Flight Review: Korean Air Business Class 777 – Washington DC to Seoul Incheon

Unlike a lot of airlines these days, Korean Air offers great business and first class award availability at reasonable redemption rates. Further, the airline’s updated website makes award booking – a process that used to be incredibly arduous – easy. Coming back to Singapore after the holiday’s, I decided to take advantage of the generous award availability on Korean Air and book myself in business class. The trip included a very long flight from Washington DC to Seoul and then a shorter, but still irritatingly long flight from Seoul to Singapore.

Fortunately, the longer flight included Korean Air’s new business class suites product. Unfortunately, the second leg of the trip had Korean Air’s older business class hard product.

Booking

I booked my one way business class ticket from Washington DC to Singapore using just 75,000 Miles + $34. I had about 40,000 SkyPass miles in my Korean Air account from prior flights on the airline, and I was able to transfer the remaining 35,000 miles instantly from my Chase Ultimate Rewards account. This is one of the best Chase partners and one of the reasons the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card is so valuable.

unnamed.gif

I consider 75,000 miles to be an incredible bargain, especially when paid tickets in regular economy on this flight can cost upwards of $1,000. Meanwhile, my exact ticket was selling for over $4,000. This was my itinerary:

unnamed-1.gif

Flight 1 of 2
Korean Air KE094
Washington Dulles (IAD) to Seoul Incheon (ICN)
Boeing 777-300ER
Tuesday, 2 January 2018
Duration: 14 hours 42 minutes

I had selected a window seat near the back right of the business class compartment. If you are flying on a Korean Air 777, you can tell if you have the new or old business class product based on the seat layout. The new business class product is in a 2-2-2 layout, as shown here:

IMG_4375.png
New business class product layout 2-2-2

The layout for the old business class product is in a 2-3-2 setup as shown here:

IMG_4376.png
Old business class product layout 2-3-2

It’s worth noting that the difference between the two business class products is fairly substantial. The new suites feel more spacious and more comfortable then the old ones, and if you book the window seat, far more private.

Boarding

The flight was delayed about an hour as the incoming flight from Korea was late. Once boarding began, the process was fairly efficient. The business class section was only about a third full. As mentioned above, I had selected window seat 11J.

IMG_4468.jpg
Seat 11J
IMG_4525.jpg
With the tray table down

The new business class product has staggered window and aisle seats. This makes the window seat even more private – it kind of feels like a mini suite. These seats are great for solo travelers. Also, there is a separate walkway to the aisle for each window seat, that way you don’t have to deal with your neighbor when getting up to use the restroom. A remote controlled partition can also be raised after takeoff for additional privacy. You can see how the seats work a bit better from this Korean Air website picture:

KE pic.png
Prestige Suites

For comparison purposes, here are the old business class seats – which were on my second flight from Seoul to Singapore:

IMG_4595 2.jpg
Old business class product on my second flight

An electronic control to the left of the seat made it easy to quickly convert the seat into a bed without having to get up – something I appreciate.

IMG_4473.jpg
Seat controls
IMG_4548.jpg
The seat reclines into 180-degree fully flat bed

Unfortunately, the bed setting was not nearly as comfortable as the bed setting on my recent Singapore Air flight.

The entertainment monitor was large and placed directly in front of the seat. It was operated by a touch screen remote.

IMG_4485.jpg
Back to the Future
IMG_4460.jpg
Touch screen remote

The seat had lots of leg room and a ledge to rest your feet on.

IMG_4483.jpg
Lots of legroom

The seat also included lots of storage space and a large arm rest to store glasses on.

IMG_4476.jpg
Pre-departure drink and peanuts

The seat also included a multi-purpose outlet and a separate USB port.

Amenities

Once boarding was complete, the flight attendants stopped by to welcome each business class passenger onboard. Amenity kits were passed out and kids received a separate gift. The amenity kits included some nice items including a good quality eye mask, toothbrush, lip balm and face cream. For what it’s worth, the products were from Davi. There was also a hair brush and a shoe horn. Hooray!

