BOOKED: Starlux, Philippine, And Hainan!

Filed Under: Hainan, Other Airlines

Last night I booked my first major review trip of 2020, which I’m excited to share the details of. I’ll talk about this trip in the order in which I booked/prioritized these reviews, rather than the order in which I’ll be traveling.

Starlux Airlines Business Class From Taipei To Penang

I’ve written extensively about Starlux Airlines, the new “luxury” airline that’s founded by the former CEO of EVA Air. I love everything about this airline (at least how they’re presenting themselves), and I can’t wait to fly with them.

Tickets finally went on sale yesterday for their first three routes to Da Nang, Penang, and Macau. I decided to book a roundtrip ticket from Taipei to Penang, given that this is by far their longest route, and I want to maximize the experience.

Starlux Airlines’ A321neo business class

The roundtrip ticket cost me ~$1,000, which isn’t bad when you consider that it’s nearly 10 hours in a flat bed.

One thing that has really surprised me is just how many tickets seem to have already been sold. I saw many dates where business class was fully booked, and on other dates the cabin was at least half booked.

I know there’s a lot of talk of this airline in Taipei, but were there that many people leaving their schedules open for a holiday in just a few weeks, or how have they sold so many tickets already?

Speaking of visiting Penang, it’ll be my first time, and I’d love a recommendation on which hotel I should review. I’m leaning towards either Macalister Mansion, a Marriott Design Hotels property, or The Edison George Town, a Hyatt Small Luxury Hotels of the World property. Any tips on which to pick? Both look great!

The Edison George Town

Philippine Airlines A350 Business Class To Toronto

Many of you have been asking for a review of Philippine Airlines’ A350 business class. I’ve flown their 777 business class between New York and Vancouver, but they have an all new business class product on their A350.

Philippine Airlines’ A350 business class

While there aren’t many good opportunities to redeem miles on Philippine Airlines (which the exception of through ANA), they have great business class fares when departing Taipei. So when I knew I’d be returning on Starlux Airlines to Taipei, the choice was obvious.

I booked a ~$1,200 one-way business class ticket from Taipei to Toronto via Manila, with the Taipei to Manila flight operated by an A321, and the Manila to Toronto flight operated by their new A350.

Hainan Airlines 787 Business Class To Taipei

I intended to review Hainan Airlines business class just last week from Beijing to Boston, but last minute they swapped the aircraft, so the flight was no longer operated by a 787 with their new business class seats.

Hainan’s new 787-9 business class

So let’s give it another try in the new year, and hope for better luck. I redeemed 50,000 Alaska Mileage Plan miles to book a ticket from Boston to Beijing to Taipei, with the first flight operated by a 787 with their new business class seats, and the second flight operated by a 737 (which will also be a new review for me).

I’ve heard great things about Hainan’s lounge in Beijing, so can anyone confirm that I’d have access to that if flying to Taipei? I know generally Taiwan flights are considered international for the purposes of the airport, so I just want to make sure that’s the lounge I’ll have access to.

I’ll of course be monitoring this flight, and if there are any last minute aircraft swaps, I’ll adjust my schedule again. Hopefully I have better luck this time.

Bottom Line

I’m excited to review all three of these products, in particular Starlux Airlines. When I knew I’d be returning to Taipei I figured the good Philippine Airlines fare was a no brainer. I’m hoping to have better luck this time with Hainan as well…

Anyone have predictions for any of these experiences?

Comments
  1. Looking forward to the PAL review. Most of my options are the 350 but I still havent given them a chance yet even though the prices seem a nice option.

  2. Taiwan flights depart from the international terminal in China….or the International-HongKongMacauTaiwan terminal as they are usually marked as such at Chinese airports.

  3. You should stay in an overwater bungalow at private island Hyatt SLH Pangkor Laut (also Virtuoso). Will be great to compare the experience to Calala/Maldives/Bora Bora as it’s much less expensive for a private island experience. 2.5-3 hours from Penang by car/boat transfer.

