The Young Travelers’ “Best” and “Worst” Travel of 2017

Happy new year! 2017 has drawn to a close, and as is tradition at Young Travelers of Hong Kong, it’s time to reward some superlatives for this year’s flights. Jason and I have flown a lot over the past year, and I’ve tried some great cabin products. Unfortunately as my IB exams near, things are going to be a little less busy travel-wise on my front in 2018, but Jason has some juicy travel plans that he’ll be sure to share with us.

Anyway, we’re grateful to have had such amazing travel experiences in 2017, and we have our parents to thank for giving us such amazing travel experiences. I’ve said this over and over again, but my travel goal in life is to be able to afford the same experience for my parents as they have given me for pennies on the dollar, due to the amazing world of miles and points. Anyway, less gushing, and onto the best and worst flights that Jason and I have had in 2017.

All reviewed flights from Jason, myself, and Mallesh were considered. We had a lot of fun looking back on our travels over the year, and we’re very excited to share this year’s list of winners!

Best Overall Flight of 2017 – Swiss 777 Business Class Hong Kong to Zurich

The best overall flight of 2017 was my flight from Hong Kong to Zurich in Swiss business class in January. While the hard product isn’t the best, I was able to select a throne seat (this is before they started charging for them), which afforded a lot of personal space. I was blown away by the incredible crewmembers serving my aisle, who were incredibly attentive, friendly, and always eager to help.

img_4894Swiss Boeing 777 Business Class Seat

I think the seal-in for this flight to take the “best of 2017” spot was the inflight meal that I received, which was a perfectly cooked, tender and juicy chicken breast. It was served with flavourful morel mushrooms and fragrant spaetzle, and was the most impressive (albeit not the very best…stay tuned!) inflight meal that I’ve had this year.

img_4972Swiss Boeing 777 Business Class Meal

It’s worth noting that I’ve reviewed Swiss 777 business class multiple times before, and the two other times were just fine. Furthermore, I’ve read several reviews that suggest that this flight was more of a fluke than the norm. However, I’m awarding the “best flight of 2017” award to a single flight, and this Swiss flight was, by a substantial margin, the best flight I’ve had this year.

Honorable Mention: Cathay Dragon First Class

Mallesh’s experience in Cathay Dragon first class was flawless, with impeccable service and food, and a decent hard product for a three-hour flight on a regional airline. Since he flew in first class I questioned if it was fair to judge Cathay Dragon on the same playing field, though it was undoubtedly the best flight he’d had so far, and ranks up as one of the Young Travelers’ top experiences this year.

IMG_0062Cathay Dragon Airbus A330-300 First Class

Worst Overall Flight of 2017 – China Southern A320 Economy Class Shenzhen to Kunming to Lijiang

I feel bad giving this flight the “worst of the year” title, as the crew were seriously well-intentioned. However, the asinine policies of Chinese aviation (including their power bank policies, which resulted in the confiscation of my portable charger, the prohibition of mobile phone use inflight and having to keep windows open on the entire flight from Kunming to Lijiang) and the subpar inflight meals bound this flight to the rock bottom spot. That said, I wouldn’t hesitate to fly China Southern if it was the most straightforward option – I just can’t remember taking a worse flight this year.

China Southern Airbus A320 Economy Class

China Southern Airbus A320 Economy Class Meal

Best Business Class Airplane Food of 2017 – Qatar Airways 787 Business Class Hong Kong to Doha

While I gushed about how impressive Swiss’ meal was just now, the best meal of the year was executed perfectly on all counts. The cannelloni on my Qatar Airways business class flight was perfectly seasoned, perfectly stuffed, came with two amazing sauces that complemented each other nicely (one was basic and one was acidic, so they complemented each other amazingly), and the sides were perfectly executed and seasoned as well. It was hands down the best flight of the year, and I finished the entire dish despite being awake at 3 AM local time with a fever and a sore throat.

