Home > India, Jet Airways, Singapore Airlines, Star Alliance, Trip Reports > Wrapping up Star Gold with one trip on Singapore Airlines

Wrapping up Star Gold with one trip on Singapore Airlines

I posted about the outbound, but thought I’d also post the return trip. After a couple weeks in India for a family event, it was time to head back home, again on Singapore Airlines flying Mumbai to Los Angeles via Singapore and Tokyo-Narita. I usually travel by myself but since my schedule was similar to my mother’s, we traveled together on this trip.

Since my miles from the outbound had already posted, both mom and I were already an Aegean Airlines Star Silver (A3*S, as denoted on my boarding pass). However, I had been matched to Turkish Airlines Star Gold (TK*G) – as I explained in my earlier post, this was a great way to enjoy Star Gold benefits on this trip, but Aegean provided a better program to keep Star Gold long term. Read below for a short trip report. I’ll follow this post with a summary of the perks of foreign Star Gold status.


PNQ (Pune, India) – BOM (Mumbai)

Jet Airways 617 (Boeing 737-800)

For several reasons, we decided to take a short flight from Pune to Mumbai. It’s only 80 miles as the crow flies but with monsoons and Mumbai traffic, the drive can take upwards of 5-6 hours from door to airport. Since we were flying out on a weekend, fares on Jet Airways’ flight from PNQ to BOM were pretty low.

PNQ airport is also really convenient for us, since it’s less than a 5-minute drive from where we usually stay. It’s pretty small, so checking in is easy, as is going through security. When we can, we’ll usually fly Lufthansa, since they contract a 737-800 from PrivatAir to fly Frankfurt to Pune 4x a week. The inbound flight arrives at about 4am and the outbound departs at 5:30am, arriving in Frankfurt by noon to catch afternoon connections. While the fares are higher than flights to Delhi or Mumbai, this flight is bookable with miles from any Star Alliance program, and I’ll often see a seat open up close-in.

Indian airports are notorious for security, and PNQ is actually tighter than most because the runways are shared with the Indian Air Force. Only ticketed passengers are allowed inside airports (though I also think this is because for every Indian person brings 10 people to send them off at an airport or train station and there’s just no room for all those people). While I have gotten in to Mumbai airport with a mobile boarding pass or screenshot on my phone, printed e-tickets are the best way to not run into any trouble. Checking our bags to BOM was easy, and after the standard security patdown (which makes TSA groping sessions look PG-rated), we were upstairs waiting for our flight.

The waiting area at Pune is just one big waiting room with multiple gates. While there is a Kingfisher lounge, it looked pretty bare-bone from the outside. Frankly, my theory is that if you have time to use the lounge in Pune, you’re getting to the airport way too early. The main reason to use this airport is to avoid the drive to Mumbai and all the hubbub in Mumbai airport, and to get from curb to plane in under 15 minutes.

Waiting area. Also an illegal picture, since I later saw that photos are prohibited past security. Oh well.

Boarding was called about 10 minutes after we arrived (which meant we got to the airport 9 minutes early ;)). There was no priority boarding since we were simply giving our boarding cards to go line up downstairs to board on the tarmac. I would have taken pictures, but there were armed Air Force soldiers on the tarmac, so that wasn’t possible.

Stairs were set up at both the front and back doors; since we had bulkhead seats 10A and 10C, we boarded from the front. This plane also has Premiere Class, which is akin to US domestic first class. Hardly worth it unless it’s part of a larger business class itinerary.

Since the flight is less than 30 minutes, the flight attendants passed out drinks (either a water bottle or juice) and snacks before departure. This was great, considering that most airlines in the US would just not do the service.

Stairs

Indians sure love our mango drinks.

We were quickly off to Mumbai, flying through some of the most beautiful cloudscapes I’ve seen in a while. Monsoons sure look nice from above. We landed at Terminal 1B at Mumbai, where most of the passengers deboarded, and only a few stayed on the plane to continue to Calcutta. After getting our bags at baggage claim, we headed to the door behind the baggage belts to catch a bus to the international terminal. The domestic and international terminals are on separate sides of the airport and are about 6km apart. Luckily, there’s a free shuttle so long as you have a ticket departing from the other terminal.

The shuttle drives around the border of the tarmac, allowing for some great aircraft views.

