Hong Kong 3: For the LOVE of Avios! With Swiss and British Airways
Avios? Oh Yes… Oh Yes… OH YEAH!

Sections:


And time to wrap this up… it’s been as just as a monster as I suspected…. and that’s just an ECONOMY Class trip! ;)


I think the image below sums up how well I did.


Or to put in simple terms:   90 Tier Points, 26,808 Avios. Not bad for a weekend out eh?

Considering it would cost £399 to purchase 24,000 Avois, and the fare was £420ish or so, it was truly cheaper to fly than buy Avios.

Oh, I should do the usual laughing thing I tend to do at Miles and More due to the hilariously bad earning rates on cheap flights:

Like I said: Hilarious. Hilariously Bad.

I should do some summing up really shouldn’t I?

OLT Express for Swiss: Hmm. I’m not sure what to think. Whilst they try to keep to the Swiss service levels, they seem to miss out bits of it or rewrite bits of it. Certainly not the worst carrier I’ve been on by a long stretch, but there is something missing from them – and it shows in the lack of finesse in the final product. A pity as Helvetic got it right without an issue.

Swiss (Mainline) Didn’t disappoint. Good service all round, balanced with good segment legs remind me why Swiss is one of my favourite European airlines. More importantly, they delivered luggage on time, and it is possible connecting across the back end of the A gates to the D gates at Zurich airport in fewer than 45 minutes. But don’t if you like running lots…

British Airways did a great job, with its staff showing off great customer service. The on-board product isn’t THAT bad in economy (compared to some recent – and not so recent – experiences). The seating in World Traveller isn’t bad… although those slimline seats are really not suitable for Long Haul runs in my book. IFE seems to be something that BA has worked on, and had a good mix for all tastes, with systems that work easily.

Dayrooms at Zurich: Put it like this, if I have a forced overnight in Zurich again, I won’t be heading out to the hotels in the area – I’ll be using either a couch or a bedroom at Zurich Airport. Far cheaper, friendly and cost efficient… and I don’t even have to leave the airport, maximising rest time.

Holiday Inn Express Soho, Hong Kong: Another great little Holiday Inn property in the ICHG portfolio. The location can’t be beaten, the rooms are comfortable, the beds are reasonably firm. My only bugbear is the Breakfast facility which is too small for the amount of people that go through there. Still, for a good value chain property in one of the more expensive places in the world to get a hotel room, you can’t go wrong here.

Well, that concludes this little trip. I’d like to say I’ll be back on another trip soon, but – there is a problem that stems from the real world.

You see, in the real world as much as I dream of being a travel writer or a wonderful photographer, I’m a simple IT engineer that works in the National Health Service.

Just before this trip started back in November, I was fully expecting news that we would get our funding for 2013/2014 for the little unit I work for. All I got when I arrived back at the end of November 2012 was a letter of “that I was possibly at risk”. As of today (when this post went live), that’s turned into “You are formally at risk of being made redundant” as of 29th December 2012.

Meanwhile there are efforts for my little unit to be saved that I’m doing my best to participate in as redundancy is possibly staring in my face.

The above is the factual stuff – but I do have a lot of rude words for the powers that be up top who have made the changes to Health Profession (any side of it) an absolute pigs ear and even more confusing than it has been before.

Until I know otherwise, all trips are pulled until I know one way or another. Hopefully, all being well, I’ll be back in “Untitled Chicago Trip 14″ in April.

To those of you who have stuck with me till the final paragraph of this trip report, thank you so much for reading.

Comments and Feedback welcome :)

Posted by Kevincm | 2 Comments

Hong Kong 3: For the LOVE of Avios! With Swiss and British Airways
Rushing around Zurich, and LX424 Zürich Airport – Birmingham Airport

Sections:


Hmm. I’m going the wrong direction. First south of Birmingham, now west! Hopefully I should make it home this segment… if the connection gods are with me…


A quick (and I mean quick) transit of Zürich Airport

Sitting near the front of the plane, I managed to make it out quickly. And with the plane docking the far end of the A gates, it was a case of doing it in the musical stylings of Christopher Cross/East Side Beat (take your pick – I prefer the East Side Beat version… but I grew up in the 90′s…) to ride like the wind  and power walk/run/whatever to the transfer gates as soon as, so I could make LX424 to Birmingham.

After clearing initial traffic coming off other places, I bolted down the travelators, and power walked through the A pier, a hard turn for to the B and D Piers rushing through the local traffic, and arriving at the Schengen Border with about 25 minutes to spare.


Thataway!

5 minutes of it was spent queuing to leave Switzerland. A quick diversion to the small room, and I was right next to the boarding gate… which was running late.

What is that about “The more things change?”

Another pit stop to pick up more chocolate for my co-workers, and boarding had begun, with Elites being seen to by a person and non elites having to use the scanner. I was beeped and headed into the boarding pen, where a bus turned up quickly and took a full load of us to the AvroJet/Jumbolino/Fokker apron.


Awaiting Boarding

After a short wait for the thumbs up, the bus doors opened and I boarded this little Fokker for the final flight home

Leg 8 LX424 Zurich International Airport – Birmingham Airport
Operated by OLT Express for Swiss International Air Lines
Fokker 100, Seat 11A
125 Miles Earned + 32 Executive Miles

The Photos: http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/2012/12/20/lx424-zurich-to-birmingham.html

I found my way to my seat, and to my luck, I had lucked out on an exit row. After stuffing my bags in the small overhead lockers, I checked the emergency instructions and waited for the plane to load. Again, this flight left Zurich with a full cabin aboard – seems like Swiss really is packing them in on this route.


In case of emergency – I wonder if the moustache is optional…. I doubt the fuzz on my face would pass…

Late as we were, the plane pushed forward and trundled towards a runway. During this time, the OLT Express crew gave the safety briefing (they did the actions over a pre-recorded announcement). There wasn’t a long wait for take off, allowing us to take off

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m5jgKd2IU_w

And the view during climbout…

Even though it’s a little Fokker, those Rolls Royce Tays did a very nice performance, with a nice climb-out into the night.

After settling into the cruise, I took a look around me.


Legroom. I’m not going to say it. Honest.


