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Via Istanbul (Not Constantinople): A trip planned around promotional rates

TLDR version: you can access some really remarkable deals if you keep your eye out for them, but it takes some effort to monitor, some luck for the deals to coincide with what you actually want to do, and possibly some sacrifices in terms of convenience in order to fully utilise them. It’s great if you find that enjoying the journey is part of the joy of vacations (I’d suggest bookmarking this FlyerTalk forum and checking it from time to time); but if not, it’s probably better to stick to using miles to get to where you want to as quickly and comfortably as possible.

While playing the miles game is probably the main focus of travel hacking, promotional rates for air travel and hotel fares pop up every now and then, and if you are able to capitalise on them you might find yourself positioned to enjoy (relatively) affordable rates for premium travel.

I was lucky enough to make use of three such deals on a recent trip of mine, and for me it really helped to make the voyage even more enjoyable (and memorable).

Highlights of itinerary

(Reviews coming up – will add links after they’ve posted!)

Planning process

I’d been intending to revisit the UK and had actually already redeemed SQ award tickets for the trip when I spotted this amazing offer for KUL-MAN on Turkish business class – I’d previously bookmarked this forum on FlyerTalk in the hope that something usable would crop up, and this effort was finally paying off.

Having been intrigued for some time by what some (like Aaron) have deemed as the best business class lounge in the world, I jumped at this opportunity to secure business class return tickets at less than S$1,900 per person.

turkish istanbul business lounge

Along the way, there came the amazing (and short-lived) offer allowing 2-night Conrad stays for the price of 1. I immediately cancelled my 4n booking for the (very nice) Hilton London Bankside and made two bookings (under two different guests) for the Conrad London St. James instead.

conrad london st james

The original plan had been to stay 1n at the Conrad and 4 at the (much more affordable) Hilton using the Citi Prestige 4th night free benefit, but once again the siren song of promotional rates proved irresistible to me.

The final offer that came my way was a relatively minor one, but (for me) it was still a new experience that I wouldn’t have tried without the promotional rate. I had booked advance train tickets from York to London, and a week before the day of travel I received an email offering an upgrade to first class at £15 per person.

Virgin Trains first class

First class rail tickets are not something I’d usually bother with (2 hours in a standard carriage is hardly an ordeal), but since I’d never tried it before, I figured… why not?

Filling the gaps

Unfortunately, it wasn’t totally smooth-sailing. Since some cancellations were made, there were some (relatively minor) penalties involved. The biggest hiccup for me, however, was with regard to the addition of the initial journey from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur.

I had (foolishly?) booked the cheapest available return tickets on Singapore Air for the SIN-KUL route, guess-timating the time required for transit (I’d budgeted 3h to be on the safe side). These were the non-refundable tickets, with no changes permitted, and of course, as luck would have it, that later came back to haunt me.

As it turned out, the KUL-IST flight out of Kuala Lumpur was rescheduled and I was suddenly left with a 12h stopover at KUL, with no way to change the SIN-KUL flight other than to forfeit the existing booking altogether.

I ended up biting the bullet and enduring the 12h stopover, and that resulted in an ordeal involving waking earlier than necessary, some time spent exploring a rather uninteresting airport, a grumpy wife, and a much longer journey than initially planned for.

turkish business lie flat
(Image from Turkish Airlines website)

Thankfully, the comfortable full-flat seats on the KUL-IST leg of the journey allowed for some recuperation along the way!

Evaluation

The biggest savings this trip was probably from the Turkish airlines promotional fare. A return business class saver redemption for SIN-MAN on Singapore Airlines costs 136,000 miles and S$817 (slightly more if flying to London instead) in additional surcharges. Valuating each mile at 2¢ each (a rather conservative value), that puts my personal price for the ticket at about S$3,500. Even factoring in the cancellation fees and additional price of the SIN-KUL ticket, I consider the ~$2,100 spent on airfare to be a steal for what I got.

The Conrad offer, even with two nights free, did result in me paying more than initially planned – but given the superior location and convenience of not having to switch hotels, it was still an experience I relished. As for the first class train experience, I found it surprisingly enjoyable – I wouldn’t mind doing it again, though I wouldn’t be particularly upset if I never received the offer again.

All in all, as a travel geek I found myself enjoying the journey as much (if not more) as the destination this trip, and am glad to have been able to make good use of (at least) one promotional fare in my lifetime!


Louis believes he caught the premium travel bug after attaining KrisFlyer Elite Gold and occasionally being upgraded while shuttling between the UK, Singapore and Japan (in economy class). These travels have led to a wonderful marriage, as well as a burning desire to maximise his frequency of travel in business class or better.

