Trip Report: 20,000+ Kilometers in Three Days
I love summer, as it usually means a huge amount of flying. I’ve been visiting the UK numerous times for university summer camps, etc. as I’d like to study there in a couple of years. My parents also like to travel during summer, and they love Europe, so my favourite part is always in between, where I get to fly from Europe to Asia back to Europe in a matter of days. Last year I flew from London to Zurich via Hong Kong, which I particularly enjoyed.
I had two subsequent tasks to do:
- find a cheap direct fare for myself in economy or premium economy to London on specific dates for my summer camp
- find a fare that could be marginally more expensive and preferably in business class for my whole family to fly to London
London, United Kingdom
Booking The Flights
In early 2017 I had (too impulsively) paid the deposit for a return to Oxford Royale Academy, which I had enjoyed last year. After that I spotted Imperial’s Global Summer School programme, which seemed to be tailored more towards engineering students like me. This required an application involving a personal statement, and we had to await the university’s decision after that. The plan was that should I be rejected from Imperial’s summer school programme, at least I could return to Oxford for another year. The main issue was that the two programmes had slightly different dates, so I couldn’t confirm my tickets just yet.
The university’s decision came out in late February, which gave us a touch over four months to confirm our tickets. This was after Etihad’s HK$16,500 business class promotional fare to London had ended, so I couldn’t take advantage of that.
I had originally wanted to fly British Airways to London in premium economy for HK$14,000, but the prices shot up to HK$21,000 on the day we tried to book. I had a backup option in Virgin Atlantic premium economy for HK$13,000, though the price had gone up to HK$18,000 in the meantime. As a reward for my acceptance, my mother allowed me to choose between a Cathay Pacific mixed cabin (economy and premium economy) fare for HK$17,000 and Virgin Atlantic’s premium economy. At that time I decided that I might as well try to make my way into the Clubhouse under my own buck (I couldn’t last time as I was a year under the minimum age), so I picked Virgin Atlantic.
In hindsight trying Cathay Pacific’s mixed cabin fare would’ve let me compare Virgin Atlantic and Cathay Pacific’s economy products as well (so next year I could just pick up a British Airways mixed cabin fare for my next travel goal), so I doubt I made the best decision, as I’ve reviewed Virgin Atlantic’s premium economy last year. That said, at least I had two great flights on Virgin Atlantic.
Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 Premium Economy
The two flights set my parents back ~HK$18,000, under the following itinerary:
02/07 Virgin Atlantic 207 Hong Kong to London Heathrow dep 23:55 arr 05:30
15/07 Virgin Atlantic 206 London Heathrow to Hong Kong dep 21:55 arr 17:05
I managed to access Virgin Atlantic’s amazing Clubhouse at London Heathrow for £60 (~HK$614), so I’ll be reviewing that extensively as well.
Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse London Heathrow
Originally my parents wanted to go to Italy, and Qatar Airways was doing their Travel Festival sale in January 2017, so I found cheap fares to Pisa, Venice, etc.. However, my parents had their doubts, as Italy is sweltering hot during the summer.
I’ve always wanted to go to Berchtesgaden – one of my favourite travel bloggers considers it one of his four favourite places on earth. At this point I decided to introduce Berchtesgaden to my parents, and they were hooked within minutes of seeing the pictures I had sent them.
Konigsee, Berchtesgaden, Germany
Go figure that Qatar Airways was offering even cheaper fares to Munich, and I would be able to try their 787 and their A350. I’ve always been very intrigued by the airline, so I introduced Qatar Airways to my family, who decided to pull the trigger.
Qatar Airways Boeing 787-8 Business Class
We booked three tickets at ~HK$19,000. There were only three promotional tickets available, so my mother got her ticket at a marginally more expensive ~HK$22,000. We booked the following itinerary:
19/07 Qatar Airways 815 Hong Kong to Doha dep 01:00 arr 04:30
19/07 Qatar Airways 57 Doha to Munich dep 07:20 arr 12:30
27/07 Qatar Airways 58 Munich to Doha dep 16:55 arr 23:40
28/07 Qatar Airways 818 Doha to Hong Kong dep 02:50 arr 16:15
Similar tickets for February 2018 on the same route are retailing for HK$27,000, so I’d consider what we got a pretty good deal.
In February 2017 Qatar Airways announced that they were leasing A350s from LATAM, which would be replacing their mainline A350s on some European routes. The Doha to Munich route was affected, which meant that we would be flying LATAM’s A350s instead. Objectively that’s an inferior product, but I didn’t mind trying a new hard product…
Qatar Airways/LATAM Airbus A350-900 Business Class
Overall I flew 40,507 km throughout the past month, 20,250 km of which was flown within the course of three days. I consider that to be pretty impressive, and again, I have no one but my parents to thank for this opportunity. Fortunately all six flights were great – I’m not sure if I would’ve enjoyed all my flying this much were I seated in economy.
Booking The Hotels
At Imperial College, we were given dorms at Princes’ Gardens. I’m not reviewing these dorms as dormitories – during summer Imperial College rents these dormitories out as bed and breakfast rooms, so I thought it would be fun to cover them from that perspective.
Falmouth Hall Exterior, Prince’s Gardens, Imperial College London
We handed our hotel bookings in Germany, as well as our itinerary, over to Bucher Travel services, a European travel agency we had acquainted with last year during our time in Switzerland. This means that I’m not clear about the individual prices of the rooms, as Bucher Travel Services added up the entire cost of the trip, compiled an itinerary, and sent it to my father for the green light. However, I was more active in the planning process this year, which means that I have a general idea of what each room cost.
The agency created an itinerary that would require:
- 2 nights in Lindau/Lake Constance
- 3 nights in Berchtesgaden
- 3 nights in Munich
In Berchtesgaden, the choice was easy – we booked the Kempinski Berchtesgaden for three nights. Originally we wanted to book two rooms, though a panorama suite was marginally cheaper at that point. A panorama suite at the Kempinski in February is going for 612 EUR (HK$5,600) per night, which is, I believe, close to the rate that we received. All I know is that a panorama suite was 270 EUR per night cheaper than two standard rooms.
In Lindau, we were recommended the Bayerischer Hof hotel, where the rates vary. We were only able to get two rooms, which currently seem to retail for around 500-600 EUR a night (HK$4600-HK$5500), which seems steep, especially considering what we got.
Hotel Bayerischer Hof Lindau Double Room
In Munich we picked the Mandarin Oriental Munich, which seemed close to the city center and infinitely better than most of the other options around the area. We had two Deluxe rooms, which retailed for EUR 650 (~HK$6,000) a night. That’s very steep, though other options in Munich were also pricey by the time we booked.
Mandarin Oriental Munich Deluxe King
Again, the prices above are speculated based on existing fares and could be vastly different from what we booked. However, I believe that most of the prices I listed above are at least partially indicative of the quality of the property.
This review will cover airlines, airport lounges, and hotels, so I’ll share my thoughts of the separate places I visited in separate installments (I’ve already done so with visiting London). Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed all my travels this month, and will look back towards them for quite a while. I’m mainly happy to be reviewing Qatar Airways’ business class product, which I believe is probably one of the best business class products out there.