Review: China Eastern Economy Class Shanghai to Hong Kong to Shanghai

After our time in Shanghai, I wanted to get down to my favorite city in the World — Hong Kong!  This little jaunt south was not part of my award ticket, so I had to hop on the Interwebs to find a decent deal for a round trip from Shanghai to Hong Kong.  I heavily preferred flying Cathay Pacific, but they were pretty prohibitively priced.  The best deal with the best times for a weekend round trip to Hong Kong was with China Eastern.  I knew that China Eastern was certainly considered a major airline in China with a varied fleet.  At the end of the day, the price was right, so China Eastern would be our ticket down to the Kong!

Since these were simply economy flights, I won’t get into as much detail as I normally do with my flight reviews, but I do want to highlight the flights, since it was a new experience for me.  I’m also combining both of these flights since they don’t warrant separate posts, in my opinion.

We made our way from the Park Hyatt Shanghai to Pudong International Airport via cab, which cost about RMB 160.  After a brief check-in process, we filed through security and immigration before setting up shop in one of the business class lounges that we accessed with my buddy’s AMEX Platinum Card.  It was pretty bare bones, and I didn’t even bother taking a picture.  After about 45 minutes, we went to our downstairs gate and hopped a bus that took us to our A321, parked at a remote stand. Continue Reading →

Two Days in Shanghai

Things didn’t start well at the airport.  Immigration and customs were both fine, but then it went downhill.

Yes, we were exhausted after over 30 hours of travel from Munich at that point, but we fell into a trap at the airport – a trap that I should know better not to fall for:  we listened to an “airport guide” and got ripped off on our taxi ride to our hotel in Pudong.

Instead of waiting 30 minutes for the Maglev, and instead of braving the taxi queue on our own, we let ourselves get convinced by this official-looking “airport guide” dude that 600RMB was a fair price for a private driver (i.e. cab) from the airport to Pudong.

Yeah, we got ripped off.

As we found out later in the trip, a cab for this trip should cost no more than 160RMB, and the Maglev could be had for even less.  Oh, well.  You live and you learn, I guess.

We really did enjoy our two days in Shanghai, though we screwed up along the way and got ripped off a time or two.  Rather than dwell on that, I’ll hit some highlights of the two and a half days we spent in Shanghai.  To be honest, the absolute star of the show during our stay was our hotel – the Park Hyatt Shanghai. Continue Reading →

Review: ANA First Class Square Tokyo to Washington

After an extremely early morning bus ride from the Hyatt Regency Tokyo out to Narita, I proceeded to the very exclusive feeling ANA Suite Check-in facility.  Here, I was quickly checked in and whisked away to a private security line before I went on to clear immigration.  I relaxed for about an hour in the ANA Suite Lounge (review forthcoming) before making the short trip over to gate 42 to board my flight back home to Washington.  After about five minutes, a slew of gate agents finished swarming about and welcomed aboard First Class passengers.
Continue Reading →

Review: Air China Forbidden Pavilion First Class Shanghai to Tokyo

We arrived at Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport a couple of hours before our scheduled departure for Toyko-Narita.  Check-in was quick and simple, and I was pointed towards the security line where I was able to skip the line since I was flying First.  I ended up clearing security and immigration only minimally quicker than my friend who was on the flight with me in economy.

After about a half an hour in the Air China First Class Lounge (review forthcoming), we made our way to the gate where we discovered that we would be boarding buses to take us to a remote stand.

Yup, we seriously were going to use a remote stand to board a B747-400.  This was a tad strange to say the least.  I was able to take the private van for first and business class passengers, and after about a ten minute ride, we arrived to our plane — which happened to be the furthest plane away from the terminal.

Boarding our Air China B747-400 from the ramp

Boarding our Air China B747-400 from the ramp

Continue Reading →

Review: Park Hyatt Shanghai

First of all, I’ve made no secret of my love for Park Hyatt properties.  I feel that they are some of the nicest and well-done properties in the world, and are certainly amongst the best hotels in which I’ve stayed.  Before my trip to Shanghai, I’d previously stayed at Park Hyatts in Tokyo, Dubai, Melbourne and Zurich, and all four of them ranked at or near the top of my list of favorite hotels.IMG_9170

The Park Hyatt Shanghai easily joined the very top of that list.

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A Layover in Bangkok – Six Hours in the City

As previously noted, we spent the first part of our layover at the THAI Royal First Lounge, but with twelve hours between flights, I wanted to get into the city a bit just to experience a little of the utter chaos that is Bangkok.  We left the lounge and headed for Thailand immigration, where our passports were stamped.  From there, we headed towards the taxi cab queue, but decided to play things “safe” and talk to one of the “official” airport transport / tour agents.  This is a surefire way to pay more for transportation, but we didn’t really feel like dealing with language barriers and preferred to pre-pay for a driver for the day.  We ultimately arranged for a driver for six hours for about 3,000 Thai Baht (~USD$100)– though that’s relatively expensive, we were happy to pay it, as it was pretty simple and easy for us. 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.

Continue Reading →

Oktoberfest… and Six Other Highlights of Munich

I’ve been pretty open about my love for Oktoberfest in Munich.  As the largest festival in the World, Oktoberfest attracts over 6 million visitors each year during the 17 day event.  The past five years, I’ve spent at least a couple days at the Wiesn, and I’ve always had a blast.  This year was no different.

See this post for ten tips to planning a trip to Oktoberfest in Munich.

Instead of going four consecutive days at Oktoberfest, we decided to mix things up a bit in order to conserve some of our energy later in the trip.  As a result, we decided to spend two of our five days in Munich at the Oktoberfest and use the other days explore Munich.  Continue Reading →

24 Hours in Anchorage

I’m posting this after completing a short, weekend trip to Anchorage, Alaska as part of a mileage run to hit the American Airlines Executive Platinum Status Challenge. Anchorage is a great place to spend a day, and obviously a fantastic hopping off point to explore more of Alaska, including Denali, the Kenai Peninsula, or even an Alaskan cruise. If you haven’t been, I highly recommend you actually spend some time in Alaska – certainly more than 24 hours. I’ve been fortunate enough to take two cruises to Alaska, so I’ve been able to experience the majestic scenery of the Last Frontier. I also spent a couple days in Anchorage last summer for a quick, weekend trip.

With that said, there’s no shortage of things to do if you have a short time in Anchorage – whether it’s a free day after a cruise, a hopping off point before or after a fishing trip, or if you find it amusing to fly almost 10,000 miles in a weekend, like me. 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.