Farewell Miles – A Mileage Burning Party with All Nippon Airlines, Thai Airways and Asiana Airlines in Business Class (with a BMI Leg)

Featuring the ANA International 787-8.


Time to bring this trip together and wrap it up. If you’ve made it this far, you’re a brave person. Well done!


Lets look at the Airlines, the accommodation, and then the wrap up before we get on to final trip thoughts.
The Airlines:

  • BMI For Lufthansa. Amazing service for a short segment and great communication. The staff even wanted to be there for hells teeth sake. For BMI, it’s always been the staff that have made that airline, and this was evident again. I’m going to miss those guys when it is formally game over. 
  • ANA took a level of service I expect from a business class carrier and blew it away . With the 787 product, they have a winner – though I do fear for the loads and if that FRA-HND is viable in the long term with 46 business class seats and 112 Economy seats and I do fear economies of scale will move in sooner rather than later. Food for thought for ANA.
  • Thai Airways whist competent with the service, the safety aspects were worrying. It could had been that crew who just wanted to get on the ground. Doesn’t excuse them from pulling the cabin lights to high and checking the cabin is secure.
  • Asiana Airlines did the job once again. There’s a few little rough edges here and there – but nothing of real consequence you can’t overlook. Excellent service and excellent crews.

The Hotels

  • Hotel Savigny was a lovely property… but the room was way too hot. Still. It provided a bed, a place to relax and sort myself out before the madness of Asia.
  • The Strings by Intercontinental is a really lovely world class hotel with wonderful service and great little touches. If you’re heading to Haneda Airport and are looking for a great Intercontinental property, look no further.
  • The Crown Plaza Causeway Bay (Happy Valley) felt like a major cut above what a Crown Plaza is – if anything, it felt more Intercontinental that a Crown Plaza. Great staff, great service – if a pain to get there hiking through Causeway Bay station (although the tram outside the hotel does help. A lot).
  • The Ramada Seoul Dongdaemun wasn’t what I expected. And that is… a good thing. Certainly it’s a better stay for those who are doing longer term trips to Seoul with the kitchen, clothes washer, it’s a great property. The only thing that really scared me was the threat of a W10,000 fine for loosing an electronic key….

The Destinations

  • Japan and Tokyo were everything I expected to be… and nothing like I expected to be (if that makes any sense). The people were lovely, welcoming (if shy). I could see me going back to Japan in an instant. But I’d want to treble any spending money I assign for Japan. Then Double that amount.
  • Hong Kong was its usual bustling self. As well as getting the camera seen to (important), I also managed to get my two “chops” carved at long last – these will both serve me in the future.
  • Seoul may be the 2nd biggest metropolis in the world, but I found plenty of quiet points in Seoul this time – even in the markets, it seemed quieter than last time. A lovely dovetail to an amazing trip.

So, Goodbye Miles?

I save my miles from when I do idiot mileage runs around the USA and Canada for that “special occasion” or “special trip”, and with BMI heading the way of the dodo, I took my chance and flew whilst I could. And I make no apology for that. It is the “suffering” in Economy Class that I do so often that allows me to really appreciate business class travel when I take it.

Let me say as well, it is always the journey – never the final destination that matters. Because the final destination is always the front door of my flat. And sometimes, it’s nice to be home after a long trip.

I’ve burned the best part of 100,000 BMI Miles on this trip, and 150,000 Priority Club points on this trip – a big amount by any stretch of the imagination.

But miles and points depreciate. Companies go out of business. Experiences and memories do not leave you as quick, and can change how you think of the world – or how you appreciate the world.

However, just because miles change or devaulate – it’s not an excuse to hang up my travel shoes. I’m sure I’ll accumulate Avios, Miles an More Miles, and a plethora of other  currencies that will aid in in travel, and get great experiences.

Because at the end of the day, it’s why I travel – for the experience.

And that concludes Farewell Miles. It’s been a long write up, and there’s one more paragraph left after this. I’d like to thank you for reading and your comments, and of course, I’ll try and answer your questions as soon as possible.

However, enough of the premium flying malarkey. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very nice – far too nice actually. But I’m a sucker for Economy flights (namely my wallet won’t allow much more!) and it’s heading to that time of year when I get my travel shoes on again and head of for the Windy City. So please join me in April for A final Star Hurrah? To Chicago with United Airlines and Air Canada

Toodle Pip!


