Introduction: It’s the most wonderful time of the year
A Tale of Two Lounges: SATS Premier T2 and the Qantas SIN Lounge
Malaysia Airlines B737 Business Class SIN-KUL
Malaysia Airlines Business Class Golden Lounge KUL
Malaysia Airlines A330 Business Class KUL-NRT
Japan Airlines Business Class Sakura Lounge NRT
Japan Airlines B77W Business Class NRT-LAX
The Westin LAX
The Westin Westminster
Aloft Boston Seaport
The Consolidated AA Domestic First Class Experience
American Airlines Flagship Lounge JFK
American Airlines B772 Business Class JFK-LHR
American Airlines Arrivals Lounge LHR
The Great Northern Hotel, London
Sheraton Grand London Park Lane
Westin Paris Vendome
Courtyard by Marriott Madrid Princesa
Four Points by Sheraton Barcelona Diagonal
The Consolidated Intra-Europe Business Class Experience
The Casablanca Lounge CMN
Royal Air Maroc B737 Business Class CMN-ACC
Labadi Beach Hotel, Accra
Ethiopian Airlines B772 Business Class ACC-ADD
Ethiopian Airlines Cloud 9 Business Class Lounge ADD
Ethiopian Airlines B737 Business Class ADD-DAR
Protea Hotel by Marriott Dar Es Salaam Courtyard
Tanzanite Lounge DAR
Qatar Airways A320 Business Class DAR-DOH
Qatar Airways Al Safwa First Class Lounge DOH
Qatar Airways A350 “First” Class DOH-DXB
The Grosvenor House Dubai
Qatar Airways B772 Business Class DOH-BLR
The Ritz Carlton Bangalore
Cathay Dragon Lounge Bangalore
Cathay Dragon A330 Business Class BLR-HKG
W Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific’s HKG Lounges
Cathay Pacific A350 Business Class HKG-SIN
Just typing out the contents page for this trip report made me realise how momentous the next 40 or so days are going to be. Over this period, I’ll be flying 31,767 miles on 21 different flights and writing reports on 16 different hotels and 10 different airlines. The contents page got so long I had to group a few trip reports I feel might be repetitive (eg 3 domestic flights I’ll be taking in the States) or nothing to shout about (eg my intra-Europe J experiences with British Airways and Iberia). And yet the contents page alone still takes up more than one screen. This is gonna be fun.
Reviewing the routing
Due to various reasons and routing decisions that shaved more costs off the total trip price, the route map has changed a bit since I first wrote about the trip a few weeks ago. The flight plan currently looks like this
Planning a RTW trip is never easy because of the sheer number of moving parts, but I’m quite proud that I managed to keep everything within budget while actually decreasing the total cost compared to last year’s trip.
For example, I figured out that Qatar Airways was charging ridiculously high fares if your final destination was Doha. See in the example below- to get from Dar Es Salaam to Doha would cost US$2.6K. (in case you’re wondering why I had to buy this ticket separately when Qatar is part of Oneworld, it’s because I ran out of segments on my RTW ticket)
But when I put Dubai as my final destination (with a stopover in Doha), that price dropped to US$811!
I was thinking about just throwing away the DOH-DXB leg, but then realised that my flight from DOH-DXB was booked in first class. Apparently, Qatar calls business class on its intra-Middle East flights first class. And although the hard product onboard is still the regular business class product, you get to access the Qatar Airways First Class lounge in Doha!
So all I had was to buy a budget flight back from Dubai to Doha to continue my RTW ticket, and I’d still be coming out at ~US$1.7K less, while getting to review what should be a very great first class lounge. Plus, I’d rather spend my weekend in Dubai than Doha anyway. It’s finding out little money-saving-yet-experience-enhancing tricks like that which make travel hacking such a joy.
What’s different from last year?
Obviously, the biggest difference from last year’s RTW trip is that I’ll be doing OneWorld this year, giving me a chance to write about some new airline products.
The destinations are different too. I’ll also be spending about a week in Africa, in Ghana and Tanzania to be precise. I’ve technically been to Africa before (Morocco + South Africa) but given how diverse the region is, I think it’s safe to say my experiences in Ghana and Tanzania are going to be totally different.
In terms of hotels, I’m pretty much sticking to Starwood wherever we have good corporate rates with them, but I’m throwing in several Marriott brands as well, most noticeably the Courtyard madrid Princesa in Spain (as the Westin Palace is pricing out at a ridiculous 400 Euros a night)
and the Ritz Carlton Bengalore (where we have an amazing US$120 corporate rate)
The reason I’m ok with non-Starwood stays is I’ve already planned my route to 50 Starwood nights this year. I know that some time in 2018 the SPG and Marriott Rewards program will be merged into one, and I’m assuming they’ll combine both my SPG lifetime nights and my Marriott Rewards lifetime nights into 1 when counting my qualification towards lifetime status in the new program.
As a side note, I will hit SPG Lifetime Gold on this trip, as soon as I hit the 25 night mark (on 20 so far). I don’t think you get a fancy membership kit for Gold like you do with Platinum, but it’s still nice to know at the age of 29 that I don’t need to worry about requalifying for elite status the rest of my life. At least, assuming the combination of SPG and Marriott Rewards doesn’t mess all that up…
So that’s the game plan! I realise that the credit card world continues to churn (heh heh) with or without me, so I’ll be doing my utmost to keep the site up to date with the news in Singapore even when I’m on the road. I’m sure my trusty guestwriters will chip in too (ahem). Come on guys, stock options in it for you.
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.
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
Dar Es Salaam
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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…
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)
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.
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.
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)
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 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
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?
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
And their 787 (it looks angled flat but it’s full flat)
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.
Unfortunately I’m not going to have a chance to review this new business class
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.
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.