Good Morning! We woke early: At the crack of dawn, and got ready for the big trip ahead. Today was probably the single day we were both most looking forward to while visiting Queenstown – as with any big trip, it’s important to start with a good breakfast. Our stay had complimentary breakfasts included with the room, so we headed down to the hotels’ restaurant ‘Lombardi‘ for a buffet breakfast.
We were greeted at the restaurant front desk and gave the staff our room number; and were invited to take a seat and help ourselves to the freshly cooked and wide breakfast selection available.
Being so early in the morning, there was no shortage of seats – in fact, at that time there was no-one else in the restaurant!
We arrived at Queenstown International Airport to a busy terminal, and followed the signs to the bag claim. For an international airport the terminal is quite small [map], but that said, there appeared to be some construction underway to improve some areas, and it was easy to find our way around with the facilities well signposted.
While waiting for our bag to come out onto the carousel, I made a call to the rental company to confirm our pickup by the shuttle to the depot, and was given directions to the pickup point just a short walk from the terminal exit. It was a short 2-3 min drive to the About New Zealand Rental Cars depot, where we signed off the paperwork for our rental car. I had managed to book a pretty cheap deal for our 4 day stay at $42/day, $168 in total. There are varying rental options available, but this was the cheapest for the type of car we wanted.
Now usually I have some form of credit card (usually to earn Airpoints and Status Points 😉 ) but due to recent changes with Miss. Kiwi Globetrotter and I buying a small abode just recently, I’d decided to change to using a Debit Mastercard for a while – Which, as I learned, can potentially have issues when renting a car, namely in the form of a $1,500 bond (each rental car company has their own requirements). Most people don’t have that much spare cash readily available, but luckily I did anticipate this possible predicament and brought with me a credit card used for emergencies, in case of such incidentals. Strangely, we did also experience some issues using EFTPOS when trying to pay the rental fee, but for some reason the debit function on my MasterCard (same card) worked – Anyway, eventually we had the keys to the car and were ready to go.
Here’s a photo of our beautiful vehicle for the weekend:
Miss. Kiwi Globetrotter summed it up quite nicely when she saw it: “Well, as least we won’t have any trouble finding it..”
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.
After our very late arrival into Phuket, we exited the airport with our trolleys full of bags to the shuttle provided by the resort, who was parked prominently near the front entrance, amongst the many taxis obviously looking to earn a fare from one of the many travellers arriving off our flight.
When we first confirmed our booking by phone with the resort, we advised them of our flight details and of the need for the shuttle to pick us up from the airport, but as my parents and brother had already been at the resort for the past few days, they also reminded the staff at reception of our arrival earlier that day.
Our shuttle driver assisted us with loading our baggage into the rear of the shuttle van, and after this, I returned our trolleys back to the airport before setting off. Somewhere along the way I must have misplaced my phone without noticing, but just as I was climbing into the shuttle to leave one of the taxi drivers waved me down to hand me my phone, which I thought was very nice and honest of him – It was a positive start to our stay here in Phuket, and the beginning of the long, approx. 1 hour drive to the resort.
As fascinating as it is being in a new country, and as much as I would have liked to look out the window and take in some of Phuket along the drive, I was just exhausted after all the flying and spent most of the journey taking a nap, waking up just before we arrived.
Upon arrival at the Mövenpick Resort & Spa Karon Beach, we were greeted at the stairs by two of the staff who assisted us with getting our bags from the shuttle and presented us with some handmade flower bracelets, which, considering it was almost 2:30 in the morning, was a nice touch, as I would have expected the hotel to pass with such formalities.
At the top of the stairs was a large lobby area with lighted columns, a feature area with surrounding seating and orchids growing above.
Thai Airways 225
Bangkok (BKK) to Phuket (HKT)
Tuesday 9 July
Weather on departure: Rain
Depart: 10:40pm (Delayed – Actual departure: 11:59pm)
Arrive: 11:59pm (Delayed – Actual arrival: 01:02am +1)
Duration: 1hr 20min
Aircraft: Airbus A330-300
Seat: 14B (Business “Royal Silk” Class)
After more than a one-hour delay to our scheduled flight (which we spent mostly in the Thai Airways Royal Silk Domestic lounge in Bangkok) our flight finally started boarding about 11:15pm.
