Introduction: Sri Lanka Beyond The Airport

Filed Under: Trip Reports

Welcome to my next trip report, covering travel in business class on Japan Airlines, SriLankan, and KLM, as well as some hotels in Sri Lanka, Abu Dhabi, and more.

Planning the trip

I’ve flown through Colombo Airport over a dozen times. That’s because Colombo is known for having incredibly low first and business class fares, so it can be a great deal to “position” there to score big discounts on flights.

However, I had only ever visited Colombo, but hadn’t gone into the countryside, which I had heard great things about.

Ford and I have both been wanting to visit the country, so we figured it was finally time. We also both love Aman Resorts, and Sri Lanka has two of them, so we built our trip around visiting those hotels. Aman consistently does a great job building hotels in areas that are really interesting.

While I’m happy to have visited them, I’m really sad we didn’t make it to the Tea Trails, which are probably the most spectacular part of the country.

Booking flights

As usual, I make an effort to try new products when visiting destinations, and this trip was no exception.

There are lots of ways to get to Sri Lanka. You can either fly via the Middle East (Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Doha, etc.), or via other Asian gateways (Tokyo, Hong Kong, etc.).

In order to review new products we decided to try Japan Airlines’ 787-9 business class. I’ve reviewed Japan Airlines’ 777-300ER business class as well as their 777-300ER first class, but this was my first time flying their 787-9. So I booked the following for 60,000 Alaska Mileage Plan miles plus $32.20 per person:

1/22 JL11 Dallas to Tokyo departing 11:40AM arriving 4:25PM (+1 day) [Business]

Japan Airlines 787 business class

Then from Tokyo Narita there was conveniently a nonstop flight on SriLankan the following day, which would allow me to review their A330 business class on a long haul flight (I had previously only reviewed it on the short flight between Colombo and Male). So I booked the following for 40,000 American AAdvantage miles plus $35.10 per person:

1/24 UL455 Tokyo to Colombo departing 11:20AM arriving 5:50PM [Business]

Some might be saying “well couldn’t you book that on the same award since both airlines are in oneworld?” Maybe with some programs that’s possible, but with American you can’t route from the US to Sri Lanka via Japan on a single award, so it would require two award tickets.

SriLankan A330 business class

As mentioned above, Colombo is known for good business class fares, so we decided to book a paid business class return ticket. While there were some oneworld itineraries that would have probably earned me more valuable miles, I decided to book something that would allow me to try some new products.

We booked the following for $1,100 per person:

1/31 UL207 Colombo to Abu Dhabi departing 6:40PM arriving 10:00PM [Business]
2/02 KL452 Abu Dhabi to Amsterdam departing 2:00AM arriving 6:30AM [Business]
2/02 KL641 Amsterdam to New York departing 1:25PM arriving 3:45PM [Business]

This would allow us to try the SriLankan A321neo, KLM A330, and KLM 787. It also allowed us to have a stopover in Abu Dhabi for just over 24 hours to break up the journey.

KLM 787 business class

In the end our routing looked as follows:

Booking hotels

For our trip we had the following nights on the ground:

  • One night near Tokyo Narita
  • Seven nights in Sri Lanka
  • One night in Abu Dhabi

Near Tokyo Narita we booked the ANA Crowne Plaza Narita. In the past I’ve always stayed at the Hilton Tokyo Narita, but I figured we should try something else. The rate was ~$120.

We had a week in Sri Lanka, and decided to split time between the two Amans — Amangalla and Amanwella. Aman has the Fort & Beach Journey, which is a way you can get better value by booking both hotels together. By booking a seven night package you receive additional perks like daily lunch or dinner, as well as activities and spa treatments at both resorts.

I’ll talk more about the rates and everything that was included in the individual trip report installments.


Amangalla

Amanwella

Lastly for our one night in Abu Dhabi we decided to book the new EDITION Abu Dhabi, which I’ve been curious about. Our one night stay cost about $200, and Ford booked us through the Ritz-Carlton STARS program, getting us free breakfast as well as a property credit.

EDITION Abu Dhabi

Bottom line

I’m happy I finally had the chance to visit Sri Lanka outside of Colombo. However, I have serious regrets that we didn’t visit the Tea Trails, which I’ve heard great things about.

