Penang to Moscow: From lowcost to premium airlines..

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  1. calvinoeh
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    This trip was planned all the way back in March 2010. The main motivation in going were to attend a friend’s wedding in Hong Kong at the end of the trip and the cheap cost to Moscow due to the loophole in the USairways award chart that put Hong Kong in Russia in the same award zone. I will probably blog more in the future about how this loop holes and frequent flier stuff works but in general, it has allowed Lydia and I the ability to travel in premium classes across the world.


    Being based in Penang, we took a cheap AirAsia flight to Hong Kong. There were definitely more direct routing for Hong Kong to Moscow but we decided to “maximize” the experience by adding as many premium class flights and layovers in Dubai, Istanbul, Frankfurt and Cairo. Neither my wife nor I have been to these cities before, so we wanted to take the opportunity to quickly head out and check the main tourist sites. In the end, we “settled” for this routing:


    · Hong Kong to Bangkok in First Class on Thai Airways.
    · Bangkok to Dubai in Business Class on Thai Airways. This was supposed to be in first class but Thai changed the aircraft from a 3-class Airbus 340-600 to a 2-class Boeing 777-200. When I found out about the change, I contemplated about changing the routing to get more routes in first class but at the end, decided against it to save the $150 USD change fee but more importantly, not get US airways attention on my routing.
    · Dubai to Istanbul in Business Class on Turkish Airline
    · Istanbul to Moscow in Business Class on Turkish Airline.
    · Moscow to Frankfurt in Business Class on Lufthansa
    · Frankfurt to Cairo in First Class on Lufthansa
    · Cairo to Istanbul in Business Class on Egypt Air.
    · Istanbul to Hong Kong in First Class on Turkish Airlines.


    We have been looking forward to this trip since we booked it. I have been almost obsessively reading flyertalk and tripadvisor daily looking for ideas, hints and recommendations to maximize the trip. This trip has certainly marked off many items on our bucket list:


    · First time in first class
    · Visiting the Thai First Class Lounge and Spa in Frankfurt
    · Visiting the Lufthansa First Class Terminal in Frankfurt
    · Going to Moscow
    · Seeing the pyramids.

    The full trip report and pictures will be on my blog with links to the installments below:

    * The low-cost part of the trip: Penang to Hong Kong
    * Hong Kong “forced” layover
    * 1st time in first class: Hong Kong United and Thai First Lounge
    * 1st time in first class: Hong Kong to Bangkok
    * Bangkok to Dubai
    * Dubai Layover
    * Dubai to Istanbul
    * Istanbul Layover
    * Istanbul to Moscow
    * Moscow Overview
    * Moscow Day 1
    * Moscow Day 2
    * Moscow Day 3
    * Last Day in Moscow
    * Moscow to Frankfurt
    * Lufthansa First Class Terminal
    * More 1st Class – Frankfurt to Cairo
    * Cairo Layover
    * Cairo to Istanbul
    * RIP THY 1st class: Istanbul to Hong Kong
    * Conclusion

    It's going to take a while to finish the trip report as it is one LONG trip. Trying to update at least once or twice per week with the hope that I will complete this trip report before my next adventure. Hope you guys give comments...
     
  2. sobore
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    Nice report!
     
  3. calvinoeh
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    Thanks!
     
  4. calvinoeh
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    Sorry for the slow updates. Been busy with work. Moscow to Frankfurt portion of the trip:

    Our flight from DME was 2 weeks before the terrorists bombing. This definitely put things into perspective on how close one can be with tragedy..
    We left the hotel at 4.30 am on a pre-booked taxi for our Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt from Domodedovo airport (DME) that was scheduled for 7 am. The first impression of DME was that this was a newer airport if compared to SVO. We checked in at an empty first-class Lufthansa counter since we had a first class flight to Cairo later that day. I had already pre-booked seats 7A and 7C and didn’t realize until we actually got on the plane that Lydia was moved to 7D giving us an entire row to ourselves. I’m guessing that this must have been due to the first class ticket. Sorry for the lack of pictures of the airport as I was paranoid on whether taking pictures at the airport was allowed in Russia..

    The airport was relatively busy with flights to Frankfurt, Munich, Vienna and Zurich all leaving around the same time. Lufthansa, Swiss Air and Austrian Airlines all operate their own lounges here but we only stuck to the Lufthansa lounge. I am kind of surprised that the Lufthansa airlines did not just share a lounge.


