Six Observations from My 15-day Adventure

First of all, I’m back!   After fifteen days and 38,650 miles of travel, I’ve made it back home.

My Trip

My Trip

With that said, I want to apologize for the delay in my trip reports.  Since I arrived in Tokyo, I’ve been going non-stop.  I slept most of time during my flights back to DC yesterday, so I didn’t get too much time to work on anything.  The trip reports will be published, post by post in the coming days.

To whet your appetites until then, I’ll share six observations from my trip:

1.  I thought I’d had good sushi before — that is until yesterday

Now, I wouldn’t consider myself a sushi snob by any means, but I was pretty sure that I’d had some decent sushi before.  Granted, the sushi I have had up until yesterday was probably pretty good, but after my trip to Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish market and subsequent breakfast at Daiwa-Zushi Thursday morning, my opinion of “what is good sushi” has drastically shifted.  After a set menu of everything sushi-related you could imagine, my mind was effectively blown.

My Thursday morning breakfast

My Thursday morning breakfast

I've never had a better piece of Tuna

I’ve never had a better piece of Tuna

More to come in my upcoming trip reports…

2.  The Park Hyatt Tokyo is simply stunning

Simply put, this is nicest hotel that I’ve ever been to — by far.  And I’ve been to many great hotels, including Park Hyatt properties in Dubai and Zurich, numerous Ritz Carltons, Conrads, and Intercontinentals.  But this place was just over the top.

My room at the Park Hyatt Tokyo

My room at the Park Hyatt Tokyo

From the incredible level of service (they did the check-in procedure in my room after being escorted by two people up there) to the beautiful hotel facilities to the amazing breakfasts at Girandole and drinks and steak at the iconic New York Bar & Grill.  The setting for the 2003 Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray film, Lost in Translation definitely lived  up to the hype.

The New York Bar, from "Lost in Translation" fame

The New York Bar, from “Lost in Translation” fame

3.  Now I now know what it’s like being a goldfish — and it’s weird

SCUBA diving.  In an aquarium.  In the middle of  a mall.  With sharks!

Yup, only in Dubai.

The Dubai Mall Aquarium offers an interesting experience where one can dive with sharks in their massive aquarium smack, dab in the middle of the Dubai Mall.

Only in Dubai... an aquarium inside a mall

Only in Dubai… an aquarium inside a mall

I’ve dived with sharks before, so the novelty of this dive was the fact that was the attraction in the aquarium.  It was quite strange having a crowd of people watching you dive and waving.

Chilin' with the fishies

Chilin’ with the fishies

4.  Two days is not enough in most cities,  but three days is fine

My short stay in Santiago was about a day short of ideal.

My short stay in Dubai was caused by a Dreamliner malfunctions on United Airlines.

Each of these stays left me wanting another day in each city.  I didn’t get to see all of Santiago, and I missed out on some events in Dubai such as tea at Burj Al Arab and dune bashing.

Jetting out of Dubai a day too soon

Jetting out of Dubai a day too soon

But I did have a full three days in Tokyo, and it was fine.  Tokyo is so huge, you couldn’t possibly see it all in a week or two.  It’s one of those cities that you must keep going back to and exploring.

The never-ending cityscape of Tokyo

The never-ending cityscape of Tokyo

But three days continues to be  my standard for adequate time to see a city.

5.  When in Tokyo, you must go to a Japanese baseball game, if possible

The game is the same, but it’s quite an experience.  Their fans are insane and out-of-control whacky.

Whacky fans...

Whacky fans…

And their beer distribution techniques are quite… interesting.

Yes, that's a mini keg... on her back.  And that's Kirin she's pouring.

Yes, that’s a mini keg… on her back. And that’s Kirin she’s pouring.

6.  When the crew is on its game, United BusinessFirst just may be better than Cathay Pacific Business Class

When a United crew is as its best, as it was on my DEN-SEA and SEA-NRT 787 flights, United BusinessFirst is hard to beat.  The hard product is phenomenal, but the food and service really shined.  My four flights on Cathay Pacific in business class were all fine.  In fact, their international business seat cannot be beat.

