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Moore's Guide to Airlines Redux: The International Edition

Discussion in 'Issues Around the World' started by Sierra Mike, Dec 8, 2002.

  1. Sierra Mike

    Sierra Mike The Dude Abides Staff Member

    OK so I'm a little late...


    With international carriers, the choices are so wide and varied that any attempt to make a definitive survey is impossible. Most of the places I head for are on established routes, with adequate transportation on both sides of the trip. Unfortunately, I tend to fly more to Asia than Europe, so my knowledge of deals and steals to places like Paris, London, Rome, or Barcelona are pretty slim. However, if there's a fare you're looking for, let me know and I'll see if I can find out how you can get a deal on it.

    Here's my list:

    Singapore Airlines. Oh my goodness, they don't call this one the world's best airline for nothing. I've only flown it out of New York, and my God, it's an experience. Thje first class cabin is the best, with only 10 seats as opposed to the average 14-16. The best thing about the cabin is that all 10 seats fold out into sleepers...the best, most expensive sleepers in the industry, called "Sky Suites." Custom made for Singapore Airlines, who in turn took us big barbarians into account and made them long enough to suit all but the NBA pro, these seats are to be experienced to be believed--and I've only done it once even though I've been to Singapore four times (hey, how often can you spend $10,000 on an airline ticket?). Their business class, called Raffles Class after the famous Raffles Hotel, is pretty much as fine as any other carrier's first class section. Economy is pretty much the same as on any other airline, but the cuisine and service is still top-notch. The biggest problem with flying SQ is their price structure; they are the best airline on the planet, and even in these lean years, their business has been so good they've increased prices! This is one of the only international carriers that's been consistently in the black. Searching for cheap fares on this carrier is pretty much a waste of time; even board members have to pay to fly, and Singapore Airlines has the highest dollar-to-seat ratio in existence. The fact that they offer the world class service worldwide, to over 60 cities, is another reason they're the major favorite for internatoinal jetsetters. I've never seen one of their planes empty, and I mean every seat is full. If you can afford it, this is the one for you.

    Be sure to join their KrisFlyer program...but don't expect to be able to trade in those miles on an upgrade without a fight. The KrisFlyer program will earn you companion miles (or would that be companion kilometers?) on Lufthansa, but getting an upgrade on on SQ is a roll of the dice, unless a previously booked passenger has died.

    Cabin amenities range from airline-supplied pajamas in first class to toiletry kits and eyeshades. Also, the best-looking flight crew aside from those on JAL. ;)

    Round Trip, JFK/Singapore (SIN), 11-18 January 2003:

    Economy Class:

    Business (Raffles) Class:

    First Class:

    Swiss Airlines. This is the only carrier I've flown to Europe, and it was once regarded as the premier airline up until it was superseded by SQ. To be honest, I get annoyed by flight attendants pushing a cart of wares through the cabin and shouting "Duty Free! Duty Free!" every couple of hours, but beyond that, it's a pretty pleasurable experience. Their fares are pretty reasonable, given they're a premium carrier, but once you head into the upper cabins, prices increase madly. The best way around this is to use miles you might have accumulated on a codeshare partner and apply them toward a seat upgrade, but given that it's about an 8:50 flight from JFK to Geneva, which I used to fly, splurging for first class might not be the best choice unless you intend to do business immediately upon arrival and need to be well-rested. Unlike SQ though, Swiss Air is on some pretty lean times, so if you're diligent and do some searching, they have some pretty wonderful deals; currently, if you purchase an economy fare with a MasterCard, you get to bring a companion for free, which is a great way to impress a date. (And the insider tip here is: the same applies for biz class! They just don't tell you! You heard it here first, folks.) Their frequent flyer program is the QualiFlyer, which I am not a member of, so I can't give you a lot of information on that, though I believe it has gone through a tremendous amount of post 9/11 changes. Chances are very, very good they're not as protective of their miles upgrades as SQ.

    Round Trip, JFK/Geneva (GVA):




    China Air. This is a very good alternative to Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific, but this is also one of the carriers with the highest crash potential--so far, they've killed about 800 people on their Eastern routes, but have never had a single mishap on their Western routes. If your destination is Taiwan, then this airline is your best choice. Flying only 747-400s, they have three cabins, but their business class is actually quite large, encompassing the entire top deck and a sizeable portion of the cabin behind first class. Service is good in biz class, with comfortable seats that recline almost completely (my advice: try and claim a seat in row 5, which is upstairs at the front of the cabin. This way, you can get up and hit the john without bothering the folks who would otherwise be seated in front of you). The cuisine is exceptional, especially if you like traditional Chinese fare; the best rice congee I ever had was on a China Airlines flight out of LAX in their business class. First class is in the nose of the aircraft on the main deck, consisting of 14-16 oversized seats that offer a lot of separation from the passenger seated next to you. To be very honest, the distinction between first and business class is not great; the service is a little better, but I'll fly it just because I scored with a female flight attendant.

