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Trip Report

JAL Business Class Review: ORD-NRT

Japan Airlines Business Class Review – ORD to NRT

Last December 2013, my cousin and I burned 90,000 US Airways miles and went to Thailand for 2 weeks.

I really enjoyed Thailand but didn’t have enough time to explore so with winter approaching in Chicago, I decided that January 2015 would be a perfect time to explore Southeast Asia for a couple weeks (which turned into a couple months).

This time a friend from school joined me and we decided to explore the famed “Banana Pancake Trail” starting in Hanoi, Vietnam and then basically making our way south to Ho Chi Min City, then cut over to Cambodia to see Angkor Wat, and then hopefully make our way to Southern Thailand.

This was the first trip I’ve ever taken where everything (logistics, lodging, transportation) hadn’t been explicitly laid out in advance. The only thing we had planned was the general direction of where we were going after landing in Hanoi, which was SOUTH!

To get to Hanoi, I opted to burn my large bank of AA miles that I had stockpiled over the years.

The business class award was 50,000 one way on Japan Airlines, with a 5,000 rebate thanks to having a Citi AA card.

So in reality, the award only cost 45,000 miles!

I found the award by searching on British Airways.

Our itinerary ended up being:

  • ORD-NRT on JAL 777-300ER
  • NRT-HAN on JAL 787 Dreamliner

JAL 777-300ER Business Class Review

On our day of departure in January 2015, the weather in Chicago was about -20F so we were extremely lucky to not have our flight canceled or severely delayed due to icing issues.

By sheer coincidence, another blogger The Points Jock was also on our exact same plane and cabin, which has never happened to me before.

The Points Jock said that JAL was his favorite business class so the expectations were set high. Outside of Thai Airways last year, I have not flown any other Asian carriers, so I was excited to try JAL out.

For me the funniest part of the flight was right before pulling back, I looked out the window and there was someone who didn’t look like a worker who was just taking photos of the plane like an AVgeek. Very strange!

Soft Product – 9/10 Points

Amenities

After boarding, the flight attendant came by to personally introduce herself, which was a nice touch.

We were offered a cup of green tea, along with our choice of orange juice or champagne.

The FA then brought us a Tumi amenity kit.

Of course, only Asian carriers would include a facemask in the amenity kit…

To my surprise, we were also offered a pajama top (but no bottoms), which you normally don’t receive in business class. I wasn’t sure if you were allowed to keep it and it was too small so I didn’t take it with me.

Food

After take off, we received dining menus, which as other people have noted is oddly named JAL BEDD SKY AUBERGE.

The menu had both a Western and Japanese option, as well as an on-demand menu.

We both opted for the Japanese option, which was pretty good.

Dining started with an Amuse Bouche of Prosciutto di Parma & Bocconcini Mozzarella along with Marinated Vegetables.

That was followed by a “bento box” of 9 different kobachi bowls along with some sake.

For the main course, there was sesame-crusted grilled salmon & stewed pork belly, along with steamed rice, miso soup, and Japanese pickles.

For dessert, we were served sabayon with fresh berries.

Overall, the Japanese menu was probably one of the most unique meals I have had on a plane and was overall pretty good.

Halfway through the 14 hour flight, I was hungry again so I decided to check out the on-demand menu which was surprisingly thorough and quite delicious.

I opted to try the ramen while my friend got the gnocchi. Both were quite tasty and possibly some of the best ramen I have had (on the ground or on a plane).

Service

I slept for most of the flight but my friend ended up staying up the entire flight and the service he received was top notch.

His drink was never empty and someone came to visually check on us every 10 minutes. If we ever needed anything, we simply had to flag them down.

I’ve never had service like that before and overall it was exceptional.

Hard Product – 9/10 Points

JAL has an interesting configuration for business class which I now think is one of the best mixes of privacy and convenience.

The configuration is 2-3-2 but each person basically has a semi-enclosed suite.

Although we were sitting near the window, due to the configuration every single person has direct access to the aisle. Even people sitting in the middle 3 seats.

Although lack of storage was an issue, everything about the seat was phenomenal.

Not only was the suite spacious but also had a large television and a privacy divider if you really wanted a fully private suite.

Since I was traveling with a friend, in our case it was nice to have the divider that could go up and down.

The Points Jock informed me that in the luggage bins there were free mattress pads which I used when I slept and it really made a significant difference.