Qatar Airways Boeing 787-8 Business Class Meal – Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni with Tomato Sauce

Best Premium Economy/Economy Class Airplane Food of 2017 – Singapore Airlines A380 Premium Economy Hong Kong to Singapore

Singapore Airlines runs a “Book the Cook” service for all premium cabin passengers, where you can pre-order your meal from a wider range of options than you’d otherwise get onboard. I ordered the fish with garlic butter on my flight from Hong Kong to Singapore, and the fish was high quality and very flavourful, which I wasn’t expecting. While the side dishes were bland, I very much enjoyed the quality of my fish dish (I couldn’t tell if it was a halibut or a sea bass dish due to my inexperience) and am happy to name it the best premium economy dish I’ve had this year.

Singapore Airlines Airbus A380 Premium Economy Meal – Fish with Garlic Butter

I don’t think the fish was the real showstopper – rather, it was the side salad, consisting of chicken and quinoa. The lemon-y vinaigrette was perfect for tying the dish together and making it lighter, perfectly contrasting the rich garlic butter fish main course that I had.

Singapore Airlines Airbus A380 Premium Economy Meal – Quinoa and Chicken Salad

Worst Business Class Airplane Food of 2017 – Lufthansa A380 Business Class Frankfurt to Hong Kong

Lufthansa isn’t known for the world’s best catering, but up until that point everything I’d heard about Lufthansa business class food had been decent. Bleurgh. Both the appetiser and the main course were pretty bad – the appetiser consisted of some sad shrimp and tomato jelly on a bed of cold mashed potatoes, and the disjointed main course dish was just terrible, where an overpowering herb and curry crust covered an overcooked, almost powdery grouper.

img_5551Lufthansa Airbus A380-800 Business Class Appetiser – Prawns with Sea Beans, Potato Salad and Tomato Jelly

Not only that, but the meals on this Lufthansa flight also gifted me with food poisoning for almost an entire week after, so it certainly was a meal to be remembered for all the wrong reasons. I’ve had sour dimsum and anemic dry chicken before, but this was singlehandedly the worst inflight meal I’ve reviewed (or had, for that matter) in the history of this blog.

img_5553Lufthansa Airbus A380-800 Business Class Main Course – Herb and Curry Crusted Grouper, Snow Peas, Tomato Fennel Salsa and Long Grain Rice

Honorable Mention: Qatar Airways A350 Business Class Munich to Doha

Qatar Airways was off the hook this year as they also underwhelmed with our meals all the way from Munich to Hong Kong. While there were good flavours, all in all they didn’t do a great job with this particular dish from Munich to Doha – they had the same issues with chicken as Cathay Pacific and Korean Air in the past years (overly stringy and tough as anything), and the rest of the dish wasn’t anything special either. The other choice was lamb, which was also overcooked and tough, so Qatar Airways underwhelmed catering-wise on this flight. While my beef on our flight from Doha to Hong Kong was overcooked as well, it wasn’t quite as bad as the dish that I’d had here.

Qatar Airways Airbus A350-900 Leased Business Class Dinner Main Course – Arabic Spiced Chicken Breast with Cinnamon Sauce

Qatar Airways Airbus A350-900 Leased Business Class Dinner Chicken

Worst Premium Economy/Economy Class Airplane Food of 2017 – Cathay Pacific 777 Economy Class Newark to Hong Kong

Jason wasn’t very happy this year with a revolting inflight meal consisting of rubbery frittata, soggy hash browns, and a tomato side that “looked like it had been shot and dragged over an assortment of rough terrain”, as well as bacon that “was oiler than the whole of Saudi Arabia”. I think the quality of that dish speaks for itself. While not quite to the level of the Lufthansa meal detailed above, I mistook the hash brown for the frittata when I first saw the dish from Jason’s photos, which should speak volumes for how soggy the dish was. It was revolting, and took the spot for this year’s worst economy class meal.

Cathay Pacific Boeing 777-300ER Economy Class Breakfast

In contrast, he loved the dinner service on the same flight, which he crowned his best inflight meal of 2017 (though a notch below Singapore Airlines’ garlic butter fish dish explained above).

