Two Crazy Promotions

When I started collecting miles and points, I had no idea that there were so many interesting ways to get flights in business class or higher or accumulate points and it’s taken awhile to get up to speed, but recent events have highlighted some of the more novel promotions that occasionally come up, and illustrate the value of paying attention (and having a flexible schedule to travel, of course). Here’s the story:

The first one came up about two months ago, when Iberia unveiled an almost unbelievable promotion involving getting 9k Iberia Avios for each flight purchased (but not necessarily flown!). It’s this last bit that set the points’n miles blogosphere on fire, since you could buy some cheap inter-Spain flights for $19-$38 or so, and max out the promo at 90,000 Avios (with some restrictions). With Iberia assuring us (see what I did there?) that we didn’t need to actually fly the flights booked, I took a bit of a chance and scooped up my

90k Avios. Well, last week I booked a MEX-MAD roundtrip in Iberia Business class for next October…total $335.00+$260.00 in taxes/fees. Around $600

for roundtrip biz class to Europe is a pretty damn good win in my book. I mean, it’s Iberia, not Air France, but it’s a lie-flat seat across the pond, and I’ll be exploring Portugal as a potential landing spot. I gotta wonder what some dim bulb over at Iberia was thinking, since this is completely crazy. What’s going to happen to all those unoccupied seats, I wonder?

The second promo was supposed to last for five hours, but ended early, I

assume after an amazing response. Here it involved booking hotel rooms through Avianca’s LifeMiles for 5X Lifemiles, which is run by Rocketmiles, a site I previously had no experience with, although you can be damn sure I’ll be paying attention to it in the future. (Here, I have to also confess that I haven’t really given to LifeMiles either until recently, when they had a simultaneous

sale on buying miles and redeeming them on some Asia destinations and I took advantage of that to book a cheap trip to Asia on Asiana F from LAX next summer). This just so happened to be on the eve of my Japan trip, and I was needing to book a couple of nights, so I jumped on the LifeMiles Hotels website and found some pretty amazing redemptions, like 45k miles for a $600 hotel room for two nights. Upshot was I spent about $1400 for five nights in Japanese hotels and collected 105k LifeMiles for that. Even factoring

in that these weren’t my choice of places to stay, and some were a bit overpriced on the website compared to say, hotels.com, it’s still pretty nuts to think I essentially bought 105k LifeMiles at a cheap price and got 5 nights in hotel rooms for free. (LifeMiles regularly go on sale, and you can sometimes get them as cheap as 1.3 cents per mile but not cheaper). Anyway, since I just booked my Asia trip with 144k LifeMiles roundtrip in Asiana F, I’m happy with this result. I’m sure these miles will take me somewhere fun…

2018 Japan Trip Recap

Reflections on Japan:

