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Orchid, Elephant, Turtle: Thai Airways Business Class USM-BKK-SIN


So it was when flying back from Ko Samui to Singapore that I started regretting doing the entire journey on Thai Airways – since Ko Samui is located pretty much between Bangkok and Singapore, having to transit at Bangkok effectively quadrupled the travel time required.

Still, an interesting experience, even if one I’m unlikely to repeat in the future, and I’ve captured some highlights below.

Samui Airport

Being rather used to flying through air-conditioned city airports, Samui Airport was a bit of an eye-opener for me. There’s something quaint and charming about an airport that decides to place aquariums in the toilet to entertain you while you… go.

Most of the airport was very much open, with not an air-conditioner in sight. There’s something about walking within the airport towards your departure gate without a roof over your head.

I’d hate to be there when it’s raining, though.

When you finally get to the gate, there are some trams to bring you to the plane. Since we had some time to kill, we decided to check out the lounge first.

Blue Ribbon Club (Bangkok Airways Lounge) USM

The Thai Airways business ticket granted me access to the Blue Ribbon Club, which appeared to be the only lounge(s) in the airport (according to an old FlyerTalk thread, there’re an international and domestic one, and I’d visited the rather lacklustre international lounge).

It’s essentially just a small room with a rather limited range of items you can order off the menu.

There’s also a bunch of snacks – nothing particularly appealing, really.

I did enjoy being able to get a whole coconut while in the lounge.

All in all, a rather skippable experience. Think I’d rather have spent more time walking around the airport!

USM-BKK (Boeing 737)

The flight back to Bangkok was on the same Boeing 737 hardware that I took from BKK.

Again, no in-flight menu was provided for the domestic trip, though the meal looked rather less offensive/bewildering to non-Asians.

Royal Silk Lounge BKK

Unfortunately, due to lack of foresight, the 1h transit time in BKK did not really offer much time in the lounge, other than to snap some quick pictures before running off to the departure gate.

All in all, it seemed like a rather serviceable place. Wish I’d had more time to stay there!



BKK-SIN (Boeing 777)

The flight back was on a Boeing 777. Though not the swanky A350, as an international (albeit short-haul) flight the hardware was pretty decent, with a good amount of legroom.


There were in-flight menus again! After the regional flights I was getting used to life without them. I ordered the green curry with fishballs – it was tasty enough, though nothing fantastic.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, while I enjoyed the A350 experience, the bulk of Thai’s hardware for short-haul flights fails to impress. Unless you’re flying long-haul on newer hardware, I’d suggest saving your miles/money for better usage!

Orchid, Elephant, Turtle: Thai Airways Business Class BKK-USM


Royal Silk Lounge at Concourse A (Domestic)

Since we were flying domestically, there was only one lounge we could enter using our tickets. I thought the experience was a relative non-event – I think the international lounges are way nicer, though I guess this still beats the typical contract lounge.

 

The Hardware

The flight was on a Boeing 737, which is perfectly fine for a short 1h journey. Much like US domestic flights, these are pretty much glorified flying buses. ;)

That said, it’s nice to know that these “bus seats” offer generous legroom, even if furnishings are rather dated.

The Food

I didn’t expect too much from a short domestic flight, but was rather surprised to find out that they were serving porridge for the in-flight meal (no menu was provided), with no alternatives available. There was at least one westerner on board who looked at the food and declined the meal altogether.

Interestingly enough, a plastic container of condensed milk was provided (at the bottom left). I asked a flight attendant if it was condensed milk (I wanted to mix it into my tea) and she looked horrified – apparently, it’s meant to be paired with the youtiao (Pa Thong Ko / Chinese crullers).

I still proceeded to make my Singapore-style cup of teh, of course.

The View

Something I really enjoyed about the flight was the view on the way in. I’m so used to flying into cities that it’s nice seeing something a little less developed and more scenic prior to landing.

The airport was a little more basic (and charming in its own way – more on that in a future post) – no jet bridges were provided, and upon landing we were herded into little mini-buses that brought us into the terminal.

It was time for the highlight of the trip – heading to Conrad Koh Samui!