ADDENDUM:

If you represent an organisation who has been reviewed in a Trip Report and wish for clarification over any issue , please contact me directly at blog@ghettoife.com stating your credentials and the nature of  the question requiring clarification. A response will be sent to you as soon as is possible.

Posted by Kevincm | One Comment

Farewell Miles – A Mileage Burning Party with All Nippon Airlines, Thai Airways and Asiana Airlines in Business Class (with a BMI Leg)

Featuring the ANA International 787-8.


Well we’re approaching the end of this trip, but there is room for one more business class segment. But before we get to fly, breakfast is a darn good thing…


The final day of the trip was going to be special as I had been contacted before I set off by stargold who kindly invited me to breakfast or drinks in the evening. And since i was in town, it would had been rude of me if I refused (I can do niceness sometimes).

In the end, we chose Breakfast on the grounds that my sleep pattern was shot to hell by this point in the trip (getting up at 5am on Holiday and being out like a light at 10pm isn’t cricket for me), so on the final day of the trip, we met at Seoul Station (after a minor mess-up by yours truly telling poor stargold I was staying at the wrong Ramada. Oops.).

And it was a great breakfast, chatting about redemption’s, ideas for the futures, how bad some North American carriers are and general chit-chat. A darn good morning. That and the food at the Westin was excellent. A highly recommended buffet breakfast.

After breakfast with stargold, my time was running low. It was back dash back to the Ramada, a quick pick up of the trash, and then back to Seoul Station in a fast cab. 4,100Won later, I was outside and running with the heavy rucksacks, exchanged my train voucher, raced downstairs and the train to Incheon Airport was waiting to go.

Airport Express Seoul Station to Seoul Incheon Airport
A’REX Service
Price Paid W9,800 (List is about W13,800)

Little hint: At the time of writing, if you pop down to the Korea Tourist Information Office, they’re is a travel agency there that  sell you tickets for the train there at a discount.  Alternatively, if you’ve got time on your hands, the local stopping service costs W3700 or so.

When I went through Seoul last time, this line wasn’t complete (it was running up to Gimpo Airport at that point). Now that line is  built, I’d thought it would be worth a review to see how it compares to the Limousine Bus.

Now it is entirely possible to check in, drop your luggage of and get immigration clearance here – if you’ve allow enough time to do it all (with a 3 hour deadline before flight). I didn’t sadly make the 3 hour deadline, so it would be the conventional means of checking in at the airport for me.

The ticket had a seat number and assignment so I duly found my way to Car 5, and dumped my luggage on the seat next to me – normally, I’d dump it near the luggage bin except there were only a few people aboard (if it was loaded, yes – the bag would had been in the luggage area.

Once the train pulled out, it was a 43 minute journey to Incheon Airport – just showing how far away it is from the centre of Seoul. Thankfully this was also a non stop service, so it was on dedicated tracks and lines. Sometimes I think countries like to build these airports in the middle of nowhere and think of the infrastructure later just for the hell of it. The service wasn’t exactly fast per say (not TGV fast, but it pootled along at its own speed). With 0ver 60% of the route underground, there is sadly not much of a chance to see the Korean countryside before approaching Incheon Airport. Still the train did its job, and pulled into the airport station on time.

On the way to Incheon

After getting of the train, it was straight up the escalators and through the barriers.

Overall: It’s a great improvement for those who travel between Seoul Station and Seoul Incheon Airport. And it’s a great way to get from A to B.  However, I maintain if you’re in a big City like Seoul, and don’t know your way round, stick to the Limousine Buses on the way to your hotel, and on the way back, get the train if it is convenient to your journey.

With the rucksacks heavy as heck, I took advantage of the free shuttle truck that sped along the Transportation Centre to the main Terminal, where I wandered up to Check In, and over to Asiana business check in.

I was greeted politely, and presented my passport. I confirmed that London was my final destination. At that point, my bags were tagged, told what gate the plane would be going from today and invited to the lounge. I noticed that my seat had been changed again, and was told the seat next to me was empty (and a hope it would remain empty for the flight home).

