After many years of seeking out many of the world’s best aspirational airline products, 2023 is set to be the year that I take aim at the last handful of business class and First Class experiences I haven’t flown yet.
To that end, I’ve kicked off the year with a whirlwind trip of no fewer than six premium flights en route to and from South East Asia, as part of a trip that also lets me catch up with some friends and family and review a few high-end hotels as well.
In this article, I’ll share the thought process behind how I planned the trip and which reviews you can look forward to here on Prince of Travel.
(Rather unconventionally, this “Booked” article is written after a trip has already taken place, as this was one of those rather spontaneous expeditions where I didn’t complete the finishing touches until midway through the journey.)
While the primary motivation for this trip was to review as many new airline products as possible, I had also wanted to hit up a few specific destinations in South East Asia.
First up was the island of Gili Trawangan (affectionately known as “Gili T”) off the coast of Lombok in Indonesia, adjacent to Bali. Prince of Travel team member Rohin has made this island his temporary home, and I had been planning a visit out there that was long overdue.
Gili T offers world-class snorkelling and scuba diving, majestic beaches, and many other types of transformational experiences within its party scene, and I was excited to spend a few days exploring a part of the world I hadn’t visited before.
After Gili, I had wanted to spend some time in Singapore, a city I hadn’t visited since the pre-pandemic days, in order to catch up with friends and review a handful of hotels.
It turned out that I’d be stricken by an episode of “Bali Belly” during my time in Singapore, but I still managed to complete my primary goals between getting some rest and recuperation.
Then, I planned a few days in Hong Kong in order to meet up with my parents, and it’s always a joy to revisit the city I had called home during my childhood.
With this basic structure of the trip in place, I began architecting a behemoth of a flight itinerary – going the “long way around” in both directions – to tie everything together.
After celebrating Chinese New Year with family in Toronto, I booked British Airways A350 Club Suites from Toronto to London, and then onwards to Barcelona, for 61,000 Asia Miles + $500 (CAD).
It’s worth noting that Cathay Pacific Asia Miles can be quite an attractive program if you’re looking to book British Airways, which is notorious for its surcharges in premium cabins. While other Oneworld programs like Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan and American Airlines AAdvantage will charge upwards of $800 (CAD) in surcharges for a one-way transpacific journey, booking via Asia Miles results in some meaningful savings.
Club Suites is British Airways’s flagship new business class product with a sliding door. While I had been discouraged from flying British Airways in the past due to their surcharges, it’s about time that I took one for the team in order to document the experience, so I went ahead and booked it with the most cost-effective points currency.
Why Barcelona? Well, it’s one of the European gateways from which Qatar Airways flies their Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner product to Doha, and this was the second new airline product on my hit list for this trip.
The Qatar Airways 787-9 business class seat is often described as a “mini-Qsuites”, as it shares similar characteristics to the world’s best business class, but is squeezed into a narrower space. I’ve been curious to try this product ever since it was first introduced in 2021, so now was the time to check it off the list for 45,000 Qatar Airways Avios + €90.
I’d complete the journey from Doha to Indonesia by way of Oman Air 787 business class, as part of a routing of Doha–Abu Dhabi–Muscat–Jakarta for 60,000 Aeroplan points. I’ve flown Oman Air’s First Class before, but not their business class, and it was quite fortuitous that the Muscat–Jakarta service on the Boeing 787-8 was running on the exact date that I needed.
From Jakarta to Lombok, I booked a Garuda Indonesia cash fare for about $100, and then Rohin made the necessary ground transport arrangements to get me to my living quarters on the island of Gili Trawangan by way of car, boat, and horse carriage.
After three days on Gili T, I’d make my way to Bali via boat, and then continue onwards to Singapore on a Singapore Airlines economy class cash fare for about $200.
(I had the option of flying with Jetstar or AirAsia on a cheaper fare, but it would’ve worked out to be a similar amount after paying for my carry-on luggage allowance, so it was definitely best to go with Singapore Airlines for a superior experience.)
Then, from Singapore to Hong Kong, I snagged Singapore Airlines 777 First Class for 45,000 KrisFlyer miles + $60. While I’ve flown the famous Singapore Airlines A380 Suites Class before, I haven’t flown the airline’s less over-the-top 777 First Class yet, so this was the perfect chance to try it out.
What’s more, this would allow me to review the newly renovated The Private Room by Singapore Airlines, which is the airline’s dedicated ground experience for Singapore Airlines First Class or Suites Class passengers.
Lastly, I needed a way to get back to North America from Hong Kong, and I was pleased to be able to line up two new business class experiences on either side of a two-hour layover in Paris: Cathay Pacific business class from Hong Kong to Paris for 65,000 Asia Miles + $200, and Paris to New York onboard Air France’s new 777 business class – which was only introduced as of January 2023 – for 55,000 Flying Blue miles + $300.
Cathay Pacific business class is one that I’m rather surprised I haven’t already flown, given that it’s a relatively common premium cabin for Asia-bound passengers based in Canada and the US.
Meanwhile, Air France’s new business class looks absolutely stunning in terms of the visuals, so I was excited to follow-up my enjoyable flight in Air France A350 business class a few years ago with another transatlantic ride in their new cabins.
I’m currently in the midst of a hotel-hopping phase along my travels in service of our travel agency at Prince of Travel, and this trip was no exception, giving me a chance to visit a good mix of aspirational points properties and luxury hotels that are only bookable with cash.
You can expect reviews of the following hotels from this trip:
- Waldorf Astoria Lusail, Doha
- Alila Seminyak, Bali
- St. Regis Singapore
- Four Seasons Singapore
- Four Seasons Hong Kong
- Island Shangri-La Hong Kong
- Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong
The Waldorf Astoria Lusail is a new Hilton high-end property that had caught my eye when I visited Doha for the World Cup in 2022, so I was eager to experience it for myself this time when rates were no longer prohibitively expensive. I booked a stay here on a Hilton Honors member rate of about $250 (USD).
Gili T doesn’t have any hotels that are part of major chains, so Rohin helped me book the Soda Resort next-door to him for about $50 (CAD) per night. The living quarters were fairly basic, but with a tasty Indonesian breakfast included in the rate, I must say I had quite an enjoyable stay.
In Bali, I decided to make progress towards my Hyatt Globalist status this year by booking the Alila Seminyak, which would also let me check out a new part of the island having only spent time in Ubud and Nusa Dua before. I booked a World of Hyatt member rate of $200 (USD) here, which was a better deal than redeeming Hyatt points.
In Singapore, I decided to concentrate my stay in the Orchard Road area this time, so I booked the St. Regis and Four Seasons, which are quite close to each other, for 47,000 Bonvoy points and a travel agent industry rate, respectively.
Lastly, in Hong Kong, I booked three of the city’s best luxury properties on industry rates, all concentrated around the Central and Admiralty districts on Hong Kong Island.
In particular, I was thrilled to be making my first-ever stay with the Mandarin Oriental brand at its original location in Hong Kong, and to be able to treat my parents to a stay here was only the cherry on top.
I’ve also been curious lately about whether there are any meaningful differences between luxury hotel brands that are bookable with points and loyalty programs versus those that are only accessible with cash, and I’ll have some thoughts to share around that topic in the near future.
To kick off 2023, I’ve set off on another fast-paced adventure to sample a sextet of airline products, catch up with friends and family, and try out some new luxury hotel brands.
With a bit of fancy footwork, I was able to squeeze good value out of several different loyalty programs, and I’m excited to share my impressions on some of the world’s top airline and hotel experiences that we’ve yet to cover over the next little while.
Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the cash hotel vs points hotel experience.