Review: Dan Lounge Tel Aviv Airport (TLV)

The Dan Lounge at TLV is accessible via Priority Pass (there are actually two of these lounges in different parts of the airport).

Entrance to the Dan Lounge

There aren’t very many airport lounges at TLV, which is why I think this lounge was so crowded when I visited. Tons of people, to the point where I had to wait a little bit to find a seat. It’s also not a huge lounge–it’s just a long rectangular room–given how many airlines it’s serving.

Busy lounge

The food options were not that extensive when I visited. There were a bunch of breads/pastries/cereals, there were a couple of cold foods like salads and yogurt, and that was about it. I had some oatmeal, which was about the only hot food I could find.

Food

Food

Food

Drinks

All in all, it might be marginally better than waiting in the terminal, but given how crowded the lounge was and the poor food options, this lounge isn’t really worth a visit.

Review: Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp Petra, Jordan

Over the summer, I took a short trip to Jordan from Israel. On this trip, I stayed at the Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp near Petra.

Entrance to the camp

Fire pit

The camp is pretty large. I was on a decently-sized tour (~30 people), so it’s not some boutique experience, even if you stay at this place yourself. That being said, it was pretty cool to stay out in the dessert, and the views were great.

Lots of tents

View

The tents are pretty basic. Just two beds with lots of blankets. I was there in July, so it was pretty warm and toasty most of the time. There is some electricity in the tents, but it cuts out pretty early in the evening, so you can’t charge things overnight. The tents also don’t have locks on them, except from the outside, so it’s actually possible to lock your companion into the tent. Make sure to bring ear plugs, as there’s very little noise insulation. That being said, because we were hiking in Petra all day, I slept pretty well.

Inside a tent

There are communal bathrooms with hot running water. You should probably bring flip flops/shower shoes of some sort. Also a flashlight/your phone to get to and from the bathroom at night. It is in the middle of the desert, so they have to get water delivered, so sometimes, there wasn’t any water. So you might want to wake up early to make sure you can use the bathroom before the water runs out if the camp is crowded!

Bathroom

Bathroom

Bathroom

We had breakfast and dinner at the camp. This was just buffet style food. The food was fine, but you’re not staying in the desert for the food.

Food

Food

The best part of the camp was the fire pit. A huge circular are with lots of pillows and blankets to chill after a day of hiking in Petra. There was tea and hookah available (and wifi! albeit slow wifi).

Nighttime

Would I stay here again? Sure, if someone else wanted to. It’s an interesting and kinda fun experience. It’s not really camping, and it’s not really a cultural experience, but it’s an easy, decently comfortable way to spend the night in the desert.

Review: Club Aspire Lounge London Heathrow (LHR) Terminal 3

On a recent trip to London, I had the chance to check out the Club Aspire lounge at LHR Terminal 3. This lounge is relatively new and accessible via Priority Pass (in Terminal 3, you can also visit the No1 lounge using Priority Pass).

Entrance to the Club Aspire Lounge

The lounge isn’t huge, but it’s got a variety of seating options. There are communal tables to work, smaller tables if you just want to sit with a traveling companion, and recliners if you want some rest.

Seating

Seating

Loungers

The food selection in this lounge isn’t extensive, but the food that was there seemed to be of decent quality as far as lounge food goes.

Hot food options

Cold food options

Snacks

All in all, I would probably choose the No1 Lounge above the Club Aspire lounge if you’re just looking for a Priority Pass accessible lounge (but I’d say that Cathay Pacific lounge is still my favorite lounge in Terminal 3 that I’ve visited so far).

Review: Cathay Pacific Business Class HKG to SFO

Although I’d flown Cathay Pacific long-haul multiple times, this was actually my first time flying them long-haul in business class.

My initial impressions of the cabin were not great. The cabin did not seem to be adequately cleaned before the flight, and some things seemed to be falling apart. Part of the armrest was coming off (and you could see wood underneath), there was a napkin left at my seat, there were stains, etc. It seemed like the plane needed a little love.

Business class seat

Business class mini cabin

Foot space and IFE screen

Controls and storage

Tape fixes all

I was seated in the mini-cabin right behind first class. This is just two rows of business class, so it feels pretty intimate and private. The bulkhead also has additional foot space since it’s the bulkhead. There was a pillow, blanket, and headphones already at the seat, and the flight attendants came around offering pre-departure beverages.

View into first class

In spite of my quibbles about the cleanliness of the cabin, it’s still an awesome hard product. There’s space to put things under the ottoman, there’s a shoe compartment, storage on the side, counter space, etc. The seat goes lie flat and has good privacy, and it feels plenty wide.