Cathay Pacific's New Business Class seat

Cathay Pacific’s New Business Class seat

BusinessFirst cabin on United's 787 Dreamliner

BusinessFirst cabin on United’s 787 Dreamliner

But the food and service were just not up to par with United’s.

Cathay Beef Tenderloin

Cathay Beef Tenderloin

United Beef Tenderloin

United Beef Tenderloin

United Seabass

United Seabass

Cathay Halibut

Cathay Halibut

There, I said it.

And I know this defies all industry perceptions and subsequent accolades.

And yes, this shocked me too, but that was my experience.

Again, I’ll be making several more posts about this trip, including detailed accounts of what to do in Dubai and Tokyo.  So stay tuned!

DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago? Review: United BusinessFirst – Seattle to Tokyo

Introduction
Planning
TAM Economy Class New York JFK – Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Santiago
LAN Economy Class Santiago – Sao Paulo
TAM Economy Class Sao Paulo – New York JFK
United BusinessFirst Denver to Tokyo Seattle (Emergency Landing)
United BusinessFirst on the 787 Seattle to Tokyo
Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Tokyo Narita – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” Business Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Dubai
Dubai, Day 1  (Traiteur Brunch, Park Hyatt Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Atlantis Palm Islands)
Dubai, Day 2 (Shark Dive at Dubai Aquarium, Burj Al Arab, 360)
Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai – Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda


Following an unplanned night in Seattle, I slept in a bit at the Hilton SeaTac before heading to the airport about two hours prior to my flight.  TSA Pre-Check was open, so security was a breeze.  I then proceeded to the brand new United Club to check my e-mail and kill about 30 minutes before boarding.  I noticed that the flight was to be operated by another physical airplane (#3904 instead of #3906).  This was re-assuring, as I didn’t exactly have confidence in the airplane that caused all the drama the day before.

United Airlines (UA) 1749
Seattle (SEA) – Tokyo-Narita (NRT) 
Aircraft: Boeing 787-8
Seat: 4A (BusinessFirst)
Wednesday, June 19
9:30AM – 10:41AM (+1 day)
Duration: 9:01

This flight was the continuation of the previous day’s attempt at Denver to Tokyo on United flight 139.  I chose to take this flight instead of the other two options, for a number of reasons detailed in my previous post.  Upon boarding, I was welcomed back onboard by the same fantastic crew that we had the day before.  It was a very light load in the BusinessFirst cabin, as it was only booked half full.  I changed my seat to a window seat, 4A so I could play with the electrochromatic windows that are found on the 787.   For those who are unfamiliar with these windows, the dimness of the window is controlled with a button, and there is no physical window shade to pull down.

Window with no tinting

Window with no tinting

Window half tinted

Window half tinted

Window fully tinted

Window fully tinted

As a result, even at the darkest setting, one is still able to see outside — it’s pretty cool, though I wonder what will happen when this nifty feature inevitably breaks.  I imagine it would be pretty obnoxious to have a broken window dimmer during a 12 hour Transpacific flight in the daytime.

Flight Path SEA-NRT

Flight Path SEA-NRT

Row 4 is the bulkhead row in the second cabin of BusinessFirst.  Due to being a bulkhead, row 4 (as well as row 1) sports a larger foot well, and are probably the most spacious seats up front for that reason.

Bulkhead seat 4A

Bulkhead seat 4A

This aft BusinessFirst cabin was only had three of us, so it felt almost like a private jet for this flight across the Pacific Ocean.

I practically had the BusinessFirst cabin to myself!

I practically had the BusinessFirst cabin to myself!

Awaiting breakfast service

Awaiting breakfast service

I cannot say enough about this crew, led by Denny, the inflight service manager.  From start to finish of this flight, they provided exceptional service by any airline’s standard — even more so for United.  They were friendly, engaging, and really couldn’t do enough for me.  I surely hope this is where service is going onboard United, because they were simply fantastic.

After numerous apologies from the ground staff at Seattle and the flight crew, we pushed back about 45 minutes late due to a catering delay, as this was an unplanned, second departure for Tokyo that day.  There were some small hiccups, such as the catering forgetting to produce menus for the flight (bad), and the lack of BusinessFirst amenity kits that resulted in passengers receiving United GlobalFirst amenity kits (good).