    The lounge was pretty good and spacious with enough seating. It also had a good view of the tarmac and caught a Cathay flight that just arrived from Hong Kong. There were some light bites and I enjoyed an early (or maybe super late?) Russian beer to start off the day..


    [​IMG]
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    [​IMG]




    We made our way to the flight after the boarding announcement was made in the lounge. By the time we got to the departure gate, the general boarding was already completed. The flight was operated by a A321 with “Euro style” business class seats. 30 minutes after take-off breakfast was served. I wasn’t really hungry and only took a couple of bites. I wanted to save the stomach space for the First Class Terminal. It was pretty disappointing that there was no AVOD on this 3 hour flight – just entertained myself with the in-flight magazine and catching up on some work/email. The service on the flight however was really good. The stewardess serving us was extremely friendly.


    Breakfast on the flight:
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
     
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  5. calvinoeh
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    Just updated the trip report with my favorite part so far. Looks like I can't post more than 5 images per post on milepoint. Please see my blog for the rest of the pics: *Frankfurt/Lufthansa First Class Terminal

    The flight got into Frankfurt about 45 minutes late cutting our layover in Frankfurt to less than 5 hours. We were initially planning on taking the train down to downtown Frankfurt to do some quick sightseeing but with the gloomy wet weather and the even short layover, we just decided to kill the time in the First Class Terminal which turned out to be a good idea.


    On arrival in Frankfurt, announcement was made that we would have to be bused to the terminal. What made it more annoying that for some reason that even the flight attendants didn’t know about, only the back door was being used. This meant we had to wait for the entire plane to leave before we could. I caught a glimpse of a Mercedes approaching the plane when the landed and I thought to myself if that car was for us. Sure enough, when we got off the plane, the driver had a clipboard with both our names on it. He took our carry-ons and explained that this was a service provided for First Class passengers. People in the bus were looking at us and probably thinking who this 2 young Asian kids were… if only they knew :p The driver took us to the main terminal where we proceeded to clear immigration and head over to the First Class Terminal....

    This is personal favorite of the trip itself! As per good directions from the Lufthansa forum on flyertalk, we arrived at the "back-entrance" of the First Class Terminal building and pressed the call button. Another first class passenger arrived the same time at us. A couple of minutes after pressing the call button, a lounge attendant let us know and we went through another security screen. The screen took longer than expected due to the other passenger.


    The First Class Terminal on a cold and wet morning:
    [​IMG]
    After security, the lounge attendant took us on a tour of the lounge/terminal itself since this was our first time. I was impressed! The terminal contained a sit-down restaurant, showers/bath, a really nice bar and even a duty-free shop. The only part of the lounge I did not like was the view of office buildings and not of the runway and planes.


    We had about 5 hours in the lounge. The time was spent drinking and eating sinful amount of champange and food :) They were serving breakfast in the restaurant when we arrived and we tried some of the lunch selection just before we left.


    Breakfast:
    [​IMG]




    Lunch:
    [​IMG]
    The bar with a VERY good selection:


    [​IMG]

    I also took a long and relaxing bath/shower. The only regret was forgetting to bring a glass of champange with me to the bath.
    [​IMG]
    45 minutes before our departure, the lounge attendant came to collect us. We took and elevator down and collected our passports which were already stamped and ready to go. No more going through further immigration and security checks! The attendant handed us over to our driver and thanked us for visiting the First Class Terminal. We rode in a Porsche right to our plane. It was really cool seeing all the planes from the car itself. Boarding itself was almost completed when we arrived. We settled into our seats and were served more champange.. Wish I could travel like this all the time :)
     
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  6. calvinoeh
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    For more pictures, please go to my blog: FRA to CAI in Lufthansa First Class

    The flight to Cairo was on a 747. Lufthansa has their first class in the upper deck with a 2-2 seating. There have been many complains on the seating due to the lack of privacy and space but we have no complains since we were traveling together and it was a relatively short flight.

    Pre-departure drinks and nuts:

    [​IMG]


    Some pictures of the cabin:
    [​IMG]

    We were served by a German lady and a Mexican guy on this flight and they were the friendliest attendants we met on this trip. They made small talk asking where we from and where we were going. They promptly took our pre-departure drink orders (more champagne!), served us some warm nuts and took our meal orders.


    Even though this was just a 3 and a half hour flight, there was a full first class meal service.




