Friday, 26 May 2017

How much difference does it make not to have to arrange your own Uber or Cab to the airport?

Part of the joy of first class travel - is that people do stuff for you. Except, sometimes they don't.

You see, to get the outsourced chauffeur service that is promised by Qantas for its first class passengers - you have to do a bit yourself. First, you need to know that this service exists. Second, you have to contact them - which thanks to the digital age, you can do via the Qantas website.

When you go into 'Manage Bookings', it signals the possibility of the option - and if you click, it will either show or not show the option depending on the eligibility of your booking.

I can't show you that - 'cos I didn't have the presence of mind to take some screen grabs when I was doing it. But here is the info:

This is the standard info - no the screen you see when you are eligible.
What it doesn't tell you is that you need to pre-book - unless you click those terms and conditions links.

The pre-booking process is pretty easy - allowing you to determine how many hours ahead of the flight you want to arrive - I think the maximum is 5. And who doesn't want to spend as much time as possible at the First Class lounge in Sydney?

It even lets your ride from Heathrow to your London destination. I am not sure why - but for us, it listed two different bookings one for each traveler. Probably because I said we had 5 bags. You see there is no way of saying they are small bags, so I guess they think they are all giant and you will need two Mercedes SLR's. (well that's what was booked for us in London!)

The service does call to confirm the day before - so that's good, but it is an outsourced service, so when you ask stupid questions like - 'Where do I need to go at Heathrow to get my chauffeur driven ride?'  - they say you need to contact Qantas.

Well, that's the price of outsourcing. The service within Qantas is not necessarily represented outside it.

In the end, we piled into one of the Merc's at Heathrow. However - both drivers assisted us, and the decision to make it one car instead of two was only taken after they had stowed all our luggage in one.

That delivery to our friends' house in Fulham just put the cherry on the top of our door to door Qantas Frist Class experience.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

I am a Qantas First Class Virgin

Removing these from my two (small) cases was an emotional experience.

Well, about 24 hours ago, that would have been true.

In fact up until then, I was almost a First Class virgin. That is if you don't count an upgrade certificate from business to first on the return leg Bangkok-Sydney on Thai nearly a decade ago.

Through the diligent saving of Qantas points with a supplement from Amex, nearly 365 days ago, I booked two first class seats on QF1 to London. You see, 2017 happens to be a significant anniversary of my birth. You know one of those which ends with a zero. With the added contribution of points from my partner Mickaeli, we will be returning in about 6 weeks time on a Singapore Airlines A380, in a first class suite.

Collectively, these flights and the 6 weeks holiday in-between has been titled 'The Feast of Stephen'.

Over the next few days, if I can fit it in around our extremely full cultural diary, I will be sharing my thoughts on Qantas's chauffeur service, Sydney first class lounge, spa treatment, and A380 first class cabin and service.

Oh and as well as that, we are looking to some improvements to this website - which I hope to roll out over the next few weeks.

So - if you have been concerned about the lack of activity on this blog for the last few months - be concerned no more.

If your needs are more urgent - then follow me on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram

Monday, 10 October 2016

Not all Hotels are the same - Intercontinental Saigon - the second time around

Detail of the brocade on one of the cushions in the lounge area
Hotel: Intercontinental Asiana, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Stay: 3 - 8 January 2016
Room: Club Deluxe upgraded to Suite

Not all hotels are the same. 

This South East Asian outpost of the Intercontinental Hotel Group is a little gem, and that's mainly due to the wonderful staff.

We stayed here one night on our outbound journey to London from Sydney on Vietnam Airlines. Now we were looking forward to a short 5 day urban retreat on our way back from our Northern Hemisphere Christmas trip in Europe.

Payment and Points

For this stay, we had booked a Club Deluxe room at VND5,323,500++ (approx US$240 or AU$315) per night plus taxes of 10% government tax and 5% service tax - so no tipping required.

Our choice of room was deliberate - this was an urban flop-and-drop, so access to the club was important and knowing that we would be upgraded to the next room grade - a suite - clinched the deal.

The stay earned 14,406 pts plus 1,440 elite status points, totalling 15,846 points. We almost doubled our points due to a combined promotion which gave us an additional 14,000 points bonus for staying in January.

