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I recently spent three days in Bonito, Brazil, a small city in Southwestern Brazil famous for its caves and rivers.

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There are two ways to get to Bonito:

  1. Fly twice weekly from Viracopos-Campinas (Sao Paulo area)
  2. Fly to Campo Grande and take a four hour bus

I flew into Bonito on Azul Airlines on a Sunday from Rio de Janeiro (via Viracopos-Campinas) and flew out the next Wednesday to Sao Paulo (Azul/Viracopos-Campinas/Free Azul Bus Trip Report Here). I thought a three day trip was perfect to see the highlights of the area.

Overall Bonito has the coolest caves I’ve ever seen and the best river snorkeling I’ve ever done, however the tours are run in an overly slow and expensive way.

The Tours

I did the #1, #2, and #3 things to do in Bonito according to Trip Advisor (if you ignore that #1 and #2 are the same thing.)

Rio da Prata

On Monday, I snorkeled the Rio da Prata. The tour cost 156 reais, the transportation was 60 reais (transportation is charged separately on all Bonito tours), and an option buffet lunch was 48 reais for a total cost of $76.

I was picked up at 8:30 AM from my hotel and driven about an hour and a half out of town in a minibus on which I was one of two non-Brazilians.

The tour guide spoke basically no English. I don’t mean he didn’t have the ability to speak English. He definitely did have the ability to get his point across in English when needed, but he wouldn’t try. He would say something in Portuguese, and that was it. This was a theme throughout my trip to Bonito (partly because I had the same guide Wednesday), and I found it very annoying. Not knowing what’s going on is frustrating, and I only got the basic idea in Portuguese most of the time (due to the similarity with Spanish, which I speak.) If Bonito wants to draw more foreign tourists, and it already draws enough that guides should be bilingual at least for the script of their tours, guides need to speak Portuguese and English on the tours.

We arrived at 10 AM and were given knee-length wetsuits and a snorkel. We were driven to the woods and walked another 20 minutes to the river.

We snorkeled about 25 minutes, walked a few minutes to another part of the river, snorkeled another 25 minutes until our branch hit a bigger river, and then could snorkel another 10 minutes or be driven in a boat the final stretch. I chose the boat because while the first 50 minutes were very cold, the last 10 minutes were unbearable.

I didn’t get any pictures of the snorkeling, but here is a google images search for the activity. As you can see, the snorkeling is amazing. I’ve never seen such a quantity of fish while snorkeling anywhere in the world, and the very clear water means great visibility. Other than the “dourado,” which I heard people repeating over and over, I am not sure which species I saw out there. Some people in my group spotted an alligator–hopefully a small one!

About 2 PM, we finally made it back to the lodge on the property where a buffet lunch was being served. It had a small salad bar, chicken, beef, rice, beans, potatoes, and a large dessert selection. It is a bit expensive for Brazil at 48 reais ($14), but otherwise unimpeachable. The food was being refreshed quickly and was delicious. During lunch, a torrential downpour started. I hadn’t brought a sweatshirt–a mistake I wouldn’t repeat–so I huddled near the foods’ warming trays for the next half hour.

At around 3:30, we left and headed to the nearby Buraco das Araras, which is a sinkhole where you can spot macaws. I learned about this additional stop on the Rio do Prata tour after booking. If you want to pay 68 reais ($19) extra, you can go on the 1.5 hour walk. Otherwise, you sit in a covered pavilion with a TV showing a Brazilian soap opera and a wifi network that doesn’t work. The compulsory combination of these two tours is supremely frustrating as I was in the half of the group that didn’t join in the second tour.

At about 6:30 PM, we were dropped back off at our hotels.

I would definitely recommend the Rio da Prata snorkeling, though you would be much better off with your own car. You could be back in town by 4 PM by skipping the macaws.

Abismo Anhumas

This was the highlight of the trip.

An abismo is a cave with the opening on top. In the Abismo Anhumas, the tiny opening leads to a large cavern below with a lake in which you can snorkel, scuba dive, and boat.

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First you rappel 72 meters down, and later you have to pull yourself up the 72 meters.

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This tour is very expensive and includes a lot of waiting around, but I still highly recommend it.

The tour costs 700 reais plus 60 more to rent a full body wetsuit and snorkel plus 35 more for transportation, $228 total. Any evening before the tour, you have to go to the tour company’s office in town to learn how to rappel and pull yourself up and then to the scuba company’s office to be fitted for a wetsuit.

On the day of the tour, I was picked up at 6 AM at my hostel for the 30 minute ride to the abismo. Of the six people in the van, three of us were non-Brazilians, but again we got almost no English. Luckily one of the Brazilians was a 17 year old who had learned English from watching TV and movies and happily translated for us.

We arrived at the abismo at 6:30 AM, and that’s when the waiting began. In the eight hours from pick up to drop off, there was an hour of travel, an hour of doing, and six hours of waiting.

First we waited to rappel down in pairs. The rappelling down was extremely fun, very scary (to look down over 220 feet!), and took about three minutes. The delays were caused by having to send down all the people and equipment on the same two pulleys.

Once we got down there, the eight tourists (two more had arrived via their own car) were split into two groups of four for a 20 minute boat ride around the small lake to examine the stalactites, stalagmites, and walls.

Then we got into our wetsuits and snorkels and had a 15 minute snorkel. The snorkeling is all about seeing the underwater rock formations, which are marvelous, because there are very few fish in the cave. You can also scuba dive in the cave if you are certified, and I am sure that is more fun and more expensive.

After the snorkel, we waited several hours–because I was in the last pair–for our turn to pull ourselves out of the cave, which took about 20 minutes.

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You will have quite a sense of accomplishment when you get to the top; it was exhausting, and something the 20 feet of practice a few nights before had not prepared me for!

While I got satisfaction out of pulling myself out of the cave, Abismo Anhumas needs a machine to pull people and things out to save time. According to an employee, they want one and are just waiting on the permit… for the last 15 years. Until they get that machine to pull you out, bring a good book on this tour. There is enough light at the bottom of the cave to read.

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As frustrating as one hour of doing in an eight hour day is, I would still recommend this tour. The rush of rappelling down into a cave, and the beauty of pulling yourself out as heavy rainstorm rages outside–but only a few drops get into the opening and make their way down to the bottom–are worth the wait.

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Here is a google image search for Abismo Anhumas.

Gruta do Lago Azul

On my last day, I did a half day tour to the Blue Lake Grotto that ended in plenty of time to catch my 4 PM flight.

This tour is only 45 reais plus 35 for transport or $23.

I was picked up at 8:30 AM at my hostel and returned by 12:30 PM. My guide from Monday was back to speak no English to a group that now included four foreigners. We drove 30 minutes to the gruta, which is literally next door to the Abismo Anhumas. We put on some helmets and walked a few minutes to the entrance. There are steps leading to the bottom of the cave. You check it out, take a few pics, and head back up.

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The cave is stunningly beautiful–the blue effect is caused by magnesium or something–remember, no English explanation–but the tour is frustrating.
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I was just in the cave region of Vietnam in January, and you mostly get yourself from cave to cave and walk in and out on your own schedule, which is quicker and more convenient than going in a tour bus. I assume Bonito has the tour bus system as a make-work plan for its citizens, but I’m sure the people of Bonito could do something more productive than turn a 1.5 hour activity (30 minutes at the cave and an hour roundtrip driving) into a 4 hour activity. (We sat around a lot before going in and after coming out of the cave. I have no idea why.)

All of my ranting about the pace of these tours leads to an obvious suggestion…

Renting a Car

There is a Localiza Rental Car agency in town that sends two people to the airport to meet planes. Renting a car is definitely the way to go if you drive stick and don’t mind dirt roads. (About 15 minutes each day were on paved roads, and the rest on dirt roads.)

With your own car, you’d save on the transport fee on the tours, and more importantly you’d save a ton of time. You could save 3+ hours on the Rio da Prata by leaving right after lunch instead of waiting around another 45 minutes then heading to the macaw tour for an hour and a half before coming home.

And you could combine Abismo Anhumas and Gruta do Lago Azul in one day. Get the earliest time at Abismo Anhumas and ask to be the first pair in your group to exit the cave. Then drive a few minutes to the gruta next door. (You do have to have a reserved time at the gruta, and the last one is 2 or 3 PM, but this is very doable, just set it up with a tour agency in advance.)

Before You Go/Getting In

If you land at Bonito Airport, you can make the 15 minute trip to town by bus for 25 reais ($7) or a taxi for 60 reais ($17). You must reserve your spot on the bus in advance. Any travel agency can reserve the spot on the bus.

I would recommend being in touch with a travel agency before you go to reserve your tours, especially the Abismo Anhumas during the high season (January, February, July, August) because it is limited to (I didn’t write this down) 15 or 35 people per day.

I stayed at the Papaya Hostel for 40 reais ($11) per night in a bunk in a dorm room. I recommend it. It had what you’d expect from a hostel (kitchen, lockers, high carb breakfast) plus a few extras like a small pool. The English owner was a very helpful island of English in an unrelenting sea of Portuguese. She corresponded with me at length before my stay to book my tours through their partner agency (as far as I can tell at the cheapest price possible.) And in person, she was happy to give restaurant recommendations, directions to the supermarket, and some bread and cheese for my breakfast the night before my 6 AM pick up. The hostel is fairly empty–seemed like 3-8 other guests per night–in the offseason, so don’t worry about a party hostel wrecking your sleep.

Food

I went to the #1 ranked restaurant on Tripadvisor, Zapi Zen, for dinner one night, mainly because our translator on the Abismo Anhumas tour was the son of the owner. It mostly has individual-sized pizzas for about $7. I ordered the Abismo Anhumas, which was eggplant and garlic.

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The pizza was quite good, certainly far better than the string of all-you-can-eat buffets that line the main street. Brazilians love all-you-can-eat places that charge $10, leave the food out all day, and use only the cheapest cuts of meat. I don’t.

The best of that bunch is Casarao on weekends when it has enough people to actually refresh its dishes frequently. The buffet plus a water was 43 reais ($12).

At the Palacio do Sorvete, you can get sorvete assado (grilled ice cream.) Why not, I thought?
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I’m really not sure what was happening. “Grilling” didn’t cause the ice cream to melt, and it wasn’t very special for 22 reais ($6.)

Bottom Line

Overall Bonito has the coolest caves I’ve ever seen and the best river snorkeling I’ve ever done, however the tours are run in an overly slow and expensive way.

You can do the area easily in three days, or two if you have your own car.

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $800 in American Airlines flights) after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the Citi Prestige® Card. Plus get a $250 Air Travel Credit each calendar year, free airport lounge access worldwide, and your fourth night free on hotel stays. Why I got the card.

8

“It is possible that because of the weather, your aircraft will not be able to land. In that case, we will put everyone on a bus to Campo Grande [Scott: five hours away] to spend the night in a hotel, and you will travel tomorrow.”

That bad news was given to me yesterday as I checked in for my third flight of the week on Azul Brazilian Airlines, so I wanted to share my experience with the airline, Viracopos/Campinas Airport (Sao Paulo’s third airport), and the airline’s free bus service.

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On Sunday, I flew from Rio de Janeiro to Bonito, Brazil with a short layover in Campinas. Yesterday, I flew back from Bonito to Campinas and took a bus into Sao Paulo to spend the weekend here.

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Buying the Ticket

As I explained in my spring/summer/fall travel plans for 2016, I bought the entire Azul itinerary for $318 on Azul’s website.

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Azul is not a member of any alliance, but it does have a partnership with United, so I could have used 25,000 United miles and about $20 instead.

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But that’s like getting less than 1.2 cents per United mile, which is terrible for a mile I value at 1.5 cents each.