The seat (post landing)


Overhead panel


Cabin with service commenced.

There was a service and I was in for a shock. I WAS OFFERED A CHOICE OF SANDWICH!!! This is a first for Swiss (or in this case OLT Express) – A Ham Baguette or a Cheese Baguette.


Pictured with a glass of water.

Again, nice and fresh – with a reasonable amount of filling.

This being Swiss of course, they do know about wine, so I had a bottle of their darn nice white wine too.

Meanwhile outside, the final bits of red sunlight sun were fading, marking the end of the day

Cleardown was reasonably quick, and shockingly one Swiss service standard was missed. No handing out of chocolates (nor were they handed out on exiting the plane). It’s a small thing, but Swiss do make a point of saying it – even in their adverts.

Decent soon begun, and we dropped down into the murk of an English evening where rain seemed to be the order of the day as we begun our descent into Birmingham airport, landing towards Birmingham City Centre.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZvW34mvN0Uw

From there it was the long taxi back to the terminal, and finally back to Gate 59 where this trip begun. After the bongs went, it was time to grab my trash one more time and head off.

After landing I made my way down the cold jetbridge, and into the warm terminal, following the signs to Immigration. I tried to clear using the ePassport gates, but the system was having none of that, so I had to go to an agent (thankfully the UK queue had 1 person in it). I was cleared quickly, and went down to luggage claim – and through to the baggage claim in the corner as opposed to the big luggage belts.

A short wait (well quicker than the wait times listed in this handy diagram that Birmingham Airport provides), and my little rucksack had made the 45 minute connection at Zurich Airport.


I’ve linked the larger version to this at http://pb-i4.s3.amazonaws.com/photos/6247-1356683600-23-l.jpg… 1 hour for a last bag off a 777/747????

From there, it was through UK Customs and finally out into the “Real World”.  Tracking back to the Airport Air-Rail Link I boarded the next available one which took me to Birmingham International Station.

Upon arriving, a state of chaos seems to be active, with a couple of cancellations causing major trouble – and a full Virgin Pendolino for the 15 minute ride to New Street as the signals were on the blink.

Nothing like a sharp jolt of reality to welcome a person back to the UK.

After the train pulled in, I headed up the escalators, to find the ticket inspectors had gone home for the night, and headed for the taxi rank.


Home and don’t spare the horses. Oh. Birmingham traffic. Save the horses.

After 10 more minutes enjoying Birmingham traffic, and 6 days of travel, I was at my front door, ending this adventure.


15627 miles, eight segments, two airlines and one front door.

And I went in, dropped my luggage off and put my feet up… and begun to make odd noises at the computers when all of them moaned about running out of disk space. Again.

Some things never change.


And finally … Avios… Oh Yes, Oh Yes, OH YEAH!

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Hong Kong 3: For the LOVE of Avios! With Swiss and British Airways
Barcelona Switchover, Lounge, LX1955 Barcelona – Zürich Airport

Sections:


Right. Barcelona is further away from home from London. What was I thinking? Anyway, onto the next flight…


Exiting the plane I cleared immigration in the most stupid way possible thanks to the immigration checkpoint – I went to the EU queue, handed my passport over at the passport page. Now whilst I normally see lots of typing and a swipe of the information bit of the passport, the agent looked at the passport, looked at me, said thank you and let me through.

It’s quick, but that’s a bit of a security snooze there methinks.

Meanwhile baggage was being unloaded, and it was taking time coming out. I think my bag came in the last lot of bags to be ferried from the plane, but it arrived, with everything seemly intact. I cleared customs quickly as they were switching off half of the lights in the baggage claim hall.

Oh Spain.

After entering the public area, I quickly re-packed a few bags so some stuff I had picked up on route was stored safely (and wasn’t bulging out my main bag too much), then headed back upstairs to the check in area.

After a bit of hunting, I found the Swiss check-in desks. I was seen to quickly as a SEN and the boarding passes issued for both the ZRH-BCN flights and the ZRH-BHX flights.  With the 45 minute cutover between flights, the computer system seemed confident I could make it.

I still wasn’t sure.

With the formalities completed and the luggage taken away, I was off through security, and going through the same security check point I went through on the way out. Within minutes, I was clear (with my bag unmolested), this time heading down to the main terminal area.   I tried to buy a coat there (not easy or cheap… I’d address that deficiency once I was at home) and get gin for those who wanted it in the office. Once purchased, I was off to the common lounge

Lounge Stop – Barcelona Schengen Lounge

I was welcomed into the lounge which in all respects, is a mirror to the Non-Schengen lounge (See Back to El Prat, Lounge, BA0475 Barcelona – London)- the big difference is that this lounge was a lot more busier. Still it allowed me a good 30 minutes or so to unwind before the next set of flights.

One thing that was of interest however was the new Lufthansa Business Class Seat that was being demoed. And of course, I had to review it quickly. Why?  Because I love you all.

 

The seat itself does go flat – that’s the good news. As I noted in my initial analysis some time ago, I was worried about the angling of the seat in regards to feet intermingling, and I saw they put a divider up so feet from one seat won’t touch the other person.Put it like this: You’d need to put effort into it if you want to play footsie with the person in the seat next to you.

The IFE controller and screen were nice to handle, but as usual with IFE – its the content that counts…. and sadly there was little content hooked up in the demo system.

It was reasonably spacious but honestly…. nothing overly special. For those who don’t like Lufthansa’s current wedgie seat, this is one hell of an improvement though.

Eventually I headed off as the computer screen said that a gate had been called. However, I was in for a shock. 1) The gate was at the far end of the C Gates at C75 and 2) When I arrived at the gate… there was no plane there. Now I was clock watching, as every minute wasted on the ground would add up to less time to run across Zurich Airport.

The plane pulled in about 10 minutes late, with a full unload of passengers, as well as crew who were swapping over at Barcelona.

I guess “Swiss Punctuality” and “On-Time” don’t apply at Barcelona…

Boarding begun (with separate boarding for Business/SEN/Star Gold and Economy), and I made my way onto this A320 that was taking back to Zurich.

