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California Dreamin’: Singapore Airlines Business Class SIN-SFO / SFO-SIN

  • California Dreamin’: A Tale of Going West
  • Singapore Airlines Business Class SIN-SFO / SFO-SIN (A350)
  • Parc 55 San Francisco – A Hilton Hotel
  • Big Trees Lodge
  • The Majestic Yosemite Hotel
  • Hampton Inn & Suites Merced, or Just About Any Hampton in the States
  • Hilton San Diego Airport Harbor Island Hotel
  • The Comic-Con Experience
  • Virgin Airlines Business Class SAN-SFO (A319)

SilverKris Lounge SIN T3

You would think that I’d have spent more time cataloguing the T3 business class lounge – however, perhaps because it’s my home city, I’m usually not too excited about using the lounges in Changi Airport. There’re also plenty of excellent reviews already out there, like this one on the Shutterwhale.

That said, I’m not too good for some free laksa. The one offered in the SilverKris lounge is pretty good – the ability to vary the ratio of ingredients is always welcome.

Overall, though, I find the food offerings to be rather lacklustre (sacrilege, I know!). Again, this might be a home city thing – why settle for dry, rubbery chwee kueh when I can get it cheaply at the coffee shops near home?

When situated in a foodie paradise, I think the lounge could afford to up its game when offering dining options to well-heeled premium travellers (also, by extension, undeserving travel hackers like myself). Case in point – why stock maple flavoured syrup? Is genuine maple syrup too pricey?

I’m not particularly bothered by it myself, but given SIA’s image and price point, I’d have thought there’d be greater investment into maintaining an image of using the very best.

The Hardware

Perhaps some of my disenchantment with the lounge came from my excitement to get onboard the aircraft. Having previously sat in (and been impressed by) economy class on an SQ A350, I was pretty eager to get in the air and enjoy business class on the 15h journey to SFO.

Welcome drinks were served shortly after boarding. I opted for champagne; since I know next to nothing about alcohol (oh hey I like fizzy drinks let’s get this expensive-sounding drink) I can’t comment too much beyond… err, it was nice, I guess. I assume it’s the same Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve that was listed in their menu.

The seat isn’t too different from any other recent SQ business class seat, which isn’t a bad thing. Plenty of space, pretty comfortable.

I’m not a big fan of the design of the foot rest (most likely requiring you to lie/sit diagonally), but it wasn’t too bad; still plenty comfy.

Plenty of storage space for your miscellaneous items throughout the flight. TV screen is great.

The SQ app now allows you to pair your mobile device to your in-flight entertainment system for use as an additional controller – it’s an interesting feature, though hardly necessary, I think.

What I found more impressive/useful was the ability to plug in your personal devices via HDMI and view media on the screen. Yes, the airline’s invested in building up a library of relatively current TV shows and movies for you to browse; but if you’ve got other stuff on hand you’d rather watch, why not do so in style? (particularly useful since it’s quite possible to get tired of the SQ library after 2x 15h flights.)

The seat is relatively easily converted into the lie-flat bed mode – I did struggle for awhile, but once I figured out the unlatching mechanism (which I’ve since forgotten, unfortunately) it was easy enough to handle on my own, which is great since I’m not really a fan of relying on (and waiting for) cabin crew to assist with setup, as is the case on Suites.

Amenities

I actually received one of those 70th anniversary amenity kits with Laundress products (mine was the black version) when flying out of Singapore. I thought it was an interesting concept, though it’s still not really stuff I’d really use. Make a nice gift, though.

Other than that, you do get the usual slippers, socks and eye mask as well.

The Food

The menu cover was branded for the 70th anniversary – despite the branding, I didn’t see all that much local fare like chicken rice that they were supposed to be offering (think the only item offered char siew rice on my outbound trip, which I didn’t get in the end).

I’ll be showcasing the meals from the return journey as well, so this section will probably just make me look like a glutton. We begin with cauliflower and smoked gouda soup, lobster thermidor (via Book the Cook) and a Meneghina doughnut.

For the mid-flight meal I tried the spice coated smoked egg (not a fan) and pan-seared salmon fillet.

Somewhere along the way (I can’t remember when) I got this prawn skewer. It was surprisingly large, although I did wonder why I was never offered the signature satay on both legs of the flight.

From SFO-SIN my first meal comprised the smoke duck, lamb biryani and two desserts (because YOLO) – Gotham “pineapple” (why the quote marks, SQ menu?) and petite patisserie.