The award option is good to keep in mind, though, when cash tickets are more expensive or for Azul’s international flights. Azul flies from Orlando and Fort Lauderdale to Viracopos-Campinas (VCP) with connections throughout Brazil.

Instead of burning United miles, I put my United MileagePlus number in during purchase, and I earned 0.75 United miles per mile flown for the ticket, which is 1,100 miles that I value at about $17.

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Check In

I couldn’t check in online, on the Azul app, or at an airport self-service kiosk. Maybe it’s because I’m a foreigner.

At Rio’s GIG airport, which I flew out of to get 50 minutes extra sleep (one hour later flight minus ten minutes extra driving compared to SDU early on a Sunday morning), the check in line moved quickly, and I had my boarding passes in 10 minutes.

I was worried about a human check in because my carry on is a bit overstuffed and has a pair of tennis shoes tied onto it, but agents didn’t bat an eye in Rio or Bonito, where they knew I’d be boarding a tiny plane.

Flights

Rio to Campinas was flown by an Embraer 195 with a 2-2 configuration in coach, the type of plane you’ve probably flown regionally in the United States. The plane was comfortable and modern and featured free live TV at every seat, including CNN International in English.

Even on a flight that is well under an hour in the air, there was still a drink service and free premium snacks served from a basket. If live TV, a snack basket, and the name Azul (Portuguese for “blue”) remind you of JetBlue that isn’t a coincidence. The Brazilian founder of JetBlue also founded Azul.

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JetBlue’s snack basket. Azul’s has different brands, but the same idea.

From Campinas to Bonito and back, I flew an ATR72.

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This small plane features rear door boarding.

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The cabin is also configured 2-2 but without the live TV at every seat.
Screen Shot 2016-05-12 at 5.04.38 PM The seats on this plane are quite cramped, but I could put up with in for the two hours in the air to Bonito.Screen Shot 2016-05-12 at 5.04.44 PM In fact, more than put up with it, I slept from boarding to touch down on the way and most of the time in the air on the way back. No need for Singapore First Class when I’m sleep deprived.

I can’t say much about the flight attendants. The only interaction I had with them was to order drinks and pick out of the snack basket, all of which I did in Poruguese (or at least Portuñol). I’d have to guess that their English isn’t that great, but that they can manage service in English. (I’m basing this guess on the low level of English generally in Brazil, even among tourist-facing jobs, and the fact that Azul’s inflight magazine is not bilingual, which is the first time I’ve seen an airline magazine entirely in a language other than English.)

Campinas Airport and Free Bus Service

Sao Paulo has three airports.

  • GRU- The international airport with some domestic flights, 32 minutes without traffic from downtown and a little farther from the southern neighborhoods where you’re likely to stay
  • CGH- The domestic airport, 24 minutes without traffic from downtown and a little closer from the southern neighborhoods where you’re likely to stay
  • VCP- Viracopos/Campinas, 75 minutes without traffic from downtown

Viracopos/Campinas reminds me of the European airports that low-cost carriers fly in its distance from the city it serves. It ranks up there with such Ryanair classics as Stockholm–Skavsta and Paris-Beauvais.

All else equal, you’d like your flights to go to CGH, GRU, and VCP in that order, but all else was not equal. Azul has more flights into VCP than CGH or GRU, and it only serves Bonito, where I was, from VCP.

To make VCP less terrible, Azul offers free bus service from four places in the region to the airport and vice versa. You can find more information and the time table here.

The closest drop off point for me was Eldorado Shopping, which is about 10 minutes in car from Vila Madalena, where I booked an Airbnb. The buses run roughly hourly to each destination.

I landed at 7:16 PM last night at a remote stand. After taxiing, a bus to the terminal, and a long walk to baggage claim, I emerged from baggage claim and found signs like this.

Screen Shot 2016-05-12 at 5.04.51 PMAt 7:45 PM, I got to the bus ticket kiosk and told the employee I wanted a ticket to Eldorado. He asked for my boarding pass stub, and then he handed me one for the next available bus at 8:15 PM. He directed me out the door to the bus stop.Screen Shot 2016-05-12 at 5.05.00 PM
At about 8:11 PM, the bus pulled up that said Eldorado on the front. I gave my ticket to the driver and boarded. It was a large, nice coach bus with space in the cabin for carry ons and space in the hold for checked bags. We left right on time at 8:15 PM with only six passengers. We arrived 15 minutes early at 9:30 PM.

The bus system is seamless as long as your layover isn’t too long for the bus and traffic isn’t bad.

I would happily fly into VCP Airport again on Azul because of the bus service.

Connections at VCP

I had what about a 15 minute walk from the B to C terminal on my way to Bonito. I was hungry, and food options weren’t great. A few outlets of Casa do Pao de Queijo, an overpriced Subway, and a pizza place that I walked past but wish I had chosen.

Cancellation Scare

I haven’t had a cancellation in a long time. I haven’t even had a delay that caused me to miss a flight in I can’t remember how long–years at least. My luck continued yesterday.

Bonito Airport has only a two flights a week to Campinas during the offseason. If our inbound aircraft couldn’t land for weather, they would have bussed us five hours to Campo Grande for flights the next day. If that had happened, I would have asked for a flight to CGH airport (the closest to where I was staying in Vila Madalena), a refund of my $318 ticket, and a refund of one night of my Airbnb stay, but who knows what I would have gotten.

Luckily the plane landed just a few minutes late, and we boarded and took off in time for an early landing in Campinas.

I am not even sure what the possible weather problem was. It was a windless day with no thunderstorms. It was cloudy and rainy, but it never crossed my mind the weather might be a problem until told at check in.

Bottom Line

Fly Azul without hesitation either on a cash ticket or one booked with United miles. If you like JetBlue, you’ll like Azul.

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $800 in American Airlines flights) after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the Citi Prestige® Card. Plus get a $250 Air Travel Credit each calendar year, free airport lounge access worldwide, and your fourth night free on hotel stays. Why I got the card.

8

Copa 362 & Copa 117
Los Angeles (LAX) – Panama City (PTY), Panama City (PTY– Santiago, Chile (SCL)
Depart LAX: 9:08 PM on January 29, 2016
Arrive PTY: 6:37 AM
Depart PTY: 12:29 PM
Arrive SCL: 8:52 PM on January 30
Duration: 12 hours, 52 minutes total flying
Aircraft: Boeing 737
Seat: 1A (Business Class)

I spent over a month in Hawaii, Japan, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, India, and Los Angeles over the holidays, but in late January I flew back to Southern South America, my winter (summer here) home.

I flew from Los Angeles to Santiago, Chile in Copa Business Class on an award I booked for 35,000 Asiana miles plus taxes.

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Copa Business Class is not a fancy flat bed, and the food and service are far below international standards. I’m writing this trip report because Copa offers so much award space that you can easily book to Central or South America with any Star Alliance miles, including most easily with United miles and most cheaply with Asiana miles.

Los Angeles Ground Experience

Copa Airlines flies out of Terminal 6 in Los Angeles, not the Tom Bradley International Terminal. I arrived at 5:30 PM for my 9:08 PM flight, and a sign at the check in counter announced that check in would begin at 6 PM. It actually began at 5:56 PM, so good work beating expectations.

I checked in, caught an Uber to a nearby mall to get some last second shopping in at cheap American prices, and made it back to the airport by 7:45 PM.

When I cleared security, I headed for the Alaska Airlines Board Room lounge. I don’t believe flying Copa Business Class out of Los Angeles offers any lounge access, which is an anomaly. Usually flying international Business Class–even on award tickets–gets you lounge access throughout the journey. But in this case, there is no Copa lounge at LAX and no partners that fly out of Terminal 6.

Luckily my Citi Prestige® Card comes with free Priority Pass membership among many other benefits, and Priority Pass members get free access to the Alaska Airlines Board Rooms among hundreds of other lounges.

The Alaska Airlines Board Room at LAX is fairly typical for an American airline. It has a bar with some free drinks…

Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 2.25.24 PM…and a small spread of free food including cheese, salad…Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 2.25.28 PMfresh fruit, soup, crackers, pretzels…Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 2.25.37 PM…and a self-serve pancake machine.

Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 2.25.54 PMThe food is suitable for a snack, but not a meal.
Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 2.25.45 PMThe lounge was fairly crowded in the evening.Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 2.25.50 PM

After half an hour, I headed to the gate, arriving thirty minutes before departure. Boarding was underway, and there was no separate line for Business Class, so I was stuck in line for a bit.

Copa Airlines Business Class Flight Experience

Copa Airlines Business Class is very similar to domestic First Class on American airlines. Large recliner seats are arranged 2-2 across a single aisle with four total rows. Pitch is 38″, just like in domestic First Class, which is about seven extra inches of leg room compared to economy.

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I had window seat 1A on both flights, which both featured full cabins. Each seat had a small pillow and blanket.

Both flights offered a pre-departure beverage and a menu.

On the first flight, I fell asleep immediately after take off with a small assist from melatonin and a big assist from jet lag. (I had flown in from India two days before in Etihad A380 First Class.)

I woke up during the breakfast service, but sat motionless with my eyes closed until late in the descent into Panama City.

While Copa Business Class is not nearly as good for sleeping as Business or First Classes that offer a bed, it is good enough when I am exhausted. I imagine I slept considerably better than I would have in economy where I might have been too squeezed in to get any rest.

Here is a picture of how much leg room someone 6’4″ has in a bulkhead seat in Copa Business Class.

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After a six hour layover (review of that in the next section), I boarded my flight to Santiago. This boarding area did have a Premier Access lane, so I was able to skip the line.

Immediately after take off, the meal service started with a drink and mixed nuts.

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This was followed by salad, a warm roll, and ceviche.
Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 2.23.30 PMFor the main course, I ordered steak, which was served with risotto and carrots.

Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 2.23.12 PMFor dessert, I had a sundae, which came with individual containers of chocolate and strawberry.

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The meal was basically plane food that would be acceptable in economy, but not up to the standards of international Business Class or a restaurant. The steak was tough and chewy, although the carrots and risotto were much better. You cannot mess up a sundae, so all smart airlines should serve it in the premium cabins.

Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 2.24.13 PMAfter the meal, I napped another three hours.

When I woke up, I finally checked out the entertainment options. A small screen comes out of the arm rest. There was a small and typical selection of TV shows and movies. Most Copa flights are 3-7 hours, so there isn’t need for much more.
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I never had use for the power outlets, but all Business Class seats have them.

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We landed on time with beautiful views of Chile on the descent.

Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 2.24.18 PMJust before landing, a flight attendant came around and thanked each passenger for flying.

Ground Experience in Panama City

If you fly Copa Business Class, you get access to the Copa Club in Panama City. It is crowded and dinky. The food selection is basically chips, fruit, cheese, and crackers.
Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 2.24.38 PMThe bar is a bit better.

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The seating areas were fairly full all morning.
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The lounge has a small Business Center.

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It also features showers you can reserve at the check in desk.

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Bottom Line

Copa Business Class is like flying domestic First Class or international Premium Economy. It’s about halfway between economy and a true international Business Class. I managed to sleep about three-quarters of my two flights.

You get enough leg room and free food and drinks. You get lounge access most places. But you don’t get a bed, good food, or personalized service.

You should definitely book United, Air Canada, or Avianca Business Class to South America when that space is available instead of Copa space.

But Copa space is widely available as a back up plan, and for 35,000 Asiana miles one way, it’s a much better deal than booking economy to South America for 30,000 United miles one way.

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $800 in American Airlines flights) after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the Citi Prestige® Card. Plus get a $250 Air Travel Credit each calendar year, free airport lounge access worldwide, and your fourth night free on hotel stays. Why I got the card.