Climbing out of Seattle

Climbing out of Seattle

After about 30 minutes, lunch service began featuring the same menu as the day before.  I selected the beef tenderloin again as my main course since it was excellent on the DEN-SEA flight.  This time, it wasn’t quite as good, and was a bit too well-done.  The sushi appetizer again was excellent, as was the salad.  They offered pretzel rolls (awesome) and garlic bread, which highlighted a selection of five or six breads.  Dessert, as usual was tasty with the ice cream sundae.

Sushi selection

Sushi selection

Sushi appetizer

Sushi appetizer

Salad

Salad

Beef tenderloin with gnocchi and asparagus

Beef tenderloin with gnocchi and asparagus

Ice Cream Sundae!

Ice Cream Sundae!

Lunch service lasted a good hour.  I finished watching a movie (“Jack Reacher“) that I started the previous day before it was so rudely interrupted by a fuel dump and emergency landing.  After the movie, I settled in to catch up on some rest, as the previous 24 hours had been relatively stressful.  

Crossing the Pacific

Crossing the Pacific

I slept a good 5 hours, and awoke about two hours outside of Narita.  I watched a documentary before breakfast was served.  It consisted of an omelet and potatoes — it was a definite step down from the lunch provided several hours earlier.

Breakfast before arrival in Tokyo

Breakfast before arrival in Tokyo

As I finished up breakfast, the flight attendants finished preparing the cabin for landing in Tokyo.

Due to the unusually early morning departure and subsequent arrival, we were the first United flight of the day to arrive at the normally very busy Narita International airport.  I thanked the crew, deplaned and quickly went through transit security.  I made my way to the inter-terminal bus, as I needed to transfer to Terminal 2 for my flight later in the day on Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong and then Dubai.

NRT inter-terminal bus

NRT inter-terminal bus

The bus leaves from gates 28 and 59 in Terminal 1 every 30 minutes.  I would NOT recommend booking a close connection between airlines in separate terminals at Narita.  In my case, I had about 7 hours, so I was fine.

Overall, this flight was fantastic.  It really shined on every front — the service, the food, and the seat.  It was a great performance by the United crew, and was easily the best overall flight I’ve ever taken with United.

DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago?: Review: TAM Economy Class – Sao Paulo to New York JFK

Introduction
Planning
TAM Economy Class New York JFK – Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Santiago
LAN Economy Class Santiago – Sao Paulo
TAM Economy Class Sao Paulo – New York JFK
United BusinessFirst Denver to Tokyo Seattle (Emergency Landing)
United BusinessFirst on the 787 Seattle to Tokyo
Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Tokyo Narita – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” Business Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Dubai
Dubai, Day 1  (Traiteur Brunch, Park Hyatt Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Atlantis Palm Islands)
Dubai, Day 2 (Shark Dive at Dubai Aquarium, Burj Al Arab, 360)
Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai – Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda


After transiting through transfer security at Sao Paulo’s Guarulhos Airport, I headed to the United Club where I had a quick drink before heading down to the gate to board a TAM Airlines B777-300 bound for JFK.

TAM Airlines (JJ) 8080
Sao Paulo (GRU) – New York (JFK) 

Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER
Seat: 20A (Economy Class)

Sunday, June 16
10:30PM – 7:00AM (+1 day)
Duration: 9:30

As I boarded the aircraft, it was immediately apparent to me that the onboard hard product was substantially different than the somewhat dated interior of TAM’s A330-200 fleet, which I’ve flown long-haul three times before, including my outbound trip a few days earlier.

What we had here was a brand, spankin’ new B777-300ER.  The interior was sparkling, but my enthusiasm was short-lived as I realized that this particular aircraft was configured in a ten-abreast fashion (3-4-3) instead of the nine-abreast way that other 77W’s in the fleet indicated.  After the first and business cabins, there was a small, mini-cabin of about five “Space +” rows, followed by the high-density coach cabin.