Best Inflight Service of 2017 – Singapore Airlines A380 Premium Economy Hong Kong to Singapore

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some great people on flights this year (a shoutout to Simon on a Lufthansa flight from Geneva to Frankfurt, whose passion and ingenuity brought his flight to a very close second in this category), though I have to thank the crew at Singapore Airlines on my flight from Hong Kong to Singapore for not only letting me photograph the Suites and business class cabins, but also offering to give me a guided tour after the flight ended. In addition to that, I appreciated that they were constantly on top of their game, and handling the pace of service seemed second nature to them (apart from the fact that my meal was collected an hour after it was served on a four-hour flight, though that’s a management issue and not specific to this crew).

Without the help of the amazing crew I wouldn’t have gotten these photos of Singapore Airlines’ A380 Suites Class

Worst Inflight Service of 2017 – China Southern A320 Economy Class Shenzhen to Kunming to Lijiang

Honestly I don’t think it’s so fair to blame the crew on this flight. However, as explained above, China’s asinine aviation policies shackled what the flight attendants had to work with; and the fact that the crew could barely get their act together when I had to locate those who had “ordered special meals” (they hadn’t in the first place, though apparently that wasn’t the fault of the airline) put this flight at the bottom of the service column this year, despite not being that bad (the winner of last year’s category easily beats out this flight in terms of how bad inflight service was).

Cruising Kunming to Lijiang

Best Business Class Hard Product of 2017 – Qatar Airways 787 Business Class Hong Kong to Doha/Doha to Hong Kong

Qatar Airways’ 787 business class lacks privacy, which their new QSuites product fixes (I hope to try that soon). However, the seat is so versatile and customisable that I’d gladly name it the best business class product I’ve sat in this year. It’s great to have direct aisle access, and the seat was great for sleeping – not only was it well-padded, but the seat was also adjustable.

Qatar Airways Boeing 787-8 Business Class 

I’ve said that the seat isn’t as good as Cathay Pacific’s A350 business class, though we haven’t reviewed that this year.

Best Economy Class Hard Product of 2017 – Cathay Pacific 777 Economy Class Newark to Hong Kong/Hong Kong to Jakarta

It’s no secret that Cathay Pacific offers the Young Travelers’ favourite economy class hard product out there. Unfortunately the title will be short-lived as Cathay Pacific switches to a much narrower 3-4-3 economy class product in the future, so we’re sad to see these seats go. They’re well-padded, have sufficient recline, and are great on the storage front as far as economy seats go…well, they have to cut their losses, I guess.

IMG_0186Cathay Pacific Boeing 777 Economy Class

Worst Business Class Hard Product of 2017 – Thai Airways A330 Business Class Hong Kong to Bangkok

I’m not really offended by an angled-flat seat especially since this was only a two-hour flight. However, what’s up with the grainy screen and lack of USB ports on a six-year old aircraft? Thai Airways deserves this spot not for having non-competitive seat “bones”, but rather just because their aircraft are poorly maintained, and I couldn’t help but feel depressed every time my eyes shifted from the new Airbus passenger service units to the worn seat finishes. (Apparently Cathay Pacific’s A350s have the same issue, but once again, I haven’t experienced this problem firsthand.)

Thai Airways Airbus A330 Business Class Cabin

Thai Airways Airbus A330 Business Class Screen

Worst Economy Class Hard Product of 2017 – Cebu Pacific A330 Economy Class Manila to Hong Kong

Cebu Pacific impressed me on many counts, from their buy-on-board menu to their fun service including a quirky, original trivia session. However, I’d be a little too nice to them if I didn’t point out that 3-3-3, 16.5-inch wide economy seats with no power and minimal recline deserve to be crowned the worst economy product we’ve had so far at Young Travelers of Hong Kong. We were only there for two hours and the seat wasn’t as bad as I thought, but imagine being stuck as one of 436 passengers on a 10-hour flight in here? Ouch!

