Planning A Second Rate First Class Asian Adventure

Filed Under: Travel

As you guys know, I take a lot of trips for the sole purpose of reviewing new airline products. Before I actually book these trips, I like to share the details of my thought process here for two reasons:

  • You guys have some amazing ideas, and often you inspire me to change things up to better optimize itineraries
  • I figure others benefit from my general thought process on planning awards, and maybe part of what I book could be useful for someone else trying to redeem miles

In this case I’m trying to plan a trip that would include travel to Asia on a bunch of new products.

The products I’d love to squeeze into this trip

I don’t think I’ll be able to squeeze all of this in while otherwise optimizing this trip, though here are the things I’d generally like to review:

Singapore Airlines’ new regional business class

It’s not going to be especially practical to fit all of this in one trip, though I do have a plan here based on award availability.

How will I do it?

I haven’t decided in which order I’ll take the flights in this trip, but I do have a general plan for one direction of travel. Let’s start with the return.

I could fly Malaysia Airlines first class from Kuala Lumpur to Tokyo Narita. While Malaysia’s flagship route is to London, first class award availability on that route is extremely tough to come by. Meanwhile to Tokyo Narita, availability is wide open. The cabin only has four seats, and sometimes all four seats are available as awards (maybe this is a good opportunity to plan an inflight blog party?). 😉

The best part is that it’s an exceptional use of miles, as it’s only 40,000 American AAdvantage miles one-way, which is pretty good for a seven hour flight in first class. Malaysia’s A350 first class is a modified Vantage XL seat, so it doesn’t look that great, but I’m still curious to check it out, and see how it compares to their A380 first class.

Malaysia’s A350 first class

I’ve flown Korean’s 747-8 and A380 first class, both of which are quite good. The airline has made some odd decisions with their 787-9s, as they have the same seat in first and business class (specifically, the Apex Suite). Being the weirdo that I am, I’d like to experience it. Korean Air’s North American 787-9 destinations include San Francisco and Toronto.

Korean Air’s 787-9 first class

For just 80,000 Korean Air SkyPass miles (which I can transfer over from Ultimate Rewards), I can book the following, from Narita to Incheon to San Francisco:

That knocks out the two first class products I’d really like to fly.

Is there a fun/realistic way to try both Singapore Airlines’ regional business class and the United Polaris Lounge San Francisco on the outbound? Singapore’s regional business class is available between Osaka and Singapore, so for 43,000 miles one-way in business class I could book Osaka to Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, to position for the return of the trip (from Kuala Lumpur to Narita to Incheon to San Francisco).

I guess what I’m a bit stumped on is how to get from the US to Osaka. A few options potentially come to mind:

  • I could fly United Polaris from San Francisco to Osaka, but that’s on a 787 featuring their old business class product, and I’m not sure it’s worth booking that just to visit the Polaris Lounge
  • I’m tempted to fly Singapore’s San Francisco to Singapore nonstop flight on the A350, which also comes with Polaris Lounge access, though I feel like I’d rather wait until they relaunch flights from New York to Singapore later this year, and that doesn’t help with positioning to Osaka
  • I’d also be interested in flying ANA business class or Air China business class out of SFO and connecting to Osaka, but I don’t see any award availability on those airlines out of SFO in June (when I’m generally thinking of going)
  • Then I question if I should just forget about the Polaris Lounge on the outbound, and instead book Hainan Airlines’ new 787-9 business class on a route that connects to Osaka, or Japan Airlines’ old 787 business class direct from Los Angeles to Osaka, which won’t be good, but is probably worth a review

United Polaris from San Francisco to Osaka

What say you guys?

  1. Do the United 787. 70k points is a decent deal, and a lot more flyers will be stuck on those than the new 777-300ERs. If you’re willing to fly KoreanAir’s subpar product, United’s should be fine as well. And look at how empty that seatmap currently is!

    Plus, the new Polaris lounge at SFO looks well worth getting an early review out.

  2. Hainan Airlines, definitely. It will be great to see an update on whether or not they deserve their 5-Star rating.

  3. I agree that it’d be super interesting to see a premium economy review on JAL from LAX to KIX, but it’s also worth doing the United 787 to get the Polaris Lounge review out quickly!