Orchid, Elephant, Turtle: Thai Airways Business Class SIN-BKK


Since Thai Airways was operating the A350 on some flights between SIN-BKK, I made sure that I was able to get onboard one of them for my outbound flight.

I don’t know about you, but when flying on business class around lunchtime I try to make it a point to get to the airport earlier for some bites at the airline’s lounges, which tend to serve better food than the contract lounges that Priority Pass gets you into.

Changi Airport Terminal 1 Thai Airways Royal Silk Business Class Lounge

So, immediately after checking in, I headed straight for the Thai business lounge in T1.

Since (if I’m not mistaken) Thai Airways is the only Star Alliance airline operating in T1, and there are only a handful of flights to Bangkok daily, the lounge doesn’t seem to get all that crowded – a good thing, in my book.

I was actually pretty impressed by the offerings at the lounge – the drink selection was a bit more limited than I’d have liked, but the food spread worked well as a quick bite before boarding the plane.

   

 

After stuffing my face on snacks in the lounge, I proceeded towards the plane in the hope of continuing to stuff my face on in-flight food. The new(ish) A350 was clearly visible from the boarding area.

The Hardware

You can tell how new the plane is from the state of its interior.

The seat was pretty comfortable, with more than adequate legroom.

Other than the large screen in front of the seat, there was a touchscreen to the side of the seat. The seatbelt resembles the type you find in cars (fastened diagonally) – while I’m sure this is more secure, I did find it more uncomfortable. I usually keep the seatbelt on when flying, but found myself unbuckling whenever possible during this flight.

The dining table is stowed away in plain sight pretty much in front of you, to be unfolded diagonally when food is served. A rather elegant approach, I thought.

The Food

The fare was pretty good, but nothing earth-shattering. I opted for the Squid Ink Spaghetti for myself. It was… okay, but not all that memorable.


Towards the end of the flight they started giving out orchids for the ladies on board. A clearly sexist move, Griffles ended up a happy beneficiary when The Wife opted to pin it on him instead on in her hair.

All in all, a pleasant flight – I left the plane feeling rather pleased that I’d opted to fly Thai business for this trip. That said, for a quick 2h flight it’s not really that big a deal – I didn’t even manage to try switching the seat to flat bed mode!

Orchid, Elephant, Turtle: Touring the Thai Conrads


When the (short-lived) Visa/Conrad promotion went live last year, I’d obsessed over how I could make the most of the deal. Having never been to Conrad Koh Samui (often mentioned as one of the aspirational properties in the Hilton Portfolio), I decided that March 2017 would be as good a time as any to check it out, swinging by Bangkok on the way while enjoying another 50% discounted Conrad stay there.

 

Thai Airways seemed like the logical option to get from SIN to USM with a BKK stopover; I enjoyed the experience (especially flying on the new A350) but looking back I kinda wish I had saved on the air ticket and got “a la carte” direct flights instead. For such short trips, flying business class is really rather unnecessary – especially if the hardware for regional flights is not particularly great.

Still, an enjoyable experience all in all – certainly worthy of cataloguing. Shall be doing so in the days ahead!

Via Istanbul: Turkish Airlines Business Class IST-MAN / MAN-IST

Following my extremely pleasant stopover at Istanbul, the moment of truth had finally arrived.

I had booked my air tickets because I’d felt the promotional rates were simply too good to pass – somewhere along the way, though, I was alerted to the fact that the short-haul leg of my journey was likely to be in seats like these:


Image from The MileLion

They look nice enough, but they’re essentially reupholstered economy class seats with the middle seat blocked out as cup holders.

At the same time, I’d heard that the newer A321s (that I was flying) were supposed to look more like this…

Turkish short haul business class
(Image from
Turkish Airlines website)

…so I was immensely relieved to see that this was indeed the case upon boarding the plane. Phew!

The seat was comfortable enough – though nowhere as roomy as my previous long-haul leg of the journey, there was more than enough legroom to play with.

Turkish short haul business class legroom

The new(-ish) safety video that OMAAT had blogged about was playing. I think it’s cute, but since most of the ‘magic’ was done with the use of camera tricks, I didn’t really find it all that impressive (or entertaining).