Cebu Pacific Airbus A330 Economy Class Cabin

Most Interesting Flight of 2017 – Cebu Pacific A320 Economy Class Hong Kong to Manila

While objectively probably not the most interesting flight in existence, I really enjoyed my first ever flight on a low-cost airline flying Cebu Pacific, and was very intrigued as to how their operations worked. This was my first flight on Cebu Pacific and I came in with really low expectations, so was surprised that they were able to hold up a solid brand image despite being as no-frills as they were. They had such a bright, sunny vibe, which I loved. Service was also pretty flawless on the flight, and I wouldn’t hesitate to fly Cebu Pacific again, and would even, possibly, choose it over Cathay Pacific economy class if I was with friends and flying on a short flight (which I wasn’t expecting). Oh, and on the outbound I didn’t have to deal with Cebu Pacific’s tight A330 economy seats, instead being seated in their much more comfortable A320 which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Cebu Pacific Airbus A320 Economy Class Ads

Best Hotel Stay of 2017 – Park Hyatt Bangkok

The Park Hyatt Bangkok was my most anticipated hotel stay this year, and I was really glad to have the opportunity to stay there in its opening year. It’s the first Park Hyatt I’ve ever stayed at, and while it wasn’t quite flawless, I’d still gladly call it the best hotel I’ve stayed at in 2017. The rooms are gorgeous beyond belief, service is incredibly well-intentioned if not ever so slightly spotty on the management front, and I love how the hotel manages to incorporate a sense of place while being luxuriously modern.

Park Hyatt Bangkok Deluxe Corner King Room

Worst Hotel Stay of 2017 – Hotel Bayerischer Hof Lindau

At the end of the day the Hotel Bayerischer Hof Lindau delivered more than I expected. However, with all the amazing hotels that we’ve reviewed this year, this one simply had a crappier design scheme, less appealing food, a dirty pool and a lackluster fitness center. At the end of the day it was still a decent hotel for a weekend getaway, though considering the price we paid we would avoid staying here again.

Hotel Bayerischer Hof Lindau Comfort Room

Best Hotel Food of 2017 – Hotel Kempinski Berchtesgaden

Berchtesgaden was beautiful, and I especially liked the Hotel Kempinski, which was stylish, not overpriced, and much more functional than I’d expect for a luxury hotel operating a monopoly in pretty much the middle of nowhere. However, breakfast and dinner at Restaurant Johann Grill were insane. The flavours were amazing, it was hard to believe how fresh everything was, and despite being mostly influenced by other cuisines, the menu had a sense of place.

Hotel Kempinski Berchtesgaden Restaurant Johann Grill Breakfast Spread

While the quality of the eggs benedict was inconsistent (one was truly amazing, one was fine, one was undercooked and one was too vinegar-y), I loved the flavours in their Berchtesgaden version of the eggs benedict, and also liked that there was made-to-order coffee served by a barista.

Hotel Kempinski Berchtesgaden Restaurant Johann Grill Breakfast Berchtesgaden Eggs Benedict

Seriously, how stunning are these dinner dishes? Pictured below was a very flavourful guinea fowl breast dish.

Hotel Kempinski Berchtesgaden Restaurant Johann Grill Dinner Guinea Fowl Breast

Most Interesting Hotel Stay of 2017 – Atria Hotel Gading Serpong Jakarta

I decided to list my stay at the Atria Hotel as the most interesting hotel of the year mostly because I couldn’t believe how good the experience was. For ~HK$600 a night (actually, they charge 50% off if you book over 30 days in advance, so realistically our booking price was more like HK$300/night per room), we were given a welcome drink…

Atria Hotel Gading Serpong Jakarta Reception

…the rooms were clean, and the WiFi worked (even though it wasn’t great)…

Atria Hotel Gading Serpong Jakarta Superior Twin Room

…and there was a pretty great Indonesian breakfast spread, which as part of a conference I didn’t get to try out, but it seriously looked pretty damn good. On top of that, I was warmly invited to take pictures – the warmth extended to all staff interactions I had at the hotel.