    Large serving of caviar:
    [​IMG]

    Meatballs:
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    Fish:
    [​IMG]


    Half way through the meal service, I was already nodding off. This was probably due to the ~10 glasses of champagne and 4-5 glasses of whiskey I already had (including those in the First Class terminal). I didn’t spend too much time on the IFE but it was definitely ancient. I nodded off until about 15 minutes before landing. On arrival, both the flight attendants thanked us for the service and we were the first to get off the plane.


    Overall, the First Class experience on Lufthansa both on the ground and in the air was awesome. I am looking forward to trying them again especially on their new First Class cabin.
     
  7. chrislacey
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    Wow! That's an incredible portion of caviar! Great report calvinoeh!
     
  8. calvinoeh
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    For the complete report and pictures, click on my blog entry: Cairo Layover

    Our flight to Cairo arrived at about 8pm and our next flight to Istanbul was scheduled to leave at 3pm giving us a good 18 hour layover to explore Cairo. We decided to hire a tour guide for the layover tour and it was a good decision. Our tour guide (Marian) did an excellent job! (Send us a comment/email for her details for those who are interested). She took good care of us and provided excellent info to the sites we visited.

    Our first stop that night was the Al-Muizz Street in Islamic area of Cairo. The street consisted of shops selling various souvenirs and antiques and old mosques with beautiful architecture.

    [​IMG]

    At this point, we were really exhausted and proceeded to the hotel. We booked the Mercure Cairo Le-Sphinx thanks again to the Accor Supersale. This hotel is located in the Giza area of Cairo, which is where the pyramids are located. Overall, the hotel was ok and clean but the rooms we got were somewhat small for a Mercure. Picture of the room:​
    [​IMG]

    The next morning, Marian came to pick us up at 8 am. Our first stop was the Citadel of Saladin. Most the buildings inside the citadel are being restored and closed to the general public. The main tourist attraction is the Mohamed Ali Mosque which was designed based on the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. Having visited Istanbul a couple of days ago, we felt the mosque in Cairo was slightly more special. Maybe this was due to the fact that we had the mosque all to ourselves before the hordes of tourist buses arriving later during the day. Pictures of the Citadel and the Mosque:

    [​IMG]

    Next up was the highlight and must see of Cairo - the pyramids! My first impression was the pyramid was just WOW. I did not expect it to be a "mound in the ground" but I was shocked at how big the pyramids were in real life. Each brick itself was only slightly shorter than an average man. How on earth did they manage to build this a thousand years ago?!?
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
    After the pyramids and the sphinx, it was still too early for lunch. Marian took us to a souvenir, perfume and papyrus store. She probably made some commissions from it but we were never pressured into buying anything (unlike some other places we've been to in the past). After lunch at a local Egyptian grill meat restaurant, it was straight to the airport where it rained right as we got to the airport. Looks like God was making sure the weather stayed fine for us until we were about to leave :)
     
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  9. calvinoeh
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    wasn't expecting too much on this Cairo to Istanbul flight after reading some trip reports and reviews about Egypt Air. Our experience turned out to be inline with the rest of the majority where it was an OK experience but I wouldn't go out of my way to use Egypt Air again. Check-in went by pretty quick and our bags were tagged all the way to Hong Kong.

    We then proceeded to one of the business lounges airside. The lounge was pretty basic and small. They had some sandwiches, fruit and drinks available. I just used the rest of the time to catch up with email. I would not want to spend more than an hour in the lounge itself.

    Wife in the lounge:

    [​IMG]


    30 minutes before the departure time, we headed to the departure gate. On arrival, our flight looked to be boarding several minutes late and we just spent the rest of the time in the departure gate. Boarding was chaotic with no separate lines for business class passengers.

    The flight experience was adequate for the short ~2 hour hop to Istanbul. The seats were "US domestic F seats" with a ~50% load in business class. The food served was really tasty for air plane food. For those who don't already know, Egypt Air is a dry airline so no champange was available on this flight. There was no IFE on this flight and I just spent the time on the flight reading.

    B737-800 from our departure gate (couldn't get a good picture of our actual plane):
    [​IMG]

    A Quran in the plane:
    [​IMG]

    Food on this flight:
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
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  10. calvinoeh
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    Finally finished the entire trip report. Links to my blog that contains all the pictures:

    *THY First Class IST to HKG
    *Conclusion

    On arrival in Istanbul from Cairo on Egypt Air, there was a rep from Prime Class (premier service ground agents in Istanbul) waiting for us at the gate thanks to the connecting first class flight on Turkish Airlines. We were whizzed to the security checkpoint with a cart and went through the premier security line. We were then taken to the Premier Class lounge which was the first class lounge for Turkish Airlines.