Turkish airways safety video

I was also relieved to find a personal screen folded away in the seat’s armrest. Though way smaller than its long-haul equivalent, I actually quite liked having the screen within touching reach – the interface is clearly optimised for touch controls, and it was somewhat cumbersome using the remote to control the larger screen (which was also positioned further away from the passenger).

Turkish airlines short haul business class screen

Seat controls were not motorised – it’s the old type of controls where you hold the button and adjust the seat position by leaning/pushing as appropriate.

Turkish airlines business class seat controls

Which isn’t ideal, but I guess it still works.

Breakfast, IST-MAN

There was no option to indicate your orders on this breakfast menu – I suppose on a short-haul flight, they don’t expect you to need to place your orders before going to sleep for hours.

Turkish breakfast menu

The ‘flying chef‘ was (from my perspective) just helping the flight crew deliver food to the passengers – I’m quite curious about what exactly they do onboard other than this… I’m sure they’re supposed to be involved in food preparation, but what exactly can you do when you’re up on an aircraft?

Turkish flying chef

I realise now that this is was my first encounter with “gözleme”, so it was here that my adventurous spirit prompted me to try the Turkish breakfast option that I ended up not liking. Why, then, had I not learnt my lesson on my flight back from IST to KUL? If I remember correctly, they had actually run out of eggs by the time they’d reached me, which was rather disappointing. Not something I’d expect to happen on business class!

Turkish business breakfast appetisers
Various breakfast sides

Turkish business breakfast
My not-quite-favourite Turkish wrap

Dinner, MAN-IST

Again, the flight was pretty much identical on the return leg, though I had dinner on the return journey instead of breakfast.

Turkish dinner menu

I wasn’t a fan of the fish on my previous flight, so I decided to get the beef instead.

Turkish dinner sides
Attempting to keep up with the millennials with a flat lay of the breakfast sides

Turkish business dinner
Sautéed fillet of beef – pretty decent, though not exactly something I’d rave about

Conclusion

I guess my expectations had been set pretty low, but for a short-haul flight I found it more than adequate – rather pleasant, actually! If you’re able to confirm that your aircraft is not in the old configuration, I’d say that the short-haul flights with these newer seats will not negatively impact your business class flying experience.

Via Istanbul: Turkish Airlines Lounge Istanbul

After arriving in IST from KUL I was pretty excited and rearing to check out the (allegedly) best business class lounge in the world.

As it turned out, though, it took quite some time to clear security – even the dedicated priority line for business class passengers took some time to clear. Eventually, I’d finally made it to the promised land.

Lounge Istanbul entrance

The reports were true. The lounge is sprawling, and it offers a really unique stopover experience.

Architecture

I particularly liked the architecture, which manages to give the lounge a distinctively Turkish taste.

turkish istanbul business lounge

Lounge Istanbul

Lounge Istanbul carts

Lounge Istanbul centrepiece

The facilities ranged from a baggage deposit area near the entrance (which was totally full so we ended up not being able to use it)…

Lounge Istanbul baggage area

Entertainment

…to a myriad of entertainment options…

Lounge Istanbul billiards table
Billiards table

Lounge Istanbul TV wall
TV wall with wireless headsets

Lounge Istanbul cinema
Cinema with popcorn machine

Lounge Istanbul console gaming
Console gaming stations (I believe this was the PS4)

Lounge Istanbul RC cars
Remote control racing

Lounge Istanbul golf simulator
Golf simulator

Lounge Istanbul play area
Children’s play area

Food

…to about a bazillion options for filling your stomach.

Lounge Istanbul salad bar
Salad bar

Lounge Istanbul sesame bagels
Turkish sesame bagels

Lounge Istanbul butter
Fancy butter

Lounge Istanbul fruits
The healthful dessert option

Lounge Istanbul desserts
The less healthful dessert option

Lounge Istanbul Turkish desserts
Turkish desserts

Lounge Istanbul bakery
From the bakery

Lounge Istanbul hot food
Hot food, freshly prepared

Beverages

Plenty of options for quenching your thirst, too.