IMG_4636
Korean Air amenity kit

Apparently the 2018 winter olympics will be held in Korea, as the branding was everywhere and each movie / TV show opened with an advertisement for the games. You can see the Olympics branding on the bottom right of the amenity kit bag.

Waiting at the seat upon boarding was a large blanket in plastic wrap, disposable slippers, and an incredibly small pillow. I appreciate the warm blanket but the small pillow made it difficult to sleep. I ended up taking a few pillows from some of the empty business class seats around me.

Take-off

We pushed back from the gate around 1:00pm, a little over an hour late. We had a long-takeoff roll and then the seat belt sign was turned off only a few minutes later. It was a cloudless day in Virginia and there were some good views of the cold ground below as we ascended.

IMG_4504.jpg
Clear day
IMG_4511.jpg
Leaving the cold

Shortly after takeoff, an announcement was made in Korean and then an American voice came on the intercom. He said he was the pilot and welcomed us onboard. He informed us of our flight time to Korea at 14 hours and 11 minutes. The second leg of my trip – Seoul to Singapore – included a British pilot as well. I wonder how that works in the cockpit language wise – do they all speak English during the flight, or does everyone speak Korean?

Entertainment

The entertainment options on the flight were the biggest disappointment of the trip. There were about 33 Hollywood “hit” movies and a few “classic” movies. There were a lot of movies I hadn’t heard of before and only a few that seemed worth watching. The classic movies included such timeless fare as Moulin Rouge and Back to the Future. The TV options were even more sparse, a few American sitcoms – Friends and the Big Bang Theory – with only two episodes each.

Even more surprisingly, there were only 3 Korean-language movies.

IMG_4516.jpg
Paltry Korean movie selection

I ended up watching every TV comedy option available – which only took about an hour and a half. After that I watched a few movies, the best of which was The Big Sick and the worst was the clunker Home Again – a painfully slow movie with no chemistry between the lively Reese Witherspoon and her not-at-all believable love interest.

Great entertainment options can make a long flight pass much faster. Unfortunately, I found the entertainment options on Korean Air to be extremely wanting, especially for business class on a 14-plus hour flight. Is it too much to ask for a few full seasons of popular TV shows à la Netflix? This seems to be standard practice on United long haul flights now, even in economy. It’s never a good thing when United Airlines makes you look bad.

The one other thing that bothered me about the entertainment was the arbitrary censorship of certain movies. For example, the Big Sick was edited for content and all swear words – including the word goddamn – were beeped. Apparently the general public can’t handle that kind of salty language. Who knows what other content was removed from the movie as well.

Food

Shortly after takeoff, a flight attendant came by to take each passenger’s lunch and dinner order. I was informed that dinner would be served 30 minutes before landing in Seoul, which seemed to be cutting it really close – but it actually ended up being 3 hours before landing. I ordered a glass of champagne and Bibimbap for lunch. For dinner I ordered the beef bulgogi. The menus read as follows:

IMG_4513.jpg
Drinks menu
IMG_4514.jpg
Lunch menu
IMG_4515.jpg
Dinner menu

The lunch started with a small seared scallop in sauce.

IMG_4520.jpg
Seared scallop

Then a bit of duck and salad.

IMG_4532.jpg
Duck

After that the main course was served.

IMG_4534.jpg
Korean Bibimbap

I wasn’t a huge fan of the cold Bibimbap but that’s probably more of a personal taste thing.

For dinner I had the beef bulgogi which I normally really like. Unfortunately, I found the bulgogi on this flight to be really chewy, drenched in sauce, and not all that flavorful. The rice was also a bit mushy and oddly unappetizing. I didn’t eat much of either.

IMG_4558.jpg
Beef bulgogi

I skipped out on the dessert and the cheese tray which was wheeled around on a cart after lunch. I had some of the seasonal fresh fruit which was definitely not in-season or fresh.

IMG_4559.jpg
Fruit

Overall the service was good but the food left something to be desired.

Other observations

For about 13 hours of the 14 hour flight we hit almost no turbulence. I can’t remember ever being on such a smooth flight for that length of time. Unfortunately the last hour was a bit bumpy, but nothing too crazy.

