Flight 5/15: Bangkok to Singapore

This post is part of the Ultimate Flight Marathon multi-part series, where I review each of the 15 flights I took during 3.5 weeks of intense traveling in the late spring of 2016.

Airline: Tigerair

Date: May 13, 2016

Type of plane: Airbus A320

Duration of the flight: 2 h and 25 mins

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General info: Tiger Airways, operating as Tigerair, is a no-frills airline and a subsidiary of Singapore Airlines. It operates flights to 40 destinations across Asia. Our flight was an evening flight from Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport to Singapore’s Changi, a.k.a. the best airport in the world. Above other things, Changi has some fish ponds, three movie theaters, a sunflower garden and even a butterfly garden (that we sadly didn’t get to visit).

What was special about this plane: It was your standard Airbus A320, but the layout was a bit different than what legacy carriers have. There were 180 economy seats instead of the usual 150, and no business class at all. The plane was new and clean, with comfy blue leather seats.

Highlight: There were a couple of Buddhist monks boarding the flight with us! I was surprised to see them flying, as I thought monks had to live a more modest earthly existence… then again, flying with low-fares airlines is pretty much the most modest way to travel nowadays anyway, as it’s often even cheaper than taking the bus.

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Bangkok’s main airport has some nice decorations.

What I would do differently next time: Tigerair doesn’t provide any entertainment on board – not even big shared screens. So I would make sure that my laptop battery was well charged instead of practically empty…

Food served: None was given for free (not even water), as is typical 0f no-frills carriers. Luckily we were not hungry at all, as we had just visited the Louis’ Tavern CIP First Class Lounge at Bangkok airport’s Concourse A that served pasta, puff pastries and cookies.

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Thanks for yet another lounge visit, Priority Pass!

Turbulence: None. Yay! I’m not a fan…

Price: We bought a one-way ticket from Bangkok to Perth through the Tigerair website, which included a 12-hour layover in Singapore. The price of this entire ticket was around $180 per person so about $90 per flight. This whole ticket could have maybe been been cheaper since we had to pay $20 extra for checked-in luggage that we didn’t even have. For some reason Tigerair’s website didn’t allow me to book the flight without luggage – maybe because our second flight was with Scoot Airlines and not Tiger? Who knows…

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Some parts of the Singapore airport are so pretty!

Miles earned: None, though I could have earned some Singapore Airlines’ KrisFlyer miles from this flight: Tigerair awards KrisFlyer miles to people who buy their Flexicombo fare. However, I didn’t think it was worth paying an extra 50 Singapore dollars (around $37) just so I could earn a measly 60 miles. Even if you get the Flexicombo fare and the miles, these Tigerair flights won’t count towards elite qualification. This means you can’t get silver or gold status with Singapore Airlines by flying one of these low-fares subsidiaries. As is mentioned in the terms and conditions, “Only KrisFlyer Elite miles earned on Singapore Airlines, SilkAir, Star Alliance partner airlines, Virgin Australia*, and Virgin Atlantic^ will count towards KrisFlyer Elite Silver and KrisFlyer Elite Gold membership.”

Overall experience: OK.

 

Flight 4/15: Tokyo to Bangkok

This post is part of the Ultimate Flight Marathon multi-part series, where I review each of the 15 flights I take during 3.5 weeks of intense traveling.

Airline: ANA, which stands for All Nippon Airways

Date: May 13, 2016

Type of plane: Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner

Duration of the flight: 6 hours

Delays: Nope

General info: ANA is the largest Japanese air carrier. When you enter or exit any of their aircrafts, they play this soothing boarding music that aviation blogger Ben Schlappig calls “the second classiest thing in the world.” The tune is really catchy and peaceful at the same time. You can listen to it here, but start from 01:50 as that’s where the music seemed to start onboard. Our flight was from Tokyo’s Haneda to Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport (I know – that’s probably the most difficult airport name in the world!).

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The business class was the usual size – not gigantic as in our earlier flight from NYC to Tokyo.

What was special about this plane: It was a fairly new-seeming Boeing Dreamliner. This was my first time flying a Dreamliner, as far as I can remember. It was definitely a pleasant experience. Dreamliners apparently have all sorts of extra benefits, such as having more cabin humidity which helps you avoid getting dry eyes or headaches.

Highlight: I managed to sleep for almost the entire flight! We were pretty exhausted after sleeping for just a few hours at a capsule hotel in Tokyo. Not that there was anything wrong with Kiba Hotel – that place was great and it was nice and cool inside the capsule. Instead it was the darn jet lag that awoke us after just a few hours of shut-eye. Well, at least it meant that I could visit the hotel jacuzzi early in the morning. And sleeping through a flight is always nice as it makes the time pass quicker.