3

Here is a video I filmed in January inside the Etihad A380 shower that you can access if you fly in a First Class Apartment:

It is part of a series of trip reports on the flight:

Throughout the video, I compare it to showering in First Class on an Emirates A380. Here’s a video of that:

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $800 in American Airlines flights) after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the Citi Prestige® Card. Plus get a $250 Air Travel Credit each calendar year, free airport lounge access worldwide, and your fourth night free on hotel stays. Why I got the card.

1

Etihad 271
Chennai (MAA) – Abu Dhabi (AUH)
Depart: 9:25 PM on January 26, 2016
Arrive: 12:15 AM on January 27, 2016
Duration: 4 hours, 20 minutes
Aircraft: Airbus A321
Seat: 1F (Business Class)

I arrived at Chennai International Airport at 6:30 PM about three hours before my flight to Abu Dhabi, and promptly had trouble getting in the building. You have to show a soldier your boarding pass or itinerary to be let into the airport. After a minute, I was able to pull up my itinerary on the American Airlines app to be let in.

The check in lines were long. I was third up in the Business Class line, and it took me over 20 minutes to be checked in because of some problem with a passenger in front of me. I might have been better off in the much longer economy line.

Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 10.24.27 AMThis is a flaw in the Etihad check in procedures. Instead of one agent assigned to the Business Class line, all (or at least several) agents should pull customers from the Business Class line before the economy line.

Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 10.24.33 AM
My view for 20 minutes while another Business Class passenger’s check in was sorted

Once I got in front of the agent, I was checked in within two minutes and handed boarding passes to Abu Dhabi, New York, and Los Angeles plus a lounge invitation for Chennai.

Travel Club Lounge, Chennai

In Chennai, Etihad Business Class passengers have access to the Travel Club along with pretty much anyone else flying Business Class on a Middle Eastern airline or who has Priority Pass or many credit cards. That means I could have gotten in for free no matter which airline I was flying with my Priority Pass membership that is included with my Citi Prestige® Card. (More details on the Citi Prestige’s lounge benefits here.)

Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 10.27.30 AMAs a general rule, the more people that can access a lounge, the more meager its offerings will be, but this lounge’s offerings were middling-to-solid. You could definitely get a full meal and drinks, though the lounge was hardly elegant or luxurious.

The buffet consisted of sandwiches, chips…
Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 10.24.38 AM …toast, muffins…Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 10.24.43 AM …and a selection of hot Indian food.Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 10.24.49 AM I love Indian food, so I was ecstatic with the options, both vegetarian…Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 10.25.58 AMScreen Shot 2016-01-30 at 10.26.11 AM Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 10.26.17 AM …and non-vegetarian.

Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 10.26.06 AM

For drinks, there was a standard selection of water, juices, and sodas.

Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 10.26.28 AMI can’t comment on the ordinary alcohol selection because I happened to be traveling on India’s Republic Day, which a sign at the lounge’s reception noted is a dry day.Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 10.27.37 AM

The Chicken Varutha Curry, Aloo Gobi, and Mix Veg Curry were delicious. I scarfed down a few plates in the dining section of the lounge.
Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 10.26.23 AM Then I moved to the section of the lounge without dining tables to catch up on emails and download some shows for my flights. The wifi was fine for the former, but download speeds were slow.

I lost track of time and ended up having to run to the plane. The lounge is in a very inconvenient location–near gate 11–on the opposite side of the airport from Etihad flights–gate 18.

The Flight

I was one of the last people to board, and the last Business Class passenger. I went to my assigned seat 4A in the last row.Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 10.27.06 AM

Already at the seat were a pillow, blanket, menu, socks, headphones, and eye shade.

Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 10.29.20 AMScreen Shot 2016-01-30 at 10.29.24 AM

I was offered a pre-departure beverage from a tray of water, orange juice, and champagne and selected a water.Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 10.27.14 AMFlight attendants also offered a selection of newspapers and magazines before the flight.

Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 10.28.58 AM

Right before take off, I asked if I could move to the first row because 1D and 1F were both empty. When the flight attendant confirmed that they would remain empty, he told me I could move.
Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 10.27.20 AMIn general Etihad Business Class on the A321 has a lot of leg room. While the seat is similar to domestic First Class on an American airline, you have about 11 extra inches of legroom. If anything, the bulkhead probably has a little less legroom, but it has plenty for my 6’4″ frame.
Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 10.27.25 AMThe last order of business before take off was to take dinner orders. I went with the chicken.
Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 10.28.20 AM Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 10.28.31 AM Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 10.28.43 AM Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 10.28.48 AM Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 10.28.53 AM
We pushed back three minutes early and were quickly in the air. Dinner service commenced rapidly. Twenty-three minutes after take off, I had this tray in front of me.
Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 10.29.32 AM The chicken dish was exemplary. I also really enjoyed the olive oil and balsamic vinagrette combination with the personal bread basket.Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 10.29.39 AMAfter dinner, I reclined the seat to watch a movie.

Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 10.29.14 AMEtihad has a wide selection of movies available on a touch screen that pops out of your armrest.
Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 10.29.44 AM The four hours in the air passed quickly between movies and reading.Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 10.30.30 AM Shortly before landing, flight attendants passed out individual cards with our connecting information, a nice touch.Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 10.30.38 AM

We landed a few minutes early and taxied to a remote stand. There was a bus exclusively for the 14 Business Class passengers, so we got to the terminal quickly where we had to clear security before I could head to the lounge.

Overall

For a mid-haul flight, Etihad Business Class offers a very nice product. While not a flat bed, you get a seat with generous recline and a ton of leg room. The entertainment offering is varied, and the food is very good.

I did think that the pillow worked better in theory than in practice. It is a nice, medium-sized pillow. I probably would have loved it on a lie flat bed. However, when reclined on a seat, it was a bit too thick for my taste, so I mostly didn’t use it.

The flight attendants were quick and friendly.

Etihad Business Class was a nice way to get to Abu Dhabi for the main event–Etihad First Class on an A380–but I wouldn’t pay much a premium to fly it on short flights.

------------------------------------------------------------

Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $800 in American Airlines flights) after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the Citi Prestige® Card. Plus get a $250 Air Travel Credit each calendar year, free airport lounge access worldwide, and your fourth night free on hotel stays. Why I got the card.

I have broken my 15 hour flight from Abu Dhabi to New York into four parts because I had over 200 photos and several videos from the flight. This section covers roughly the first half of the flight and my review of the suite and related amenities.

On the Etihad A380 in First Class, there is a ton of food and a dedicated chef. You can eat as much of the food as you’d like, prepared to your specifications, whenever you want.

Similarly, there is enough booze to send an entire frat to the emergency room, and you can drink as much as you’d like whenever you want.

When I was escorted to my suite upon boarding (see that beauty here), I was asked if I’d like a drink. I ordered champagne, and Bollinger 2005 was poured at my seat.

Screen Shot 2016-02-23 at 4.39.29 PM Screen Shot 2016-02-23 at 4.39.39 PM Screen Shot 2016-02-23 at 4.39.54 PM

The champagne was served with dates and a hot towel.

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.26.57 PMBefore take off, I was given the food and beverage menus.

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.26.39 PM

The food menu had some appetizers and entrees listed; some proteins, sides, and sauces listed for you to mix-and-match for yourself; and snacks, desserts, and breakfast options.

Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 2.24.03 PM Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 2.24.08 PM Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 2.24.12 PM Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 2.24.16 PM Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 2.24.20 PM The drinks menu had 11 wines listed plus beers, spirits, cocktails, mocktails, and soft drinks.Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 2.24.34 PM Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 2.24.38 PM Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 2.24.45 PM Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 2.24.49 PM

I was stuffed from the lounge (report here) and my previous flight and exhausted since we took off at 4:27 AM, so I didn’t order anything else before take off.

When I woke up, the flight was more than halfway done, so I was ready to start taking advantage of the elaborate offerings.
Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.31.46 PM I had a mimosa and water brought to me while I contemplated my order.Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.31.56 PMAfter careful consideration, I went with the Arabic mezze to start, followed by the tenderloin served with vegetables, mashed potatoes, and roasted new potatoes.

I asked about breakfast in bed, and the flight attendant told me that while it was possible he didn’t recommend it because the tray was so small that my order wouldn’t comfortably fit on it. Instead, I dined at the large table in front of my seat while I watched live BBC.
Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.32.08 PMA fennel terracotta was served as an amuse bouche.
Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.32.13 PM It amused my bouche. but I was ready for the main event, which I had paired with a Heineken, Chivas 18 on the rocks, and a water.Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.32.18 PM Next came the Arabic mezze, which had a variety of delicious bites. I really liked the hummus and ate all of it before the flight attendant realized he had forgotten to serve the mezze with pita.Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.32.22 PMEverything about the meal service is personalized, and the flight attendant was coming past my seat every few minutes to clear my plate and bring the next course. The third course was a very tasty three bites of orange sorbet to clear the palate.
Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.32.40 PMFinally I got to the main course.
Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.32.51 PMThe steak was cooked to my specification–medium–which is unusual for a flight. The highlight was the oven roasted potatoes, which tasted even better bathed in the jus with which I had ordered my steak.
Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.32.57 PM Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.33.10 PM Finally for dessert, I selected the chef’s special–a take on tiramisu, which was creamy and decadent.Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.33.15 PM I don’t know where my head was, probably floating along somewhere with the Chivas 18, but I didn’t order any cheeses after the meal, which is often my favorite course. By the way, my take on Chivas 18 is that it tastes better and smoother than other whiskeys I’ve tried, but it doesn’t taste good. I couldn’t imagine just sitting around and sipping it for its taste. I imagine it is an acquired taste, and I don’t plan on acquiring.

As the flight continued, I read, watched movies and TV, and used the inflight internet, which was fast enough to watch ESPN highlight videos for the steep price of $22 for the flight.

As I did all those things, I ordered more drinks. I had a Bloody Mary…

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.33.20 PM…a glass of rosé…

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.34.09 PM…and a scredwriver with a splash of lemon-lime juice. All the drinks tasted great and were promptly served.

Other than my shower and a quick look at the onboard lounge, I stayed in my suite the whole time. The onboard lounge directly behind the first class cabin has two couches, a small table, and some alcohol displayed.

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.33.26 PMScreen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.33.31 PM

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.28.54 PM

It doesn’t have the atmosphere or appeal of the bar on the Emirates A380. While I spend the majority of Emirates flights at the bar, I only spent 15 minutes here, and I think it was deserted through most of the flight.

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.34.47 PM Two hours before take off, I decided to have a snack. I ordered the Etihad steak sandwich and french fries, to be served to me in bed while I watched TV. The flight attendant promptly brought me a small tray with the sandwich and potato chips. He explained that there had been a miscommunication about my french fries, and that they were already cooking.Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.33.57 PM The fries were served a few minutes later.Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.34.02 PMThe steak sandwich is really quite delicious, and I recommend it as a snack after you’ve had the full meal experience.

Bottom Line

The food and beverage selection and execution in Etihad First Class is superb, the equivalent of a nice, free restaurant on the ground. (Where are those?)

Shout out to Chef Dash for making it happen!
Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.34.56 PM

In May 2015, I booked my suite for 90,000 American Airlines miles + $39 (including Business Class from India to Abu Dhabi and American Airlines First Class from New York to Los Angeles.). The same award will cost 115,000 miles if booked March 22, 2016 or later. If you can book by March 21, you can lock in the current price for travel through February 2017.

Some credit card offers in this post have expired, but they might come back. If they do they will appear –> Click here for the top current credit card sign up bonuses.

Both the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard® and CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World MasterCard®, which are each offering 50,000 bonus American Airlines miles after $3,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months the account is open.

Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 6.44.51 PMScreen Shot 2015-11-09 at 3.59.13 PM

Get both cards and meet the $6,000 total spending requirement in the next three months to have over 106,000 American Airlines miles.