Despite being in a fully flat bed, I did not sleep particularly well on the flight. As is common on larger airplanes, it was not possible to control your surrounding temperature as there were no air vents above the seat. I went from freezing cold to burning hot and then back again during the course of the flight. Although the blanket was large and warm, the pillows were insubstantial and not very comfortable.

The entertainment options also included a standard flight tracker and two outside cameras that could be monitored during the trip. I ended up watching the landing at Incheon via the front camera.

IMG_4576.jpg
View as we approached Incheon Airport through the front camera

There were also some nice views out the window as we approached Seoul.

IMG_4560.jpg

IMG_4566.jpg

Our flight route took us almost directly over the North Pole, then down through Russia and China and then around North Korea.

IMG_4573 2.jpg
Flight path via the onboard tracker

Here is the flight time and path from FlightAware:

IMG_4631.png
FlightAware

As you can see, the flight ended up being just 18 minutes shy of 15 hours.

One last point to note, Incheon Airport is not a good place to transit if you have a short layover before your next flight. The security line – which all transiting passengers are required to go through – is a huge mess with passengers from all incoming flights ushered into one of two lines.

IMG_4582.jpg
First line – not even sure what this was for

I’ve waited in one of these lines for almost an hour before. The line when I arrived this time was even longer. Fortunately, as my flight to Singapore was supposed to be leaving in only a few minutes, I was permitted, with some pleading, to skip most of the security line. In my experience the airports in Japan and Hong Kong are much better at handling transiting passengers as they have more security checkpoints.

Summary

I found my business class seat to be reasonably comfortable with lots of room and privacy, and in my opinion that’s the most important criteria for judging a business class product. Further, for a mere 75,000 miles and $34, this itinerary was a veritable steal.

 

Flight Review: Singapore Airlines A380 Business Class – New York to Singapore (SQ25)

After four weeks of vacation – a week spent in Europe and three weeks in the U.S. – it was time for me to return to Singapore. When booking my return trip, I searched for a conveniently timed itinerary that would get me back to Singapore late Saturday night or early Sunday morning. That way I would have at least one full day to recover – mentally and physically – before I had to return to work on Monday.

Booking

In the past, I’ve generally flown from Washington DC to Singapore on United, ANA or Korean Air. These routes involve connections in either Hong Kong, Tokyo or Seoul, or more recently, California. On this trip, I was interested in trying something different, so I also considered flights that flew east through Europe and the Middle East.

After searching for itineraries on Kayak and Google Flights, I decided to book a premium economy seat on Singapore Airlines out of New York City’s JFK. The flight included a short stop in Frankfurt, Germany. It wasn’t the cheapest itinerary, or the most convenient – after all we were staying in Washington DC – but it gave me the chance to test out one of Singapore Airline’s new premium economy seats, and it was a good excuse to spend a day or two in New York City. Also, at “just” 22 hours, it’s one of the shortest itineraries from the East Coast to Singapore. I was also excited to earn 110% mileage accrual in my KrisFlyer account, or 10,487 miles.

This was my itinerary:
Screen Shot 2017-07-16 at 11.45.22 AM.png

The premium economy seat also had one major benefit, it allowed me to upgrade to business class using points, subject to availability. Immediately after booking my seat, I logged into my KrisFlyer account and selected Manage Booking. I was in luck as there were Standard upgrade awards available for 70,000 KrisFlyer miles (the Saver award from the East Coast is 47,000 miles – but there was no availability). I didn’t hesitate in spending the 70,000 miles. The upgrade from economy, even “premium” economy, to business class is a world of difference. It not only means superior service and food, but most importantly, a fully flat bed.  That makes a big difference when you’re confined to a plane for 22 hours (or 26 hours, as the case would be for me). Importantly, when upgrading on Singapore Airlines, you still earn the miles for your original itinerary. So even though I upgraded to business class, I still earned the 10,487 miles from my original premium economy ticket (which helped me to requalify for KrisFlyer Elite Silver Status).