Overall we had some fantastic flights and hotel stays, though there were also aspects of the trip that disappointed me.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned!

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Comments
  1. Very odd, at least to me, way to plan an itinerary. I pick my sites, then find convenient hotels — while you plan the other way around. Which is why you missed the Cultural Triangle and tea estates. For most people, I would guess, the plane is a tool to get to the destination and the hotel a place to safely secure our stuff and sleep. But bloggers are cut from different cloth.

  2. @Lucky–Am I missing something here. You say you booked a paid return trip in Business from Colombo, but I see only one way. Will you use the return on another trip?

  3. Am intrigued to find out what you thought of those KLM flights. Looking forward to it.

  4. @Trev

    There’s many of us who plan our trips around great airfare and deals. I know I certainly do, as do many people who read these blogs. I actually enjoy the airline reviews more then anything else on this (and other’s) blogs.

    The plane is much more than a tool, getting somewhere is half the fun.

  5. It’s good that you made it to Sri Lanka, but you really missed out on the best part of the country, which is the interior. Udawalaye national park (where the elephants are), Yalla National park (tons of wildlife), the tea trails around nuwara eliya/ ella, and Sigiriya, are all amazing and in my opinion more unique than the coast. While the coast is lovely, what makes Sri Lanka unique (and not just another beach resort for hordes of sun-starved Europeans in the winter) is what is offered in the interior, and you didnt bother to go. Another trip should be in order.

  6. @Malc – I believe he’s using the American version of “return” which literally just means coming back. American’s refer to return flights in the way you’re thinking as “round trip”

  7. @Trev, @Jason – This is work – reviewing airlines and hotels, so obviously those would be chosen first. This is not a vacation like most people take. It’s fine 🙂

  8. We had three weeks in Sri Lanka, moved relatively quickly, and visited perhaps a third of the country. There’s a lot more there to see that only the tea areas (which are nice although can be shockingly cold and rainy). @Jason named some (Sigiriya, in particular, is one of the true wonders of the world) but I’d include the ruined cities of Anaradhapura and Polonnnaruwa, the Battticola rail bus, and the Esala Perehara in Kandy, the Tamil culture in the north and east, and probably numerous things in the parts of the country we didn’t reach.

    The Aman hotels sound lovely as a destination in their own right but almost certainly don’t afford any real sense of the country — which is poor, colorful, noisy, and super-friendly. Sri Lanka is one of the few places I’ve been that really require the use of local hotels to see the country.

  9. @_ar

    I understand his goal to review new airlines and equipment, but he stayed at an international “non-points” chain, so he could have stayed at any hotel and produced a hotel review. It was his slavish devotion to the Aman brand that caused him to miss most of Sri Lanka’s highlights. In fact, Sri Lanka has its own high-end independent hotels that could have made for a worthwhile trip and review, instead of yet another review of a cookie-cutter Aman hotel (different location, same obsequious service and amenities).

  10. Namaste Ben, Actually It was a nice review about the place, plains and hotel you visit. It needs a great time, patience and courage to write. You made your mind to write a review and the information you gave will be helpful for us while making a choice to stay outside the Capital City.

  11. @_ar – there are hotels in the interior of the country of Sri Lanka. I’ve been to many of them, and there are many exceptional properties. It is, believe it or not, possible to review them as well. And it was mentioned multiple times in the post that he regretted not seeing more of the country. It’s possible to review non-brand name hotels, many of which tend to be better than the brand name ones.

  12. Misleading title – yes it goes beyond the airport…. but straight to yet another chain hotel….

    Like @Jason above says – there are so many exceptional non-brand name properties all over this country, and so much more to see than the hotel pool.

  13. @Jason: +1. Many things make Sri Lanka special, but to title a post “Sri Lanka Beyond the Airport” and then not visit the interior feels misleading. Sigiriya is stunning, a place that truly challenges the imagination. Most people I know that visit Sri Lanka, hire a car and driver, spend at least a week and make sure to hit up some combination of the Cultural Triangle, Kandy, tea plantations and other destinations outside the urbanised and express-wayed Colombo-Galle corridor.

