Author Archives: EfficientAsianMan

Things I Don’t Get: Sundaes on Airplanes

One thing (of many) that I don’t understand is why so many travel bloggers seem to like sundaes on airplanes. The sundae is particularly pervasive on US carriers (well, at least UA and AA) who serve them as the only choice of dessert in premium cabins.

The offending dessert

The offending dessert

The biggest issue that I have is that the sundaes generally aren’t very good. Maybe I’d be happier if I were a 5th grader going to an ice cream social, but I really don’t want to be eating bad quality ice cream with my choice of hot fudge, caramel, nuts, fruit syrup, and whipped cream. Especially since ice cream served on planes is often served rock hard.

I guess there’s the larger issue of food quality on US airlines, but so many bloggers seem to rave about these bad quality sundaes while simultaneously complaining about all of the other food choices. Would you seriously pay for this sundae at a restaurant? If you’re going to provide ice cream, I’d much rather get higher quality, more interesting ice cream like the Humphry Slocombe ice cream offered on Virgin America.

There’s also some odd element of the infantilization of premium class passengers. I admit that I am a total pajama-on-airplanes convert, but it’s strange how some elements of premium class travel seem to encourage reversion to younger states of life (another example: cookies and milk on AA).

NYTimes Article About MoneyPak and Fraud

The NYTimes posted an article about MoneyPak, discussing a lot of the ways that it’s used for fraud. A typical example is fraudsters getting victims to load money onto MoneyPaks at CVS or Walgreens and then sending the reload codes to them where they then disappear with the money. It’s also discussed as a way for criminals to move funds through the financial system in a way that’s hard for authorities to trace (i.e. money laundering). While most miles/points schemes haven’t focused on MoneyPaks specifically, we’re all familiar with Vanilla Reloads, which operate very similarly and are also mentioned in the article.

Articles like this are helpful to better understand the ecosystem in which manufactured spending operates. While we were all saddened by the demise of buying VRs with credit cards at CVS, it makes more sense if you consider the high risk of fraud that CVS was taking on, even if you gave them your ID (you can still dispute the charge as a consumer with your credit card company, even if it’s your fault for falling for a scam).

In general, people doing manufactured spend have nothing to worry about, since there’s nothing illegal about the practice. Assuming you’re not involved in other criminal activity, you’re not doing anything to integrate bad funds into the financial system or intentionally layer money. But you should be aware that most people don’t really understand what we do and have a right to be suspicious given the potential for fraud on all of these prepaid devices. So don’t raise a fuss if people want to record your ID or if they want more information from you, since you’re not doing anything wrong, and failing to provide that information can just make you look more suspicious.

Thailand 2014: Asiana Airlines First Class Lounge Seoul Incheon (ICN)

Given that my fake red-eye from Hong Kong on Asiana landed before 5am, the airport was empty when I arrived.

Empty ICN

Empty ICN

It also meant that the lounges weren’t open. The Asiana Airlines first class lounge doesn’t open until 6am, but I even had to wait for the business class lounge to open since my flight arrived a smidge early.

:(

😦

I thus spent about an hour in the business class lounge waiting for the first class lounge to open (here’s a prior review of the business class lounge, albeit in the remote terminal).

A380!

A380 model! This was more exciting when I took this trip 6 months ago since their A380 hadn’t yet been delivered.

6am soon rolled around and I made my way to the first class lounge where I rightfully belonged.  The lounge is tastefully decorated with a library theme. It’s large and open with private TV cubicles, loungers, and massage chairs. Maybe I just felt cold because I was sleep deprived from the fake red-eye that I took, but I thought the lounge was pretty chilly while I was there.

Good-sized lounge

Good-sized lounge

Seating

Seating

Massage chair

Massage chair

Private-ish lounging area

Private-ish lounging area

Since I was going to get on a long flight to JFK, I took a shower in this lounge. They have three giant shower rooms with Japanese-style toilets, which I love, and they had some of the best toiletries I’ve seen in an airport lounge with things like actual shaving cream and a razor that I would actually use at home.

Shower room

Shower room

Pretty good amenities on offer

Pretty good amenities on offer

The food options in the lounge weren’t super appealing to me, but that’s maybe because the breakfast foods on offer were things like Yorkshire pudding, abalone porridge, and sad-looking dim sum. I think I actually preferred the slightly simpler options available in the business class lounge.

