Review: THAI Royal Silk Business Class Bangkok to Shanghai

I was actually dreading this flight – 100%.   At a scheduled 4:15, this “red-eye” flight to Shanghai was too short for a decent night’s rest.  It was also in a slanted business class seat, which I was pretty worried about for sleeping.  I typically hate these short red-eye flights, but when booking the award back in February, this was the only flight with award space.

As it turns out, though – everything was fine – even though the flight was entirely too short!

We arrived at the gate about ten minutes prior to boarding and as usual, the gate area was utter chaos.  In my experience, THAI has never done a good job of successfully boarding business class separately from economy.  Usually, as soon as the gate agent heads over to open one of the glass doors for boarding, pretty much the entire crowd in the boarding lounge gets up and packs into a tightly compressed crowd, itching to get onboard. Continue Reading →

Review: THAI Royal First Class Munich to Bangkok

We arrived at Munich’s Franz Josef Strauss International Airport over three hours before our flight since we were just ready to relax a little bit before the flight.  There was already a queue formed when we arrived, but we were the first guests in line for Royal First Class.  On this flight was myself and two friends — one of who would be accompanying me in First Class, and the other who was holding down the fort in economy.  Once check-in opened, we were processed first and headed through security and immigration before heading to the Lufthansa Senator Lounge.  Unfortunately, Thai First Class passengers are not granted access at Lufthansa’s First Class Lounges, so the Senator Lounge had to do.  It, of course, was fine — as we primarily just used the space to relax with a light meal and a few drinks before our flight to Bangkok.

About 45 minutes prior to departure, we made the short walk to our gate and took a couple pictures of our B747-400 in the unique THAI livery.  As we were called for boarding, we entered the plane at door 1L and was greeted by the Purser.

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Review: United Global First Class Chicago to Munich

I started out my around the world trip with a Transatlantic flight from Chicago to Munich in United Global First Class.  After a longer than usual flight from Washington-DCA to Chicago, I arrived at O’ Hare and met up with my good friend, who would be joining me for the entire trip to Europe and Asia.  IMG_8624We spent an hour or so at the United Global First Class Lounge in O’Hare, primarily finishing up some last-minute bill paying and calling loved ones before we departed.  Finally, it was time for boarding, so we ventured to the gate where boarding had just commenced.

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Six Initial Thoughts on My Trip Around the World

After two weeks and just under 22,000 miles of travel around the world, I’m finally getting acclimated to the real world after arriving back in Washington from Tokyo last week.

DCA-ORD-MUC // MUC-BKK-PVG // PVG-HKG-PVG // PVG-NRT-IAD

DCA-ORD-MUC // MUC-BKK-PVG // PVG-HKG-PVG // PVG-NRT-IAD

I’d initially planned to publish trip reports as I went on this trip, but after a pretty intense first few days of Oktoberfest in Munich, that whole idea went out the window.  On this trip, I used my time in airports and on flights to relax and sleep instead of writing.  As a result, my trip reports will be published, post by post in the coming weeks.  I’ve got all sorts of goodies in this set, in addition to my flights in United, THAI, Air China and ANA First Class, including:

  • Le Meridien, Munich
  • Park Hyatt Shanghai
  • Hyatt Regency Hong Kong, Tsim Sha Tsui
  • Grand Hyatt Shanghai
  • Hyatt Regency Tokyo
  • Sights of Munich and Oktoberfest
  • A Day in Bangkok
  • THAI Royal First Class Lounge and Spa, BKK
  • Sights of Shanghai
  • Air China Forbidden First Class Lounge, PVG
  • Sights of Hong Kong
  • A Nights in Tokyo

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First Look: ANA First Class Tokyo to Washington

Last week, I finished up my around the World trip by flying from Tokyo-Narita to Washington-Dulles in ANA First Class in its new ANA First Square product.

How would I describe the experience in a word?

Spectacular.

The 12+ hour flight on this new, ANA B777-300ER will surely serve as the benchmark to which I compare any future flight.  The whole experience was outstanding, from start to finish.