  14. I agree Jason – all over Asia there are exceptional properties, but this site doesn’t really review non-brand, non-chain, non-points hotels… this is not really a travel blog despite the occasional superficial trip report.. Its strong point is business and first class airline reviews.. there are better travelers and websites for those things… don’t be misled by the title, although it’s technically true 🙂

  15. @_ar: I agree with you too. This is not a travel blog. It is very much an airline premium product, points/credit card and chain hotels blog (and a good one at that), but I wouldn’t go to @Lucky for advice on how to travel well.

  16. @ Justin… I agree. This is not a travel blog. It will open ones eyes to some aspects of the location he is traveling to, but clearly he may travel and stay places for different reasons than we may. There are so many places to stay in so many countries I will cut him some slack. He has tio mix it up with as much travel as he does yearly. We are I draw the line is blogging about a $5,000/night safari stay that another site blogged on. Very, very few of us would be planning on a stay there, but hey blog on it and it’s a work expense deduction. That’s why I cut Lucky slack, because any place he stays is something most of us could consider AND he doesn’t make himself a focus of his work with selfies of himself, etc.

  17. While Galle and the beaches on Sri Lanka’s south coast are lovely, it seems crazy to me to only go there when visiting Sri Lanka. The highlights of my recent trip to Sri Lanka
    (using miles and flying business class Ben-style) were absolutely the cultural triangle (especially Anuradhapura, Kandy, and Sigiriya) and the highland tea country (especially Nuwara Eliya, Horton Plains National Park, and the train ride from Nanu Oya to Ella).

    Though I love this blog for the miles and points content, I would never rely on Ben’s suggestions for what to do once you actually get to a destination, which largely seems limited to staying in chain luxury hotels, which is not Sri Lanka’s strong suit. It does, however, have a ton of great value local hotels and guest houses, and I suspect our total lodging costs for two weeks in Sri Lanka were around what Ben spend for one night at the Aman.

  18. Agree @Anon Traveler –
    I love the airline product reviews on this site. I think they’re the best, most consistent I’ve seen anywhere. But yes – insights into the destination are just not the strong suit here.

    Sri Lanka was a fabulous country. I’d love to go back. And the true soul/ worthwhile things to see are in the highlands. Sigiriya was by far the highlight for me – incredible!! Such an amazing country and I hope to go back.

  19. Agree with others about Sigiriya. It’s like the ruins of what was the medieval version of a skyscraper… a pleasure palace 300 ft high in the sky! Amazing and definitely the highlight of our trip to Lanka.

  20. I just stayed at The Edition Abu Dhabi and absolutely loved it. Keen to see this review and if your experience matched mine!

  21. Now looking back, seems an oversight to miss testing another JAL long haul product, the Sky Suite 3/reverse herringbone 787-9/777-200ER, especially since flights with Sky Suite 3 are now more than Sky Suite/Apex Suite.
    Although JAL seems still prefer Apex Suite on their longest routes.

  22. I flew business class from Colombo to Amman Jordan with a change of planes in Kuwait on Kuwait airways. The grand total was only $388 one way. By the way, the plane from Colombo to Kuwait actually has three classes of service. They only sell a business class fare, however you can reserve one of the few first class seats at no additional charge. This entitled me to use the first class lounge at Colombo and in Kuwait. I was very satisfied with the service on Kuwait airways and would definitely do it again. I didn’t really care for Sri Lanka very much and I was happy to leave.

  23. I agree with everyone else. I spent 17 days and got to see about half of the country with a guide/driver. I stayed in a couple of very unique hotels including the old governor’s mansion in Galle which is pretty spectacular. For guys who say they like the outdoors there is so much good hiking and parks to explore with some amazing views and wildlife that it sounds like were missed. And of course the cultural triangle is unmissable along with Kandy. I am hoping to get back to see the rest before too long

  24. Sri Lanka was one of the highest points of world civilization around 1100 AD. I was blown away by the cultural triangle.

    I’m all for fancy hotels, but to go all that way and miss some of the true wonders of the world ?

  25. Am curious. Record locators are not something you usually discuss. How many record locators is this?

    I can envision:
    1 for DFW-NRT on JAL
    1 for NRT-CMB on UL
    1 for CMB-AUH on UL
    1 for AUH-AMS-JFK on KL

    Might also be 3 total, if NRT-CMB-AUH is just one.

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