Tag Archives: rtw

The Milelion’s Round the World Trip, 2017 edition

It may surprise you to know that neither travel hacking nor womanizing is The Milelion’s primary occupation. Although he excels at both. Oh no. By day, The Milelion is a mild-mannered management consultant (careful not to transpose the u and l) and works tirelessly to realise synergies, optimise efficiency and produce 300 slide decks for great justice.

But once in a while, work takes you to an interesting place or two. Or three. Or 15, in this case. We’ve got a recurring engagement that requires us to make several site visits to locations around the world. You might remember me writing about this last year in the 2016 edition of The Milelion’s RTW trip.

Well, it’s that time of year again! This year’s engagement requires travel to

  • Denver
  • Boston
  • London
  • Paris
  • Barcelona
  • Madrid
  • Casablanca
  • Accra
  • Addis Ababa
  • Dar Es Salaam
  • Doha
  • Delhi
  • Ahmedabad
  • Bangalore

Or visually-

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Now, the average person might look at such a routing and feel somewhat intimidated. I, on the other hand, feel something approximating arousal.

Planning the 2017 RTW trip

My default choice for RTW tickets would usually be Star Alliance, but given the spread of cities this year I’ve decided to go with One World instead.

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It’s strange in a way, because Oneworld is the smallest airline alliance, yet it offered me much better options than either Star Alliance or Skyteam for where I needed to be.

American Airlines covers US domestic routes plus connections to Europe, BA and Iberia can cover the UK and Spain, Qatar can connect me to both Delhi and Dar Es Salaam from Doha. It’s true that OneWorld connectivity is non-existent in India and Africa, but I’ll buy cheap budget flights for India and do a surface sector with Ethiopian Airlines for the intra-Africa legs.

I remember that last year after I wrote about my RTW trip, Shyh Jie over at Cardcow pointed out that I could have saved thousands on my trip simply by starting from a different country.

So that’s exactly what I’m doing this time round. When I priced my OneWorld RTW business fare from Singapore, I was getting a quotation of S$15,945. The same itinerary starting from Tokyo? S$9,457 (to put things in perspective, my fare last year was just over S$20,000- but then again last year I did 5 continents and this year I’m doing 3. Even after you factor in surface legs and what not, I’m still coming out way ahead)

To top things off, starting from Tokyo means that when my trip is over I’ll have a spare one way business class Singapore-Tokyo ticket that I can use any time within the RTW ticket validity (up to 1 year). If I want to, I could change it to any other city in Japan for US$125.

The Oneworld booking engine

Oneworld has its own version of the RTW booking engine that you can use to plan your flights.

It’s terrible.  It’s full of bugs and sometimes hangs, requiring you to start from a previously saved point. It sometimes disallows 4 hour connections on the grounds of not meeting MCTs. It allows illegal routings. The most frustrating feature of it is that every time you change your routing (eg add a new city, remove an existing city) the system changes all your previous flight choices to the default ones. So if I’m flying A–>B–>C–>D–>A and I add E in between D and A, all my flight choices for A–>B–>C–>D will disappear. This FT thread documents a host of other frustrations with the engine.

I bought a type of OneWorld RTW ticket called “Explorer” which isn’t limited by miles travelled but rather segments. It allows you a maximum of 16 segments including surface segments (those where you find your own way between two airports), and the pricing is ultimately a combination of fare class, number of segments, airports visited (some have higher surcharges) and number of continents visited.

As with all RTW tickets it’s all about rule, rules, rules. You can read the full rules here, but to summarise the key points-

  • In general, you need to start and end in the same country, though not necessarily the same city. There are explicit exceptions (eg you can start in Malaysia and end in Singapore because same same)
  • You can only cross the Pacific and Atlantic oceans once
  • Your trip must be a minimum of 10 days and a maximum of 12 months
  • You can backtrack within a continent (Zurich to London when moving West to East) but not between continents (Delhi to London when moving West to East)

It also appears that the OW booking engine lacks an online payment function (or at least it didn’t let me pay online). After you confirm your flights and click book, you are given a PNR and instructions to contact the American Airlines office in the city your trip begins in to make payment.