All good. I picked up the little day rucksack, and headed to security. Security was split into two – those heading for the USA and those who were not. An interesting split, but nothing too odd.

I was through security in a few minutes, with no questions asked, and just the usual formalities of laptop out, empty pockets, shoes on.

As I packed up my trash to head away, to immigration, one of the security guards came up to me… and handed over my memory cards that I accidentally dropped. How polite and nice!

Soon enough, I was at the Emigration barrier, and after a passport stamp on an empty page (grr), I was free to proceed.

Now, I’ve got to admit, mostly every Korean person I’ve ran into in this  trips have been wonderful and polite. It seems they saved the pushy sales people for the Airport and the Duty Free concessions, where I felt I had to run the risk to get what I needed from Duty Free.  Two attempts to shop – and I gave up getting anything else.

Instead, I headed to the lounge to kick back for a tiny bit before the flight.

Lounge Stop: Asiana Airlines Business Lounge

I was welcomed to the lounge, and settled down near the food (it’s tradition – plus the view is very acceptable)… plus the lounge was very busy so it was one of the few window seats.

And there’s nothing inherently wrong with the Asiana lounge – far from it. It’s a lovely large space, and plenty of seats. I just happen to like being near a window and watching the world going by.

Food area

Seating area

Eventually, the time in the lounge came to an end, and I headed off, checking that boarding had yet to begin.

Heading down the spine corridors of Incheon Airport, it was fairly busy – people heading to destinations far and wide, and the duty free shops doing a roaring trade.

Making it to Gate 40, my plane was waiting, and boarding was a few minutes away yet.

Waiting to load...

OZ521 Seoul Inchon International Airport to London Heathrow Airport T1
Asiana Airlines Inc, Boeing 777-200ER
Seat 3A > 4K > 2A, Business Class

The pictures:

Welcome!

I was welcomed aboard with a poilte bow, and headed to 2A – my home for this flight. I placed everything I didn’t need in the overhead bin, and the useful things such as the laptop and camera in the seat next to me.

As I looked around, I saw I had lucked out on the old equipment rather than the new lie-flat seats. Oh well – not the end of the world for me for what is in effect – a day flight. And on top of that, old IFE.

Old OZ Seat in Normal mode with seatrest extended(taken later in flight)

In "Relax" Mode

In bed mode (taken later in flight)

Oh well.

A welcome drink was offered, and I took a glass of bubbles.

Bubbles

Eventually the jetbridges were pulled away and 2B was free. However, there was distinct pause. That pause turned into a delay at Incheon due to traffic. Whilst this would had been inconvenient to others aboard, for once this played into my hands my next connection was in London at 7:15pm local. An extra 15 minute delay wasn’t that bad and was useful to me.

Eventually, safety video played, and the pushback tug began its work. This time, it was the basic safety video, and none of the “beautiful manners” videos played.

After pushback and positioning was complete, the tug crew waved the plane off – a lovely touch.

Bye Bye Korea!

A quick taxi, and the 777-200ER lined up on the runway keys, and we were off into the blue

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f3yfaOV0vQ8

 

Climbout

As climbout continued, the flight settled down, and food options were requested. I went for the Korean option. Of course as most of you know who have been aboard Asiana, and stick to the Korean cuisine it’s BiBimBap on the way into Korea, Ssambap on the way out. Yes, there were other options, but come on, lets keep the food here nice at least.

That, BiBimBap and Ssambap are very safe options in my humble opinion. Anyhoo. Onto the service itself (and for once – I liberated a menu out of Asiana Airlines. Yes, I’m in shock too)

So lets go through the menu (Korean option)

Starter - Starter Hashed Beef with Baby Leaf and Potato chip

This had lovely delicate flavors within it, with the potato chips lovely and soft too – not harsh in the mouth. Wonderful tastes inside it. And yes, that is a glass full of bubbles with me ;)

 

Chlorella roll

Now the Chlorella roll was something different – And I still can’t put my finger on it even with the power of Wikipedia (Seaweed seems about right).  Still, this was a lovely vegetarian taste, with different flavors throughout. Very different – and very Korean.

Chestnut and Date Porridge

I’m going to be honest and admit, this wasn’t to my taste at all really. I did try, but the texture and taste didn’t appeal to me sadly.

