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
- Addis Ababa
- 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.
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
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…
Malaysia Airlines A330 Business Class (KUL-NRT)
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)
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.
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?
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…
Ethiopian Airlines B772 Business Class (ACC-ADD)
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.
Qatar Airways B787 Business Class (DOH-DEL)
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
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.
Looks like May will be rather interesting…