Even making payment was a challenge- I called up American Airlines in Tokyo, only to get bounced to the office in Dallas, only to be told that the RTW desk kept different hours and wasn’t open right now.

When I got through to the RTW desk, I was told that they had to reprice the booking and give me an American Airlines PNR (the RTW engine defaults to booking your trip with the carrier of your first flight segment, in my case Japan Airlines, which is why AA couldn’t recognise the PNR), which required a further 24 hours.

I called back after 24 hours and found the pricing desk had priced in USD, meaning they’d only accept USD-denominated cards and “you have to be an elite member to use an international credit card” (add that to the list of perks!), meaning they had to reprice it again in SGD.

And after I submitted my payment details they sent me an email telling me that one of my segments had violated some rule or other but wasn’t flagged by the online booking engine. Apparently, you cannot stop in the Middle East on the way to Asia, if you’re starting in Africa. I dunno. So I swapped that to a surface leg and they repriced it (this, incidentally, was what lowered the overall fare by S$2K. Since I was no longer “visiting” the Middle East (no stopover there from the OW POV)

But finally, it was done.

11 flights, all in business class, for S$9,457.40. I think that’s pretty good value, all things considered.

No RTW ticket is perfect, and there are always going to be gaps in your alliance’s coverage, or ridiculous layover timings that make it impractical to use. Therefore it’s expected that you’ll have to plug some gaps with one-way tickets. Once you factor in the additional flights plus the connections, the final route looks something like this

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I’ve basically added

  • A one way ticket to NRT to position myself to start the trip
  • A round trip ticket between MAD and BCN (why can’t I use Iberia as part of the RTW ticket? To do so would be to have 5 stopovers in Europe, more than the 4 permitted)
  • A one way ticket on Ethiopian to get from ACC to DAR
  • A one way ticket on Qatar from DAR to DOH because Oneworld didn’t let me stop over in the Middle East en route to India
  • A series of budget flights within India, where Oneworld has no coverage

All these additional flights added ~S$4-5K to the total cost.

The Airlines

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One of the comments I’ve received is that it’d be nice if this website expanded its focus beyond just SQ or Star Alliance carriers. And with the recent Krisflyer devaluation, those seeking to jump ship to Cathay might be interested in knowing what sort of Oneworld partner awards they can look forward to redeeming.

Well there’ll be plenty of that now, because on this trip I’m going to review…

Malaysia Airlines A330 Business Class (KUL-NRT)

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Malaysia Airlines has recently finished installing its new full flat business class product across its 15 strong A330 fleet. With this new arrangement, 90% of seats get direct aisle access.

Early reviews of the seat look very promising, and I’m looking forward to trying the famous satay course that MH serves (supposed to be way better than SQ’s anyway) as well as their flagship lounge in KLIA (for which I elected for a 3 hour layover instead of a 50 minute one).

Malaysia Airline’s recent troubles have forced it to sell its premium cabin at deep discounts, especially for flights not originating in KUL (they need to try and attract as much ex-Malaysia business as they can). Securing a one way business class ticket for S$913 was already a fantastic deal, although, when MAS goes on sale you can fly return business to Tokyo for S$1,070…

Japan Airlines B77W Business Class (NRT-LAX)

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Ever since 1-2-1 became the industry standard for business class, 2-2-2 configurations have become indicative of an airline that (1) urgently needs fleet upgrading or (2) has willingly settled for a lesser product. Until the Apex Suite was designed.

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These seats are 2-2-2/ 2-3-2 configured but because of the slightly staggered design, each seat gets direct aisle access. It also means that the window seats in this configuration are among the most lucrative, given the high degree of privacy + direct access to the aisle.

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I’ve never flown JAL before so I’ll be quite keen to see how the product (food especially!) compares to ANA, which I’ve reviewed many times. Perhaps they’ll have muskmelon…

American Airlines B772 Business Class (JFK-LHR)

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Believe it or not, but I actually deliberately took a connection in JFK instead of flying direct from BOS to LHR just so I could avoid BA. BA’s business class product, by all review accounts, is simply bad.