Then it was onto the Ssamabap. For those who don’t know Ssambap is the wrapping of rice, beef and leaves into edible portions using the leaf as a wrapper

So here’s the full tray:

The main meal tray

So you have your beef and rice..

Beef and Rice

Side Dishes

The leaves

Also, there’s a soup..

Soup (note the bean paste in the top left)

And once again, the beef didn’t taste overcooked as it is easy to do (and the beef was slightly delayed out of the oven too it seems as the Western dishes were served quickly), and the flavours of the leaves, the bean paste and the soup all combined into a lovely Korean meal. Apart from the short delay before it arrived – nothing to fault at all.

This was consumed and cleared down, and a fresh fruit plate took it’s place.

Fruit and Ice Wine

The fruits were fresh, although the apple was starting to discolour. No biggie – it was edible still – and the fruits did indeed taste fresh. Desert wine was offered, and the flight attendant offered a nice Ice Wine. Who am I to say no to Ice Wine (after enjoying it in Canada).  The Ice Wine was  syrupy with some lovely notes in it.  Put it like this: There are worse things to do in the air.

Finally to conculde the serve,  was the Kkultarae

Kkultarae (served with Coffee)

This is a sweet with the white strands made of honey, and a sweet nut filling inside. Whilst they look small, they packed one hell of a taste and flavor. Whilst there were “only” two on the plate, after the dinner that had been served, it was enough.

After this had been consumed and a small amount of time had passed, the cabin was cleared down, and blinds were drawn downwards.

At this point, I put the seat into bed position and settled down for a bit. And I think I got a grand total of two hours snooze. The bottom line is simple: I wasn’t in the mood to sleep. Therefore, I popped the seat into the upright position and checked out the IFE.

Whilst the IFE screen was nice and big… the content was… awful. Only about 12 movies and programmes loaded on the system, and on a loop. I defaulted back to the map application and left that running during the flight. For my own IFE, it was time to pull out the laptop, rig it to the mains system and watch.. well.

Do you even need to guess the show? ;)

Midflight comes and goes, and it’s time for a midflight service. Again, I stuck with the noodle option – the options being “Mildly Spicy or Very Spicy”.

Regular readers should guess that answer ;)

Noodles!

... with Kimichi

Again, it’s the toppings that made these noodles (I think it was squid). The noodles did taste like packet noodles (the higher end sort as opposed to the super cheap ones), but they tasted nice, and filled a corner whilst I tried to get some rest again.

And failed.

So I put the seat into relax position.. .and watched Top Gear instead.

Heading into the minus two hour part of the flight, the lights came up a bit as the flight attendants took orders for the arrival snack. Again, there were choices, but here is what I went for:

Meatball with Cherry Tomato and Bocconcini

Ok, I’m not a fan of tomatoes, and never a fan of cheese, but this was a nice starter offset with the balsamic dressing on-top. Not bad at all. This was accompanied with a fancy bread:

Moving onto the main course

Duck Confit, Roasted Celeriac, Honey Glazed Apples with Red Wine Sauce

The duck was non fatty and had a rich taste to it.  The Roasted Celeriac made a great replacement for potatoes, and added an extra edge to the dish. However, there was a little downside to this and it can be shown with the image below:

Oh dear.

It seems the curse of the plastic knives have now reached Asiana. A shame (probably down to some ludicrous safety reason). The Duck wasn’t tough by any stretch of the imagination – but a metal knife would had been a useful thing in this case.

The service was concuded with a fruit tart and coffee.

Fruit Tart

Whilst the tart was small, it was quite flavorsome. A nice ending to a reasonable meal.

And at this point, most of the blinds went up in the cabin as the evening sunlight begun to fill it. And once again, I begun reflecting on the end of another adventure coming to an end – this time without loosing my keys in Korea (Which is what happened last time – I swear they’re somewhere near the DMZ…).

Soon enough, the plane began to cross the channel, counting the miles down to London. The cabin lights were brought up, and the cabin was cleared down.

Eventually, the plane crossed over British waters and over Kent, and settled into stacking for a few laps – a couple of laps outside London, and then… a few laps as the plane begun a river approach to Heathrow.