Outside of first class, JAL is probably the best seat I have ever flown.

Overall – 9/10 Points

Personally, JAL was one of the best flying experiences I have ever had.

Not only was the service impeccable but also the seat and food was fantastic.

For some reason JAL definitely gets overshadowed by the other Asian carriers like Singapore, ANA, and Cathay (personally I have never flown any of those yet) but if you are going to Asia on AA miles, I would highly recommend trying out JAL because it is absolutely phenomenal.

-Parag

ORD-LHR and ZRH-HKG Flight Reviews

Background

Back in December, as most of you know, my Cousin and I went to Asia for 2 weeks.

The trip was semi-spontaneous in that I had 100,000 US Airway Miles that I wanted to use pre-merger and knew that I wanted to go to Asia.

Back in October, US Airways just happened to run a 100% bonus promotion for sharing miles, so I “shared” 100,000 miles with my Cousin and he paid the $1,000 transfer fee. While $1,000 is not small change, it is about the same price as it would have cost had he bought an Economy ticket, but instead he got 100,000 US Airways miles which he could redeem for Business Class!

While getting the miles was pretty easy, redeeming them was a whole separate story!

Mission Impossible

Thanks to my school and my Cousin’s work schedule, we could only go for 2 weeks and wanted to leave on a Friday and return on a Sunday, which of course is what everyone else traveling wanted to do!

Needless to say in October (2 months out), availability was non-existent. Our thinking was if we waited closer to departure in December, award availability would open up.

Outbound availability eventually opened up and we had to pay the stupid $75 close-in ticketing fee but return flights from the US to Asia over the Pacific never materialized, so we ended up going “the long way” over Europe.

After we created an itinerary with the extremely limited flight options, we called it in to US Air, fed our flight numbers and were told by the US Air Agent, “Oh I don’t see that Lufthansa flight over the Atlantic”.

Apparently US Airways started blocking Lufthansa Award Flights in recent months. While this wouldn’t normally be a big problem, since US Airways website sucks and doesn’t show international partner options, there was no way to know what US Airway agents could see on their end, so it turned into a guessing game.

Eventually we figured out it was mostly flights across the Atlantic that were blocked. Intra-EU and EU-Asia flights were fine.

Anyways, after spending literally 20+ hours on the phone with US Airways and about to give up, we ticketed the following itinerary for 90,000 US Airways Miles + $275 in taxes + $75 booking fee in Business Class!

Chicago – London – Munich – Zurich (12 hour layover) – Hong Kong (Stopover) – Bangkok – Beijing – Zurich – Brussels (26 hour Stopover #2) – Washington D.C – Chicago

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Chicago – Hong Kong

Since Lufthansa was blocked over the Atlantic, we had to fly United to Zurich by going thru London and Munich…

I personally find United’s lie-flat business class seats great and could care less about the “service”, but after this flight, I have concluded that United is really the front runner in the big 3 Domestic Carriers “Race To The Bottom”.

After checking-in, we first hit up the Chicago O’Hare United Lounge and were dismayed that now United only offers Bud Light as their complementary beer. If you want Heineken or really anything else, it will cost $3. Whereas hard alcohol costs anywhere from $9 – $11.

I am not even a big drinker but the fact that this is a “benefit” that United provides to their TOP TIER ELITES who fly at least 50,000 BUTT-IN-SEAT MILES YEARLY or pay the ridiculous $500 United Club Card annual fee is unreal…

“Little Footie & Free Bud Light”

Anyways, the bar (no pun intended) was set pretty low after departing the Red Carpet Club but United somehow managed to drop it even lower.

While my last United Business Class flight to Amsterdam was surprisingly good, this flight was pretty bad!

My Cousin had never flown Business before but even he wasn’t impressed.

To start off, the “champagne” that they serve pre-departure was served in plastic cups. Literally cannot even make this up…

“Drinking Champagne On The Airplane #2Chainz”

Normally silly “decorative” stuff like this doesn’t bother me because at the end of the day, Business Class is about the seat, but once again it just BLOWS MY MIND that for Passengers who have paid $5,000+ for a Business Class ticket, United can’t even afford to use real glassware!