Atria Hotel Gading Serpong Jakarta Breakfast Spread

I found it interesting that (despite being in Jakarta, which isn’t a really high-yield hotel market I guess) we were getting such a great quality experience for the price we paid when staying with a non-hotel chain affiliated property, which shows the prestige that chain hotels are given these days.

Best Airline Lounge of 2017 – Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse London Heathrow Airport

The best airline lounge I’ve been to this year was the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at London Heathrow, which I paid access to for £60 prior to a flight back home in Virgin Atlantic premium economy. The lounge is a winner on all counts. First of all, the lounge itself is stunning, and features an abundance of seating in many different configurations, a sit-down dining area, a ton of work and relax areas, showers that double as steam rooms, a separate balcony with (slightly obstructed) views over the tarmac, etc.

Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse London Heathrow

Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse London Heathrow

One thing I loved about the lounge was its a-la-carte menu. I haven’t been to other lounges with a-la-carte menus, though it’s my understanding that Virgin Atlantic’s is one of the most extensive. I would’ve been fine with any of those dishes at a restaurant – the appetiser and main course were good enough for a mid- to high-tier restaurant or gastropub, while the dessert was out-of-this-world amazing.

Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse London Heathrow Brasserie Dessert – Strawberries and Cream

But what sets this lounge apart are the staff, which are so proud of their lounge offering and just did their best to get to know their guests so well. Many reviews state that they had more fun here than at any other airline lounge, and mine was no exception.

Best Outstation Airline Lounge of 2017 – EVA Air Lounge Bangkok

Bangkok is home to massive Star Alliance airline Thai Airways, though it’s interesting that the two best Star Alliance lounge options at Bangkok Airport are EVA Air and Singapore Airlines’ lounges. These were the two best outstation lounges I’ve been to this year. It was hard to choose which one I preferred; Singapore Airlines’ was quaint, stunningly appointed and featured a great bar and better food, whereas EVA Air’s lounge was airier, featured more space, and had showers. At the end of the day I value space and a shower more than a drink before a flight, so EVA Air’s Bangkok lounge wins the best outstation airline lounge I’ve been to this year. Probably not the best in the world, but certainly a contender.

EVA Air Lounge Bangkok Seating

Worst Airline Lounge of 2017 – Thai Airways Lounges Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport

As aforementioned, I found it disappointing how the two non-Thai Airways Star Alliance lounge options trumped all of Thai Airways’ options at their home airport. I appreciate that Thai Airways offers a spa near their Concourse D lounge, and the 30-minute free massages are awesome – but there aren’t any showers there, which that’s kind of depressing especially since their Concourse D lounge is their biggest.

Thai Airways Royal Silk Lounge Concourse D Seating

Thai Airways Royal Silk Lounge Concourse D Spa Area

Apart from the spa, honestly, everything about the Thai Airways lounges I visited (the Concourse D lounge, the Concourse E lounge, and the two lounges at Concourse C) were pretty depressing.

Thai Airways Royal Silk Lounge Concourse E Seating

Bottom Line

2017 was a great year for us on the aviation front, and we’re looking forward to bringing even better reports, reviews, guides and comparisons up at Young Travelers of Hong Kong this year.

I can’t express enough that we’ve enjoyed each and every one of our flights, hotel stays and lounge visits. I’d also like to add in the meantime that we were nominated for one of Hong Kong’s top 100 blogs on FeedSpot, a content reader that allows their users to read their favourite websites conveniently and efficiently. I’m proud, mostly on behalf of my parents’ constant support and generosity, that we were complimented for “cherishing [our] time abroad like solid gold”. That can’t be truer – our team has enjoyed every single one of our experiences immensely, and to say that we are the luckiest youngsters in the world, to have the opportunity to report back and have all of your support, would be an understatement.

I wish everyone a happy 2018, and am pleased to announce that we have some pretty substantial travel plans arranged for the year. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned this year!

Is there anything special you’d like to see from our team this year?

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