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As a fan of her pictorially appealing travel blog, I am fully aware that 2014 Skyscanner travel blogger of the year Brooke Saward has recently posted a comprehensive review of multiple airlines, here. This post is by no means meant to be a duplicate nor a contradiction of Brooke’s opinions, but simply a direct response to a friend who recently asked me whether or not I would recommend flying business class with Emirates.
In a word, yes, a resounding YES!!! But, as a scientist at heart (which is why I prefer making desserts over savouries – the precision required in following dessert recipes is akin to a science experiment), let us objectively compare my 3 preferred airlines – Emirates (EK), Qantas (QF), and Singspore Airlines (SQ).
Pick up and drop off: EK offers a complimentary chauffeur drive service to business and first class customers. This service is extended to QF customers flying business or first class with an EK codeshare flight. SQ does not offer a similar service.
Check-in/baggage: No difference, really. You get to skip the queues and loads of baggage allowance with all 3.
Lounge: I’ve never been to a Qantas international lounge in Perth, but the EK lounge definitely comes out on top over SQ. It’s spacious and well lit with a great selection of food, whereas the SQ lounge is actually rather small, dingy and poorly lit, with less appealing food. Similarly, the EK lounge in Dubai trumps the SQ lounge in Singapore. Although the food in Singapore is more to my tastes, there is a far greater selection in Dubai. In addition, the showers are newer, flights are announced whereas in Singapore they tell you at the desk to keep an eye on the time as flights are not announced, and best of all, the Dubai lounge is this sprawling network that opens directly onto the air bridges so that when it’s time to board, you go straight from lounge to plane without ever having to mingle with the plebs. Aaaahh…luxury! In contrast, the Singapore lounge is a fair distance away from the departure gates and you will have to wait there with the masses prior to boarding.
If flying from Perth-Europe during the day, I prefer the roughly half-half broken up journey afforded by a Dubai layover. However, for a night flight, I actually like that the Singapore-Europe leg is long enough for a good night’s sleep.
I would say they’re all roughly the same quality. All served on proper crockery with proper cutlery and white linen. And lots of it. SQ offers a “book the cook” service with a rather extensive menu that is available by pre-booking online prior to departure, but I actually think the regular menu items are more appealing, so I wouldn’t pre-book food unless you have specific dietary requirements.
I’ve always maintained that the Asian airlines offer better service with a smile, and while nobody is outright rude, I would say that the same holds true in business class. SQ > EK > QF, in my opinion.
QF is the only airline to offer pyjamas, which I love! Even before takeoff, most of the passengers have already changed into their pyjamas, and it’s quite a sight to behold – a cabin full of business-y looking people in matching Morrissey drawstring pants and long sleeve tops. The amenities kit on QF business class is filled with Malin and Goetz goodies (moisturiser, lip balm, hand and body lotion, ear plugs, eye mask) while on first class (more on that later) you get Payot plus a small wooden hairbrush and mirror. On EK business class, it’s Bulgari and the kit includes a small bottle of perfume as well. On my recent trip to Europe on SQ, I got nothing. Nada. Zilch. How disappointing!
Probably the most important point, and EK is far and away front of the pack here. You get an oversized seat with oversized TV screen and nobody next to you, just your own stocked mini bar. When you want to sleep, someone will turn your seat into a fully flat bed and place a little mattress on it. You won’t have anyone next to you on SQ either, but you don’t get the mini bar, and you have to sort out your bed yourself by locating and pulling on this rather discrete lever. No extra mattress, and though the bed is fully flat, it has this weird configuration with a bump at one side at roughly hip level so that you have to lie diagonally instead of straight. QF is the least spacious, with 2 seats side by side, but someone will come and help you sort out the bedding. To put things in perspective, I scored an upgrade to first class once, and the QF first class seats are roughly equivalent to EK business class, I thought.
No difference. You get let off first, your luggage comes out first, and when in transit, you get a “priority pass” so you can skip all queues. Still need to carry your own bags though.