Business class bathroom amenities

This flight was catered as supper, snack on demand, and then breakfast prior to arrival. I’m not sure why they serve breakfast prior to arrival as the flight lands at 8pm. While the more typical lunch and dinner menus often have one vegetarian option, there was very little vegetarian food on this menu, so make sure to order a special meal if you’re a vegetarian on a supper flight.

Menu

Menu

Menu

Menu

Business class amenity kit

For my supper meal, I had pre-ordered a Jain vegetarian meal. The VJML supper consisted of a cold, spicy chickpea salad, fruit, rice, lentils, okra, and green beans. Pretty decent for a special meal.

VJML supper

After supper, I slept for about five hours. The seat was super comfortable, and the blanket was large and not too hot.

Breakfast was served prior to arrival. I started out with fruit and bread. One thing I noticed was that the VJML fruit plate was different from the fruit plates that other people were getting–not entirely sure why since fruit is obviously vegan.

Fruit plate

After fruit and bread, people were offered cereals and yogurt.

Granola

For my VJML entree, it was a main of Indian breakfast items. I honestly can’t believe it was meant to be served as I received it, since there was very, very little curry in the container. It looked like the curry had spilled out of the container, but there was nothing to replace it, so it was mostly just white carbs.

VJML breakfast

Overall, I was a little bit disappointed by this flight. While Cathay Pacific has a great hard product and can sometimes have amazing service, the service on this flight wasn’t very good. The service felt cold, I wasn’t welcomed on board, I was never addressed by name, etc. Heck, I’ve been addressed by name flying economy class on Qatar (and on Cathay for that matter).

Review: Year of the Durian’s Malaysia Durian Appreciation Tour

I love durian. It is probably my favorite food in the world. And so when I heard that there would be a Year of the Durian tour around New Years in Malaysia and I didn’t have any other travel plans, I jumped at the opportunity.

If you’re a durian fan, you may have encountered Lindsay’s blog Year of the Durian. It is, as far as I know, the number one English-language resource for durian out there. It started as a project where Lindsay went on a year-long trip following the durian season around Southeast Asia. More recently, Lindsay has started organizing and leading durian tours of Thailand and Malaysia, in addition to organizing a durian festival at the Bao Sheng durian farm.

Now, durian season in Malaysia is typically during the summer, but because of the strange weather this season, there was a pretty sizable second durian season around New Years. And so Lindsay organized a New Years durian tour of Malaysia.

The tour lasted 9 days, started in Penang, and ended in Kuala Lumpur. Here’s the outline of a typical day:

  • Light breakfast (usually lots of fruit like mango, rambutan, soursop, melon, etc. and something savory)
  • Drive to a durian farm and learn about durian (e.g., about a particular variety such as Blackthorn or Musang King; about strategies for selecting fresh durian)
  • Feast on durian for lunch (there were always non-durian foods available for lunch, but I mostly ate durian for lunch)
  • Drive to some sort of fun activity (e.g., hiking, rafting, visiting elephants)
  • Eat a delicious dinner (if you have any room for more food)
  • Feast on more durian after dinner

In other words, the tour was absolute heaven for a durian lover like me.

A selection of durian from the very first durian tasting of the tour–one of my favorite varieties of durian from the entire tour was D2, which is pictured in the bottom left

Typical fruit selection at breakfast (that’s a cempedak, not a durian)

Feeding elephants durian

Enjoying a waterfall swim

In terms of the durian, we tasted over 30 varieties of durian over the course of 9 days. If you’re not familiar with durian, you can think of the different varieties like you might think of different varieties of apples (e.g., Granny Smith, Pink Lady, Fuji) or wine. And it really was all-you-can-eat durian at every meal. The non-durian food was awesome as well–easily the best food I’ve ever had on any sort of organized trip. As Lindsay said during the tour, the tour is largely about managing your appetite, since there’s so much good food and durian available.

Besides the durian, the best part of the trip was the other people. Because we were essentially driving around Malaysia in a van, we spent a lot of time together. And the sorts of people who love durian enough to come on a durian tour are pretty awesome. Lindsay was also an incredible source of information–she knows so much about durian, and she knew exactly where to take us for the best durian (e.g., durian can be very finnicky, so two farms right next to each other can have vastly different yields or quality of durian).

