Back To The Back: Thai Airways KUL-BKK-PVG Economy

I had run out of United miles so it was back to the back of the plane for this trip.  It was still a phenomenal use of miles since the routing got us from Brisbane to Chiang Mai, Chiang Mai to Koh Samui with a 23 hour layover in Bangkok, then an open jaw from Kuala Lumpur to Rarotonga via Bangkok and Shanghai with a 10 hour layover.  In this post, we will look at the Thai economy experience on the Dreamliner.

In economy class you don’t get lounge access unless you have a credit card that includes Priority Pass (Amex) or Lounge Club (formerly include with Chase Ink).  We wandered around the airport and checked out a few shops but didn’t buy anything.  The kaftans were nice but out of my budget.

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A quick shot of the business cabin as we walked through.

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And here’s the economy cabin.  This is where dreamliners become “nightmare-liners”.  Seats are in a 3-3-3 so couples will usually have a stranger with them unless they get lucky and have an empty middle seat.  We weren’t lucky but at least it was a short-ish flight from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok.

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The one thing I did like was the controls in the seatback instead of buried in the side compartment of the seat.

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Trying to sneak more photos of business class on the way out.

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We had a 3 hour layover in Bangkok so we used Lounge Club to use the Louis Tavern lounge.  It’s nowhere near as good as the Thai lounge from the last time we were here but better than sitting at the gate!

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I was too tired to take photos of the plane between Bangkok and Shanghai so managed to pass out despite being in economy.  At least this time we had no one in the middle seat!  We quickly got transit visas and headed off to take the Maglev into town.

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Getting To Thailand With Airline Miles

Since I already have a more detailed post on South-east Asia, I will only add some Thailand specific tips here.  The good news is that Thailand is one of the easiest countries in the world to get to on airline miles because everyone flies there!  You can get a full list of airlines flying to BKK (Bangkok Suvarnabhumi) on Wikipedia.  The first step is to identify which airlines that participate in one of the 3 alliances serve the airport in question.  You can do this by looking the airport up in Wikipedia and making a note of which airlines fly there and cross referencing with my guides on Star Alliance, OneWorld Alliance and SkyTeam.  Since this list is so long, I will only put a snippet here to give you an idea.

BKK snippetIf you are using Star Alliance miles on Thai Airways, you can continue on the same award to other airports in Thailand such as Chiang Mai, Koh Samui, Krabi, etc.  Some airlines such as Malaysian, Air China, Korean, Singapore, China Eastern, etc also serve different airports in Thailand thus avoiding BKK all-together.

Connecting in BKK to another destination such as Chiang Mai on Thai Airways is quick and easy.  Just follow the signs to a special immigration counter for domestic connections which in our case was closer to the gate we arrived at.  See photos here.  The lines are much shorter too!  You will still claim your luggage at the final destination airport and clear customs there.  We were through immigration in 5 minutes flat and quickly found the gate to Chiang Mai.  Our connection was around an hour so I had time to use the free airport wifi to check my emails.

If you are on a longer connection and not in Thai’s business class you can still get a massage at the airport.  It’s much more expensive than massages in the city which are around 200 Bhat but if you are pressed for time but have sore muscles it might be worth it.

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Premium Travel – Been There, Done That, Got Selfies – Now What?

Conde-Nast Traveler does some interesting articles as do some miles & points bloggers who specialize in luxury travel.  In this slideshow, they show the first class cabins of several airlines – Singapore, Etihad, Air France, Qantas, All Nippon, Asiana & Emirates.  Sure they look fancy but do we really need all this luxury for a mere 8-15 hours of your life?  Redeeming miles for first class could be anywhere from double to triple the miles for an economy flight.

Yeah, I know economy sucks but at the end of the day, you get to your destination the same time as everyone else and at worst you have to wait for them to disembark first.  But then once off the plane, even a middle-aged backpacker like me can outrun someone dragging a rollaboard!

I’ve had my fair share of flights in business class which in recent years could be had for around 25-50% extra miles over the economy redemption.  I’ve never flown first class but on our last trip to Europe, we had one segment BKK-IST in a wet-leased Jet Airways plane (they are no longer doing wet-leases).  These trips were booked using US Airways miles obtained from lucrative promos such as Grand Slam that are now obsolete.

Thai Airways Business Class BNE-BKK

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Turkish Airways wetleased Jet Airways first class suite (sold as business class) BKK-IST

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Normal Turkish Airways Business Class Seat (as comparison), still pretty nice!

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Swiss Euro-business Class BCN-ZRH-FCO, I would never redeem an intra-Europe award in J but this was part of a longer route back to Australia.

 

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Air China Business Class FCO-PEK

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Singapore Airlines A380 Business Class PEK-SIN, these seats were huge!

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Singapore Airlines Business Class SIN-BNE, not an A380 but still nice and plenty of free Singapore Slings!