Here was my upgrade confirmation:

Screen Shot 2017-07-16 at 11.38.09 AM.png

And my upgraded itinerary:

Screen Shot 2017-07-16 at 11.37.55 AM.png

Getting to the Airport

After spending the day exploring NYC, I headed to the airport from the Lower East Side at around 5:00pm (the flight wasn’t departing until 8:55pm but I didn’t know what traffic would be like).  I had a lot of luggage, so I ended up taking a shockingly expensive Uber ride to JFK:

Screen Shot 2017-07-16 at 12.14.39 PM.png

There was bad traffic (of course) but we managed to get to the airport in under an hour – not too terrible for a Friday afternoon. However, the quality of the airport, and the hassle of getting to JFK from Manhattan, will definitely make me think twice before I go out of my way to book a flight from NYC in the future (even if it’s in business class).

Check-In, Swiss Lounge, and Boarding

I arrived at the airport with over three hours to go before departure. Luckily, the check-in counter was open and there was virtually no one in line.

IMG_2139.jpg

I checked two bags and received my boarding pass in a matter of minutes (just one boarding pass was issued, as the same plane continues on to Singapore from Frankfurt). I was instructed at the check-in counter that I could use the Swiss Lounge on the other side of security. The airline attendant also helpfully pointed out that I could either go through the TSA pre-check security line (I was newly enrolled) or I could use the Business / First class security line, which is subject to the normal security indignities (i.e. shoes off and laptops out).

The Business / First class security line was shorter, so I chose that line. It only took about 10 minutes to get through security, which I consider pretty good for a New York City airport.

After security, I headed to the Swiss Lounge, which I found disappointing. The drink options were okay, but the food selection was limited.

IMG_2151.jpg
There was an okay self-service bar
IMG_2144.jpg
Salad bar at the Swiss Lounge

This was the entirety of the hot food selection:

IMG_2145.jpg
Only three options

Annoyingly, there were almost no power outlets in the lounge, except in one designated high-top bar area. It seems hard to believe that a modern business class lounge wouldn’t have power outlets at every seat.

After enjoying a gin and tonic and some food at the lounge, I decided to walk around the terminal a bit before boarding. After about thirty minutes, I headed to gate A7 for boarding.

Boarding and Business Class

There are separate lines for Singapore Suites (First Class), Business Class, Premium Economy and Economy.

IMG_2166.jpg

IMG_2164.jpg
View of the Singapore Airlines A380 at boarding

By the time I reached the gate, boarding was well under way, so I simply approached the Business Class line and, after a quick scan of my ticket, headed onto the plane. There was a separate jet bridge for Business Class passengers that went directly to the second level of the plane.

The Singapore Airlines A380-800 business class takes up the whole second floor of the jumbo jet (the largest passenger plane in the skies). The business class seats are arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration, so each seat has direct aisle access. I had selected seat 24K, a window (and aisle) seat on the right side of the plane. A lot of travelers prefer the bulkhead seats on Singapore Airlines business class, as those seats offer a bit more leg room and a full bench for you to rest your feet on during the flight (as opposed to a more narrow foot rest in the standard business class seat). However, when I was selecting my seat, the only available bulkhead seat was in the very back of the plane. As I prefer not to be in the back of the plane, I decided to stick with a normal business class seat closer to the front. I was not disappointed, as I found the foot rest and seat to be more than adequate (even for someone who is slightly over 6 feet tall).

Here is the view of the business class cabin upon boarding.

IMG_2169.jpg

They had a weird, orange mood light going on as boarding continued.

IMG_2172 2.jpg

When I arrived at my seat, there was a large pillow waiting for me, and a pair of noise cancelling headphones.  As you can see, the seats are very wide.

IMG_2170.jpg

IMG_2171.jpg

IMG_2175 2.jpg
Business class foot rest

The seats were nice but maybe a bit dated. The entertainment system was definitely on the older side, although perfectly functional. On the left armrest were basic seat controls and a remote for the TV.

 

IMG_2183.jpg

IMG_2184.jpg

Helpfully, the remote control also showed the expected time to the next destination. I used this function several times throughout the flight to check on our flight status.

IMG_2187.jpg

There were lots of new release movies and popular Hollywood films loaded into the entertainment system. There were also several TV shows that had full seasons available (e.g. Big Little Lies, Friends, and Game of Thrones – just to name a few).

