Sunday, January 27, 2013

Spending Christmas and New Year in Paradise: Osaka to Bangkok


We were still undecided when we landed if we were just going to stay at the airport or try to see if we can head down to town provided immigration would let us through during our 9 hour layover. Malaysians are required a visa to enter Japan through a Japanese embassy abroad (which we didn't have time to do) but I've been successful in getting a landpass to go through immigration on transit in Tokyo once before.

Once we passed through transit security, we tried to find Thai's transit counter to obtain our onwards boarding passes. We were told by the information desks that Thai does not have any transit counter and we should just proceed to the boarding gate. Guess not many people transit through Osaka to Bangkok on this flight especially not from Frankfurt!

Thai 777
We now noticed that Thai had an earlier flight to Bangkok leaving in the next 3 hours. I'm not sure why I didn't see this option when I originally booked our flights but it would be great to get on this earlier flight instead of just hanging around Osaka. I hopped on to the airport's free Wifi and logged on to the United mobile app and surprisingly found 2 business seats on this earlier flight. After failing to call a United number through googletalk on the Wifi, I made a long distance call to the United call center through international roaming. The call took a quick five minutes and the agent did manage to put us on the earlier flight. After I ended the call I only then realized that I should have double check the changes and realized then that the agent had rebooked us in coach instead of business. After a longer fifteen minute phone call to a different United agent that resulted in several long waits in getting the redemption ticket re-fared and a refund of 60 cents in taxes, he did manage to change our seats to business. We weren't charged any change fees as a Premier Gold. and the phone calls ended up costing us $40 which was totally worth it considering we got to Bangkok way earlier than planned.

By now, we still did not have our boarding passes. We got into the Thai Royal Orchid Lounge by showing the flight confirmation on my iphone where I also inquired about getting our boarding passes and luggage changed to this earlier flight. The outsourced agent didn't seem too bothered on helping us and just told us that agents would be at the departure gate an hour or so before departure to help us. I was worried about whether our luggage would get on this flight at this point!

Every fifteen minutes or so, I would stepped out of the lounge to the nearby departure gate to check if there was an agent who could help us. After a couple of times, I noticed that there was now a different agent manning the lounge entrance and decided to ask again. She was way more helpful than the first agent and took down all details she needed before telling us she would get back to us. Sure enough, another ground agent looked for us in the lounge a nervous fifteen minutes later with our boarding passes before asking for our luggage tags and making sure they would get on the flight. She would come back a second time with new boarding passes since a seat open us allowing us to seat together instead of the initial seats. Now, that's awesome service!

The lounge itself wasn't all too exciting. It was small and narrow but at least it had a wide. There were your usual drinks and snacks on offered. I would not come to the airport early just for this lounge and was happy we had managed to change to an earlier flight.

The ~6 hour flight to Bangkok was thankfully less exciting than our short stay at Osaka airport. Brunch was served and I enjoyed the Thai green curry that made me look forward to more yummy Thai food that was to come in Bangkok. The business class seats were obviously not as private and comfortable as the Lufthansa bed-seat combo but I did get comfortable napping and watching a Thai movie (through subtitles of course!) on the way to Bangkok.

View from our seats

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Spending Christmas and New Year in Paradise: Frankfurt to Osaka


We had originally planned on skipping the First Class Terminal since we've been there twice before and just picking either the First Class Lounge in the B or A pier. Since our flight from Orlando parked at one of the C-gates which is one of the furthest gates away, we decided we might as well make the walk out through immigration, get some fresh air and to the First Class Terminal. The immigration officer did ask why we were going to Frankfurt and didn't blink at all when we told them that we were just going to First Class Terminal.

It was a good fiften minute walk after we left the plane that we finally got the First Class Terminal. This is definitely #firstworldproblems, but we would have appreciated a buggy for the transfer similar to what Thai offers their first class passengers in Bangkok.

It took only mere seconds to get through security and into the sanctuary of the First Class terminal. Our personal assistant did inquire if we needed a tour which we declined saying we've visited before before leaving us to enjoy the lounge (previous visits here and here). There was a line for a shower room with a bathtub but we manage to get one after waiting for just fifteen minutes. It was definitely great getting of a flight and soaking in a warm bubble bath enjoying a cold glass of Rose champagne. The only slight disappointment was that they ran out of the white special edition FCT Christmas ducks!