Because I thought I should try out their mid-flight snack as well, I requested for chicken kway teow as well. It was surprisingly good.

Salt baked chicken for my final meal on the return flight – thought this one was rather meh.

Generally, I found the worst meal to be merely mediocre (as opposed to actually bad) but generally I was pleased with the offerings and didn’t feel like too much stomach space was being wasted on undeserving calories. That might not sound like much, but we’re talking airline food here and I think SQ offers pretty good in-flight catering on business class (at least, for the Singaporean palate).

Conclusion

As air travellers, we live in a rather privileged era – it was an absolutely surreal experience being able to step onto a plane in Singapore and alight at San Francisco just 15 hours later (and vice versa). It’s still a long flight (aside – I was reminded of a YouTube video I’d watched explaining why air travel hasn’t been getting any faster – essentially, lowering cost has been a bigger priority than increasing speed), and when you want to grab some shut-eye along the way you might start feeling grateful to be in a lie-flat business class seat (flying SQ, no less) and infinitely thankful that strategic credit card spend allows you to access such luxuries relatively affordably.

In my opinion, if you are interested in taking a trip to the US (non-stop flights to LA and NYC are supposed to be on the cards for 2018) this is possibly one of the best uses of airlines miles available, allowing you to simultaneously minimise travel time while enjoying a luxurious experience, enabling you to arrive at your destination fresh and ready to embark on your vacation.

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California Dreamin’: A Tale of Going West

  • California Dreamin’: A Tale of Going West
  • Singapore Airlines Business Class SIN-SFO / SFO-SIN (A350)
  • Parc 55 San Francisco – A Hilton Hotel
  • Big Trees Lodge
  • The Majestic Yosemite Hotel
  • Hampton Inn & Suites Merced, or Just About Any Hampton in the States
  • Hilton San Diego Airport Harbor Island Hotel
  • The Comic-Con Experience
  • Virgin Airlines Business Class SAN-SFO (A319)
  • Singapore Airlines SilverKris Lounge SFO

Prologue

Once upon a time, an amateur travel hacker heard about a new non-stop flight operating from Singapore to San Francisco. “Well,” he thought, “this seems like an awesome way to make use of those miles I’ve been gathering. I’ve never been to San Francisco, the flight is long (and thus premium seats are much-desired) and it sure would be swell to check out the new hardware!”

Excited by the idea, he sought concept approval from his immediate superior. “Oh hey,” replied The Wife, “maybe we can go to Comic-Con!”

Having previously been unable to make the pilgrimage to San Diego in July, the amateur travel hacker agreed with the suggested course of action and got down to planning the trip.

The remainder of this series will focus on the usual flight and hotel reviews, but since this was such an experience I thought I’d just briefly go through some of the highlights alongside the planning process. 

Transport & Accommodation Plans

Plans began about a year in advance, beginning with the conversion of credit card point to KrisFlyer miles followed by the booking of award business tickets as soon as they were made available. In a tremendous stroke of luck, room inventory at the Hilton San Diego Airport Harbor Island Hotel had not been totally locked at the time (San Diego hotels usually block them out during Comic-Con) and so accommodation for the duration of the convention was settled really early.

Accommodation was generally secured on cancellable Hilton MVP rates with searches set up on tripBAM to generate notifications should prices drop along the way. We decided to fly in and out of San Diego, in a bid to avoid traffic jams that were likely to appear around the time. Before then, we mostly drove around the west coast of California, and we rented a car for a week.

Comic-Con

The trickiest thing about making plans to visit California and do Comic-Con a year in advance is that you don’t actually get to confirm your convention tickets (badges) until about three months before. This led to the crazy situation of making the plans without knowing if we’d actually get badges for the convention. In the end, we decided to just go ahead with the planning and just visit San Diego anyway, regardless of whether we got badges. There’d be plenty to do outside the convention centre then, we reasoned.

Getting badges was a nightmare. Essentially, it’s down to online balloting – each (registered) person can purchase three badges, even if not actually attending. Someone’s calculated the odds of a first-timer scoring a badge at about 6%, and even with the help of some friends entering the ballot for us, we initially didn’t get anything.

Thankfully, a mutual friend managed to get us hooked up with some other Singaporeans who were balloting as a group and we managed to get badges for two of the four days.

It was an experience. Ultimately I didn’t love it all that much due to the insane crowds (and queues) over there, but I’m glad to have managed to attend it.

Yosemite National Park

Somewhere along the way, the decision was made to visit Yosemite National Park. I didn’t expect it then, but this turned out to be highlight of the trip for me.