At that point, honestly why even offer champagne? Might as well switch to 2 Buck Chuck and serve it in red solo cups…

“Upcoming United Enhancement…”

Things only got worse from that point…

During dinner, when we inquired to the flight attendant which of the 3 dinner options she would recommend, she told us nonchalantly that since she has been a flight attendant for 18 years, she doesn’t eat airplane food anymore. End of statement.

It is hard to imagine a flight attendant on Lufthansa, Thai, or really any other Carrier answering our question like that. Even a simple response like, “Although I’ve never had it before, the chicken is a popular choice with other passengers” would have been fine.

Anyways, not surprisingly, the food we got (pasta and beef) was pretty bad and the service equally as terrible.

Thankfully United’s lie-flat seat was good and the Philosophy products in the amenity kit were good, otherwise the flight was mediocre at best.

“Best Part Of The Flight”

Zurich

Although we had a 12+ hour layover in Zurich, thanks to some heavy weather delays at Heathrow, we got delayed to Munich and made it to Zurich on Christmas Day with ONLY 6 hours to spare!

If you haven’t been to Zurich Airport, it is beautifully built, as is the lounge!

“Main Terminal. Not Even In The Lounge Yet!”

My favorite part of the lounge had to be the “art” installation of planes taking off!

“Coolest Thing Ever!”

While the lounge was nice, it wasn’t 6 hours nice, so we opted to venture into the city and stroll around for a couple hours, which was great since it was 50 degrees and all decked out in Christmas cheer!

“Downtown Zurich”

“Doing Some Last Minute 2013 Tax Evasion”

Thanks to the efficient Zurich train system, you can get from the Airport to Downtown Zurich in 8 minutes, for around $14 round-trip!

Zurich – Hong Kong

I had never flown Swiss in Business Class (or Swissness Class as I call it) but given how low the bar was set by United, figured it couldn’t be much worse.

Swiss exceeded expectations instantly by providing champagne in REAL GLASSWARE!

“Real Glassware”

As for Swiss’s lie-flat seats, they are a bit different from United’s. Swiss’s are definitely a bit better for sleeping but not as good as United’s for lounging or watching movies. Similarly United’s IFE screens are quite large, whereas Swiss’s are quite small in comparison (about the size of an iPad).

“Swissness Class”

As for the food, since we were flying on Christmas, Swiss actually had an entirely separate Christmas menu for the flight, which was a nice touch! Unfortunately, I forgot to take pictures of all the courses, but needless to say it was all pretty great.

"Appetizer"

“Appetizer Of Prosciutto”

Recap

Although booking this award was such a huge pain in the butt, I am glad we were able to ticket it for 90,000 miles and thankful that I will never have to deal with US Airways again in my life!

While most of us have come to expect nothing from United in terms of service, they have really sunk to a new low by charging Elites for beer in the lounge and using plastic glassware in Business Class. I am just happy the flight was more or less free because I can’t imagine paying that much money and getting that kind of service.

Although I wasn’t looking forward to laying over in Zurich, thanks to their extremely efficient public transit, it was awesome going into the city for a few hours and I recommend it! As for the actual Swiss flight, I was fairly impressed and they are probably my favorite European Star Alliance carrier after Austrian! Although it was a long 10+ hour flight, it was extremely enjoyable and relaxing.

Coming up next is Hong Kong, Thai Airways A380, and Bangkok reviews!

-Parag


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One Last Hurrah: Europe / Africa Itinerary – Part 1

One Last Hurrah

On an absolute whim, way back in June 2013, my friend and I booked the Etihad Airways Seychelles -> Dublin mistake fare for $361.

After booking the trip, I got accepted into Grad School for Fall 2013. Since the Seychelles -> Dublin trip meant we were already going to be in Africa and Europe, I decided to really go all out before school starts since I am going to be sidelined from traveling for the next year.

In addition to the Seychelles trip, my Cousin wanted to go to Central / Eastern Europe so I decided to tack that on before doing the Seychelles -> Dublin leg.

All in all, I will be traveling for around 37 days non-stop, from August 22 to September 30th!

If you have been following me on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram (you don’t need an Instagram account to see the photos), you are well aware this trip has already begun!

If you aren’t following me on social media, I highly recommend it because it is way easier for me to post on there than type up an entire blog post on my iPhone!

Flights

Since we paid for the Seychelles (SEZ) –> Dublin (DUB) fare out of pocket, I basically needed a one way ticket to Africa and a one way ticket home from Dublin.