    Best deal here is: buy a round-trip Business Class ticket, and you'll be upgraded to First Class on the return leg, and get double miles if you're enrolled in their Dynasty Club program, which I am. You also get a complimentary pass to the Dynasty Club, which is worthwhile, but the Clubs are broken into two sections: Business and First. The Club offerings in the First Class section are almost phenomenal, including a rest area, showers, and private restroom in Taipei; their counterparts in LAX and JFK are almost but not quite as snazzy.

    Prices are almost too good to be true, especially if you take advantage of the Business-to-First upgrades, and those on the West Coast enjoy even better pricing, saving at least $100 on economy fares and almost $1,000 on first class. Service inflight and on the ground is worthwhile; it's a damned shame I can't take this airline straight to China, because frankly, they blow the doors off their PRC competition. But remember: do NOT fly this airline on an Eastern route; from the US or Europe to Taipei, it's wonderful. From Taipei to anywhere else, you have a substantially better chance of dying. Choose Cathay or EVA, Taiwan's second home-grown carrier, instead.

    Round Trip, JFK/Taipei (TPE):


    Business (Dynasty) Class:

    First (Emerald) Class:

    Cathay Pacific. This is the only real competitor to Singapore Airlines in East Asia, where they've managed substantial market penetration. This is almost by accident, however; Cathay's management decided years ago that Qantas was their primary competition, and for too long they overlooked the substantial gains of SingAir and Malaysia Air. However, all things being equal, if Hong Kong or Thailand are your destinations, this is the airline for you...if you can afford it. Inexplicably--nay, inexcusably--post 9/11 doldrums have made this carrier ratchet its prices so high that a couple of roundtrips could get me an EMBA from NYU. But despite this, Cathay has an exceedingly loyal clientele, comprised mostly of Hongkies who will fly the airline no matter how much the tickets are; Hong Kongers are damned proud of their home airline, and with reason: the service is excellent. Just the same, I'll never fly to HK on this carrier; it's just too much. But I will fly it from, say, Taipei; a first class roundtrip ticket from TPE to HKG is only about $643.00 USD, which is less than I would spend flying coach on American on the JFK/LAX run.

    First Class appointments are even more luxurious than SQ, including a full-length privacy wall you can erect between you and the passenger next to you (the seats also fold flat into a bed just like...Singapore Airlines!). Biz class also provides you with a much smaller privacy screen, hi-fi headphones, adjustable headrests that I can never get just right, and lumbar support. Economy class offers standard seating, which on their 747-400s equals out to leaving you just slightly less comfortable than the common sardine. But the food is pretty good, though. Unfortunately, Cathay's decision to jack prices by almost 80%, during a recession, while under unfocused management leaves this carrier facing some real tough decisions in the coming years. Too bad...I always liked their paint jobs, but if I need to fly direct to HK, I'll take Northwest. It'll take longer, but I'll save over $7,000.

    Rond Trip, JFK/Hong Kong (HKG):




    Japan Air Lines. Dudes, I fly this airline just to look at the women. I am oblivious to everything else.

    Actually, I've never been in their First Class cabin, and they guard it like it's Fort Knox; I was walking toward the restroom which was near the front of the biz class cabin, and I thought the flight attendants were going to chop me to pieces with kitanas if I dared to touch the curtain. I mean, not only have I not been in the First Class cabin, I've never even seen it. For all I know, the flight attendants up there are full-service courtesans.

    At any rate, the Executive Class is damned comfortable, though the seats have this rounded shell look to them that's reminescent of the 1970s. My understanding is that now they recline completely flat on the JFK/Narita flights, with others to follow; if that's the case, then I don't give a damn what's in First Class, just don't wake me up unless there's a fire, a live porn act, or the pilots have food poisoning. Exceptional, and mean exceptional cuisine here, especially if you're a fan of Japanese chow. And attractive flight crew aside, I would have to rate JAL as the #2 airline I would most love to fly, right after Singapore Airlines. You can get massages before flight, sleepwear, and nonstop ochazuke and donburi which is out of this world. But again, these things cost an arm and a leg...and I rarely go to Tokyo, since most of my affairs are in Osaka to begin with.

    So why do I always fly this carrier whenever I hit the Home Islands?

    The women, dudes...the women. I have no other excuse. If I had three wishes, the third would be to have one of these to call me own. The first and second wishes would be the physique and money to keep them.

    Codeshare partners are American, Cathay Pacific, British Airways, and every airline in the JAL/Japan Air System family.