One thing I found interesting about the Singapore Airlines’ business class seat is just how much storage space there is. There are two huge compartments between the seat and the window, and then plenty of storage space under the seat in front, and even a small storage compartment beside the television.

IMG_2245.jpg
Storage space in front of the seat

There is also a charging bay to the right of the entertainment monitor.

IMG_2228.jpg

It’s worth pointing out that there is a slight design flaw in the window business class seat, as a narrow gap exists between the seat and the side storage compartment. This gap is just big enough to lose a phone or magazine in, but not big enough to reach one’s hand into. Also, the seat runs all the way to the ground, so there’s no way to access the gap from under the seat. I realized just how inconvenient this was when I accidentally knocked my phone into the gap. After almost 20 minutes of futilely trying to retrieve it, I finally gave up and asked a flight attendant to help. Losing stuff between the seat and the window must be a common occurrence, because the flight attendant didn’t hesitate, he immediately grabbed a long metal pole (it’s possible it’s kept onboard just for this purpose) and came to my seat to help. After about 5 minutes of fishing between the seat and the window with the metal pole, he was able to retrieve the phone.

About 20 minutes after boarding, we pushed back from the gate. The captain then came on the PA to let us know that there were quite a few planes ahead of us, so we would be delayed by about a half hour.

There was a pre-wrapped blanket waiting in the storage space behind the seat. This was a good quality blanket that kept me warm throughout the flight. Upon boarding, I found the plane to be extremely cold, so I immediately unwrapped my blanket and settled in.

IMG_2188.jpg

As we taxied, it became apparent that we were going nowhere fast. I made it through almost three-quarters of a movie before the captain came back on to announce that there were “50 to 70 planes ahead of us” and that we had burned through quite a bit of fuel taxing. He said we needed to return to the gate to refuel, but due to congestion on the taxiway, it would take some time to turn around.

Our 8:55pm departure eventually became a 1:05am departure. Luckily, I managed to fall asleep while we were refueling at the gate, and I didn’t wake up until we were in the air over Canada.

The Flight

IMG_2195.jpg

I woke up just as the flight attendants were walking through the cabin with dessert. I had missed my pre-ordered shrimp and scallop dinner, and I no longer really felt like eating it. Instead, I had a scoop of Sticky Fig & Honeycomb Ice Cream with Cinnamon Peanuts.

IMG_2194.jpg

It was a bit too sweet for me, at least in my just-having-waken state. After eating my ice cream, I checked out the bathroom which was stocked with a few amenities (note that Singapore Airlines does not give out amenity kits in business class).

IMG_2272.jpg

There were also toothbrushes and shaving kits.

IMG_2274.jpg

The sink was operated with a modern sensor, which I find much nicer than the old push button sink faucets.

IMG_2273.jpg

I ended up watching a few episodes of Game of Thrones (they had the entire sixth season) and after a small continental breakfast, it was time to prepare for landing.

We touched down smoothly in Frankfurt at 2:46pm (a little over four hours late) and everyone disembarked. Business class passengers continuing on to Singapore were invited to use the Lufthansa business lounge near the gate. I was a bit disoriented when I got off the plane, and in my effort to find the business class lounge, I ended up walking to the complete opposite side of the terminal, before realizing my mistake and turning around.

I ultimately found the lounge, which was spacious but with limited food options. I ended up eating a banana and some soup. As we were in Germany, there were also sausage and beer choices:

IMG_2221.jpg
German sausage
IMG_2222.jpg
Beer on tap

After spending a bit of time in the lounge, it was time to re-board for the “long” portion of the flight. After already spending 12 hours on the plane due to the initial delay, I was not really looking forward to another 13 hours of flying, but at least I was in business class. . .

As we boarded the plane, we were given a fancy Singapore Airlines luggage tag and a note apologizing for the delay in New York.

IMG_2231.jpg

I found the crew on the second leg of the flight to be more attentive than the original crew. As I took my seat on the second leg of the trip, I was immediately offered a welcome drink – something that the New York City crew never offered. I asked for a glass of champagne and a water. The champagne was a Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve, and tasted pretty good to me.