When I originally bought the SEZ -> DUB fare, I assumed there were tons of possible award options like using United miles there and then flying back on Aer Lingus (using Avios) or burning Delta miles or using ANA, etc.

However after looking at all the possible options, plus the fact that my Cousin wanted to go to Central / Eastern Europe before hand, the only viable option left was to burn United Miles.

Although I would have preferred to burn any of my other miles since United miles are probably the most valuable mileage currency, most of the other options did not allow the double open jaw & stopover that United allows.

I REALLY wanted to use up all my 90,000 US Airways miles before the AA / US Airways merger (which was still on track to happen when I was booking these flights).

From what I have heard US Airways agents are notorious for being clueless as to how much award itineraries should cost, so they would have no problem believing that Seychelles (which is off of Africa in the Indian Ocean) is simply an island in the Caribbean or North Asia. Unfortunately, I tried US Airways and while the agent asked no questions about where Addis Ababa or Seychelles were, US Airways computers only allow a stopover OR an open jaw, not both options which I happened to need!

So I ultimately decided to use United miles!

In the past when I did my 45 hour First Class Extravaganza in December, I didn’t really have any issue pushing the limits on what was considered acceptable for a United Award ticket. I clearly went over the acceptable routing requirements and turned a 15,000 mile flight from ORD-BOM-ORD into a 25,000 mile flight that took me from ORD-IAD-FRA-NRT-BKK-BOM-EWR-ORD-DCA. I thought booking this ticket would be a similar case but boy was I wrong.

Via Flyertalk, I had read that you can have up to 12 segments per a United award but every time I called into United after spending hours creating an itinerary using the ANA tool, I couldn’t get United to price the award.

The agents would always try to get me to split the reservation into 2 separate tickets (or basically 2 one ways) but then I would lose the valuable double open jaw & stopover which doesn’t apply to one way tickets.

Eventually I figured out that anything more than 8 segments messes up United’s computers, so I carefully whittled my itinerary down to 8 segments.

The most annoying part about booking this award was that many of the segments were unnecessary like flying ORD-AMS-CPH-PRG, instead of ORD-PRG, because at the time I made the booking, there was no United availability.

However if I had waited for availability to open up closer to my departure (as it almost always does), then I would have gotten hit with United’s bogus $75 close-in ticketing fee, so it was really a catch-22. Either book unnecessary stops or pay $75 in nonsense close-in ticketing fees.

After 20+ hours on the phone with United (not even an exaggeration), I finally booked the following itinerary for 90,000 United miles.

The first leg to Africa is in Business Class (76,000 miles), while the return from Europe is in Economy (30,000 miles).

First Leg

August 22, 2013

Chicago to Amsterdam

United Business Class – Boeing 767

As this trip started almost 3 weeks ago, I already flew this leg and it was surprisingly awesome!

United is certainly not known for having a “great” Business or First Class product and this was my first time flying United Business Class (and not BusinessFirst), but I was extremely impressed.

It may have helped that I got an awesome Purser, who was easily the best United Flight Attendant I have ever had, but United also has real 180 degree lie-flat seats and an awesome In-Flight Entertainment system with shows people actually want to watch like House of Cards, Modern Family, Curb Your Enthusiasm, etc.

Even the food was surprisingly good!

The pre-departure water was the best I’ve ever had ; )

For dinner, I had a salad to start followed by tamale stuffed chicken.

I have always gone out of my way to NOT fly United Business Class because of the normally terrible service but this flight definitely changed my view. 

At the end of the day, you fly Business Class for the seat and not the service, which many people seem to forget!

Going forward, I will definitely consider flying United Business Class in the future if there is a lie-flat seat available.

August 23, 2013

Amsterdam to Copenhagen

SAS Euro Business Class – MD-80

I have been to Amsterdam before, so instead of laying over for 23 hours, I instead opted to go onwards to Copenhagen and spend 23 hours.

Euro Business Class is fairly boring and basically they block out the middle seat. However much to my surprise, the flight from AMS – CPH was on an SAS MD-80, which is set to retire and is part of the SAS DO later this month.

I am not sure what the fascination with the MD-80 is besides it being an old plane because the inside is pretty terrible. I guess since it is set to retire, it is cool to say I have now flown on the MD-80 but it isn’t exactly the same as saying you flew the Concorde before it was retired…

For lodging in Copenhagen, I stayed at a great hostel called Copenhagen Downtown Hostel for $40 a a night.