Lounge Istanbul drinks station
The non-alcoholic variety

Lounge Istanbul alcoholic drinks
The alcoholic variety

Lounge Istanbul tea station
One of many tea stations

Lounge Istanbul tea selection
Offering a wide range of selections of tea

Conclusion

All in all, I would say that Turkish Airlines’s Lounge Istanbul really does live up to its reputation. If there’s anything I’d complain about, it’s that WiFi speeds were nearly unusable while I was there – I guess there were just too many people logged into their network. I only really had about an hour there each time I passed through Istanbul, so I didn’t actually get to try most of the things on offer, but even sampling what I did and visually taking everything in was an experience in itself.

I probably wouldn’t deliberately go out of the way to visit it again anytime soon, but if I happened to be flying in that direction? I might just try to make it happen…

Via Istanbul: Turkish Airlines Business Class KUL-IST / IST-KUL

I’d mentioned in my previous post that, due to a combination of bad luck and sub-par planning, I had been idling at Kuala Lumpur International Airport for about 12h after having woken much earlier in the morning than I am usually used to. Despite improvements in recent years, KLIA is still not a particularly interesting place for a stopover (spoilt Singaporean that I am). Rather grumpy and tired, I was rather looking forward to finally getting some rest on the lie-flat business class seats on the Turkish Airlines A330 that would be bringing us into Istanbul.

turkish business lie flat
(Image from Turkish Airlines website)

Upon boarding the plane, I was relieved to note that the seat looked reasonably comfortable and that the official publicity pictures were not, in fact, a pack of lies.

Turkish airlines business class seat

Being set up in the 2-2-2 configuration, there’s not that much privacy for the solo traveller, though it was perfectly fine for a party of two. The ottoman area in front of the seat allows for efficient storage with quick access (e.g. if you want to grab your tablets or computers). I was especially pleased with the amount of legroom available.

Turkish airlines business class legroom

Slippers were provided, but they’re rather flimsy and typical hotel-style disposables; not really worth keeping. They had provided an initial set of Turkish-branded headsets at our seats, but later started distributing an alternative set of noise-cancelling Denon headphones that were noticeably superior in quality (and comfort), at the same time highlighting that they would be collecting back the new headsets before the end of the flight.

Old Turkish headsets New (trial?) Turkish headsets

My guess is that they are still in the process of transition and were perhaps even still testing the new equipment, although since we weren’t asked about our experience at all, I guess they weren’t seeking customer opinion on the headsets.

Not too long after taking off, they also started asking passengers if we’d wanted bedding fitted onto our sheets. I thought it rather odd timing, given that we hadn’t eaten yet, but I suppose that’s just part of their workflow.

Griffles seated on Turkish

I didn’t think the extra layer made that much of a difference to comfort levels, but since I didn’t try sleeping without it on I guess I can’t really say for sure.

Amenity Kit, KUL-IST

I’m not really a big fan of amenity kits, so I’ll just quote the official description – the one I got flying to Istanbul was Cerruti-branded.

Turkish business amenities bag Turkish business amenities bag contents

The Cerruti branded bag is a fashionable bag made of a specifically developed leather-like material to create the sense of nonchalant chic which is typical for Cerruti. The heritage of the house of Cerruti is in textile and fashion. The design of the bag is elegant and simple, with a front flap which adds sophistication. It’s in a perfect size for passengers to reuse the bag as toiletry bag or to store personal items when travelling. Inside the bag is a variety of comfort items including cosmetics from ‘Institut Karite’ range with a high concentration of shea butter to hydrate the skin both during and after the flight.

The Menu, KUL-IST

They soon passed menus out. We were served dinner and breakfast on our flight; the breakfast menu doubled as an order form, which I thought made a lot of sense.

Turkish menu Turkish breakfast menu

There was a rather wide spread of alcohol to choose from, though since I know next to nothing when it comes to alcoholic beverages, I decided to just default to champagne, particularly since many frequent travellers seem to make a big deal out of it.