The inclusions for this rate were (from the booking confirmation):
  • Private registration for check-in and check-out 
  • Daily breakfast from 6:00 am to 10:30 am at Club InterContinental Lounge or Market 39 
  • Afternoon tea from 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm at Club InterContinental Lounge 
  • Evening drinks from 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm with a great selection of canapés, beverages and our special wine of the month at Club InterContinental Lounge 
  • All day refreshments - Free use of internet in your room and at Club InterContinental Lounge - 
  • Free use of the iPad whenever you are at Club InterContinental Lounge 
  • Complimentary pressing of two pieces during your stay 
  • 25% discount on all laundry services 
  • Two hours usage of the Club InterContinental boardroom for up to 8 people during your stay (subject to availability)
As an Ambassador member of IHG hotels, we also received the following.
  • Guaranteed room upgrade
  • Fresh fruit upon arrival
  • In-room water
  • In-room gift
  • Single-room rate for double occupancy
  • Extended checkout—up to 4pm
  • Dedicated Ambassador check-in area
  • Complimentary pay-TV film per stay**
  • Complimentary newspaper, delivered daily
  • Instant checkout
Our upgrade, in this case to a suite was confirmed with us prior to our stay. That's not always the case - see a future report on an Intercontinental in Hong Kong.

Limousine transfers were VND1,407,000 (Approx US$63 or AU$85) each way.


Our hotel experience started with our pick-up at the airport in the hotel car. Wifi, bottled water, cool towels, all very well done, just like in our last visit.

Our flight arrived about 90 minutes early, so we got to the hotel about 7:30am - way before check-in time.

The staff commented on our early arrival, and apologised for our suite not being ready. They enquired about our plans for the morning, and hearing our tired response, immediately arranged for us to access a room through until check-in time when our upgrade to a suite would be ready.

I can't tell you how much such courtesy is appreciated. We had a nap and freshened up. A wonderful option.

Our Suite

We went down to The Library off the main foyer to grab some lunch sometime after midday. While there, a staff member told us that our room was ready, and checked that we were OK to have all our luggage moved.

Our new home for the next 5 days Rm 2014

The hotel staff did their magic, our new keycards were delivered to us over lunch, and when we went up to our new suite, all was in place, down to clothes in the wardrobe (closet), and a couple of items we hadn't packed away left in a similar position in the suite. I must add that to my list of cute things hotels do to make you feel loved.

Our new Suite on the 20th floor.
The entrance foyer - to the right was a bathroom with toilet and basin - and to the left - you can just see it, a door into an additional bedroom - if you needed to make this into a two bedroom suite.
The lounge area was great - at least three places to recline and relax, fresh orchids on the coffee table, a fine view across the city and the other tower holding their serviced apartments.

The TV came with Bose sound system.
Close-up of the desk - where my on-board toiletries had been placed - just where I had left them in the other room. That square plate with the ribbon was our welcome gift as an IHG Ambassador member.
From the lounge, you turned right into the bedroom, faced first by a dressing table.

Bose sound system under the TV to the left, and the bedroom vanity straight ahead.

Both rooms were spacious, both with wood floors and area rugs.

I'm not a big fan of the bed runner down the length of the bed, but I do like the padded bench at the end of the bed.
The bane of the insomniac - TV at the end of the bed.
I liked the plum, light brown and sand tones of the room. The bed was extremely comfortable, and those feather pillows - wonderful. The dressing area and dressing table are a great idea, especially when you are sharing the suite.

View from bedroom into dressing and wardrobe area. I'm not a fan of windows from the bathroom into the bedroom, but at least these were frosted with a distracting pattern.
Detail of the dressing table and Mickaeli's hat. He takes sun protection seriously.

Dressing room, with two double wardrobes, luggage rack, and adequate room for our suitcases

Remember we were not doing minimum luggage. We had to pack 5 layers of thermals for our trip to Norway to see the Northern Lights, so that was two cases each for our checked in luggage, and two carry-ons - six suitcases in all. We had tried to pack wisely, with all our thermals in two cases, and just what we would need for Vietnam in the other case and carry on. Well - we were largely successful. Two cases remained closed the whole time in Vietnam. The space looks a bit tight in this shot, but once two of the cases were out of the way and we had unpacked the other - there was plenty of room.

