Saturday, November 26, 2011

Favorite Italian in Malaysia: Italiannies

I'm particular fussy when it comes to Italian food. Ever since moving back from the US, I've never found any truly outstanding Italian restaurants in Malaysia especially in Penang. There are a bunch of Italian restaurants in Penang and for the most part, I can probably cook better Italian at home.

Italiannies, The Curve
 I was happy to come across Italiannies at the Curve when we were visiting Kuala Lumpur a couple of years ago. We had ordered the seafood pasta and it reminded me of good Italian food I would get in the US. The pasta was cooked perfectly al dente - just the right amount of bite and not too soft. Similarly, the seafood was perfectly cooked and sauce tasty.

Complimentary Bread, Olive Oil and Balsamic.


Chicken Parmesan
 Italiannies isn't a white table clothe and formal establishment. It's semi casual but would be perfectly fine to bring a date in Malaysia. Mains cost about 25-40 ringgit making a meal there to be reasonably less than 100 ringgits.

Even though it might be out of the way, we try to make an effort to visit Italiannese to get our Italian fix whenever we're in Kuala Lumpur. In addition to the location in Curve, there are 3 other locations at Sunway Pyramid, Gardens Midvalley and Subang Empire.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Great Service at Doubletree Kuala Lumpur

We're visiting Kuala Lumpur again during this long weekend and have decided to do some mattress running in both the Doubletree and PJ Hilton to get another free night thanks to the Q4 promo.

The Doubletree is starting to become one of our favorites in KL. Received an email a couple of days before check-in by the hotel advising that we've been upgraded due to Gold status and invited to proceed straight to the Executive Lounge for check-in.

We were warmly welcome during check-in and promptly checked-in and provided room keys. On arrival in the room, we noticed that this was either a smoking room or obviously someone had stolen a puff in the room. We went back to the lounge to ask for a room change and was promptly invited to have a seat in the lounge while they tried to find us another room. We weren't in a rush so we enjoy some snacks and coffee while we waited.

The manager apologized about the room situation and upgraded us to a suite since the room category we booked in would only be available 2-3 hours later.

2nd pleasant surprise during our second stay here this weekend when a chef at the Malay/Indian station at the Makan Makan Restaurant went above and beyond during breakfast buffet. Lydia was asking if there were any murtabaks on offer (Indian meat pancakes) that were REALLY good when we first had them during our first time at the Doubletree. He informed her that they rotate some of the breakfast items and that it was not available today. Much to our surprise, he shows up at our table 15 minutes later with some specially made murtabak.. We were impressed..

Such a good service and recovery! Kudos to the staff at Doubletree!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

US Airways 100% Dividend Miles Purchase Bonus is back

Lucky just shared news that US Airways will be bringing back the 100% purchase bonus for Dividend Miles in December. With US Airways recently increasing the costs of purchasing the miles, it is now less attractive than previous promos.

In general, I concur with Lucky that it's probably not worth it to hoard the miles and I personally would only buy it to top-off an account or if you have trips planned in the new future. There are still some pretty good values to be had by using Dividend Miles instead of buying a "normal" ticket in coach:
  • ~$1.7K USD for a Business Class redemption from North Asia to the US with a possible routing and stopover in Europe.
  • ~$720 USD for a Business Class redemption within South Asia. Maldives anyone?
I would be more interested to start buying and hoarding if US Airways starts allowing one-way redemptions..

Update: There's a max of 40K miles purchase with this promo meaning you can only get a total of 80K miles with this promo.

Accor Aclub 2011 Year-End Supersale

Accor is doing it's almost yearly year-end supersale. It's 50% for Aclub members and 40% otherwise. I would recommend just signing up for Aclub. Sale ends 25th November for stays between 11 December 2011 and 12th February 2012. There are some pretty good hotels like the Vie in Bangkok that we previously stayed up for grabs. The only exclusion from this sale are Sofitels. 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Review: Conrad Centinnial Singapore

We were in Singapore for a weekend and decided to stay in the Conrad due to Hilton's Q4 Free Nights Promo. This is one of the priciest hotels with stayed in but the price tag was worth it. The Conrad in Singapore is now one of favorite hotels we've stayed in. The Conrad is one of the two Hilton properties in Singapore and we decided to go with the Conrad since reviews on trip advisor and flyertalk gave better reviews on the rooms and executive lounge.