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SO NOW WHAT?

So I’ve been there, done that and got the selfies.  Now what?  Airlines are tightening up on business class award availability.  They are also devaluing their miles making premium seats much more expensive.  It can come down to a question of do you want to travel in a larger seat, eat fancy food and drink champagne or do you want to have two trips instead of one?

Sure it was nice to have the lie-flat seats and get a good night’s sleep but we did have to take some very convoluted routes to do that.  BCN-ZRH-FCO-PEK-SIN-BNE   That’s 4 changes with security screening and lines at each stage which kind of negates the relaxation from the larger seat.  The first 2 flights were delayed.  Yes SWISS was delayed, who’d of thunk it?  We could have been home a day earlier if we had done BCN-SIN-BNE but it wasn’t available at time of booking.  We aren’t fans of fancy-schmancy food, I actually prefer the simplicity of economy food.  The big seats that lie flat do make a big difference in arriving somewhere well-rested and I love having lounge access to surf the net on layovers and have free snacks.

Now that I have had the experience of luxury travel, it’s made me rethink what is important.  OK, so I’m a destination based traveler so I know what’s important to me.  Definitely not the food.  Some airports have free wifi, otherwise I can just read or watch something I downloaded.  Free snacks and drinks are nice but not a deal-breaker.  Economy seats suck but my DR helped me out with sleeping pills and my husband can already sleep anywhere at the drop of a hat.  The journey is basically what gets you to the destination.  Some bloggers will have you believe that you shouldn’t leave home if it’s not in a premium cabin, but what’s the real point of travel?  You need to GET some place first and if economy is the only affordable way to do it than so be it!

I’ve been blogging a series about a trip to Africa which was the last trip we did in business class using United Mileage Plus.  Our most recent trip in April 2015 was Thailand, Malaysia & the Cook Islands all in economy.  I’d blown my stash of UA miles and that’s all we could afford.  Thankfully we survived!  I’ll be blogging about this trip starting in June.

Now I am looking towards next year – 2016.  This will be a major trip to Ecuador, Colombia, some Caribbean islands to see some amazing birds and a visit to family in the USA..  Looks like we are in for economy tickets again.  If you are using AA miles, it’s almost impossible to get business class between Australia and South America or the USA and Australia as Qantas members have earlier access and snap them up.  While I do participate in Qantas’ program, I am not about to pay their hefty fuel surcharges.  I don’t have enough QFF points anyway.  So once again, it will be the back of the plane but to some pretty amazing destinations!

A Bittersweet Farewell To Thai’s Business Class

The last few years have been great not only for the places we have been but the way we got there.  Although in normal circumstances, we would never aspire to business class the US Airways promos and Chase credit cards meant that we had plenty of miles.  This luxury will soon be coming to an end for several reasons.  I’m running out of credit cards to churn.  US Airways is gone.  And airlines are getting stingier about releasing premium award seats.  So knowing that these would likely be our last business class flights for several years at least I wanted to really enjoy them.

THAI AIRWAYS BRISBANE BNE TO BANGKOK BKK

This was the first of a complicated USDM award to Israel returning from Barcelona.  We settled in, got comfortable and had champagne.

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This flight leaves at 2pm and arrives at 8pm Thai time so it really isn’t necessary to sleep.  I watched Bollywood films with English subtitles through dinner, then lay down for a nap just because I could!

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The onward flight was on Turkish Airlines so we couldn’t use the Thai Airways Spa.  We used the public spa upstairs for a half hour massage, then went to the lounge to relax, check emails and have some snacks before the next flight left.

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THAI AIRWAYS BANGKOK BKK TO BRISBANE BNE

I’ve blogged about this route before so I’ll just supplement it a bit here.  There was no way we were going to pass up one last massage in the spa, even though it was a tight squeeze before our flight.

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Purple is one of my favourite colours so I love the TG cabin decor.  The smiling crew were lovely as usual.

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I had to have my champagne!

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We were pretty tired so we rushed through dinner so we could get some sleep.  The lie-flat beds were very comfortable and had some fancy controls.  I love the quilts they use, so soft and comfy!

IMG_7380 IMG_7381 IMG_7382 IMG_7383 IMG_7384I slept like a log and didn’t even have time to see a full movie before arriving at BNE.  I don’t know if the future holds more mileage earning activities that would get us in business class again so we are on economy for at least the next 3 trips.  But this one sure was nice while it lasted!

Why Bangkok Is My Favourite Airport For Transit

While some people prefer Singapore Airlines, I usually prefer Thai, especially if it is a business class award because of the fantastic ground service. There’s nothing like a relaxing massage sooth those aching muscles!  We had about 3 hours between flights on our India & Sri Lanka adventure so took full advantage!