After the soak, we only had about an hour or so before our flight. We weren't particularly hungry at this point (Hey - it was 4 am back in Texas and my body sure felt that way) but still decided to grab some light bites from the buffet and ordered of the Christmas menu. The beef carpaccio was so so but the duck was crispy and tasty and paired well with the red cabbage.

Christmas Menu

Some food from the buffet
Crispy Duck

Beef Carpaccio
The lounge was also filled with Christmas cookies and pastries. We were also surprised to see plenty peanuts and mandarin oranges in the lounge since we thought this was a Chinese thing to be served during Chinese New Year. We later learned from our personal assistant that mandarin oranges were also used to symbolized the New Year by Germans. You learn something new when you travel!

Christmas Goodies

We were still finishing up our "snack" when our personal attendant came by and told us that our flight was going to be slightly delayed but she did not know for how long. With no immediate connection in Osaka and spending time in one of the best lounge, we were not too concerned. The delay allowed me to enjoy a couple of after snack whiskeys from the bar.

Our personal assistant did eventually fetch us after a slight delay of ten minutes and escorted us to the ground floor where our passports were returned and we were off in a Mercedes for our relatively short car ride today to the plane. Boarding was almost completed by the time we got to the gate and our driver cut us through the crowd before handing us over to the flight crew. Again - the wonders of first class travel!
747 taking us to Osaka
There were only 4 of us in first class today with 2 Japanese passengers taking the first 2 seats and Lydia and I taking with 3rd row. This made the flight extremely private and almost private jetish with us having the entire back half of the upper deck to ourselves.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Spending Christmas and New Year in Paradise: Austin to Frankfurt


We had spent the night before at the Hilton Austin Airport as I needed a night to qualify for Diamond status. The hotel was nothing too exciting and was running at low occupancy probably due to the holidays. We got our day of to a good start thanks to the free breakfast thanks to my Gold status. We could order any hot options of the hot menu since there was only a continental buffet due to it's low occupancy.

We had already turned in the rental car the night and 1.5 hours before departure, we took the efficient 5 minute shuttle to the airport. I was surprised that the airport was relatively empty considering it was the 24th and was expecting everyone to be rushing of home to their families. Check-in and security was a breeze thanks to my United Premier status. Instead of heading to the boring United Club, I picked up some overpriced Austin souvenirs for my brother and his girlfriend who we would be meeting in Bangkok.

The United flights to Houston and Orlando was as usual nothing interesting except that we got a pretty new CRJ-700 for the hop to Austin and it would be my first time on a ERJ-145 for the flight to Orlando. Yea, 737s are still better than this regional jets.

On-board the CRJ-700
We had a four hour layover in Orlando which was a bit too short to head out. It was our first time flying through Orlando and we were surprised how fun the airport was. It was literally like a mall which plenty of shops to browse. After collecting our bags, we grabbed a bite at the food court before just doing some window shopping.

We had to wait a couple of minutes before the check-in counters were opened around 2.5 hours before departure. Check-in was pleasant and I was happy that the agent was able to check through our luggage from Osaka to Bangkok on a separate United redemption ticket. They did inquire if we wanted an escort through security which we declined since we wanted to further browse the shops at the airport.


Lufthansa uses the Delta Skyclub at Orlando. We are frequent visitors to United Clubs around the US and this would be our first in a Delta Skyclub. Overall, it was slightly better than your average United Club. The drinks and snack selection seems to be better although I just stuck to water and coffee and they serve all their drinks in real glassware instead of the plastic crap in the United Club.

Boarding was almost completed by the time we got to the departure gate and we were invited to cut the line and directly board after a ground agent saw our first class boarding passes. As soon as we boarded, the flight attendant asked for our choice of pre-departure beverage (champagne of course!) before bringing us newspapers, magazines, pajamas and amenity kit.