Frequent flyer points:
OK, so this is where the flying kangaroo comes out on top. I have redeemed the most flights/upgrades with QF, mainly because your QF points never expire as long as you earn or use them at least once every 18 months. On top of that, it’s actually very easy to redeem flights with your points online. Having said that, I do have family all the way across the country, so I have a reason for regularly redeeming domestic flights with QF, which I gather are much easier than international flight redemptions (something I haven’t tried yet). Upgrades with frequent flyer points are usually easier than flight redemptions, and this applies for all airlines. In contrast, EK and SQ points expire after 3 years. 2 things to bear in mind – firstly, as partners, you can book an EK flight and earn (partial) QF points, and vice versa. Secondly, SQ points can now be redeemed on Virgin Australia flights!
Free upgrades (and how to maybe score them):
I have been upgraded from economy to business once on an SQ flight from Singapore-Brisbane. While I can only speculate at how I got so lucky that day, my tips are to rock up early (which I was) and to be dressed well. I don’t mean formal or evening wear. Just smart casual. My preferred outfits for flying are either a dress with a cardigan, or loose slacks with a knit. I think these are more comfortable than shorts (too cold) or jeans (I want room to breathe) anyway.
I have also been fortuitous enough to receive a business to first class upgrade on a QF flight from LA-Sydney. Again, speculation, but I suspect my good fortune that day had more to do with my travel partner, who, on that particular trip, had earned enough status credits to advance from silver to gold frequent flyer status. So maybe time your next international trip for such a circumstance if possible? The funny thing was, they didn’t tell us they’d upgraded us! I did suspect something was afoot when I noticed our seat number – 2! – but my suspicions were quickly quashed by my companion. It wasn’t until we got to the business lounge and were told, “I’m sorry, this is only the business class lounge. First class is over that way,” that the excitement sunk in. Just look at us, like 2 giddy schoolgirls!
Some champagne and terrine before takeoff? Don’t mind if I do!
Now, if you ever find yourself in a first class lounge, do not keep your eyes glued to the screen as I was – observe your surroundings! you never know who you might spot, especially somewhere like LA. On that one occasion, my friend helped celebrity chef Manu Feildel select his tea, and also spotted Hugh Sheridan from Packed to the Rafters. All the while, I had my nose in some sort of Apple device. You snooze, you lose, I guess.
Finally, EK. While I’ve never received an upgrade myself, I know of at least 2 people who take at least 1 international business class flight a year, who get a first class upgrade roughly every 3 flights or so.
All similar, and on the higher end of the scale. SQ is slightly more competitive, and I have seen sale fares from Perth-Europe for around $7000 return with them. EK and QF are generally around the $8000 mark for sale fares. As a comparison, you can get sale business class fares on other airlines like KLM for around $5000-6000.
For maximum comfort, the feeling of luxury and the possibility of first class upgrades, I would go with EK. BUT, if you’re like me and wish to collect QF points for domestic flight redemptions, I would book a QF flight that’s actually operated by an EK plane (you can easily check this online at time of booking). That way, you get the benefits of EK while in the air, combined with the bonus of the superior frequent flyer programme. If you’re looking to save a bit of money, SQ may lag slightly behind in terms of comfort, but is also a very good option for a slightly cheaper fare.
Bear in mind – this verdict applies only to business class. In economy, I still think SQ comes out on top.
And finally, here’s a quick rundown of some other airlines I’ve flown with over the years (economy only):
Good – KLM (Dutch), Korean Air (incredibly polite staff), Thai Airways (again, good service in general on Asian airlines)
Avoid – British Airways (grumpy staff), Alitalia (rude staff)
Maybe avoid – Air Canada (I personally had no problems but I’ve had bad reviews from others), Cathay (good service, but I’ve heard many complaints about the uncomfortable sliding seats)
You get what you pay for aka can’t really complain when the airfare cost £0.99!: RyanAir, Easyjet (this is the better of the 2 but slightly more expensive at around £20-50 the last time I checked)
Neutral – I don’t really remember anything about the following airlines, so they must have been neither fantastic nor terrible: BMI baby, Tarom (Romania), El Al (Israel), Silk Air, Lufthansa, Iceland Air
No comment: Malaysia Airlines (I always thought the service was pretty good, but I leave this airline up to your discretion)
What are your favourite airlines? Do you have any upgrade stories or tips to share?
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