Over the years, quite a few readers have asked me what it’s like to be reviewing airlines, hotels, and lounges all the time along my travels. What’s my game plan for taking all the pictures? How do I ensure I remember all the details so I can write about it later? And how does the act of documenting a travel experience impact the experience itself?
In this casual Friday post, I’ll walk you through the behind-the-scenes workflow of all the reviews you see on Prince of Travel and show you how it all comes together.
Why Write Reviews?
I’m very dedicated in keeping up with writing the reviews from all my travels and sharing them here on the website on a regular basis, and I’d say there are quite a few reasons for that.
The first, of course, is that the review posts act as a reference to help readers decide on an airline to fly with, a hotel to choose in a certain destination, or whether a particular airline lounge is worth visiting.
I know that many of my readers don’t necessarily have as much flexibility to travel as much as I do, and they may be looking at redeeming their points for a single “big” business class or First Class trip for the year. In this scenario, the reader would naturally be looking to maximize their experience with the best airlines and hotels they could attain, and in providing reviews of as many different products as possible, I hope to use a unified and consistent voice to help the reader decide between different products as they plan their own trips.
How does EVA Air business class compare to Air Canada’s product on the Vancouver–Taipei route? Is Turkish Airlines a better choice than Swiss when flying transatlantic? If so, what are the differences among Turkish business class on the Boeing 777, the Airbus A330, or even the Boeing 787? My hope is that readers find my reviews useful as they’re contemplating these decisions.
The second reason I love whipping up the reviews is that they’re quite simply a lot of fun to read and write. I’ve always enjoyed reading others’ reviews of airlines, hotels, and lounges even before I started Prince of Travel, and nowadays, there are few things I enjoy more than sitting down to look back on a lovely travel experience and bring it to life in my own words.
I know I’m not the only one either – I’ve heard many people tell me something like, “I’ve just introduced my colleague to your blog, and now all I see him doing on his computer is gawking at your luxury airline and hotel reviews!” 😉
Finally, one of the most important reasons that I publish reviews is for the sake of my own memory.
As I take more and more flights, I do find that memories of previous trips start to become a little fuzzy and blend into one another, and therefore I know that my reviews and trip reports will be very important for me to look back on and reminisce fondly in the future – especially many years down the road, when I otherwise probably wouldn’t be able to tell my December 2018 round-the-world trip apart from my January 2019 round-the-world trip.
Speaking candidly, the review posts usually don’t get as much traffic and readership as most of my other articles, unless it’s a “big” one like Emirates 777 New First Class. But for all the reasons described above, I still view them as a cornerstone of Prince of Travel nonetheless, and I don’t intend to stop reporting on the journey anytime soon.
How I Review Airlines
Business class and First Class flights are usually the most “busy” in terms of the effort that goes into photographing the entire experience.
Everything starts from well before the flight itself actually commences. In an effort to snap some crisp pictures of the empty cabin, I usually make plans to arrive at the boarding gate about 10 minutes before the schedule boarding time and to be among the first passengers to queue up for priority boarding.
It doesn’t always work out the way I want it to – the time I flew LOT Polish Airlines business class come to mind, when about two dozen passengers on wheelchairs requiring special assistance all boarded before me, and by that point the orderly priority boarding queue had descended into a swarm of people – but at least I’ve tried!
If I’m travelling with my girlfriend Jessy, I’ll sometimes get her to queue up behind me and then “hang back” as we walk down the jet bridge so that I can race forward and take my time snapping pictures of the empty cabin.
After a few cabin shots (where I’ll try my best to get pictures of all the different seat types on a particular product), it’s time to take my seat and get pictures of all the seat features. Sometimes I’ll get a quizzical look from the flight attendants as they come around to distribute the welcome drinks, but most often they don’t bat an eye, since there are quite a few bloggers and Instagram accounts doing what I do these days.
(In fact, I recall the flight attendant on SAS business class proactively asking me if I had an aviation blog or Instagram when he saw me taking pictures of the snack bar in the galley, so clearly the crews are familiar with this line of work as well.)
After photographing the seat and all of the various items that are passed out for the flight (like the pajamas, slippers, menu, headphones, and amenity kit), I get to actually relax a bit and sip on my welcome drink for a while. It’s at this stage that I’ll also begin making some quick notes on my phone of my first impressions of the cabin.
The meal service usually begins shortly after takeoff, and I’ll take pictures of each course and continue making notes of how the food tasted, how efficient and friendly the service was, and any other fine details that might otherwise slip my mind if I didn’t make notes.
Once the meal service is finished, there are usually only a few points of order left, like taking photos of the business class restroom, testing out the seat in lie-flat mode, and the pre-arrival meal just before landing.
Of course, when I’m travelling in First Class, I’ll probably be trying to cover the full breadth of the experience as comprehensively as possible, so I’ll often order additional snacks or drinks off the menu to try them out than if I were flying in business class.
