My alarm went off at 4:30am: Funnily enough, at the exact same time as Miss. Kiwi Globetrotter‘s – and we hadn’t even coordinated alarms the night before! I guess that’s pretty good proof that great minds think alike 🙂
We’d both woken up early so there was time to pack the last lot of things we wanted to bring, before driving out to the airport – I was aiming to leave by about 5:30am to have a bit of early-morning breakfast in the Koru Lounge. Even though we each had a baggage allowance, we decided to take and share just one bag, to save carting bags around – we had decided that we didn’t need that much luggage anyway for an extended weekend, seeing as we both also had our cabin bags as well.
Packing always seems to take a little bit longer than usual and I always have a bit of a worry that I’ve forgotten to bring something, so I’ll check a few times before we leave home to ensure we’ve brought everything. Regardless, as I found out, I still managed to forget my mini day bag as I discovered later on that day, but that didn’t end up being too much of a problem in the end.
Once we had passed back through security and were back airside, we decided to make our way to Thai’s Royal Silk Lounge in the Domestic Terminal which is located on Concourse A. [map]
Finding it was relatively easy as there are signs throughout, and we had already gotten a fair idea of the terminal as we were hunting for the exit in order to get our local Thai sim cards.
Along the way we passed a small stand which had a lady in it promoting a free discount card for tourists, called the ‘Privilege card‘, in exchange for some general information (Name, address, e-mail, some basic travel questions, etc). This particular card covered Phuket, so we decided to get one in case it came in handy while we were there. The card mostly features discounts of around 20-25% at certain restaurants (which actually appear to be more ‘European style’ as opposed to Thai – I guess possibly useful if you want a change from Thai food ;)), as well as some attractions and services.
The lounge was just a short walk further, past some shops. There is only one domestic lounge, and it is located on the second floor, near gate A1.
Something very Thai is the pot of fresh orchids sitting just outside the lounge entrance, which serves to brighten up the place and also add a bit of colour (I’m not sure if it was intentional, but the fact that they’re purple (Thai Airways ‘colour’) is also a nice touch).
After arriving into the Domestic Terminal of Auckland International Airport (AKL) at about 9:30am, we had a good couple of hours before our flight to Bangkok at 12:40pm.
For those unfamiliar with AKL airport, the Domestic and International terminals are separate from each other, however it is easy to get between the terminals: A transfer bus operates between each of the terminals and runs every 15 minutes; the bus operates between 5am – 10:30pm daily.
Alternatively, for those that prefer the exercise, there is a clear sign posted walking path between the terminals which will take you approx. 10min.
Being a beautiful sunny day in Auckland, and as we were only carrying our cabin luggage (as all our other bags were checked through to Phuket) we thought that we would walk to the other terminal and get some fresh air (there won’t be any shortage of recycled cabin air on this trip! ;)).
Green painted lines and plenty of signage mark the walkway path between the International and Domestic Terminal. Baggage carts are also able to be used for those carrying lots of baggage.
Shortly after arriving at the International Terminal, we decided to stop and fill in our departure cards, to be handed in at customs before security check and entering airside.
I always enjoy flying through Auckland International Airport as it is very efficient, easy to get where you need to go and find things.
As the main hub for travellers in and out of New Zealand, it isn’t too big either, and you don’t spend a small age walking to your gate.. which is always good especially if you’re running late!
Customs was relatively quick, possibly due to our flight being after the early morning rush, as well as customs officers encouraging NZ and Australian passport holders to use the automated Smartgate system. It wasn’t long until we were through security and airside.
The lighted column behind the seating in the above photo had various ‘sea creatures’ projected through the turquoise coloured lighting simulating water, which I thought was interesting and gave a bit of ‘life’ to something usually quite ordinary – Also a hit with the kids!
It was only a short walk to the Air New Zealand International Koru Club Lounge (located on level 2)[Map], which is just past the major duty free shops (JR Duty Free / DFS Galleria).
After our boarding passes had been scanned and checked over by the lounge staff, we were welcomed into the lounge.
Mid-last year, Miss. Kiwi Globetrotter and I started planning for our trip to Europe so that she could visit her friends and family in Sweden. We typically time these trips when it’s Winter here in New Zealand, allowing us to escape the typically cold wind and rain in Wellington (though it hasn’t been that bad this year, apart from the storm) and trade it in for the warmer climate and barbecues on the other side of the World.