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What I would do differently next time: As with the earlier ANA flight, the TV shows offered on the personal screen were pretty basic. It would be good to bring alternative entertainment options like books or downloaded TV shows (though I was happy to sleep).

Food served: We were only served one meal during the flight, which was lunch. Again we got a menu from which to choose: The Asian option was simmered freshwater eel with eggs, served over steamed rice,IMG_7710 and the Western fare was roasted chicken with basil flavor. I chose the chicken, though I had a bite of my boyfriend’s eel meal and that was clearly the better choice.

Turbulence: Just a tad.

Price: This flight was part of a super cheap flight deal to Thailand that I scored a while back through Secret Flying (my favorite website!). We basically got roundtrips from New York to Bangkok for $375, with stops in Tokyo both ways and Chicago on the way back. Strangely, this “roundtrip” finishes in Montreal instead of New York, so it’s actually a multi-destination ticket. Either way, it works well for us since Montreal has direct flights back to Guadeloupe.

Miles earned: This second section of the trip, Tokyo to Bangkok, netted us 1,425 airline miles with Air Canada’s AeroPlan program. I chose to bank the points to Air Canada as our tickets were in booking class K, which earns no airline miles at all on Singapore Airlines (my usual Star Alliance program of choice). Also, it would earn very few miles on United because United gives airline miles based on the price you paid instead of the distance flown. These types of revenue-based programs are no good when you fly long distances on discounted tickets (thus I don’t credit my flights to the programs of Delta, United and soon American Airlines).

Overall experience: Solid great ANA quality.

 

 

 

 

 

Flight 3/15: New York to Tokyo

This post is part of the Ultimate Flight Marathon multi-part series, where I review each of the 15 flights I take during 3.5 weeks of intense traveling.

Airline: ANA, which stands for All Nippon Airways

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It was a beautiful day at JFK –  it was almost a shame to fly out!

Date: May 11, 2016

Type of plane: Boeing 777-300ER

Duration of the flight: 13 hours, making it our single longest flight of this Ultimate Flight Marathon

Delays: We took off around 45 minutes later than planned, but were able to make up for it during the flight. So we landed only about 15 minutes behind schedule.

General info: ANA is the largest Japanese air carrier, which calls itself “The Inspiration of Japan.” When you enter the aircraft, they play this soothing boarding music that aviation blogger Ben Schlappig calls “the second classiest thing in the world.” The tune is really catchy and peaceful at the same time. You can listen to it here, but start from 01:50 as that’s where the music seemed to start onboard. Our flight was from New York’s JFK airport to Tokyo’s Narita.

What was special about this plane: The first and business class sections were huge compared to the economy! I guess there are a lot of business people traveling between New York and Tokyo, and less leisure travelers. Non-Asians were definitely a minority on this plane – there were only a few of us in economy. Most passengers seemed to be Japanese, and the announcements were always made in Japanese first.

Highlight: There was free wifi for 15 minutes! It’s available on all flights operated with B777-300ER or B767-300ER (202 seat configuration). You can buy access for about $20 for the duration of the whole flight.

Also, upon trying to recline my seat, I noticed something strange –the seat cushion that I was sitting on started moving forward while the seatback stayed put. This was monumental! It meant that reclining my seat didn’t bother the person behind me at all, and there was no risk of me breaking her laptop by reclining my seat too fast (nor of anyone doing that to my laptop, which is a constant concern for me on planes). The forward-moving cushion created a nice recline. The only thing was that I had a bit less space for my legs but it wasn’t a big change. I wish all airlines did this!

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Another highlight was flying over these snowy mountains of Northern Canada.

What I would do differently next time: Downloading some new episodes of TV shows onto my laptop could have been a good thing to do, as the in-flight TV entertainment options were pretty old. We had personal screens as is typical for long distance planes, but the pickings were slim: There was only one episode of Modern Family, which is my favorite show to watch while flying (in fact I’ve never seen it outside of a plane) and also only one of New Girl. And those episodes were from the first seasons of those shows! That’s pretty lame. There was also one ancient Friends episode. But at least the movies were more up to date – I watched Zoolander 2, which was crazy and hilarious.

Food served: Our plane left around noon, and soon after departure we were served rice crackers and drinks (including wine). About an hour later we were given a menu with two lunch options to choose from: grilled Spanish mackerel with miso paste, and beef and pork meatball with onion sauce.