  1. Japan, we know, is a country unique in all the world. The historic isolation, the ancient culture, and the modern technological achievements make this country one of the most interesting you can experience, and of course, you’re urged to visit at least once. These factors mean that there’s a huge amount of quirkiness/contradiction here, starting with
  2. Japanese fastidiousness. It’s a real thing, from the taking off of shoes, the covering of everything and I do mean everything in plastic (towels in plastic!), to the elaborate bidets embedded in the toilets, and the money trays wherever you pay.
  3. We saw very few pets in Tokyo, a few more in Kyoto, and more in Takayama. Still, compared to the US, Mexico or South American countries, the number seemed absurdly low. Is this related to the fastidiousness? I mean, pets are…messy.
  4. It almost goes without saying that the train system in Japan has no equal. Riding the Shinkansen (bullet train) is an amazing experience to a USian. Likewise, the transit system in Tokyo is the most extensive I’ve ever seen, and it probably needs to be, given the size of the city. This meant that vehicular traffic was vastly less than you’d expect if you’re used to that in Mexico City, Bogota, or Southern California. Saw a decent amount of people riding bicycles wherever we went.
  5. Lots and lots of old people working in Japan, from driving taxis to serving food to just about any service job you can think of. Is this because there’s less age discrimination in Japan, or has it to do with the aging of the population (Japan is the most rapidly aging society on Earth, thanks to a longstanding declining birthrate and practically no immigration) or something else?
  6. It’s expensive! Japan is one of the most expensive places in the world to travel in. Oh sure, you’ll get people online and other places telling you it’s cheap, but, oh so sorry, I have to call bullshit on that. These claims are invariably followed by suggestions on how you can eat or stay cheaply (y’know, like get instant ramen from the 7-11 or the like) which doesn’t change the reality that the place is just damn expensive. I’ve never visited a place where money disappears as fast as Japan.
  7. The fact that Japan is one of the, if not the, most developed countries in the world doesn’t negate the fact that there’s a huge amount of well-preserved natural landscapes and breathtakingly beautiful places. Highly recommend the train from Nagoya to Takayama.
  8. Food is of exceptionally high quality. Feel free to just pop in to some random place and you’ll get at least decent, if not excellent food. Just don’t expect a dry napkin; you’ll receive a little wet one wrapped in plastic.
  9. Weirdly, there’s still smoking allowed in some restaurants and bars. We were a bit taken aback when someone just lit up in a restaurant. Funny how you can get used to something, or a lack of it, so quickly. At any rate, it seemed strange. On the plus side, ventilation was normally good enough not to have to breathe fumes.
  10. Not an exaggeration to say that this is the most polite, well-ordered society on Earth. Youf can leave your bag just about anywhere and it’ll be there when you get back. People don’t cross against the light at intersections. You hear “arigato gosaimashte” (thank you very much) so often it’s like breathing. In traffic, everybody knows the rules, everybody follows the rules, and everything moves smoothly. Downside to this: Japanese people are quite indirect in their expressions. The fact that someone is saying “hai” (yes) to you multiple times doesn’t mean they agree with you, it just means they hear what you said.
  11. Some English is spoken and understood, at least in the bigger or more touristy areas.
  12. Japanese people don’t seem to wear sunglasses hardly at all. No idea why this is.
  13. The way they dispose of their trash is still somewhat of a mystery to me. Of course, there’s a distinct lack of litter anywhere you go, but it’s also quite difficult to find a trash receptacle.
  14. Japan still makes a lot of goods, most of it interesting and high quality. Get your shopping hat on, but don’t expect souvenirs to be cheap (see #6, above). I brought home a yukata (summer kimono).
  15. Exchange rate at time of travel: 113JPY-1USD.
  16. Coins-cash: yes, still a big thing here. There’s actually a 500 yen coin, which equates to about $4.00US. On the other hand, they need to retire the one yen coin; it’s silly. Get used to carrying around a lot of coins. Lots of credit card acceptance, but lots of cash-only places too.
  17. Somewhat as expected, the elaborate toilets/bidets in Japan proved to be entertaining and…useful.
  18. Try to take in the authentic Japanese hotel experience at least once by staying at a ryokan. You’ll sleep on a futon on the floor, there’ll be yukata (summer kimonos/robes) provided, and usually there’s an onsen (Japanese bath) to soak in. It’s fun!
  19. Synopses of the places we stayed: Tokyo: cosmopolitan first stop, crazy numbers of people, quintessential urban Japan. Kyoto: temples, tombs and shrines, oh my! Geisha capital, rent a kimono. Takayama: feel the ancient culture, experience beautiful nature, eat the Hida beef.

Newest Trip Booked! The Value of Transferable Points and the Discounts They Offer

I just booked a  two week trip for two to Portugal and Italy next May and June.  I thought I would use this opportunity to explain how accumulating transferable points from credit cards can help you book discounted flight awards with airlines.  In this case, we are flying KLM (which, by the by, is owned by Air France) from IAH to Lisbon via Amsterdam, in business class.  I’ve taken a KLM biz flight previously and was mightily impressed with it, so I’m confident that the experience will be a superior one (superior, at least, to flying with the US3).  The reason I jumped at this particular redemption was that American Express, as it sometimes does, was offering a 25% bonus transfer to Air France (Air France’s website is where you go to search for flight awards and book them).  As it happens, I also had 16k miles from the paid biz class flight I took to Vienna and Prague a couple of years ago, so I was able to use those as well, which was a good thing since AF miles expire after 3 years.  Air France has recently revamped its awards, so it’s not easy to find decent award space any more, but booking far in advance usually will produce some decent awards.  Also, one needs to be aware that the surcharges on AF awards are not cheap; in this case, $500 per roundtrip.  I suppose you really do have to believe in the value of traveling in premier classes to jump through all these hoops and then pay an extra $1000 on top, just to fly biz class to Europe.  I ended up spending 220k Amex points to book these two award tickets, which I think is a reasonable redemption, given that there’s no positioning to the East coast.  Because of how flexible they are, I tend to gravitate towards accumulating Chase Ultimate Rewards points and Amex Member Rewards points.  The corollary to this is that you should pay attention when these transferable points go “on sale,”  so you can leverage them further.  My upcoming trip to Japan was my first experience in transferring points that carried a bonus, so in this case I got a roundtrip first class flight on ANA from Houston to Tokyo for a very reasonable 93,000 Amex points.