The new First Square product provided a TON of very private space.  Though there was not a door, the dividers of the square were high, and I could not see into any other suite at any time.  The seat was very comfortable, with a huge LCD screen with a decent amount of entertainment selections.  It laid down into a bed where I would sleep soundly for about eight hours. Continue Reading →

First Look: Air China Forbidden Pavilion First Class Shanghai to Tokyo

Earlier this week, I got to experience a relatively quick flight in Air China’s Forbidden Pavilion First Class on a flight between Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport and Tokyo’s Narita International Airport.   This 2.5 hour flight was booked as part of my around the world trip using US Airways miles.

Compared to my flight in THAI Royal First Class and ANA First Class, I was extremely underwhelmed with my experience with Air China.  I’d even prefer United’s GlobalFirst Class over this, simply because the hard product (the seat) just doesn’t compare.   Don’t get me wrong — any flight in an international first class cabin is a privilege, but I’m just comparing apples to apples here.

Boarding our Air China B747-400 from the ramp

Boarding our Air China B747-400 from the ramp

On this flight, we flew an aged B747-400 aircraft, and I was seated in seat 2A, as the only passenger in first class.
Interestingly enough, the first class cabin on this plane was not located in the nose of the 747, but instead was between the first and second sets of doors in an area typically designated for business class.  This first class cabin was incredibly dated, but it did feature a full lie-flat bed, and is very similar in design to the old first class seats on American’s international fleet.  Air China is eventually phasing these 747s out of their fleet, and that was pretty obvious, as the interior of this plane clearly hadn’t been refreshed in quite some time.

Air China Forbidden Pavilion First Class - Seat 2A on a B747-400

Air China Forbidden Pavilion First Class – Seat 2A on a B747-400

Though this was a short flight, I was offered a full, multi-course lunch service.  The food was actually pretty decent, and the entrée — though more of a business class-style meal — was actually quite good.  I ordered the steak and received a petite tenderloin that was cooked to a perfect medium — always a nice surprise onboard any flight.

Lunch in Air China First Class -- Beef Tenderloin, mashed potatoes and vegetables

Lunch in Air China First Class — Beef Tenderloin, mashed potatoes and vegetables

The in flight entertainment consisted of an old, flip-out screen, with very little programming.  It certainly wouldn’t be adequate for a longer flight, but on this short flight I kept the in-flight map up the whole time.  I passed time after the meal by snoozing and looking out the window as we flew parallel to the eastern coast of Japan on our approach to Narita.

I’ll post a full review of the flight later, but I did want to post my initial impressions of the flight.  Though I realize Air China is offering a newer product on its newest airplanes on routes to North America, this short sample of its Forbidden Pavilion First Class certainly did not leave me anxious to experience it on a longer, Trans-Pacific flight!

First Look: THAI Royal First Class Munich to Bangkok

Good Evening from THAI’s Royal First Class lounge in Bangkok.  I’m about to hop a redeye flight to Shanghai, but wanted to share a few initial impressions from my flight last night from Munich to Bangkok in THAI Royal First Class.

Overall, I was quite impressed.  With everything… and I’m not even including the THAI ground services in Bangkok, which are possibly the best in the industry.

We flew a B747-400 in seats 1A and 1K at the very front of the aircraft.  The seats featured the new THAI Royal First Class product, and were extremely comfortable and spacious.  Though they did not feature doors, these seats felt more like suites, as they were very private.  The product features plenty of room and I slept wonderfully in the lie-flat bed.

Seat 1A on the THAI B747-400

Seat 1A on the THAI B747-400

The catering.  Ohhh, the catering was outstanding.

The first course was the caviar, and it was presented beautifully.   I was given a huge serving along with all of the garnishes from an impressive tray of caviar.  I’m not usually a caviar person, but when offered onboard a plane?  Why not?

Caviar to start!

Caviar to start!

The appetizers were also good, but the entrée stole the show.  The beef curry was just delicious!  Easily one of the best entrees I’ve ever had onboard.  The meal ended with cheese, fruit and a desert — all of which were top quality.

Breakfast included eggs, bacon, fresh fruit, yogurt, and an assortment of breads.

Each and every course was presented with care and was set beautifully on the large table top by the absurdly attentive flight crew. The first class cabin was booked to 7 of 9 seats, and the service was impeccable.  During the dinner service, there were up to five flight crew servicing the cabin at one time.  The service was outstanding in all regards during the entirety of this 11-hour flight.