Key Links:

  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard®
  • CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World MasterCard®
------------------------------------------------------------

Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $800 in American Airlines flights) after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the Citi Prestige® Card. Plus get a $250 Air Travel Credit each calendar year, free airport lounge access worldwide, and your fourth night free on hotel stays. Why I got the card.

I landed in Abu Dhabi at 12:30 AM from Chennai, about three hours before my scheduled departure to New York of 3:20 AM. I was excited to spend time in the Etihad Premium Lounge, though I didn’t know how I’d fit everything in since my boarding pass listed a boarding time of 1:50 AM.

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.19.39 PM For now, First Class and Business Class (even Residence) passengers all share the Etihad Premium Lounge. A new lounge for First Class and Residence passengers is scheduled to open in May. First Class passengers have a special section that is roped off, which is where I set my bags to have a look around.

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.23.09 PMAt the back of the First Class area is another roped off private room for the Residence passengers, which was empty.

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.23.03 PM

The lounge is fairly large with several buffet stations that mostly repeat each other. In the back of the lounge are a salon and a spa.

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.20.22 PM

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.20.10 PMEach offer a free service to First Class passengers.

At the salon, the options are an “Express Clipper Cut,” “Express Wet Shave,” and “Express Beard Trim and Tidy.” I love a true wet shave and hadn’t had a proper shave in about two years, so I scheduled one for 1 AM.
Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.19.46 PM Then I went next door to the spa where there were five options for free 15 minute massages: back, foot, hand, “The Hedonist,” and “The Realignment.” Plus there two facial options. In retrospect, I should have gotten my first facial, but I scheduled “The Hedonist” instead for 1:40 AM. If I had been even a few minutes later, I wouldn’t have been able to squeeze a massage in before my flight because the spots book up quickly.Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.20.16 PM

Buffets

I had about 15 minutes to kill before my shave, so I took a look around. The buffets have a wide range of Western and Eastern foods. Here’s just a small sample of what was available.Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.21.35 PM Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.21.44 PM Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.21.50 PM Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.21.56 PM Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.22.01 PM a Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.22.27 PM Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.22.33 PM Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.22.37 PM Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.22.46 PMThe buffets were spread out in the lounge among the many seating areas, which had a variety of possible seats and were all relatively full.

Seating Areas

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.22.06 PMScreen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.22.15 PMScreen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.22.22 PMScreen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.22.52 PM

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.23.50 PMScreen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.24.00 PMScreen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.24.05 PMScreen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.24.11 PM

First Class Menu & Secret Menu

A few of the food options intrigued, but I wanted to see if First Class passengers had other options, so I held off on food for the moment. and went back to the First Class section. A waiter appeared with a menu, which read as follows:Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.22.57 PM I immediately recognized all of the items from the various buffets, which was a bit of a letdown. When I asked, “Oh so it’s basically the stuff from the buffet, but you bring us the plate?,” he said, “Yes, but there is also a secret menu for First Class.”

The “secret” menu is unwritten, but he offered me steak, shrimp, and chicken curry.

When I selected the filet medium, he offered several possible sauces and sides, and I went with mushroom sauce and mashed potatoes. He also listed the fresh juices, and I selected orange. I asked him to bring the steak at 1:15 AM, since that’s when my shave was scheduled to end, and I headed back to the salon.

The Shave

I really enjoyed the shave! I was sporting several weeks of growth, so it was a tall order, but the barber was up to the task. The salon area had two chairs and two friendly and skilled barbers who were working nonstop on appointment after appointment.

Fifteen minutes after this…

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.23.14 PM …I looked five years younger. (Booo! Good thing it grew back in a few days.) :)Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.23.27 PM

Midnight Snack

When the shave wrapped up, I headed back the First Class section, and when the waiter saw me, he brought my meal right out. Overall the waiter was excellent and very solicitous. “Can I bring you some bread? Another drink? Dessert?” etc. He was really trying to give away the free food.Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.23.35 PM I supplemented my steak with a plate of mashed potatoes, chili, and jalapeños from the buffet.Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.23.40 PM Both plates were excellent, though skipping food entirely is also a reasonable choice since the onboard food is amazing as well. After my midnight snack, I headed to the spa for my massage.

Massage

“The Hedonist” is designed to “release headaches and stress, and induce relaxation with a gentle massage of pressure points.” All of that appealed to me, since I planned on sleeping as soon as I boarded. (And that is what happened.)
Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.23.46 PM For the massage, I laid on the table, and the masseuse stood near my head. She massaged head, face, neck, and shoulders. It was a fantastic massage that I wish had lasted a full hour like the free massage you get when flying Thai Airways First Class out of Bangkok, but beggars can’t be choosers.

The massage ended at 1:55 AM, 85 minutes before my flight, but five minutes after the boarding time listed on my boarding pass. By this point, the lounge had emptied out considerably, and I headed straight to the boarding gate.

U.S. Preclearance

Abu Dhabi has U.S. Preclearance, which means United States Customs and Border Patrol performs immigration, customs, and agriculture inspections in Abu Dhabi, and you arrive in the United States as if you were a domestic passenger.

In theory, I’m sure this is great for a lot of people. I have Global Entry, though, and I would have spent a lot less time in U.S. customs and immigrations had preclearance not existed. Here’s the process.

Step 1: Get in the Premium Boarding Line to have your passport and boarding pass checked. I’m sure having a separate line is useful a little bit earlier, but by the time I arrived both lines were deserted.

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.24.16 PM

Step 2: Wait, wait, wait. Apparently when I got there, immigration was so backed up that they had us wait in a holding area before going any further. I was able to access free wifi here, so the 35 minutes sitting down was no big deal. A huge crowd had assembled by 2:36 AM when Etihad representatives began allowing First and Business Class passengers to proceed.

Step 3: Security, which was my third security screening for only two flights. (Pre-Chennai flight, upon landing in Abu Dhabi, and pre-Abu Dhabi flight.)

Step 4: U.S. immigration, which did have Global Entry machines. Good thing I have that because there were still a lot of people in the regular lines.

Step 5: U.S. customs, which is a breeze if you have Global Entry.

Until going through preclearance, I wasn’t sure whether there were Global Entry machines in Abu Dhabi. Now that I know that there are, I would have asked Etihad personnel if I could go through instead of waiting 35 minutes before security, since I had Global Entry. Test out their response and share it in the comments if you get a chance.

Because you are requested to start this process 90 minutes before your flight, you might finish with a lot of time before boarding. For that reason, Etihad has a U.S. Premium Lounge by the gates for flights to the United States.

U.S. Premium Lounge, Abu Dhabi

By the time I arrived, my flight’s boarding was already underway, so I just popped in for some photos. It was a smaller version of the main Etihad Premium Lounge with a limited selection of the same food and drink options.Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.24.22 PM Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.24.28 PM Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.24.38 PM Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.24.43 PM Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.24.48 PM

Boarding

Finally at 2:51 AM, I boarded the plane while Group 2 was boarding, only 29 minutes before the scheduled departure. (We ended up not pushing back until 4:07 AM. No reason was given on board, which would have annoyed me if I were in economy, but I was thrilled to get extra time in First Class. I assume the delay was for people passing customs and immigration.)Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.25.00 PM

Continue reading about the flight itself here.

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.29.44 PM

Bottom Line & How to Access the Etihad Premium Lounge

Etihad’s ground services stand out the free 15 minute shave or hair cut and the free 15 minute massage for First Class passengers. The food options are very good, but a half step below some other world class lounges. Overall I preferred the Thai Airways First Class lounge in Bangkok and Emirates First Class Lounge in Dubai.

The rest of the ground experience in Abu Dhabi is annoying–having to clear customs and immigration and sit around for 35 minutes greatly took away from my lounge time. This was partially, but not completely, made up for by the smooth arrival as a domestic passenger in New York.

Business and First Class passengers can access the Etihad Premium Lounge.

In May 2015, I booked my First Class suite for 90,000 American Airlines miles + $39 (including Business Class from India to Abu Dhabi and American Airlines First Class from New York to Los Angeles.). The same award will cost 115,000 miles if booked March 22, 2016 or later. If you can book by March 21, you can lock in the current price for travel through February 2017.

Business Class costs 67,500 American Airlines miles right now and goes up to 70,000 miles on March 22.

Some credit card offers in this post have expired, but they might come back. If they do they will appear –> Click here for the top current credit card sign up bonuses.

The Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard® and CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World MasterCard® are each offering 50,000 bonus American Airlines miles after $3,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months the account is open.

Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 6.44.51 PMScreen Shot 2015-11-09 at 3.59.13 PM

Get both cards and meet the $6,000 total spending requirement in the next three months to have over 106,000 American Airlines miles.

Key Links:

  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard®
  • CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World MasterCard®
------------------------------------------------------------

Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $800 in American Airlines flights) after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the Citi Prestige® Card. Plus get a $250 Air Travel Credit each calendar year, free airport lounge access worldwide, and your fourth night free on hotel stays. Why I got the card.

I have broken my 15 hour flight from Abu Dhabi to New York into four parts because I had over 200 photos and several videos from the flight. This section covers roughly the first half of the flight and my review of the suite and related amenities.

Etihad 103
Abu Dhabi (AUH) – New York (JFK)
Depart: 3:20 AM on January 27, 2016
Arrive: 9:10 AM
Duration: 14 hours, 50 minutes
Aircraft: Airbus A380
Seat: 2H (First Class)

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.25.33 PMThis is it. This was my palace for 15 hours from Abu Dhabi to New York.Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.25.51 PMI was the last First Class passenger to board about 30 minutes before the scheduled 3:20 AM departure. I was met at the door with a smile and escorted to my seat in the second row of First Class.

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.25.58 PM

Etihad has nine First Class Apartments on its A380s spread across four-and-a-half rows  in the front of the upper deck.

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 8.08.03 PM

The other half of the first row, across from a First Class Apartment, is the living room of the Residence, which has its own bathroom with shower, and bedroom. The Residence was empty for my flight, so the living room was used for storing carry ons.

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.34.27 PM
Residence Living Room, Filled with Carry Ons for My Flight

The nine First Class Apartments alternate between seats near the aisle or seats near the window and forward-facing seats or backward-facing seats. I had a forward-facing seat near the aisle. Next time I would choose a seat near the window for better views during take off and landing. Those seats are lettered A and K.

The Suite

The First Class Apartment is huge and easily the best flying suite in the world. Broadly, it consists of a large seat facing a television, a couch that becomes your bed, and a vanity. The couch/bed takes up the entire width from aisle to window. The seat takes up about half that width.
Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.26.03 PM

The Seat

When seated, you can use the couch as an ottoman to kick up your feet.Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.26.09 PMScreen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.26.15 PMNext to the seat is a touch screen remote control and an area large enough to set a drink and some dates.
Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.26.21 PMOn the other side of the seat is another touch screen to control your seat and the suite’s lights. Below that are physical buttons, yet another way to control the seat’s position and windows.

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.27.41 PMThe seat can be reclined, made softer or firmer, and even has a massage feature. I didn’t test any of this out because I spent most of my time in the bed.Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.27.46 PMScreen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.27.52 PMI was only in the seat for take off, landing, and my main meal. While it was very large and plenty comfortable, I prefer to relax and work lying down.Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.32.51 PM

The Bed

The bed in the Etihad A380 First Class Apartment is 6’8″ long and 2’6″ wide. It is very large and comfortable. You can ask for a turndown service any time, including before take off. I knew I would want to sleep as soon as we took off, so I asked for and received a turn down while we were still on the ground.

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.29.38 PMScreen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.29.33 PM

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.29.57 PMThe most unique feature of the bed is that you can remove part of the barrier between your apartment and the one next door if you are traveling with a companion.

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.29.25 PM

While you cannot exactly snuggle, you can enjoy some pillow talk or a good night kiss. (Compare this to Suites Class on the Singapore A380 where the divider can be completely removed creating a double bed for two.)