The Conrad is located right next to the Marina Mall and the Suntec Convention Center. We took the MRT to Promenade station from the airport and a 5 minute walk later we were at the hotel. The hotel contacted us through email before arrival to inquire about check-in times so that they can try to be ready for us. We arrived at the hotel about 11 am and was promptly from the lobby to the executive lounge for check-in after realizing we were Hilton Hhonors Gold members. We were offered drinks while we waited for the paperwork and enjoyed the view in the lounge. Such good service!

As Gold members, we were upgraded to a "normal" executive floor room - no suite upgrades for us. The room was clean, modern and to our liking.

Rant: My 2 cents on the airline industry in Malaysia

2011 has somewhat been an exciting times for the airline industry in Malaysia. Some of the highlights include the announcement that Malaysia Airlines (MAS) will be joining Oneworld and Firefly's expansion and eventual change of plans to enter the domestic low-cost market to compete with Air Asia. 

The biggest and perhaps most controversial thing to happen in 2011 is the share swap deal of Air Asia and MAS. This 2 once competitors are now partners to prevent each other from killing each other off by supposedly dividing up the market segment between the individual airlines - MAS for premium segment, Air Asia for low cost and Firefly for the boutique routes. It also has been reported that Tony Fernandes is setting up Caterham Jet for the "super premium" market segment. 

I'm also speculating that the Malaysia government probably ran out of options and ideas on how to improve and perhaps safe MAS and thus, indirectly brought in Tony Fernandes to run and influence MAS. I personally think the share swap idea is horrible. It creates a monopoly and stifles competition which eventually leads to higher prices for the customers. There has to be someone who can run MAS without the indirect influence of the competitor.

For MAS to be successful, the following has to happen:
  • The government's constant interference has to stop and let the airline run like a real business. Only recently, MAS announced a number of unprofitable routes to be cancelled only to have the routes quietly re-instated after supposedly government interference. 
  • Remove First Class on MAS. I don't have the data but I would not be too far to assume that MAS does not make any money from First Class with mostly government tickets and redemption in First.
  • MAS has to focus and differentiate itself in the premium/business segment. Install lie-flat business class seats and make sure there are almost daily service to destinations. 
  • The membership to Oneworld alliance MUST happen. First of all, this should bring additional traffic and passengers to MAS from its alliance partners. On a personal note, I will only take MAS if their fare is significantly cheaper since their miles are almost worthless. For my business trips, I usually stick with Star Alliance carriers.
We shall see what happens in the future. I'm still doubtful that I'd see MAS return soon to it's heyday where it's on par with the "elite" airlines like Singapore Airline.

Monday, November 14, 2011

I'm a Big Shot: Air Asia Launches Loyalty Scheme

For those who follow our blog, you know by now that we occasionally take Air Asia flights for cheap position flights to places like Hong Kong and Colombo when prices on full service airlines are just too high and it's just not worth doing a redemption on this short flights. We also do the direct Penang to Kuching flights on Air Asia at least 3-4 times a year to visit family back in Kuching as it is much more convenient and lots cheaper than flying MAS through Kuala Lumpur.

As a travel junkie, one of my pet peeves was only earning credit card points on this flights. This has now changed with Air Asia just recently launching their "Big Shot" loyalty scheme. Credit must go to their marketing theme that came up with the catchy scheme. Points are called "Biggies" and I guess you're a bigger hot shot with more biggies you earn. The loyalty card comes in bright red packaging.