When it came down to planning for this trip, initially we were going to fully purchase the flights outright the traditional way, for two reasons:
I had achieved Air New Zealand Gold status only a few months ago earlier that year, and was looking to use the 2 free ‘recognition upgrades’ (RU’s) available, plus the two new RU’s if I re-achieved it again.
I knew that the early bird specials for Europe are typically released around October/November, so we were looking to take advantage of this.
As it so happened, my brother contacted me right when we were in the middle of planning as he was planning a family trip to Phuket (HKT) in July during the school holidays, and asked if we wanted to come, along with Mum and Dad. He was also offering to pay for our accommodation as a Birthday and Christmas present, which was an offer we couldn’t resist – how could we say no?
Thailand and Phuket has been a place that we have been looking to go to at some point, but the nature of it as a hub means it is difficult to get there unless you are flying with Thai Airways. As I was trying to use these upgrades from AirNZ (which require an NZ ticket & NZ operated flight), it was difficult to find a suitable routing to Phuket with connections on to Europe even though Thai Airways are part of the Star Alliance.
One of my ex-workmates was working for Flight Centre and was trying to help me find a suitable itinerary, even with just flying WLG-AKL-HKG (Hong Kong) / our own way to Phuket / before continuing on with our journey. Although this could have been possible, it is not ideal as:
It would cost a few extra hundreds of dollars for both of us to get from HKG to HKT, in addition to the main flights.
Working two separate itineraries/tickets can be problematic, particularly if there are delays or other unforeseen issues, and you miss the connection to the other flight on a different ticket – this voids the rest of that journey. Depending on the circumstances, travel insurance will cover this, but it is still good to leave some buffer time, eg. +1 day, so we would have likely stayed and had to book an extra night in a hotel in HKG, adding to the cost.
Flight costings were looking to be about $3,100 – $3,300 each, which is extremely high for an early bird fare. After getting frustrated with availability, routings and the cost, I decided to see if there was another way.
Earlier that year, we had flown on an award ticket via. a US Airways Star Alliance Partners award redemption, albeit in economy class, as we were looking to get to Europe cheaply. I had decided that the savings (we saved a couple of hundred dollars each) did not correspond to the benefits, due to the lack of earning for miles/airpoints and lack of status earn. However, with the dilemma of trying to find a suitable route via. Phuket and get to Sweden (reasonably) efficiently, I thought I would reconsider US Airways again.
By this time, we were in November, with no flights booked and the early bird fares starting to dry up. Something must have rolled in our favour, because in November US Airways decided to run a mile purchase promotion for 100% bonus on shared miles up to 50,000 miles. In other words, if I shared 50,000 miles with my partner, she would receive 50,000 miles (paid) + 50,000 miles (bonus), giving her a total of 100,000 miles. This is pretty similar to the standard 100% bonus promotion like the targeted one they are running this month, except there was also no restrictions on sharing miles that had already been shared.
In other words, I (person A) buy 50,000 miles. I share these miles with person B, and they get 100,000 miles. They could share 50,000 miles with person C, and they get 100,000 miles and so on and so forth, like a daisy chain. Although the initial purchase is 3.76 US cents per mile, subsequent purchases are less and less, like watering down the cost. As Mum and Dad also required flights to get to Phuket, this offer was definitely the way to go, and collectively, the cost was cheaper.
As flights though an agent were going to cost over $3,000 anyways, I asked Miss. Kiwi Globetrotter if she wanted to spend a little more and fly in Business Class – to which she answered with a resounding Yes(though, I don’t really see why she wouldn’t) 😉
~I can’t remember the exact amounts purchased through each account, but we ended up with 100,000 in each of our respective accounts and purchased an additional 20,000 miles on top to achieve the 120,000 mile quota required for a Business Class award redemption to Europe.
It took about 2 months in my spare time to find the best combination flight for our trip, mainly because at first the way I was searching was quite inefficient, but I picked up a few tips along the way which made things easier as time went on.
