When the (amazing/short-lived) Visa/Conrad promotion went live last year, I’d obsessed over how I could make the most of the deal. Having never been to Conrad Koh Samui (often mentioned as one of the aspirational properties in the Hilton Portfolio, also previously lauded by Aaron), I decided that March 2017 would be as good a time as any to check it out, swinging by Bangkok on the way while enjoying another 50% discounted Conrad stay there.
Thai Airways seemed like the logical option to get from SIN to USM with a BKK stopover; I enjoyed the experience (especially flying on the new A350) but looking back I kinda wish I had saved on the air ticket and got “a la carte” direct flights instead. For such short trips, flying business class is really rather unnecessary – especially if the hardware for regional flights is not particularly great.
Thai Airways Business Class SIN-BKK (A350)
Since Thai Airways was operating the A350 on some flights between SIN-BKK, I made sure that I was able to get on board one of them for my outbound flight.
I don’t know about you, but when flying on business class around lunchtime I try to make it a point to get to the airport earlier to grab some food at the airline’s lounges, which tend to serve better food than the contract lounges that Priority Pass gets you into.
Changi Airport Terminal 1 Thai Airways Royal Silk Business Class Lounge
So, immediately after checking in, I headed straight for the Thai business lounge in T1.
Since (if I’m not mistaken) Thai Airways is the only Star Alliance airline operating in T1, and there are only a handful of flights to Bangkok daily, the lounge doesn’t seem to get all that crowded – a good thing, in my book.
[Edit: Clearly, the internet is full of people eager to point out just how mistaken I was – Air China, Shenzhen and Turkish fly from here too. Thanks to Avinash and Nick for pointing that out!]
I was actually pretty impressed by the offerings at the lounge – the drink selection was a bit more limited than I’d have liked, but the food spread worked well as a quick bite before boarding the plane.
After stuffing my face with lounge snacks, I proceeded towards the plane in the hope of continuing to stuff my face with in-flight food. The new(ish) A350 was clearly visible from the boarding area.
You can tell how new the plane is from the state of its interior.
The seat was pretty comfortable, with more than adequate legroom.
Other than the large screen in front of the seat, there was a touchscreen to the side of the seat. The seatbelt resembles the type you find in cars (fastened diagonally) – while I’m sure this is more secure, I did find it more uncomfortable. I usually keep the seatbelt on when flying, but found myself unbuckling whenever possible during this flight.
The dining table is stowed away in plain sight pretty much in front of you, to be unfolded diagonally when food is served. A rather elegant approach, I thought.
The fare was pretty good, but nothing earth-shattering. I opted for the Squid Ink Spaghetti for myself. It was… okay, but not all that memorable.
Towards the end of the flight they started giving out orchids for the ladies on board. While a clearly sexist move, Griffles ended up a happy beneficiary when The Wife opted to pin it on him instead of in her hair.
All in all, a pleasant flight – I left the plane feeling rather pleased that I’d opted to fly Thai business for this trip. That said, for a quick 2h flight it’s not really that big a deal – I didn’t even manage to try switching the seat to flat bed mode!
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.
What was so awesome about the old system is that it did not discriminate among fare classes. That is, someone who bought a deep discount economy ticket would pay the same upgrade fee to business as someone with a full fare economy ticket. So this would have been the perfect arrangement for someone trying to game the system.
That’s since changed, unfortunately. You can view the revised chart here, but I’ve copied it below for convenient reference.
Note that Business to First Class upgrades still don’t discriminate among fare classes, so if your company lets you fly Business (are you hiring?) you should give the Business to First chart a look over). I’ll just be talking about the Economy to Business Class options
That’s a lot of information to take in at one go, so let’s look at a Singapore-relevant example.
Singapore to Bangkok is a short flight and totally doesn’t need business class. That said, if you’re eager to try a very new airline product (or just want to booze up in the lounge prior to departure), Thai is still operating its A350s on the SIN-BKK route while it trains up crews. I believe I even spotted a Dreamliner operating certain days. I mean, look, I’m never going to be able to justify paying more for business class on such a short flight, but if you’re feeling indulgent you can get upgraded for as little as S$57 one-way.
That’s in theory, at least. Economy ticket classes Y and B on the SIN-BKK route can be upgraded for S$57.
But when I went to search for revenue tickets, I only found the following fare buckets available. (EDIT: Y/B is available for one way fares)
Super Save (V/W)
Flexi Saver (K)
Full Flex (Q)
It’s a bit interesting that Super Save and Saver fares book into the same ticket class, because they have different rules regarding refunds- Super Save tickets are strictly not refundable but Saver fares can be refunded with a penalty. That said, I’m not exactly an expert on airfare ticket classes.
If you booked into a Super Save fare, you’d pay $213.60 for your ticket, plus $265 to upgrade for a grand total of $478.60. Note that this just gets you one leg in business class. If you want to do it both ways you’re looking at $743.60.
Or you could buy a more expensive fare bucket and pay less to upgrade. Paying $361.50 for your base ticket means you can upgrade for $185 each way, or $731 total.
How does that compare to retail prices? If you look for the same routing on the same day on the same flight, you can buy business class for S$761.
That’s not much of a difference between buying economy plus upgrading, plus you get the certainty. Of course part of the reason is that Y/B fares don’t seem to be offered ex-SIN (or at least not on the website). If they were, an S$85 upgrade sounds almost too good to be true and I’d definitely jump on it.
So my conclusion is that buying an upgrade would only make sense if
Your company was paying full fare Y/B for you, and you wanted to top up a small amount to fly business
You were flying to selected destinations in South East Asia or North Asia. Europe and Australia upgrades are prohibitively expensive, but upgrades to places like Shanghai and Beijing can be as low as S$150 potentially
In any case, I think it would make a lot more sense for Thai to adopt a system like Plusgrade where they’d be able to collect data on how much people are willing to pay a lot more scientifically, rather than relying on someone at the check in desk to process it properly.
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
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.
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.
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 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.
Bangkok – Rome
SUN, MON, WED, FRI
Rome – Bangkok
SUN, MON, WED, FRI
Bangkok – Milan
TUE, THU, SAT
Milan – Bangkok
TUE, THU, SAT
Bangkok – Singapore
Singapore – Bangkok
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.