Leg 7 LX1955 Barcelona El Prat – Zurich International Airport
Swiss International Air Lines, Airbus A320, Seat 7F
125 Miles Earned + 32 Executive Miles

The Photos: http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/2012/12/19/lx1955-barcelona-to-zurich.html

I was welcomed aboard, and headed to my window Seat of 7F for this leg towards Zurich – 1 row behind the business class. This isn’t a bad thing as you don’t get a face-full of curtain when you get up later during the flight, or when you’re getting off the plane a rush.

Cabin during boarding

I stowed my baggage in the overhead lockers, and I found myself in a familiar comfortable Swiss short haul environment. Thankfully boarding seemed to move at some speed as there were a lot of people on connections beyond Zurich for this flight, and the plane was buttoned up to go. However, the point where we took off, we were 20 minutes down already.

Take off:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O0enDcQAC0M

This, was going to be tighter than I would had liked by any stretch of the imagination. Deciding not to worry about this for a bit (and rather worry at the other end), I settled back into the climb.

After the plane settled at its flight level, the food and drink service began

The usual drinks.

And an Apricot Tart.

Well… this is different. No baguettes with Turkey meat inside? Am I *sure* I’m flying Swiss here? Nonetheless it was a reasonably different thing to have as an inflight snack.  I wasn’t overly hungry, so I popped it in a bag for later (and considering the expiry date on it, later would be a longgggg time).

The seat? Well I think we all know the answer to that:

Do I need to say it even?

And the seat even supports a GhettoIFE system (yes, it FINALLY makes an appearance on this trip ;))

Mono…. D’oh! (Marge Vs The Monorail http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marge_vs._the_Monorail )

There was also IFE on the TV screens too (Classic Tom and Jerry).

Again, the seat next to me was free, creating a very pleasant in flight experience.

Clear down and duty free were done, with very few takers for Duty Free.  Of course, there was one important thing that happened near the end of the flight:

Ah yes. I’m DEFINITELY on Swiss.

Soon, we were beginning to turn and descend, and the seatbelt signs went on indicating we were closing in on Zurich Airport.

Landing:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7k0nV4KTDQI

Looking at the clock we had pulled in at about 16:20. 5 minutes late on the ground, so that pilot had made up some serious time in the air. Some of that was lost during the taxi to the terminal, but I was mentally preparing myself for the great run that was ahead of me.

And Goodbye to you too… lets hope I make the next flight!!!

Unfortunately for me the plane pulled up at the far end of the A Pier at Zurich Airport. Knowing that the clock ticking on my connection, I pulled my bags from the overhead bin, thanked the crew… and rushed off the plane.

Overall: A slightly different service, but delivered in the usual Swiss style that I’ve come to enjoy on these shorthaul legs offered by this airline. Great crew, good seating that is appropriate for the flight.


Next: Ride Like The Wind (To be Free again)… and homeward bound (Hopefully…)

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Hong Kong 3: For the LOVE of Avios! With Swiss and British Airways
British Airways T5 First Class Lounge, BA484 London Heathrow – Barcelona El Prat

Sections:


I maybe in London, but there’s a lot of this journey to go yet. Firstly I have to get to Barcelona…


BA Galleries First Class Lounge

The Pictures: http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/2012/12/17/heathrow-airport-in-the-morning.html

You might want to look at http://ghettoife.boardingarea.com/2012/12/12/oh-for-the-love-of-avios-british-airways-first-class-lounge-t5/ for my initial impressions of the place… and if I’m honest, the impressions remained the same.

As it was 5am, there seemed to be no-one out to do food at table service, so I went to the food service area to get breakfast


Mmmm. Bacon.


Sausage, Mushrooms Potato and lots of other bits to make an English breakfast


And more sausages!


Of course there was a glass of this to start the day. Don’t look at me in that tone of voice.

The lounge got busier as the morning waned on. It was still quiteish, with comings and goings of busy people doing busy things, whilst there was little olde me in a corner dumping pictures onto an ever groaning hard disk drive.

Well, it’s something to do to waiting between flights. Besides, it frees memory cards for the next steps of the journey. There’s three more segments to go before the day is out…

As 8:30 ticked passed, a boarding gate was announced, and I packed my trash up, heading for Gate A1 (whilst stopping off on the way to get some chocolates for the office), still making it in plenty of time for the Barcelona flight.

Gate Alpha 1


Art near Gate 1 in the public area.

After a short wait, boarding was commenced. As I was in the priority queue, I used by BA Gold to get through the gate and onto the plane

Leg 6 BA484 London Heathrow – Barcelona El Prat
British Airways, Airbus A320, Seat 11A
10 Tier Points Earned, 1434 Avios (717 Base + 717 Status bonus)

The Pictures: http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/2012/12/18/ba484-lhr-to-bcn.html

I was welcomed aboard by the crew and headed for my seat in the 2nd exit row of this Airbus A320. After stowing my bags, I settled down to watch the plane load in its entirety, with a fair few hunts for space for bags being made

The Shorter version of the BA Safety Video played, and we pushed back a bit late, heading again for runway 27R, and powering off into the sky.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MbQw86rm0B4

Once we cleared the cloud there was but blue sky and sunlight… with some higher-level cloud.


Turning in the morning sun


Cabin during Cruise.

Well, this A320 appeared to be “well use” I think the term is. Whilst it was clean, there were signs that it had seen better day’s


Better days… and Better Glue needed.

Soon enough the food and drink cards made their way down their aisle, with me selecting a diet coke, and an Egg Mayo Croissant for the meal with a cuplet of orange juice too. Add a cup of water as well to help the dehydration I seemed to be going in, this is not a bad idea.

I don’t expect high life catering on short segments, and this breakfast seemed to fit the “fill the corner of a customer’s stomach” category. Saying that, the croissant was a reasonable size, and the service was designed for a reasonably quick clean away.

Whilst the leather had seen better days, the seat was extremely comfortable with lots of leg room – one of the joys of being an exit row on a European leg.

Meanwhile the crew on-board were performing their duties and being helpful. Sadly, I didn’t get a hello from the CSD with his iPad (and also to note – not on any of the long haul legs either). Whilst the crew were there and being helpful, they weren’t overly warm compared to some of the recent crews I’ve experienced.