Economy Class Cabin on TAM B777-300ER

Economy Class Cabin on TAM B777-300ER

Row 20 on TAM B777-300ER

Row 20 on TAM B777-300ER

I settled into my seat, 20A – an exit row, window seat.  I pre-booked TAM’s “Space +” seat, which gives you extra legroom for $75.  Given my height, I can easily justify this expense in the name of comfort.

My Seat - 20A on a TAM B777-300ER

My Seat – 20A on a TAM B777-300ER

Plenty of legroom

Plenty of legroom

This seat should have been the perfect economy class seat for sleeping.  I mean, since it was an exit row, it had over four feet of legroom.  The window was non-existent, so I had a flat wall on which I could lean my head to sleep.  In theory, this was a perfect setup.

However, that was not the case.  Why is that?

The new, slimline seat.  These seats are awful.  While tolerable for a shorter flight, they are almost inhumane for a ten hour flight.  It’s like sitting on a board.  Ultimately, I was more comfortable on my outbound flight – one which I had no legroom, but the seat was cushioned very well.  I sincerely struggled to sleep on this flight simply because I was so uncomfortable.  My butt hated me, and I had to continuously get up and move around because I couldn’t take sitting down another minute.

Sadly, this is the way airlines are going now.  The slimline seat saves carriers 1-2″ inches in seat pitch, allowing them to add more rows to the plane.  In the case of a B777-300ER, with a 10-abreast configuration, that translate very conservatively to an extra 2-3 rows, or 20-30 seats – that’s a lot of extra revenue we’re talking.  So you can see the business reason as to why the airlines (almost all of them) are going this way.  Unfortunately, it is at the cost of the passenger comfort.

I was able to sleep on-and-off for about three hours during the ten hour flight after watching Life of Pi on the very good Inflight Entertainment System.

Inflight Entertainment System

Inflight Entertainment System

Again, the dinner choice was beef or pasta.  As per usual in economy, I ordered the pasta.  It was decently tasty for an economy meal.  The desert was delicious – not sure what it as, but it was good.

Dinner

Dinner

Breakfast was served about 90 minutes out of New York, and as luck would have it, all the commotion for breakfast coincided with one of the few times during the night that I had actually dozed off.   The breakfast offering once again consisted of fruit, a roll, and a toasted sandwich, though this one was actually appetizing and pretty good, unlike my flight from New York to Rio.

Breakfast

Breakfast

We touched down in New York as scheduled, and arrived at the gate at 7:00am on the dot – just as scheduled.  Impressive punctuality right there, TAM.

Overall, the flight was fine.  The slimline seats that I’ve complained about are becoming an industry standard, so this isn’t so much a TAM problem as it is an industry issue for long-haul, economy flights.   Other than that, the plane truly was in great shape and was aesthetically pleasing.  The service was very good, the flight attendants were cheerful and friendly, and the food was decent.  Once again, for the price point at which I booked this flight, I really cannot complain.

DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago?: Review: LAN Economy Class – Santiago to Sao Paulo

Introduction
Planning
TAM Economy Class New York JFK – Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Santiago
LAN Economy Class Santiago – Sao Paulo
TAM Economy Class Sao Paulo – New York JFK
United BusinessFirst Denver to Tokyo Seattle (Emergency Landing)
United BusinessFirst on the 787 Seattle to Tokyo
Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Tokyo Narita – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” Business Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Dubai
Dubai, Day 1  (Traiteur Brunch, Park Hyatt Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Atlantis Palm Islands)
Dubai, Day 2 (Shark Dive at Dubai Aquarium, Burj Al Arab, 360)
Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai – Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda


I was not looking forward to this segment of the trip simply because it was breaking pretty much every rule I set for myself when it comes to earning miles by flying.  Simply put:  it earned no mileage.

None.

Normally, I would not write about a short flight in economy class, but since this was my first time flying LAN, I decided to write about it.

I’d originally booked my ticket in November through Orbitz, and TAM changed the schedule a number of times.  Ultimately, for the Santiago – Sao Paulo segment, I ended up on a TAM-marketed, but LAN-operated flight.  What does that mean?  Well, based on the mileage earning rules for United, the miles get awarded based on the award chart set for the Star Alliance operating carrier.  In this case, LAN Chile is not even a Star Alliance partner, so that meant no United miles.   My backup plan was to credit these miles to my American account, but its mileage rule is that the award chart is dictated by the OneWorld partner airline who is the marketing carrier.  In this case, TAM – who is not a OneWorld carrier.  So essentially, I was in no-man’s land as far as mileage earning was concerned.