He travels with a gryphon plush toy, Griffles, which often stands in for him in vacation photos. Griffles continues to amuse (and confuse) air stewardesses, hotel staff and just about everybody else, all around the world.

Exploring Thai’s latest A350 cabin products

Thai is a confusing airline when it comes to business class because they have so many different seat types across their fleet.

The majority of Thai’s widebody fleet (B747, A330, A340, B772, B773) still has their old business class angled flat product. This is, quite frankly, an awful product to be on for any long haul flight. Angled flat products might have been ok a decade ago, but the gold standard for long haul business class is now full flat 1-2-1. Full flat 2-2-2 is already pushing it, but angled flat 2-2-2….Thai’s fleet renewal can’t come fast enough

Image result for thai business class old

Image result for thai business class 747

Thai’s A380 aircraft have 1-2-1 full flat seats. I’ve not flown these personally but a friend who has says they’re generally comfortable enough. If you’re travelling by yourself, avoid the honeymoon 2 seats in the centre like the plague because there’s very little privacy from your seatmate. I’m not totally won over by the cabin from an aesthetics point of view though.

Image result for thai a380 business class

Image result for thai business class

Thai’s B787s have 2-2-2 full flat seats (they’re similar to the ones United Airlines uses in Business Class- see my review of that seat here). I don’t fancy any configuration that doesn’t have all aisle access (because both the aisle passenger and window passenger at the side are inconvenienced by each other), but it sure beats angled flat.

photo: AusBT

Image result for thai b787 business class

And that brings us to TG’s newest aircraft, the A350. I’m personally very excited about the A350 and am looking forward to flying SQ’s version to Manchester and Houston next year. Thai’s A350 has a 1-2-1 full flat configuration, but I much prefer this to their A380s as I find the finishes more classy (less faux wood and plastic, more privacy for the seats at the side). This is a seat I’d gladly take on any long haul flight.

Thai Airways A350 business class cabin

Thai is currently bedding in their A350s by running them on short haul routes. When they first received the aircraft back in Sept it was common to find the A350s plying routes as short as Bangkok-Chang Mai and Bangkok-Phuket (where one aircraft promptly went on a euphemistically named “runway excursion“). You’d be a fairly lucky man to land a long haul J seat on a 90 minute flight.

Thai has gradually started deploying the A350 on progressively longer routes, as seen below.

Route Departure Arrival Day Flight
Bangkok – Rome 00.01 05.55 SUN, MON, WED, FRI TG944
Rome – Bangkok 13.30 06.05 SUN, MON, WED, FRI TG945
Bangkok – Milan 00.35 07.10 TUE, THU, SAT TG940
Milan – Bangkok 13.05 05.55 TUE, THU, SAT TG941
Bangkok – Singapore 08.00 12.25 Everyday TG403
16.35 19.55 Everyday TG404
Singapore – Bangkok 12.25 13.45 Everyday TG409
21.00 22.20 Everyday TG410

They are still operating the A350 on the relatively short haul SIN-BKK route. I believe that’s in order to give pilots international flying experience with the A350 as the route has sufficient business traffic to warrant the deployment of a widebody premium cabin.  I don’t think this is by any means a permanent arrangement, however, so when I saw on Lifemiles that TG award space from BKK-SIN was wide open, I didn’t think twice about booking it.

I ended up booking the award through Krisflyer for 20,000 miles and $30.40 of taxes (SQ J would have cost 17,000 and $104. Fewer miles, but more cash…) to get home from Bangkok. Having flown the oldest of the old from SIN-BKK, it was now time to try the newest of the new…


My flight was scheduled to depart at 4.30pm. After checking in at BKK and clearing immigration (Thai now has a special lane near Row A for premium cabin travellers that gives dedicated security and immigration clearance), I made a beeline for the Royal Orchid Spa, reserved for Thai J and F customers. I’ve done a detailed review of the first class section of the spa during The Long Way to New York trip report, but this time I’d be doing the business class section.

First and Business class passengers get access to the same spa in BKK. The main difference is the type of treatment they receive. Thai’s airport spa offers business class passengers a 30 minute treatment and first class passengers a 60 minute treatment. As a reminder, here are the options

Touch of Silk (Full Body Oil Massage – 60 minutes for First Class only)

Start your journey with a relaxing Touch of Silk, full-body oil massage. Performed with the unique ‘Thai touch’, this massage will help to prepare your body for your onward flight by increasing blood circulation as well as relieving muscular tension and helping to provide necessary hydration for your skin. On completion of your Touch of Silk massage, you will be left with an overall sense of well-being and total relaxation.

