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I recently took an around-the-world trip from NYC (with a stay at the new Park Hyatt New York) and then on to Tokyo for 62,500 AA miles and $5.60, with award seats on American’s A321 first class JFK-San Francisco (SFO) and JAL’s Boeing 777-300ER first class SFO-Tokyo Haneda (HND). I hadn’t visited Tokyo for a long time, but it took me no time at all to fall back in love with the city during my stay at the Andaz Tokyo. I was then on to Kyoto and a stay at The Ritz-Carlton Kyoto, followed by two Malaysia Airlines business class flights— one from Osaka (KIX) to Kuala Lumpur (KUL), with an overnight 18 hour layover and then KUL to Bali’s Ngurah Rai (DPS). Here’s my take on those two flights.
I have flown roughly half of the Oneworld carriers, and my main frequent flyer program of choice these days is American AAdvantage. Before my recent trip to Asia, however, one of the partners I hadn’t yet experienced was Malaysia Airlines, which only joined the alliance back in February 2013.
As I discussed in this post, I had some qualms about flying Malaysia based on the airline’s two disastrous tragedies earlier this year, but I put those aside and decided to fly it anyway on one of my intra-Asian itineraries.
One of the main reasons I decided to fly was that a one-way business class ticket from Osaka to Bali was just $552, about a third of the price of competitors. Flying Osaka to KL is about seven hours and KL to Bali, roughly three hours, but I could build in the welcome respite of a day’s stopover in Kuala Lumpur—making ten hours of business class for $552 a deal I could’t turn down.
By buying a business-class seat in the Z fare code, I’d also be earning 1.25 elite-qualifying points with American Airlines per mile earned on the flight, helping me re-qualify for my Executive Platinum status. These flights were in December, just under the re-qualification wire, and the miles and points posted just about a week after my flight with no issues. However, as with all partner airline travel, I recommend keeping your boarding passes in case there’s an issue with miles posting to your account.
At the Airport
Check-in at Osaka was a breeze for me as a premium traveler. The line for economy was long (which made sense since the flight seem completely full, so I guess others are dismissing any fears for cheap fares as well!), but I was taken at the premium check-in in just a under a minute. However, there is no priority immigration/security lane for elites or premium cabin flyers, so that process took a while. It felt like we were about a mile back, but luckily the security was efficient and we actually moved pretty quickly.
When traveling through Osaka airport, be sure to budget extra time— it’s surprisingly big, and you have to take a tram to the international gates. Its mile-long Terminal 1 is actually one of the longest airport terminals in the world.
Thanks to our business class tickets, we had access to the Malaysia airlines business class lounge, which looked like a throwback to the early ‘90s, but had all the essentials. It isn’t a lounge I’d crave to spend more time in, but it was perfectly comfortable for killing some time and plane-watching.
Our first flight was aboard an A330-300. Though the plane was fairly new, its business class had what I would now deem an old-school angled-lie-flat seat. There was no first class since since that is now mostly offered on KUL- Paris and London on their A380 (which looks like a pretty competitive product and there’s a ton of availability generally on those long flights).
Business class consisted of 36 seats laid out in a 2 x 2 x 2 configuration with the center row slightly staggered from those on the sides. Seats are small for business class at just 20 inches wide and 60 inches of pitch, though they’re supposed to recline to 75 inches when in lie-flat mode.
We were actually in the last row of business class—row 7—which I wouldn’t recommend because it was close to the galley and has no window. I love to take pictures out the plane window so I always feel a little disappointed when I don’t have one.
This was probably the highlight of the flight. I love Asian food, and though I haven’t had much Malay cuisine, I was looking forward to trying something (even if it was airplane food), and I wasn’t disappointed.
My favorite feature? The satay cart the flight attendants wheeled around. You could choose beef or chicken, or both, and they would prepare a little plate with the spicy peanut sauce and garnishes.
For the rest of the menu, there were starters like cold noodles with scallions and a salty “noodle sauce.”
There was also a simple but delicious seafood starter with some shrimp and a little crab claw, smoked salmon and a kind of hollandaise sauce.