Earning highlights of the program:
  • 1 Biggie for every RM4 spent on flights. Biggies earned only on base fare and not on taxes.
  • If you add-on things like in-flight meals, seat booking, etc the flights now earn 1 Biggie for every RM2 spent.
  • Biggies are also earned on other products and services offered by the Tune group like concert tickets on redtix, hotels at Tune hotels and travel packages on
  • The loyalty card is also a Visa debit card (at least for those in Malaysia; not sure about other countries). You can reload money into the card and earn again Biggies for spending on this card.
From a redemption perspective, the program offers redemption for services and products offered by Tune group like Air Asia flights, hotels at Tune hotels, Air Asia merchandise and gift vouchers. It currently offers a RM100 Air Asia eVoucher (which should be able to be used for Air Asia tickets) for 8000 Biggies. That means one would have to spend rm16,000 before earning a rm100 voucher assuming you have a 1 biggie for rm2 earn rate!

The program portal also currently allows Air Asia flight redemption. A dummy booking for a Penang to Kuching flight that costs rm454 requires 45400 Biggies. This again means that I need to spend 45400 x rm2 = ~rm90k before I can make this redemption! Another to put this is that I would need to fly 200 of this flights before I can earn a free flight.

This is actually even worse than buying the eVouchers since this redemption is at a spending rate of 10 Biggie per RM1 earned versus a 8 Biggie per RM1 using eVouchers.

In summary, the earn/spend rates are just horrible. I'm not going to move any earnings on the debit card or actively pursue any earnings here. It's still better than earning no points but I guess I have to wait a VERY long time before I can redeem anything meaningful.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Rant: Hilton Premium Room Redemption "Enhancements"

After visiting Maldives twice (click here for Trip Report #1 and Trip Report #2), Bora Bora was on the top of our list of places to visit. We were planning on heading to Bora Bora sometime next year. We had enough BMI miles for the flights and more importantly, we had saved enough (or what we thought was enough) Hilton points for the last 5 years for a 4-5 night stay in Bora Bora.

Looks like this trip might just still end up being on a list. The Hiltons in both Moorea and Bora Bora decided to decrease the availability of “standard room awards” and only premium rooms were available for the next 2 years per a post in flyertalk. Premium room awards were introduced by Hilton Honors to provide access to premium rooms on points. This change was initially well received but it appears that some hotels are abusing this. what is happening now is that some hotels are limiting the number of standard rooms thus leaving only mostly premium room award availability. Our 4-5 night stay in Bora Bora is now only good for one night!

What I hope this hotels eventually realized is that this abuse is just a bad idea in the long term. I will not spend that many points on a premium room and would just use the points elsewhere. I'm currently thinking of Seychelles or Mauritius. Furthermore, they need to realize that people using  points are typically not going to go there and pay cash instead of points for the rooms. I sure can’t afford the $$$ a night room in Bora Bora. Isn’t one of the purpose of award stays is to fill rooms that were meant to be empty anyway? I'm not sure what Hilton Honors pays the hotels for the rooms but it should definitely be better than keeping it empty.  The hotel would also make more some money for expenses incurred at the hotels on things like room upgrades, food and excursions. 

Per updates from Hilton and flyertalk, this is supposedly an IT glitch but after about a month, there's still no standard availability in Bora Bora and worse of all, other hotels such as Hilton Paris are also experiencing this "glitch". At this point, I don't really trust that this is a true IT glitch. The lack of communication and updates from Hilton is appalling and does it take that long to fix a "glitch"?
The simplest fix Hilton Honors is to require the hotels to set aside a certain percentage of rooms as standard awards. If this doesn't get fixed soon, my Hilton points just got devalued pretty quick. I'm still staying loyal to Hilton for now due to the Q4 Free Nights Promo but have been looking at other options.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Aurora Hunting: Exploring Doha & Review of Ramada Encore Doha


We arrived in Doha around midnight with our flights to Kuala Lumpur only departing the next day at 8 pm. We purposely planned in this long layover to allow us to see Doha since we've never visited before. Immigration formalities through Doha was relatively quick with visa on arrival available for Malaysians albeit at a cost of ~$30 USD per person that was settled through credit card.