Royal Thai Massage (Full Body Massage – 60 minutes for First Class only)

Thai massage is perceived as one of the most precious of Thai traditional therapies. Royal Thai Massage helps to stimulate blood circulation, reduces edema caused by travelling and reduces body fatigue. With its unique acupressure techniques, expertly applied to your body, you will find your mind relaxed and muscles relieved, following the stress of your journey.

Neck & Shoulder Massage (30 minutes)

The Neck & Shoulder Massage is a great way to relieve stress which has built up from the rigors of everyday life from working long hours at your computer. Using specific techniques the therapist will work to loosen tight muscles around the neck and shoulders whilst simultaneously assessing how much tension is held in the body and how best to release it. You will board your flight feeling more relaxed and a little lighter around the shoulders.

Foot Massage (30 minutes)

Let’s help prepare you for your onward journey, by taking the weight off your feet and giving them a relaxing massage, which they truly deserve. Foot massage is a well-known relaxation therapy to help take care of tired feet. The gentle touch of the therapists hands and the deeper pressure from their fingers, create a sense of overall relaxation and will help to stimulate your vital organs.

As a J passenger, my options were shoulders or foot. I opted for foot.

The business class spa treatments take place in small semi private cubicles (First Class has their own treatment room- you can see how those look here). Here’s mine.

The treatment actually lasted closer to 20 minutes than 30. But it was just as good as any other foot massage you’d find on the streets of BKK. I can’t really say I’m a connoisseur of foot massages though. I’m the kind of whimp who always says “softer”.

After the treatment you’re ushered back to the waiting area and served tea.

There are some light refreshments laid out in the waiting area but it’s really nothing worth hanging around for. It’s mostly prepackaged snacks and pastries.

Craving real food, I left the spa and walked across the hallway to the business class lounge. By this time there was less than 10 minutes till boarding started so I had to make a very quick pass through.

There are numerous buffet spreads set up within the lounge, but there’s only one central hot food area with maybe 4 or 5 hot items.

The selection was somewhat limited, and TG really isn’t doing legendary Thai food any justice at all. I had a plate of very anemic pad thai (yes, yes, I know pad thai isn’t really pure Thai) and a pork cake, the contents of which I prefer not to know. I mean, how hard would it be for Thai to do a really kickass menu of Thai classics?

There are several satellite buffet displays set up elsewhere in the lounge with coffee, light snacks, fruit and cakes.

I chowed down for 5 minutes and started the walk towards gate G2. The signs said the walking time was 12-15 minutes, but because of my superior physique I did the walk in 6  minutes (form an orderly queue, ladies)

Boarding was just about to start when I reached the gate. I love the design of the A350. The plane is so cool it looks like it’s wearing sunglasses.

When boarding started, I bounded down the jetway to try and snap as many photos as possible before the place got crowded (I had fun reading Lucky’s tips on writing trip reports, and how you need to accept that you’re going to be seen as a bit of a weirdo for running down the jetway just so you can get photos of an empty cabin)

First impressions of the cabin were great. This seat, to me, is a much improved version of its A380 offering. The A380 seat has some very unfortunate design elements like the copious use of plastic and Barney-esque purple upholstery. The A350’s theme is more wood and dark purple, which at least evokes fewer comparisons with everyone’s favourite dinosaur.

You can do a virtual tour of the cabin here if you’re so inclined. Here’s what the seats in the centre look like (if you’re travelling solo and unable to get one of the seats at the side, this should be your next best bet)

The seats at the side, as expected, offer the best privacy. There are two types of seats at the side- those with the table separating the seat from the aisle and those with the seat closer to the aisle. Obviously the former is preferable in terms of privacy.

I know some people have misgivings about seats in this configuration because they’re worried about the amount of foot space they’ll have. I’m pleased to report that Thai’s seat has an ample amount of space for feet in its cubby hole. Either that or I have very small feet. And you know what they say about men with small feet, ladies…

Thai is using the newfangled touchscreen IFE system. I’m still unconvinced about the actual utility of having a touch screen, because in practice (1) it hangs a lot and (2) it increases the chances of accidentally brushing the screen and exiting whatever you’re watching.

Thai’s earphones are nose cancelling but look and feel very flimsy. Definitely not in the same league as SQ’s Phitek or ANA’s Sony-branded sets.

Each seat has 2x USB ports for charging. It’s a minor annoyance, really, but due to the setup of the seat and positioning of the side table, if you’re plugging in a USB cable and resting your device on the side table, you’re going to get tangled up when exiting the seat. It’s a small issue, again, but just goes to show how far some intelligent user experience design can go. It wouldn’t have been very difficult to put the USB charging ports on the table, or in an otherwise unobstructed place.