BA Club World Business Class | Photo credit: View from the Wing

BA has gone for a 2-4-2 config (I know this section is supposed to be about AA and I’ll get to them in a sec) in business class (Club World, as they call it) which means really narrow seats plus everyone having to step over someone/be stepped over at some point in the flight.

On the other hand, American Airlines is retrofitting its 772 aircraft with this new full flat business class seat (the old aircraft had angled flat seats) that has all aisle access

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It’s an interesting layout because some seats face forward and others backwards in a diamond formation. But I like the high walls and if nothing else, I’m going to try one of those ice cream sundaes and see how it compares to United’s. I know that service on US airlines can be hit or miss, but I’d take a solid hard product with a substandard soft one over a substandard hard product.

Even better, American operates an Arrivals lounge in LHR. (I don’t know why SQ is so opposed to the whole Arrivals lounge concept- it’s a real plus for business travellers. How hard would it be to open the Silverkris lounge for those arriving in the morning who need a shower and a quick bite?). The AA arrivals lounge operates from  5am to 330pm and looks like it has everything

Champagne bar? For a 6am arrival? Where do I sign?

Yeah, I know that if I were flying BA I’d get access to their Elemis Spa at the arrivals lounge in LHR, and that’s mighty tempting, but I’d rather not end up with one of these seats. Good luck if you don’t know your travel companion. It’s no wonder BA charges for advance seat assignments in business class…

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Photo credit: One Mile at a Time

Ethiopian Airlines B772 Business Class (ACC-ADD)

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Ethiopian Airlines, of course, isn’t part of Oneworld. But in the absence of any Oneworld connectivity in Africa, I need to figure out how to get from Accra to Dar Es Salaam, and Ethiopia seems to be somewhere in the middle.

For us in Singapore, airlines probably don’t get much more exotic than Ethiopian. But in fact, Ethiopian has a range of pretty solid business class products across their fleet.

Here’s their A350

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And their 787 (it looks angled flat but it’s full flat)

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It’s certainly not market-leading, but I think they deserve a lot more credit than they’re given. I mean, Emirates doesn’t even have lie flat seats in business in any aircraft except the A380!

Perhaps you may never have the opportunity to fly Ethiopian Airlines (although they do a fifth freedom flight between SIN and BKK where you can try out their lie flat product), but hopefully this will give you an idea of what service, food and product you can expect if that day ever comes.

Qatar Airways B787 Business Class (DOH-DEL)

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Qatar Airways has a reverse herringbone business class configuration in its 787 aircraft. I don’t know why Lucky raves about this so much given that it looks more or less similar to other reverse herringbone seats I’ve reviewed, but I’ll withhold further comment until I try it out.

Unfortunately I’m not going to have a chance to review this new business class

Qatar-Airways-New-Business

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The QSuite, as it’s called, only launches in June on the Doha London route before being retrofitted to the rest of the QR fleet. I won’t lie, I thought of really convoluted routings that would place me on a LHR-DOH flight in June, but I just couldn’t make it work.

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The lounge in Doha is supposed to be excellent, with 2 full service restaurants, an F1 racing simulator, multiple PS consoles and a spa (that is, unfortunately, not free. Or cheap. 30 minute treatments start at US$110). Too bad I’ll be in Qatar during Ramadan, because that means no booze in the lounge (aircraft booze, however, is still ok).

In addition to these headliners there’ll also be a scattering of domestic US, intra-Europe narrowbody aircraft. I don’t expect those too be too exciting, but reviews will follow nonetheless. Oh, and I’m tentatively scheduled to fly on CX’s new regional business class too, but I’ve just transferred a bunch of Asiamiles into my account and am considering switching to a flight with First Class just so I can use my miles to upgrade myself.

Looks like May will be rather interesting…

The Milelion’s RTW Trip: A visit to Narita city and ANA back home

The Milelion is embarking on a round the world trip over the next 4 weeks to more than 10 different countries. En route I will be doing reviews of different airlines and hotels. This will be one really, really long trip report. Thanks for keeping me company.


