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On a recent trip to Asia, TPG Editor-in-Chief Zach Honig had to travel from Bali to Tokyo. Only one airline offers nonstop service on that route, and it’s a surprisingly posh flight.
I took my mom and sister to Asia earlier this month, with stops in Hong Kong, Bali and Tokyo. After an absolutely fantastic flight in Cathay Pacific first class, we spent a night at the W Hong Kong before continuing to Bali on Cathay Pacific’s regional business class. Then, following a relaxing stay at a villa I booked via Airbnb, we continued on to Tokyo.
Originally, I had used American AAdvantage miles earned with the Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard to book us from Bali to Hong Kong to Tokyo, but that routing wasn’t ideal. When I figured out that I could redeem just 40,000 Delta miles to fly nonstop in Garuda Indonesia business class on the airline’s brand new 777-300ER, I booked three seats on that flight right away.
Booking Garuda Indonesia Business to Tokyo
I booked our flights using 40,000 Delta SkyMiles each, plus $14.30 for the Bali airport departure tax (which you used to pay in IDR at the airport). Note that only one seat was available to purchase using cash the day before my flight, though it was still available to book with miles as well.
Availability is absolutely phenomenal. In fact, I’ve never seen this many award seats open on any flight ever, let alone a very affordable intercontinental redeye with lie-flat beds. As you can see above, there are at least nine seats available nearly every day in early spring.
Award availability appears to match actual seat availability, so Garuda isn’t holding back any seats from the award inventory. A one-way ticket would have cost nearly $1,550, giving me a value of 3.8 cents per mile – far above TPG’s valuation. Award space isn’t quite as plentiful on some of Garuda’s longer 777-300ER flights, such as Amsterdam to Jakarta (13 hours), which will run you 80,000 SkyMiles plus $30, though there are many dates with two seats open throughout the year, and quite a few with four seats or more.
My business-class boarding pass. Note the tax paid stamp — if you didn’t pay the departure tax when you booked your flight, you’ll need to pay before going through immigration at DPS.
Check-In and Airport
We arrived more than three hours before our 12:25am flight, after a fantastic evening cooking class in Ubud. Most of the Tokyo-bound passengers were waiting outside of the check-in area, and we were turned away initially at first as well, though a supervisor did let us check in early after confirming that we were flying in business class. Note: If you’re flying coach and don’t have SkyTeam elite status, don’t arrive more than three hours before departure.
There’s also a separate check-in area for premium passengers, but I didn’t spot it until after we had our boarding passes.
The new Bali airport terminal is really a huge improvement — it’s very large, with tons of shopping and several Western restaurants.
Yup, there’s even a Hard Rock Cafe.
The “Temporary” Garuda Lounge
Now, on to the not so great part of our trip. Garuda Indonesia’s website references a fancy business-class lounge that simply doesn’t exist at DPS. Apparently it’s delayed, and in the meantime there’s a “temporary” lounge that’s been in place since 2013. Two years isn’t “temporary” in my book, especially considering that construction likely began long before the new terminal opened. I mean, you can build a 50-story skyscraper in two years. All I’m saying is that this new lounge better be fantastic.
The lounge looks nice enough, but it has a very sterile feel (while at the same time not being very clean) — and it’s very loud, since it’s open to the rest of the terminal, and lounge agents walk around every few minutes with bicycle bells (really) to announce boarding of a flight.
Fortunately, there’s free Wi-Fi available, but you’ll probably get a better connection from your cellphone.
The food options aren’t so great. There were quite a few choices, but they were all of poor quality.
Also annoying is the way the lounge handles alcohol. There isn’t any available for passengers to grab, and there isn’t a bar, either. You have to find a lounge agent (preferably not the one with the bicycle bell) and place your order. Not knowing what they had available, I simply ordered a beer, which was served in the can (I got up to get my own glass).
When I spoke to an agent to select our seats on the phone, I confirmed that the Garuda lounge in DPS has a shower. That turned out to not be the case at all. Since we had spent the entire day exploring Bali, I wandered around looking for a lounge with shower facilities, and settled on the TG Lounge, which costs $25 to enter (nobody can get free access, from what I could tell). There’s a much better food spread in that lounge, and it’s quiet, so if you have a long wait I’d say it’s worth the 25 bucks.
The shower, though, was disgusting. There were several used bars of soap, and there wasn’t anywhere to place my clothes. It was simply a stall in the men’s bathroom, but it did the trick in a pinch.
Garuda Indonesia’s 777-300ER Business-Class Cabin
After a wait that never seemed to end, it was finally time to board just around midnight, or 25 minutes before departure. Boarding was surprisingly chaotic, but gate agents walked through to pull business passengers to the front of the queue.
When I booked the flight, we ended up with three seats that weren’t anywhere near each other, but when I checked a couple of days before departure, the perfect seats had opened up. I called to move us (this couldn’t be done online for some reason), with my mom and sister ending up in 6E and 6F in the mini-cabin behind first class, and I grabbed 6K, a window bulkhead seat just across the aisle.
You can see seats 6E and 6F here, with 7D and 7G just behind. In my opinion, 6E and F are the best pick if you’re traveling with a companion, while 6A and K are ideal if you’re flying alone.
C, D, G and H seats are all positioned next to the aisle, and they’re much less private. Avoid those seats if you can.
Unfortunately, Garuda’s 777-300ER doesn’t have personal air vents. The cabin was very warm during the overnight flight, and my mom wasn’t able to sleep at all. I managed to get 5 hours of sleep myself, but it was too warm to use the blanket.
The bathrooms are all very small, but that’s really only an issue when it’s time to change clothes.