To accumulate transferable points, again, the two best are Chase and Amex.  Amex is easier to earn because of their multitude of cards and the ease of getting them.  However, be  aware that most Amex cards have a lifetime rule, meaning that once you get a signup bonus, you’re prohibited from getting it again.  On the other hand, Chase has gotten to be quite restrictive in approving cards, and they have the much-talked about 5/24 rule, which means that if you’ve opened or closed more than 5 cards in 24 months, they won’t approve you for another one (this typically doesn’t apply to business cards).

Review: Thai Royal First Class BKK-SYD

 

Having just flown F on Korean Air, I had great anticipation of experiencing Thai’s product and sure enough, there were significant differences between the two. I got to fly the venerable 747, which turned out to be both good and bad, depending on which seat configuration was utilized.

The Hard Product

I’m not sure how much longer Thai is going to have the 747, which guzzles fuel at at rate inconsistent with today’s newer planes. At present, there are two configurations; one which reflects the age of the aircraft and a more modern one with a more conventional seat. I got to fly both. There’s no way to soft-pedal this: the older, dated version is simply inferior in every aspect—seat size, privacy (essentially none), and entertainment options.  Even the toilet is so-so.

Dated, inferior F seat, 747

 

On the other hand, the newer seat is certainly more than adequate, although I’d put it a notch lower than the KA Kosmo Suite, not just because of the lack of privacy doors but also the size of the seat was just a bit smaller. Other than that, pretty standard stuff in terms of a lie flat seat. Probably four other people were in F along with me on both legs. But see my post on the condition of some of the older planes in Thai’s fleet.

 

A good, not great seat in F

The Soft Product

This is where Thai Airways aspires to be one of the top airlines, and they are trying hard. Dom Perignon champagne and caviar are served in longhaul F; I had the best steak I’ve ever had on an airplane. At the end of your flight, three of the flight attendants come over to your seat, kneel and ask you how the service was. They seemed sincere. Ground service on landing in BKK picks you up in a special van and whisks you to a special expedited security screening area, before anyone else gets off the plane. You get an hour massage in the first class lounge in Bangkok, which was completely replenishing for me since I had spent the previous 24 hours without sleep.  Special note: Thai Airways utilizes the Air New Zealand lounge for its F ticket holders in SYD; don’t fall for this. Thai is a Star Alliance member, and an F ticket entitles you to access Singapore’s SilverKris first class lounge, a far superior place to spend your time in the Sydney airport. On the other hand, transiting in BKK gives you access to Thai’s Royal First section of their lounge, which is, as F class lounges should be, roomy (I had an entire room to myself, with a big screen tv and a computer), and ultra-quiet. Lounge staff escorts you to the gate at the last possible moment to board. The business class section, where I stayed on my second layover in BKK, was crowded and not nearly as impressive. Then again, there should be a discernible difference between J and F, don’t you think?

Superior soft product, Thai Royal First

Verdict: Wildly uneven hard product, excellent soft product and ground experience. Excellent use of points for a fascinating, superior experience.