European Stopover Detour Leg

August 24, 2013

Copenhagen to Prague

Norwegian Airways Economy Class

After spending 23 hours exploring Copenhagen, I hopped on a plane to Prague where I met up with my Cousin.

Normally doing a 23-hour layover wouldn’t be a problem but because of the 8 segment max limit for my United award, I actually had to take a full 11 day stopover in Copenhagen and then pay out of pocket for a ticket from CPH -> PRG on Norwegian Airways for $100.

As the itinerary unfolds you will see why this was necessary, but if a United.com agent was looking at my award, my trip effectively stops in Copenhagen for 11 days.

Prague – 3 days

We spent 3 days in Prague doing a whole host of activities. Prague is very cheap and had some really unique restaurants and bars. I’d highly recommend visiting!

For lodging, we opted to get a private double room at the Czech Inn Hostel. Although it was a hostel, it was as nice as a Four Points and since it was a private room, it was basically like we were staying in a hotel. Not to mention it was only $30 each a night!

Vienna – 2 days

From Prague, we took the train to Vienna for around $40.

Although our train from Prague to Vienna was definitely from the Soviet era, we ended up getting our own cabin which had a sliding door, “lie flat bed”, in-flight entertainment (via our computers), internet (via wi-fi hotspot), etc.

Basically bring your own bottle of Krug or Dom Pieriegon and you have a Singapore First Class Suite : )

Vienna was like any other small European city. Outside of museums and random outdoor opera, there wasn’t much to do besides eat Wiener Schnitzel and Sacher Torte cake.  

We did venture out to the 1,410 room Schönbrunn Palace for one day and it was fairly amazing. In my opinion, it was even better than Versailles.

For lodging, since Vienna is on the Euro, hotels were extremely expensive. I was able to use the CarlsonF code, and get the Radisson Blu for $80 Euro a night. While it certainly wasn’t cheap, the normal rate was $150 Euro a night, so it was a steal. Plus since I am Radisson Gold, we got upgraded and the breakfast and the minibar was included in the CarlsonF rate!

Bratislava – 1 day

Since Vienna and Bratislava are the 2 closest country capitals in the world and were only an hour away from one another by train, we decided to visit Bratislava for the day.

Bratislava is fairly small, so in 1 day we were able to see the entire city with plenty of time left over.

For lodging, we stayed at the Sheraton Bratislava on Cash & Points for 7,000 points and $50.

It is easily one of the nicest Sheratons in the world and being SPG Gold, we were upgraded to a room that had an entire terrace!

Budapest – 3 days

Finally 10 days after starting, we took the train to Budapest and ended the first leg of our trip.

Budapest is again like Prague where everything is really cheap. There are also quite a few cool sites to see!

The food in Budapest was actually surprisingly tasty, however the highlight had to be the Baths, which are the largest Baths in all of Europe!

Nothing like spending the day soaking!

In addition, there are many “ruin bars”, which are basically dilapidated building turned into the most unique bars I have ever seen in my life.

For lodging, we stayed at the Radisson Blu again. While it was pretty dated hotel, it was in a central location and was only $40 a night total. That is how cheap Budapest is… 

My Cousin has a real job so he unfortunately he had to return back to Seattle, but another friend / FlyertTalker that many of you probably know, Eric B., joined me after my Cousin left.

Unfortunately due to scheduling, Eric arrived in Europe 3 days after my Cousin left, so I opted to go visit Rome for 2 days and then meet him at London Heathrow.

September 2, 2013

Budapest to Rome

Wizz Air Economy Class

It is pretty common knowledge that intra-Europe airfare can be had fairly cheaply via low cost carriers like Ryan Air, Wizz Air, Easy Jet, etc.

While cheap is good in my book, you really get for what you pay for with these airlines (which is basically nothing) and ultimately you are signing up to get nickeled and dimed for every single thing.

I’ve flown Ryan Air twice before and while it was fine, I was carrying so much stuff for 37 days on my back, that after calculating the baggage fees, etc, I realized it was better to pay a little more and not have to worry about unnecessary baggage fees. If your bag weighs too much or it doesn’t fit into the metal cage, it can easily be an extra $100 to check it.

Ultimately I settled on Wizz Air, which is a Hungarian low cost carrier. The flight was around $150, which is way more than I wanted to spend BUT it is certainly cheaper than flying from Chicago to Rome, so I decided to just do it.