The flight moved on quickly, and soon enough the bumps of the Pyrenees occurred, signalling the plane was closing in on Barcelona.

Soon enough, clear down was done as was duty free, and we were descending down on the Barcelona area, breaking through the heavy cloud into a rather grey Mediterranean morning.


I swear the Med is down there. Honest.

The plane begun vectoring in for final approach into Barcelona, with the A320 making a nice decent on a wet Barcelona morning.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3jIrgUXjBFE

There was a fair old taxi as we were taxing over to the Non-Schengen gates, but after a while we docked next door to another BA CityFlyer E-190 next door – how this BA Journey begun.

Shortly after powering down the jetbridge was engaged, and we were allowed to disembark

Overall: Not as special as some legs, but perfectly functional for the flight length and a reasonable service. Could be worse, could be better.


Next: A Barcelona Switch, a Lufthansa Business Class Seat and a Swiss flight

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Hong Kong 3: For the LOVE of Avios! With Swiss and British Airways
BA26  Hong Kong International Airport - London Heathrow T5

Sections:


Time to to get back on track with writing… and to the journey. Back to the airport first…


Leg 5 BA0026 Hong Kong – London Heathrow T5
British Airways, 39K, World Traveller (Economy)
Boeing 747-400, 70J Configuration
35 Tier Points Earned 11958 Avios (5,979 Base + 5,979 Tier bonus)

The Pictures:


Heading down the jetway

Upon boarding, I was greeted by the crew, and settled down to my seat in the main World Traveller cabin. Instead of an exit row, this time I had a bulkhead row. Bulkhead rows as we know contain a risk – the loud screaming variety of risk.

Thankfully, the right hand section of the row had me and another lady in it. There was a baby in the middle block of economy, but it was relatively quiet.


Pillow at Seat.

After settling down, I started chatting to the friendly cabin crew – I could see this was going to be a reasonable flight tonight. Boarding took its time, but eventually the plane pushed back without a full load of passengers, making for a reasonable environment.

As I was in the bulkhead row, the TV Screen was stowed in the seat. I extended it for the safety demonstration – which was the long version of the demo.  It’s still relevant and a good video, but there does need to be a new version of it as it has done the rounds for many years now.

Take off was quick and reasonable, with the plane’s four Rolls Royce RB-211 engines powering up.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nj-3D3sg5Qg

Now, here’s a little did you know. The flight I went on operated by G-CIVX – which featured in a documentary on how British Airways maintain its fleet at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x_yHtfGH0nI (If you’ve got an hour, get a coffee and settle back – its a great documentary).

The seat itself is the old generation World Traveller seat, and that’s not a bad thing by any means. For starters, the padding on it is not akin to a steel bench, with the headrest you can drop down so it acts like a firm side pillow – a great alternative against sleeping against the bulkhead wall.

The drinks trolley came around, and I was good… I just stuck to the Diet Coke

Being a late night flight, food followed pretty much behind the drinks, with options. I went for the chicken, which was delivered on a tray with:


Salad


In flight throwing projectile… or a roll.


Water Cuplet


Wine – again very palatable


Sweet and Sour Chicken with Rice


Apple Pie

The salad was cold and edible, whilst the Sweet and Sour Chicken whilst the rice was a bit soft, the chicken was flavoursome – another reasonable meal indeed. Combined as a tray, it wasn’t a bad economy class meal at all.

Cleardown was quite quick as it was a late night flight, and I settled into use this IFE system.

Whilst this is an older generation system, it wasn’t exactly lacking in terms of content – which is another thing I look for in an IFE system.


From the Big Bang Theory…


… to highlights of the Olympic Ceremonies of 2012

And that’s what I fell asleep to (whilst waking up every now and again to restart the video).

Whilst it wasn’t sold sleep, I managed to get some rest until about 4 hours to go in the flight. During this time, a lens of mine decided to fall down the back of plane. At a quiet moment, I talked to the crew who offered to help me when we landed. Thanks to a bit of teamwork by one of the cabin crew (and by god, she got a ba.com/welldone from me when I got to the lounge), the lens was found rolled down two rows just before breakfast.


Meanwhile… Outside…

Speaking of breakfast, that came along shortly after the lens was found, with a choice of Noodles or a full English. I went for the noodles


The tray with coffee in a BA Paper Cup.


Orange Juice


Noodles, Yoghurt and Cake/Pastry/thing


The Noodles.

The noodles were warm and plentiful – Singapore style, with a nice dash of meat, eggs and peppers. Not too spicy, but a very traditional far eastern wake up call.  The pastry/cake was… edible at best, and yogurt… well we all know what I think about the bacterial fermentation of milk. The coffee was warm, brown and did the waking up thing.  All good things. Mostly.

Soon the flight was closing in to London, with the map showing we were crossing the Channel, honing in over Clacton and Colchester, before heading for the London stacks.

As we cleared the stacks, our descent took us on a river approach. Whilst it was early in the London morning

During this time, the crew cleared down the plane – still smiling, talking to the passengers and interacting with all of them as they woke up as we closed into LHR.

And the approach into London was nothing short of… spectacular.

And the final 3 minutes of the trip to landing, captured digitally

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WmjMtHg1O6Y

After landing on 27R, our 747 begun the long taxi past the T1/T3 complex and towards T5, finally docking at the B Gates at Terminal 5. After a short wait and after thanking the crew for their help during the flight, I headed off the plane soon after 04:45 – shortly after landing.

Overall: I’ve said this once, I’ll say it again – Good Crew Make a Good Flight, and this crew exemplified this. The service itself was reasonable, but the way it delivered made it really enjoyable – like the crew wanted to be there to run the flight to London.  Top Marks here British Airways.

Next: I may be in London, but I am nowhere near home. There’s still Barcelona and the tightest connection possible at Zurich. Next is… British Airways T5 First Class Lounge, BA484 London Heathrow – Barcelona El Prat

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Hong Kong 3: For the LOVE of Avios! With Swiss and British Airways
Lounging Around Hong Kong International Airport

Sections:


Time to to get back on track with writing… and to the journey. Back to the airport first…


After finishing up my trip in Hong Kong, it was time to head off to the Airport. This time as my baggage had increased, I decided to take the free shuttle bus to Hong Kong Station. Whilst convenient, it did take its time going around (with the driver stopping off to pick up some snacks on the way). Eventually, he dropped me at the entrance of Hong Kong Station, and I proceeded to In-Town Check in (something I love to use to get shot of the luggage early, so I can focus on getting on the train).

