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Burma: RGN Mistake Fare

Burma: RGN Mistake Fare
via Cathay & Korean A380 First Class
November 2012
 
Last April, an improperly loaded Myanmar exchange rate triggered one of the biggest mistake fare frenzies of the year. And as it happened just before a weekend, the fare was live for at least three days before airlines and in particular Korean Air realized a good chunk of their TPAC First Class inventory had disappeared. Forget that I lived 8,000 miles away. The US$254 one way First Class fare from Bangkok to LAX on Korean, including their new A380, was too good to pass up even if I had no idea whether I would have the time or, more importantly, Mrs. SFO would let me. The only fly in the ointment is that the fare requires that you start the trip in RGN. Minor details. I booked three trips... two one ways @$254 and a round trip RGN-LAX at the outrageous fare of $450.
 
When Korean execs discovered the carnage, they immediately cancelled all the tickets and refunded the fare paid. Enter the DOT, which had recently imposed new "you must honor mistake fare" rules. Within 10 days, and no doubt after discussion with the DOT and a few dozen lawyers, Korean agreed to reinstate all the cancelled tickets.
Now that Korean agreed to honor the tickets, I needed positioning tickets. And what better way to get there than Cathay First. Fortunately, CX had availability to match the dates I picked... in November, January and March.   So here we are. I booked random dates in months when I thought I had some time. Unfortunately, I forgot about the US elections. Turned out to be a wise choice as I now get to escape three days of wall-to-wall coverage and commercials. Plus I've already voted.
 
-United Economy Denver to SFO
-SFO International Terminal
-Cathay Pacific First and Business Lounge at SFO
-Cathay Pacific First Class SFO to Hong Kong
-Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong to Bangkok
-Royal Slik Lounge at BKK
-Thai Econony Bangkok to Rangoon
-Yangon (Rangoon)
-Lounge Hopping at RGN
-Thai Econony Rangoon to Bangkok
-Korean First Class Bangkok to Seoul
-Korean First Class Lounge at ICN
-Korean A380 First Class Seoul to LAX
-American First Class LAX to Denver
 
UA 989
DEN-SFO
A320
November 4, 2012
6:00a-7:49a (sked)
5:55a-7:12a (actual)
Seat 21C (exit row aisle)
 
Mercifully, the change back to Standard Time made this a somewhat tolerable departure time. Wouldn't try this one with Mrs. SFO.
 
Happy with my exit row aisle and only 1 F seat open, I passed up my unknown upgrade position by changing my MP# to TK. TK gave me a status match to *G but won't send my card until I credit one flight. So this is the one that will give me NA UA/US/AC lounge access for the next two years.
 
 
 
 
 
Uneventful, but wow on the exit row legroom. Way more than First on this sucker.
 
 

"Your priorities will always be ours." Sure they will.

Don't much like the airline, but the old CO livery is still OK, IMO.

The International Terminal at SFO

My 2nd favorite terminal at my favorite US airport.
As our arriving flight arrived at Gate 75, it was only a 3 minute walk to the International Terminal. Unfortunately, the wrong side but still better than following the signs and taking the train. Pretty deserted at this hour of the morning.

Too early as the CX counter only opens at 7:50A or 4 hours before scheduled departure.

Not open? No problem. Since I OLCI'd and had my BP, I figured I may as well go thru security and check out the lounges. Although there was no one in the priority security lane, all lanes funneled into a long queue of about 50 pax. CLEAR is now open at the International Terminal and wow, SFO has it right. Once again, the CLEAR agent escort me thru all the queued pax, cut ahead of everyone, grabbed two trays and placed them at the end of the conveyer just before the x-ray machine.
 

Cathay Pacific First and Business Lounge

Still a long walk from the concourse and still no view, but when the place isn't packed to the gills, it's not that bad a lounge. Despite the fact that I got to the lounge before official opening time, terrific lounge dragon Lilibeth welcomed me in, offered beverages, and over the next three hours, brought OJ, water refills and food.

I set up shop in the small but pleasant business area which consists of seven cubicles each equipped with a PC. Cubicles are big enough that one can set up a laptop and still have lots of room to work, and eat.

But, the best past of this arrangement was the CX screen saver show. 

And if you'd like to see more of Grace, check out this day in the life of a Cathay FA video:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QGEhidjLrI8

And in the equal time department...

Meanwhile at the other lounges...

The Delta SkyClub still has better views and is much closer to the concourse, but was more crowded today in the business center and the bar area. Probably a lot of AC pax since DL and AC have a deal to let MLL members/J pax use the SC which T3 is being renovated, and there YVR and YYZ flights were departing from nearby 1A and 1B.

And a pathetic selection of food, same as a domestic SC.

But they did corner the best location in the south pier with great views of the action...