The spa is in terminal C and a free 30 minute neck & shoulders or feet & calves massage is offered to anyone who is departing on Thai Airways in business class.  You do not get this benefit if you are on a Star Alliance carrier, even in business or first class.  If you are in Thai first class, you get a full body massage lasting an hour!

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They will offer you some juice while you wait your turn.  We only waited about 10 minutes.

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This is the room for the neck & shoulder massage.

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This room is for the foot massage.

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Exotic snacks in the lounge.

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Even the ladies’ room has a very “zen” feel to it!

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I was really glad the massage relaxed me enough to sleep as the planes on the Bangkok-Bangalore route weren’t nearly as nice as the ones on the Brisbane-Bangkok route (see previous review).

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The Thai Airways Business Class Experience

I am not a person who would normally ever aspire to travel in business class.  I’ve always considered myself lucky to even have the chance to travel the world in economy, something that very few people in the world get to do.  Although I would never spend cash to buy a business class ticket or upgrade a paid economy when I have enough miles for a free ticket, sometimes the airlines dish up promos that are so generous that we can earn a large amount of miles quickly and cheaply.  This is what happened in 2008-2011 when US Airways was running their Grand Slam promo.  I was able to max out the 100k bonuses on both my account and my husband’s, topping mine off with the 2009 shopping promo and a few credit card bonuses.

I like to ensure that we have enough miles for the next 3 years’ planned trips in economy, then if we get extra miles we can redeem for business class tickets.  This is the situation we have been in for the last couple years!  So this award was booked using US Airways miles.

It was our first time using Thai Airways’ product and we loved it!  The seats were very comfortable, the service was excellent and we enjoyed the big screen entertainment.  The seats were angled lie flat but with the help of my Somidem (Ambien) prescription, I slept very well!

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The ground experience at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport was amazing!  Our business class tickets entitled us to a free half hour massage in the spa which we really enjoyed.  It was more a relaxing massage than a deep tissue muscle massage.

 

IMG_8829 IMG_8830 IMG_8831 IMG_8832The airport is massive and it can be close to a kilometre walk to get from terminal E to C past the lengthy terminal D.

IMG_8834After the massage, we checked out the buffet in the Royal Silk Lounge and waited for the flight to Seoul.

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IMG_8839The food was great, even though we weren’t that hungry given the hour of night!

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Getting To South Africa Using Frequent Flyer Miles

Africa attracts the lion’s share (pun intended) of eco-tourists and the good news is you don’t have to spend a fortune to get there!

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There are several regions in Africa that will appeal to birders especially so in this post we will have a look at South Africa.  Most people would be flying into Johannesburg (JNB) but some may prefer to fly into Cape Town (CPT) so I will give options for both using my recommended frequent flier programs.

STAR ALLIANCE

UNITED AIRLINES

With United, it’s easiest to use their interactive award chart.  To illustrate the mileage required you can just look at the “from Africa” section.  These awards are on a one-way basis.  If you are planning a multi-destination trip around Africa, you should book it as a round-trip to take advantage of a free stopover and open jaw to get more destination in the award.

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Region Definitions: The chart above is for travel between the following regions.

  • Central & Southern Africa (includes Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Congo, Cote D’lvoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Reunion Island, Rwanda, S. Africa, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe)

 

Mileage award rates are quoted for one way savers.

To get to South Africa from the USA and Canada, it’s 40k in economy and 60k in Business.   JNB is served by South African Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, Thai, Egypt Air, Turkish and Singapore.  CPT is served by South African.

From Australia and New Zealand, it’s 50k economy and 75k business.  You’d be using Singapore or Thai connecting to South African, Ethiopian or Egypt Air.

From Europe it’s 30k economy and 45k business with connections on South African, Egypt Air, Turkish and Ethiopian.

You may also want to use your miles for intra-Africa trips but for domestic flights you would probably be better off paying for a cheap ticket online.  You can get to other places in Africa for 12.5k economy and 25 business with South African, Ethiopian.  Please note that Egypt is in the North Africa region so costs 22.5k economy and 35k business.

AVIANCA-TACA LIFEMILES

This program is a favourite with those who can’t easily get miles from the generous USA based credit cards as they often sell miles cheaply.  The mileage costs are roughly the same as United but please note in the screenshot how much you can save by using the “More Money” feature to buy miles at roughly $0.15 each if you can’t otherwise get Lifemiles.   Of course if you have more Lifemiles than $$ then simply book the “More miles” option.  Check them out on their website.   In the examples below, I show you an economy trip from New York to Johannesburg and a business class trip from Brisbane to Johannesburg.

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SINGAPORE AIRLINES KRISFLYER

SQ is a great option if you live in a country where Amex Membership Rewards transfer to Krisflyer such as Australia.  The YQ fuel surcharge can be pretty high but if you book online for SQ metal awards you save 15% of the mileage cost.  See this example of a one way Brisbane – Johannesburg where the price comes down from 72,500 miles to 61,625 miles.