Anyway, I arrived in plenty time to deal with any potential complications that this codeshare ticket may have.  As it turns out, there were no  problems, but I did have to check in with LAN, as the TAM personnel at SCL were non-existent.   My next problem was that I was holding a ticket on LAN Chile – an airlines whose inclusion in the OneWorld alliance does absolutely nothing for my Star Alliance Gold status as far as lounge access was concerned.

Santiago is without a doubt, OneWorld country.  LAN dominates the airport along with its partner airlines.

Luckily, I recently acquired a one-day American Admirals pass from a friend, and was ultimately able to enter the Admirals Club at Santiago with my LAN ticket.

 

American Airlines Admiral Club in Santiago

American Airlines Admiral Club in Santiago

Admirals Club SCL spread

Admirals Club SCL spread

This was a nice space, and was barely even populated.  I almost had the lounge to myself.  It was a very comfortable space to pass a couple hours and get some work done.

LAN Chile Airlines (LA) 750
Santiago (SCL) to Sao Paulo (GRU)
Aircraft: Boeing 767-300ER
Seat: 12C (Economy)
Sunday, June 16
3:25PM – 8:25PM
Duration: 4:00

My first impressions upon boarding my LAN 767 were that the interior was brand new.  I walked through the extremely spacious and sparkling business class to my bulked aisle seat in the first row of the economy section.  From here I was able to look into the business class cabin for much of the flight.

My aisle, bulkhead seat 12C

My aisle, bulkhead seat 12C

Plenty of legroom - not really restricted by bulkhead

Plenty of legroom – not really restricted by bulkhead

Now, I’ve seen pictures of LAN’s business class before, but in person, it really did look like a fantastic product.

 

Business class from my seat

Business class from my seat

The economy product wasn’t too shabby either, as it featured the new, slimline seats and Panasonic IFE systems similar to what United has been installing in its international fleet.  The interior of the plane was very fresh looking, and provided a very good initial impression of the airline.

Entertainment System

Entertainment System

The meal consisted of a sandwich and some bread – not the highlight of the flight, as it was pretty tasteless.

A blah sandwich and an okay dessert

A blah sandwich and an okay dessert

After a little less than four hours of flight time, we touched down in Sao Paulo, and I proceeded through transfer security.

Flight path:  SCL-GRU

Flight path: SCL-GRU

Overall, I was pretty impressed with LAN.  Though I was still upset I didn’t earn any miles for this portion of my trip, I was definitely glad for the opportunity to try LAN.  Maybe next time I fly LAN, it will be in the front cabin to somewhere really cool – Easter Island, anyone?

 

DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago?: Review: TAM Economy Class – New York JFK to Rio de Janeiro

Introduction
Planning
TAM Economy Class New York JFK – Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Santiago
LAN Economy Class Santiago – Sao Paulo
TAM Economy Class Sao Paulo – New York JFK
United BusinessFirst Denver to Tokyo Seattle (Emergency Landing)
United BusinessFirst on the 787 Seattle to Tokyo
Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Tokyo Narita – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” Business Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Dubai
Dubai, Day 1  (Traiteur Brunch, Park Hyatt Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Atlantis Palm Islands)
Dubai, Day 2 (Shark Dive at Dubai Aquarium, Burj Al Arab, 360)
Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai – Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda


TAM Airlines (JJ) 8079
New York (JFK) – Rio de Janeiro (GIG)

Aircraft: Airbus A330-200
Seat: 29C (Economy Class)

Thursday, June 13
7:10PM – 6:05AM (+1 day)
Duration: 9:55 

I arrived at JFK about three hours before my flight.  Checkin was a breeze at Terminal 8, and I headed to security.  Since the only priority line was for OneWorld elites, I had to trudge to the back of the security line — it took about 15 minutes, so it wasn’t the end of the world.