Travel Notes Sydney Excursion

    1. I’ve been in a number of beautiful cities, e.g., Vancouver, San Francisco, Auckland, Portland, but Sydney outclasses them all. I realize that I was blessed with some amazing weather during my short time there, but really, the place is just one big gorgeous view. From the awe-inspiring Opera House to the tranquil Botanical Gardens, this city is pretty much off the scale.
    2. Even with the favorable exchange rate, Sydney is a world-class city with world-class prices. I know, coming from one of the cheapest countries in Southeast Asia to a completely developed OECD country probably colored my perception a bit, but even so, it’s not cheap. However, if you’ve never been abroad and experienced a more functional restaurant/bar server system, you can also factor that in, because, just like New Zealand, there’s practically no tipping. So food and drink are not quite as expensive as they first appear.
    3. Also just like in some of the larger cities, a lot of people are from somewhere else. I had several conversations with people I assumed were Aussies, only to find out that they actually came from places such as Spain, the US, and Mexico.
    4. Australia has a very minimal distinctive native cuisine, as far as I can tell. A lot of beef and lamb, some odd items (Vegamite…), maybe a meat pie of some sort, but international cuisine is pretty much the rule in Sydney. Not a bad thing at all, and they’ve embraced the “local sustainable”theme pretty thoroughly. A roundabout way of saying that the food in Sydney is high quality. I did have to turn down the special “steak taco” at one fine dining establishment. Don’t think I came all this way just to have a taco.
    5. The public transit system is, by far, the best I’ve ever experienced, and that’s some tough competition, including Portland and Vienna. However, in terms of distances, ease of operation, and modes of transport, Sydney is the best. Here’s how it works: you buy a card and load it with whatever funds you need. It’s good on buses, trains (subway) and ferries. You “tap on” at the beginning of the ride, and “tap off”at the end. There’s a transportation app (Opal) containing an extremely helpful trip planner, which tells you exactly which bus, train or ferry to take, at what time (including whether the transport is running late!) ,and has a gps included to monitor your progress. Amazingly advanced and easy to use.

Travel Notes Vietnam

  1. Vietnam is a hot, humid, sweaty country. I visited in the late spring and it was the most humid place I’ve ever been in. I imagine summer is absolutely brutal. Get ready for tropical rain forest-style sweating; more than you can imagine. Luckily, you can have your sweaty clothes cleaned cheaply (see #3, below). I like walking, but at some point in your walk you just have to utilize a moto-taxi, bike rickshaw, or what have you, lest you collapse into a puddle on the sidewalk. Speaking of which,
  2. Sidewalks really aren’t used for pedestrians, since they are usually taken up by scooter parking, dining al fresco, and a myriad of other uses. Get used to walking in the street; otherwise, you’ll never get anywhere. Walking takes longer than you think, because so much of it is lateral. Don’t resist, just join the flow of traffic.
  3. Vietnam is cheap, real cheap. Lots of things that cost a lot in the US are amazingly inexpensive here, like massages, laundry, food, beer, tailoring, coffee, museums, anything that involves personal services, transport, etc. It makes cheap places like Latin America look like the EU in cost.
  4. I found crossing the super-crowded streets an adventure in itself; you should too. Trust me, the drivers will take account of your presence, which doesn’t mean throw caution to the winds; think “adroitly weaving in and out of traffic as it swirls around you.” If you really want an adventure, take some transport on the back of a scooter through this traffic. It’ll open your mind right up.
  5. Vietnam is a land of infinite possibilities; please approach the place with this in mind. The rules, such as they are, may or may not exist, and you probably won’t be aware of them anyway. Opening the mind to what’s possible can produce amazing experiences, like when I allowed my server at a very small lunch joint, a very small Huean, to take me on a day long tour of temples, pagodas, and tombs of Hue on the back of his very small beat-up scooter.
  6. Vietnam is a major purveyer of counterfeit goods, probably second only to China. The sheer amount of production is staggering, just looking at what’s being offered in Hanoi and Hue. That said, some of this stuff really does look well made and (depending on what it is) durable. There were brands being sold that I’d never heard of, which seemed to be of decent quality.
  7. On the other hand, if you’re not comfortable bargaining, you’ll end up paying “foreign tourist prices,” which, given how cheap everything is, is not such a terrible thing as it would be somewhere else. On the other hand, if you like bargaining, this is a fun place to test your skills, because these folks know their stuff. Don’t venture into a local market unless you’re comfortable with super aggressive sales people.
  8. If you’re from the US, you’ll need a visa(!) to come here. Check out the online options for a “visa approval letter” or message me for a recommendation. Pretty simple stuff, but you’ll have to wait in an extra line when you hit immigration at the airport.
  9. The food, ohmigod the food! Everything you’ve heard about the amazing food in Vietnam is absolutely, 100% true. It’s delicious, it’s cheap, and it’s a blast to seek out and experience. Find those local places that specialize in one dish, and just go to town. Different cities and areas in Vietnam have different specialties; find out what those are where you are. Proficiency in eating with chopsticks is an absolute must; these places don’t have knives and forks even if you ask. Don’t be put off by patrons throwing stuff on the floor; that’s just how they do it here. *
  10. Hue: I absolutely loved this city, even more than Hanoi. The wide tree-lined streets, the impressive Citadel, the huge number of temples, monuments and tombs as well as the interesting culinary specialties made me wish I’d had more time to spend here. A return trip to Vietnam would definitely include Hue. Maybe in the winter, though; late spring here was astoundingly humid, with occasional showers to enhance that tropical rain forest feeling.
  11. Hanoi: I loved the raw grittiness of this city. It was interesting to go directly to Australia from Hanoi, and almost as soon as I hit the streets in Sydney I found myself missing this semi-chaotic atmosphere. Might be similar to the feelings people sometimes have about New York City, with all its”energy.” There’s a bit of tourist infrastructure here, but the veneer is quite thin; even in the midst of the most touristy area, the Old Quarter, you can dine with the locals and often be the only westerner in the place. .
  12. I developed a great admiration for the Vietnamese people while I was in Vietnam. Considering that theirs is a country cruelly raped by two imperial powers during the majority of the 20th Century, their persistence and stamina in opposing and outlasting both of them produces a quite justified pride and yet, they are extremely friendly to outsiders, without any denial of the horrific trauma that they were forced to undergo. It was fascinating to sit in a bar named DMZ in Hue, and contemplate all the implications of that. In contrast, I get the feeling that the US has suppressed quite a bit of memories of that unfortunate period.

