Friday, March 30, 2012

Farewell to Thai's Airbus 345: Los Angeles to Austin


There were no lines at the United premier check-in counters at LAX. I was done with check-in in about 5 minutes before approaching a relatively long security line. I was allowed to use the premium lines which was much shorter thanks to my Star Gold status and I was in United Club a quick 15 minutes after I arrived at LAX. 

As usual, I caught on email and coffee in the lounge. I also manage to snag a free upgrade to Economy Plus in lounge by just asking the ticketing agents working in the lounge. Yay to more leg room.

Retro United Livery

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Farewell to Thai's Airbus 345: Radisson LAX


My flight from Bangkok arrived in LAX ~9pm making too late for any decent connections to Austin. Yea, there were probably red-eyes to Houston which could get me to Austin early in the morning but after ~15 hours of flying, I needed a shower and more importantly a REAL bed.
I like the Radisson LAX because I get a good corp rate of less than $100 USD that not only earns points but also includes continental breakfast.  As with most LAX hotels, the Radisson LAX provides complimentary shuttle from the airport. 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Farewell to Thai's Airbus 345: Bangkok to Los Angeles


I enjoyed a relaxing and cheap hour long foot and shoulder massage land-side before going through the long immigration lines that took me a thirty minutes to get out off. One good thing about the long lines was that the immigration officer was probably too busy to notice or care that I did not pay the departure tax.

One of the best known secrets when flying in Business Class on Star alliance or having Star Gold status is use the Singapore Airlines Silverkris Lounge instead of Thai's own Royal Orchid Lounges. The food is much better at the Silverkris Lounge and the only downside is that there are no showers or rest rooms. The lounge was packed when I arrived but I was the only one left after SQ's flight to Bangkok left a couple of minutes later.

View of TG's dometic lounge from the SKL

I caught up on email and talked to the wife while enjoying glasses of whiskey and fresh coconut juice that should get me in the mood for the long 15 hour flight ahead.

As with all flights to the US, there was an additional security screen at the gate. Boarding was called a couple of minutes later with priority strictly enforced. Wheel chaired passengers were boarded first and I was surprised by how many wheel chaired passengers that had on this flight.

The flight was almost full with only a couple of empty seats around in economy. The 34" seat pitch was great and thankfully the IFE was functional. On my first A345 flight a couple years ago, the IFE broke down and that wasn't fun.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Change of plans - for the better or worse?

A wise man once said that it's how you handle the unexpected that makes you great (or something like that). Found out yesterday that my Emirates A380 first class booked during the Global Sale was not only changed to a 773 but it was a plane without first class! Yikes! It looks like Emirates has also been swapping the A380 flights with 773 due to A380 shortages due to a "wing crack" issues.

Since it was an involuntary downgrade, Emirates allowed me to make changes without penalties. I changed my flights to coincide with a friend's wedding in Melbourne in May which I was originally using my BMI miles for. With this changes, I also had to cancel my Hilton stays in Auckland and Sydney since I'm not longer going there.

So, I'm now "stuck" with ~80K BMI miles and 3 free nights at Hilton which I don't have time to use. The worry with the BMI miles is that once the merger completes (which no one really knows when), the miles will not have the same value as it was once. There's even talk that Lufthansa might just stop operating BMI if the sale does not complete soon which would make my BMI miles completely useless.

I could probably use the free nights during my stay in Melbourne but I feel it's such as waste since Lydia isn't going and I'm not going to spend much time at the hotel anyway. I guess using them at Melbourne would be my back up plans.

Here's the hoping I made the right choice and my BMI miles will still be worth something for me to use in the future...

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Farewell to Thai's Airbus 345: Penang to Bangkok


After saying good bye to Lydia who dropped me off at the airport, I made my way to check-in. The check-in agent at the business class counter took a wee longer than expected as she struggled with the paperwork needed for a US bound passenger. With boarding passes collected and bags tagged to Los Angeles, I made my way through immigration and to the MAS lounge that Thai uses in Penang. The lounge was surprisingly crowded with passengers on MAS early morning flight to Kuala Lumpur in the lounge. I gave the rest of the family an early morning call before enjoying my usual hearty nasi lemak for breakfast.

(Click here for pictures of the MAS lounge from my previous visit).

This would be my first time flying in economy on Thai's aging and "colorful" 737-400 (previous flight was in business). Not sure if it was because of my Star Gold status but I had an empty seat next to me giving more room to wiggle around. In economy class, a snack box consisting cold sandwiches, juice and some fruit was served. The attendants also went around offering hot coffee or tea.

Farewell to Thai's Airbus 345: Introduction


I had a business trip to the US and instead of my normal choice of Singapore or United Airlines, I decided to fly on Thai after finding out that they would be replacing the direct Airbus 345 flight to LAX with a one stop flight through Seoul on a Boeing 772 making this probably the last time I would fly on this plane. Nothing beats popping a couple of sleeping pills and falling asleep on a ~15-18 hour flight and waking up a couple of hours close to landing. I find the stops on flights to the US annoying and tiresome.

I've actually taken this flight once a couple of years ago (before we started this blog) and loved the non-stop flight and great seat pitch in economy but never flew on this route again because of the long layover times in Bangkok on both the inbound and outbound flights.

With the 8 and almost 12 hour layover in Bangkok on both the inbound and outbound, Thai provides a day room with a choice of the transit hotel airside, the Novotel Bangkok Airport hotel or a downtown hotel. I decided on staying at the Novotel on the way to the US and a downtown hotel on the way back to Penang.