IMG_2243.jpg

We had a great view of the plane’s reflection as we taxied in Frankfurt.

IMG_2257.jpg

It also served as a good reminder that there was another floor of passengers below us (something you forget when you’re actually on the flight).

Taxing was fast in Frankfurt, and after a long take-off roll, we were on our way.

After takeoff – the meal service began. I had pre-ordered the suckling pig, which I found okay, although I really enjoyed the green vegetables that came with the meal.

IMG_2288.jpg

After eating, I made my seat into a bed (a short video plays in business class after boarding – which shows you how to turn the seat into a bed, or you can ask a flight attendant for assistance). The bed is made by pulling down the seat back – similar to the backseat of a station wagon.

The bed includes a built-in mattress that I found quite comfortable. The one bad thing about the Singapore Airlines business class seat is that you can’t easily go from bed mode to seat mode. Doing so requires you to stand up and clear everything from the seat before changing its position. Unlike new business class products, you can’t simply push one button and move from seat mode to bed mode.

IMG_2199.jpg
Singapore Airlines business class bed

The place for your head is not huge, but with the pillows I found it okay.

IMG_2197.jpg

IMG_2198.jpg

I ended up spending most of the second flight in bed mode. You can also eat from the bed position, although it’s a bit tricky.

On the second flight, I watched Drive with Ryan Gosling. A movie I’ve seen before but still really enjoy. I then watched several more episodes of Game of Thrones and, in between, got a bit of sleep.

For breakfast, I had pre-ordered a wanton noodle soup. I’m not sure if I was just really hungry or what, but this was one of the best meals I’ve ever had on a plane.

IMG_2308.jpg

The noodles and wantons were delicious and the broth was piping hot and well flavored. It got me excited to be back in Singapore! Shortly after finishing breakfast, it was time to prepare for landing. We finally touched down in Singapore at 10:46am (about four hours late).

IMG_2335.jpg

Summary

Even in business class, this was a long and tiring trip. I feel sorry for anyone who had to suffer through in economy – although I’ve been there before. Overall, the food and service were good, the seat (and bed) was comfortable and there were plenty of entertainment options. It was definitely 70,000 KrisFlyer miles well spent.

Trip Report: Singapore to Washington DC (Flight 2: Tokyo to Toronto)

Flight 2 – Business Class:

  • Tokyo Narita to Toronto Canada
  • Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner
  • Operated by Air Canada

After disembarking from our ANA flight, we went through a short security line at Narita airport and then headed directly to the ANA lounge. After showing our onward boarding passes, we entered the lounge for some rest and food.

IMG_5786.jpg
Entrance to the ANA lounge at Tokyo, Narita
The lounge was relatively empty when we entered, but it quickly filled up. There were light food options and a decent choice of alcohol, including Japanese beer on tap. My favorite part of the ANA lounge was the small noodle bar where you could order ready made dishes. I had the Ramen noodles which were pretty good.

IMG_5774.jpg

IMG_5775.jpg
The noodle chef hard at work
IMG_5780.jpg
Ramen noodles
The lounge we visited also had a nice viewing area where we could watch planes landing and taking off.

IMG_5779.jpg
Bar area to sit and watch the planes
While we were there, we spotted this Star Wars themed plane taxing for take-off.

IMG_5782.jpg

About 20 minutes before our Air Canada flight was due to start boarding, we headed to our gate. The Boeing 787-900 Dreamliner we were on had three classes of service: business, premium economy and economy. We boarded and found our seats in the business class compartment.

IMG_5789.jpg
Business class
IMG_5793.jpg


Air Canada has a modern, reverse herringbone setup on the 787 that allows each passenger direct aisle access. Upon boarding, the seats were pre-stocked with a basic amenity kit, slippers, a warm blanket, a pillow and a bottle of water.After takeoff, the flight attendants passed out noise cancelling headphones which I used throughout the flight.