This was made even more enjoyable by our one-night stay at the Majestic Yosemite Hotel (aka the Ahwahnee Hotel). I was rather enticed by the idea of a heritage luxury hotel in the middle of the valley and decided to splurge to stay just one night –  I ended up booking the cheaper Big Trees Lodge for another night in an attempt to strike a balance between (comfortably) maximising my time in the park while not bankrupting myself.

Hilton Synergy

As it turns out, Hilton was offering triple points to Diamond members during this trip so I’m now in a pretty good position to redeem some high-value hotel stays. I’d also tried my luck requesting for a status challenge earlier in the year and managed to re-qualify for Diamond until Mar 2019.

I doubt I’ll be able to stretch it beyond that, but three years as a comped Diamond isn’t half bad!

All in all, this trip offered great experiences both in the realm of flight/accom as well as elsewhere; the following posts shall, of course, focus on the former travelgeeky topics.

(Addendum – Singapore Airlines Lounge SFO)

When I’d initially started this trip report, I’d planned to include a review of the SQ lounge at SFO. As it turns out, it’s a good thing I took so long to do up this report, since I later realised that I could save myself the effort as the lounge would be permanently closed from 1 Oct 2017.

Which is just as well, since I was distinctly unimpressed with the lounge.

Whoever said procrastination didn’t pay off?

SIA Suites: SIN-NRT-LAX

It’s been ages since I’d qualified for airline elite status (which I’d lost after about 2 years, since I don’t actually fly for a living) and I haven’t really had the luck of being regularly upgraded on flights since then. Well, I’d briefly enjoyed upgrades on Cathay Pacific with some status from the Amex Platinum Card, but that’s gone, too. I’ve not really blogged about these experiences since my initial experience as, well, there’re plenty of travel blogs now offering better pictures and reviews than I can hope to provide.

Still, flying Singapore Airline Suites has kinda been on my frequent flyer bucket list for awhile now, and having finally racked up enough miles on credit card spending to redeem tickets for it, I’ve finally managed to cross that off my list.

SIA Suites Seat

Here’s a brief recap including the main highlights (to me) of the experience – for greater detail, you’d probably find meatier ones easily with a quick search.

The experience starts at the airport, with a separate dedicated check-in area. No biggy, just a more comfortable area where you could take a seat while waiting in line to be checked in.

The next step was one I’d been anticipating more – a trip to the Private Room.

Private Room lounge invitation

The Private Room is essentially a lounge within a lounge within a lounge – a dedicated area within SIA’s first class lounge in Changi Airport (itself nestled within the business class lounge). The exclusivity is meant to reward actual SIA flyers (as opposed to those flying first class on airline partners, PPS members, etc.), I believe.

SIA Private Room breakfast menu

With such exclusivity we kind of expected the food to blow us away – unfortunately, a victim of high expectations, I suppose. I ordered some Roti Prata (not on the menu) and the wife ordered Egg Benedict. Neither really maanged to impress.

Unimpressive breakfast

Given that later meals include things like burgers with foie gras, I’m guessing (at least, hoping) that it’s because we were there for breakfast, and that food there is magically wonderful at other times of the day.

After lounging around for awhile more, we boarded the plane and entered our own private area. It’s incredibly spacious – with the screen between the adjoining suite down (effectively joining the two), there’s really an incredible amount of space that you feel belongs to you (poorly demonstrated in the panoramic picture below).

IMG_6419

The biggest feature of Suites is probably how the seat converts into a bed – a revolutionary feature when it first came into the market, I believe. Many competitors (e.g. the Middle Eastern airlines) offer it now, but it’s still a treat to enjoy.

IMG_6432

The ironic thing about having this awesome hardware in Suites is that the delicious food is served course by course and this takes up a lot of time. After dinner on the NRT-LAX leg, there was only about six hours left on the flight and we’d have had to wake after just four hours if we’d wanted to have breakfast.

We opted to skip breakfast in the end, which wasn’t such a big deal since we had already been very well fed throughout the flight. The food was really good – our inflight menu is viewable here. I’d opted to Book the Cook beforehand and had beef rendang and lobster thermidor on each of the legs of the flight.

Some highlights (various appetisers, desserts and the mains):

The obligatory satay dish

Appetiser

Beef rendang

Dessert

Lobster thermidor

All in all, I’d call it a great experience – although now that I’ve experienced it, I think I’d probably stick to business class in the future – that’s more than comfortable enough, there’s really no need for all the extra luxury, unless you can really afford it.