  4. Hainan has grounded around 12 of the 30 789s in their fleet. That might be the reason why there are aircraft swaps so often. All are GE powered so no engine issues. Might be cash crunch.

  5. I think the lounge you are referring to is the HNA Club in T2 of PEK? You should be able to access that since flights to Taipei is considered international as you mentioned

  6. @ Lucky….

    Was just in Penang in November and stayed at the MacAlister Mansion. Rooms are top notch. There’s only 8 of them. They have a nice breakfast and dinner area. There is also a fine dining restaurant – Blanc. The only downside to staying there is that you are away from the downtown area, but very close to the New Lane hawker center. That said my vote would be for the Hyatt Edison as we will be going back and I really want to know what that one is like. Depending on how long you are there I really think you could review both. Download the Grab app if you don’t already have it. Drivers are minutes away there so easy to get around.

    **Also, near the Entopia Butterfly Farm they just opened the worlds longest slide. Still have the kid in you?

  7. Does anyone happen to know why business fares to and from Toronto are often less than ex US? Ben you’ve been connecting in Toronto a lot and I was just curious as I believe YYZ have very high landing fees (I believe Virgin America pulled out for that very reason).

  8. The Eastern and Oriental in Penang is an absolute classic and a heritage hotel. It was built by the same family who built the Raffles Hotel in Singapore and the Strand in Yangon back in the 1880s.

  9. I agree with Nitin. Check out the E&O in Penang. My partner and I stayed there in 2014. We stayed in the old part. Great location and old world charm. We also loved The Strand which we stayed at in 2001.

  10. If you’re going to Penang, the E&O is the standout hotel choice. They’ve just refurbished the heritage wing, which has some amazing rooms. Only downside is they are completely independent so no chain loyalty benefits.

  11. Both hotels are comparable in terms of ambiance but I have a slight preference for The Edison because of its central location.

  12. @Lucky, I really hope you have a long layover at MNL. I’m sure you’re already aware, but that airport is one of the worst for transits and connections.

  13. I would check that the incoming flight and outgoing flight arrive at the same terminal in Manila. They are 5 kms apart in distance – closer if you could walk across the airport (obviously not possible). It does not sound far but it has taken me an hour to get between terminals on a Friday afternoon when it was raining. Traffic in Manila can be awful. Also as mentioned above it takes ages to go through security screenings – particularly on the way out of Manila.
    I will be interested to see what the A350 is like. The flights I took between SIN and Manila were very ordinary. My colleague flew them long haul and said they were of a similar standard. On a positive note PAL have excellent value on departure upgrades you can buy – I used to fly them every 2 weeks and only once was business full. It was USD 150 to upgrade to business between SIN and Manila.
    Just for fun google one of the PAL theme songs. Google “Love at 30,000 Feet” Joe Mari Chan”. You will get to hear them sing about the airline that takes you closer to heaven! I do realise that it was probably written with the Catholic population in mind.
    I will be interested to see if the PAL business class lounge has improved. It was very ordinary when I was last there – which was 2016 so a few years ago.
    Enjoy!

  14. Macalister Mansion isn’t as good as The Edison imo. When will you be in Penang? Would love to show you some of the eating places.

  15. I stayed at the Edison for a week and it belongs hands down one of my favorite hotels I have stayed at. You would love it. I love this place for its impeccable service, beautiful design and location, but mainly because it is so Penang-like and the perfect spot to get the vibes of Georgetown. E&O and Macallister Mansion never gave me the same vibes,

  16. PAL A350 business class is great, manila airport and there Mabuhay lounge though is truly horrible but at least the lounge gets you out of the terminal which is like a bus station with hardly any air con, enjoyed Penang when i was there in 2010 we stayed at the hard rock hotel which had direct access to a really nice beach.

  17. I recently flew PAL out of JFK and connected thru MNL without issue. I had 3 hour connection and that was more than adequate. They provide an airside bus transfer between terminals if you need it. The transfer was a bit clumsy but fine overall. I predict you will be happy with the cabin, food and service. Wolfgang menu Items were restaurant quality. Philippine options on point as well.