After I drank a glass of sparkling wine my cold began to get worse and I felt increasingly sick throughout the flight.  As a result, I wasn’t able to fully enjoy the primary benefit of business class: kicking back with your legs up and a cold glass of champagne, while contemplating ones own sense of superiority (a feeling enhanced with the knowledge that the untold masses are suffering in the back of the plane with overcrowded bathrooms, zero leg room, and crying babies). Instead I was just thankful that I had a warm place to spread out and rest during the long flight.

IMG_5810.jpg
A drink and warm cashews
My dinner on board the plane was good, but I didn’t eat very much. IMG_5811.jpg

Seafood entree


Similar to the ANA flight, the entertainment options onboard the flight were underwhelming. Although I enjoyed the large, modern touchscreen, I wish Air Canada would invest in a few more movie and TV options. I ended up watching Mrs. Doubtfire (a classic) and How to Be Single (not too bad). The entertainment system came with a cool little mini control / viewing iPad that you could also watch TV and movies on.  I did not really use this during the flight.

IMG_5796.jpg
Individual entertainment system
IMG_5795.jpg

 

The flight actually went by fairly quickly, as I was able to sleep for several hours. In almost no time, the flight attendants were coming around with breakfast and we were preparing to land in Toronto.

For the novice long-haul business class traveller, especially one using points, there is always that conflict and tension between getting a good night’s rest and staying awake as long as possible so one can partake, and “maximize”, all that business class has to offer (good alcohol, decent gourmet food, better entertainment systems, one’s own smug sense of superiority (as discussed above), etc.). As I was not feeling well, I was happy to be in business class so I could sleep in relative comfort. I think if I had been sitting in the back of the plane, the trip would have been near unbearable.

In the next blog post I will write about the Toronto airport, U.S. immigration (in Canada) and our return to lowly economy for the last leg of our trip to Washington D.C.

Trip Report: Singapore to Washington DC (Flight 1: SG to Tokyo)

Last week, Amy and I travelled back to the U.S. from Singapore. We used my entire balance of United MileagePlus frequent flyer miles, along with several thousand points transferred from my Chase Sapphire Preferred account, to book our business class flights. This is my trip report.

Flight 1 – Business Class: 

  • Singapore to Tokyo Narita
  • Boeing 777-300ER
  • Operated by ANA All Nippon Airways

The first leg of our trip departed from Singapore at 6:00am. ANA operates out of Terminal 2 at Singapore’s Changi airport. In my opinion, Terminal 2 is the most outdated terminal in Singapore’s otherwise modern and easily accessible airport.

While checking in at the ANA Business class counter, our taxi driver ran in to the airport to find us. We had overpaid by $10 and he was bringing us our change. I took this as a good sign: a favorable start to a long trip.

After checking in, we proceeded through Singapore immigration. Changi airport performs security scanning on an individual gate basis. In my opinion, this is far superior to the normal security process where all passengers are bottlenecked into the same long security line. However, I understand Changi’s New Terminal 4, which is currently under construction, will employ a traditional, airport-wide security process.

After passing through immigration, we proceeded to the KrisFlyer Business Class Lounge. As we were flying business class on a Star Alliance airline (which includes Singapore Airlines), we were entitled to use the Singapore lounge.

Entrance to the KrisFlyer lounges in Terminal 2

The business class lounge and the first class lounge are side by side in Terminal 2. We presented out boarding passes and entered the Business class side.


As it was still early, the lounge was fairly empty. A light buffet was available along with plenty of drink options, both coffees and alcoholic choices.

Business class lounge buffet
Self-serve bar at the lounge
Coffee machine
Plenty of available seating

Just in case, there were computer terminals and even booths to make private phone calls in.

Computer terminals
Phone booths

The food in the lounge was good but nothing amazing. We waited in the relative quiet of the lounge until about 30 minutes before our flight was due to depart. After quickly going through the gate’s security line (there was almost no one in line by the time we got there), we boarded the large 777 and found our seats.

I did not explore the back of the plane, but the business class section was almost completely empty.

lots of empty business class seats

The ANA 777 we were on offers a staggered 1-2-1 business class arrangement with direct aisle access for all seats.