    The lounge itself was TINY! It has no windows and I would not spend more than 1-2 hours here. We had a 6 hour layover and it definitely did not feel like a first class ground experience similar to Lufthansa or Thai. The lounge itself was shared with other premium passengers of other airlines so it was packed until later during the night. We had initially planned to head down to Istanbul for some last minute shopping/sight-seeing but just got lazy - should have done it in hindsight! The only redemption for the lounge was the food itself. There was an extensive menu first class passengers could order from. The service itself in the lounge was somewhat disappointing. I had to call on the waiters several times for top-ups and he didn't seem happy about it which is something I don't expect in a first class lounge.

    Picture of the lounge:
    [​IMG]
    Dining tables reserved for first class passengers:

    [​IMG]
     
  11. calvinoeh
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    45 minutes before departure, a Prime Class agent collected us and 2 other first class passengers from the lounge and took us on a cart ride to the departure gate. By the time we got to the gate, most of the other passengers had already boarded. One of the other first class passenger took a little longer than expected going through security and we were made to wait for him. I found that somewhat stupid as I could have just walked to the plane on my own but was stopped by the Prime Class agent.

    We were assigned 1D and 1G which gave us a "private cabin" once the sliding doors to the were closed. There was still a separator between the seats so it wasn't similar to the SQ suites where you get a big double bed :p Pre-departure, the amenity kits and pajamas were distributed and we were offered warm towels, champange, nuts and chocolate. Lydia loved the chocolate part! More airlines should start doing this instead of the usual champange and nuts.

    There was even an on-board chef but I'm not too sure of he's actual use. It was not like I could start making orders up and he would make them.

    Pre-departure pictures:
    [​IMG]
     
  12. calvinoeh
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    After take-off, there was supposed to a full-course dinner. It was already ~1am and both of us were too tired to enjoy the meal. Instead, we requested to go to sleep first and have the meal when we woke up. The flight attendant promptly made the seat into a bed that was complete with a mattress, duvet and really soft pillows :) This was the most comfortable bed on a plane we had tried before! We slept for a good 7 hours.
    [​IMG]
    We had informed the flight attendants to wake us up around 3 hours before landing but when we woke up, they were no where to be seen. I had to call for the attendants to prepare the meals we requested for and they were some what confused. Not sure if it was a "lost-in-translation" situation but the service could have been better.

    The rest of the flight went by pretty uneventful. We manage to finish a movie before landing while enjoying breakfast in bed. Never imagined I would be enjoying caviar for breakfast! I kept requesting champange and coffee top-ups for this last premium flight of the trip.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
  13. calvinoeh
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    We were now at the end of our trip :( I switched to an empty window seat for landing to enjoy the views of Hong Kong. Right before landing...
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    For those who don't know, the Turkish first class experience is only available on their leased 77W from Jet Airways. They are returning their 77W and by Sept 2011, there will be no first class available from Turkish until maybe they get their A380 or 747-8. I was pretty happy to experience the Turkish first class experience before it ended. Overall, they were many kinks in the overall service. The ground experience in their home base could have been so much better. Their in-flight service was not as polished as other airlines. However, their food both on the ground and air was pretty good and that was the most comfortable bed we've tried in the sky. At the end of the day, it sure beats flying in coach :)
     
  14. calvinoeh
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    [​IMG]

    I am not going to say much about the rest of the trip. We attended our friend's wedding and flew back to Penang low cost style on AirAsia. We flew close to 19000 miles and had over 40 glasses of champange (we were trying to see if we could beat the infamous 8 bottle challenge going from LAX-BKK and we were not even close) in less than 2 weeks! There was no way we could have experienced or even afforded this without those US airways miles. Thanks to flyertalk for making this happen ! :)

    Our thoughts on the whole experience:

    • Best Ground Experience - Lufthansa First Class Terminal in Frankfurt (with the Thai experience coming a close second). Stealing a line from Kyo from sqtalk, if the Thai and other lounge experience was burp, the FCT experience was BURRRPPPP!
    • Best In-flight Service - Lufthansa First FRA to CAI. The attendants on this flight were simply just friendly and kept checking on us if we wanted anything.
    • Best In-Flight Meal - Turkish First Class IST to HKG. Caviar for breakfast!
    • Best Seat - Turkish 77W First Class.
    • Most memorable experience - A tie between walking in the snow and seeing Red Square in Moscow & seeing the pyramids in Cairo.
     

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