I’ll post a full review of the flight later, but I did want to post my initial impressions of the flight.  The THAI experience easily out-classed my United flight last week, but we’ll see how it compares to Air China and ANA First Class in the next week!

First Look: United Global First Class Chicago to Munich

Good afternoon from Munich!

After four days here in Munich, I’ve finally acquired some wifi good enough for a post at the Le Meridien Munich.  I put together some initial thoughts on the flight, but a full review is forthcoming.

I  arrived in Munich last Thursday on United flight 952 from Chicago on a three-class B777-200 in United Global First Class.  I did enjoy the flight – especially the seat – but it certainly had its shortcomings, as expected.

The seat was pretty fantastic, once again. I find it to have plenty of leg room and shoulder room, and it is really conducive to a comfortable night’s rest. I found myself awoken from maybe the deepest sleep I’ve had aboard an airplane.   This was the most important factor in the trip, since I wanted to arrive in Europe well rested and ready to take on Oktoberfest!IMG_8636

The service was good. Not great, not poor, but perfectly fine and good.  All requests were taken in a quick and friendly manner, though not overly personable or memorable.

The catering was not first-class caliber, but at least it was edible unlike my last two trips in United GlobalFirst, LAX-SYD and SYD-SFO.  The entree featured a beef tenderloin, which was okay.  The gnocchi was decent, but the asparagus was pretty bad.IMG_8671

At the end of the day, I didn’t go hungry, so the meal was enough for me, but it was of the quality of an international first class product.  Overall, I really enjoy flying from Chicago to Europe since the two extra hours allow for a much more relaxed flight with more time to get some rest after a leisurely dinner service. Flights from the east coast to Europe are typically way too short for my liking.

I got some decent rest, which is the name of the game for me when flying to Europe, so I was mostly happy with the flight, as it’s really hard to complain when traveling across the Atlantic in first class!

Live Blog: A Mileage Run to Anchorage — 33 hours of InsAAnity

Three weeks ago, I flew to Anchorage for the weekend to kickoff my status challenge to American Executive Platinum.  Well, today, I begin the last trip to finish that challenge of 25,000 Elite Qualifying Points in three months… only I’m completing this challenge in a mere 21 days!

DCA-BOS-DFW-ANC-DFW-BOS-DCA

DCA-BOS-DFW-ANC-DFW-BOS-DCA

In order finish this challenge, I’ll be flying from Washington, DC to Anchorage and back today via Boston and Dallas-Fort Worth.  Yeah — I won’t be leaving the airport.  By my best estimate, this trip will take about 33 hours, from 7:30am this morning, including about 25 hours in the air.  Most of this travel will be on American Airlines in first class of a B757-200.  The shorter two legs from DCA-BOS and BOS-DCA will be operated by US Airways. This seemed like a good idea when I booked it.  After all, I will achieve Executive Platinum Status after this run, but… it’s a lot of domestic flying.   I’ve only done one straight turn on a mileage run before, and it was from DC to LAX.  My friend Angelina did this direct turn a couple of weeks ago, and she had nothing but terrible things to say about  it.  Here’s to hoping my run goes better! I’ll be posting a running string of updates during this mileage run.  It’s going to be painful.  I hope to keep this post entertaining!  Here goes nothing!


2:25pm EDT, Sunday

So over 32 hours and over 10,000 miles later, I’ve touched down at Washington National Airport.

I’m a bit tired, but it wasn’t really as bad as I thought it would be.  Thanks US Airway and American for six on-time flights during this run!

It’s all over!  American Executive Platinum is now secured until February 2016!

12:55pm EDT, Sunday

Continue Reading →

Review: United Global First Class Sydney to San Francisco

Fifteen Days in Australia

A Trip to Sydney, Cairns, Melbourne, and Diving the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea

We awoke at the Park Hyatt Melbourne after our last night in Australia, and grabbed a cab to the Melbourne Airport.  We were to pick up our United ticket back to the States in Sydney, so we booked a one-way flight from Melbourne to Sydney on Qantas.  In order to avoid a misconnection, we allowed ourselves a 3.5 hour layover in Sydney, which ultimately proved to be plenty of time.  After having breakfast in the Melbourne Airport food court, we proceeded to the gate to ride our Qantas B767-300 for a short, hour-long flight to Sydney to start out our long, 28-hour day of traveling.