London 2012 Stratford Site

Over Canary Wharf and The Millennium Dome/The O2

With a river approach and Twickenham to the Left on arrival, soon enough, the 777-200ER descended into a lovely sunset at Heathrow Airport.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hyNqs8o63FQ

Sunset at Heathrow

The plane doubled back and tracked past the T3 complex, past the T1 Irish Tunnel, until reaching the Europier and parking up. The bongs went to release the passenger via Door 2L (Dear Heathrow. Invest in LOTS of dual Air-Bridges please), and it was time to complete this trip and head for the barn.

... and I hope to see you again Asiana!

Overall: Asiana have maintained their service in the past 2 years – and that is an amazing thing in the airline industry. The service is still friendly and top notch, and whilst there are little cuts here and there – Asiana Business is still one of the best ways to go from Seoul to London.

Arriving back at Heathrow, it was a case of hiking from the Europier end of T1, all the way down to the UK border, where I was greeted with IRIS roped off.

Now after a long flight, that was… annoying.

With the UK/EU Passport Queue filling up fast, I decided to risk the E-Passport Gate. And whilst IRIS is lovely and fast, E-Passport took the best part of 2 minutes to match my biometric details.

And this is a forward step… how?

Anyway, I was cleared through the e-Passport gate, passed the rest of the desks into the old and deserted passport hall, and down to the luggage belt, where , and headed down to luggage claim where my Rucksacks were working their way around the belts.

Now that was excellent timing.

I loaded up the bags onto a trolly, and cleared UK Customs… and then re-entered the “real world”. With the premium experience over, it was time to head back to reality – and take the train to London, a Cab, and train to Birmingham.

Sounds simple enough? Well I needed to be at Moor Street for 7:15PM as I wanted to avoid a lot of the rush hour (and also use cheap tickets). First stop was down to the Heathrow Express platforms, where I brought a Heathrow  Connect ticket.

Heathrow Express pulling out. Maybe I should had paid out the extra in the end...

Considering HEX is one of the most expensive train services in the UK (bar none per mile), I feel slightly less conned when using Heathrow Connect. This was not the greatest decision, this time as the service suffered a 30 minute delay into Paddington. By this point, catching the 7:15PM to Birmingham was turning into a vague hope as opposed a reasonable idea.

However, the beauty of taking the HEC is it drops you off at Platform 12 – which is where the new taxi pickup point is. Which is very useful. Thankfully, it being nearing the end of peak time, there were plenty of taxi’s do pick-up.  I was directed to a waiting queue, and in typical London style, I stated my destination (and the meter started too) and I bundled into the taxi, dealing with the peak time London traffic to Marylebone station.

The cabbie dropped me outside Marylebone station with 10 minutes to spare. Another £25 in the machine and I had tickets for the train service, where a platform had already been declared for the service.

London Marylebone to Birmingham Moor Street
Chiltern Railways  Class 168, Standard Class.
£25 Super Off Peak Return.

Of course, this being just outside peak hour, it was full of North Oxfordshire commuters heading home, relegating me to the floor for 50 minutes until Bicester North.

Still, I was exhausted, so I sat with my luggage on the floor and snoozed until Bicester where I got a seat. After lashing the backpack to a railing, it was then a matter of getting to Moor Street Station. This being a fast service, there was only 5 stops to Birmingham, taking a grand total of 1 hours and 40 minutes from London, which this train service manged to do without any problems at all.

Nearing 8:35pm, the train approached Moor Street station where I loaded up the bags on my shoulders one more time for this trip and got off the train.

The ticket barriers at this point were switched off for the evening, so it was a simple matter of getting to the taxi rank. I could had walked a bit to grab a cheaper taxi, but you know what – stuff it – I want to enjoy the final part of my holiday. Thankfully, the driver knew where he was going (a rarity for a Birmingham Taxi Driver some days), and I was deposited outside the gates to the block of flats where I live.

Opening the gates, I moved each rucksack through, and lugged the lot bit by bit to my block of flats, and finally to my front door, taking a photo to conclude the trip with.

Home again.

After that, I went in, collapsed on the sofa, and let the world suffer to itself for a few days.


Coming up. The wrap-up. Well, everything must come to an end….


Posted by Kevincm | 5 Comments

Farewell Miles – A Mileage Burning Party with All Nippon Airlines, Thai Airways and Asiana Airlines in Business Class (with a BMI Leg)

Featuring the ANA International 787-8.