CX 879
SFO-HKG
747-400
November 4, 2012
11:50A-6:50P +1 (sked)
12:30P-6:50P +1 (actual)
Departed 9/9
Seats 2K

Bored with the lounges after 3 hours, I headed down to Gate 3 at about T-50.

Said it before and will keep saying. CX should have worked out a deal with BA to renovate the Terraces lounge, where both F and J can board directly without dealing with gate lice. And CX boarding continues to underwhelm, especially at a cramped Gate 3. They did change the boarding lanes, moving F&J to against the window didn't improve anything. Yo CX, would it kill you to board your 9 F pax and instead of F & J?

But once on board, I relaxed pretty quickly. A mix of old and new pics...

And the first of many glasses of Krug. Although FA Iris forget the PD nuts.
Either someone missed 2K or we are just keeping the same now tired orchids as the inbound.

Great views of the tarmac and 28R approach.

OK, we'll wait for AF before we roll...

Our turn...

Spectacular views today on our climb out...

Showtime!

While our three FAs provided outstanding service overall, it just wasn't quite as polished and as "on" as some of our other CX flights. Believe it was an SFO-based crew if that makes a difference.

The caviar and salad is always a winner, especially with Krug. 
CX regulars will notice a glaring omission from the set up.

Yup. No hand written welcome and thank you note. First time I haven't received one.

I love mushrooms and mushroom soup, and this version was excellent. And more Krug.

On the other hand, the mesclun salad with grilled shrimp and balsamic vinegar was not very good. The dressing was dreadful.

Another glass of Krug. The Vincent Girardin Puligny was nice although it would have been better if it hadn't just been opened.
Interesting turbulence show with the wine!

The steamed lobster with ginger scallion and imperial soy sauce is always good, although the presentation and taste was not quite as good as previous occasions.

Excellent cheese plate, accompanied by the Ramos Pinto Quinto 10 year Tawny

The chocolate cake, vanilla ice cream and raspberry coulis was delicious.

And pralines to finish part one.

The usual mid flight wontons in noodle soup.

Dinner service began about two and half hours out, with the usual fruit plate.
Still no hand-written note. 

The grilled kurobuta pork chop with red wine jus was outstanding.
The Shingleback McLaren Vale Shiraz was OK. Nothing special like QF.

More dessert of course. The mango and white chocolate cake and raspberry sauce was very good.

Our 14+ hours passed pretty quickly as I watched three movies and 4 (rerun) episodes of my favorite TV show Suits... all of which was probably way too much on the old 747 Studio CX version. Didn't realize how much I missed the 77W system.

Overall another very good CX flight. I do love CX and, next to SQ, it's my favorite airline. But I know how good it can be, and it just wasn't 100% tonight.

With an on time arrival, was able to spend a couple hours with Short hair Francis. Thanks Francis for making the trek out to HKG.

CX 709
HKG-BKK
A330-300
November 5, 2012
10:00P-11:50P (sked and actual)
Seat 15H

Since CX does not typically offer 3 class service to BKK, had to settle for J on this two and a half hour flight. Dated but comfortable product. Excellent and attentive service throughout.

Billecart as the regional "house" champagne.

The Thai Yellow Curry was very good.

FAs distributed Premium Lane C&I passes. But most pax didn't know what they meant and/or never made it to the Premium area, as the lines were pretty non existent when I got there.

With a midnight arrival and an early return the next morning, I was looking for a conveniently located hotel. The Novotel is very close and only a 5 minute (underground) walk. But caution: The walkway is not marked... also apparently not open after midnight. I suppose that's because it uses the train access and the train does not operate after midnight. There is also a shuttle bus that operates every fifteen minutes 24/7. It departs from Door 4 (far right as you exit baggage claim) and will get you to the hotel in about 3 minutes. There is a Novotel transfer desk at Door 4.

I arrived at the Novotel at about 12:30a but didn't really get to sleep until 3a as I was catching up on emails and work. About an hour of that was searching EF and others for alternative award flights home, after an RGN mistake fare FTer related how KE/TG just canceled his exact same Thursday flights. TG First to FRA and LH First to DEN were available so I was ready, just in case.

Only 4 hours of sleep. Excellent buffet breakfast in the Novotel lobby restaurant. Decided to head over the airport early to check-in for both BKK-RGN and RGN-BKK, the latter being the telling one. If there was going to be problem with my ticket it would be with TG. Why wait until RGN to check in and find out if there is problem? At least at BKK, I have options.

Instead of waiting for the shuttle, I decided to try the walkway to the airport. It is indeed very convenient and easy to use. Just head for the train station, entrance located 20 meters from the hotel lobby. Take the escalator down and head for the train (thru deserted retail space) and by pass the train kiosks/entrance and keep going to the airport terminal. Five minutes max from the hotel lobby to terminal. Three levels up and you are in the cavernous departures hall. As I noted above, it is apparently only open during train hours, 6a to midnight.