BA World Cargo 747

Mumbai and BOM Star Alliance Lounge

We were dropped off at the international terminal about 4.5 hours before departure. The rules at BOM (and other Indian airports) state that passengers can’t enter the airport until 4 hours before departure. If I had a longer layover, I’d usually just go to a local hotel and grab dinner, but this was a tighter layover and I didn’t want to risk it. The Air Force official initially said “no” when we tried to enter the terminal, but relented after we stood off to the side and waited there instead of walking over to the waiting room. In India, there are rules, and then there are “rules.” This was one of the latter. Got to love Indian airports.

With two Singapore Airlines departures at night, the lines for check-in were long, probably upwards of 30 minutes, which made Star Gold already worth it. The agent offered to block the seat between us (we had a window and aisle) which was nice, but the seat was taken since the flight went out completely full. After a quick check-in, we went to immigration, security, and through duty-free to find the Star Alliance lounge (run by Lufthansa).

The lounge was pretty crowded but much better than waiting around in the airport. Most of the passengers were on the United flight to Newark; once that flight was called, half the lounge exited.

Lufthansa lounge, with an outdated Star Alliance member list.

Lounge area

The food was pretty good, enough to tide anyone for a long wait. Not saying this was SWISS First lounge at Zurich quality, but still good. Drinks were a bit disappointing.

Food Selection

More food

The seats in the lounge all have power ports that take US chargers, and the wi-fi coverage is decent, so that’s definitely a plus. There is also a First Class side to the lounge, though I haven’t had a chance to see what that’s like.

About an hour before departure, we made our way to the gate for our flight to SIN. At check-in, my BOM-SIN boarding pass had my Turkish Airlines account (showing “TK*G” on it) while my SIN-LAX pass had my Aegean account (showing “A3*S). I asked the agent to change my frequent flyer number to my Aegean account, and the miles posted there a couple days later, so it’s definitely possible to use one account for Star Gold and earn miles in another account (I’ll delve into this further in my next post).

BOM-SIN

Singapore Airlines 423 (Boeing 777-300ER – 77W)

While the legroom wasn’t as tight as the 777-200 flight on the way here, it still wasn’t as good as the A380’s. These 777-300ERs run the flights to San Francisco and Houston, so I’d definitely pay the $50 to get a bulkhead seat for those long trips if in coach. I’m 5’10” and if this were a day flight, it’d be tight.

SQ 77W Legroom

This flight leaves at 12:20am and arrives Singapore before 8am, so it’s kind of like a US red-eye at 5h30m flight time. There was a meal service about an hour into the flight … while a meal service on a red-eye type flight is weird, you’ll have to see that it was perfect for someone like me, who was trying to get my body back onto Los Angeles time. I’ve found that eating at times that match with your destination really help with jet lag, and it was just about lunch hour in L.A. when this flight took off. The food was alright (I’ve never had good food on a flight coming from India, even in business class) but it was good for a few nibbles.

Chicken entrée (the international selection)

I used the rest of the flight to watch some movies on the Krisworld IFE, which has a decent amount of selections. My outbound flight was at the end of June but had the July selections, so a lot of things I had already seen.

Morning over Singapore

Singapore and SIN Krisflyer Lounge

Although India flights are supposed to depart and arrive at Changi Terminal 2, this flight arrived at Terminal 3 (likely because it was a 77W that was continuing to a Terminal 3 destination). This made our transit at Singapore a lot easier, since our next flight was out of T3. Our layover was short, about 90 minutes (though for an airline like Singapore Airlines, that’s more than enough). I raced to the Krisflyer Gold lounge (separate from the Business Class lounges) and got a quick breakfast. I don’t have pictures (since I took a couple of pics on the inbound plus this was a really quick transit). We made our way to the A380 gates which were packed, with one A380 going to Tokyo/Los Angeles and the other to London. Needless to say, Star Gold shined once again, since we were able to board early and get to our seats at the back of the upper deck. The passenger across from us had to gate-check their rather small bag. Yikes.

SIN-NRT

Singapore Airlines 12 (Airbus A380 – Upper Deck Economy)

On Singapore’s A380, Suites are at the front of the main deck and Business is at the front of the upper deck. Economy makes up the rear of the plane on both levels. The main deck has seats in a 3-4-3 arrangement while the upper deck has a smaller cabin in a 2-4-2 arrangement. Since we were 2 people, getting a 2-block on the upper deck was perfect. The window seats also have a storage bin next to them, which makes it great for people who like window seats but also want to be able to access all their things.