My bags were checked, and boarding passes issued to Barcelona El Prat. From there, I headed down to the platform to board a waiting Airport Express train back to the airport.

Efficient as ever, the train dropped me off 24 minutes it pulled out of Hong Kong Station, where i visited a waiting MTR counter to hand over my Octopus card and get a refund on it. It was then a case of walking up to the departure area… when I remember where I left my fleece. On the airport express.

Oh well, I’ll freeze when I get home… for a few minutes only…

Moving along, I exited Hong Kong, cleared emmrigraiton and security.  After doing a bit of duty free shopping, it was time for the main reason why I was here – Lounge Hopping.

Oh, you would as well.

Things have changed however. I’m used to heading to the Singapore Airline Silver Kirs Lounge, or Thai’s Royal Orchid Lounge. Now it’s Cathay Pacific’s range of lounges or the Qantas Lounge.

Well, change is good.

Three lounges were selected: The Wing, The Cabin and The BA/Qantas Lounge… well it would provide some entertainment for the evening

Lounge Stop: The Wing:

I was welcomed to the lounge and invited into a very quiet environment, and made my way in.


Food

A lovely circular cubby hole.


Dim Sum


Food Area

The lounge itself was a quiet area, with some quiet coming and goings. THe food selection was reasonable if picky. But a nice quiet place.

But with so many lounges and so little time, it was time to move onto another lounge. I thank the staff and begun my hunt for the next Cathay Lounge: The Cabin. A Short wander back into the main terminal and a bit of good guesswork, I was at The Cabin

Again, I was welcomed into the lounge and directed to the right. The lounge was buzzing, and in the same style The Wing. This time, there were more bars than not, be it a food bar, a Panini Bar or a Health drink bar.


Bar


Panini Bar


Various seating


Health Drink Bar..

Again, a nice quiet lounge that has  buzz to it, with a variation on the food in the other lounge. I took advantage of a bar and made a discovery of Absoult Vodka, which was Mandarin flavour.

I’m not an alcoholic honest – on my wage packet, I can’t afford to be an alcoholic!

Power sockets were easy to find, and the WiFi was of reasonable quality – useful things. The usual food mix was around, of good snacking quality.

After a while, I decided to see what other lounges are around. Well… I love to explore. I wandered off to the Qantas lounge, and wound up at the Business lounge.


QF Business Lounge Entrance

I was welcomed into the lounge, and the member of staff asked “Would you prefer to pop up to the First Class Lounge instead”.

I nodded and was told to head upstairs… where the Qantas First Lounge is tucked behind emmigration. So, yes – I looped around and around… to end up where I started.

I need to improve myself at this game of hunt the lounge – I’m really getting off the scent these days.


Qantas/British Airways First Class Lounge

I was welcomed in, my boarding pass scanned and I wandered into the 3rd lounge of the day.

Wandering in, I settled down, and acted like any Premium BA passenger would do, and headed for the bubbles.


C’mon. What do you think I was going to drink when I’m in a premium lounge?

Looking in at the food selections, it was a mix of nibbly foods really – still for the mood I was in, perfect enough

Drinks

WiFi again was reachable, however there was a minor hunt for power sockets. Why is it that some lounges you have to hunt around for a power socket for a while? Oh well – one little thing.

It’s a nice enough venue, but the lounge felt much more business class than first class. However, it served the purpose of being a place to relax and unwind before a flight. This suits me fine.

Eventually the London flight was called, and it was back downstairs and to the gate area, where my chariot of the evening was awaiting boarding


Next: BA026 Hong Kong to London Heathrow

 

Posted by Kevincm | Comments are off for this article

Hong Kong 3: For the LOVE of Avios! With Swiss and British Airways
Images of a Fragrant Harbour

Sections:


To be honest, I’m still not at full writing speed even as we enter the Christmas break period. But hey, I’ll try and tell my journey through the power of photography.


Hong Kong is a city of diversity and culture that is rare to find in the world, but there are lots of things to see – if you open your eyes and look around.  Here are but a few things I saw on my travels….


Walking around Shenug Wan – a ubiquitous Red and White Taxi rushing past


Meat Counters in Sham Shui Po.


Markets near Sham Shui Po

… and of course, electronics!


On the top desk in a traffic jam on Nathan Road


The Bank of China (left)  and the Hong Kong Shanghai Bank buildings (Right)


Tsim Sha Tsui Clock Tower – Kowloon


Star Ferry crossing to Wan Chai, Hong Kong Island lit up for “A Symphony of Lights”


The Bank of China Building – lit up in its bamboo style elements.


Cheongsam’s on sale at Temple Street


Phone ornaments by the bucketload

Ding Dings… doing their DingDing things.

Except this one that wants to do it Wednesday Style. Psy reference anyone? (Racing at the Happy Valley)

A Street of many steps.. .and seemingly many wedding couples


Star Ferry Leaving at night


I hope you’ve enjoyed this off the ball segment of “For the LOVE of Avios” – showing that there is a bit more to the the frequent flying game than just jumping on the plane.

Sometimes, on a mileage run, or a short trip, we forget to look around us and see the world around us.

Next: Back to the flying malarkey - Lounging Around Hong Kong Airport

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Hong Kong 3: For the LOVE of Avios! With Swiss and British Airways

TurboJetting to Macau

Sections:


Time for another One-Time Exception. Turbojetting to Macau. I apologise for the delay in the post – lets just say that due to the previous post, my urge to write… well anything is limited at this time.


One Time Exception: Turbojetting to Macau – A Day Trip to another Ex Colony.

The Photos:

After relaxing the night (ok, more like engaging in the fine art of bartering on Temple Street and Kowloon), it was time for an adventure – and today’s adventure would take me by sea to Macau.