    Business (Executive) Class:


    Korea Air Lines. I've only travelled this airline once, and it was all JAL's fault. I got bumped from my JAL flight due a maintenance problem, but got squared away on the Shootdown Express. I figured it was going to be all right, because the Russians were a lot less protective of Sakhailein airspace, and the flight number wasn't 007. And not only that, my Exec Class ticket on JAL was worth a little more than first class on KAL at the time (2000) so I figured, what the heck. The accomodations were pretty standard, actually quite similar to those on Northwest. The seats did not completely recline, which at the time did not matter to me, but were comfortable enough. And the best part was, the flight would actually go to Osaka, not Narita! I was the only guy who was happy about that. (Of course, it wasn't until I got on the plane that I discovered the plane did in fact go to Osaka...via Seoul. It took me 23 hours, as it takes to get to Singapore.) Food and service was good, but not as good as JAL's. I would still recommend them, especially if Seoul is your destination, also if cost is a deciding factor.

    KAL also has a pretty good selection of codeshare partners: Delta in the US (a minus in my book), Air France, Alitalia, and Czech Airlines in Europe, and Aeromexico. I have no idea about lounge arrangements, because I was not offered any passes, which I thought was cheap, but these are the breaks.

    Economy Class:

    Business Class:

    First Class:

    If any of you other there have any experiences with these or other airlines, I'm happy to hear about them. I have a fair-sized network of folks who feed me lines on deals fairly regularly, especially ones I can redeem miles for. Remember, miles are your best friend if you have a favorite airline or group of airlines, especially if you intend to do what I do, and upgrade to the next available class. And on international flights, there's no other way to go; on my first trip to Singapore, I spent the entire flight in cattle class, and it was 23 hours of pure hell. Play it smart, and you can have a pretty pleasurable trip.
  2. ethics

    ethics Pomp-Dumpster Staff Member

    Another gem...

    And he says being unemployed was the worst thing that happened to the forum?
  3. Sierra Mike

    Sierra Mike The Dude Abides Staff Member


    Depending on where you live in the US, you can try what I do these days: fly domestic to either LAX or JFK (or any larger airport with direct international service) and continue on to your international destination from there.

    For instand, if you live in the northeast and want to get to Narita on JAL, take a flight to LAX and and fly on to Japan from there. Vice-versa if you live in SoCal and you want to hit Amsterdam, head for NYC or Boston and fly on the next day.

    Obviously, for working folks, this is difficult because you lose a day on either side. But for these real long hauls, it can definitely make a difference in your disposition and wallet.

  4. Sierra Mike

    Sierra Mike The Dude Abides Staff Member

    Addendum #2

    This is probably more in keeping with domestic travel, but right now, with all the shake-outs that are occurring in the airline industry, spend some time checking for the best fares...and if you find one you like on a competing airline, call your preferred carrier and tell them. They might match the price and let you earn the miles, as well.

    Northwest is really good at this, but right now, they have among the lowest rates out there. And by the way, before you find a cheap fare on JetBlue and dialed American to bust some chops, understand first that American is only going to budge if you find the fare on one of their core competitors...namely, Delta, United, and Continental. (Northwest doesn't count, because they don't offer non-stop service to anywhere, except their hub at Detroit and their secondary at Minneapolis/St. Paul.)

    But for international flights, remember almost all of them are refundable or can be changed without a fee. Take care to read the flight codes just to make sure; if a code ever has NR in it, that's bad juju, so make sure you can take the flight.

    And best of all, if you fly a European carrier, those tickets are not almost always refundable, but transferable as well. Thing is, you'll have to buy them from the airline direct as opposed to a travel agent or over the web (excepting the airline's own POS presence on the web).

    Caveat emptor: airlines will routinely not issue a credit to your credit/charge card for three months. Beware of this should you book a refundable ticket on UAL or USAir, as they're both going to leave smoking craters in the ground. . The only airline which does not do this which I have experience with is Singapore Airlines, surprise, surprise. I got a refund that was credited to my account the very next day.

    As far as web bargains go, I've found Orbitz offers the most consistent deals and steals. Travelocity and Expedia unfortunately buy bulk batches, which are almost never alterable, refundable, and absolutely never transferable on domestic US flights (why they can't be transferred if they've been bought and paid for is beyond me; it's not like they lose any money, but then and again, reduced-price air travel in the US has so many hooks, crooks, and outright ripoffs attached to them that they're almost criminal).

    And lastly but no longer leastly, check with the carrier's web sites. You'll find the list deals on them quite regularly, so that way they can get all the cash upfront.
  5. Allene

    Allene Registered User

    Fascinating stuff, Steve. Thanks for sharing it with us.


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