All in all, this was an incredible trip. Lindsay said that she’s planning on expanding and doing tours of Borneo and Indonesia in the coming years, and I definitely want to go on more of these tours. If you love durian, you should definitely consider going on one of these tours! Make sure to sign up for the Year of the Durian mailing list so you can get the inside scoop on when tours are upcoming, as they can fill up fast!

Review: Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Boeing 777 DPS to HKG

Boarding for this flight was a bit of a mess. The stated boarding time for the flight was 3:25pm, but they didn’t start boarding until around 3:45pm, and there were no announcements about anything being delayed. In addition, the terminal at DPS isn’t super well air conditioned at some of the gates, so some of the passengers were getting pretty testy…

Because of the late boarding, the business class cabin was mobbed quickly. It’s a 2-3-2 configuration for regional business class on this Boeing 777. The seats are perfectly comfortable, but for a flight that can approach 5 hours, it’d be nice to have something lie flat for sleeping.

Business class cabin

Business class seats

IFE screen and foot area

Seat controls and storage

There were pillows and headphones at the seat, and then they came around offering blankets, pre-departure beverages, and hot towels. I’m not really sure who wants hot towels leaving Bali, so I asked for a cold towel, and they offered me a not-hot (but not cold) towel a few minutes later.

The IFE screen for these seats is a little small and blurry. There’s a USB port and electrical outlet for charging devices. There’s limited storage at these seats: there’s not really any underseat storage, but there is a small slim pocket in the center between seats.

Menu

Menu

Menu

After takeoff, they offered drinks and mixed nuts to start. Then came the meal service. For my Jain vegetarian special meal, the starter was some sort of cold bean puree with black eyed peas on top. It reminded me a little bit of hummus, and was a large step up from plain cold vegetables that are usually served as vegetarian special meal appetizers.

VJML appetizer

For my main, I had chickpea curry, rice, spinach, peas, and cabbage. This was pretty delicious.

VJML entree

Finally, I had a fruit plate to finish off the meal.

Fruit plate

Overall, this was a pretty good VJML. The service was not particularly personable, but it was very efficient. There were Jurlique products in the bathroom, but no amenities were offered.

Cashback Dominates Miles for Most People

Whenever people find out about my involvement in this “hobby”, one of the first questions that comes up is, “what credit card should I get?”, or some variant of that.

And really, my advice to almost everyone is that they should just focus on cashback credit cards. 2% cashback is probably a better value for 95%+ of people I talk to than trying to accumulate miles. (Of course, the best strategy is to apply for lots of credit cards and get the sign-up bonuses and then close the cards after a year so you don’t have to pay the annual fee, but many people are unwilling to apply for lots of credit cards.)

Reasons why cashback dominates miles for most people:

  1. Cash can be used to purchase any flight that’s available. Miles are subject to the whims of award availability. While this might not be a problem for those of us with extremely flexible travel schedules (and/or those of us willing to fly circuitous routings), many people are beholden to strict vacation schedules. It honestly is not that feasible to rely on miles to travel to popular destinations during popular travel periods (e.g., summer, New Years), particularly if you have specific destinations in mind or specific dates you must fly on.
  2. Similar to #1, but it’s significantly harder to fly on miles if you’re looking for more than one ticket.
  3. Redeeming miles can be extremely complicated, particularly if you want to get lots of value out of your miles. Unless you are willing to invest a lot of time in terms of understanding how different programs work, what routes are likely to have availability, the best times to book, etc., (or you are willing to pay someone else to do this for you) you will likely be frustrated when trying to redeem your miles.
  4. Miles can be devalued at any point in time. Cash does devalue, but not nearly in the same way. You can start saving miles two years in advance for your honeymoon, but then a program announces a devaluation, and then you realize you need twice as many miles as you thought you did.
  5. Airfares are increasingly affordable, even in business class. It is increasingly common to see things like sub-$600 airfare to Asia and sub-$500 airfare to Europe. At these cash prices, it is very hard to justify using miles for economy class.

This calculation changes if you’re looking to fly business class or first class, as using miles makes these much more attainable than paying cash, but with the devaluations that we’ve seen in the main US frequent flyer programs, this is becoming harder to take advantage of unless you are a business traveler who earns tons of miles or are willing to manufacture lots of miles.

Of course, I will continue to accumulate and redeem miles, but I have an extremely flexible schedule, usually don’t have specific places I need/want to go, am usually only booking for one person, and have already invested a lot of time in terms of gaining the knowledge needed to redeem miles. But there are very, very few people I encounter in real life who I think would get more value out of accumulating miles instead of 2% cashback, particularly when you take into consideration all of the time and effort needed to learn enough to earn and redeem miles effectively.

