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On the Road again to Rio: Star Alliance Rio Lounge

On the road again to Rio: Introduction
Singapore Airlines Business Class SIN-FRA
Lufthansa Premium Economy FRA-GIG
Sheraton Grand Rio Hotel & Resort
Star Alliance Lounge Rio
Lufthansa Business Class GIG-FRA
Sheraton Frankurt Airport Hotel
Singapore Airlines Business Class FRA-SIN


After two long weeks in Brazil it was time to head back to Singapore through Frankfurt. I was pleased that this time my upgrade came through so I’d have a chance to do a proper review of Lufthana’s Business Class product. Yes, it’s far from market leading, but the worst business class product will beat the best economy class product any day of the week (Air India probably being the exception)

GIG airport is nowhere near as nice as GRU, although my sense is they’re trying to do some major overhauls judging by the amount of construction boarding I saw up around the place. I’d have thought they would have finished that by the time of the Olympics, but hey, Brazil.

Check in was fast and painless. I was pleased that I had managed to get a seat on the upper deck of the 747-8, which would be my first time sitting on the upper deck of a 747 in a long time. The last occasion I did so was on a Thai Airways flight from Bangkok to Narita, in a terrible angled flat seat, perhaps 2 years ago. The time before that? That’d have to be when I was 10 or 11, going to the US on one of SQ’s Megatops. The check in lady confirmed that the seat next to me would remain empty, so that was a plus too.

The Star Alliance lounge at GIG is the newest in the network, having opened in mid-December. It’s so new I wasn’t even able to find any trip reports on it. It’s a bit puzzling why Star Alliance would build a lounge in GIG because GIG isn’t a big alliance hub- the only Star Alliance carriers flying to Rio are Lufthansa, United, TAP and Avianca.

These carriers collectively operate 42 weekly flights out of GIG (you should ignore the 140 figure in the screenshot above as that refers to Avianca Brazil, which operates out of the domestic terminal and does not have lounge access). For comparison, in the other airports where Star Alliance lounges exist

  • Sao Paulo GRU (149 weekly *A flights)
  • Los Angeles LAX  (312 weekly *A flights, ignoring all the UA domestic ones)
  • Paris CDG (375 weekly *A flights- quite a few of these will be Schengen flights and will not have access to the *A lounge in the international area )
  • Buenos Aires EZE (78 weekly *A flights)
  • Nagoya NGO (64 weekly *A flights, ignoring all the NH domestic ones)

So maybe Star Alliance has big plans for Rio. Either way, it’s confusing to me, especially when you consider that GRU is the main international gateway to Brazil and there’s already a *A lounge there.

I digress.

The lounge is located on the third floor and is managed by the Plaza Premium Group.

There was no one manning the counter when I got there, so I proceeded to let myself in. Halfway through the lounge dragon showed up and we had to double back to counter to scan my pass. It’s more an accounting exercise than anything else- I imagine that all the Star Alliance carriers who use the lounge need to pay Star Alliance a fee depending on how many of their passengers use the lounge.

The lounge opens 24/7 and is accessible to any business or first class passenger on a Star Alliance flight, or to Star Gold members flying in Economy. Members of paid lounge programs like United Club can also access. the lounge.

As per the press release, the lounge is 600 square metres and can seat 150 guests. You can allegedly see Sugar Loaf and Christ the Redeemer from the lounge, although it was late night by the time I got there and all I saw was darkness #gothkid

In line with the design concept of Star Alliance lounges, local touches and flavours have been combined with global branding elements. Brazilian natural woods, stone and concrete elements have been used to reflect the architectural heritage of the city while introducing greenery and moments of colour that accentuate the city’s close relationship with nature. Handmade Brazilian furniture pieces from renowned designers add a special touch to the overall design and feel, which can best be described as exclusive and at the same time welcoming. The lounge was designed by Hong Kong based architecture firm MSA, which was appointed by Plaza Premium, the company which will operate the lounge for Star Alliance.

Aesthetically, the lounge is pretty attractive.  The lounge is smaller than I thought it’d be, but they at least bought more than one type of chair…

My first stop was the shower. There are a grand total of 2 shower rooms in the lounge. It works out ok in the end given how few *A carriers fly to Rio, but again it’s a puzzlement to me. Building the lounge implies *A thinks GIG passenger numbers will take off in a real way. If that’s so, how can they only provision the lounge with two showers?

The shower cubicles have very nice marble finishings but are otherwise tiny

The bath amenities come in pump bottles mounted on the wall

And some basic amenities are provided for shaving, teeth brushing and feminine product-ing.