I decided to go the reasonable way to Macau – via TurboJet as I was interested in the old Macau and not the Conti Strip (that’s Asia’s Vegas)

With the hotel in Shenung Wan, it was a matter of ducking under the MTR station and following the signs for the passenger ferry over.

Naturally, I didn’t pre-book, and the ferries were rammed as the locals here heading to gamble for the weekend. As I didn’t really want to hang around the terminal for an extra hour or so, I brought a Super Class ticket on the way out for HK$311 or so.

From there is was blind rush to check-in, and then through Hong Kong Emmigration. For me, there was the normal choice of going through the normal manned counter – or trying out EChannel. I went for the no queue EChannel – and after working out how to present my document, I was through EChannel within seconds.

Which wasn’t bad as I hadn’t had a seat assignment yet for the ferry. I headed to the gate, where boarding was in full swing, and got a sticker for 4E in Super Class.

It was then up onto the gangplank and abroad.

Boarding, I scored a Hydrofoil (or to be more precise – A Boeing 929 Jetfoil) – a new experience for me (having done numerous ferries and hovercrafts in the past).

Super Class has a reasonable seat pitch – nothing uncomfortable.

The seat itself could recline and had a little flip down table.

Shortly before departure, an attendant made sure seat belts were fastened, and a safety video played. It was then off out of Hong Kong Harbour in boat mode, before applying the Hyrdofoils and kicking it into high speed to Macau.  The route goes over the mouth of the Pearl River Delta (and if your mobile phone is sensitive enough, you’ll switch through Hong Kong’s Mobile networks to China Telecom and then to Macau’s telecoms networks as you travel

Pulling out of HK

Breakfast was served shortly after leaving Hong Kong

\

It was very much an airline meal in most respects – on a tray plonked unceremoniously in front of me. Still, the pastry was edible, and the fruit was fresh. That’s the main thing.

There was a bit of IFE – mainly a big screen in front used for advertising or announcements  The one hour journey, covering 70km went along quickly with a few sights on the way

Soon enough the Cotai strip was coming up – signalling the end of the trip

And soon the Hyrdofoil descended back down to boat mode as it approached the Terminal Maritimo

Shortly after landing, Super Class passengers disembarked, followed by the masses in Economy.

After exiting, it was time to clear immigration – which was choc-a-block (and what seemed to be a lot of mainland Chinese visitors). Sadly, the EChannel I had signed up for was only good for Hong Kong, so it was a case of queuing up, and being seen to, before proceeding into Macau.

Now, for those who need a little bit of context – like Hong Kong, Macau up until 1998 was a colony. Whilst Hong Kong was under the control of the United Kingdom, Macau was under control of Portugal – hence why signs, words and a lot of things are in Portuguese (as well as Cantonese, Mandarin and the occasional splattering on English. Therefore navigation was a bit harder than Hong Kong, but I adapted after a while.

I headed out to the bus terminal, and after acting a bit confused, I did what any other person would – do – follow the crowd. The bus (Number 3) was grand total of HK$3.60 and dropped me off near the main sites of Macau.

And it was just nice to walk around.

Some photographic impressions – many more on the photoblog at

Soon enough, tiredness caught up with me – maybe because my sleep over the past few days of travel has been so disrupted  or I was spending 15 minutes hunting for a 7/11 or Circle K so I could get some shrapnel for the bus. At near enough 15:30 I was back at the Terminal Maritimo, I queued up for TurboJet, and brought a ticket for the next ferry back to Hong Kong in normal class – a lot cheaper at HK168 for the 1 hour trip back.

Emmigration was reasonably quick after a passport stamp out , and duty free was laughable.

I headed to the gate pen, where the there was a short wait before I boarded another Hydrofoil back to Hong Kong.

This time, I managed to specify where I got to sit – so I was on the upper deck of the JetFoil.

The JetFoil

Upper cabin Seating

After boarding was complete, we pushed away, boating past one of the bridges that link the Macau Peninsula to the Tapia and beyond, and then the JetFoil powered up for the 1 hour trip to Hong Kong.

Pulling out

Leaving Macau

Powering Away

Seating is a bit more constricted than it is was on Super Class, but for this normal economy class traveller, it felt spacious enough.

Being at the window, I grabbed a few shots as the journey progressed across the Pearl River Delta.

For the last half hour of the trip, my brain went into shutdown mode as I grabbed a few zzz’s, waking up in time to see that the jetfoil was entering Hong Kong Harbour.

Quickly the jetfoil docked, and after a short wait, I was heading down the bouncy gangplank. From there it was a case of follow the escalators and the crowd until immigration. This is where I used the eChannel, and after completing the process quicker this time, I got a little receipt indicating how long I was allowed to stay in Hong Kong (180 days – those British Citizen Passports do open doors…), and was free to enter the territory. Before I knew it, it was in the Shak Tai centre, and retracing my steps back to the HIX in Shenug Wan.

Within 15 minutes of docking, I was in the hotel room, relaxing from a days exploration of another land… and more stamps in the passport.

Overall: I enjoyed my day trip to Macau, seeing a different culture that is so different to that of Hong Kong. Whilst I could had got more out of it with a bit better planning (and if I loved Casinos… and I’m sorry, I’m not a great fan of them), I felt like I got a lot of out of the time spent there. Next time, I’ll do the trip the day after so not to fall asleep halfway through the trip though…


Next: GhettoIFE Special: Images of a Fragrant Harbour

Posted by Kevincm | 3 Comments

Hong Kong 3: For the LOVE of Avios! With Swiss and British Airways
Holiday Inn Express Soho, Hong Kong Island

Sections:


From Hong Kong Airport to the Island and to a Hotel – Can a HIX be any good?


Exiting the plane, it was a matter of heading to the travelators and Hong Kong Immigration. I was cleared within 10 minutes (see USA – it can be done). Rather than head for the luggage belt, I headed for the E-Channel registration (this would come in useful later on the trip).  After a bit of negotiation, my BA Gold was accepted as a valid document, and I was allowed to register for E-Channel.

This involves two index fingerprints, a sticker on the passport and a photo… and that’s it. That was another 10 minutes done (which would save a LOT of time later).

Heading for the luggage belt, it had only recently spluttered into life, and was spitting luggage every now and again. Eventually, my little rucksack appeared and I was off after a visit to the small room.