  4. You should fly the SFO-SIN nonstop so that you’re in Singapore on June 12th for the North Korea summit. The chance to see the IL-62 “Air Force Un” at the airport seems like a can’t-miss opportunity for an av geek…

  5. No economy, premium or otherwise! Don’t want to see you stoop that low. Tongue in cheek of course, but still. Don’t dilute the essence of the blog with that

  6. Iirc, you haven’t done an ANA 777 biz review yet, so maybe you can connect thru Tokyo, and we’ll have 3 new products on the blog; ANA longhaul 777 biz, ANA lounge HND or NRT, and ANA regional 777 biz (ofc you don’t have to 😉

  7. Limited availability (and looks like it’s not until July/August) but what about going on the OZ A350 ex-SFO. Don’t think you’ve reviewed that one yet.

    July 8th has availability that would take you SFO – ICN – KIX for 80k on the A350 connecting to either an A330, A321, or 767 all on OZ

  8. I’d be curious to see how you score Hainan this time around.

    I flew AS award on HU ORD-PEK in February (plus other HU segments within China). While I try to take your experience (and the experiences of other bloggers) with a grain of salt since inflight experiences are YMMV, I ended up having above avg expectations for my flight. And boy was I let down! Food was inedible. Service, while well intentioned, was sloppy. I was served a meager amount of bubbly during the first beverage run right before dinner. The glass was not re-filled nor was I asked if I wanted more for the remainder of the flight. I didn’t ask for more since I was not too fond of it but the idea that they were not proactive spoke volumes. PAX on one side of the aisle were given breadbaskets while pax on the other side didn’t get one until well after the main was given out. J pax in window seats next to me were given Y meals (maybe there were last minute gate upgrades?) Yes, bedding was good but seat felt lumpy af, any UA J seat is way more comfy imo. There were a few crying babies in the Y cabin right behind J mini cabin. FAs were offering the mothers of the crying babies empty J seats to put their babies in so they can sleep.

    So yeah, experience felt cheap and not very 5-star. I do not think I’d go out of my way to fly them again unless they have a great J deal. I do not understand how HU is a 5* airline. I think Skytrax ratings are as meaningful as dirt. I mean, they gave LH 5-stars for a product that is years away, that says enough!

  9. I would love to see a review of AirAsia/scoot/jetstar in premium! They have flights to Hawaii for good prices

  10. Not exactly the ideal routing, but here would be a way to get all of that

    SFO-NRT will get you a polaris seat and lounge

    NRT-KIX (just for positioning)

    KIX-SIN (SQ 78J Business Class)

    SIN-KUL on a cheap asian carrier or on SQ 78J again

    KUL-LHR MH 350 First Class

    LHR-BEY (Middle East Airlines)

    BEY-SVO-ICN Aeroflot

    Or instead of the above two: LHR-CGK-ICN on Garuda


  11. I’d say fly United SFO-KIX. I flew the reverse route not too long ago, and the business class cabin seemed, at most, half full. Would be interesting to get your thoughts on how the recent move toward a more “on-demand” product has impacted the passenger experience in United’s premium cabin.

  12. Does anyone really think that Lucky will do an 11 hour flight on Premium economy? Those reviews will be (if ever) done on short daytime transatlantic / intraasian flights kittens!

  13. I would like to see a business class comparison of OZ on their A350 against KE on their 787.

  14. @Lucky – Can you get access to the Polaris lounge if flying United/Air Canada to Canada?
    If so then you can fly from Canada to Europe on Air Transat Club Class and then fly from Europe to Osaka on JAL. It will let you review another new product (the long way around though).

  15. Flew KE 26 a few weeks ago SFO-ICN in F. Since it was a late night departure, catering was a bit limited. When first booked, supposed to be a 77W, but disappointed when there was an equipment change from a 77W to a 789. There very noticeable difference in width of seat (expected due to width of plane). Otherwise new plane was very nice and soft product should be the same as other KE longhaul F. Mattress pad was nice and soft. Excellent for a business class seat, wonder why they added two extra seats to the windows of the plane and didn’t just have 4 across in F.