Even the A350 lights are cool. They’re behind clear glass and are activated by a small button over your head.

The crew came around to serve pre-departure drinks. A general point about the TG crew is that they were competent but not really personable. It’s not a criticism unique to TG, I realise that on regional flights SQ crew are more functional than friendly, but don’t expect any additional touches like being addressed by name or small talk. I certainly didn’t feel any warmth from this crew.

All drinks in TG J were served in these really tiny glasses. If you were uncharitable you could call this a cost saving initiative, as those glasses couldn’t have held more than 100ml of champagne. FYI, the champagne on offer was Duval Leroy. It’s not terrible, but not exactly what I’d call an aspirational brand either.

Having had a bit too much champagne before takeoff, a visit to the loo was in order. The A350’s loos have all the bells and whistles you’d expect from a 21st century aircraft. Automatic taps are an expected feature by now…

But I was particularly pleased by the no-touch bins. Just wave your hand over it and it opens up.

The next feature I want on my aircraft is no touch door opening, because the hypochondriac in me hates washing my hands then having to touch the door latch to get out.

TG has Borghese toiletries in the loo for its regional flights.

Pushback was delayed by about 20 minutes, but the captain finally got on the PA and announced the flight details and timings.

We were stuck in a bit of a queue to take off, but I spotted this relic of the TG fleet…

We got airborne before long and were treated to some really nice sunset views  

Linner was served after takeoff. Here’s the food and drinks menu.

I was a bit surprised there was no Western option on this flight, given that most carriers practice having both an Asian and a Western choice on this route. That said, all 3 Asian options sounded equally good.

I wasn’t too impressed by the quality of the meal. It seemed more like an economy class meal plated on business class plates. SQ’s regional catering is definitely superior to TG’s, given that you can order pretty much whatever you want from the BTC menu.

That said, there was a very nice chocolate mousse that came with the meal. The crew came by to serve almonds with the post take off drinks, almost as if by afterthought.

After the meal I tried to test out the bed function of the seat. The seat goes full flat, but as I’ve said before I’m weird in a way that I prefer adjusting the seat to 160-170 degrees because I find a 180 degree sleeping angle a bit uncomfortable on the lower back

This was just a short haul flight so I can’t say whether the long haul experience is any different- I would have liked to get a mattress pad plus a bigger blanket, but the base seat in itself was comfortable enough for a quick nap. My main concern about the seat is that it’s quite firm. Some people may prefer a firmer bed however.

My overall feelings on the Thai A350 product is that it’s definitely a solid enough hard product, one I’d not hesitate to select on a long haul route. Can it compare to top tier airlines like ANA, SQ and EVA? No way. But this is an important step forward for TG and hopefully they’ll be able to raise their soft product to match it as well.

Hotel Review: Conrad Bangkok (Deluxe Suite)

Louis believes he caught the premium travel bug after attaining KrisFlyer Elite Gold and occasionally being upgraded while shuttling between the UK, Singapore and Japan (in economy class). These travels have led to a wonderful marriage, as well as a burning desire to maximise his frequency of travel in business class or better.

He travels with a gryphon plush toy, Griffles, which often stands in for him in vacation photos. Griffles continues to amuse (and confuse) air stewardesses, hotel staff and just about everybody else, all around the world.


So I recently stayed at Conrad Bangkok, booked during one of the Hilton 40% flash sales earlier in the year. The rate worked out to be about S$150 per night, which though pricier than many other places in the city, works out to be a pretty good deal for what you get.

The jury’s still out on which of the Hilton properties in Bangkok is the best to stay in, but the general consensus on the Conrad is that it offers a solid service soft product and a central location, though it’s a bit of a walk (about 10min) from the nearest BTS station, and is starting to show signs of age. I agree with this assessment, but still rather enjoyed my previous stay and was hoping I would be rewarded for my loyalty in this repeat visit. Boy, was I ever!

The hotel lobby was all decked out for the festive season, with a gigantic Christmas tree and a Christmas market-themed booth selling holiday snacks.

1-lobby 1-lobby-market

Perhaps the decor had made an impact on the generosity of the hotel staff as well – I had originally been upgraded to a Executive King room (from my basic King room) and decided to try my luck by asking if any better room was available. The agent clicked around on her terminal for a bit and proceeded to inform me that they would usually only upgrade a Diamond member up to an Executive Suite, but since those were already full they’d decided to give me a taste of the Deluxe Suite instead.