First stop was TG where I checked in the BKK-RGN (UA award ticket). Much to my relief, I had no problem checking in and getting my BP for my 7:40p RGN-BKK flight, even though TG.com online note earlier this morning said "No E-ticket".

Next stop KE. Very pleasant KE (contract?) staff, all 6 of whom stood and bowed in unison to a hand full of waiting pax when the counter opened a few minutes later at 10am. Successfully checked in 14 hours before my BKK-ICN and more than 24 hours before ICN-LAX, although the station manager instructed the agent to over-ride the system on the latter since it was 24+ hours. I'm pretty certain the key here was no checked bags. Agent initially seemed skeptical about it until I said I just had a carry-on.

Armed with all 4 BPs for today/tomorrow, time to head into the mega shopping mall, I mean terminal.

With my KE Premium Lane pass and KE BP, I was able to access an almost empty priority security and passport control lanes. A few minutes later I was the BKK Shopping Plaza. I heard there were airplanes here but you would know it for the first 100 yards left and right. BKK is also one on the longest terminals in the world. Wow, talk about major hikes. It also features a dizzying array of lounges. Lots of arrows and signs, although these seemed more general suggestions.

I tried to find the KE First lounge but gave up after 10 minutes and decided to head for the Royal Silk Lounge in the E pier using my UA *G card for access. This one is much better than the domestic lounge. Large with comfy seating areas and a business center with cubicles. Basic J class lounge with limited selection of drinks and (mostly) finger foods.

TG 301
BKK-RGN
A300-600
November 6, 2012
1:00p-1:45p (sked)
1:00p-1:35p (actual)
30 minute time difference in Myanmar
Seat 31B (bulkhead aisle)
 
A nearly 10 minute walk from the RSL is wonderful gate D1a, aka the dreaded bus gate.
 
 
Gate lice know no language or cultural barrier. GA called for pre-board and held up a *G sign. Much jostling and excuse me as a few *G members elbow our way to the front so we can get the 1st bus to "de plane" and claim overhead space.
 

Our ancient Airbus 300. Would prefer not to be on one of these old relics, but that was all that was available.

Boarding from both the front and the rear doors, to one of the most colorful interiors of any airline.

As J was not available, I paid my 12,500 miles for a Y seat. Called TG and used my *G status for the bulkhead aisle. Although the plane was nearly full, lucked out today as I had no seat-mate in 31A. Also, no window.

A doc preview for those who are still to take the trip...

The good news is that TG serves lunch in Y on a one hour flight.

Unfortunately, that is also the bad news.

Hmmm. I don't think so.

The only edible part of the meal.

On time arrival and we taxi past some pretty decrepit buildings to a very nice and modern terminal complete with 4 jetways!!

Down to immigration.

With the Visa on Arrival counter on the right side as you walk out.

The Visa on Arrival from myanmarvisa.com worked perfectly. The counter is easy to find and the staff is well organized, with the complete app for each arriving pax on the counter waiting for you. For those still contemplated FedEx'ing their passport to the DC embassy, don't even think about it. Just use VOA.

Next up: My three hour guided tour of Yangon. $30 including taxi, driver/guide and AC. Would have only been $20 if I had opted for no AC. With temps near +35C, please take my extra $10. But only new $10s.

 

My private 3 hour tour of Yangon

Based on the recommendation of those that have already been here, I headed for the taxi dispatch counter on the arrivals/baggage claim level. Helpful and friendly English speaking staff suggested a general sightseeing tour. US$10 an hour for taxi, driver/guide and an air conditioned car. She offered to hold the luggage behind the counter for me or I could take it with me. Opted to take it with me and just put it in the trunk of the taxi. US dollars are widely accepted here with a catch. Apparently the local banks only accept crisp, clean, new bills. In all 4 cases when I went to pay, each bill was scrutinized with many totally rejected. indeed, the dispatcher didn't like any of my $20s, so she told me just to pay the driver. LOL.

Dispatcher escorted me outside and handed me off to a wonderful driver (name sounded something like Yem) and we headed out for some time travel. No idea what type of car it was, but it was so old that it didn't have seat belts. But the AC worked and nobody can really drive fast here anyway.

Although the country has made great strides in the last few years, it is still pretty 3rd world-ish in many respects, as you can tell from the pics. Most of these pics are from the taxi as we drove around Yangon.

My tour of Yangon continues...

The final hour of our tour was spent at the beautiful Swedagon Pagoda. My driver Yem passed me off to Pagoda guide Ko Ko.
For $15, Ko Ko guided my through this fascinating home to 4,000 Buddhas.

OK, those of you that know me know that my camera has an eye for the ladies in any place I visit.
IMO... Hong Kong, Sydney and Stockholm are solid contenders for the "most beautiful women in the world" title.

Hong Kong...

Sydney...

Stockholm...

Siena (meh, not so much)...

Well, now that Myanmar has opened its doors to the world and is even promoting a modeling contest, why not The Girls of Yangon?