  18. When are you flying Starlux? I’ll be there on February 11th and staying at Macalister Mansion as well!

  19. Spectacular choices indeed – you will be able to experience both Starlux and Philippines airlines; the Pinoy cuisine of the Philippine Airlines Menu is always fun and, arguably, the most delicious meal choice on their aircrafts; PAL has a different vibe from Southeast Asia airlines. Happy and safe travels plus, wishing you a pleasant Christmas next week

  20. I agree with a few people above, download the Grab app, it’s lifesaving!

    In terms of hotels, I think there are 3 big chain brands – in addition to Macalister and Edition, there’s also a Hotel Jen Shangri La

  21. Tpe-mnl-yyz requires a terminal change in MNL. There is an airside shuttle bus from T2 to T1 for PAL passengers. I assume that you booked the morning flight out of TPE which in theory should leave you four hours to connect. When we took this flight earlier in the year out flight to MNL was late by two hours. We needed every second of that two hours to connect because the transfer process was truly abysmal. That said, I really enjoyed the A350.

    BTW, There is currently no Mabuhay lounge in T1 and you will have access to the PAGSS lounge instead which I understand is not great. We didn’t have time to look inside last time.

  22. @Rahul, there’s a Hilton representative in Penang as well in the form of a doubletree beach resort, though that’s pretty far out of the way from the city, nearer to where the Holiday Inn and Shangri-Las are.

  23. @CSP
    I have a 2h20m connection at MNL in January, arriving from LAX in T1 and transferring to T2 for SGN flight. I hope and assume the shuttle runs in both directions. Do you know if that is true?

  24. If you’re going at the end of January, that’s Chinese New Year, which means people are off work and that would be why so many fights are booked out of Taipei.

    If you’re brave and want to try some good food in Penang, go to Tek Sen. It’s not fancy, but very tasty. Be there early or expect to queue for an hour or more.

  25. The Edison is a fantastic hotel and the manager there is so great and personable. You must eat at Gen for dinner and try their tasting menu. I was there 3 weeks ago and loved it.

  26. Welcome to Penang!!! If you wana try the best hotel, you should consider the E& O hotel or Shanrila Rasa Sayang ……

    The 2 small hotel seem just normal for the room and services….

  27. As others have pointed out, the transfer situation in MNL is sketchy at best. I’ve taken advantage of the amazing TPE-YYZ J fares with PAL a handful of times and I can tell you that you arrive in T2 and have to transfer to T1. The very first time I did it, I went through transfer customs and the agent waved me forward … like out of the terminal. I then had to find a PAL shuttle going between T2 and T1 out in the drop-off area, get on, then ride to the drop-off area for T1 and go through security and customs AGAIN. It was a complete joke, but I learned on my second trip through that the agent in T2 maybe wasn’t on his “A-game” and had incorrectly waved me forward when they should have waved me to a side room where they corral transfer passengers (50-50 if the AC is working in that room btw) and move them directly to T1 without having to go through customs again. Oh the joys of NAIA (Manila Airport)!

    As far as the A350 flight, the soft product was amazing when they launched … but has taken a noticeable dip since. For food, I really recommend trying to stay with the Filipino options, as the western options are sub-par in my opinion (maybe breakfast is an exception). The crews are always friendly but load factor plays a huge role, IMO and it seems PAL crews are less equipped to deal with busy services. Nothing on the level of most NA carriers, though. You’ll have a great experience with the crew, I next to promise it. The hard product is fairly new on the A350 and still in good shape although I personally don’t like the automatic inflate seats … they allow you to customize your support under the seat using air pressure, but it never feels right, and often makes noise when you’re trying to sleep by auto adjusting your position.

    Anyway, enjoy the trip! (Super jealous of you travelling to Penang, my favourite place on earth!)

  28. Hey Ben, sounds like a great trip! Any plans in Boston, or just a positioning flight? If you have time in the city, curious what you’re thinking for hotel. You could also consider doing an event with readers and/or the travel scene here.

  29. Every year I travel between LHR and MNL once or twice and every year I find PAL too expensive and end up using SIA.

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