I proceeded to the American Airlines AAdmirals Club to kill some time before my flights.  This was a bit strange considering I was given a lounge invitation by TAM because of my Star Alliance Gold status.  American is in OneWorld, so it’s just strange how that all worked.  Last time I flew TAM, it was out of JFK Terminal 4, and I used the Swiss Lounge — that made way more sense.  Anyway, I entered the AAdmirals Club with no issues, sat down to get some work done and have some drinks.  The lounge was very crowded, and it took entirely too long to get a drink.

Admiral's Club, JFK Entrance

Admiral’s Club, JFK Entrance

Crowded lounge

Crowded lounge

As I was finishing up some work and a drink, I watched my A330-200 get towed to the gate — that was my queue to start gathering my things and head to the gate.

My ride to Rio:  a TAM A330-200

My ride to Rio: a TAM A330-200

Before my flight, and again at check-in, I had requested a “Space +” seat, which was essentially an exit row.  They said there were none available, and that I couldn’t sit in an exit row since I don’t speak Portuguese.  Interestingly enough, they gladly booked me in an exit row on my return, and I sat in exit rows on TAM the last time I flew them to South America — so I’m not really sure what their policy actually is.  What this did mean though was that I would be cramped in standard economy for close to ten hours.

TAM economy class

TAM economy class

How cramped?

9.5 hours of this -- my knees were not pleased

9.5 hours of this — my knees were not pleased

Yeah.  Pretty miserable.

We taxied and waited for our takeoff slot for about 45 minutes, and soon enough we were airborne.  Food and beverage service did not begin until about two hours into the flights since we were encountering moderate turbulence as we flew through the nasty front that had just passed by the east coast.  I passed time before the meal by watching “Side Effects.” 

The IFE was on-demand, but looked pretty ghetto

The IFE was on-demand, but looked pretty ghetto

I selected the pasta for dinner, as I usually do in economy — it’s pretty hard to compeltely screw up pasta.  It was surprisingly decent.

TAM Dinner Pasta

It actually tasted better than it looks

After dinner, I watched another movie, “Snitch” before going to sleep.  It was not a comfortable rest, but I somehow managed to get about 4.5 hours of decent sleep.  I awoke about the time the sun was rising and movement started again around the cabin.  The flight attendants came by for breakfast service about 90 minutes prior to landing, while we were approaching Brasilia, Brazil.  The breakfast was a sandwich and fruit.  The fruit was fine, but the sandwich was barely passable as food.

Breakfast sandwich, they say

Breakfast sandwich, they say

After breakfast, we finally began our decent into Rio de Janeiro. Everything was pretty uneventful from there.  We were about 20 minutes early, so that was fine by me.

Approaching RIo!

Approaching RIo!

Overall, this flight was decent.  It certainly was not comfortable, but then again, no economy flight is comfortable for somebody who is 6’4″.  The service was fine, and the food was edible.  The flight attendants were friendly enough, and spoke enough English to provide satisfactory service.  The inflight entertainment was on-demand, and decent, though the physical IFE unit was pretty dated.  Considering the low price of this flight, it was completely acceptable, and I was perfectly happy with it.

DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago?: Planning

Introduction
Planning
TAM Economy Class New York JFK – Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Santiago
LAN Economy Class Santiago – Sao Paulo
TAM Economy Class Sao Paulo – New York JFK
United BusinessFirst Denver to Tokyo Seattle (Emergency Landing)
United BusinessFirst on the 787 Seattle to Tokyo
Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Tokyo Narita – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” Business Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Dubai
Dubai, Day 1  (Traiteur Brunch, Park Hyatt Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Atlantis Palm Islands)
Dubai, Day 2 (Shark Dive at Dubai Aquarium, Burj Al Arab, 360)
Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai – Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda


This monstrosity of a trip was actually the result of combining three different vacations.  I’ll split the planning out into three sections, outlying how I went about booking each portion, and the confluence of events that led to linking these trips together to create a 15-day, multi-continent adventure!