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.33.36 PMThe bed has a mattress pad, bedding, a blanket, a large pillow, and a medium pillow. The bed was ideal for sleep, and I immediately conked out for the first half of the flight.

Because my bed was made at take off, I actually hopped in it during our ascent and tried to close the doors to fully enclose the suite. They wouldn’t stay shut, though, until we leveled off.

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.31.22 PM

Even after I woke up, I spent most of my time in the bed, watching the television (which can swing out to be viewed in bed), using my laptop, and even getting breakfast in bed before landing.

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.29.44 PM

While in the bed, there was another touch screen remote control within reach that I could use to control the television and call for service.

Storage

The suite has several storage areas, though none is big enough for a carry on bag. This is the main weakness of the suite.

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.27.02 PM

For smaller, personal-item-sized bags like my laptop bag, there is ample storage under the couch/bed.

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.27.08 PM Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.27.28 PM

For other small things you want at hand like your computer or reading materials, there is storage within reach of your seat.Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.28.42 PM

But your carry on will not fit in the suite for take off or landing, and there are no overhead bins. Instead, mine was taken and stored in the Residence’s living room since it was empty. When it was taken, I was asked whether I would need the bag back during the flight, and I didn’t. I assume if I had, it would have been brought back after take off to sit on the floor until landing. Certainly there was plenty of room for it there.

Amenties and Vanity

The Emirates A380 First Class Suite has a small vanity with a make up mirror. The Etihad A380 First Class Apartment has a full sized vanity, which is much more impressive. (So impressive in fact, that I had to feign indifference in this photo.)

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.28.21 PM

On one end of your couch, there is a small cabinet that you can open to reveal a three-part mirror. Inside is your amenity kit and some amenities.Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.28.27 PMThe amenity kit actually contains only ear plugs and a sleeping aid that you are supposed to roll onto pulse points to relax yourself.

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.31.13 PMScreen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.31.17 PM

The rest of the amenities you’d normally find in an amenity kit line the vanity.

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.28.31 PMScreen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.28.37 PMOther amenities of the suite include noise-cancelling headphones…
Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.28.02 PMScreen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.28.15 PM

…which plug in via magnet not prongs…

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…pajamas, and slippers.

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.26.52 PM

The PJs and slippers were very comfortable. I put the pajamas on before take off and took them off about 30 hours later when I woke up from a nap in Los Angeles.

Bottom Line & How You Can Book Your Own Etihad Apartment

I hope you enjoyed the tour of Apartment 2H on the Etihad A380.
Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.35.32 PMThe Etihad First Class Apartments are without a doubt the nicest, largest flying suites. Everything is meticulously designed for extreme comfort.

I love that the seat and bed are separate, so that you can have both ready at all times. I was very impressed by how the television was easily visible from either spot, and how each spot had a touch screen remote control.

I would suggest selecting a window seat for better views on take off and landing and to select two adjacent suites if traveling with a companion, so you can remove part of the partition between the suites while you sleep.

In May 2015, I booked my suite for 90,000 American Airlines miles + $39 (including Business Class from India to Abu Dhabi and American Airlines First Class from New York to Los Angeles.). The same award will cost 115,000 miles if booked March 22, 2016 or later. If you can book by March 21, you can lock in the current price for travel through February 2017.

You can even book this award at current prices if you have zero miles right now.

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Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 6.44.51 PMScreen Shot 2015-11-09 at 3.59.13 PM

Get both cards and meet the $6,000 total spending requirement in the next three months to have over 106,000 American Airlines miles.

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $800 in American Airlines flights) after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the Citi Prestige® Card. Plus get a $250 Air Travel Credit each calendar year, free airport lounge access worldwide, and your fourth night free on hotel stays. Why I got the card.

1

I just spent one night at Le Meridien Chiang Rai, in Thailand for 4,000 Starpoints, and it was incredible. The property sits just 1.5 miles outside of downtown Chiang Rai, overlooking the Kok River.

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 8.08.23 PM

We arrived at the Chiang Rai airport from Bangkok at about 3:30 PM and took a $2 taxi to the hotel.

The open air lobby is beautiful. We were seated for check in and offered a refreshing beverage during the process.

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 6.37.03 PM Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 6.37.14 PMThen we were handed our keys and escorted on a short walk to a nearby building where we had a second floor room with a pool view.

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 6.38.37 PMThe spacious room had a comfortable bed…
Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 6.37.37 PM…a TV, desk, day bed…

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 6.37.32 PM…and several free bottles of water throughout.

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 6.37.57 PM

My three favorite parts of the room?

The sliding window that connected the tub and the bedroom.
Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 6.37.46 PM The welcome snack of fruit and chocolate truffles.Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 6.38.06 PM The balcony with another day bed that overlooked a beautiful tree, the pools, and the river.Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 6.38.12 PMScreen Shot 2016-01-18 at 6.38.19 PM Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 6.38.24 PMWe headed down to the pool for the afternoon, which was a few levels of infinity pools.
Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 6.38.47 PM Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 6.39.00 PM The pool was tolerable when the sun was out, but too cold when it hid behind a cloud. The pool is not heated and in January the average air temperature is only about 70 degrees because of chilly nights.

We ordered a drink at the pool, then went to toss a frisbee on a large grassy area where some other hotel guests were playing soccer.

When the sun set, we took the hourly shuttle from the hotel to Chiang Rai to see the night market. The shuttle costs 50 baht ($1.50) per person. It is convenient to take to Chiang Rai if you want to go to town right on the hour, so you don’t have to wait for a cab to be called to the property. There is no reason to take the shuttle back to Chiang Rai, though, because you can get a tuk tuk for 100 baht to take you any time.

After a meal of pad thai, some friend food, and bugs–yes, bugs–we caught a tuk tuk back to the hotel.

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 9.39.06 PM

In the morning, we were being picked up at 8:30 AM for two days of sightseeing and trekking, so we had an early breakfast at the hotel’s buffet.

The buffet is ridiculously expensive by Thai standards (449 baht), but quite cheap by hotel buffet standards ($12.)

We grabbed an outdoor table near the water and gorged ourselves.
Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 6.39.11 PM Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 6.39.31 PM I had bacon, pancakes, a pork belly stew, pineapple, and a doughnut.Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 6.39.37 PMNearly everything I had was delicious, especially the pork belly, which I made sure to get seconds of. The only misstep was the pancakes, which had hardened from sitting out.
Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 6.39.43 PM

The breakfast buffet is the most expensive meal I ate in Thailand, but it was pretty cheap by US standards and well done.

Bottom Line

I booked this hotel just a few days before arrival, and I didn’t spend much time there because of an already-booked tour leaving the next morning. If I had known how nice the hotel was and how welcome a change of pace the quiet setting would be, I would have arranged to stay longer.

This is a great hotel for $120 or 4,000 Starpoints per night (3,000 points pre night on the weekend.)

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $800 in American Airlines flights) after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the Citi Prestige® Card. Plus get a $250 Air Travel Credit each calendar year, free airport lounge access worldwide, and your fourth night free on hotel stays. Why I got the card.

6

I recently redeemed 12,000 SPG points for one night at The Westin Singapore. It was my only night in Singapore, and I had wanted to stay at the Marina Bay Sands to enjoy their infinity pool on the 57th floor.

Screen Shot 2016-01-16 at 6.49.49 PM

As it turns out, a night there in mid-January costs about $400, but in my search for other options, I found that The Westin Singapore also has an infinity pool (not quite so) high above the city.

The Westin isn’t cheap either at 12,000 SPG points for one night, but I thought it would be a special treat, and Singapore is expensive for lodging, so I bit the bullet and booked The Westin Singapore.

We arrived at Singapore Airport at 1 PM and took an Uber straight to the hotel where we were accommodated with an early check in.

Check In

The hotel lobby is on the 32nd floor. When you enter the ground floor, you are put into an express elevator that has its last stop at the lobby. The lobby is a gorgeous open space with views of the city.

Screen Shot 2016-01-14 at 5.20.33 PM The agent in the Gold elite line–a status I have because it is a free perk of the AMEX Platinum–informed me that I had been upgraded to a corner Sea View room.

While we waited for the check in and to be given our room keys, we were served our choice of two refreshing welcome drinks.

The Room

Screen Shot 2016-01-14 at 5.25.03 PMWe took a second set of elevators up to the 39th floor. The room is spacious and beautifully appointed.Screen Shot 2016-01-14 at 5.22.26 PMScreen Shot 2016-01-14 at 5.20.46 PM Ours featured several interesting views of construction of two new skyscrapers…Screen Shot 2016-01-14 at 5.20.52 PM …the infinity pool four floors below…Screen Shot 2016-01-14 at 5.20.57 PM …the marina and a tiny sliver of the Marina Bay Sands…Screen Shot 2016-01-14 at 5.21.03 PM …a massive lot of shipping containers, and the sea.Screen Shot 2016-01-14 at 5.21.09 PM The room had a king size bed, chair…Screen Shot 2016-01-14 at 5.21.22 PM …work station, safe, flat screen TV…Screen Shot 2016-01-14 at 5.21.34 PM …and a bathroom that featured a tub and shower with handheld and overhead shower heads.Screen Shot 2016-01-14 at 5.21.43 PMScreen Shot 2016-01-14 at 5.21.49 PM Screen Shot 2016-01-14 at 5.22.00 PM Screen Shot 2016-01-14 at 5.22.06 PM Screen Shot 2016-01-14 at 5.22.11 PM Screen Shot 2016-01-14 at 5.22.16 PMThe room was stocked with two free bottles of water, which I squeezed into the tiny part of the in-room refrigerator reserved for guest use.

The Infinity Pool

The first afternoon we went straight to the pool to enjoy the views from the 35th floor rooftop.

Screen Shot 2016-01-14 at 5.22.54 PM
S for Scott in Singapore

I can’t compare it to the Marina Bay Sands infinity pool, but this was certainly the best pool I’ve ever been in. It was the highest, and had stunning views of downtown Singapore. I had a blast.
Screen Shot 2016-01-14 at 5.23.00 PM At least until the rain came, but I even stuck around swimming in that for a few minutes.Screen Shot 2016-01-14 at 5.23.07 PM Screen Shot 2016-01-14 at 5.23.14 PMWe also went back the second morning and spent more time at the pool before we went to Chinatown and Little India. The pool was the highlight of the hotel. Unfortunately it is only open from 6 AM to 10 PM. The Park Plaza Bangkok’s roof top pool (review forthcoming) is open 24 hours. If they can do it, you can too, Westin Singapore. It’s not like you have a lifeguard on duty at any time, so your cost would be zero to leave the pool open all night.

The Rest of the Facilities

Just outside the pool entrance is the entrance to the spa and to the gym, which features several cardio machines that overlook the sea.Screen Shot 2016-01-14 at 5.23.29 PM

In the lobby were two computers attached to a printer where I printed boarding passes, my Vietnam visa on arrival letter, and my Indian visa confirmation for free.

The Elite Experience

As a Gold member, I was allowed a late check out of 4 PM, which was perfect for my 7:25 PM flight, in addition to my early check in.

I didn’t have much contact with the staff other than check in and check out, but each time I saw one they were friendly and ready to help.

The Location

The hotel has a great location. It is just 50 meters from the Downtown stop on the Singapore metro, which can get your to Chinatown in two stops or Little India in five. Or you can walk to Chinatown in 15 minutes, Boat Quay in 20, or Clark Quay in 25. The Marina Bay Sands light show is also about a 15 minute walk.

We were just a few hundred meters from the Lau Pa Sat hawker center, which the Westin’s “Experience Specialist” recommended to me when I answered her welcome email a few days before our stay with a question about the best nearby hawker centers.