Introduction: Around the world in 28 days
EVA Air Business Class Singapore to Taipei
EVA Air Business Class Taipei to Los Angeles
Silvercar LAX
Avenue of the Arts Costa Mesa
Sheraton Gateway Los Angeles
United First Class Los Angeles to Mexico City
Le Meridien Mexico City
United First Class  Mexico City to Houston
United Business Class Houston to Sao Paulo
Sheraton Sao Paulo WTC
South African Business Class Sao Paulo to Johannesburg
Hilton Sandton
Ten Bompas Johannesburg
Turkish Airlines Business Class Johannesburg to Istanbul
Turkish Airlines Business Class Istanbul to Zagreb
Westin Zagreb
Croatia Airlines Business Class Zagreb to Frankfurt
Lufthansa First Class Terminal
Lufthansa First Class Frankfurt to Riyadh
Four Points Riyadh
Air India Business Class Riyadh to Mumbai
St Regis Mumbai
ANA Business Class Mumbai to Tokyo
Asiana Business Class Tokyo to Seoul
Westin Seoul
W Seoul
Asiana Business Class Seoul to Tokyo
ANA Business Class Tokyo to Singapore


Most people hear “Narita” and think “airport”. And I suppose that’s only normal, given how many people will use NRT in their lifetimes yet never set foot in Narita City.

I had a long-ish layover between my Asiana flight to NRT and my ANA flight back home to Singapore. It was that strange window where it was too long to hang out in the airport and too short to visit Tokyo proper.

Fortunately, I read about the possibility of doing a quick pop out to Narita City during my layover.

Narita City actually has a fascinating history. It was a quiet, sleepy agricultural plot (some would argue that it still is, really) until the 1960s when the government identified the need to build a larger airport to relieve the pressure from Haneda. Narita City was eventually selected.

Tofugu has written an excellent article on the history of Narita airport which is well worth a read. It charts the troubled history of Narita airport, from the initial disagreements with the farmers whose land it sat on to the violent eviction in the 1970s. Some highlights from the Narita troubles include

  • One Union protest leader running for the Japanese Diet (parliament) ran on a Narita Airport opposition platform. Despite getting 330,000 votes nationwide he failed to win a seat.
  • Protesters built a steel tower in the area to obstruct construction of a road to the airport.
  • Numerous incidents of counter violence from security forces on protesters, including one death during the destruction of the above mentioned tower.
  • The construction of a “fortress” using 100 million yen worth of donations on an area near where protesters expected planes to land. Battles between riot police with tear gas grenades and water cannons and protesters with Molotov cocktails and pachinko-ball slingshots took place when the authorities tried to clear it away.
  • Arson against a Keisei Skyliner train to sabotage transport to Narita.

Perhaps the most “attention worthy” of these attempts was the occupation of the control tower by the protesters which involved ramming two trucks carrying waste oil through airport entrances and a “red helmet squad” infiltrating the airport vicinities overnight through sewage pipes. They succeeded in destroying the equipment of the airport control tower.

Don’t mess with farmers.

The arrival of Narita airport didn’t turn Narita City into a bustling metropolis. Thanks to the strong transport networks that link Narita to Tokyo,  there’s really no reason why you’d need to put up in Narita for any extended period of time. Tripadvisor’s listing for Narita suggests as much-

Narita City is easily accessible from Narita Airport as there are two train lines that head directly there in under 10 minutes. You can take either the JR or Keisei trains, which cost about 240-260 JPY

credit: japan-guide.com

The biggest attractions in Narita City are the temple and park, but culture and nature were not on my to-do list.

Instead, I had two hedonistic goals- eat and shop. I wanted to get some good quality sushi and I needed to visit a Japanese supermarket. So the plan was to visit Edokkozushi and Aeon Mall.

I cleared immigration in record time, thanks to my trusty APEC card. Once through, it was the simple matter of heading down to the train station and catching the first train out.

Edokkozushi is easy enough to find from the Narita City train station, though I somehow conspired to get lost by heading down the wrong alley. It’s less than a five minute walk in total. Japanese restaurants do not have English names in the sign board, so it took me a lot of guesswork to figure out that this one was the right one.