Review: Plaza Premium Lounge KUL

The Plaza Premium Lounge at Kuala International Airport opened up relatively recently, but it’s a pretty standard Plaza Premium Lounge in Asia (that is to say, pretty solid for an international lounge that you can access via Priority Pass).

Entrance to the lounge

There’s plenty of seating in the lounge, although the lounge was decently busy when I visited. There could definitely be more power outlets, as a number of the seating options don’t have anywhere to plug into. The showers were also out of service when I visited.

Seating

Seating

Bar

In terms of food, there was a decent selection. Some of the options were super Asian (e.g., Hainanese chicken rice, sweetened barley soup, kuih), which I appreciated. The kuih (a general term for Malaysian/Singaporean bite-sized desserts that are often made with glutinous rice flour and are often vegan) were located at the bar, and you couldn’t serve yourself–you had to ask the bartender to get you some. Maybe that’s to prevent people like me from bingeing on them.

Drinks

Drinks

Condiments for chicken rice

Fried noodles and vegetables

Made-to-order noodles

Salad

Soups and porridge

Kuih

Overall, this is a solid lounge offering, especially since it’s accessible via Priority Pass. I imagine the renovated Malaysia Airlines lounges will be nicer once they reopen, but this is a decent alternative in the international area in the interim.

Review: Malaysia Airlines Business Class A330-300 KUL to DPS

At KUL, departing and arriving passengers are mixed together, and there’s security at each gate. For this flight, there was only metal detector going for an entire A330, so we were actually delayed because people were still trying to get through security instead of boarding.

The flight was originally scheduled to be a 737, but there was an aircraft swap, which meant fully flat seats on this relatively short flight to DPS. I sat in 1A this time, which is a single seat closer to the aisle. The foot cutout in the bulkhead is enormous compared to the throne seats, so even though the seat feels a little exposed to the aisle and doesn’t have as much counter space, I think I would prefer 1A to any of the throne seats in the future.

Foot space for 1A

Seat controls and storage compartment

Storage compartment

View across cabin

A pre-departure beverage of juice or water was offered, and they distributed cold towels and newspapers. The IFE selection was the same as on my longer flight from PEK, but the headphones were much worse quality on this flight.

Menu

Menu

Menu

Menu

Menu

The flight was pretty turbulent after takeoff. I was actually a little worried about the flight attendants because they were trying to serve people drinks at the time, and my drink at my seat spilled a bunch. But eventually, the turbulence stopped and they were able to do a meal service. For this flight, the Asian vegetarian meal was a lentil curry with carbs in two forms. It was definitely better than the Asian vegetarian meal I had on the previous sector.

Asian vegetarian meal

Overall, it was a nice little treat to get to fly on an A330-300 on this flight to Bali instead of a Boeing 737-800, and the food was better on this flight than on the flight from PEK to KUL.

Review: Malaysia Airlines Regional Golden Lounge KUL – Renovated

Malaysia Airlines is currently renovating their main lounges in KUL, and on a recent trip, I had the chance to stop by one of these renovated lounges, namely the Regional Golden Lounge. If you’re departing from KUL and want to stop by this flight, go to the left right after you pass security. There’s an escalator with a sign to the lounge (don’t get on the train yet if you have an international flight).

Escalator up to lounge

Lounge signage

My first impressions of the lounge were very positive. The old Malaysia Airlines lounges in international terminal were large, but they just felt tired and old. This lounge was bright and vibrant in comparison. It was a tad crowded given that this is the main lounge that people are using, but I could still find a seat, and there were lots of servers around to help clean plates and offer drinks.

The lounge is pretty large and spacious. There are seats by the huge windows, counter seating, tables, gender-segregated nap rooms, showers, and a family area.

Seating

Bar

Seating

Seating

Dining area

In terms of drinks, there’s a coffee bar with a barista, an alcohol bar with a bartender, and your typical array of non-alcoholic beverages. People were also proactively going around and asking if people needed drinks.

Drinks

The food options were also pretty good. The buffet had a number of hot and cold food options, and there were also some made-to-order food options with a noodle bar and sandwich bar (the sandwich bar is easy to miss–it’s essentially at the coffee bar).

Food

Condiments

Food

Food

Food

Desserts and sandwiches

Salads

Fruit

Noodle bar menu

Sandwich bar menu

Coffee bar

Overall, I was pretty impressed with the lounge. It’s a huge step up from previous Malaysia Airlines lounges at KUL (although the domestic lounge is also pretty good for a domestic lounge), and I’m excited to see the main lounge reopen.