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I ate my meal with chopsticks, and only realized later on that the fork and knife were hiding under all the other stuff on my tray.

As you can see, I chose the latter option and it was pretty yummy for airplane food. It was branded the “Western meal” and was served with bread unlike the other meal. But randomly the Western meal is the only one that came with a wasabi sauce pack. Everyone got a cup of Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream for dessert.

Right before landing we were served breakfast. The options were shrimp and baby scallop pasta with marinara sauce, and sautéed chicken with Chinese-style barbeque sauce. I took the chicken, which came with bread – indicating that this was the Western meal again. Well, I guess Chinese food is pretty standard in the West nowadays so that works. Haha. The taste was just okay.

Turbulence: Only minor. Already forgotten.

Price: This flight was part of a super cheap flight deal to Thailand that I scored a while back through Secret Flying (my favorite website!). We basically got a roundtrip from New York to Bangkok for $375, with stops in Tokyo both ways and Chicago on the way back. Strangely, this “roundtrip” finishes in Montreal instead of New York, so it’s actually an open jaw multi-destination ticket. Either way, it works well for us since Montreal has direct flights back to Guadeloupe.

Miles earned: This first section of the trip, New York to Tokyo, netted us 3,366 airline miles with Air Canada’s Aeroplan program. I chose to bank the points to Air Canada as our tickets were in booking class K, which earns no airline miles at all on Singapore Airlines’ Krisflyer (my usual Star Alliance program of choice). Also, it would earn very few miles on United’s MileagePlus because United gives airline miles based on the price you paid instead of the distance flown. These types of revenue-based programs are no good when you fly long distances on discounted tickets (thus I don’t credit my flights to the programs of Delta, United and soon American Airlines).

Overall experience: Awesome! I would happily fly ANA any time. The 13 hours went by in a relative breeze and off we went to enjoy our 20-hour layover in Tokyo.

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The Sensoji Temple area was our main sightseeing destination in Tokyo.

 

 

Flight 2/15: San Juan, Puerto Rico to New York

This post is part of the Ultimate Flight Marathon multi-part series, where I review each of the 15 flights I take during 3.5 weeks of intense traveling.

Airline: American Airlines

Date: May 7, 2016

Type of plane: Boeing 737-823

Duration of the flight: 4 hours

Delays: None

General info: As everyone knows, American Airlines is one of the three major legacy carriers of the United States. From my experience, many of their planes tend to be on the older side so things like personal screens are a luxury you shouldn’t expect to get. This flight landed at New York’s JFK. Being a thrifty traveler, I usually get to the city by taking the B15 bus to New Lots Avenue and by hopping on the 3 train from there. This way the airport trip costs just $2.75! The savings from the AirTrain might be just $5 at a time, but given how many times I do this airport trip every year, it all adds up. Also, taking the bus directly to the 3 train often ends up being the fastest option for me anyway.

What was special about this plane: Nothing really. It’s the basic Boeing that is used on tons of American Airlines flights around the United States. However, what was special before this flight was that I was all alone while clearing US immigration in Puerto Rico as I was the first to exit my plane from Guadeloupe and I guess no other planes had landed the same time. It was amazing not to have to stand in line for an hour, as is usual when entering the US via bigger airports (here’s looking at you, Miami!). However, I did encounter a slight delay after the customs guy asked me if I had any checked bags. When I answered no, he said I had been selected for a “random inspection” and had to step aside for a thorough bag check-up and questioning. How random can it be when I was the only person around? Haha. But somehow it seems unfair that I constantly get singled out because of traveling with only hand luggage.😦 So this inspection took another 5-10 minutes, but overall it was a very smooth airport transfer, and flight as well.

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It was such a pretty day to be flying over the Caribbean.

Highlight: It was a really beautiful day and the clouds were floating super high in the sky. This meant that we flew below them instead of above, and I had an unobstructed view of the flat-looking blue sea under us. It looked really pretty. It also made me feel a little weak in the knees to see how incredibly high we were. This is a sensation that I don’t get a lot, as I’m usually not afraid of heights.

What I would do differently next time: I would have earplugs handy. The TV screens in the middle of the plane started blasting at full volume at one point, and I was worried we would be subjected to this noise for the duration of the trip. Luckily the TV went back to silent after the annoying ads ended.

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There’s the communal TV, blasting as loud as ever during commercials.