Our flights home:  MEL-SYD-SFO-DCA / SFO-CLT-TPA

Our flights home: MEL-SYD-SFO-DCA / SFO-CLT-TPA

We were luckily able to snag a couple bulkhead seats, so this flight wasn’t bad at all — chalk it up as another good experience with Qantas, similar to what we experienced a few days before.

Our B767-300 for MEL-SYD

Our B767-300 for MEL-SYD

We arrived in the domestic terminal 2 at Sydney’s Kingsford Smith International Airport, but we needed to get to Terminal 1 for our international flight on United to San Francisco.  Qantas operates a shuttle between the domestic and international terminals for their international connecting passengers, but they allowed us to access the shuttle with our Untied boarding passes, so that was nice.

After driving the tarmac past some behemoth airplanes, the shuttle dropped us off at a point where we had to go either to the transfer security checkpoint, or to the check-in counters.  We went to the United check-in counters, but they were not yet open as it was a tad more than three hours before our scheduled flight time.  Though we had boarding passes on our phone, we wanted paper boarding passes and lounge passes, so we waited about five minutes before we saw a United representative.  Though they weren’t open yet, she saw were Global First Class passengers, so she went ahead and produced our boarding passes and sent us on our way.

Singapore Airlines First Class Lounge

After going through security, we proceeded to the Star Alliance section of the terminal.  Though we had lounge invites for the Air New Zealand Lounge, I figured we’d give the Singapore First Class Lounge a shot since according to the Star Alliance Lounge Access Policy, we should be granted access.

We were, in fact, granted access to the Singapore Airlines First Class Lounge without issue, and were informed that it had just undergone a refurbishment.  It was completely empty when we arrived, so we took two seats overlooking the tarmac and several gates.

The View from our perch in the Singapore First Class Lounge at Sydney

The View from our perch in the Singapore First Class Lounge at Sydney

We enjoyed a few drinks, and  a fantastic Thai Red Coconut curry lunch in the lounge.  We really enjoyed this lounge, and appreciated the personal service we had during our two hours there, as there was a waiter who kept our drinks and plates full.  Though there were ultimately a few other patrons in the lounge, we felt like we had the place to ourselves, making for a very relaxing layover prior to our loooooong flight back to the States.  Oh, and the bathroom had one of the more ridiculous signs I’ve seen…

Best signage ever in the Singapore First Class Lounge Restroom!

Best signage ever in the Singapore First Class Lounge Restroom!  Thanks for the advice, SQ!

We left the lounge a little after the published boarding time only to find hoards of people by the gate.  Shockingly, boarding had yet to commence, so we popped up into the Air  New Zealand Business Lounge.  And what an insane asylum it was!  This was a massive lounge that was quite crowded and very loud.  After checking it out for ten minutes, we’d seen enough — we were so glad that we opted to spend time in the Singapore First Class Lounge instead (though I loved the hot dog cart in the ANZ lounge)!  By the time we got back to the gate, boarding was well underway.

United Airlines (UA) 870
Sydney (SYD) – San Francisco (SFO)
Aircraft:  Boeing 747-400
Seat:  1A (Global First Class)
Thursday, January 9
4:20PM – 10:50AM
Duration:  13:30

We boarded through door 1L, hung a left, and were seated in the same two seats that we had on our outbound flights a few weeks prior:  seats 1A and 1K in Global First Class on board a United B747-400.  Again, I can’t say enough about the awesomeness of these seats.  They’re somewhat private, they have a ton of storage, there is no foot traffic, and they’re very spacious.  Overall, it’s an extremely comfortable seat in which to spend 13+ hours, and is great for pairs traveling together.