I would also be flying on United Airlines from Los Angeles to get to Austin.

SXSW was also going on in Austin forcing me to hop hotels due to lack of availability in my preferred Embassy Suites Townlake. I did manage to find a hotel for a long stretch of time but it was a 30-45 minute commute to work. 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

I'm back!

Sorry for being MIA for the last couple of weeks. It's been a crazy couple of days at work in Austin with 12-16 hour days at work. Couldn't find the time or the energy to update the blog. Things seem to be slowing down now and I'm looking forward to sharing my past and upcoming trips.

I'm particularly excited about my first A380 flight and to make it even better, it'll be in Emirates First class. I'll also be hopping over to Melbourne for a friend's wedding using the last of my BMI miles. Hopefully by then, Lydia and I will be making the permanent move to Austin.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Bangkok Getaway: Pigging Out


Bangkok continues to be one our favorite cities for food. The food in Bangkok is just so good and it ranges from cheap road side stalls to high end (and sometimes cheap) fine dining. We also love the perfect combination of salty, sweet, sour and spicy found in Thai food.

The food court in MBK shopping mall is once place we make sure to visit every time we're in Bangkok. One must try dish is the chicken rice. We didn't end up trying the chicken rice until our third or forth visit favoring other dishes like the Pad Thai, Kueh Cheap, etc but now it's on our must eat list every time we're at the food court. The rice is just so flavorful!

MBK Food Court

We literally pigged out on this trip as we had to try the suckling pig at Tang Jai Yoo restaurant in Chinatown which was made famous by Anthony Bourdain. We manage to make reservations through Visa Concierge. A suckling pig cost 1600 Thai Baht and an additional 100Baht charge for the meat to be cooked which was cheap in comparisons to prices in Malaysia. The suckling pig ended being just pretty mediocre.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Bangkok Getaway: Random Pictures


Some other random pictures of during our visit to Bangkok.

Siam Paragon

Fresh made candy at Central World

Hilton boat

Dinner cruise


Interesting Garuda livery

Monday, March 5, 2012

Bangkok Getaway: Sofitel Silom


As mentioned earlier, I had try to cancel our non-refundable reservation after finding out about the on-going renovations in anticipation of the hotel switch to a Pullman in April. Since we couldn't cancel, I did make sure to request for upgrades to executive floor rooms and access to the lounge. The annoying thing about Accor hotels is that upgrades and access to lounge are not consistently applied for elite members.

We were well taken care from the moment we arrived till we left. We tried to check-in at the temporary small lobby on the third floor before being informed that we would be escorted up to the lounge for check-in since our rooms were upgraded. While waiting for the paperwork to get done, we were served a welcome drink of guava juice and a much needed cold towel. 

We were informed we had access to the lounge for breakfast, afternoon and cocktail hour and provided a voucher for another welcome drink at the French bar/restaurant Mistral for the duration of our stay thanks to my Aclub Platinum status before being escorted to our Club room. Minutes later, another staff brought us freshly squeezed orange juice and a fruit bowl to the room. The only slight disappointment that happened throughout the stay was that we had to wait for twenty minutes after two calls for our bags to be brought to our rooms. It wouldn't have been a big deal but we were hungry and I was in a rush to get back for a late night meeting I had to call into.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Bangkok Getaway: Introduction


The parents were visiting Penang for a couple of days and decided on a side trip for a couple of days in Bangkok since they had some expiring credit shell on Air Asia. We decided to tag along and took care of the hotel booking and the itinerary.

We had decided to book the Sofitel Silom since we had never stayed there before and we got a pretty good Sofitel sale rate. Closer to the trip we did get worried when there were several bad reviews on tripadvisor and flyertalk due to the on going renovations and future switch to a Pullman in April. We contacted the hotel trying to cancel our reservation (we had a booked a non-refundable rate) but they assured us we would be well taken care off.

In spite of visiting Bangkok numerous times before, one place we have not visited still on our list was Ayutthaya. We booked a private car and guide for a day which took us to Ayutthaya and the Summer Palace. For the rest of the time in Bangkok, we just spent it on shopping and pigging out.

I won't be covering any of the flights since it was another typical short hop on Air Asia.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Bangkok Getaway: Day Trip to Summer Palace and Ayutthaya


There are many options to get to Ayutthaya with the cheapest being a combination of train and buses. We decided on hiring a private van and a guide since it would cost about the same as an organized tour and we could control the itinerary and more importantly made sure there were no stops at the infamous "shopping" stops. We found several options on tripadvisor and settled on Nook. The whole package cost 7500 baht for the whole package which included the van, toll, fuel, guide fee, water and lunch. Nook did cancel last minute as she was stuck out of town but got her friend Nicky to cover.

The day started off with a trip to the Summer Palace that was used as a getaway of previous Kings of Thailand. On the way, Nicky provided excellent information and commentary on the Summer Palace and the places we would visit the rest of the day.

Summer Palace reminded me of our visit to the Royal Palace in Bangkok. I was most intrigue with the various influence of cultures including Chinese and European. I was told one of the previous Kings was one of the first (if not the first) monarch in South East Asia to travel to Europe and upon his return, instructed several European style buildings to be build to show to the West that Thailand was just as good. Nicky also helped solve the mystery on why there were "Chinese lion statues" at the Royal Palace and around Bangkok.This statues were used as weights in ships on the journey back to Thailand from China and upon return, there were no use of them and was just use as decorations around Bangkok.

The Lion Statue

Chinese Palace - a gift from Chinese immigrants