Turkish wine menu Turkish drinks menu

For the mains, there was a choice of a mix of grilled seafood, grilled beef or mushroom ravioli. I opted for the seafood.

Turkish dinner menu

While studying the menu, a stewardess came by dispensing a bowl of mixed nuts and a drink of choice (the previously mentioned champagne). I especially enjoyed the shelled pistachios in the mix. Wonder if there was any way to get a bunch of those alone?

Turkish nuts

Dinner, KUL-IST

The various courses were dispatched by trolley, which does help to give everything a more restaurant-y food; as does the onboard “flying chef”, though ours pretty much acted pretty much like the other stewardesses, when it came to meal service. Presumably she also does some sort of behind-the-scenes food preparation when not delivering dishes directly to our seats.

Turkish meal trolley

They also provided fake LED candles to help add to the atmosphere.

Turkish dining setup

Which is all very well and good, I suppose, but as they say – the proof’s in the pudding. Or in this case, the food. Just how good is the food on Turkish Airlines business class? Was it to be as life-changing as they say it is?

Turkish dinner appetiser
King prawn & grilled scallop

Turkish dinner entree seafood
Potpourri of grilled seafood – king prawn, butterfish and salmon

Turkish dinner dessert
Potpourri of traditional Turkish desserts

Alas, it wasn’t so for me. I found the grilled fish to be tough and dry and actually rather unenjoyable. I don’t know if I was just unlucky, but I found that having the onboard cook didn’t really seem to do much for this meal experience.

After the meal was done and everything had been cleared, they started dimming the lights and I figured it was time to catch up on lost sleep. This part, I definitely enjoyed – no complaints from me!

Turkish business life flat bed

Breakfast, KUL-IST

A few hours later, breakfast was served.

Turkish breakfast fruits
Seasonal fresh fruit salad

Turkish breakfast omelette
California style omelette

Happily, I found the food much tastier this time round. Faith in the flying chef gimmick was restored somewhat. I guess eggs are harder to mess up than fish!

Amenity Kit, IST-KUL

The return flight was pretty much on the same hardware and everything, but I did get a different menu so I thought I’d just append some segments to the review.

Turkish business Jaguar amenities bag

The Jaguar branded bag comes in a quality high tech material symbolizing the “grace, pace and space” of Jaguar cars. The technical aspect of the pouch is also represented in the re-use value of it as a tablet case or document holder. Detailing adds a touch of luxurious practicality to the bag. For example, the size of the bag can be expanded by undoing the zipper so that passengers can carry more or larger items. The bag also contains inner pouches (a pencil case and soft drawstring pouch) so that the comfort items and cosmetics can be organized and packaged beautifully.

Meals, IST-KUL

Turkish business menu IST-KUL

For dinner entrees, we got to choose from Potpourri of grilled seafood, Traditional “dolma” varieties or spicy chicken skewer. Mindful of my bad previous experience with grilled seafood, I opted for the spicy chicken skewer this time.

Turkish dinner appetiser
Smoked salmon with “daikon”, white cheese tabbouleh, stuffed sundried red pepper

Turkish dinner spicy chicken skewer
Spicy chicken skewer

Turkish dinner dessert
Chocolate ball with mango, fresh fruits

Dinner was a pleasant experience this time round – I suspect that fish is simply the harder dish to get right, especially up in the air. Breakfast, however, I enjoyed less.

Turkish breakfast appetiser
Miscellaneous breakfast sides

Turkish breakfast wrap
“Gözleme” flat pastry with cheese and leaf spinach & sauteed potatoes

This one I chalk up to taste, however – I wanted to try out the local breakfast option, but realised too late that a cheese and spinach wrap wasn’t really my kind of thing. Should probably have stuck with the eggs option.

Conclusion

All in all, I enjoyed the Turkish Airlines business class long-haul flight experience. The seats were comfortable and conducive for proper sleep and the food was pretty good (with the exception of the fish). The language barrier did pose some challenges to communication, though ultimately functional communication was still very much possible.