The other reason was trying to find different routings across Star Alliance airlines for the itinerary we needed. As we were searching for a flight from South Pacific to Europe, there were no restrictions on how we got there, provided there was availability – We were stopping over in HKT, but needed to also stop in Munich (MUC) for some friends of our’s wedding on the return trip to NZ. Two stopovers are not permitted on a US award ticket, and neither is a stopover or an open jaw (eg. we couldn’t stopover in Phuket and then have our final destination in Stockholm (ARN), departing from Munich on the way back – which would have required us to buy a separate ticket from ARN-MUC).
I decided the best way to go was a stopover in HKT, with our final destination MUC, and separate tickets between MUC – ARN (we would be in MUC for a few days on the way back anyway so there would be no problems with missing our connection). Finally after researching into all the different routes and ways of getting to Europe I started finding our more information into the different products offered by each airline, so specially routed our trip in particular to take advantage of these.
So in the end, our miles were bought at the end of November and our flights were booked and confirmed in mid-December. The itinerary (once I was done with it) looked like this:
Our total journey is with 5 different (Star Alliance) airlines covering a total distance of over 42,000km, which is about 55 hours in the air – That’s a lot of flying! In addition, we will be visiting various lounges and airports along the way while in transit, so it is *quite* the journey.
I am particularly excited about flying Austrian Airlines new Business Class, as it is a brand new product (they started refitting their planes at the end of last year) and features a ‘throne’ type seat. DO & CO also provides the catering, thought to be some of the best in the skies.
Likewise, Turkish Airlines Business Class offering is meant to be right up there, and they have also been awarded Best Airline in Europe. Something I am also quite looking forward to is hearing their lovely jingle, which was particularly great to listen to as on-hold music when calling them to make our seat reservations.. and yes, it looped just like in the video when on hold too, and gets quite stuck in your head.
I’m not sure if it’s one of the most annoying tunes I’ve heard, but The National Bank’s old tune was also quite horrible as well. They seem to use it all throughout their marketing & activities, so no doubt I’ll be sick to death of it after our long-haul flight:
Turkish Airlines does however, have a very nice business lounge in Istanbul, complete with pool table, a library, and a wide selection of food options. We won’t be spending a huge amount of time in this lounge, but it is something I am also quite looking forward to seeing.
We will also be flying long-haul business class on Thai Airways and Air New Zealand, and there are various short-haul flights throughout – We finally get back to New Zealand at the end of August (ready to start my leave count afresh!).
The trip begins this Tuesday, so I’ll be blogging throughout the journey and providing trip reports of our experiences along with reviews of our flights and the various soft/hard products and our general time along the way.
As always, any questions and comments are welcome!
The new lounge is going to be located in the Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT) and “will offer guests … a truly unique and glamourous lounge experience.”
Air New Zealand, who is a Star Alliance member airline, was selected in 2012 to lead the project to design, as well as manage the new lounge at LAX, part of a USD $1.7b refurbishment of the terminal commissioned by Los Angeles Worldwide Airports.
The internationally acclaimed architectural firm Gensler has been employed to design the lounge, and locally designed and sourced materials has been used to manufacture the furniture where possible.
The new lounge is expected to be completed in July 2013, and is set to open later this year in (Northern Hemisphere) Fall 2013 and will replace the existing Star Alliance Lounge as well as the Air New Zealand Koru Lounge in Terminal 2 (this will close when AirNZ move operations to the TBIT terminal next year).
Air New Zealand will move and commence operations from the Tom Bradley International Terminal along with many of the other Star Alliance member carriers which already operate from this terminal including:
Air New Zealand (early-mid 2014)
ANA – All Nippon Airways
The new lounge will offer the following facilities:
First Class: 42 Seats
Business Class: 387 Seats
Outdoor terrace and bar
A wide range of seating options
Fast, free and unlimited Wi-Fi internet access
Wireless printing and local telephone calls are available on request
Variety of complimentary hot and cold food and beverages
A wide range of Californian wines
Showers and restroom facilities
Flight information displays
Fully accessible to disabled travellers
Luggage storage area
Media room with international news and sports channels
No smoking lounge
The new lounge will be able to be accessed from the terminal on Level 6, either via. elevator or escalator from the main atrium area. It is located airside after security and is only accessible by guests departing from this terminal on a Star Alliance operated flight with premium status (Star Alliance Gold or higher).