Finally, there’s always the question of whether the crew puts in extra effort when they see me taking pictures and reviewing the flight. I’d say that this depends on the airline; I’ve had some flights (like TAP Air Portugal business class) where the mediocre service continued to be mediocre despite the crew knowing what I was doing, as well as other flights (like Singapore Suites) where the crew were clearly going above and beyond to ensure I had the best experience possible.
Overall, I feel like an airline crew’s natural quality usually shines through pretty clearly – after all, a crew that doesn’t care particularly much to provide good service is also unlikely to care that they’re being judged on it, whereas a crew on an airline with a stronger service culture is more likely to take pride in showing off those strong service principles.
How I Review Hotels
As a regular traveller, your first instinct upon arriving at a hotel might be to plop down on the hotel bed and relax after a long journey. Mine, however, is to spend a good few minutes – or even more if it’s a large hotel suite – painstakingly photographing everything within the room in its natural untouched state.
At this point, when Jessy and I are travelling together, she knows to make herself scarce in the corner while I “do my thing”, and to always check if I’ve finished taking pictures before touching the bottled water or the welcome amenity.
After the initial round of in-room photographs, I can grab photos of the rest of the hotel at a more relaxed pace. Usually, if I’ve arrived at a hotel at nighttime, I’ll go back for photos of the exterior and public areas during the day.
I try to be somewhat surreptitious about taking photos in places like the hotel lobby, so that I don’t disturb or alarm anyone. If anyone asks, I usually just say that I’m “documenting the hotel experience” or “just taking some pictures of the beautiful lobby”, and they’re happy with that.
The one exception that comes to mind was at the Marriott Accra, where everyone from the security guard in the lobby to the waiters at breakfast were telling me that photography was not allowed. When I mentioned that I was writing a review on my website, the security guard even shot back that I should seek permission from Marriott’s corporate office to do so. Suffice to say that I resorted to sneaky iPhone pictures after that.
Speaking of which, one part of the hotel where I usually exclusively use my iPhone for pictures is the fitness centre and swimming pool.
These facilities often have a staff member stationed there to welcome guests, and they’re usually less receptive than other parts of the hotel when I roll up with my bigger camera (which is pretty understandable for the gym and pool), so using my iPhone makes my life much easier.
I don’t usually need to make notes about hotels, since I find the photos themselves are more than enough to jog my memory. The exception would be at hotels that are worthy of a particularly detailed review, like the Al Maha Desert Resort Dubai or the St. Regis Bali for example, where I want to be able to provide as much detail about the whole experience as possible when I look back on it.
How I Review Lounges
Compared to flights and hotels, I don’t write too many review posts of airport lounges – I’ve probably reviewed only a fraction of the lounges that I’ve actually visited.
I think there are a few reasons for this. The first is that walking around and taking pictures of an airline lounge feels just slightly more awkward than doing so on a flight or in a hotel, especially if the lounge is quite full and most seats are occupied.
At that point, I’m inevitably getting up in people’s faces when I take pictures, and I don’t want to make people uncomfortable (not to mention that the quality of the pictures themselves, and therefore the finished article, wouldn’t be the best as a result).
I’m also not sure whether most lounges are actually worthy of a full review post. There are 1,300+ Priority Pass lounges around the world, not to mention all of the airline-operated lounges, and I’d be writing a lot about high-top seating zones and soups of the day if I were to actually review every single lounge I visit.
I’m therefore quite happy to focus my lounge reviews on the more special experiences at the various First Class lounges of the world (like the Swiss First Class Lounge Zurich or the Lufthansa First Class Terminal Frankfurt), as well as flagship business class lounges in an airline’s hub (like the LOT Business Lounge Warsaw or the Air New Zealand Lounge Auckland), which might help my readers decide whether to fly with that airline and what kind of ground experience to expect when doing so.
The rest of the time, I’m happy to take a few quick pictures of the lounge and then just add it as a prelude to the following flight review, so that people who are curious about which lounge I visited prior to a certain flight can still get a sense of their options.
(Having said that, if you do think you’d enjoy seeing pictures of the food spread or hearing about the coffee situation at places like the Air China Lounge in Shanghai or the Qantas Lounge in Honolulu, feel free to pipe up in the comments!)
Reviewing my travel experiences is a huge motivation for my work here at Prince of Travel, and a great way for me to look back on my trips and refresh my memory sometime down the road as well.
Even though the actual process of taking pictures for the reviews can involve quite a bit of time and energy, some delayed gratification when arriving in a hotel room, as well as the occasional quizzical look from staff members or fellow guests, I feel that the personal satisfaction I get from looking back on my own reviews – as well as the fact that I can help my readers make more informed decisions when planning their own travels – makes it all worthwhile.
If you’re interested in giving it a try and documenting your own travels as well, feel free to snap some pictures of your awesome business class flight or your hotel stay and share your thoughts and impressions with the Prince of Travel Elites community. I’d love to read about your experiences too!