Introduction: Emirates’ New First Class, The Long Way

Filed Under: Air India, Emirates

Welcome to my next trip report, covering travel in Swiss’ business class, Air India’s business class, Emirates’ brand new first class, and TAP Air Portugal’s business class.

Planning the trip

This was a trip I took exclusively to be able to review some new airline products. The primary motivation was being able to review Emirates’ new first class, which just debuted between Dubai and Brussels/Geneva as of last December. I ended up positioning to Colombo to take advantage of this, so my flights from the US to Colombo and flights from Brussels back to the US were to position. As usual, I tried to make them as interesting as possible, by adding some new business class products to the mix.

Booking flights

Let’s talk about the flights in the order that I planned them, rather than the order that I flew them. Since the priority was to review Emirates’ new first class, my first goal was getting that ticket booked. At the moment Emirates isn’t making award seats available in their new first class, so I set out to find the cheapest paid first class fare in the new cabins. After doing some digging, the cheapest tickets seemed to be departing Colombo, Sri Lanka (which is hardly surprising, as Colombo consistently has exceptional airfare).

I booked the following for ~2,500USD one-way (and credited the miles to Alaska Mileage Plan, which earned me a significant number of miles):

1/07 EK651 Colombo to Dubai departing 9:55AM arriving 1:00PM [First]
1/08 EK183 Dubai to Brussels departing 8:20AM arriving 12:45PM [First]

The next goal was to get to Colombo. At this point I’ve reviewed a vast majority of transatlantic and transpacific first and business class products, so I tried to get creative. I noticed that Swiss had business class award availability from San Francisco to Zurich. While I’ve reviewed Swiss’ 777 first class and A330 business class, I haven’t yet reviewed their 777 business class. Of course Zurich is nowhere close to Colombo.

From there I had to figure out the best way to get to Colombo. I managed to find some award availability on Air India, involving travel on both their 787 and A321, neither of which I had flown before.

That meant it would take a total of four flights to get to Colombo, and most frequent flyer programs wouldn’t let you book that as a single award. However, Aeroplan does, and they’re transfer partners with Amex Membership Rewards. So I managed to book the following award for 75,000 Aeroplan miles plus $48 in taxes & fees, which I’d consider to be a great deal:

1/04 LX39 San Francisco to Zurich departing 7:50PM arriving 3:50PM (+1 day) [Business]
1/05 LH1197 Zurich to Frankfurt departing 6:05PM arriving 7:05PM [Business]
1/05 AI120 Frankfurt to Delhi departing 9:30PM arriving 9:35AM (+1 day) [Business]
1/06 AI281 Delhi to Colombo departing 12:30PM arriving 4:05PM [Business]

Best of all, I transfer over the points during Amex’s targeted transfer bonus back in November, so it really only cost me 63,000 Membership Rewards points.

Then I needed to get from Brussels back to New York to start my next trip. I’ve reviewed Brussels Airlines’ A330 business class, so I ruled out the nonstop. Based on what was available, one fun option was flying TAP Air Portugal’s new A330 business class via Lisbon. I’ve flown TAP’s old business class, so being able to review their new business class seemed like a good opportunity.

I booked the following for 63,000 LifeMiles plus $102 in taxes & fees:

1/09 TP611 Brussels to Lisbon departing 6:15AM arriving 7:50AM [Business]
1/09 TP201 Lisbon to Newark departing 11:20AM arriving 2:30PM [Business]

In the end, my routing looked as follows:

Booking hotels

As you can tell based on the above, this was a very quick round the world trip, and I needed the following hotel nights:

  • 1 night in Colombo
  • 1 night in Dubai
  • 1 night in Brussels

Colombo isn’t a great hotel market, and in the past I’ve typically stayed at the Hilton, which is alright. Fortunately Shangri-La opened up a hotel in Colombo just a few months ago. The rate for my one night stay was $180, and Ford booked me through the Shangri-La Luxury Circle program, which meant I would receive a room upgrade, a $50 food & beverage credit, complimentary breakfast, and more. Hint: this is a spectacular property, and makes traveling through Colombo so much more pleasant. There was supposed to be a (controversial) Grand Hyatt opening in Colombo, though it looks like that won’t ever be opening.