    Highlight of trip was new terminal 2 at ICN. New F lounge is very big improvement over old KE lounge. Not a huge space, but very nice – and catering seems to have improved.

  16. It’s too bad that UA SFO-PPT flight isn’t happening until later in the year. Then you could have combined with Air Tahiti Nui PPT-NRT and then it’s simple enough to get to KIX from there.

    Alternatively, you could take French Bee from SFO to PPT and the Air Tahiti Nui PPT-NRT. No Polaris Lounge but then you get to knock off another airline.

  17. Hey lucky…
    You might as well fly the A350 from SFO to SIN and then continue onwards to Osaka on the 787-10….
    To get back to the US, you can fly ANA to SFO…..

  18. @ W — Unfortunately no Polaris Lounge if flying to Canada. You have to be flying longhaul same day on United, or longhaul on Star Alliance directly out of SFO.

  19. Thanks for all the feedback, guys! Surprised by the number of people voting Asiana. I just recently flew Asiana’s A380 business class, and best I can tell the A350 has basically the same product. Am I missing something, or is it just the plane type that’s interesting to you guys? Certainly something I’ll consider!

  20. Get to HNL, then fly either hawaiian or scoot, HNL-KIX and review, with scoot probably more interesting.

  21. Lucky when are you going to review Qantas PER – LHR or review at least their new business class product on the A330 or 787 as they have had it for a while now (the A330) and their new business class.

    I suggest go SFO – AMS – LHR on KLM new 787 (though they are in sky team so might be hard to get into Polaris but you might make it work) then LHR – PER then PER – SIN on SQ’s new 787-10 then SIN – KUL – LHR on Malaysians new first class then try a random airline back to the US.

  22. Hey lucky, you may wanna try this

    SFO-ICN with Asiana A350
    ICN-CGK with Garuda A330
    CGK-PER with Qantas A330 or Garuda 737
    PER-SIN with Singapore 787
    SIN-KUL with whatever you like
    KUL-NRT with Malaysia A350
    NRT-ICN with Korean/Asiana/Jin Air
    ICN-SFO with Korean 787

    I think that way you could get all at once rather than going back and forth

  23. ANA hands down. You haven’t reviewed biz class, it would be direct and you would be able to use the Polaris lounge! I tried to get a biz award on ANA for June but nothing on either United or ANA or Aeroplan – so would be interesting to see how you wpukd book this!

  24. Looking forward to this one! I have a round-the-World trip planned around the same time but less fancy 🙂 DFW-LHR-BIO on AA F/BA J; MAD-DOH-HGH on QR J; PVG-NRT-DFW on JL J.

  25. @Zie Qantas don’t fly from CGK – PER though Lucky could CGK – SYD Garuda A330 then SYD – PER QF A330 then SQ

    Or Lucky you could go From SFO to Europe on airline you want to review or United for Polaris then go LHR – PER QF9 then PER – SIN on Singapore new 787-10 then go SIN – KUL – NRT MH A350 then NRT – INC – SFO Korean new 787 First

  26. @ Nick — I have other planes to review Air Niugini, though Qantas is trickier. If you find any availability on their 787 between the US and Australia, or between Perth and London, please let me know!

  27. What about NZ SFO-AKL-PER and then PER-SIN on SQ’s 787-10? It’s been a long time since you’ve flown and reviewed NZ J

  28. KIX is the hub of Peach
    An Airline I believe 99% of the readers have not heard of.
    Could be interesting

  29. You should consider the Qantas 787 or Qantas A330 so you can review their new Business Suites.

  30. I’d like to see a review of Air Asia X’s long haul business class product from Osaka to Honolulu 😉

  31. Singapore Airlines 777 first class from San Francisco to Hong Kong, ANA (well, or a cheap Hong Kong Airlines paid fare) from Hong Kong to Osaka, and Singapore Airlines to KL?

  32. How’s about Air New Zealand SFO-AKL. Looks like the last time you reviewed them was in 2011. Then ANA AKL-NRT. Then the Shinkansen to Tokyo.

