out of NRT, just so I could have more variety of photographs. That said, the Japanese menu still looked amazing.

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The amuse bouche was served first, with champagne. Yes, it’s Krug. I know close to nothing about alcohol, but I’m familiar with the big names and Krug is one of them. I didn’t care for the amuse bouche much either, it was a strange mix of cheese sticks, pickled vegetables, , a cream cheese filled roll with salmon on top and some strange tuna bread.

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For the entree I had the crab meat with caviar.I remember this episode of The F Word where Gordon Ramsey visits a sturgeon farm and they harvest a sturgeon, cut it open and there’s tons of these eggs inside which in total were worth something like 3-4K pounds. So I was really excited to try caviar for the first time.

Call me a philistine, but I don’t see what all the fuss is about. I even used the special spoon they gave me.

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Salad was unmemoriable and left mostly untouched.

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The beef was fantastic. The last time I had beef (on an SQ book the cook flight ex-SIN) it was tough and grey in the middle. This steak was actually leaning a bit more towards rare- plenty of red in the middle. It was tender and came with gnocci and mushrooms. The best part was the roasted garlic on top- I spread it on the steak like a jam and it infused every bite with extra goodness.

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I had it with Japanese rice, which I am starting to love more and more. I have decided that I’m going to try to buy Japanese rice when I get back. It’s really that good.

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For desert i had ice cream (it was Haagen Daz, I could taste it) and some fruits.  They also served some pralines and macaroons afterwards.

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Again, with only 3 people in the cabin the meal service was over as quickly or as slowly as you wanted. The other 2 passengers were just beginning their main course as I finished my meal.

I watched Ex Machina over lunch, having heard good things about it on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s a good film, but the annoying thing is that it was obviously censored. Every time a character swore, there would be a very visible cutting out of the sound. And then since the robots are all female, there’s this scene where one character discovers all the old models and they’re all nude and you can see boobies and stuff. Only on this version everything was digitised so you just saw pixels. The lack of robot nudity was annoying but it did not unduly break the narrative flow, thankfully.

After the movie I decided to take a nap. Since there was so much space, everyone in the cabin had 2 seats- 1 for working, 1 for sleeping. Aya made the bed for me while I went to change into the pajamas, which are really, really comfortable. I’ve never really been a PJs man- most often I just go to bed in shorts and a t-shirt. But now I know why people wear them. These were really, really comfortable.

The seat itself was lovely. ANA puts a foam sleeping pad on top of the bed when they make it up for you, and gives you an extra pillow to support your neck. The seat is soft but not too soft that you find yourself sinking into it, and with the privacy afforded by the shape of the square suite you don’t get a lot of light pollution from your neighbours.

I slept on and off for 3 hours and woke up feeling peckish so I ordered something off the snack menu. Note to SQ: ANA actually has a proper snack menu. SQ’s idea of snacks are cup noodles, chips and fruit, even in first/business class. There’s something a little wrong about eating cup noodles out of Givenchy chinaware. ANA on the other hand, had an extensive list of items to choose from, some of which could have passed as a meal in themselves.

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I ordered the ramen. The ramen is IPPUDO branded but was surprisingly disappointing. There were no accompaniments of any sort. I can’t remember but the I could have sworn the last time I flew ANA business class they had some charsiew in the ramen to go along with it. In any case the soup was way too salty.

One movie (Monsters University) and 2 TV episodes of Family Guy later, I also ordered the light meal, which was grilled sabelfish. The meat was tender and delicious, and it was a perfect light meal to end the flight.

We landed 30 mins ahead of schedule in Narita. Strangely we had to go through security again, which I thought was only a requirement on flights continuing on to the USA. In any case I was first in line and there was no one else there, so it didn’t take very long.

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I headed for the ANA’s flagship Suite Lounge. Although I was excited to visit it, I knew that ANA, like SQ, errs on the side of conservatism when it comes to lounges. Its lounges are nice, no doubt, but it won’t be Virgin Atlantic LHR clubhouse nice, or Emirate in Dubai nice. It doesn’t have anything in the way of a spa, or any out of this world amenities.

At registration I was told that the Suite Lounge was very full and maybe I’d like to try the other one closer to my gate. I’m glad I took that advice, because (1) the gate I was flying from was on the other side of the terminal and (2) when I got to the other lounge it was empty.

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I made a beeline for the shower rooms, none of which were occupied. The toiletries they give are Shiseido branded. I only realised after I had thrown away the extras that Shiseido is a super atas brand. Fortunately, the nice lady at the reception gave me an extra set to take home.

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The loo had a bidet. I of course had seen them before, but until I read this NYT article I was too squeamish to use one. I’m going to spare you the details, but damn, I need to get one now. There’s something very soothing about warm water. I think I’d better stop here.

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The lounge had an ok selection of food and drink but nothing spectacular. I think SQ’s first class section had better offerings. . There was an extensive cold buffet as well as a hot  food counter where you could order specific items. There was Japanese curry with rice, some udon options, as well as a western menu with a mishmash of items like spaghetti carbonara and a burger with chips.

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There was more Piper Heidsieck champagne available, which I paired with a beef bowl.

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The lounge had some other interesting tchotchkes like this set of ANA Million Miler luggage tags. I think I’ve flown about 200,000 miles on SQ perhaps? Well, 20% there!

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There was also a dedicated Skype room

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The layover was 3.5 hours in total. It was then time to board NH801 to come back home!  L1010087

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Both NH176 and NH801 utilise ANA’s 773 aircraft which have the exact same first class product, so I’m not going to repeat those photos again. But I will give you a guided tour of the loo, because it had the magical bidet. L1010102

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As a side note, I was quite surprised how small the toilet was. I thought that they would build a slightly larger one for First Class passengers, but this loo was just as small as the one in Economy. not that it was an issue per se, but when you consider the benchmark which is Emirates’ spa suite, more real estate in the loo can be a good differentiating factor

And of course, I’ll show you the food on this leg (maybe I should have shown the food before the loo). I know I said I’d take the Japanese option, but I completely forgot about it and ended up with the western options again. Oops.

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We started off with scallop carpaccio with caviar on top.L1010095

And the usual lousy salad. L1010097

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As was this waffle for desert- it was warm and wonderful.

So- the verdict on ANA First Class? I think it’s downright amazing. The hard product is very competitive- yes, it’s not upholstered in leather like other premium airlines do, but in terms of comfort it still did the trick. The soft product was delivered very well too- I never had to wait more than 15 seconds to be attended to upon ringing the call bell. And I had very nice chats with the stewardesses on both legs, who were genuinely friendly and wanted to  help me take as many photos as possible.

Put it this way- if I had the miles, and if ANA first class space were available, it’d be a no brainer to book it again.

Now that you’ve read this, why not sign up for Lifemiles and get the chance to experience trips like this yourself?