If you bag can fit under the seat, then it flies free but if you need to put it in the above bins, then it is a small fee of $20. I opted to just pay the $20 more and was able to put my backpack, laptop, camera, shoes, etc into the rain cover for my backpack and make it all look like 1 piece of luggage.

The seat on Wizz Air was the smallest seat I have ever sat in. The knees touched the seat in front of me but you get what you pay for…

For lodging in Rome, I again opted to stay at a hostel called the Yellow Hostel. The hostel was fine and a great way to meet other travelers who were also doing extended trips.

Although it was ungodly hot and humid in Rome, I spent 2 days doing walking tours with Romeing Tours for $40 Euros, which was a great way to see the city, sites, and the Pope, all while not feeling bad about eating gelato with basically every meal.

September 5, 2013

Rome to Copenhagen

Easy Jet Economy Class

I have also flown Easy Jet before and they are kind of like Southwest in my book. I was able to get a flight from Rome – Copenhagen for $50, which is a steal!

Of all the low cost carriers, Easy Jet doesn’t charge you anything to take on carry-ons, so I was surprised when they made everyone put their carry-on into the metal test cage before boarding!

Of course, my “one” carry-on bag was actually 4 separate pieces of small luggage that I had stuffed into a larger soft-sided rain cover, so it definitely didn’t fit into the metal test cage. The options were basically put as much stuff as I could in my pockets and hide the rest, or pay $100 to check my bag. I opted to get creative and hid my laptop and camera into a smaller backpack which I then in turn hid under my jacket so I looked like a hunch back. Thankfully the gate agent didn’t notice the huge bulge in my back and my main backpack ended up fitting in the metal cage so I didn’t have to pay to check it. It was a stressful 10 minutes to say the least but I avoided any additional baggage fees!

In total I was able to get from Budapest to Rome to Copenhagen for around $200! While it wasn’t an exceptional price, it certainly wasn’t a bad deal.

If you are wondering why I had to fly from Rome back to Copenhagen to begin with, the reason is that I needed to return to Copenhagen to restart my stopover on my United award.

I had always assumed that if you did a stopover, you could stop in 1 city and restart your journey in another city. Apparently this isn’t the case and you have to restart where you stopped at.

So as I explained earlier, on my United award ticket I “stopped” in Copenhagen for 11 days, so to continue on my United award to Africa, I had to return to Copenhagen to restart my trip.

First Leg Continued

September 5, 2013

Copenhagen to London Heathrow

SAS Euro Business Class

I put a 3-hour buffer between landing in Copenhagen and continuing onwards to London, in the event my Rome –> Copenhagen EasyJet flight got delayed.

Thankfully that flight was fine, so I ended up having 3 hours in Copenhagen!

Since I was once again flying on my United award ticket, I had access to the SAS Business Class Lounge!

One word: wow!

I only managed to get one picture, but the SAS Lounge has to be one of the nicest Star Alliance Business Lounges after Turkish Airlines in Istanbul.

Great food, great ambiance, and there was even a working fireplace!

September 5, 2013

London Heathrow to Addis Ababa

Ethiopian Airlines Business Class – 787 Dreamliner

As I explained in my post about using the ANA tool to search for United flights, there are only a few good options into Addis Ababa, which is the hub for Ethiopian Airlines and also the ONLY Star Alliance carrier that flies into Seychelles!

While most people avoid flying out of London due to the Premium Cabin Tax, Ethiopian Ailines flies the 787 Dreamliner from Heathrow, so it seemed like the most comfortable option to Addis Ababa. Mind you that this is the exact same Ethiopian 787 plane that caught on fire while parked at Heathrow…

Not to mention that in the Singapore Lounge at Heathrow, you have to worry about this. You know that this sign is only up because this has been an issue in the past…

While I have flown the United 787 during the SMD4, the Ethiopian 787 doesn’t have lie-flat seats which was of concern.

Eric has opted to do a trip report on our Ethiopian 787 experience since I was sleeping most of the time, so I won’t spoil it, but all in all, the flight was surprisingly good.

The Ethiopian service was on par with what you would find on United and the food and drinks were pretty good. While the 787 didn’t have lie flat seats, the seats did go down to about 165 degrees so you weren’t sliding down like on Lufthansa.