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Edokkozushi  is a charming little place that probably seats 30 at most. The staff must get a lot of tourists because they understand basic English. They were warm and hospitable.

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There is a menu which I forgot to take a photo of but it offers you the choice of several sets. I think the basic set of seven pieces plus a maki roll cost about S$40.

Was this anywhere near the standard of the Tsukiji fish market? Of course not. But it was still pretty darn good. Particular highlights were the otoro (additional charge of ~S$8 equivalent) and the fish roe.

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Lunch done, I headed out to Aeon Mall. There’s a bus that goes to Aeon Mall from Narita City station. It’s quite hard to miss, what with it being Pink and having Aeon Mall written on the side. The fare will cost you JPY250 and the trip is about 10 minutes.

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I didn’t get any photos of the mall itself, so why don’t you settle for this file photo.

photo credit: japan-guide.com
photo credit: japan-guide.com

There is a wide variety of stores within Aeon Mall, nothing upmarket but all the staples are there. You can find Muji, a Sports Authority, a 100 yen shop, a hypermarket etc. A good analogy would be to think of a heartland mall in Singapore. If you’re heading there you might want to take advantage of the 5% tourist discount (with the yen so expensive now every bit helps right?) I made a beeline for the hypermarket where I loaded up on Japanese snacks and went hunting for melon.

I was crazy about muskmelon ever since I tried a life-ruining piece at the Grand Hyatt Singapore. Japanese muskmelons in Singapore retail at $80+ (if someone knows cheaper ones I’m all ears) but I managed to find a $40 version at the Japanese supermarket.

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I’m a novice to all this, but apparently if it’s in a box it’s good. I was taking a gamble here, because I’m also unclear as to how you tell whether a melon is ripe or not. I was sure it’d be good, but I didn’t know just how good until I brought it back to Singapore, chilled it in the fridge for four days and finally cut it open to reveal this

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The center was molten and the flesh yielded with the smallest dig of a spoon. It was so sweet it brought manly tears to my eyes. As I dug into it more and more juice pooled in the center in some wonderful soupy gloop. It was heavenly and I want more.

The rest of the mall proved a decent enough distraction- there is a range of F&B outlets there (including a Thai restaurant and the ubiquitous Chinese eatery to cater to China tourists) as well as a cinema for those of you with long layovers (although if your layover is feature film length you might be better off heading to downtown Tokyo)

I headed back to the airport via a cab this time, melon and snacks in tow. The cab ride is ridiculously expensive, about 2,500 JPY, but I had no choice as I’d messed up my shuttle bus timings and couldn’t get back to the train station on time to catch a train to the airport (couldn’t you just have taken the cab to the train station, I asked myself later)

The Star Alliance carriers operate out of Terminal 1 in Narita Airport

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Narita Airport had really long lines for check-in, especially on flights to China (the above queue is for Air China). I peeked at the queues for Singapore Airlines, which were deserted in comparison.

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Fortunately, Narita is a participant in the Star Alliance Gold Track program, which allows Star Gold members to enjoy expedited security. I remember seeing this in LHR and a few other places as well. You don’t need to be flying premium cabins to use it, so long as you have a Star Gold card you’ll be allowed access.

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I swung by the lounge briefly but it was packed to the brim and there was absolutely nowhere to sit. You can read a full review of the lounge in the previous BOM-NRT leg.

EDIT: Thanks to William I can bring you one of the wonders of the ANA lounge- the automatic beer pouring machine. It’s true, the Japanese are light years ahead of the rest of us.

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photo credit: William 

I was flying on NH801 back to Singapore today. As you can see, the flight was absolutely packed (you can spy the lucky guy in the throne seat second row from the front- look at all that storage space!)

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The seat and hard product are exactly the same as that on my BOM-NRT flight, so head on over there if you want to read about it. Whereas on my previous ANA flight I had one of the throne seats in the middle, this time I was at the side in seat 1K

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Because I was the front of the plane I had the air vents infront of me. The hypochondriac in me was worried until I remembered that the 787 had some of the most advanced HEPA air filters in an aircraft.