Food served: We got a bag of the savory snack mix and a choice of a non-alcoholic beverage. Luckily I wasn’t hungry at all, as I had just visited the Global Lounge at the San Juan airport. I’m happy to report that Global Lounge’s food offerings have improved since my last visit in November! Instead of just cereal and crackers, this time they had actual ham and cheese sandwiches, veggies and dip, and even a yummy-looking fruit salad. Sadly looks can be deceiving: the fruits tasted old already, so I decided it was best not to finish the bowl I took.

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It looked good… but didn’t taste so fresh at all.

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The Global Lounge is one of my favorite lounges due to its simple but trendy decor.

 

Turbulence: At first the flight was super smooth, but then there was intense turbulence for 10 minutes. It made me think twice about undertaking this Ultimate Flight Project.:/ No matter how much I fly, I have yet to feel comfortable during turbulence.

Price: As I explained during my first flight review, this was the second flight of the two that made up my one-way ticket from Guadeloupe to NYC. The total price of this ticket was $220, which I covered by using Thank You points from Citibank.

Miles earned: 1,597 miles, deposited into the American Airlines AAdvantage program. These are the final days for me to utilize the American Airlines program though: I’m switching my miles-accruing over to the Alaska Airlines’ Mileage Plan soon. This is because in mid-June AA is changing their award program to be revenue-based (following in the footsteps of Delta and United). That doesn’t work well for people like myself who tend to fly long distances for fairly cheap fares. Under the new system I would only get 1,100 AA points for this trip that currently gives me 1,900 miles. On longer trips this difference in earned miles is even more striking. Boohoo!

Overall experience: It was OK.

Flight 1/15: Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe, to San Juan, Puerto Rico

As I promised, here starts my review series of the flights that make up the Ultimate Flight Marathon (i.e. my personal Amazing Race).

Airline: Seaborne Airlines

Date: May 7, 2016

Type of plane: Saab 340 TurboProp

Duration of the flight: 1.5 hours

Delays: We did leave about 10 minutes behind schedule, but it didn’t impact our arrival time. However, it was a bit nerve-wracking that boarding only started after we were supposed to have taken off already (as I knew I had a tight connection in San Juan).

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General info: Seaborne is a tiny Caribbean airline that partners with American Airlines and Jet Blue. Therefore your e-ticket may say American Airlines (as mine did) but rest assured – your aircraft will be much more exotic than “plane” ol’ American (pun intended). On the route from Guadeloupe to Puerto Rico, Seaborne operates a tiny 30-seater twin-engine propeller plane, Saab 340 TurboProp. It’s definitely not the most modern aircraft out there – Wikipedia tells me that the production of this plane type ended in 1998.

What was special about this plane: The overhead bins are so small that a regular carry-on suitcase won’t fit up there. Therefore the staff collected bigger carry-ons from people as they were stepping up to the aircraft, and stashed them in the plane’s luggage compartment. Folks got them back as soon as we landed in San Juan. Luckily my backpack was small enough to fit in the tiny space we were allotted. (Yay for packing light!)

Highlight: It was entertaining to watch the lone flight attendant, Julio, trying to play several roles simultaneously and to try not to hit his head onto the low roof.

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What I would do differently next time: The whole left side of the plane is made up of single seats, so everyone got a window seat – except for me! I managed to be assigned the only window seat onboard that didn’t have a window. Lame. So next time I’ll ask for a seat that is not 2A. I had to gawk over at my neighIMG_7446.jpgbor’s window to steal at least a small glimpse of the pretty islands of the Caribbean we flew over.

Food served: We got two bags of pretzels and a choice of mango/guava juice and water. Not shabby for such a short hop across the pond!

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Turbulence: In smaller planes you tend to feel every twist and turn. From that perspective the ride was exceptionally smooth. There was practically no shaking at all – just a tad at the landing time.

Price: This was the first flight of the two flights that made up my one-way ticket from Guadeloupe to NYC. The total price of this ticket would have been $220, but I paid it with the awesome Thank You points from Citibank. As long as you have the Citi Prestige credit card, these points offer great value if you are booking an American Airlines flight or a codeshare (which is what this one was). Yet another reason to love that card (getting access to airport lounges is another!). Of course I would have much rather taken one of the cheap and direct Norwegian Air flights from Gwada to NYC, but unfortunately those flights aren’t running again until November.

Miles earned: Not a whole lot – I earned just 331 miles, which I deposited into the American Airlines AAdvantage program.

Overall experience: Just OK.

The crazy, wacky Ultimate Flight Marathon

Happy May everyone!