Then I had one night in Dubai after arriving from Colombo and before continuing to Brussels. I’ve been intrigued by the new St. Regis Polo Club ever since it opened last year (it’s the second St. Regis in the city — I’ve reviewed the other one). To me the hotel looked exceedingly random, so I figured I might as well try it during a quick overnight when I didn’t otherwise have plans in the city. The rate for my one night stay with Luxury Privileges benefits was ~$180, and this included complimentary breakfast, a $100 food & beverage credit, a room upgrade, and more (and I could stack this with my SPG Platinum benefits).

Then for me one night in Brussels I booked the Sheraton Brussels Airport, which I’ve reviewed before, so I won’t be reviewing it this time around. This just seemed like the most practical option, as it’s located on the premises of the airport. The rate for my one night stay was 160EUR.

Bottom line

I know to many these trips seem crazy, but personally I enjoy them and get a real thrill out of them. In this case the highlight was of course experiencing Emirates’ new first class, but I also really enjoyed being able to review the new business class products of Swiss, Air India, and TAP Air Portugal, as well as two hotels that were fascinating (for very different reasons).

I should note that when I landed back at Newark from this trip I had a flight a few hours later out of JFK to Doha in Qsuites, though I’ll be publishing a separate trip report for that part of the journey.

Thanks for reading, and of course thanks for all the support — without you guys I couldn’t take these crazy trips!

  1. Wow – so immediately after this trip, you ground transferred to JFK and flew to Doha and beyond? How much time between landing and your JFK flight?

  2. @Lucky, you mentioned your next flight on QR immediately after arriving in NY. How do you plan on such quick turnarounds? Were you not worried if the plane arrived late and missed the next flight?

  3. @ yyc — There’s no doubt this was risky, but so was the trip on the whole, as I had four separate tickets with back-to-back flights. Personally I just try to schedule things closely and be proactive in monitoring things, but I generally think it’s worth the risk. If I left an extra day between each ticket this whole trip would have taken be significantly longer. So I don’t recommend others do it, but it works for me. That’s why I was happy when my 10 hour delay on this trip was at the tail end of the journey.

  4. Why did you always book the hotels for cash instead of using points? How do you determine which option is best?

  5. Also, since the end of your trip is basically Lisbon to Doha with a connection in metro NYC 😉 why wouldn’t you write this up as just a single mega TR?

  6. How did you make the transfer from EWR to JFK? I have often wanted to do it but just seems like it would be a real hassle. Is there an easy transportation option between the two airports? Thanks for this information!

  7. @Dr. Stan,

    #1 easiest is to take a taxi or uber, but it will be most expensive. It will probably transit through Staten Island and avoid Manhattan traffic.
    #2 fastest via public transit is to take EWR Airtrain to NJTransit to Penn Station and Switch to LIRR to Jamaica to JFK Airtrain. It’s probably about $27 for the three separate tickets. You could save a few dollars by taking PATH and E or A train, but probably not worth it.

  8. The Aeroplan redemption is intrigue. Did you book it online using multi-city or you needed to call?
    So Aeroplan also does not charge YQ on Air India?

    Would Aeroplan allow a routing of East Coast to SFO then SFO-ZRH-Asia routing?

  9. How is it a RTW trip when you returned the same way you came? Come on Lucky, thats so extra. Its almost Trumpian.

  10. Do you wear compression socks at all, or have a daily routine of moisturizers or vitamins you take to stay healthy/avoid sickness & pain from all this travel?

  11. @Lucky – A typo: “my own night stay” > “my one-night stay”.

    Looking forward to the in-depth Emirates First report.

  12. Lucky, I am so jealous! I have done 52 countries via business and have been to a number of these places, but now retired and would LOVE to do what you just did. Thank you for sharing!

  13. PS Highly recommend taking 325mg aspirin while doing these flights. When i was doing this for a living i always took at least baby aspirin prior to long haul flights. Just saying.

  14. @FLL, Aeroplan does not charge YQ on AI from what I read. Aeroplan also set MPM for each city pair which is the maximum permitted mileage, so you can route which ever you want as long as it’s below the MPM.

  15. Ugh, so many noobs on this site now… I would pay a monthly subscription type fee for you to do a more advanced version like you used to on FT…
    I know you’re driving huge new traffic and new readers are more important than old ones, but can ya do what you tell the airlines to and find a way to keep long-time readers loyal rather than moving on to more “advanced” sources… you really are the best at this.

    Not like I can stop reading, but you and L&LF are the last blogs I still have bookmarked.

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