 

Via Istanbul (Not Constantinople): A trip planned around promotional rates

TLDR version: you can access some really remarkable deals if you keep your eye out for them, but it takes some effort to monitor, some luck for the deals to coincide with what you actually want to do, and possibly some sacrifices in terms of convenience in order to fully utilise them. It’s great if you find that enjoying the journey is part of the joy of vacations; but if not, it’s probably better to stick to using miles to get to where you want to as quickly and comfortably as possible.

While playing the miles game is probably the main focus of travel hacking, promotional rates for air travel and hotel fares pop up every now and then, and if you are able to capitalise on them you might find yourself positioned to enjoy (relatively) affordable rates for premium travel.

I was lucky enough to make use of three such deals on a recent trip of mine, and for me it really helped to make the voyage even more enjoyable (and memorable).

Highlights of itinerary

Planning process

I’d been intending to revisit the UK and had actually already redeemed SQ award tickets for the trip when I spotted this amazing offer for KUL-MAN on Turkish business class – I’d previously bookmarked this forum on FlyerTalk in the hope that something usable would crop up, and so this effort was finally paying off.

Having been intrigued for some time by what some have deemed as the best business class lounge in the world, I jumped at this opportunity to secure business class return tickets at less than S$1,900 per person.

turkish istanbul business lounge

Along the way, there came the amazing (and short-lived) offer allowing 2-night Conrad stays for the price of 1. I immediately cancelled my 4n booking for the (very nice) Hilton London Bankside and made two bookings (under two different guests) for the Conrad London St. James instead.

conrad london st james

The original plan had been to stay 1n at the Conrad and 4 at the (much more affordable) Hilton using the Citi Prestige 4th night free benefit, but once again the siren song of promotional rates proved irresistible to me.

The final offer that came my way was a relatively minor one, but (for me) it was still a new experience that I wouldn’t have tried without the promotional rate. I had booked advance train tickets from York to London, and a week before the day of travel I received an email offering an upgrade to first class at £15 per person.

Virgin Trains first class

First class rail tickets are not something I’d usually bother with (2 hours in a standard carriage is hardly an ordeal), but since I’d never tried it before, I figured… why not?

Filling the gaps

Unfortunately, it wasn’t totally smooth-sailing. Since some cancellations were made, there were some (relatively minor) penalties involved. The biggest hiccup for me, however, was with regard to the addition of the initial journey from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur.

I had (foolishly?) booked the cheapest available return tickets on Singapore Air for the SIN-KUL route, guess-timating the time required for transit (I’d budgeted 3h to be on the safe side). These were the non-refundable tickets, with no changes permitted, and of course, as luck would have it, that later came back to haunt me.

As it turned out, the KUL-IST flight out of Kuala Lumpur was rescheduled and I was suddenly left with a 12h stopover at KUL, with no way to change the SIN-KUL flight other than to forfeit the existing booking altogether.

I ended up biting the bullet and enduring the 12h stopover, and that resulted in an ordeal involving waking earlier than necessary, some time spent exploring a rather uninteresting airport, a grumpy wife, and a much longer journey than initially planned for.

turkish business lie flat
(Image from Turkish Airlines website)

Thankfully, the comfortable full-flat seats on the KUL-IST leg of the journey allowed for some recuperation along the way!

Evaluation

The biggest savings this trip was probably from the Turkish airlines promotional fare. A business class saver redemption for SIN-MAN on Singapore Airlines costs 136,000 miles and S$817 (slightly more if flying to London instead) in additional surcharges. Valuating each mile at 2¢ each (a rather conservative value), that puts my personal price for the ticket at about S$3,500. Even factoring in the cancellation fees and additional price of the SIN-KUL ticket, I consider the ~$2,100 spent on airfare to be a steal for what I got.

The Conrad offer, even with two nights free, did result in me paying more than initially planned – but given the superior location and convenience of not having to switch hotels, it was still an experience I relished. As for the first class train experience, I found it surprisingly enjoyable – I wouldn’t mind doing it again, though I wouldn’t be particularly upset if I never received the offer again.

All in all, as a travel geek I found myself enjoying the journey as much (if not more) as the destination this trip, and am glad to have been able to make good use of one promotional fare in my lifetime!