Booze

Booze

Hot food

Hot food

More food

More food

More food

More food

Ice cream

Ice cream

There were a number of things that I had trouble identifying. In particular, I had a hard time understanding what all of the beverage options were since everything was in Korean. Yes, I was in Korea, but the lounge attendants that I asked also didn’t speak very good English. So I ended up just getting some cereal and some Johnny Walker Blue (I was definitely inspired by secret breakfast ice cream from Humphry Slocombe).

Breakfast of champions

Breakfast of champions

While I understand why people don’t rave about this lounge like some other first class flagship lounges, the Asiana first class lounge at Seoul is tasteful and definitely feels premium to me. The nice amenities in the shower room are one example of something that seems pretty obvious but is often lacking in other premium lounge experiences. I also received an escort from the lounge to the aircraft, which is always a nice touch.

Thailand 2014: Asiana Business Class Hong Kong to Seoul Incheon (HKG to ICN)

OZ 746
Hong Kong (HKG) to Seoul Incheon (ICN)
Depart: 12:30am
Arrive: 4:50am
Duration: 3h 20m
Aircraft: Boeing 777-200ER
Seat: 2K -> 1G

Sometimes I do things that I know are bad for me. Like book fake red eyes. This flight is honestly not very much fun (although if you were to take it now you might get Asiana’s A380) since it departs after midnight, which is after the Thai and Singapore lounge close, and it arrives around 5am, which is before the Asiana lounges even open, and it’s only about 3 hours in the air. Heck, the Asiana first class lounge doesn’t even open until 6am.

When I originally booked this itinerary, this flight was scheduled to be operated by a Boeing 747, and even though it was sold as two classes of service, I was able to pre-select a seat in the first class section of the plane, which would have featured fully flat seats. As it turned out, the flight ended up being operated by a Boeing 777-200ER with angled-flat seats in business class. Oh yay (not).

Not a Boeing 747 :(

Not a Boeing 747 😦

The business class seat is typical for regional flights within Asia, which is to say angled flat. The business class cabin wasn’t very crowded, so I ended up moving to a group of empty seats.

Business class seats

Business class seats

Business class cabin

Business class cabin

Seat back

Seat back

Kinda looks like it's falling apart a little

Kinda looks at little worn down

Seat controls

Seat controls

Angled flat

Angled flat

Not very flat

Not very flat

This is going to be a really boring flight review because all I pretty much slept from wheels up to wheels down. The limited service that I did encounter was quite good, and the flight attendants addressed me by name at every interaction, and I never heard them chatting away as is so common on US carriers even though I saw their mouths moving. The landing at ICN was also one of the softest I’ve ever had.

Anyway, I don’t recommend these fake red eyes, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. I took this flight mostly so I could get to ICN in time to take Asiana’s flight to JFK in their first class suites product, so I promise that that review will be more interesting than this one.

Thailand 2014: Thai Airways Lounge Hong Kong Airport (HKG)

After the Singapore Airlines lounge, I went to the Thai lounge, which is the only Star Alliance lounge I hadn’t yet visited (the other being the United lounge).

Thai Airways lounge entrance at HKG

Thai Airways lounge entrance at HKG

This lounge is located in the same area as a lot of the other lounges, so it’s easy to lounge hop. It’s open to the terminal like the United lounge. There’s also a separate first class section, but it’s very, very similar to the business class section. The furniture is marginally nicer, and it’s of course a bit less crowded, but you’re not missing out on much if you only have access to the business class side.

Computers for use

Computers for use

Seating

Seating

This lounge features some game stations and massage chairs. I’m not a huge gamer, but I’m a pretty big fan of massage chairs, so I pretty much just camped out on a chair for most of the time that I was in the lounge. They’re definitely a little worse for the wear, but I still enjoyed my chair massage.

Massage chair!

Massage chair!

For food options, there was a pretty wide selection including various Thai foods and ice cream bars, but I wasn’t that hungry after eating some in the Singapore lounge, and it didn’t look all that appetizing to me personally.