Time for a One-Time Exception – something a bit more slower than the fast-paced frenetic madness that has been parts of this trip as I head to a Shrine. 


In some trips, I can go blindly from one place to another without appreciating some of the peace that a country has to offer. And I did a lot of that the last time in Seoul. And a lot of it during this trip in fact. I’ve wanted to head to some of the palaces this trip. I chose the Jongmyo Shrine according the guide book.

Jongmyo Shrine
W1000 (English Tours on the hour,  but check for exact timings). 

The pictures:

Now whilst the shrine does allow the public to wander around one day a week, the rest of the time, it is by tour only. And at 1000 Won (the best part of ooh… £1)  I thought – hey – why not.

I got my ticket at the booth and was told there were Korean Language tours in on the twenty and forty, and an English language tour on the hour. It was by this point 11:20. And rather than rushing off to do other things, I took the time to sit down for a bit, and enjoy the peace of the park. Something I try and do once a trip (and often fail) – to stop for a minute and reflect on the whole thing. And this gave me the chance to sit down near the entrance and watch the world go by.

And it was lovely not to have to rush to the next stop somewhere – just to have peace to myself for a bit.

And that sums up the tour. The Shrine is dedicated to the memorial services for the deceased kings and queens of the Korean Joseon Dynasty. UNESCO deem this place important enough to add it to their World Heritage lists – and it is a peaceful place from the areas where the living king prepared to the long building of hte  Yeongnyeongjeon (Hall of Eternal Comfort), with  19 memorial tablets of kings and 30 of their queens, placed in 19 chambers.

And with so few people around – it felt like the spirits were happy at rest.

For now, I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

A bit busy on the outside

But quiet on the inside

Overall: If you need the peace of a shrine, and need to get away from the wilds of a city to a place where spirits roam in peace…. this is a wonderful escape from the noise and the hubbubs of a city. An excellent place to take in some of the history of Korea.


Next up, I head homewards with Asiana. But not without breakfast first…..


Posted by Kevincm | Comments are off for this article

Farewell Miles – A Mileage Burning Party with All Nippon Airlines, Thai Airways and Asiana Airlines in Business Class (with a BMI Leg)

Featuring the ANA International 787-8.


From MGallery to Intercontinental to Crown Plaza to a Ramada. For a Seoul “Value” option – how good can it be… or not?


Hotel: Ramada Seoul Dongdamun
Booked via Hotels.com – £132.10 with £15.85 cashback (via Quidco).

The photos: http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/2012/03/06/ramada-seoul.html

Don’t look at me in that tone of voice. Some of us are trying to cut the costs on this trip.

After stumbling to the hotel (with the ever heavy rucksack and bags), I checked in. The rate also gave me breakfast – which was nice. What was not nice was the threat of if I lost my hotel keys, I’d be charged W10,000 each.

OUCH! Needless to say I held onto the keys like clawed hawk talons.

Heading up to the 4th floor there was a bed in the hallways on it’s end. Not the greatest of impressions. Once through the door of the room, I was quietly impressed.

The suite was… just that. Whilst the “bedroom” was as pokey as hell, the bathroom was of a reasonable size (with another toilet with too many buttons). The floor whilst wooden was under-heated and the bed was comfortable. And to be honest, a warm bed is sometimes that is all that is required.

After a frustrating evening of hogging other peoples Internet connections as the local connection was wired only (without a Cat5 cable), I bedded down for the night.

Slippers

Bedroom

Living area

Kitchen

The price of the room also included breakfast. Whist not as extensive as the Crown Plaza in Hong Kong, the Ramada had a reasonable selection for the included price.

Western Eats

Kimchi

Seaweed

Fruits

Overall: Like the other rooms in this trip, it had a purpose. The fact it was an odd layout, with kitchenette, and a bed in the hallway is besides a point. The room did the job as needed. The fact the rate had breakfast included was an additional surprise.  The only shocker was the W10,000 fee in case you lost your keycard… and the lack of reasonable Hotel WiFi.


Next up is a One-Time Exception of something I missed last time in Seoul. Tune in too see a shrine next time…


Posted by Kevincm | Comments are off for this article

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