I also really liked the the Downtown station of the metro connects underground to the Marina Bay Link Mall, which is a several hundred meter long underground shopping area that lets you walk most of the way from the Marina Bay Sands to Boat Quay out of the heat and rain.

The Complaints

It is a bit annoying to have to take two elevators from the street to your room with a mandatory connection in the lobby area. This only adds a few seconds to the experience, but it was my least favorite design element of the hotel.

The taxi stand at the hotel is bad. One time I didn’t order an Uber–my mistake–and tried to use it. There are no taxis waiting, so the hotel employee calls one on his app. This adds a few dollars to the fare. I asked before he called one whether I could pay with a credit card, and he said I could.

After waiting 10 minutes, the taxi showed up. I said, “Clarke Quay, and I am paying with a credit card.” When we arrived, he said his machine was broken and he hadn’t head me say that I was paying with one, which ruined my carefully made plans to leave the country with exactly zero cash. He also claimed that the guy who used an app to call for a taxi had indicated I would be paying in cash.

I don’t know how exactly to apportion the blame between the driver and the hotel, but I am annoyed at the hotel on this one.

In any case, use Uber or walk 100 meters to the taxi stand of the office building next door. Taxis wait in line for that stand, so you will get one quicker and without the charge for having called the cab.

Overall

The hotel was great for my needs–a place to spend one great night in Singapore that is close to everything and had an awesome infinity pool.

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $800 in American Airlines flights) after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the Citi Prestige® Card. Plus get a $250 Air Travel Credit each calendar year, free airport lounge access worldwide, and your fourth night free on hotel stays. Why I got the card.

Thai AirAsia 3207
Bangkok (DMK) – Chiang Rai (CEI)
Depart: 1:55 PM on Sunday January 3, 2016
Arrive: 3:15 PM
Duration: 1:20
Aircraft: Airbus A320
Seat: 21D (all economy plane)

Are low-cost carriers safe? Are the flights on time? How much leg room is there? Do you really have to pay for water? Can you get around the high baggage fees? What entertainment options are there?

I don’t fly Emirates First Class or Thai Business Class for all my flights. On short hops, I usually book the cheapest ticket I can. Within Europe and Southeast Asia, that is almost always on an ultra-low-cost carrier that offers a dirt cheap fare and then charges for everything like seat selection, food and drink, baggage, even using a credit card to purchase your ticket.

When I figured out where I wanted to go in Thailand, I searched Wikipedia for each city’s airport(s) to figure out which airlines fly the routes I wanted. Then I went to each airline’s website to search for the all in ticket price in Thai baht, which is often a bit lower than just searching in dollars on Kayak. (Purchase with a credit card with no foreign transaction fees like the Citi Prestige® Card.)

It turned out AirAsia was cheapest on all three routes I wanted to fly–Bangkok to Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai to Krabi, Krabi to Singapore.

AirAsia’s fares include one carry on, not to exceed 7 kg (15.4 lbs), and one personal item. Seat selection, checked bags, and food cost extra.

Seat selection starts at 70 baht ($2), but I am a cheapskate, so I didn’t select one.

Checked bags start at 300 baht ($8.50) for 15 kg (33 lbs). Even though I knew my carry on would weigh more than 7 kg and that checked bags cost a lot more at the airport, I decided not to pay for a checked bag, hoping I could sneak my overweight bag on board.

I did pre-book two meals for myself and my friend, since most entrees are under $4, and I thought we might not have had a chance for lunch before the flight.

Screen Shot 2016-01-05 at 11.17.52 PMAirAsia, like all low-cost carriers, flies out of DMK airport in Bangkok instead of BKK where Thai Airways is based. DMK and BKK are about the same distance from central Bangkok, though BKK is more convenient because you can take a train there. We took Uber to DMK, which is a flat 570 baht ($16) from the city. I had already checked us into the flight and printed our boarding passes, so I aimed for us to arrive at the airport 75 minutes in advance, which ended up getting us to the gate more than an hour before the flight.

AirAsia allows online check in up to 14 days before departure. I waited until my three flights were all within that window and checked in for all three at once. For some AirAsia flights, you have to pay a fee to check in at the airport instead of online. You can see whether your AirAsia flight has such a charge here.

Checking in online had the advantage of allowing me to avoid any AirAsia employees until I had my boarding pass checked at the gate. Since my bag was overweight, I was only too happy to avoid the check in counter with its scales.

At check in, my bag was not measured or weighed. Lesson learned: if you check in online and print your boarding pass, you should be able to skirt carry on baggage weight restrictions.

Our flight took off from a remote gate, so we boarded a bus, and we were driven to the plane.

As I mentioned, I was too cheap to pre-book our seats, and we were assigned an aisle and a middle seat about 2/3 of the way back.

Rows are squeezed together on AirAsia’s planes. Seat pitch is 29″, which means 2″ less leg room than United, American, and Delta economy. My legs firmly dug into the seat in front of me, but this is much less of a problem if you aren’t 6’4″. And for 61 minutes in the air, I can handle a cramped seat.

Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 8.57.12 PM

Immediately after take off, the pre-booked meals were served. I had ordered fried rice with chicken satay and green curry chicken. Each was served with a free 100 ml water and small note pad.
Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 8.57.45 PM

The meals are pretty small. I would describe them as a light lunch. They are about half what I would normally eat, but I am a bit of a glutton. Most people would be satisfied with the portion.

I was surprised that the chicken satay also had shrimp and fish on top of the rice. I don’t like seafood, so that became my friend’s meal. I had half a satay, and I thought it was delicious. (It’s no Malaysia First Class satay, but what is?) She said the shrimp was sweet, which doesn’t sound like the right adjective for shrimp, but she did eat the whole meal.
Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 8.57.57 PM The green chicken curry was mediocre. Not long ago, I had a theory that all Thai food was of the same quality because I was always equally satisfied with my curries in the United States and in Phuket, but I have had varying quality dishes on this trip, and this was on the low end. I did eat it all though. It wasn’t that bad.Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 8.58.08 PM

After the pre-booked meals, the flight attendants offered food and drink for purchase. Even water costs money.

There are no entertainment options on board. In 2016, I think that’s a good thing. Not having TV monitors saves weight, which means the plane uses less gas and the fares are lower. Bring your own book or load a few TV episodes onto your phone, tablet, or computer.

My friend and I were joking that this rectangle on the back of the tray looks a bit like a television. I have no idea what it actually is, but it is of course not a television.
Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 8.57.23 PMThat didn’t stop me from worriedly saying to a flight attendant, “Excuse me, my TV isn’t working” or her from trying to plug in her USB. (We’ve got Dad jokes for days.)Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 8.57.31 PM

We touched down a few minutes ahead of schedule in Chiang Rai, and deplaned through a real gate. We were on the curb in a few minutes and at Le Meridien Chiang Rai 15 minutes after that.

Bottom Line

Fly low-cost carriers in Southeast Asia and Europe. They are cheap. You give up a little in comfort, but the cost savings on a short flight are too tempting to pass up.

The flights are just as safe as with any airline, since all airlines have to follow strict government regulations.

The biggest concern is that low cost carriers often fly a route only a few times a week, so that any delay or cancellation can leave you stranded for a long time. Luckily on this route, AirAsia flies five times a day, so any cancellation could be easily re-accommodated.

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $800 in American Airlines flights) after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the Citi Prestige® Card. Plus get a $250 Air Travel Credit each calendar year, free airport lounge access worldwide, and your fourth night free on hotel stays. Why I got the card.

4

Thai 647
Central Japan International Airport (NGO) – Bangkok (BKK)
Depart: 12:30 AM on Friday January 1, 2016
Arrive: 5:10 AM
Duration: 6:40
Aircraft: Boeing 787-8
Seat: 15F Royal Silk (Business)

Last month I booked myself Thai Business Class for 36,000 LifeMiles + $47 to get from Japan, where I spent five days, to Thailand to meet my friend.

I woke up the morning of my flight in Kyoto and took a train to Nagoya. Unfortunately all the sites I wanted to see in Nagoya were closed for New Year’s Eve. I still enjoyed a lot of walking around the city and stopping for chicken katsu to compare it to how the dish is served in Hawaii. After sunset, I watched Star Wars at a Nagoya mall, and then five hours before my flight, I was pretty much out of things to do, so I took a train to the airport.

Unfortunately Thai Airways only opens check in two-and-a-half hours before its flights in Nagoya, so I was stuck sitting on the floor of the airport with free wifi for about two hours. (I had checked in online hoping that I could print my boarding pass, get through security, and wait in the lounge before the flight. Unfortunately, although I was checked in, I couldn’t get a boarding pass without a passport check at the check in counter.)

Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 7.34.31 AMBy the time, check in started, over 60 people were in line.Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 7.34.36 AM After check in, security was a breeze, and I headed to the Star Alliance lounge, which was a long, narrow room with seating by the windows…Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 7.34.43 AM …travel quotes on the wall…Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 7.34.50 AM …a second, less comfortable seating area…Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 7.34.58 AM …and a buffet. The buffet had takoyaki (octopus balls), pasta, rice balls, sushi, sandwiches, croissants, and cup of noodles.Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 7.35.15 AM Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 7.35.26 AMScreen Shot 2016-01-02 at 7.33.28 AM Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 7.35.33 AM There was a self-serve bar that included beer, wine, liquors (Japanese and Western), and some sort of whiskey-based drink on tap.Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 7.35.40 AM Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 7.35.46 AMBoarding was slated to start at 11:55 PM, but I didn’t leave the lounge until almost 12:15 AM. I was happy to see that there was a separate boarding line for Business Class and a separate boarding door from the jetway, so even though I boarded when the main line was 100 people long, I was at my seat in just a few seconds.

As I entered the plane, I was greeted by a flight attendant with a big smile and a deep bow, very different than the non-greeting one expects from American airlines.

Thai Business Class on the Dreamliner consists of 30 seats spread across five rows in a 2-2-2 configuration. I chose a middle seat, so that I had aisle access, and I wasn’t blocking anyone else’s aisle access. I didn’t want any disruption to my sleep on such a short redeye.

My seat was in the last row of Business Class. When I arrived, my pillow and blanket were on the seat, my headphones were in the little cubby by my headrest, and my slippers and the amenity kit were by the footrest.Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 7.36.20 AM Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 7.36.29 AMScreen Shot 2016-01-02 at 7.33.12 AMScreen Shot 2016-01-02 at 7.33.20 AMI sat down and stretched my legs out to the ottoman under the television. Unfortunately, the Thai Dreamliner has the tiny foot cubby that many Business Class beds have. It can be a tight squeeze that is less than ideal for lounging and sleeping, but it isn’t a total deal breaker for me.Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 7.36.43 AM

The television was working from the moment I got on the plane until the moment I got off. This is the way that all entertainment systems should be, but somehow in 2016 some systems don’t work until you are airborne. I started watching an episode of Modern Family with the hope that I would be asleep before it finished.

The flight attendants were a flurry of activity before take off.

First, one attendant brought a tray of apple juice, orange juice, Veuve Cliquot champagne, and water. I went with a water. I prefer when orders are taken individually, which United manages to pull off in Business Class, but at least Thai gave us a pre-departure beverage.

Next, another flight attendant brought a piping hot towel, which was refreshing right before bed.

Later, a third flight attendant brought the menu, artfully presenting it by bending down and opening it for me to the page of entrees.

Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 7.36.51 AMThe menu read as follows:Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 7.37.01 AMScreen Shot 2016-01-02 at 7.37.30 AM

The drinks menu read as follows:Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 7.37.37 AMScreen Shot 2016-01-02 at 7.37.44 AMScreen Shot 2016-01-02 at 7.37.51 AMI asked the flight attendant if the meal would be served after take off, and she said that it would be served 90 minutes before landing, which was 6 AM Japan/4 AM Thailand time, which makes the chicken, fish, and sushi a little strange but very welcome, since I am not a big breakfast guy.