Booze

Booze

Drinks

Drinks

Food

Food

More food

More food

Hot food

Hot food

Cold food

Cold food

The one thing that I didn’t like about this lounge was the internet access. I could not get the wifi to work, which is a basic necessity of an airport lounge. It didn’t matter a ton as I just used the Hong Kong airport free wifi, but it drives me crazy when the wifi doesn’t work in a lounge.

Of all the Star Alliance lounges at HKG, I don’t think there’s one that’s clearly superior to the others. Some people will like the food at the Thai lounge better, some will like Singapore’s food better (I don’t think anyone would choose United); some will find the lack of bathroom at the Singapore lounge to be a dealbreaker; some (like myself) will love the massage chair at the Thai lounge. You’re not missing out on much by not going to any given lounge, so I’d probably just go to the lounge that’s most convenient.

Thailand 2014: Singapore Airlines Lounge Hong Kong Airport (HKG)

My first stop on my layover at Hong Kong was the Singapore Airlines lounge. I went there first largely because the lounge closes at 11pm, which is earlier than the other Star Alliance lounges at HKG, and my flight departed at 12:30am. For reference, I’ve also reviewed the United loungethe Plaza Premium lounge, and the Pier at HKG.

Singapore Airlines lounge entrance

Singapore Airlines lounge entrance

First impressions of the lounge were that it’s very large, but it feels a little dungeon-like because there are no windows, and there’s no bathroom located within the lounge. The decor and furnishings are typical of Singapore Airlines. There was a computer area, several seating areas, a snack area, and a dining area. There was also a separate first class section, but it’s essentially identical to the rest of the lounge. There’s a small sign that says the area is reserved for first class passengers, but there was no one actually checking (unlike the current first class section of the Pier), and the lounge was so empty anyway that it didn’t matter (I think there were 2 other people in the lounge when I left around 9:30pm).

Computer workstations

Computer workstations

Seating options

Seating options

Self-serve drinks

Self-serve drinks

Soft drinks

Soft drinks

There were a number of food options available, including several different hot food options. There was also Haagen Dazs ice cream, and I tried a water chestnut drink that was pretty interesting. The best food, though, is probably the made-to-order noodles, where you can get udon, laksa, or wonton noodle soup. I tried the laksa, and it was very flavorful and a bit spicy. It was a bit seafoody for me to rave about it, but I’d definitely eat it again.

Food options

Food options

More food

More food

More food

More food

Noodle options

Noodle options

Laksa

Laksa

Dining area

Dining area

More dining area

More dining area

Overall, this is a nice lounge. Yes, there’s no bathroom inside which is inconvenient, and there are no windows, so you don’t really feel time passing, but it’s spacious with some decent food options. It’s also located pretty far away from the rest of the lounges (this lounge is near gate 15 while the Thai lounge, for example, is near gate 40).

Thailand 2014: Thai Airways First Class Bangkok to Hong Kong (BKK to HKG)

TG 606
Bangkok (BKK) to Hong Kong (HKG)
Depart: 4:00pm
Arrive: 7:45pm
Duration: 2h 45m
Aircraft: Boeing 747
Seat: 1A

After my lounge hopping to four different lounges at BKK, I went to my departure gate to board my flight to Hong Kong.

The beautiful 747 that would take me to Hong Kong

The beautiful 747 that would take me to Hong Kong

I received a warm welcome on board. The crew was older than I’m used to seeing on Asian airlines, but they were extremely friendly. The main flight attendant who would be taking care of me this flight greeted me and confirmed that I had pre-ordered a meal, and she remarked how good it looked. She offered me a pre-departure beverage and a hot towel.

As far as I know, this is the shortest route that Thai serves that has a first class cabin. I was lucky enough to get a 747 with a refurbished first class cabin of only 9 seats, and the seats are quite similar to what they have on their A380. The carpet in the cabin is extremely purple, but otherwise, I really enjoyed the cabin and the seats. There was a large closet at the front of first class for larger bags and coats, and the cabin felt spacious. I also appreciated the small touches like the fresh orchids at the seat, and there was plenty of storage at the seat.

My seat, 1A

My seat, 1A

More of the seat

More of the seat

Seat and IFE controls

Seat and IFE controls

View of the center seats

View of the center seats

View of the cabin

View of the cabin

View of the cabin

View of the cabin

Unusual galley location

Unusual galley location

As I was taking pictures, a flight attendant offered to take a picture of me. This is always a small touch that I’m grateful for (I’m not a huge fan of selfies, even though I’m guilty of them too). She was even attentive to small details like making sure my bags were out of the picture.