  33. If you werent so snobbish I would suggest to review JAL`s premium economy of which I heard only good things. That´d bring you there.

  34. For your KIX-NRT sector, MH has scheduled their A350 to KIX from Aug, while SQ is sending 78J to NRT this month onwards.

    Since MH designed their A350 cabin with the LHR route in mind wouldn’t you like to experience it on the long haul? Flying them to Japan was only a recent decision. Also their lounges at KUL have recently been renovated.

  35. @ Sean — I might be missing something, but I’m seeing very little first class award space between London and Kuala Lumpur, so I’m not sure that’s a real option.

  36. The only difference between OZ A350 and OZ A380 is Wi-Fi, basically. I don’t think you really need to review OZ A350 business class, unless you are an tech geek. (I know you’re not.)

  37. @Lucky, what about Eva from SFO-TPE-KIX? That will get you access to the Polaris Lounge. If you time it right, you can also fly the Hello Kitty jet from TPE-KIX. Seem to recall you enjoyed that quite a bit.

  38. Hi Lucky from Japan,
    Maybe ANA’s “Premium Class”, their domestic first class, between KIX-NRT would make a unique review since I haven’t seen them covered by a major foreign blog yet? They are pretty great for a 1-hour flight, with a full food service.
    And of course, bullet trains would make a fun review between Osaka-Tokyo, but you should be aware that both NRT and KIX are very far from bullet train stations.

  39. If you want to make this trip more interesting you could fly

    SFO-MEX on United business
    MEX-NRT on ANA business class (operated by a 787 and it is ANA’s longest flight)
    NRT (or HND) -KIX (or ITM) on ANA or Starflyer

    I found award spaces on the MEX-NRT flight in June and July.

  40. For your MH trip plan plenty of time around it. Their delays are still horrible, mainly due to not having the groundstaff in KLIA properly organized. Flying out of non malaysian airports is generally more reliable timewise as the foreign groundstaffs tend to have much shorter turnaround times and can often make up for delays on the incoming flights from KUL.

  41. @Lucky oh yes MH award space to LHR is scarce, unless you want to consider a redemption upgrade on a cheap J flex fare, perhaps out of a secondary/tertiary Chinese airport. But I’m unsure if this is better value than redeeming F to NRT.

    Looking forward to your review!

  42. you could do SQ new regional business class to Perth, Then do the Perth to London flight, try and come back to asia Via the a350 with MH? lol

  43. Qantas 787 Award availability is very difficult to book as not many routes have the 787 and those routes are popular though you could fly from somewhere in Asia (e.g. Singapore, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Tokyo , Manila , Shanghai) to Sydney or Melbourne on the A330 (pretty much exact same product) and then connect to Perth or Melbourne or Sydney on the 787 for a comparison and check out the 787 as QF flies the 787 between Perth and Melbourne and Melbourne and Sydney and there is some award availability on some dates relatively soon

  44. 7 hrs. in first class and suites with doors that close; plus a blog party for 40,000 miles?! I’m in!

  45. ANA if you get Polaris Lounge Access in SFO. You flew ANA 787 business but haven’t done a review, and I think it’s time given that ANA is ranked as no. 2 in the world by Skytrax (then again, Lufthansa takes no 5 spot so I’m not sure about the credibility ). Or take United 787 direct, I think Polaris Lounge is worth positioning for.

  46. How about
    SFO-LHR on United 777
    LHR-PER on Qantas 787-9
    PER-SIN on Singapore 787-10 (SQ 216)
    SIN-KUL-NRT on Malaysia Airlines 737&A350
    NRT-ICN-SFO on Korean Air

  47. I loved the new biz lounge at Incheon. The food options were good, both Western and Korean, although Korean was clearly better. The seating was plentiful and there are power outlets at basically every chair. The bathrooms are a little sad. But there are lockers that are big enough for your carry on and seriously underused. It’s one of my favorite biz lounges now. (Although bring an empty water bottle because as with all Koren Air lounges they have the weird tiny pouches of water. I will never understand those things.) The departures terminal itself is a little sterile. Not much to see. But arrivals is nice, several good Korean 7-11 type stores to get Korean snacks and sodas, which I personally love, and easy access to the busses into the city. Enjoy!