The original trip:  Denver to Tokyo on the 787 Dreamliner

In May 2012, on the day that United announced their first official international 787 Dreamliner route from Denver to Tokyo-Narita, they uploaded it into the schedule with an abnormally low price of ~$900 round-trip on their B-fare.  A United B-fare is a full-fare economy ticket, which would normally cost several thousands of dollars.  This sort of fare earns 1.5X Premier Qualifying Miles, which help one build United status.   Additionally, this fare was available for what was supposed to be the inaugural flight for this route, and the inaugural international 787 flight for United.  Several friends on Milepoint booked this same flight, so it was to be a “party-flight.”  A sub-$1,000 fare to Tokyo is pretty good in general, but the fact that this was a B-fare, and that this was supposed to be the inaugural flight made it a must-have.

Denver to Tokyo-Narita

Denver to Tokyo-Narita

I originally planned this trip to be March 31 through April 6, and planned to spend the week in Japan.  As it turns out, the 787 had its share of problems after its initial release, and was subsequently grounded in January.   By the end of February, United finally made the official announcement that the inaugural would be postponed to a later date, so this inaugural was no longer a possibility.  I was left contemplating when I wanted to change this flight to…

Another unrelated trip:  TAM airfare deal from New York to Santiago

In November 2012, an extremely low round-trip fare of ~$330 appeared for flights from New York or Miami to both Buenos Aires and Santiago on TAM Airlines (of Brazil) through Orbitz.  After a late-night call from a friend, I decided to book a couple of these flights – a trip to Buenos Aires in March 2013 and one to Santiago in June.

I ended up selecting a routing from New York-JFK to Santiago.  After a litany of schedule changes by TAM, and after dealing with a series of hour-long phone calls to Orbitz, I ultimately ended up with a trip from New York to Santiago, via Rio de Janeiro on the outbound and via Sao Paulo on the return.

New York-JFK to Santiago (SCL) via Rio de Janeiro (GIG) on outbound and Sao Paulo (GRU) on the return

New York-JFK to Santiago (SCL) via Rio de Janeiro (GIG) on outbound and Sao Paulo (GRU) on the return

Joining the gang in Dubai

As I pondered when I should take my DEN-NRT flight on the 787, I decided that I wanted to spend some time in Japan, but at the same time try to somehow get over to Dubai to meet a group of ten friends who would be there, and to see my old roommate who moved to Dubai last year.  They would all be in Dubai during the heat of the summer, from June 20th-23rd.  I checked award availability and found an absolute gem on the American Airlines award flight

American OneWorld Award Chart from AA.com

American OneWorld Award Chart from AA.com

This particular award allows for a trip from Asia Zone 1 (Japan, etc) to India and the Middle East for only 22.5k miles each way in economy, 30k AA miles each way in business class, or 45k in First.  Compare that to the Star Alliance options of United (45k/67.5k/87.5k) and US Airways (40k/60k/90k), as well as Delta (40k/60k), and you can see that this is an absolute steal!

Tokyo to Dubai Award Comparison

Tokyo to Dubai Award Comparison

Luckily, I had a decent sized stash of American AAdvantage miles stored up after a couple of credit card signing bonuses and a few flights to Europe from a couple years back, so I decided to redeem an award in business class.

With this award in mind, I needed to find availability for one of American’s OneWorld partners on the route.  I ‘ll make no bones about it – I wanted to try Cathay Pacific.  Ideally, I would have flown in first class, but since Cathay operates its HKG-DXB route with a two-class A330-300 aircraft, this would not be possible.  So instead, I settled on business class – a pretty sweet consolation price considering that this plane features arguably the best business class seat in the world.

Cathay Pacific's new Business Class. Picture:  Cathay Pacific

Cathay Pacific’s new Business Class. Picture: Cathay Pacific

So I headed over to the Qantas website to check award availability for Tokyo to Dubai.  I wanted to arrive on June 20th and depart the night of June 23rd.  I was pleased to see that the exact flights I wanted were available, so I jotted down the flight numbers and called them into American.  After a five minute phone call, I had secured a round-trip from Tokyo to Dubai via Hong Kong in Cathay Pacific business class for 60,000 AAdvantage miles and about $85 in taxes.