* A friend who lives in Hanoi pointed out that my comment on things being thrown on the floor needs fleshing out, and I agree.  What’s going on is that there are usually small trash cans under the tables in these restaurants, used to discard the tiny tissue-like napkins, uneaten plant materials, and other refuse from the meal. When these can fill up, sometimes patrons just toss the stuff on the floor.  It does get cleaned up when people at the table leave, but the sight of it is kind of jarring for those used to more formal methods of disposal.

Ruminations On The Differing Natures of US and Third World Traffic

 

(I’m not happy with the use of “third world”in this title, as I think it creates an artificial, somewhat arbitrary distinction between countries when at best, we might be talking about a continuum. Also, the US at this point is definitely well on its way to “third world” status and this post highlights one of the reasons why. Anyway, I’m going to leave it as is until I can think of something better).

Having had many occasions to experience traffic in other countries, most especially Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and now Vietnam,(just a small samplebased on my own experience), I’m struck by the vast differences in vehicular traffic between countries like those and that in the US. Specifically, the number of vehicles (bicycles, bike taxis, scooters, motorcycles, cars and trucks) are vastly more and the spaces in which they operate are vastly smaller than roadways in the US. People’s driving techniques are, shall we say, improvisational, and you observe them doing things in traffic that seem like they would be disastrous at home. My recent experiences in Hanoi and Hue,Vietnam, where I spent a good deal of time experiencing this traffic on the backs of scooters, was the crystallization of this. Just to set the scene,in Hanoi there are very few stoplights or traffic signals of any kind. Streets tend to be multi-directional. Crosswalks exist, but no one pays any attention to them. The sidewalks aren’t really used for walking, but for parking lots for scooters, dining al fresco and a myriad of other functions. So then, you have pedestrians sharing the road with all the vehicular traffic, which makes it all the more interesting. And yet, somehow, it all works out. I’m not saying that there aren’t accidents; it’s just that, based on the kind of driving you see and the almost insane numbers of people on the roads, you’d expect more, a lot more than actually happens. People seem to take account of other vehicles and pedestrians in a way that doesn’t happen much at home. Adding to this mystery, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the awful reputation Asian drivers have in the US, yet somehow they drive perfectly fine in their own countries; could it be it’s the way we in the US drive that’s dysfunctional? (An international friend pointed out that maybe the Asians in the Us are a somwhat self-selected group or rich second generation immigrants, and both of those could certainly be true).