After departure, the crew changed the lighting, making the cabin a deep blue color. It was actually quite pleasant.
Then, during the middle of the flight, the lights were turned off and you could see “stars” above.
Garuda Indonesia’s 777-300ER First-Class Cabin
There ended up being six open first-class seats on our flight, though only one free business seat, so it doesn’t appear that Garuda upgrades elites. Unfortunately, Delta doesn’t permit first-class award bookings, and Garuda’s own award reservation system is bizarrely convoluted. Essentially, you need to make a reservation in person at a Garuda office, which is obviously very time-consuming, and generally not worth the hassle.
Still, first class looked really, really nice. This is the closest I got before we landed at Narita.
After the two first-class passengers deplaned, the purser let me come up for a look. A flight attendant came by to show my sister and I around — she was far friendlier than the flight attendants in our cabin just behind!
First class is very nice, with large, private suites. The center partition can be lowered if you’re traveling with a companion.
And each seat has a sliding door, which would certainly come in handy on a redeye.
The seats themselves are large and comfy.
Each seat has a 23-inch monitor with the same content available in business class.
As I mentioned above, the window seats are most private. This is my seat, 6K.
7H, meanwhile, faces the aisle, so you’re much more likely to be disturbed as flight attendants and other passengers walk through the aisle.
The footwell was surprisingly narrow for a bulkhead seat, but my feet fit in there just fine with the seat in bed mode.
As for the controls, there’s a dedicated wired remote for the IFE system (or you can tap the screen), with a seat controller just above.
You get two USB ports — I’m not sure why I’d need more than one, really, but I can’t complain. You also get a universal power outlet, for charging a laptop. Our aircraft was equipped with satellite Wi-Fi, however I didn’t have time to test it on this flight, since I was focused on getting some sleep (and taking pictures whenever I was awake).
My window seat had three windows — another reason to pick seats A or K.
There was a sealed comforter and a L’Occitane amenity kit waiting at each seat when we boarded. I eventually unwrapped my blanket, though the cabin was too warm to really put it to use.
All the usual suspects are here — a dental kit, eye mask, ear plugs, lotion, brush and slippers.
The provided headphones were’t good at all, but you probably won’t need them on a red-eye.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait for flight attendants to hand out menus — separate menus for food and wine were waiting in a special compartment at the seat.
Since we had a red-eye flight with a late-night boarding time, I went to sleep as soon as we took off. So admittedly I didn’t spend much time with the in-flight entertainment, though the moving map stayed up for most of the flight.
I did watch a few minutes of Spy, which I had actually started on the flight from JFK, continued on the flight from Hong Kong and then continued again on the flight to Tokyo. Fortunately, the IFE system lets you move a slider to select where to play a film, so I didn’t have to deal with fast-forwarding through most of the movie.
You can stream several live satellite TV channels, including BBC, CNBC and CNN, just as you can on Etihad’s new A380.
Unfortunately, service wasn’t available on the ground, which is the only time I tried it. I imagine it’s available around the same time that the in-flight Wi-Fi connects.
Food and Beverage
Unlike on most flights, when you’re served the main meal after departure, breakfast was the only scheduled meal service on this flight. Several snacks were available to order, however, including beef and chicken sate, nasi goreng (Indonesian fried rice), udon soup, cut fresh fruit and nachos (yes, nachos). I asked for a watermelon juice and called it a day. I didn’t touch the alcohol, though the selection was certainly comprehensive, including a Billecart-Salmon Brut Rose ($75 on the ground), a Bel Echo Sauvignon Blanc (about $20) and an Italian red called Andrea Montevibiano (about $25), among other options.
Before departure, a flight attendant came down the other aisle to take breakfast orders, but nobody stopped by my seat. I walked over to the galley to place my order for the Indonesian breakfast tray, at which point the flight attendant confirmed that my meal would be served two hours before landing, which seemed crazy on a short red-eye. I asked if it could be served one hour before landing instead, and she said that was fine.
My “Indonesian Warmth” breakfast was served all at once, which I actually preferred.
I started with the fresh fruit, which was in far better shape than anything I’ve been served on a US-based airline.
Next, I worked through the yellow rice and potato cake. Both were tasty, though the potato had been fried (many hours before, I imagine), so it was pretty soggy.
Then there were several small dishes, including sautéed papaya leaves, tuna, a deep-fried egg and “spicy potato chips.”
The Japanese option included egg and seaweed pudding, marinated mackerel, Japanese pickles, steamed rice, miso soup and fresh fruit. The “Modern European Edge” option, meanwhile, included fruit muesli, fresh cut fruit, eggs cooked on board, banana bread pudding, roasted tomatoes, turkey bacon, carrot and apricot rosti and strawberries tossed in orange sauce. In other words, it was a feast.
There was one peculiarity that deserves extra attention here. The crew decided to wake up the entire plane by turning on all the lights and making a loud announcement in several languages a full 2 hours and 20 minutes before landing. At first, I thought there must have been an emergency and they were waking us up before we attempted a “water landing” in the middle of the ocean. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case, but I can’t imagine any of the passengers had gotten much more than four hours of sleep at that point, and it was absolutely unnecessary, and ultimately quite disruptive. Other than this, the flight was fine, but it sure left me with a lousy impression of Garuda.
Still, no question about it — this was a far better option than the one-stop Cathay regional business flight I had originally booked. And considering that 40,000 Delta SkyMiles will barely get you a domestic first-class flight within the US, it was a steal. The crew wasn’t over-the-top friendly, and things seemed to be a bit disorganized at times, but for me this flight was really about getting us safely, and comfortably, from A to B. We arrived in Tokyo refreshed and ready to start the day.
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