Bathroom left - glass enclosed shower, toilet and sink.

Bathroom, right - sink, freestanding bath, windows to bedroom, wall TV, and red lacquerware accessories.
The bathroom had everything, including shaving mirror, and scales, although not double sinks, which I really like when staying with my partner. The bath was of a reasonable depth, and they had bath salts (that little globe shaped red lacquerware container). I'm not a fan of the looked-into bathroom, and those sliding doors were not moved.

The bathroom TV - I was looking forward to. Unfortunately, reception and colour reproduction were shot - so it wasn't worth the effort. The bath area had nowhere to place anything - like a glass of wine, or reading material that us bath aficionados like.

Desk - roomy, great chair, light, and altogether a pleasure to work at.
The desk area and lounge were spacious and well set up, making work and lounging about a pleasure.

Lounges were comfortable, and plentiful. Only complaint would be that low back on the central lounge, but hey - there were two others to choose from.
There was a dinky leather box housing the remote controls, including the Bose sound system. Unfortunately it wasn't quite working as we wanted (we couldn't get our apple devices to work with it, and the TV didn't seem to be taking advantage of the Bose superior sound reproduction). We didn't realise this for a day or two. Too many things to do other than watching TV. When we did discover the problem, an engineer was despatched and soon had it working perfectly.

Bose remote control, and TV remote. Look at all those channels - and still nothing to watch!
The suite had everything we needed, and a few little treats that added to the comfort of our stay. Things like fresh flowers, and fresh fruit and mineral water each day.

A vase crammed full of yellow orchids on our lounge coffee table.
Bowl of fruit, and daily sparkling water 

Hotel Facilities

We sampled most of the hotels facilities, including having a breakfast in Market 59 Restaurant, but we loved the Club and had breakfast, afternoon tea and drinks there nearly every day.

The hotel had a great gym, which I somehow managed not to photograph, and a good sized pool and pool lounge area. I seem to only have photos of drinks by the pool, which gives away my focus.

Cold towels, iced water as soon as you made your home by the pool, followed by some cleansing ales.
You entered the pool via the gym. Always greeted and assisted.

The hotel tower is on the right. The serviced apartment tower on the left.

The pool view from my sun lounge at one end. Entrance to the gym is at the far end. The balcony to the left was roped off during our stay.

Staff at the club lounge greeted us like old friends, and I acquired a morning addiction to fresh coconut water.

After ordering this once for breakfast, staff offered it to me every morning, and I developed a situational addiction to fresh coconut water.
A view of the club, from our favourite sideroom.
Another day, another afternoon tea. Mini burgers, cold soup, sandwiches, fruit tarts, scones, opera cakes, chocolates and other fancies.
We were sad to leave the hotel. They again allowed us to stay in the lounge snacking and drinking through out the evening until our departure in the hotel limousine at around 6:30pm, when it was off to the delights of the Vietnam Airlines business lounge - again.

2PAX Wisdom

This was a paid stay at the Intercontinental Asiana, Saigon. We took advantage of all the inclusions provided by Ambassodor membership and elite status, from early checkin and late checkout, to room upgrade and club access. Our stay was one of the most pleasant in a city hotel that I have experienced.

Throughout our stay, staff's attitude was 'how can we make your stay more comfortable'. When we came across a cleaner outside our room, the question was - did we need anything? More towels; more bathroom products; anything? Staff in the club introduced themselves, and greeted us warmly on each return. The manager, or assistant manager made themselves known to us during each stay. All staff made us feel totally at home.

We have stayed at hotels around the world, from 5 star to safari camps. This hotel, unexpectedly, gave us one of the warmest and most memorable stays of our lives. Thanks to all, and especially General Manager James Young, who introduced himself in the Club, and who also knows how to lead an extraordinary team of skilled hotel professionals.