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There were minor signs of wear and tear on the seat. I’m guessing I got one of the older 787s (which is saying something considering the first 787 commercial flight wasn’t that long ago, back in October 2011)

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Fortunately, a sleeping pad was provided on this flight (even though it departed at 5pm). This was absent from the BOM-NRT leg (and that was a red eye). The sleeping pad setup might not be as good as the full duvet setup you get in SQ, but it does offer you more flexibility in deciding whether you want to lounge, sit up straight or sleep.

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Pre-departure beverages were served, albeit in plastic cups. I can’t remember if this happened for my BOM-NRT flight but either way it’s not something you expect from a 5 star airline.

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Magazines and newspapers were offered. It was good to see The Straits Times after a month long hiatus

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One thing I love about Japanese airports is how the ground staff line up to wave the plane goodbye.

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We were soon cruising at 39,000 feet. The 787’s electronically tinted windows give some great views.

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Menus were distributed for dinner. What I have concluded is I need a better way of taking photos of menus. These are nigh on unreadable.

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So here’s the text version

International Cuisine

Appetizer- Foie-gras and chicken pate, pineapple cofiture, quinoa salad and marinated seabass

Main plate- Rolled wagyu beef with Shalyapin style onion sauce, Japanese shiso herb flavor OR spicy curry with sauteed prawn

Bread- served with Japanese Hiruzen Jersey butter and olive oil

Japanese Cuisine

Zensai- silver-stripe round herring in vinegar sauce, deep-fried jackknife prawn with black vinegar thick broth, simmered bitter melon in soy-based sauce, salt-grilled bonito, dressed okra with sesame paste

Kobachi- marinated eel and cucumber in bonito-vinegar sauce

Otsukuri- frozen lightly roasted bonito

Shusai- simmered Kagoshima berkshire pork in soy-based black vinegar sauce, served with steamed rice, miso soup and assorted Japanese pickles

ANA’s usual odd amuse bouche was on offer. This time it was coho salmon rolled with kombu-kelp, conger eel aspic with turmeric-flavored mayonnaise sauce, corn terrine, mini grissini with uncured ham, two kinds of olive and cheese with herb oil. I was not a fan.

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The foie-gras and chicken pate was even stranger, and I couldn’t understand what role pineapple played in the dish.

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Fortunately, the rolled wagyu beef was very good. It’s not steak, mind you,  so it’s not a question of doneness. The texture was more akin to a stir fry.

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After dinner it was a quick snooze and before I knew it we landed at Changi just after midnight, a place that seemed so familiar and yet foreign at the same time. It was good to be back.

And that brings me to the end of my very long RTW trip report! Seems like only yesterday I was flying over to LAX.  It’s been a fantastic trip, and thank you all for keeping me company. I hope it’s been useful in giving you ideas on which Star Alliance products you might be interested on trying in the near future, perhaps through Lifemiles or one of the Krisflyer sweet spots.

Stay tuned for some follow up reports giving my thoughts on how the different hard products compare, as well as some other bonus material.

Now, to continue working on that credit card omnibus

The Milelion’s RTW Trip: Asiana to NRT, and a reunion with an old friend

The Milelion is embarking on a round the world trip over the next 4 weeks to more than 10 different countries. En route I will be doing reviews of different airlines and hotels. This will be one really, really long trip report. Thanks for keeping me company.


Introduction: Around the world in 28 days
EVA Air Business Class Singapore to Taipei
EVA Air Business Class Taipei to Los Angeles
Silvercar LAX
Avenue of the Arts Costa Mesa
Sheraton Gateway Los Angeles
United First Class Los Angeles to Mexico City
Le Meridien Mexico City
United First Class  Mexico City to Houston
United Business Class Houston to Sao Paulo
Sheraton Sao Paulo WTC
South African Business Class Sao Paulo to Johannesburg
Hilton Sandton
Ten Bompas Johannesburg
Turkish Airlines Business Class Johannesburg to Istanbul
Turkish Airlines Business Class Istanbul to Zagreb
Westin Zagreb
Croatia Airlines Business Class Zagreb to Frankfurt
Lufthansa First Class Terminal
Lufthansa First Class Frankfurt to Riyadh
Four Points Riyadh
Air India Business Class Riyadh to Mumbai
St Regis Mumbai
ANA Business Class Mumbai to Tokyo
Asiana Business Class Tokyo to Seoul
Westin Seoul
W Seoul
Asiana Business Class Seoul to Tokyo
ANA Business Class Tokyo to Singapore