I cleared customs without an issue, and headed for the MTR counter to pick up my HK$300 Airport Express + 3 day travel pass, whilst quickly loading my mail and a confirmed map of where I needed to go once I hit Sheung Wan.

I also loaded an extra HK$50 up on the Octopus card for incidental travel – such as Buses, Star Ferry and the Ding Dings (trams)

All that in hand, it was off to Airport Express.

There was only a short wait for the train, and soon enough – I was whisked away from the airport and off to Hong Kong Island


Speeding away


Crossing near Tsing Yi

After exiting the Hong Kong MTR arrivals station, I checked and couldn’t see the Holiday Inn Express on the local destination board (even though later I found out it was served!). Sighing to myself I knew that would mean dealing with the MTR at peak.

I followed the signs from Hong Kong Station to Central, and then through the rabbits warren that seems to be Central station. Thankfully, heading to Sheung Wan has an advantage at Central – most of the passengers are changing line or getting off at Central – thus when I caught an MTR, it was half empty for the short hop to the next station.

After following the signs and my nose to Exit A2 a bit of guesswork and map reading lead me directly to the Holiday Inn Express Soho.

See. I do have sense of direction at least…

Hotel: Holiday Inn Express Soho, Sheung Wan.
Price paid 45,000 Priority Club Points for 3 nights

Back to night time photography of hotels. Old Habits die hard….

The Photos:

After wandering into the entrance of this new hotel, it was amazing to see how much they crammed into a small space.

And how busy it was a tourists from Korea were passing through.

I was welcomed after a couple of minutes waiting, and my rate was confirmed. In addition I was welcomed as a PC Platinum, and informed a welcome amenity would be brought up to my room later.

How nice!

Two keycards were issued, and I was on my way to the 30th Floor.

The lift is one of those “tap the keycard and push button to go up” style ones.  After I was deposited on the 30th floor (yes, 30th… you’ll see why in a shake), I turned the corner and headed to my room. Room numbers are limited whilst the hotel is tall; the building itself is on a small parcel of land. Hence building upwards!


Going up..

The property itself is a new build, only opening in September (hence the very cheap rate for the hotel room). However, there wasn’t much hunting on the 30th floor – it was down the corridor and on the left.


The magic door…

Waving the keycard opened the lock, and straight to the right upon the door entry was a slot for the keycard. Popping that in activated the lighting and opened the window blinds.

Lets look inside

Bed and the screened bathroom

Shower


Tea coffee facilities


TV


Welcome amenity

Whilst basic, it did the job. If I wanted luxuries, I would had headed to the Crowne Plaza or the Intercontinentals. But for a place to rest, watch TV, update computer and sleep – this will do fine! The bed itself was comfortable without sinking in the middle of it, the aircon did the job well without freezing me, and the shower and bathroom whilst simple – again – did the job.  Sometimes a hotel can mess up on these simple things, so seeing this hotel get it right is a good thing

The Hotel WiFi was reasonable – although it needed you to re-accept the T&C’s at regular intervals. Put it like this: I managed to get my new tablet up and running on the Hotel WiFi without an issue, whilst doing major online work with the laptop.

The views from the hotel room were quite good too – even though I was facing away from the harbour, I was facing towards the Peak

At night

During the morning/day

Being a holiday Inn Express, breakfast is included in the deal. This was served in the restaurant on the 2nd floor.

Now the restaurant is independent from the HIX, who buys in the breakfast service only.  And whilst the spread is nice (if the same each day), there exists a minor problem – and it relates to the size of the hotel that I talked about earlier. The restraint was just too small for the people that were going through it, resulting in shared tables (in fact 1 out of the 3 sittings I went to I had my own table, and on the Sunday morning it was a 15 minute wait to get a shared table!

The food spread was simple – a mix of Asian and Western


Scrambled Egg


Danishes

Dear Hong Kong. We need to have a chat about what you call sausages and what I call sausages. Those are Hot Dogs.


Noodles


Vegetables

The hotel also has a common room – or a “Great Room” as they call it. Located on the 3rd floor, it has vending machines and other things. I used it on the final day to do a bit of re-packing of my bags.

The staff were friendly and accommodating – a nice crew really. Even the restaurant staff started warming to me on the final day.

Check out was at midday on the final day of the trip – I didn’t extend it, but did stow a bag whilst I did bits and bobs on Hong Kong Island that day.

Overall: A great little property. Whilst the restaurant may cause issues as there is so little seating space (for example: 09:00 on a Sunday), it didn’t impact overall. For a cheap hotel on Hong Kong Island that’s attached to a major brand – you can’t go far wrong with this property.


Next:  One Time Exception: Macau with TurboJet

Posted by Kevincm | 11 Comments

Hong Kong 3: For the LOVE of Avios! With Swiss and British Airways
BA027 London – Hong Kong

Sections:


Time to get back to flying… but can BA do a good job on the long haul run?


Leg 4: BA0027 London Heathrow – Hong Kong Chek Lap Kok International Airport

British Airways, 37K (Exit Row), World Traveller (Economy)

Boeing 777-300ER

35 Tier Points Earned, 11958 Avios (5,979 Base + 5,979 Tier bonus)

The pictures:

Boarding the plane, I was welcomed at the door, and directed down the right hand isle.  My seat wasn’t hard to find – Past Club World and World Traveller Plus, and the first row of World Traveller.

The aircraft looked in great condition – and if I’m honest – like any other 777-300ER that I’ve been on. Except this one had slimline seats. I’ll get on to them later… trust me. Meanwhile, where I was sat, I indeed did have a friend which would impede my legroom – the exit slide.

Ok, it’s not the end of the world, but it meant care leg manoeuvring when stretching… and yes – more space than AA and WT+. As for a window… I had a wall.

And the nearest window was behind me or the exit door

As this was mostly a night flight, I wasn’t that bothered. It’s still nice to have a window nearby though. In terms of the overhead panel, it was just lights – no overhead air nozzles.

Oh well. Whilst I like the nozzles for my own directed air, they’re not the end of the world.  Other little seat features was the existence of power under my seat and a USB Charging port. All good things.