I didn’t realise it at the time, but this was akin to hitting the hotel upgrade jackpot. To give an idea of how large the room is, I’ve highlighted (and labelled) it in the floor plan below:

1-room-layout

The Room

It started becoming clear to me that this wasn’t quite an ordinary room when, upon entering, I was greeted by a decorative piece immediately to the right of the corridor. To the left was a toilet. One without any shower or bath facilities…

So apparently the room came with its very own guest toilet.

2-entrance 2-guest-toilet

The living area was as large as many hotel rooms, sporting a sofa set, a dining table and a work desk.

3-living-rm-a

3-living-rm-b

Welcome amenities comprised some fruits (dragonfruit and oranges), chocolates and some rice crackers.

7-welcome

Interestingly enough, it also came with a PS3 which I fiddled with for a few minutes before figuring that I hadn’t come all the way to Bangkok to play console games.

(Well, not old pixelated console games, anyway – it was hooked up to the TV via old-school RGB cables.)

7-ps3

The bedroom, yet another standard-hotel-sized room, offers a spacious non-claustrophobia-inducing area with a king bed, even more seating options, and yet another TV set. If you so desired, it’s probably possible to stick to this area for the bulk of your stay without really making use of the living area.

4-bedroom-a

4-bedroom-b

As is common in many Conrad properties worldwide, Conrad Bangkok provides guests with a complimentary stuffed animal – an elephant, in this case. There are a number of colour variants, so you can have fun collecting them all if you like (or you can also try requesting for them).

6-elephant-toy(Gryphon not included)

I found it rather interesting to see that other than the standard (for Western hotels) copy of the Bible, the bedside drawer was also stocked with a copy of Conrad Hilton’s Be My Guest. Didn’t really think to take a look, but Amazon reviews are actually pretty good!

7-books

Moving on, you would pass a walk-in closet…

5-closet

…with remarkably thin-soled bedroom slippers. A little disappointing, those.

7-slippers

Next up, the washing area, decked with dual sinks…

5-sinks

…and finally, the bathroom.

6-bathroom

The bathtub is designed such that you can enjoy your bath with full access to a view of the outside world, should you so desire. That’s great on the top floor of a tall building, but I’m not sure how practical that is on lower levels – but hey, whatever floats your boat, yah?

6-bathtub

Yet another Conrad toy – a rubber bath elephant (kinda like a rubber duckie, only elephantine). Again, there’re a few colour variants – gotta catch them all, am I right?

6-elephant-bath

Being on the top (32nd) floor, the view is pretty impressive – although not being particularly familiar with Bangkok, it kinda became a blur of miscellaneous buildings after awhile…

7-room-view

Looking down, you can see a balcony on the floor below. I’m guessing it belongs to one of the terrace suites?

7-room-view-terrace

Breakfast

I opted to have breakfast at Café@2, the restaurant on the second level, rather than the executive lounge. I’d tried breakfast at the lounge the last time round, and (as is typical) the lounge offerings are more limited as compared to the restaurant, though you do get to eat in greater privacy.

9-breakfast-a

The spread’s pretty good, and the fare’s rather tasty, too. I was particularly impressed that they had a carving station (albeit for roast ham, which I’m not really a big fan of).

9-breakfast-b 9-breakfast-c

Suffice to say, there’s enough food to be had so you won’t get sick of it all that quickly.

9-breakfast-d 9-breakfast-e

Executive lounge

The Executive lounge on the 29th floor offered a large pleasant environment to relax and grab some free food.

8-lounge-a

There’s evening cocktail with canapés…

8-lounge-b

…where you can help yourself to hot food, snacks, cheese…

8-snacks-a 8-snacks-b 8-cheese

…which make for a pretty good pre-dinner snack.

8-snacks-c

There’s also afternoon tea…

8-lounge-tea-b

…with more snacks and desserts on offer.

8-lounge-tea-a 8-lounge-tea-c

I actually preferred the view from the lounge over what I saw from my room – I guess it just faces a more interesting direction?

8-lounge-view

I really enjoy the complimentary food offerings at Conrad Bangkok, but I’ve found that a common problem with nice hotel food is that it usually means there’s even nicer food outside the hotel – Bangkok fits this pattern pretty well. It’s possible to subsist on just breakfast, tea and evening canapés, but… why would you want to, really?

Afterthoughts

The Conrad website states the Deluxe Suite as occupying 1127 sq. ft., which is already larger than many residences back in Singapore, so for two nights it kinda felt like I was in a new home. It’s also the second-priciest room available (after the 2561 sq. ft. Presidential Suite), so I definitely lucked out with my 6-level upgrade.

This almost makes me want to go back to try my luck once more with the room upgrade lottery, though even if I don’t manage to score a suite, I’ll still be pretty satisfied with the food, lounge and level of service available at this property.