As I write this, I’m about to embark on an epic journey – a dream trip to New Caledonia. Where exactly is that, you may wonder… Well, it’s a French island, or actually an archipelago, located in the Pacific Ocean. Geographically, it’s about as far from France as possible. It’s also pretty darn far from my home base of Guadeloupe and the Caribbean in general. But it’s only a couple of hours from Sydney, Australia, by plane.

The idea for this trip came from my French boyfriend. He visited New Caledonia 15 years ago and considers it the most beautiful place he has ever seen. We’ve wanted to take a trip there for a while already, and now it’s finally happening!

This is where the Ultimate Flight Marathon comes into the picture: to get from the Caribbean to New Caledonia’s capital of Noumea and back, we will be taking a total of 15 flights over the next 3.5 weeks. Yikes. This includes flights with 11 different airlines. The shortest flight is just 1.5 hours, and the longest one over 13 hours.

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This photo is from my home beach of La Datcha in Guadeloupe – I’m having a hard time believing that New Caledonia can beat this view! But let’s see.

To make this gargantuan air journey a bit more exciting, I decided to review each flight segment and airline on this blog as we move along. I will be commenting on things like on-time departure and arrival times, food served onboard, possible turbulence and other trouble, as well as my own state of mind after all that flying. This should help you decide if this type of an Ultimate Flight Marathon might also be your cup of tea. (Or it might encourage you to pay whatever is needed to get a direct flight to your destination instead!)

I’ll also make a note of the cost of each flight and tell you the airline miles earned and the airline programs I used. I may also talk about things we did during layovers, as well as the airport lounges on various airports (as I’m a happy owner of the Priority Pass lounge membership program due to my awesome Citi Prestige credit card).

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This is the Global Lounge in the airport of San Juan, Puerto Rico. It’s one of my favorite lounges as it’s so swanky and stylish! However, the food options are very basic, as is customary for American lounges.

In a way this project will be similar to Quality Hunters 2, a Finnair project I took part in back in 2011. During that project I had 13 flights over seven weeks – and I thought that was a lot! But now I’m setting off to break my own record with these 15 flights. Taking the duration of the trip into consideration, on average we will be taking one flight every two days between early May and June 2.

With 11 different airlines being a part of my Ultimate Flight Marathon, the chances are high that you will find your favorite airline mentioned among those (or alternatively you may learn more about an obscure airline you didn’t even know existed). The blog entries for this Ultimate Flight Marathon can thus serve as a helpful reference point to anyone contemplating flying some of the same segments or airlines in the future.

Here’s the route on the outward trip:

Guadeloupe – Puerto Rico – New York- Tokyo – Bangkok – Singapore – Perth – Sydney – New Caledonia

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And here’s how we’ll be coming back:

New Caledonia – Auckland – Sydney – Bangkok – Tokyo – Chicago – Montreal – Guadeloupe

Now, I know what you must be thinking: There is no way this is the most direct way from the Caribbean to the Pacific! And you are right – it’s most certainly not. The most direct way for us would have been Guadeloupe – San Juan/Miami- Los Angeles – Sydney – New Caledonia. But that’s also a really expensive way – about $2,500-$4,000 roundtrip.

By transiting through Asia and Australia and by making use of some great flight deals and utilizing a bit of frequent flier miles, we were able to get the total cost of this dream trip down to less than $1,000 per person. This way we will also be able to visit some old favorite cities of mine in Asia and Australia during our respective one-day layovers. I’m particularly looking forward to seeing how my Aussie home of Perth has changed since I lived there back in 2006! It will also be great to catch up with friends in various friends along the way.

(Note: You can even get to New Caledonia for a couple of hundred dollars, if you happen to have access to a stash of Air France miles. It costs just 60,000 miles and around $300 in taxes to fly to a roundtrip to Noumea from Los Angeles, and you’ll get to pass by Sydney too. However, award availability was scarce for our wanted dates, so we skipped this opportunity.)

Without further ado – welcome onboard the Ultimate Flight Marathon! Hope you stay tuned for updates on how the trip is progressing, and feel free to send any tips my way with regards to New Caledonia or any of the cities we’ll be visiting on the way!

 

Map of Guadeloupe

Are you wondering where each island is located in Guadeloupe?

Here’s a handy map of the “continent” of Gwada and all the outer islands that we drew for my e-book. As you see, Grande Terre and Basse Term form the wings of “the Butterfly Island.”

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If you are looking for a detailed offline map to download on your phone or tablet before your trip, check out the free maps at http://maps.me.