Even though I had pre-ordered a meal, I was still handed meal and drink menus. Of note, they were serving 2004 Dom Perignon, instead of the 2003 that’s more common on other carriers.

Food menu

Food menu

Wines

Wines

Champagne

Champagne

Dom 2004

Dom 2004

Once we were in the air, meal service began promptly (after all, the flight is only a little bit over 2 hours long). The meal that I had pre-ordered was essentially the only vegetarian option that I saw that wasn’t a vegetarian special meal. First up was a potato leek soup and a full bread basket. I’m generally not a big soup person, but this soup was tasty.

Potato leek soup

Potato leek soup

For my mains, I got a basil mushroom dish and a spicy sour curry. The basil mushroom was decent and pretty spicy; the curry mostly reeked of fish sauce. I would have eaten more of both, but the portion of rice was inadequate for the amount of saltiness. I’m sure I could have gotten more rice, but I didn’t ask.

Basil mushroom dish and spicy sour curry

Basil mushroom dish and spicy sour curry

Next up was a cheese plate, which I initially declined but the flight attendant insisted. She particularly recommended the cheese with the fruit in it, but cheese isn’t really my thing.

Cheese plate

Cheese plate

Finally, I was plied with many Thai sweets. I definitely have a sweet tooth, but I thought that everything that was served was pretty tasty and slightly unusual in a good way.

Thai sweets

Thai sweets

Overall, the food itself was fine, but the service was great. I felt like I was being doted on by an Asian auntie who keeps on plying you with food. Maybe not everyone’s cup of tea, but I enjoyed it.

The load on my flight ended up being 9/9, which was perhaps due to the numerous flight cancellations that Thai was doing at the time due to the civil unrest (this flight occurred in February), as my friend’s flight on Thai got cancelled and he had to be rebooked.

All in all, I really enjoyed this flight. People often say that Thai isn’t quite as good in the air, but I was honestly blown away by the service (I ended up writing in to Thai about how great my flight attendant was), the hard product was great, and I’m pretty confident that the food on Thai is better if you eat meat.

Results from My Most Recent Round of Credit Card Applications

Yesterday, I said that I had applied for three different credit cards. I was instantly approved for the Barclays US Airways card, but I received pending decisions for the Citi Executive AAdvantage card and the Bank of America Alaska Airlines card.

I called reconsideration for both Citi and Bank of America. The Citi call was pretty straightforward: I had essentially exhausted the amount of credit Citi was willing to extend to me (I already have 4 open Citi cards), so they wanted me to transfer some amount of credit from an existing credit card to open this new card, which I was perfectly happy to do. Some of the numbers the phone rep was saying didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me (at one point, she said I had $x credit limit on one card, which meant I could transfer $x+2000 to the new card), but I was going to close one of the cards anyway so I just transferred over most of the credit limit to my new card.

For Bank of America, they had actually approved me instantly, but there was a fraud hold on my account. This meant that I had to go through a couple of identity verification questions with a phone rep before she was able to tell me that my application was already approved.

Reconsideration phone numbers from Flyertalk if you’re interested:
Citi – (800) 695-5171
Bank of America – (866) 811-4108 – this line connected me to someone who wanted to talk to me about existing credit cards, but she happily transferred me to someone who could resolve the fraud hold on my application

All in all, a successful churn. I’ve gotten all of these cards before, so this was a true churn and not just an app-orama. I need to spend $7500 on the Citi Exec AA for 75k bonus miles, I’ll get 40k US Airways miles after first purchase for an $89 annual fee, and I’ll get 30k Alaska miles for a $75 annual fee. The AA miles will be useful given that I just put some JAL F tickets on hold for a potential new year’s trip to Japan (again), the US miles will be useful as they put me over the edge for an F redemption to Asia, and the Alaska miles I’m vaguely stockpiling in case I feel like doing another trip in Emirates F.

My Most Recent Round of Credit Card Applications

I wrote last week that I was feeling pretty meh about credit card churning, which is true. But it’s also true that not applying for new credit cards is like leaving miles on the table, and so I got off my butt today and applied for a couple of new cards.