Tokyo to Dubai via Hong Kong

Tokyo to Dubai via Hong Kong

 Sewing it all together

So, now I had the Dubai portion booked.  Given that it was pretty close to the end of my previously planned Santiago trip, I decided to move the outbound DEN-NRT segment to arrive Tokyo the same day as my Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong and then Dubai.  I did want to spend about three days in Tokyo, so I added on several days in Tokyo after Dubai, and scheduled a return from NRT-DEN for June 27th.

I was able to adjust the dates of my Santiago flight due to the multitude of schedule changes to mesh nicely with the rest of my trip.  This left me getting into New York the morning of June 17th and a flight from Denver to Tokyo on June 18th.  So I looked for a flight from New York to Denver on the 17th.  I was able to find a very reasonable round-trip fare on United from NewYork-LaGuardia to Denver departing the late afternoon of the 17th and returning to Washington-Dulles the evening of June 27th.  Perfect.

After finding a very cheap Delta flight from Washington-Reagan (DCA) to JFK on the date of my outbound flight to Santiago on June 13th, I was all set.

Domestic flights -- the missing pieces to the puzzle

Domestic flights — the missing pieces to the puzzle

Adding to the sheer awesomeness of this trip, I was upgraded to United BusinessFirst on both the DEN-NRT and NRT-DEN flights on the 787!  That will equate to almost 24 hours in a lie-flat business seat, thanks to using a friend’s United Global Premier Upgrade (GPU) and a Mileage Upgrade (30,000 miles).

My ride to Tokyo:  The United 787 BusinessFirst cabin (from my first trip on the 787)

My ride to Tokyo: The United 787 BusinessFirst cabin (from my first trip on the 787)

The Final Product

About 38,000 miles of flying...

About 38,000 miles of flying…

DCA-JFK-GIG-SCL // SCL-GRU-JFK, LGA-DEN // DEN-NRT-HKG-DXB // DXB-HKG-HND // NRT-DEN-IAD

All this craziness resulted in a fifteen night trip, visiting five cities and three continents.  The final product looks something like this:

June 13:  Washington-Reagan (DCA) – New York (JFK) on a Delta CRJ-900 in economy comfort

June 13:  JFK – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (GIG) on a TAM A330-200 in economy

June 14:  9-hour layover in Rio!

June 14:  GIG – Santiago, Chile (SCL) on a TAM A320 in economy

June 14-16:  Two nights in Santiago at a hostel.

June 16:  SCL-Sao Paulo (GRU) on a LAN B767-300 in economy

June 16:  GRU – JFK on a TAM B777-300ER in economy

June 17:  New York-LaGuardia (LGA) – Denver (DEN) on a United B757-200 in economy plus

June 17:  Overnight in Denver at the Aloft Denver Airport

June 18:  DEN – Tokyo-Narita (NRT) on a United B787-8 in BusinessFirst

June 19:  NRT – Hong Kong (HKG) on a Cathay Pacific B777-300 in Business

June 20:  HKG – Dubai (DXB) on a Cathay Pacific A330-300 in Business

June 20-23:  Three nights in Dubai at the Park Hyatt, Dubai

June 23:  DXB – HKG on a Cathay Pacific A330-300 in Business

June 24: HKG – Tokyo-Hanaeda (HND) on a Cathay Pacific B777-300ER in Business

June 24-27:  Three nights in Tokyo at the Park Hyatt, Tokyo

June 27:  NRT-DEN on a United B787-8 in BusinessFirst

June 27:  DEN – Washington-Dulles on a United B757-200 in economy plus

Whew!  That’s a lot of travel, but I actually enjoy flying on airplanes – especially in business class.  In all, this trip will consist of five nights on airplanes and ten in hotels.  It will cover 38,856 total miles.  Since TAM is a member of Star Alliance (for now), this total trip will earn me 31,789 United Premier Qualifying Miles and about 36,761 United Redeemable miles from just the TAM and United segments.

Well, let’s start this thing!  I’ll try to give some timely first impressions throughout the course of my trip, and will follow it up with a full-fledged trip report afterwards.

EDIT: Well, as it turns out, weather did not cooperate with me, so I’ve already deviated from the above plan by heading to NYC a night early.  I’ll make a separate post on that whole fiasco later on.