It needs to be said that this shower had one of the worst water pressures I’ve ever seen in a lounge shower. Even at full power, the water came out in a trickle. I’m not sure if that was a general problem with the plumbing that day, but it was certainly an annoyance. There also wasn’t anything in the way of a sitting area for you to wear your shoes, which is probably another design oversight. Even a chair would have been helpful. I mean, not everyone wants to sit on the loo to put on their socks…

After bathing I went to check out the buffet.

There is a limited hot food selection in the dining area

The catering was pretty forgettable. One BBQ drumlet dish, one potato dish

One beef dish and I forget what the item on the left was. None of the food was what you would call amazing. And I was surprised at the lack of hot food options given the lounge was supposed to be for both First and Business class passengers.

Cold food options included sandwiches, wraps, cheese and fruits

There’s also an option for hot bread

I vaguely recall the publicity materials for the GIG Star Alliance lounge talking about cooked to order meals. No evidence of that here.

Drinks wise, a few reds and whites compliment the usual soft drinks and juices.

No champagne was available, but there was sparkling wine.

There’s also a fully stocked bar where the bartender can make any manner of drinks. Right after I took this photo someone who looked like the manager (dude in the tie) barked at me that photos weren’t allowed in the lounge. I didn’t acknowledge him and walked off to take photos of other areas. Thankfully, he didn’t follow me. Seriously, what is up with no photo policies? Does he think that nefarious agents from SkyTeam and OneWorld are trying to infiltrate the lounge and steal important trade secrets like the brainwave of only putting 2 showers in the lounge? I mean I can understand if other passengers are uncomfortable with appearing in strangers’ photos, but the area was deserted at the time.

From a productivity point of view, one thing the lounge gets right is that there are plenty of outlets and USB plugs. The internet was also fast enough for me to download a few additional Netflix episodes to my device before boarding.

My overall impression of the GIG Star Alliance lounge was that it was nowhere as good as the Star Alliance lounge in Sao Paulo (which I reviewed here). That lounge simply has a lot more going for it- higher ceilings which make it seem more spacious, clearly demarcated dozing areas, a wider variety of F&B and generally friendlier staff.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It was a long walk to the gate, so I left the lounge early and headed for the gate, eager to board the plane and head up that stairwell…

Via Istanbul: Turkish Airlines Lounge Istanbul


After arriving in IST from KUL I was pretty excited and rearing to check out the (allegedly) best business class lounge in the world.

As it turned out, though, it took quite some time to clear security – even the dedicated priority line for business class passengers took some time to clear. Eventually, I’d finally made it to the promised land.

Lounge Istanbul entrance

The reports were true. The lounge is sprawling, and it offers a really unique stopover experience.

Architecture

I particularly liked the architecture, which manages to give the lounge a distinctively Turkish taste.

turkish istanbul business lounge

Lounge Istanbul

Lounge Istanbul carts

Lounge Istanbul centrepiece

The facilities ranged from a baggage deposit area near the entrance (which was totally full so we ended up not being able to use it)…

Lounge Istanbul baggage area

Entertainment

…to a myriad of entertainment options…

Lounge Istanbul billiards table
Billiards table

Lounge Istanbul TV wall
TV wall with wireless headsets

Lounge Istanbul cinema
Cinema with popcorn machine

Lounge Istanbul console gaming
Console gaming stations (I believe this was the PS4)

Lounge Istanbul RC cars
Remote control racing

Lounge Istanbul golf simulator
Golf simulator

Lounge Istanbul play area
Children’s play area

Food

…to about a bazillion options for filling your stomach.

Lounge Istanbul salad bar
Salad bar

Lounge Istanbul sesame bagels
Turkish sesame bagels

Lounge Istanbul butter
Fancy butter

Lounge Istanbul fruits
The healthful dessert option

Lounge Istanbul desserts
The less healthful dessert option

Lounge Istanbul Turkish desserts
Turkish desserts

Lounge Istanbul bakery
From the bakery

Lounge Istanbul hot food
Hot food, freshly prepared

Beverages

Plenty of options for quenching your thirst, too.

Lounge Istanbul drinks station
The non-alcoholic variety

Lounge Istanbul alcoholic drinks
The alcoholic variety

Lounge Istanbul tea station
One of many tea stations

Lounge Istanbul tea selection
Offering a wide range of selections of tea

Conclusion

All in all, I would say that Turkish Airlines’s Lounge Istanbul really does live up to its reputation. If there’s anything I’d complain about, it’s that WiFi speeds were nearly unusable while I was there – I guess there were just too many people logged into their network. I only really had about an hour there each time I passed through Istanbul, so I didn’t actually get to try most of the things on offer, but even sampling what I did and visually taking everything in was an experience in itself.

I probably wouldn’t deliberately go out of the way to visit it again anytime soon, but if I happened to be flying in that direction? I might just try to make it happen…


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.

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).

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.