I ordered the chicken, but I specifically asked not to be woken up for the meal. I said, “I will take the chicken if I am awake, but please do not wake me up.”

Right before take off, the captain welcomed us to the flight. He even made a few cute jokes about the fact that we were taking off at 12:30 AM on New Year’s Day. He said we could ask a flight attendant to check bad spirits though they would not be delivered to us in Bangkok, and that we would be flying to Bangkok but also to prosperity and a happy new year.

We took off at 12:40 AM. I was exhausted, so as soon as we left the ground, I put the seat into bed mode and curled up under the blanket on the fully flat bed.

Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 7.32.55 AM

The plane was a bit cold, but with my jacket and the blanket, I was comfortable. The medium-sized pillow was also comfortable for sleeping.

Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 7.03.23 PM
Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gR9fhagkepE

I was very happy with the bed overall. I wish it were a little wider than 21″ and that it didn’t have a cubby for the feet, but at 6’6″ long and fully flat, it is a solid bed. I fell asleep immediately.

I was awoken 90 minutes before landing by a flight attendant pushing a cart full of food, despite specifically requesting not to be woken for breakfast. I consider this a major problem. Airlines need to develop a 100% accurate system, so that premium cabin passengers are woken for or allowed to sleep through meal service. Maybe all airlines should copy the system Avianca uses: you are given a sticker to put on your seat if you want to be woken for the next meal. If you don’t use it, you aren’t woken.

Luckily, I was so tired that I fell back asleep immediately.

I woke up at 6:30 AM Japan time, meaning I got about 5:45 of sleep. Flight attendants had put water and immigration forms at my seat while I slept. Twenty minutes later, I had to put the bed back into its upright position for landing, and we were on the ground at 7:02 AM Japan time/5:02 AM in Bangkok.

During the last bit of the flight and the taxiing I watched the first half of another TV episode, though it was frequently interrupted by announcements being made in three languages (English, Thai, Japanese.) It got me thinking, what flight has announcements in the most languages? Does Emirates flight from Hong Kong to Bangkok have announcements in English, Arabic, Thai, and Cantonese?

Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 7.33.03 AM

I didn’t have any use for my amenity kit during the flight. Here’s what it looked like:
Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 7.37.57 AM Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 7.38.05 AM

After the Flight

I really wanted to hit the ground running on the first day, since I only had the weekend in Bangkok before flying to Chiang Rai. My friend was arriving to Bangkok at 11:30 AM, so I had about six hours to kill, and I wanted to get the rest of my full eight hours of nightly sleep.

The Bangkok airport has a hotel where you can rent day rooms, but they are $122 for six hours. You can get a nearby hotel for much cheaper. Look for hotel employees inside the airport on the arrivals level just to the right of exit door 4. Tell them how long you want a room and negotiate a price with them. They should be able to get you an immediate shuttle to the hotel, and then you can get a shuttle back though possibly not on demand.

I thought I could get a room for about $15 – $20, but the best offer I got was $30 (all negotiations were in baht, but I am converting them for ease) during my first round of negotiations with the employees. I walked a few feet away to airport information, which had a list of hotels in the vicinity, which I called with my new Thai SIM card (also available inside the airport on the arrivals level.) Many were sold out, and the others wouldn’t go below $33.

I went back to the bullpen of hotel employees and struck a deal for five hours for $25. Ten minutes later, a shuttle took me 10 minutes to an acceptable hotel. I slept a few hours and used wifi for a few hours before returning to the airport.

Between the flight and the airport hotel, I got a full night sleep and felt great on day one in Bangkok, during which I visited the Golden Mount temple, walked through the downtown area, and threw a frisbee in Lumphini Park before a delicious Thai dinner and a trip to the rooftop pool at the Park Plaza Sukhumvit.

Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 7.39.02 AM

Bottom Line

My experience flying Thai Business Class wasn’t perfect because check in started too late, and I was woken up when I had requested not to be woken up.

However, overall I had a positive experience. The bed was comfortable, and I slept over 90% of the flight, with the rest spent watching TV. Thai’s flight attendants provided excellent service, and I arrived ready to immediately tackle Bangkok.

Because I slept so much, I didn’t get as many pictures as usual. Check out this tour of the Thai Dreamliner for more.

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $800 in American Airlines flights) after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the Citi Prestige® Card. Plus get a $250 Air Travel Credit each calendar year, free airport lounge access worldwide, and your fourth night free on hotel stays. Why I got the card.

7

United 903
Honolulu (HNL) – Tokyo (NRT)
Depart: 11:50 AM on Saturday December 26, 2015
Arrive: 4:00 PM on Sunday, December 27, 2015
Duration: 9:10
Aircraft: Boeing 747-400
Seat: 13J BusinessFirst (United confusingly calls Business Class “BusinessFirst.” The real First Class is called “Global First.”)

Because I was flying international Business Class, I had free access to the United Club, which is right above Gate 8, the gate we were using, at Honolulu International Airport.

Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 7.00.24 AM

I left the United Club at about 11:15 AM, ten minutes after boarding started. Because United has dedicated lanes for Premier Access passengers and because the 747 has a dedicated boarding door for First and Business Class, I was able to skip past the crowds and board easily.

While a nice international airline would greet premium cabin passengers at the door (and escort First Class passengers to their seats), the United flight attendant at the door stood silently as I walked past. I headed for the stairs in the middle of the Business Class cabin. This would be my first flight flying upstairs on a 747!

I chose to fly upstairs for the novelty and because the Business Class cabin on the main deck has an ultra-crowded 2-4-2 layout. Upstairs is just 2-2.

Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 7.00.35 AM
Main Deck Business Class on United 747-400

I was very happy I chose to fly up top. The 2-2 layout felt much less crowded, and I had a view into the cockpit while we were on the ground.Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 7.00.42 AM Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 7.00.50 AMUnfortunately, the overhead bins upstairs are tiny. My laptop bag barely fit.

Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 7.01.11 AMMy backpack definitely didn’t fit, so I stored it in the closet near the top of the stairs with several other carry ons.
Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 7.01.02 AM

If you have a window seat, there is some additional storage between your seat and the window, but I had an aisle seat, specifically seat 13J, a rear-facing aisle seat.

Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 7.01.28 AM

Every seat in Business Class was taken, so I was in close quarters with a stranger for the entire flight, who had to climb over or past me whenever he needed to access the aisle. United Business Class is not the most private Business Class out there.

At my seat when I boarded were slippers, headphones (not noise-canceling), a pilow, and a blanket. Before takeoff, I was also brought an amenity kit, a menu, and immigration forms. I was impressed by the flight attendants working the upper deck. They were the most polite of any flight attendants I have encountered in Business Class on an American airline.

The menu read as follows:Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 7.01.37 AM Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 7.02.01 AM Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 7.02.10 AM Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 7.02.23 AM Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 7.02.38 AM

Oddly, the wines were not listed on the menu, just long descriptions of what Old World and New World wines are. I ordered Tamale-filled Chicken Breast.

The amenity kit was very nice. I liked its size and feel. If I didn’t already carry Emirates and Avianca amenity kits filled with my toiletries, I would have kept this one for permanent use.

Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 7.04.01 AMThe contents of the kit were standard with Cowshed branded lotion and lip balm.Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 7.04.13 AMBefore take off, I reclined the seat and selected a movie from the long list of available movies and shows. I love when the entertainment system is available on the ground.
Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 7.02.49 AM

I don’t love the little cubby where your feet go when relaxing or sleeping in United Business Class. It feels very cramped.

Finally before take off, the flight attendants served a pre-departure beverage in the classiest way possible. Instead of a tray with pre-poured water, juice, and champagne as is standard on many airlines in Business Class, the flight attendant took our orders and brought them two people at a time. I appreciated the personal touch, and the larger drink selection that this method makes possible.

Once we took off, I used the intuitive seat controls to put the seat into bed mode, which is how I watched my movie until lunch was served 45 minutes after take off.

Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 7.03.00 AM

The meal service started with warm nuts and a drink of our choice.Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 7.03.07 AM

Next the appetizers came out. The salad was pre-plated, but the flight attendant offered two types of dressing that she ladled on and optional crutons that she poured on. A bread basked was offered, and I chose garlic bread. The other appetizer had a Japanese feel with sushi and sashimi.Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 7.03.14 AM

The salad was fine, the garlic bread was great, and I don’t eat seafood.

For the main course, I was very happy with my tamale-filled chicken. It is an inventive take on the classic tamale.

Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 7.04.28 AM

While my plates were cleared quickly, I couldn’t really eat at my own pace, as I had to wait for the whole cabin for the next course to start. After the main course came the cheese and fruit course with port.
Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 7.04.35 AM I enjoyed the plate of cheese and also partook in the sundae cart.Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 7.04.46 AM I went with chocolate sauce, whipped cream, and cookie crumbs. Nom nom nom!Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 7.04.55 AM After the meal, I was ready for a nap, so I put the seat back into bed mode.Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 7.05.17 AMScreen Shot 2015-12-28 at 7.05.06 AM

I slept for two-and-a-half hours, so the bed was a success. It could stand to be wider that 20″, longer than 6’4″, and have more foot room than the cubby. But I did get a good nap on a plane at 6’4″ tall, so I have no complaints.
Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 7.03.25 AMWhen I awoke, the flight attendants had put a snack cart in the cabin with fruits, candy, chips, sandwiches, and fruit/cheese plates. The turkey sandwich was delicious.Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 7.03.45 AMI continued to watch television shows until 90 minutes before landing when breakfast was served. This is a very odd thing to serve at 2:30 PM in Japan/7:30 PM in Hawaii.Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 7.03.53 AM

We landed thirty minutes early, got to the gate 15 minutes early, and I got through immigration and customs in 15 more minutes. I was in Tokyo at my hostel about two hours after landing and made it to Shibuya Crossing on my first night.

Bottom Line

Bed

Very tall people will be cramped, and many may find the foot cubby uncomfortable, but overall it is a comfortable enough flat bed.

Entertainment

Large selection of movies and TV shows on demand. Noise-canceling headphones would be fancier, but I can’t say I noticed the difference.

Service

The friendliest, most service-oriented flight attendants I have found in Business Class on an American airline. Maybe the service culture of the East Asian airlines has rubbed off on this route.

Food

Edible and plentiful. You’ll generally get better meals on the ground, but I can’t complain about solid, free, unlimited food that ends with a sundae bar.

Suggestions

Fly upstairs to feel less crowded. Grab an aisle seat if you get up a lot and a window seat if you get up rarely because unfortunately one person in each pair of seats always has to climb over his seatmate to reach the aisle.

Overall

This is flight is an amazing value for 40,000 United miles + $5.60 in Business Class. (Economy is 25k miles.) I wouldn’t splurge for First Class, which is 62,500 miles each way because United First Class is barely better than United Business Class.

------------------------------------------------------------

Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $800 in American Airlines flights) after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the Citi Prestige® Card. Plus get a $250 Air Travel Credit each calendar year, free airport lounge access worldwide, and your fourth night free on hotel stays. Why I got the card.

3

AeroMexico 29
Buenos Aires (EZE) – Mexico City (MEX)
Depart: 11:30 PM on Wednesday October 14, 2015
Arrive: 7:15 AM on Thursday, October 15, 2015
Duration: 9:45
Aircraft: Boeing 787-8
Seat: 3F and 4F (Business Class)

I headed to the gate while boarding was underway, but AeroMexico has a dedicated line for Business Class, so I was able to breeze past the line and onto the plane.
Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 12.37.36 PM

I wasn’t greeted at the door, and I found my own way to my seat. The seats had a blanket and medium-sized pillow.

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 12.37.43 PM

AeroMexico has its Dreamliner Business Class cabin laid out 2-2-2, so I had chosen a middle seat to have aisle access and to not be blocking anyone else’s aisle access.