  48. Hi Ben –

    This is off-topic, but I would love you to review Etihad’s A380 Apartments and AUH First Class Lounge, again. There has been much talk about how far downhill EY has gone, but I would love to read a first-hand report from someone who has flown them at their peak and can contrast the two experiences. Whadya think?

  49. BTW if you’re going to ICN, please review all three PP lounges (SPC, Lotte and Matina).
    There’s a high-end one called Matina Gold but it isn’t a PP lounge.

  50. Malaysia also has a new business class product (which is staggered) which could be worth a review as well.

  51. Lucky – if you look up flight history of their new 787s, 9v-sca, -scb, -scc, these planes do fly to KL every once in a while? Snag one of those (surely you can figure it out!) maybe?

  52. Lucky, you can also try the new Philippine airlines reconfigured business class on their a330-300 they fly to Manila to Osaka/Tokyo as well and they’re opening a new Mabuhay lounge set to open these coming months or you can wait for there delivery of there brand new A350-900 which they’ll fly to New York and their a321neo which also features fully flat (not angled) business class to Brisbane.

  53. Well you should definitely host a OMAAT reader party on a plane. That seems like a fun use of points. 😀

    A while back, several *A airlines had sales from YVR to SE Asia with layovers at SFO. Maybe you can find something to KUL or SIN that would work out.

  54. I would suggest to go to Tokyo, stay at The Prince Gallery (SPG), then take the bullet train to Osaka

  55. What is the “second rate” part of the title referring to? Surely you are not referring to the Airlines being chosen? If so, that would be a very poor choice of words – very elitist and unbecoming.

  56. You ever thought of flying economy, mate? It’s where 98% of us fly, you’ll increase your readership by thousands and in turn, your income.

  57. I vote for Air Koryo. You can try their new long-haul service to SIN on June 12.

  58. I don’t think reviewing economy is worth the effort. Economy is essentially a standardized product, besides the friendliness of the flight attendants and the entertainment selection, there’s nothing much to differentiate and grade the economy experience on traditional carriers. All that really matters for economy travelers is space, safety, and on-time statistics, which can either be looked up at the time of booking or aren’t relevant to the class of airline. Stuff like amenities and soft-product is diminished to the point that it becomes less of a review of a carrier’s offering and more of a report on whether that flight was okay or not.

    What you should focus on more is premium economy. This is something that is A) affordable for leisure travelers who don’t want to spend or cash in miles for J and B) becoming more and more relevant in the corporate travel world, where it’s replacing business class in many corporate travel policies.

  59. Please fly SFO-KIX on the UA 787. While other products are more aspiration, the truth of the matter is that the SFO-KIX service (with the Polaris service changes/reductions) will be EXTREMELY helpful to the many who will redeem UA old Business Class. I think it would be great if you could personally revisit your old assessment of Polaris. Keep up the great work!

  60. Go SFO-LHR on United Polaris to see the lounge. Then go LHR to Kuala Lumpur on Malaysia a350 First and get to airport early to review both Malaysia and Qatar lounges. Then go from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore on the new Dreamliner. Then go from SIN back to US On Korean Air 787 First

  61. I second the call for a review of Air Koryo, preferably their international business class from PEK or VVO. Very curious about the hard and soft product in their Tupolevl 204. Has this been reviewed before Lucky? I can’t find anything in the archive.

  62. Hopefully ANA award availability opens up because I’d love to see a review of that! Otherwise United sounds like it could be a useful one, as a lot of people will get stuck on that.

  63. I think that you should do the Polaris lounge and the United 787 to Osaka. this is the biz experience that most United pax will have, so you should at least try it out on a shortish day flight (which UA39 is, so the aisle access is less important)

  64. LOL, love the weird stuffs alluring Lucky to fly Y class! That wil be a sensation! Lucky sitting elbow to elbow in a tight Y class with coughing as well as odourful neighbours..what a sight and sensory experience, LOL! Guys, not gonna happened..he is too spoiled by First class products..if you try First there is no turning back! You will get addicted and you do not want to miss it anymore…so just to remind you..
    OMAAT’s nickname is AFA … Anonymous First class Addicts..