For the aisle seats, every other seat is flush with the window, in my opinion these seats offer the most privacy as they are blocked from the aisle by the storage and tray table area.

business class seat flush with the window

The business class seats were adjustable into fully flat beds. When extended, I found the beds to offer more than enough space for sleeping comfortably.

After boarding I took my seat, 5F, and settled in. We were offered newspapers in Japanese and English and a welcome drink of orange juice, water or sparkling wine. The pre-flight drinks were served in plastic cups.

welcome drink in a plastic cup

We left the gate shortly after the doors closed and taxied for only a few minutes.

After a smooth takeoff, the seat belt sign was turned off and I explored the forward business class cabin.

Business class seat at boarding
View of the flight plan halfway through the trip

The individual screens for each passenger were large and easy to operate. However, I was a bit underwhelmed  by the entertainment options. Although there were approximately 32 “new releases” available, many of these were actually duplications of the same movie in different languages.

I like to watch breezy comedies on long flights, so I opted for the Robert De Niro and Zac Efron movie, Dirty Grandpa. Unfortunately, the movie was neither breezy nor funny. It was unquestionably the worst movie I’ve seen in a long time. In addition, there appeared to be issues of continuity regarding the feeble and predictable plot. I think this was due to ANA censoring certain aspects of the movie (i.e. sex and drugs), but it is also possible the movie was just poorly edited. Either way, I have no plans to re-watch it and find out.

 

Dinner onboard the flight

The flight attendants in business class were attentive and friendly. The food was okay but not exceptional – but I guess that is to be expected given that we were on a plane. The fruit was my favorite part of the meal above.

Japan from the air as we approached Narita

It was a beautiful day as we made our approach to Tokyo’s Narita.  Overall, the flight was relaxing and comfortable. It was especially enjoyable given how quiet business class was (I’m pretty sure I had a bathroom all to myself).  We were first off the plane (we passed a small first class compartment with a single passenger) and after clearing a short security line, we headed for the ANA lounge.

Trip Report: Singapore to Washington DC (Introduction)

A few months ago, Amy and I began to plan our trip home this summer. At the time, I was beginning to worry that future airline mile devaluations could further erode my Chase Ultimate Rewards point balance. Rather than continue to stockpile points (a depreciating and unpredictable asset), I thought it would be a good time to use some of our points to fly back home in (relative) comfort.

Through the Chase Sapphire web portal, it is possible to transfer miles to a large number of frequent flyer programs that operate from Singapore including United, Korean Air and Singapore Airlines.

In general, Singapore and Korean offer superior products. However, the United website is far easier to use and provides availability through several Star Alliance partner airlines. After searching all three websites I found a good flight on the United website with two business class seats available. Our one way itinerary was the following:

Flight 1 – Business Class:

  • Singapore to Tokyo Narita
  • Boeing 777-300ER
  • Operated by the Japanese carrier All Nippon Airways (ANA)

Flight 2 – Business Class:

  • Tokyo Narita to Toronto Canada
  • Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner
  • Operated by Air Canada

Flight 3 – Economy:

  • Toronto Canada to Washington DC (Dulles)
  • Bombardier CRJ-200
  • Operated by Air Canada Express – Air Georgian

We were able to book the above itinerary using a combination of existing United Miles and transferring Chase Ultimate Reward points to my United account. In all, the above itinerary cost 80,000 points for each ticket and approximately US$55.00.

If we had purchased the tickets instead of using miles, they would have cost anywhere from US$8,000 to US$10,000 for the pair.

Occasionally, there are some inconveniences with booking partner awards on the United website. In this case, we were able to pick our seats on the first leg of the itinerary (i.e., the flight operated by ANA) but not on the second and third legs (the Air Canada flights). Rather annoyingly, Air Canada does not allow travelers who purchase their tickets on partner airlines to pick their Air Canada seats until they check in for the flight.

I will write more about the flights in future posts, but I’ve included a few preliminary photos below. Unfortunately, I left Singapore just as I was coming down with a bit of a cold. So although the business class seats were fantastic, and far superior to the equivalent in Coach, I wasn’t able to fully enjoy the business class experience.

Our ANA 777 after landing in Tokyo

Our Air Canada 787-9 Dreamliner