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Recently, TPG Contributor Richard Kerr had to fly from Tokyo to Kuala Lumpur for business, and chose to fly on low-cost carrier AirAsia X in one of its Premium Flatbed business-class seats. Here’s his review of the experience. (Except where noted, all photos by the author.)
This summer, my business entered into a new contract with a company in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and for the contract post-award conference, I wanted to bring my wife, son and sister along to experience this exciting city while I worked during the day. I’d soon discover that getting a family of four down to Kuala Lumpur on miles wouldn’t be easy, as my usual award-booking options had no availability. In order to ease the burden on my wallet, I turned my attention to Asian low-cost carriers — and AirAsia X’s prices and seat availability on their Tokyo-Narita (NRT) to Kuala Lumpur (KUL) flight ended up fitting the bill.
Note that as of August 19, 2015, AirAsia X has discontinued its NRT-KUL service. My flight on this route (and my colleague’s later that same week) were relatively empty, so I wasn’t surprised by this decision. AirAsia X continues to operate daily service between Tokyo-Haneda (HND) and KUL.
If booking further than 60 days in advance, you can routinely find the seven-hour HND-KUL flight in standard economy for about $170. Adding 20 kilograms (44 pounds) of baggage allowance and a pre-ordered meal will run you another $40, for a total cost of about $210. If you want to fly in the carrier’s Premium Flatbed business class, your total cost will be about $500, including a baggage allowance of 40 kilograms (88 pounds), a pre-ordered meal and the ability to change travel dates for free up to 48 hours before the flight.
For our flights, I booked three adult tickets in standard economy for about $170 each, as well as an infant ticket for $30. To upgrade to Premium Flatbed, AirAsia X has partnered with travel site Optiontown, which allows you to enter your AirAsia X PNR (passenger name record), and then offers you the chance to pay a fixed price for the chance at upgrading if the flight does not sell all the seats.
I looked at the flatbed seats available for the week we were flying and saw there were at least four empty flatbed seats still for sale the day before each flight. I really rolled the dice, but luckily, 48 hours prior to our flight I received an email that our flights had been upgraded! I paid $166 each for three upgrades for a total cost of $332 per adult — in my opinion, money well spent for a seven-hour flight in flatbed seats.
I used my Chase Sapphire Preferred Card to pay a total of $1,238 for the plane tickets and upgrades, and earned 2x Ultimate Rewards — a total of 2,476 points — on this travel spend. (Note that Chase coded my Optiontown purchases as “travel,” allowing me to earn the full 2x on my upgrades.)
Check-In at Tokyo-Narita Airport (NRT)
One good aspect of AirAsia X dropping its NRT-KUL flight is that you won’t have to try to find the AirAsia X check-in area at NRT. Far from all the other carriers’ desks, AirAsia’s check-in area is set in its own separate and hidden area toward the front of the airport, and is divided into two sections with two different entrances — one for the carrier’s flight to Bangkok and another for the flight to Kuala Lumpur.
Fortunately, the Kuala Lumpur section of the check-in area had a dedicated line for Premium Flatbed customers, allowing us to scoot past the few people waiting to check in. We quickly handed over our baggage to have it tagged for expedited delivery at KUL, and were soon off to security with our boarding passes.
Security and immigration at Narita were their usual breeze, with no more than a five-minute wait. When you fly in AirAsia’s Premium Flatbed class, you don’t have access to a lounge during your pre-boarding time, but for a roughly $330 premium, I feel it’s hardly worth complaining about.
Cabin and Premium Flatbed Seat
Our A330-300 airframe had just been delivered to the airline in April 2015 and still had that new-plane smell and a cabin that looked brand new. The Premium Flatbed cabin has two rows and 12 seats arranged in a 2-2-2 layout, each with 60 inches of pitch and 20 inches of width. Hard bulkheads separate it from the ‘”quiet zone” at the front of standard economy, and just prior to take-off, the curtains were closed.
I was a bit skeptical that these angle-flat seats would compare favorably to business-class seats on the major airlines, but as soon as I sat down, my first impression was positive — and I quickly set about familiarizing myself with its various positions, which could be controlled by a hand-held remote.
When in the upright position, I found plenty of legroom for my 6’1,” 235-pound frame in the first row. Sitting one row behind me, my wife and sister (though certainly smaller than me) also had no complaints about their legroom.
There was almost no storage at my first-row seat, however — aside from a small cubby set just below the armrest.
The biggest drawback of the seats was the fact that their name, “Premium Flatbed,” falls short. For one, the seat’s 60-inch pitch isn’t exactly flat, and when fully extended, the bed length wasn’t quite long enough for me.
That said, I still found the seat comfortable for lounging, especially while letting my infant son nap on my chest. It sure as heck beat sitting in standard economy for seven hours!
Amenities and In-Flight Entertainment
Premium Flatbed didn’t offer an amenity kit, but there were toothbrush kits in the forward lavatory. We each received a pillow and blanket after settling in, which proved to be comfortable for the flight. The pillow was closer to normal size than many of the pea-sized pillows airlines hand out.
There was no in-flight Wi-Fi available, nor were there at-seat, seatback or overhead monitors for in-flight entertainment. However, AirAsia X does offer 10.1-inch Samsung Galaxy tablets for rent, pre-loaded with an array of TV series and movies – you can rent one on board for $14 or pre-book it online for $11. To avoid this extra expense, prior to the flight, I loaded up my iPad with some TV shows I’d been wanting to watch.
Food and Beverage
My expectations for the food served on a low-cost carrier were low, but while my in-flight meal of the Malaysian national dish didn’t look especially pleasing, I was happily surprised by its taste. I was also impressed by AirAsia X’s extensive in-flight menu, which included a wide assortment of snacks and drinks you could purchase for additional costs – only the meal and a bottle of water were included with the Premium Flatbed fare.
Snack prices were generally 15-18 MYR (roughly $3.50-$4), so I appreciated the fact that the airline didn’t price-gouge us for additional food on this long flight.
I’d certainly fly AirAsia X’s Premium Flatbed business-class again because of the product you receive for the price. Is this premium-economy product really a stand-in for long-haul business class on a major carrier? You can put that to debate, but we enjoyed the new plane, fantastic service by the Malaysian crew and as much legroom and comfort as we could ever hope for — for a spend of about $330 per adult seat.
If you want to experience this flight for yourself, there’s a fantastic promotion occurring now through November 8, 2015. The offer consists of Flatbed from Haneda or Osaka to Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur for 39,000 Yen or ~$324 one way. With great travel benefits, 2x points on travel & dining and a 50,000 point sign up bonus, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great card for those looking to get into the points and miles game. Here are the top 5 reasons it should be in your wallet, or read our definitive review for more details.
With great travel benefits, 2x points on travel & dining and a 50,000 point sign up bonus, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great card for those looking to get into the points and miles game. Here are the top 5 reasons it should be in your wallet, or read our definitive review for more details.