So now, let’s talk about the use of horns. In the US, horns are used primarily after one driver perceives another has,well, made a mistake,gotten in the way, driven too fast/slow, made an inappropriate lane change, or something else and the horn is employed as a shorthand gesture of anger and disrespect, frequently leading to the phenomenon of what’s called “road rage”(which in turn can lead to physical violence or gunfire). In the places we’ve been discussing, horns are used to say, in effect, “here I am, here I come, watch out for me.” There’s no anger involved. (As a pedestrian in Vietnam, it behooves you to pay attention to those horns; they may be addressing you!) In fact, there’s very little anger I can perceive in the driving in these countries, again in contrast to the US. And here we come to the root of the problem, in my view: there’s a cultural difference in the the driving, which can best be expressed in this shorthand:

People in these countries drive like adults; people in the US drive like spoiled, angry children.

We can debate why, how, the root causes, but I think I’ve gotten it right here. If you’ve experienced this kind of traffic in other countries, and driven in traffic in the US,  what do you think​?

Review of Korean Air, First Class, DFW-ICN-HAN

 

Review of Korean Air First Class DFW-ICN-HAN

I was eager to try Korean Air’s First Class product as I’ve never actually flown in F, and this experience didn’t disappoint. I quite enjoyed the Kosmo Suite, as Korean calls it, as it was pretty much a seamless experience of comfort and ease from beginning to end.

The Hard Product

I liked this seat quite a bit, but wished there was a pad for sleeping.

The seat was quite roomy for sitting in and of course was large enough when fully reclined to give you at least the feeling that you were lying down in a single bed. There wasn’t any bedding provided, save for a blanket; I’ve never had a mattress pad on a flight and was looking forward to one. I had heard stories about the warm temperatures on Asian carriers and that was true here; the temperature in the cabin was warm enough to utilize the air vent extensively. Korean provides pajamas and slippers in First Class and I shut the sliding doors in order to change into them; the pjs were high enough quality that I took them home to use. One of the doors had a habit of sliding open, but this was a minor annoyance. Bose noise-canceling headphones are provided (no, you don’t get to take them home) and worked reasonably well.

To the side of the seat, amenity bag, headphones, Macadamia nuts, and Perrier (no alcohol served on the ground at DFW).

The amenity bag provided is by Davi; I can’t really comment on the quality of the facial creams and other frou-frou stuff, but there wasn’t anything unusual or clever like the Air France foldable hairbrush that I loved and still use. I did like the appearance of the bag itself and resolved to use it on my next trip (I’m getting a little tired of the Air France one). Unlike my experience with the seat on my Singapore business class flight last year, I had no trouble lowering it into sleeping mode without any assistance from the flight attendant. It may have been a lack of sleep before I began the trip, but I do think that I slept more on this flight than any other I’ve taken recently. Part of that may have also been due to the almost empty cabin; there were only three other passengers in the entire thing, and I was literally the only one in the first class cabin on the ICN-HAN leg(!). I was in seat 1A, which was a window in the front of the cabin, closest to the galley and the toilet. Despite the proximity, there wasn’t any noise from the crew. I’ve read some negative remarks about Korean’s color scheme, but I thought the light blue-green was unusual and soothing.

Service

First Class Cabin. Nowhere near full. Why?

I can’t say enough good things about Korean’s service on these flights. It was the perfect combination of warmth and precision. I discovered that the galley was equipped with camera monitoring equipment, which allowed the flight attendants to know when I was finished with dinner or needed more champagne (and I did need more). One of the nicest examples of the stellar service was when I discovered the F toilet to be occupied; the flight attendant immediately escorted me to a vacant business class one. The head steward made it a point to greet me at the beginning of the flight, and came back towards the end to make sure everything had gone smoothly. I thought one of the flight attendants was going to either have a heart attack or cry when I had to ask for a spoon for my soup; I wish I’d captured the horror and distress on her face, which of course made me want to reassure her that it wasn’t a big deal.