#1 was the Citi Executive AA card. The 100k mile offer is gone, but there’s still a 75k mile offer alive, which is still a whole lot of miles for a card that seems to be endlessly churnable. And in order to meet the minimum spend requirement, I’ll need up my manufactured spending game anyway (currently at $0 per month), so I’m okay with the lesser miles offer since it requires lesser spend ($7500 instead of $10,000). I got a pending decision, though, so we’ll see if I actually get approved. I currently have a version of this card that I got in January at the 100k offer.

#2 was the Barclays US Airways card. I’ve had this card twice before (and currently have one card open). The current offers aren’t quite as good as they’ve been in the past (i.e. no first year annual fee waived anymore), but I applied for a 40k after first purchase, $89 annual fee not waived, 10k miles upon first (and only first) anniversary. I surprisingly got instantly approved. Pretty happy about this, as this card might possibly be going away with the merger, and reports on Flyertalk have said that it’s been a lot harder to get approved by Barclays reconsideration recently.

#3 was the Bank of America Alaska card. I’ve also had this card twice before (one open, one downgraded and open). The offer that I chose was 30k for getting the card, $75 annual fee not waived. Unfortunately got a pending decision on this one as well.

And that’s it. I briefly contemplated a Chase card (like one of those Chase Ink cards that bloggers endlessly pump), but decided against it for completely arbitrary reasons. I might regret that, but I can always apply for more cards in a couple of months. I’ll post again once I finish calling recon.

Inefficient Things: The Hour-Long Massage for Thai Airways First Class Passengers

People make such a big deal about the free massages doled out for premium cabin passengers by Thai Airways at the Bangkok airport. Bloggers galore expound upon how the Thai Airways ground experience is one of the best in the world, even if their in-flight product doesn’t measure up (note: I don’t believe that their in-flight product doesn’t measure up, but this is also a meme that has spread due to certain bloggers). As far as I can tell, this praise is almost always due to the 1-hour massage provided to first class passengers departing from BKK, which I really don’t understand.

Thailand is of course known for their massages. Presumably, if you’re departing from BKK, you’ve spent some time in Thailand. And if you’ve spent some time in Thailand, you know that you can get an hour-long massage for a couple of US dollars. I think the last massage that I got in Thailand cost me 600 baht (~$19, including a generous tip) for a 2-hour long massage, and that was at a fancy spa place. You can find massage for much, much less.

So why do people go orgasmic over something that costs less than $10 USD? And why do they expect Thai Airways, a company in the business of transporting people from one place to another, to provide great massages? The Thai food in the lounges isn’t even very good, so why would the massages be?

It’s also not like Thai Airways is the only airline to offer massages to premium cabin passengers. I think they’re the only ones to offer hour-long massages, but I’ve gotten massages at DXB (via Emirates), LHR (via British Airways), and DFW (via Amex).Granted, I think they were all 15-minutes or so, but it’s not like my massage at the Thai Airways Spa was stellar. I’ve had better massages from massage chairs (which I admittedly am quite fond of).

I guess the other thing that Thai does that is actually unique is buggy rides for first class passengers. So everyone at the airport can stare at you as your driver narrowly misses plowing them down. Yes, BKK is quite large, so this is actually a somewhat nice benefit, but seriously, it’s just a buggy ride. I wonder what would happen if an airline started offering free wheelchairs and pushing to first class passengers…

This post isn’t to say that I don’t like Thai Airways–I actually like them a lot. I’ve had great experiences on the ground and in the air (although the food has been disappointing given that Thailand is possibly my favorite food country), but I’m just gobsmacked whenever I read someone being like, “OMG, Thai is the best evarrr (but their in-flight suxxx)” because of an hour-long massage. And to get that hour-long airport massage, you need to specifically depart from BKK in first class, which is non-trivial, and arrive at the airport with enough time to make sure that you can get an hour-long massage, which means potentially cutting into your time on the ground.

Anyway, what this is to say is that Thai Airways is nice. Getting massages is nice. But I wouldn’t go out of my way to get one, and you’re probably better off paying for as many massages as you want when you’re actually in Thailand rather than paying extra to depart out of BKK in Thai First Class to get a “free” hour-long massage at the airport.