As boarding continued the crew came around and said hello, talking about pain in the back about the train being broken. They seemed a friendly bunch – I’d check in on that later…

Soon enough those of us in exit rows were asked to deploy our screens (after I had worked out how to) to watch the safety demo.

Thales i5000 system. I’ll get onto that in a bit…

The safety demo played as the crew took their positions for the demo. After the demo, the screens were stowed as we begun pushing back.   Now I’d love to tell you what runway we took off from, and which direction, but there’s a minor problem. Yes – the no window issue.

But on the plus side, you’re spared my take off and landing videos ;)

Soon enough, we were airborne and into the night sky, making for Hong Kong. After the IFE system was activated, it’s time to explore this Thales system to see what it can do,

Here’s some shots of it in action:

The system is categorised into useful bits – films, TV, music, BA and of course, the map.

Exploring the TV Section

Exploring the Map Section

The map section was one of the most fun I’ve used. Fully interactive and fully pose-able where you wanted it to be – a great learning tool and a great thing to watch when there was nothing else to watch – which when I tend to fly it’s what I reach for.  However the BA system had something on it. CONTENT! An airline which actually has content which I like. A good mix of drama, comedy and films.

So, this marks a first for a very long haul flight in Economy for some time – NO GHETTOIFE IFE SYSTEM!

Yes, I’ll lay bets you’re mostly not in shock.  More like I’m in shock that an airline has actually thought about its IFE system and delivered it with a usable interface and matched it with content. Top marks.

As I settled into a long session of watching 30 Rock, the drinks trolley came pass. Regular viewers who know I topped up on Champers earlier shouldn’t be surprised at the following picture.

The crew offered me a strong Vodka and cola one off the bat. I took one Vodka bottle and popped in my pocket, whilst diluting the other vodka down with cola. Yes. I drown my vodka. No, don’t look at me like that.

 

And touch trolley and head to the galley…

The meal followed shortly there after. I can’t remember the choices, but I went for the Chicken option – was Chicken Pad Thai

The tray

Pasta

Breads

Pad Thai – with a little helper on top (as the Pad Thai contains milk).

The Pad Thai underneath

Moose – Skipped.

Wine

Job done-  Note the Map in the background.

Ok, a big plus to BA here – they label their first service meals.  Whilst for most of you who travel, labelling will only interest you from a calorific viewpoint at best, for those who travel with allergies – this is a big plus for me (I’ll talk about special meals on the way back). The Pad Thai itself was hot, noodley and had a fair bit of chicken. The pasta was fresh and edible too.  Wine was offered during the service (shortly after meals were distributed), and the wine was passable – it wouldn’t win any awards, but it was cold and drinkable with the food. The breads were instantly forgettable and the desert… was skipped. A reasonable spread for a first service.

Clear down was completed in a reasonable time and the cabin was dimmed after duty free sales were conducted.

After this point I reclined my seat a smidgen, put The Big Bang Theory on and closed my eyes. It took a bit, but eventually I got to sleep.

After waking up a bit stiff (and sore bottomed), I had found a good 6 hours of the flight had gone on sleep. This is a darn good thing – alcohol makes me a tiny bit silly and a lot sleepy.  Whilst slimline seats are nice in theory and can give a bit more leg room, they are hard work on a backside. The best I could do was to place the cushion under my posterior to give a bit more padding for all it was worth. The headrest seemed to work quite well – although it was only adjustable up and down as opposed to adjustable wings – on the plus side this provides a reasonable “cushion”.

Anyway, with a bit to go before the flight, breakfast was served. I went for the English Breakfast option.

Tray

English Breakfast

Done!

The breakfast whilst it looked unappealing actually wasn’t that bad. The orange juice was drinkable, the yoghurt untouchable. The hot breakfast was Ok – the egg wasn’t that bad (well – decent eggs in the air don’t tend to exist in my experience), the bacon wasn’t that tough (and not burned – two good things) and the sausage was non-offensive and warm.

A drinks service followed, and the black coffee was warm, black and tasted of coffee.

Not a bad service at all really.

As breakfast was concluding a message flashed up on the IFE:

Duty free ending soon!

Meanwhile, people where drawing blinds. The person on the end of my row opened a blind and this is what was outside.

Cloud

Sun

The view from my seat.

Soon enough the 40 minutes to land notice was given, and the queues for the two lavatories started to swell. Joy. They disappeared at the 20 minutes to landing, and the crew came round for the final clear down, before strapping themselves in.

Before I knew it, the plane touched down at Hong Kong. I then knew it because some of the condensation on the overhead system that had built up decided to empty… on top of my head. The poor flight attendant tried not to laugh, and as soon as we had cleared the active runway, she reached into the toilet to get me a few tissues to dry myself with.

Well – it woke me up I suppose.

When we came to a standstill at the gate, the flight attendant gave me a few more tissues as well as apologies aplenty, and explained what had happened. I was fine with it – what can you do? Whine and fill in forms? Not me.

Cathay Pacific Tails. Yep. Hong Kong.

The bongs went off, and a thank you to the cabin crew, and it was time to go… all the way through World Traveller Plus, Club World and First, exiting the plane at door 1L

Overall: A very reasonable service for a 12 hour flight. The food was good, the staff were excellent and were communicative whilst offering a good product. Whilst a 777 releasing condensation ontop of me isn’t a good thing, a good member of staff watching out and reacting in the best way possible is a good thing.


Next:Holiday Inn Express Soho, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong Island

Posted by Kevincm | 3 Comments

Well I’m still recovering after the trip to Hong Kong, but I’ve started up the content upload of the trip (the videos and photos – the writing is taking a LOT longer)

Here’s the first batch of photos

(Psst. You can see the pics as they’re uploaded – follow the GhettoIFE twitter feed @GhettoIFE)

Take off and Landing Videos are at http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLR597aQ4xRzMbJjnIdZtY4eqApFlNNOyf

 

There will be another content upload in the next day or so, and dread the thought, writing will appear shortly after.

(Oh and if anyone is wondering why its taking so long just to sort out the photos, I sort of shot 160GB of content last weekend. I’m working out how still…)

Posted by Kevincm | Comments are off for this article

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