After our boarding passes had been scanned and passport checked by the gate agents, we had a short walk down the stairs to a waiting bus to take us to the plane.
It was raining at the time, but from my brief look around it did not appear that there were any planes nor air bridges anywhere nearby connected to the domestic terminal, making me think that many of the domestic flights from Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport use busses to ferry passengers to the aircraft.
It was a few minutes ride on the transfer bus before we arrived at our plane, which had the stairs already connected for the short (hurried) walk in the rain to the covered stairs up to the aircraft for boarding.
Once we entered the aircraft, we were greeted by one of the flight attendants who checked our boarding passes, then welcomed and directed us to our seat.
He also helped to assist us with putting our cabin baggage into the overhead lockers, which once again, was another example of great service by Thai. One of the best things about flying in business class is the ample availability of overhead bins – with almost a separate bin for each pair of seats, this flight was no exception, with only some bins at the end of the cabin reserved for the flight crew.
The A330-300 servicing our flight is in a domestic configuration with quite a large business class cabin. There are 42 seats spread across 3 rows in a 2-2-2 seating layout.
Interestingly each of the seat pairs throughout the cabin appear to alternate between different shades of purple; with some seats being a darker and more vibrant purple, and other seat pairs being a lighter ‘faded’ purple colour.
Personally I thought the darker purple colour looks far nicer and more modern and should be fitted throughout the cabin; the other seats give an appearance that the plane is older, and although they are to a degree, the seat upholstery definitely does not do anything to improve on that impression!
On the seat was a comfort pillow, which was much appreciated after the limited amount of sleep over the course of the day.
The legroom was quite decent – not as much as in long haul business class, but enough for someone to easily squeeze past to get to the window seat if needed.
Other views from the seat:
Boarding took some time, as several transfer busses were required to get all the passengers from the gate to the aircraft. Despite this, the majority of the business class cabin remained empty, with just a handful of passengers scattered throughout.
While we were waiting, one of the flight attendants went through the cabin offering hot towels to each of the passengers, followed by another one of the crew offering a pre-departure drink.
Just before midnight, boarding had completed, and we began our pushback onto the runway.
There was effectively no queue for takeoff (probably due to the late departure of the flight) and soon we were in the air.
There was a minor amount of turbulence on climb out, but I expected this due to the weather. Once we reached cruising altitude the captain turned off the fasten seatbelt sign and the light supper meal service began.
No alcohol was served on the flight, but the meal provided was reasonably substantial for such a short flight (approx. one hour).
The meal was delivered on a tray and consisted of an appetiser/side dish of pasta with vegetables in a mayonnaise-type sauce, which was served on top of a purple lettuce leaf; a main of seared, lightly seasoned scallops, and a dessert that looked like quite traditional Thai cuisine, which I think was sticky rice balls in coconut milk/cream.
One of the cabin crew passed through the cabin to offer tea and coffee shortly after the supper trays were delivered.
Although I wasn’t all that hungry (after all, we had practically been eating all throughout our journey to Thailand), I did try the pasta side dish and the scallops were quite nice. I did try the dessert but as I am not a huge fan of coconut, I left most of it.
The staff were very attentive and pretty much as soon as I finished the meal one of the crew asked me if they could take my tray away, which was great.
There is not much in the form of entertainment onboard for this domestic flight, as the duration of the flight is only one hour. At the left and right rows to the front of the cabin are small LCD screens, and there is a projection screen in front of the middle bulkhead row.
All of the screens displayed the flight tracking and route information throughout the entire journey.
As I was feeling quite tired, for the reminder of the flight I set the seat into recline mode and took a nap. With a 20-inch seat width, 49″ pitch and 138-degree recline, it was quite comfortable.
It wasn’t long until the captain made the announcement that we had begun decent, and one of the flight crew came on over the PA to return our seats to the upright position and put our seat belts on for landing.