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 12.37.50 PM

 

I was originally in the third row with a person next to me. After take off, I moved to the fourth row, which was empty for a little more privacy.

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 12.38.15 PM
View of the Cabin

I had my own overhead bin, so there was plenty of space for carry ons.

The main thing I didn’t like about the seat was the tiny cubby hole under the TV for my feet. I don’t like the tight squeeze when sitting or sleeping.

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 12.37.57 PM

I did like that the television was mounted in view, so it was usable during take off and landing (as opposed to the TV on Avianca’s Dreamliner). The entertainment system was also available on the ground, so the time before take off flew by as I finally got a chance to watch Fresh Off the Boat

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 12.38.06 PM

The only complaint I have about the entertainment system is that it plays several ads, a few before the safety video and a few more after takeoff, which interrupted my viewing. The TV and movie selection was broad, and I watched a few episodes of Fresh Off the Boat and the movie Aloha.

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 12.39.06 PM

At the seat there is a USB socket, universal socket, and headphone jack.

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 12.38.25 PM

Low quality noise canceling headphones are provided.

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 12.38.37 PM

Seat controls are intuitive.

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 12.38.44 PM

A touch screen remote controls the television.

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 12.38.51 PM

Before take off, the flight attendant brought by a tray of orange juice, water, and champagne. I had a glass of champagne. The place to put your drinks is shared with your seatmate, so ours was a bit crowded.

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 12.38.58 PM

Another flight attendant passed out immigration forms, menus, and and an amenity kit. Here was the menu for the flight which featured dinner and breakfast.

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 12.39.16 PM

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 12.39.25 PM

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 12.39.42 PM

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 12.39.56 PM

Here was the amenity kit.

Screen Shot 2015-11-09 at 2.59.34 PM

The Aquascutum branded kit had an eye shade, socks, comb, toothbrush, toothpaste, hand sanitizer, ear plugs, lotions, and lip balms.Screen Shot 2015-11-09 at 2.59.44 PMI haven’t used anything in the kit, so I can’t speak to the quality there, but I like the size and feel of the kit itself, and I may continue to carry my own toiletries in it.
Screen Shot 2015-11-09 at 3.00.04 PM

After take off, the dinner service started. The cheese and nut plate was good. It would have looked fancier if the crackers had been served out of the package.

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 12.40.03 PM

The salad, main course, and bread from a bread basket were served together. I went with the grilled tenderloin of beef, which I had low expectations for (plane steak!), and it wasn’t very good. The vegetables and potatoes were much better.

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 12.40.13 PM

Dessert was a small raspberry cake, which was the perfect size and good enough.

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 12.40.24 PM

After dinner, I started to plan my (intentional) daylong layover in Mexico City. I decided to pay $22 for the 110 MB of data that I could use during the duration of the flight.

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 12.40.58 PM

The speed was very good, and I was able to research the top sites in Mexico City and plan an itinerary for myself.

About four hours into the flight, I decided to brush my teeth and go to bed. The bathroom had two innovations I liked. One is that it had the standard very large window you find on all 787s. During a day flight, that would have been cool.

The second is that the toiled flushed if you closed the lid or put your hand near the blue button. Flushing public toilets is gross, so those are nice improvements.

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 12.40.33 PM

I went back to my seat and put it into flat bed mode.

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 12.40.43 PM

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 12.40.50 PM

The bed was wide enough at shoulder level, but very narrow for my feet.

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 12.41.29 PM

I would estimate the bed was 6’3″ long because my 6’4″ frame was just scrunched at the top.

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 12.41.37 PM

However I managed to sleep very easily for about five hours waking only during the descent.

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 12.41.47 PM

I slept through breakfast, which was no problem for me because I was excited to eat on the ground in Mexico City.

Bottom Line

I had an ideal flight in AeroMexico Business Class on the 787 Dreamliner.

Food wasn’t that good. Service was the bare minimum. But I got to watch TV and movies from the moment I got on the plane, and much more importantly, I slept comfortably. That’s all I was looking for on my flight to the Chicago Seminars.

When you find AeroMexico Business Class between the United States and Southern South America for 45,000 Alaska miles or 62,500 Delta miles one way, book it.

I will have future installments on my time in Mexico City, the immigration process in Mexico, and lounges in Buenos Aires and Mexico.

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $800 in American Airlines flights) after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the Citi Prestige® Card. Plus get a $250 Air Travel Credit each calendar year, free airport lounge access worldwide, and your fourth night free on hotel stays. Why I got the card.

7

I recently flew in Business Class on the Avianca 787 Dreamliner from Los Angeles to Bogota. After spending a little over a week in Hawaii as a brief interlude between the summers of Europe and South America, I flew United First Class to Los Angeles and connected to Avianca Business Class to the Colombian capital. The entire award cost only 27,500 Asiana Miles + $38.

Screen Shot 2015-11-09 at 1.48.42 AM

The most notable thing on the Honolulu to Los Angeles redeye was that its Economy Plus rows were so empty that I actually left my First Class seat for a full row of Economy Plus because I find sleeping on three economy seats much more comfortable than one domestic First Class recliner. I slept about four hours on the flight.

I arrived in Los Angeles on a half night’s sleep, and unfortunately it wasn’t the smoothest transfer. LAX has a terrible design, such that very few terminals are connected airside. I had to leave terminals 7 and 8 where United is to catch a free bus to terminal 2 where Avianca is.

United had been unable to print my Avianca boarding pass in Honolulu, so I went to the Business Class check in line. The line wasn’t moving. It turns out the computers at the desks were down, so the flight attendants were taking passengers’ passports to a back room and emerging with hand written boarding passes. I’d never seen that before!

I spent about 30 minutes in the line, and the computers finally started working in time to get me a printed boarding pass. Then I had to re-clear security, since I had exited United’s terminal.

All of that greatly limited my time in the Air Canada Maple Leaf lounge, which I got into for free with my Avianca ticket and would have gotten into for free also as a Priority Pass member, which comes free with my Citi Prestige® Card.

The Air Canada lounge offers a weak continental breakfast. I left the lounge at about 9:30 and got to the gate with boarding underway. There was no separate boarding lane for Business Class passengers, so I was delayed a bit getting onto the plane.

Avianca 85
Los Angeles (LAX) – Bogota (BOG)
Depart: 9:55 AM on Tuesday September 22, 2015
Arrive: 7:10 PM
Duration: 7:15
Aircraft: Boeing 787-8
Seat: 7A (Business Class)

Once on the plane, I was very impressed with the Business Class layout in a 1-2-1 configuration that gives all seats direct aisle access. There are 28 Business Class seats in seven rows.

Screen Shot 2015-10-31 at 11.20.54 AM

I had a window seat, which had a pillow and blanket.

Screen Shot 2015-10-31 at 11.21.11 AM

Screen Shot 2015-10-31 at 11.33.53 AM

The television is built into the seat in front at an impossible to view angle without releasing it and rotating it toward you.

Screen Shot 2015-10-31 at 11.21.21 AM

Unfortunately the television needs to be stowed for take off and landing, so you can’t enjoy the entertainment system the whole time you are on the plane. I don’t know why any planes are designed such that you can’t enjoy the entertainment system the whole time you’re on the plane. What a no-brainer.

Screen Shot 2015-11-09 at 2.14.47 AM

During boarding, there was a repeated series of ads and this music video, which is my current favorite Spanish-language song and doubles as a great tourism video for Colombia.

Under the television is the ottoman, which was too far away for me to comfortably rest my feet while sitting, and I’m 6’4″.
Screen Shot 2015-10-31 at 11.21.46 AM

Next to the seat is an arm rest that is also where you’d place a drink or anything else you want to keep at hand. Above that is the large window that is one reason I prefer to fly 787s over other planes.

Screen Shot 2015-11-09 at 2.14.37 AM

Also next to the seat is a remote control for the television, a light, the intuitive seat/bed controls, headphone jack, USB plug, and universal plug.

Screen Shot 2015-10-31 at 11.27.58 AM

 

On the other side of the seat, next to the aisle, was a small storage cubby built into the seat. I used the overhead bins instead.

Screen Shot 2015-10-31 at 11.31.36 AM

Screen Shot 2015-10-31 at 11.32.24 AM

Before take off, flight attendants offered water or champagne from a tray. I went with the less fun option because I was planning to get my other half-night of sleep after take off.

After take off, flight attendants brought an amenity kit and shoe bag.

Screen Shot 2015-10-31 at 11.31.08 AM

 

The amenity kit contained the standard socks, eye shade, ear plugs, lip balm, toothpaste, toothbrush, and lotion. In addition, it contained a sticker to put on your seat if you wanted to be woken up for the meal service. That is a simple and brilliant invention because even some of the best airlines occasionally wake you up when you asked not to be or vice versa.Screen Shot 2015-10-31 at 11.31.25 AM

 

I actually always travel with two amenity kits full of my own toiletries. One is the Emirates amenity kit I just got (which replaced a Cathay Pacific amenity kit) and the other is an Avianca Tumi amenity kit that I got a while back, which is identical in size and material to this one. It’s a perfect size for my needs.

As soon as we took off, I put the seat in bed position. I was hungry, so I figured if I was still awake when the meal service came around, I’d eat. If I was asleep, I’d make do with the snack later on.

 

Screen Shot 2015-11-09 at 3.16.12 PM

I immediately fell asleep and woke up about four hours later over Guatemala.

Screen Shot 2015-10-31 at 11.28.34 AM

 

The bed is adequate. I’d call it very good if I were 6’1″ or less, but at my height I was a bit scrunched. I also don’t like the cubby hole for the feet, which is a tight squeeze. But the point of the bed is to be able to sleep. I got all the sleep my body wanted, so the bed passed the test. By any metric besides comparing it to a bed in my house or a bed in Cathay Pacific First Class, the bed is excellent and easily worth the premium in miles you’d pay over an economy redemption.

Pretty soon after waking up, the end-of-flight snack service began with a table cloth placed over the spacious table.

Screen Shot 2015-10-31 at 11.28.41 AM

 

From a cart in the aisle, we were served a ham and cheese sandwich, peanuts, and a drink. I went with water again.

Screen Shot 2015-10-31 at 11.29.04 AM

 

The main course would have been a lot better, four courses with chicken, steak, or ravioli as the main course and a dulce de leche cheesecake for dessert.

Screen Shot 2015-10-31 at 11.29.11 AM

Screen Shot 2015-10-31 at 11.29.26 AM

Screen Shot 2015-10-31 at 11.29.37 AM

Screen Shot 2015-10-31 at 11.30.31 AM

Screen Shot 2015-10-31 at 11.30.50 AM

 

Bottom Line

Avianca Business Class on its new Dreamliners is a very comfortable way to get from the United States to Colombia, within South America, or from South America to Europe.

The bed is flat and adequate for sleep. The entertainment system, when you can access it, has solid television and movie options. The service is a bit bare bones, but no worse than on American airlines.

I arrived rested in Bogota with a smile on my face.

Screen Shot 2015-10-31 at 11.32.35 AM

 

Post Script

Avianca breaks drivers. My driver arrived in Bogota in two pieces.

Screen Shot 2015-11-09 at 3.24.11 PM

After six weeks, the issue hasn’t been resolved, but I am hopeful that the saga ends soon. I’ll have a full post on it when it does.
Screen Shot 2015-11-09 at 3.24.26 PM

 

I don’t carry any other woods, so my round in Buenos Aires last week was with all irons. Good thing the course wasn’t too long.

 

 

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $800 in American Airlines flights) after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the Citi Prestige® Card. Plus get a $250 Air Travel Credit each calendar year, free airport lounge access worldwide, and your fourth night free on hotel stays. Why I got the card.

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