  65. I would hold off on Malaysian Airlines for availability to London . Something to look forward to.

  66. @Lucky I just stumbled across availability in Qantas P on 787, DFW – SYD in early July. Seems like a steal at 70k AS miles.

  67. At the very least, I think you should scrap the Hainan Airlines option. I get that it’s a different seat, but you’ve already reviewed them and the soft product would presumably be the same. If they had a proprietary seat on the 787-9 that might be different but we already know what reverse-herringbone seats are like. If you’re flying out of SFO, you should definitely make an effort to fly an airline that would give Polaris Lounge access since it’s so new. I think you should try for ANA Business Class and if you can’t find availability there fly United’s 787. It’s obviously far from the best product in the world but I think it’d definitely be useful given that UA has a large 787 fleet and you haven’t reviewed them long-haul before. I know you’ve reviewed 787 biz domestically and Travis has done a long-haul 787 review but I’d be interested to hear your take.

  68. @Lucky, are there any seats available if you switch MH and SQ around? this way, you can still fly all the planes you want and also the Polaris.

    SFO-NRT on UA (Polaris)
    NRT-KUL/SIN on MH in F
    KIX-ICN-SFO/LAX on KE in F

  69. I was just in the Polaris lounge at SFO. Half the foods stations had no food, and while I just thought if grabbing a glass of wine and some cheese I could find no cheese. It looks better than most UA lounges but hopefully you are not going out of your way for a review of this lounge!

  70. Please NO premium eco nonsense. We want biz and 1st class only please. It’s what we want and desire and you do great work on that!!!

  71. I agree on taking the train from NRT-KIX. It’s fast, comfy and you can eat delicious train station food between (plus fly Polaris from SFO)

    I’m trying to plan a similar maximizing trip for this summer. I’m actually going to HKG and TPE (in that order, contiguously) from SFO but was hoping to add a third location and use the Excursionist perk (my miles are United + Ultimate Rewards). Sadly they’re not in the same zone, so I was thinking SFO-Chengdu-TPE-SFO or SFO-SIN-HKG-SFO (with the TPE-HKG or vice versa handled separately).

    I’d like to try out EVA Air, real Polaris and Singapore Air but having a hard time getting these airlines without inefficient backtracking. My question for “the team” is — is the updated Polaris product actually good? Or does everyone just want to try the lounge in SFO. I could go to SIN via HKG and get the Polaris product through HKG and try to get Singapore from SIN to HKG, but that means I have to stop in HKG while in transit, come back to HKG for the actual week I’ll spend there, and then go there a 3rd time (coming back from TPE) for my flight to the US. Maybe it’s not worth the hassle to try “real” Polaris? So many of the reviews seem focused on how bad the rollout is, or how a lot of implementations are half assed, so I have a hard time telling if it’s actually good or just a lot of recent hype.

  72. “Second rate” usually means, “of poor quality”… which I don’t think was intended?

  73. Lucky, i’d be happy to know your thoughts on the new KE lounge in Incheon; While the old one in T1 was really sub-par for long haul business flights, the new one is slightly improved (wider, cleaner, new furniture…) but the catering is still ridiculously bad (those lame packs of water you’d get on domestic economy, no champagne…) and the space itself is a bit sad (no direct windows or sunlight, …) and few partitions in the main area of the lounge, just one big room… I was very disappointed as I’d thought KE would use the opening of a new terminal just for themselves / selected skyteam partners as a chance to up their game.
    Also ridiculously the Incheon T2 doesn’t have priority security or immigration for Skypriority passengers even though it serves exclusively skyteam airlines….

  74. Lucky, why not spend 10/K more AA miles and do NRT-KUL-SIN-AUH. For 10/K extra AA miles you can add a 7 hours first class flight with Etihad in the 787-9.

  75. Here is one for you ..
    New A359 CDG-MRU on MK , Mauritius national day (Mar.12) usually has some ‘bang-for-buck’ fares in J
    MRU-PER on the old 340 , then PER-LHR on QF
    now that’s a review right there highly recommend a stay at the StR Mauritius

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