The descent and landing into Phuket was smooth, and we touched down at the airport just before 1am. There was a short taxi off the runway and the plane came to a stop alongside some other planes, away from the terminal building.
Once we disembarked off the aircraft, some transfer busses were waiting for us, and we boarded these for the short shuttle to the main terminal building.
At baggage claim, we had to wait for about 5-10 minutes until baggage started coming out onto the carousel, but it gave a good amount of time to have a look around at some of the tourist information stands and various brochures available for Phuket.
Once the baggage did start to come through, our baggage was one of the first out, perhaps due to our priority tags – It was great to be able to grab our bags and leave the airport quickly as we still had an hour to get to our hotel!
Overall the flight was uneventful, short and similar to our previous flight with Thai: very well covered especially on the service front.
Although I do not think that there is anything spectacular about Business Class on Thai, it was nice to have a light meal and refreshments, and the extra recline is good for a light nap and would also be beneficial for those that are taller and need the legroom. I don’t think that it would be worth paying for on such a short trip, but as complimentary upgrade or as part of an award fare, it is a nice comfort to have.
It was great to finally be in warm (but humid!) Thailand for our relaxing stopover before the remainder of our long journey to Europe.. Time for 10 days of massages and relaxation!
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).
Thai Airways 492
Auckland (AKL) to Bangkok (BKK)
Tuesday 9 July
Weather on departure: Fine / Sunny
Duration: 12hrs 15min
Aircraft: Boeing 777-200ER
Seat: 12J (Business “Royal Silk” Class)
By the time we had reached the gate we were departing from (gate 6), boarding had already commenced. A dedicated line for business class passengers and frequent flyers meant that we were through the gate quickly and onto the air bridge to board the plane.
Upon entering the aircraft, we were greeted by no less than 3 of the flight crew, with a bow and a welcoming “sawatdee kraup” (hello in Thai). One of the flight attendants checked our boarding passes, before we were ushered into the Royal Silk section of the cabin and shown to our seats.
Thai has had some changes to the aircraft servicing this route between Auckland and Bangkok, but currently they are using a Boeing 777-200ER. Business class on Thai with this particular plane consists of 30 almost flat (angled) seats spread across 5 rows in a 2-2-2 configuration.
We took our seats in 12J and 12K, which are window seats at the front (second row) of the cabin on the right side. On each of our seats was a blanket, pillow and an amenity kit snuggly tucked into the armrest.
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.
So Tuesday finally arrived, the first day of our big trip. My alarm went off at 5:30am but I didn’t get much sleep the night before as I was doing various last minute packing, and tidying up of the flat.
We had booked an airport transfer in advance the day before through Air New Zealand Taxis, who provide a variety of options for getting to/from airports in New Zealand, including by helicopter transfer in Auckland!
Our 2-person transfer cost $21.42 from the central city in Wellington, for a shared shuttle (the provider being supershuttle); interestingly, booking through this method is not subject to any credit card fees (bucking the trend surprisingly, as some of the credit card fees for booking flights via. AirNZ can be quite high) and also earn Airpoints Dollars (APD), although the amount earned is pretty small, for the journeys I’ve booked I’m pretty sure I’ve earned 1 APD.. but i guess every little bit counts, right? 😉
I arranged for the shuttle pickup to be 6:15am to allow for some time to get to the airport and check in, which I knew would take some time due to our international connections taking us all the way through to Phuket. At 6:15am the shuttle had not arrived (odd as most times they have been early) so we decided to wait a little while – By 6:25am I decided to call AirNZ Taxis and after about 5mins of being on hold, managed to get a hold of someone who checked with the driver and confirmed they would be there in about 2min. After pickup, it was a short ride to the airport and time to check in; plenty of buffer time meant we didn’t need to rush.
Check in was quick and uneventful, and took about 15mins; due to our international routing through multiple ports we were unable to use the check-in kiosks.
My main luggage bag was slightly over the standard limit of 23kg through Asia, however there were no problems with allowance due to our ticket and my status. We were issued with our boarding passes from Wellington all the way through to Phuket: a total of 3 flights, as well as the standard NZ customs form to be filled out for departure when leaving Auckland.
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!