Intercontinental Asiana staff,

More stories from this trip

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

5 Cute things hotels do to make you feel loved

Fortunately no towels were injured during this display of Swan towel art at the Hotel La Union Cienfuegos, Cuba

I am a sucker for things that some hotels do, that just make you feel loved, and fussed over.


Romantic stuff, like petals in a heart shaped on your bed for your anniversary.

At the Hotel De La Paix in Luang Prabang, Laos (now a Sofitel) - for our 21st anniversary.


Placing a bookmark in your book when you have left it upturned on your bedside table, or splayed out on your sun lounge while taking a dip.

Left splayed by the bed - miraculously bookmarked by housekeeping.


Complimentary sunscreen while sun-baking

By the pool at the Imperial Hotel New Delhi, where they supplied complimentary suntan lotion. Unfortunately it's smell was a little too reminiscent of public toilet disenfectant of the sickly sweet kind.


Tidying your computer or phone recharge cords with a velcro cord tidy.

Velcro iPhone cord tidy at the Four Seasons Sayan in Ubud. Housekeeping tidied them every day.


That thing they do in the bathroom, where the staff tidy your bathroom products, and place them in an orderly fashion on a square of toweling.

I don't know what it is, but I just love coming back to the room, and seeing that housekeeping has created order out of chaos for my bathroom accoutrements.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Royal Suite Room Upgrade in 5 pictures

Because our villa pool turned green with envy just like the pool at the Rio Olympics, the management at Four Seasons Sayan offered us a choice of options for alternate accommodation. One was the three bedroomed Royal Suite. Well it would have been rude to say no.

Full review coming in the future - but for now here are three pictures of our new three bedroom  'suite' with its magnificent view down the river.

The entrance - with a roof that has lilly and lotus ponds, a rooftop bale, and a red rice paddy, oh and some stone guardians.
From the first floor looking down at the pool sundeck and dining bale.
View from the dining bale back to the Royal suite - two floors, three bedrooms (excluding staff quarters), two dining rooms, at least two sitting rooms, and more bathrooms and outdoor showers than I could count, that's all I'm, saying
The dining bale. Pity we don't have 10 friends on hand for a quick dinner. However the lounges on the far left have the view you can see below.
If you will excuse the term - this is the 'money shot' for this Royal suite. The view down the river is mesmerising.
Full report of our trip to Bali soon, including reviews of Garuda Economy and Business, and two different suites at the Four Seasons Sayan.

Friday, 2 September 2016

Bali-hi has called me in 3 pictures

Our quickish decision  because of a fantastic Qantas Holidays deal sees us in Bali this week,

Full reports to come, but here is our trip and arrival on three pictures.

Skyteam Lounge with considerably more foliage, but the same orange banquettes.
Made it into the Skyteam lounge due to a status match with Qantas Gold status through Alitalia's frequent flyer program. Probably not actually going to fly with Alitalia, so glad I got this benefit before the card outdates in early 2017.  Also discovered that the Skyteam Lounge at Sydney International is also a Priority Pass lounge. Oh, and they have updated the plantings now, so it actually looks lush.

Garuda A330-300, with 2-4-2 seating plan. We were in the 2 on the left hand side in the forward cabin directly behind business. They have footrests in economy!, They have shared power points, and points to charge your appe products. What's not to like?

I am lucky enough through a combination of good fortune, hard work, money, and good frequent flyer points acquisition to usually fly in something other than economy on medium to long haul international. Not this time. Slightly less than six hours on a daytime flight should be do-able right? Well it is. But as I age, the space restrictions, sheer numbers of people, plus my increasing lack of physical flexabilty, make economy less comfortable.  Still, Garuda and their staff do pretty well.

And - hey, there is a pot-of-gold at the end of the rainbow - an upgrade to a villa with a pool at the 4 Seasons at Sayan near Ubud, Bali - for a week.

Upgraded to a Villa with plunge pool, as per booking, but lucked out on King bed. We were offered alternatives, but they either involved a downgrade, no pool, or a room move after 5 nights. We picked the queen beds x 2 option.

OK so we didn't get a King bed, but we did get a pool. Still no complaints.

Look forward to some more detailed reviews over the coming fortnight. We have 7 NIGHTS here!