Seat 1A in Global First Class on the United B747-400

Seat 1A in Global First Class on the United B747-400

Plenty of Room in 1A

Plenty of Room in 1A

Once we took our seats, the friendly flight attendant fulfilled our pre-departure beverage requests and brought us our amenity kits, which I really do like.  We pushed back pretty close to on-time and taxied out past another United B747-400 that was running an extra segment due to a cancellation the day before.  We taxied all the way to the end of runway 34R and took an extra-long take-off roll before turning north.  The view of Sydney out my window was fantastic!

Dinner service began about 30 minutes after takeoff.  The appetizer was some sort of a pork won-ton, and was actually quite good.  The soup was a cream of asparagus, and it was probably the highlight of the dinner.  The salad was pretty standard — fresh and tasty.  Due to both of our awful entrees on our outbound flight LAX-SYD, I decided to play it safe and order the pasta.  The Pasta dish on this flight was a butternut squash ravioli.  It was relatively tasty, though dominated by the sauce.  The traditional ice cream sundae topped off this slightly improved meal.

At the end of the day, the dinner service was a bit better than our outbound flight, but it still just doesn’t compete with other airlines’ food in international first class that I’ve experienced.  You shouldn’t have to go with a “safe” choice when flying international first class.

After dinner, I had a few more drinks and watched another movie.  I started getting sleepy, so I went to change into something more comfortable.  When I came back to my seat, it was made into a bed.  Once again, I slept wonderfully on this flight.  I find the Global First Class seat on United to be great for sleeping, as it provides plenty of room for even me to stretch out (I’m 6’4″)!!

Dusk somewhere over the Pacific

Dusk somewhere over the Pacific

Seat 1A in United Global First Class in bed mode, and made up with a blue duvet

Seat 1A in United Global First Class in bed mode, and topped with a blue mattress pad

I awoke about 90 minutes outside of San Francisco and the flight attendant promptly brought me the breakfast menu.  I elected to try the eggs with hollandaise sauce.  The whole breakfast was served on one tray — the fruit, yogurt, croissant, eggs, and sausage.  Everything was pretty decent, though the eggs tasted like they were cooked 12 hours prior — and they looked like plastic.  It still wasn’t a terrible breakfast, though I do prefer my eggs to be freshly cooked, and these were most certainly not.

Big breakfast -- and interesting eggs!

Big breakfast — and interesting eggs!

Service throughout this flight was perfectly adequate, but nothing overly memorable or special.  The flight attendants were friendly enough and provided solid service.  When I needed something, it was taken care of quickly, but not necessarily with a smile.  Though it was good, I found the service to be better on our outbound flight from LAX.

Upon landing, I breezed through Global Entry and took a quick shower in the United Arrivals Lounge at SFO — a most welcome freshen-up after the long day of flying.  After that, my dad and I parted ways as he went off to catch his US Airways first class flight back home to Tampa via Charlotte and I went to catch my non-stop United flight to Washington-National airport in first class.

This was a non-eventful, domestic first class flight, and I slept through the entire flight!  I arrived in DC ahead of schedule, ending one of the most memorable few weeks of my life — and a trip with my dad that I’ll remember forever.

Bottom Line

United’s Global First Class is a very comfortable way to get to and from Australia.  The catering is what sets this product from being anywhere near first-rate in the industry.  Catering would qualify as okay to decent for business class, but it’s certainly not first class catering.  At the end of the day, the thing I value the most in a first class seat is the comfort of the seat, and I really do find this seat truly comfortable.  Though it lacks the privacy of some other airlines’ first class seats, it’s certainly a good way to cross the Pacific.

How I booked it…

As mentioned in my previous post, I booked this trip for my dad and I using United miles.  United charged 80,000 miles each way (160,000 miles round trip) for each of us.  Note:  As of March 2014, United no longer flies the Boeing 747-400 on its Australia routes.  Instead, the airline operates a three-class Boeing 777-200 on both its LAX-SYD and SFO-SYD routes.  The B777-200 has four fewer Global First Class seats than the B747-400, so I expect it to be somewhat more difficult to find first class award space on United flights to Australia.  Starting in late 2014, United will operate their brand new, two-class B787-9 Dreamliner on nonstop flights from LAX to Melbourne.  This flight will only offer BusinessFirst class, similar to what I experienced on my flights on the B787-8 Dreamliner from Denver to Tokyo SeattleSeattle to Tokyo, and Tokyo to Denver.