While I’d definitely recommend flying Ethiopian 787 down to Africa, the Ethiopian Airport is something else and is exactly what you would expect at an African airport. There are only 9 gates, no real food options, and the “duty free” shops only accept cash and many sell counterfeit goods.

While we did have lounge access, the lounge was lit only by natural light in the ceiling if that is any indication of what type of airport this is…

So if you can fly the 787 down to Addis Ababa and have a short 3-hour connection like we did, I would highly recommend flying Ethiopian, BUT if you have a 3+ hour layover, I’d recommend flying a different route.

September 6, 2013

Addis Ababa – Seychelles

Ethiopian Airways Economy Class – Boeing 737

In Addis Ababa, we had a short 3-hour layover and then flew onwards to Seychelles.

Unfortunately, even though there was no one in Business Class, Ethiopian Airways did not release any Business Class award seats, so we were relegated back to Economy. Thankfully the flight was not full at all, so were able to get a full row to ourselves and basically had a “lie-flat” bed to sleep on for 4 hours!

While I did want to spend time in Africa on this trip, due to the rules of only 1 stopover, outside of spending 23 hours in ADD (which didn’t work because of the limited flights to Seychelles), there wasn’t any real way to spend any time in Ethiopia.

Honestly I think not stopping in Africa is for the best and it ultimately makes more sense to come back to Africa on a separate trip rather than try to slip in a visit on an already cramped trip.

As for the United award ticket, Seychelles the official end of the first leg of our journey.

If you were paying attention, for 60,000 United miles, I was able to go from Chicago -> Amsterdam -> Copenhagen (11 day stopover) -> London-> Addis Ababa -> Seychelles in Business Class!

On top of that, by taking advantage of United’s liberal award rules, cheap trains, and even cheaper European low cost airlines, on one leg of my journey, I was also able to squeeze in seeing Copenhagen, Prague, Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest, Rome for around $350 in additional transportation costs!

I plan on covering Seychelles and the hotels in a separate post but I can say that it was absolutely amazing and is basically paradise. The island is developed enough that there are quite a few luxury resorts but at the same time it is remote enough that there aren’t many tourists and you don’t feel like you are in Caribbean or Hawaii.

Not to mention the locals are extremely friendly. One night we were walking to the local store and ended up making random friends with some locals playing dominos and were invited to join in.

We were in Seychelles for 5 nights and since hotels can be expensive, we decided to minimize out of pocket expenses by burning hotel points.

For the first night, since Eric is SPG Platinum, we burned 20,000 SPG points at the Le Meridian Fisherman’s Cove and were upgraded to a villa. It was a great property with a nice pool and great views.

View from the villa

For the next 2 nights, I burned my 2 free night certificates that I received from the Citi Hilton Reserve Card at the Hilton Northolme.

There is always hesitation in using free night certificates, because they can basically used for any property, but I am EXTREMELY HAPPY that I used the 2 free nights at this Hilton property.

The property was absolutely stunning!

It is actually the smallest Hilton property in the world with only 40 villas! Also all the villas are identical, so no worries about having to be upgraded!

We ended up getting a hilltop villa, complete with a huge balcony and unreal views. Below is a photo of just the bathroom…

In addition, since I am Hilton Gold via the credit card, we got free breakfast, which saved us around $40 each a day.

The best part about the Hilton Northolme is that they have a private cove for snorkeling with free gear. It also helps that the fishes in the cove are basically Hilton employees, since Hilton throws bread into the water everyday to keep them coming back. So as soon as you enter the water, you are mobbed by tons of fish and basically guaranteed to have an amazing time snorkeling.  

Second private beach

View from the beach looking up at the resort

If you are thinking about visiting Seychelles and using points, the Hilton Northolme is the way to go, absolutely no contest. 

For the final 2 nights, we opted to do Airbnb for $100 a night, and got a villa high up in the mountains. While it wasn’t Le Meridian or Hilton Northolme, it is hard to complain when you are enjoying some fresh papaya with passion fruit, along with a killer view!

Recap

Part 2 of One Last Hurrah is auto set to be posted tomorrow and will cover the UAE, Dublin, Amsterdam, Athens, Santorini, Mykonos, and Munich.

I still have another 2 weeks of traveling until I am back home and am about to board the Etihad flight to Abu Dhabi, so I encourage anyone who is interested in following my trip to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

-Parag

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