For a main, I tried the chicken in brown sauce that tasted kind of like light gravy, with some zucchini, carrots and broccoli with some whipped potatoes on the side.
The other choice was Asian seared beef with rice. It didn’t look like much, but at least it was tasty. With airline food, sometimes the simplest option is the best!
The dessert was a sort of ice cream sandwich with a crust, some vanilla ice cream, a rich sauce and a jelly topper. It was pretty darn delicious.
They actually ran out of meal choices during service, so if you fly Malaysia, I’d suggest taking advantage of their Chef-on-Call program. If you buy a business or first class ticket, you can pre-order the meal you want from over 20 options as long as you do so more than 24 hours in advance of your flight.
Just over an hour before landing, the flight attendants came by with a second light meal service. I got a roll with crème fraiche and smoked salmon, a fruit bowl, a cup of Haagen-Dazs green tea ice cream and a glass of white wine. It was just okay, but nice to have another little snack after that long flight.
Our flight was actually pretty packed, with both economy and business class sections almost completely full, and it was totally uneventful. What was interesting, though, is that they don’t give business class passengers amenity kits—instead, you can request an eye mask and ear plugs.
The seats themselves, though not my favorite business class offering, at least had USB and adapter power outlets, and decent-size flatscreen personal in-flight entertainment screens with plenty of movie and TV options that made it easy to pass the daytime flight.
I was actually surprised by how easy arrival at Kuala Lumpur was. The immigration line went really quickly, and we were out of the airport with our bags within 30 minutes.
We did make the mistake of taking a taxi to the hotel since we had big bags with us, but it took over an hour. On our way back to the airport the following day for our continuing flight to Bali, we went to the KL Sentral station and took the KLIA Ekspres train to the airport. The train costs just 35 Malaysian Ringgit ($10 US) one-way, takes only 28 minutes, and has 4G WiFi. Even better, we were able to check our bags directly at the train station rather than lugging them with us.
At The Airport
Check in was quick again here since there was no one in line at the business class desk. We breezed right through security and headed straight to the Malaysia Airlines Golden Lounge, which was much nicer than the one in Osaka, and, dare I say it—even a bit chic.
We were actually able to access the first class section thanks to my Oneworld Emerald status (because I’m AAdvantage Executive Platinum). There was a full dining room with meal service, though it was peculiar that they seemed to forget about us from time to time. There was only one other occupied table, and it seemed like the restaurant was either under construction or a makeshift version, but it was pleasant enough.
The lounge decor is very well-appointed but with a paltry self-serve bar. I think we were flying at a moment between the daily long-haul Malaysia flights, so everything was quite basic and there wasn’t much staff, but I didn’t have any major complaints.
It also offers free WiFi, a good little business center, and a kids’ area for traveling families that has games and activities.
Boarding and Flight
The gate area at KUL is after another security checkpoint, so it was like a jam-packed holding cell. Unfortunately our flight was delayed, so we were stuck there for a while. Once again, this flight seemed completely full, so there weren’t many open seats in the waiting area. I’d recommend hanging out in the lounge for as long as possible!
This flight was on a 777-200 with just business and economy cabins. Business class has 4 rows in a 2 x 3 x 2 configuration and then a final fifth row behind the galley and lavatories. The seats here are angled-lie-flats, 18.5 inches wide with 62 inches of pitch.
This flight lasted about three hours and was totally uneventful. There was an unmemorable, quickly-served meal, and then we watched programs on our personal seatback IFEs the rest of the time.
For the price and the miles and points it earned me (5,358 in all—about 10 per dollar which is pretty darn good for premium fares), I couldn’t beat Malaysia Airlines. I’ll admit that I was a little nervous to fly them, but the staff were great—very friendly and efficient—and both flights passed without incident.
It bears mentioning that this was before the more recent Air Asia incident between Suribaya and Singapore, and if that had happened before my flight, I might have rethought my plans.
However, overall I have nothing to complain about—even our delayed flight was not very late. I would definitely fly the airline again if the price was right, but I’m not exactly clamoring to do it all over again.
Have you flown Malaysia Airlines recently? How was your experience?
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