Pre-departure Nuts and Champagne

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Spending Christmas and New Year in Paradise: Introduction


We didn't have anything initially actually planned for Christmas/New Year break. Work commitments were unpredictable and if all hell broke loose at work, I might actually have to work over Christmas and New Year. Thankfully two weeks before Christmas, work began to slow down and I was actually able to take a nice 2 week break to finish of the year.

At this point our options were severely limited. There were no cheap flights to anywhere except for a UA/AA first class to Tokyo for ~$3k price war that I did briefly consider but ultimately was above our budget and we had enough of cold weather. We were only looking at first class redemptions (business class just wasn't cutting it anymore after the Dublin trip) on Star Alliance and as expected by this time, it was almost impossible to find one seat, much less two seats that we needed.  On the flipside, the good thing about booking last minute was first class Lufthansa availability which only opens up around 2 weeks prior to departure.

We were also picky on where we wanted to go. Most of the time, we would just head to where the cheap flights and miles would take us but we had enough of the cold weather in Austin and spending a week in even colder weather in Europe or North Asia just did not sound appealing. We needed some hot weather with a cold beer with sand between our toes. Heading to a beach back home in South East Asia didn't sound too exciting either and I couldn't find any reasonable options for other beach destinations like Bora Bora or Seychelles. We also skipped all the close by options to Austin like the Carribean or Mexico as by this time tickets were really expensive.

By some pure miracle, I was able to find us an option to head to one of our favorite places on Earth, the Maldives for some beach R&R:  
  • I redeemed a straight forward Lifemiles redemption on their website for a Orlando to Osaka via Frankfurt on Lufthansa first class. We miss the First Class Terminal and we would be able to try the seat + bed combo on the 747 operated on the Osaka flight.
  • From Osaka, I redeemed a United MileagePlus business class redemption to Maldives via Bangkok and Singapore on Thai and Singapore Airlines.
  • Heading home to the US, we paid for one of those infamous "cheap" ex-Colombo first class fare on Emirates and British Airways via Dubai with a night layover to explore Paris before flying back to London and Houston where we would drive back on a one way car rental back to Austin.
  • My only slight disappointment on this trip was the need to redeem a 25k coach United MileagePlus ticket from Austin to Orlando per person. This was double the "normal rate" but tickets were going for $600-700 per person. Ouch!
We had actually been to Maldives twice before (first for our honeymoon and a second honeymoon on a mistake Emirates fare) and told ourselves that we would only head back to the Maldives if we could stay in a high end hotel. next time we would be back, we would stay in a high end hotel instead. Lydia was jumping up and down in excitement when I told her I managed to get Hilton Honors redemption for 6 nights at the Conrad. The 6 nights costs us 225k or 37.5k a night thanks to AXON which was a steal considering even the cheapest room were going for about $2500USD by now!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Another great year! Bring on 2013...

It's 2013 and the world didn't go kaput after 21 Dec 2012. It's been a great year for me personally with all the travel and adventures including the move to Austin. I flew 158,571 miles this year which was about 25k miles than the year before. I managed to not only maintain my *A gold on Asiana but also achieve Premier Gold, which has lead to some domestic upgrades and much appreciated Economy Plus seats on United thanks to a status match and some mileage running.

We're ending the year with our best adventure of the year at Conrad Maldives. A proper trip report will follow but I think this picture just sums it up.

The trip to the Maldives also led to the most memorable moment of the year when we were least expecting to be snorkeling with a whale shark of the Conrad house reef. A truly humbling experience.

Some other "best of the year" awards of our 2012 adventures:

Best First Class - Emirates A380 F. How can you beat a shower in the sky!?!

Best Bed in the sky - Lufthansa 747-400 that boast both a seat and a real bed.

Best Business Class - Singapore Airlines on their 77W/A380. There's nothing much to say for their wonderful crew and the 1-2-1 seating especially in the "mini-cabin" makes it feel like a first class experience.

Best meal - ??? Couldn't make a decision here. We've had some pretty good meals this year but nothing really stood out. Maybe I'm missing the hokkien mee and nasi kandar in Penang?

We're off the a great start in 2013. We're heading back to Austin from the Maldives on Emirates and British first class. Our trip back home to Malaysia for Chinese New Year has been booked featuring Swiss, Thai and Singapore Airlines first class.

Thanks again for taking the time to read this blog.