There were no Hiltons or Accor hotels that we usually stay in available in Doha so we had to look at other options. The prices of hotels like the Sheraton and W which were in the newer parts of Doha were beyond our budget so we settled for the Ramada Encore instead. As usual with our non Hilton and Accor hotel bookings, we booked through giving us another one night credit so towards a free night.

Ramada Encore - The colorful building in the picture.

Aurora Hunting: Conclusion


This trip was definitely a memorable one and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves even though there were no premium cabin experiences.

Norway and Oslo in particular is now one of favorite cities we've visited even though it's one of the most expensive. Oslo is clean, beautiful and with lots to do. We would recommend getting the Oslo Pass for those visiting for a couple of days. Sure helps save some of the $$. We were and are still disappointed that we did not get to see the Aurora but I guess it just wasn't meant to be. Maybe it's an excuse to come back to Norway or visit Finland or Alaska in the future.

Qatar Airways was a good surprise after the initial fear of flying this in economy. It does have a good economy class product with good food and service and great seat pitch. We would definitely not mind flying them in the future especially with fares like the ones we purchased.  Here's too hoping for a mistake business class fare though. 

We just didn't like Doha all that much.  Doha was hot and not too exciting with what seem like very little to do if compared to Dubai.  We would try out best not to transit through Doha in the future if the layover was too long. It just does not make no sense to pay for the visa to exit the airport but the same time, there are very little facilities at the Doha airport to make the layover comfortable.

Aurora Hunting: Doha to Kuala Lumpur with a visit to the Oryx Lounge


Since we were already bored and running out of things to do in Doha, we headed to the airport about 4 hours before departure. Since we had already checked-in online, we were able to use the internet check-in lines which had no queues. We had our boarding passes with bags checked in to Kuala Lumpur and passed through security and immigration formalities an efficient 10 minutes later. Almost felt like traveling with status or in premium cabins.

We spent the rest of the time in Doha in the Oryx lounge thanks to Calvin's Priority Pass membership. The lounge is used by all other airlines except Qatar and does accept pay-in passengers although I'm not sure what it costs though. The lounge was busy when we got in with passengers from an Emirates flight to Dubai mostly in the lounge. After that flight left, the lounge was definitely less busy.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Aurora Hunting: Oslo to Doha


We decided to wait it out in the airport even though we had about 6 hours to Doha since it costs about ~$60 USD for a round trip on the train to the city. There were no lines when we checked in so we were done with the formalities in less than 5 minutes. We did ask about paid upgrade to business class but was told that there was only one seat available. Obviously I didn't leave the wife back in economy. There are only 2 lounges in Oslo airport one for Star Alliance airlines and one for the rest. Both of the them were not associated with Priority Pass so we had to slum it out with the rest of the folks. We had one of the most expensive lunch at the Kontiki restaurant (was more like a cafeteria where you pick up your own food)  - ~$45 USD for a beer and chicken curry rice.

The boarding gate was pretty packed when we got there. The ground staff was paging for connecting passengers who flew in on SAS flights to approach the counter to get a Qatar boarding pass. There seemed to be a few that flew in and if that's any indication, looks like the route is doing pretty well for Qatar.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Aurora Hunting: Tromso to Oslo on SAS


Our flight to Oslo was scheduled to depart at 8.30am. We had pre-booked a taxi for a pick up at 6am with to help of hotel front desk since we weren't sure if catching a taxi that early in the morning would be easy. The airport was still deserted when we got there with no one manning the check-in counters yet. In hindsight, we should just have slept in slightly longer.


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Aurora Hunting: Review of City Living Apartments, Tromso


Instead of staying in a hotel, we decided to stay in an apartment primarily because it was cheaper than a hotel and there was a fully furnished kitchen allowing us to cook to further stretch the money. We paid about $150 USD a night. In addition, we booked through allowing us to earn two night credit as part of their loyalty program.