After nearly 3 months motorbiking and teaching English in Vietnam, it was time to leave. Originally Hong Kong wasn’t on the planned itinerary, but since it’s a Cathay Pacific hub and I can book Cathay Pacific/Dragonair flights with my British Airways Avios, I figured let’s take a few days and see what the city is all about. The best part, because Avios have a distance based award chart, and the distance between Hanoi and Hong Kong is in the 1st tier, a business class ticket cost just 9,000 Avios + $26. What makes it even better is I transferred these points from my Amex account last year during a 50% bonus promotion, so it was really 6,000 Amex points. Those 6,000 Amex points would be redeemable for a whopping $60 in cash. Not too shabby of a redemption for a flight that would cost $1008 USD out of pocket. This is the kind of travel hacking I’m always yapping about in my posts.
In terms of transportation to the airport, we chose Uber. From the outskirts of Hanoi to the airport it cost 265,000 VND, or about $12 USD. For a 1 hour trip I’d say that’s a good deal, especially considering back home you get a $6 USD fee tacked on to your bill just for going to the airport. Uber is crazy cheap in Vietnam and I highly recommend using it while you’re in Saigon or Hanoi.
One of the perks, among many, of flying business class is the lounge access. As backpackers, anytime we can relax, drink some free booze and have a free lunch, we’re going to take it. It was this reason that we showed up to the airport 4 hours before our flight was scheduled to depart. We figured an hour for security and 3 hours to relax before we take off. Unfortunately, the check-in gate didn’t open until 3 hours before the flight so we were stuck waiting around twiddling our thumbs. Then, with about 20 minutes left until it was supposed to open, I received an email stating the flight would be running 45 minutes late. Since we wanted to relax for a while anyway, we didn’t mind at the time, but that 45 minutes ended up being the difference between taking public transportation all the way to our hotel or paying for a cab in Hong Kong.
Luckily, they opened the gate at the original time, likely because they knew most people would already be at the airport waiting. As the gate employees were setting up, passengers were hanging around like vultures waiting to queue up, and as soon as it opened there was a mad rush to get in line. Luckily for us, business class has its own line and there was only one girl ahead of us. Check in was quick and efficient, and our bags were slapped with priority tags so they would be taken off of the plane first. This ended up doing nothing for us because the immigration line was so long at Hong Kong airport by the time we came through all the bags were off the plane, but it’s the thought that counts.
When the gentleman working handed us back our passports and boarding passes he also handed us our golden tickets: day passes for either the VN Lounge or the NIA Lounge. I had done a little research on this beforehand and chose the VN Lounge as our hangout spot for the next few hours. Since I’ve already talked about this experience in a previous post, I’m not going to get into it, but if you want to read about it you can find it here.
We left the lounge with about 30 minutes to spare and headed to our gate. Once again there were two lines, one for business class passengers and Marco Polo Club members, and the economy line. The business class line moved much quicker than economy so before we knew it we were on the plane and sitting in our seats. This particular plane, an Airbus A321 had 24 business class seats and 148 economy seats, but for whatever reason there were only 9 of us in business class. I never understood this, considering those seats are fixed costs and they’re just losing money not filling them, but that’s something for another day. Either way, it worked in our favor because the flight attendants were that much more attentive with so few people to take care of.
The seats themselves were very large, but in terms of design they were nothing to write home about. They had a pitch (the distance between one point on a seat to the same point on the seat in front of it) of 42 inches, which is a sizable difference compared to the economy seats at 30 inches. The seats were also 2.5 inches wider than their economy counterparts. We had more room than we knew what to do with. I was so comfortable the entire ride, I didn’t even think about reclining the seat until we were nearly in Hong Kong. Breada particularly loved the blankets they gave out, which she said was the most comfortable airplane blanket she’s ever had. At the end of the flight she even asked the flight attendant if she could keep it, but unfortunately she couldn’t.
Before we even left the gate, we were offered a choice of freshly squeezed orange juice or the cocktail of the day, which was some sort of fruity concoction. I chose the juice and Breada chose the cocktail. Both were excellent, especially the cocktail. I’m pretty easy though, they could have given me a pre-departure coke and I would have been happy.
The dinner and drinks menu (yes, we received menus!) had a little something for everyone. Breada and I both been craving some good wine since the wine in Vietnam is either from Da Lat and not very good, or imported and thus very expensive, so we both had the 2014 Michel Delhommeau Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine Sur Lie Cuvée Harmonie to start. I’m not going to sit here and act like I know what that long fancy schmancy name means…I had to Google it. All I can say was the wine was delicious, probably even more so because it was the first decent I had in months. Breada eventually moved on to some bubbly, a Taittinger Brut Reserve, but I stuck with the wine for the rest of the flight.
Our appetizer for the evening was a prosciutto de parma and melon salad, which was outstanding. The melon was extremely fresh and the prosciutto, while maybe not the best I’ve ever had ( what can I say, I’m a cold cuts snob.) was far and away better than anything we’ve had in months. It also paired perfectly, at least in my opinion, with the wine.
For our entree we had a choice of either braised chicken with mushrooms and vegetables or steamed snapper with mashed potatoes, broccoli, and a dill cream sauce. I chose the chicken and Breada chose the snapper so we could try both. Each entree also included a piece of bread, and being the garlic lovers that we are we both chose garlic bread. Both entrees were outstanding considering it’s still airplane food, but the best part for me was the dessert. We each had our own mini tub of Haagen-Dazs ice cream! It was so good I could have had seconds, and Breada later told me after the flight the attendant asked if we wanted more but I wasn’t paying any attention. Next time I’ll be taking her up on the offer.
Before we knew it, it was time to land! The flight was only 2 hours, and with the constant service and delicious wine and food to keep us occupied we didn’t even realize it was already over!
Overall, considering this flight cost just 9,000 Avios + $26, it was one of the best redemptions I’ve had travel hacking so far. Expensive short-haul flights are where you get the most bang for your buck with Avios, and this certainly qualifies. With a cash price of over $1000 USD one way, this flight is so far out of our price range it’s ridiculous, but with points it’s very easily obtainable. There was one little unintended consequence of this flight though : I don’t think we can ever fly economy again!