The 747 always holds a special place in my heart because of its links to my childhood. When I was young my father was posted to Silicon Valley to work. Whenever we shuttled back and forth between the USA and Singapore, we’d take one of SQ’s many 747s. Sometimes it’d be the Big Top (-300). Sometimes it’d be the Mega Top (-400). Sometimes we’d be seated in business class on the upper deck (companies were way more generous with expatriate packages back in the day) and sometimes we’d be cramped in the rear, but all the time the stewardesses would fuss over me (My career as a charmer started early) and bring me model aircraft, games and other distractions.

I’d get to go to the cockpit and meet the pilots, who would sign my Young Explorer booklet. For the uninitiated among you, Krisflyer used to have a special Young Explorer program just for kids. It even had various tiers (good to get them started on the status race early in life) which gave better benefits that I can’t quite remember. There was definitely a requalification gift and once I got tickets to watch Space Jam. It was a different time.

So being on a 747 definitely brings back a lot of memories for me. Unfortunately,  the heyday of the 747 is long over, as the former queen of the long haul skies gets replaced by more fuel-efficient A380s and 77Ws. And although the A380 is certainly a formidable replacement, you don’t get that same feeling of privacy by having a small mini-cabin at the top of the jet.

SQ’s upper deck on the 747. This version has the angled flat Spacebed seats, but I’m old enough to remember when they used the reclining Ultimo series | photo credit: ashutterbugslife.wordpress.com

As of January 2016 there were about 220 747-400s left in passenger service, and over a third of them were with three airlines (BA, UA and KLM). This aircraft used to account for almost 50% of Asia-Europe and Asia-North America flights in the first half of 2006, but 10 years later it now accounts to less than 10%. Take up of the 747-400’s spiritual successor, the 747-8, has been poor, with only three passenger operators. So it’s likely that within the next 5-10 years we’re likely to see the familiar shape of the 747 disappear from airports altogether (or confined to the cargo terminals).

Asiana too, is in the process of gradually phasing out its 747 fleet. It has four left in commercial services, flying short distance/high traffic routes like ICN-NRT.

The best thing is that even though Asiana’s 747s have three cabins, they only sell business and economy seats on this route. Therefore, if you book business, you can use the manage booking function to select a first class seat in the nose of the 747 (the service level on offer however will still be business).

In other words, if you’re booked in business you can either pick one of the 10 first class seats in the nose of the plane

Or one of the 24 business class seats in the upper deck

Although the upper deck is always an amazing experience, no prizes for guessing which section I took.

I departed from the W Walkerhill very early anticipating a minimum 90 minute journey to the airport, but because it was early on a Sunday morning (and the driver ignored all stop signs speed limits and traffic lights) we were there in just over 45 minutes. This gave me plenty of time to explore ICN airport.

Check-in was really silly. Even though I already had an e-boarding pass on my phone, the security people insisted I go back to the counter and get a physical one. Because physical is so much more legit. There were crazy lines at the counter, even for business class, but I just wandered up to a vacant first class station and asked if they could print out my pass for me, which they happily obliged.

Asiana’s flagship lounge in ICN was functional but not outstanding. It’s located up an escalator from the main concourse

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Up the escalator you’ll find reception, but access control isn’t very good and during busy times when every counter staff is preoccupied I can see it being very easy for someone to come up the escalator and automatically turn left to enter the lounge (the lounge is split into two halves with the reception counter in the middle)

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I scanned my boarding pass and went into the far end of the lounge (away from the escalators). This is the larger lounge area.

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There is plenty of seating in the lounge and a sit down dining area.