Food and Drink

Amuse-bouche. I was amused.
Appetizer. There’s a piece or two of chilled lobster in there.

 

The infamous soup that caused the flight attendant so much distress over the missing spoon.

Korean serves Perrier Jouet Belle Epoque for their champagne on trans-Pacific flights and Blason Rose for their shorter flights, so I got to try both. Solid choices, although other carriers offer more expensive brands. On the trans-pacific leg of the trip, I chose the Korean entrees for both meals, and wasn’t disappointed (I’ve heard so many negative comments on the airline food beef entrees that I didn’t want to risk it), but here’s the thing: the “bibimbap” Korean offers is in no way real bibimbap. It’s just impossible to serve up a dish that calls for crispy rice on an airplane, and without rice cooked to a crisp at the bottom of a stone pot, you just have a Korean rice dish with meat and veg. With that gripe out of the way, I thought the other food items on offer were at least good, if not excellent.

Not really Bibimbap

I’d give Singapore’s food selection a higher grade, but let’s not kid ourselves: this isn’t Emirates, Singapore, Qatar, or the like. If anything, there’s a bit too much food available on these long flights, in my opinion.

 

 

Conclusion: Solid Mid-Level Choice, Good Value

I’m glad I chose Korean Air for my first F experience. Getting a suite with one of the top carriers in the world would’ve probably ruined me for any subsequent first class flights. Korean Air, for what I “paid”in points, offers excellent value and amazingly polished inflight and ground service. On the other hand, it wouldn’t hurt to upgrade the food menu somewhat, although in the scheme of things when you fly, beyond a certain standard it gets to be a little nitpicky, and I’m way too new to miles and points to pick nits. I also have to wonder about the number of vacant seats on a trans-pacific flight in F, and for that matter, a completely empty cabin on the flight from ICN to HAN (well, except for me). Award availability is already excellent, so maybe consider dropping the number of miles required to redeem? Certainly I don’t imagine many people willing or able to spend 20k to pay cash for this flight. For myself, I’d value it at about $2500.00, and I’m perfectly happy to spend 190k points for 38+ hours in First Class with Korean.

Korean Air First Class Lounge, DFW

View of the runway. You can watch planes taxiing if you’re into that.
Substandard food and drinks, or typical for midlevel lounges.
That guy is a staff member, not a patron.

I spent most of my layover time in the Amex Centurion lounge at DFW because I guessed that the food at the Korean Air lounge would be inferior, and of course I was right. The bar was also substandard: a few self-service bottles of liquor and wine, and a few beers in a refrigerator. However, don’t discount this lounge entirely; the view of the runways with planes taxiing is quite good, and the lack of occupied seats in KA first class (see my upcoming posts) meant that the place was almost completely empty. Silent too, which was quite the contrast from the cacophony of the Centurion Lounge. Access is interesting: Korean and a whole bunch of other carriers share the same lobby and front desk, and once you present your credentials, they direct you down the hall where there are different doors, each one a different carrier’s lounge. I guess I should have peeked at some of the other ones. It’s understandable that there’s not a lot here; DFW is a bit of a far flung outpost for Korean, and their first class lounge in ICN is quite a bit more elaborate.

A Few Comments On The Amex Centurion Lounge, DFW

Well, thank goodness that this one is being replaced this year. Otherwise just a typical Centurion lounge–by which I mean has pretty good buffet-style food, some of it restaurant quality, a lavish bar, and for the most part, friendly efficient staff and a ton of visitors during prime hours–this one is notable for its weird wraparound shape. In fact, it might be better thought of as a series of narrow hallways rather than rooms or areas. The overcrowding, of course, contributes mightily to this design problem, and it did get rather claustrophobic during the three hours I was there, not reflected in the pictures. At any rate, I’m sure the new replacement lounge will address some of these issues (not the overcrowding, of course). Domestically, this is a solid choice for a lounge, and well worth the expense of the Amex Platinum card in its many forms (of course, there are many other benefits to this premium travel card).

Frittata and pancake. Very good breakfast item.
It got a lot more crowded than this.
A quite small bar, almost cramped