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The buffet selection was actually really poor, with only two hot items, cereal, bread and the curious option of a salad bar. 5 o’ clock somewhere, I guess.

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The alcohol selection was already out even though it was 8 in the morning. Nothing sparkling on offer.

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Behind the dining area was a TV area with sports on mute.

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Elsewhere in the lounge you could find a selection of Englisha nd Korean reading materials

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Some workstations (note the privacy glass separating each workstation from its neighbor)

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And a random grand piano. Mostly for ambiance, not for music.

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Ultimately the lounge didn’t leave much of an impression on me. I actually thought it was slightly poorer than SQ’s SilverKris business class section in Singapore, given that SQ has a much wider variety of hot dishes and alcohol on offer.  It only struck me later that I could have gone to find SQ’s much better SilverKris ICN lounge instead of waiting here. Then again it might not have been open so early in hte morning.

When the time came to board I headed down to Gate 30 to prepare to meet an old friend. I was excited to see that it was a 747 Combi, which takes both passengers and cargo. You can see in the photo below that a large flap towards the rear of the aircraft is open. This is where they load the cargo pallets.

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Boarding started exactly on time. The ICN-NRT route, as you might expect, is very popular among business travellers.

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I had never been in the nose section of the 747 before, only on the upper deck. There are 10 seats in the nose section of Asiana’s 747

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I had seat 3K, on the starboard side of the aircraft.  I could imagine this seat being quite the luxury 10 years ago, but products have changed and innovated so much since then that the seat just looked very old and tired. More than sufficient for a 2 hour 10 minute flight of course.

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It’s interesting how the seat design speaks volumes about how design priorities have changed over the years. You can see that the seat is really not very private. I could look across the entire cabin from where I was seated. That would be unthinkable on modern-day first class cabins where you’d get high walls and movable partitions to give privacy.

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The most private seats in this cabin are probably those towards the front, 1A and K, simply because your blocked by the large rear of your own seat.

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That said, I suppose if you sit at the correct angle you could still be seen (as this view of 1A from 3K shows)

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The wear was visible on the seat controls especially around the edges

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As well as around the tray table slot, presumably from suffering many bangs over the years by frustrated individuals trying to get the trays back in.

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Some other minor cosmetic defects could be seen on the leather.

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Fortunately, the IFE controller worked just fine (and I think is the same model used on SQ’s A330s)

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And despite being an old aircraft, Empower plugs and USB outlets were still available.

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I got the same amenities I got on the NRT-ICN leg on the A330, given that the service standards would be business class despite first class seating.

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The service was alright but not spectacular. The chief stewardess came over to introduce herself, but subsequently disappeared and passengers were not addressed by name.

We pushed back on time and I heard those four majestic engines spooling up to get this ~400,000kg beast into the air. The aircraft made a very loud, groaning noise on takeoff, which was always very reassuring. I could hear the rattling and the creaking coming from the front and from the seats, parts presumably loosened after more than a decade of service.

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Shortly after takeoff the crew started to serve lunch on this short flight. I can’t remember whether a menu was presented, I’m quite sure it must have but I didn’t get a photo. In any case it was your typical Asian vs Western option. I went with the Asian which was beef with rice. It was pleasant but I was saving my stomach for a little adventure I’ll touch on in a bit.

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The bathroom was adequately stocked for a small flight. The standard L’Occitane amenities were on offer.

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The seat reclines full flat, as you would expect from a first class seat from 10 years ago. It’s not going to win any awards today of course, and I couldn’t help but feel the entire fabric hadn’t been cleaned in eternity, but a flat seat on a 2 hour 10 min flight is already more than anyone can ask for.

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We started our descent before I knew it and were flying over the farms near Narita.

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Everything else was without drama. An on time landing gave me a  four hour layover and I wasn’t about to spend it at the very average ANA lounge.

I had made plans beforehand to leave the airport and explore Narita City. I didn’t fancy being able to squeeze in Tokyo in that four hours, given I was at Narita not Haneda. Most people think of Narita as an airport not a city, but I had two objectives: have sushi and visit a Japanese supermarket. Both could be fulfilled at Narita City…