Much better legroom on the Superjumbo

Upper deck storage bins

At about 9:30am, we took off for the 7-hour flight to Tokyo (yeah, 7 hours! Singapore and Japan are a lot farther apart than a lot of people think). I took a quick nap until a couple hours into the flight, when we had the meal. I opted for the salmon, which was absolutely disappointing. I know I shouldn’t compare, but the salmon dishes served in business and first class are much much better. Anyone who says “airplane food is just airplane food” has clearly only flown economy. I ended up eating just the salad part as well as the ice cream served afterward.

Disappointing salmon.

With a great IFE, the flight zoomed by. We soon landed at Tokyo close to 5:30pm.

Tokyo-Narita, NRT ANA Business Lounge

One thing that makes this flight tough on the way back is that all passengers have to disembark at NRT. This layover begins at about 1:30am Los Angeles time and ends at about 3:00am, so it’s tough to get used to L.A. time on this flight.

I rushed over to transit security to get past the hoards of once-a-year travelers who seem to take forever (this was actually at my mom’s behest — she’s usually not a frequent flyer at all, but she’s already flown 72,000 miles this year, so even she’s got the drill down now ;)). Once through security, we were able to take the elevator down to the ANA lounge on the second floor, just underneath the departure gate.

I’m surprised that the lounge wasn’t as busy as I thought it would be – considering how many business class and Star Gold passengers there are on the A380, it’s really just as close as waiting at the gate for the continuing flight (Suites passengers can use the ANA First/Suites lounge). Both of us were able to get a shower room upon arrival, which was great in the middle of a long journey. Afterward, a visit to the noodle bar and beer machine got some grub in me (I would normally be having “4th meal” at this time in L.A. anyway).

It does help though that Singapore Airlines has timed it so that the SIN-NRT-LAX SQ12 flight arrives first and departs just as the LAX-NRT-SIN SQ11 flight arrives. Otherwise the transit security and lounge would be way too crowded.

Shower Room, complete with over-the-top Japanese toilet

Shower room

Small sushi selection

General lounge area

Noodle bar (get the udon)

Sake Bar. A decent selection, though I didn’t have the time to enjoy a drink here.

Time to reboard the beast

SQ11 from LAX arriving as we depart to LAX as SQ12

NRT-LAX

Singapore Airlines 12 (Airbus A380 – Upper Deck Economy)

I conked out as soon as we departed the gate (since we were the last row before the jumpseat, the flight attendant didn’t notice we had our seats reclined). It was 3am in L.A. and I had been going easy on the sleep just so that I could save it for this flight. It worked, as earplugs allowed me to get about 5.5 hours of sleep, more than half this flight. I missed the meal service, but that’s okay, since I had loaded up on food at the NRT lounge.

The NRT-LAX flight is about the same as LAX-Western Europe flights, considering the flight time and time difference (when you take away the international date line). I’m kind of mixed as to which I prefer: departing in the afternoon (at the destination’s night) and arriving in the morning or departing in the evening (at the destination’s very early morning) and arriving in the afternoon. Whatever the case, I did sleep a lot the next 2 days after arriving in L.A., but it was during the night so it didn’t mess up my work schedule when I got back. I was free of jet-lag within 48 hours.

Shortly before landing at LAX, they served a breakfast. Since it was about 11am in L.A., this made sense (much more sense than the breakfast on SWISS shortly before arriving in Hong Kong at 5pm). I decided to go with the Asian selection, some fried noodles, and wasn’t disappointed.

Fried noodles

Upper Deck economy

I’m a bit of an aviation geek, so I get giddy when I can arrive at LAX on the SADDE6 approach.

The goal for my Delta Skymiles collection. LAX is quickly becoming an A380 mecca (Singapore, Korean, Air France, and Qantas).

We arrived at a remote gate at LAX and had to bus it to Tom Bradley, where we ran part of the L.A. Marathon course to make it to immigration. While Global Entry is on my list of things to-do, I haven’t gotten it yet. This experience, landing shortly after an Air France A380 and many other international flights, made me realize how sorely I need to get that.

Conclusion

Who wouldn’t always want to fly First and Business Class? I know I would. Frankly, though, it’s not always possible. And I have too much wanderlust and desire to travel than I do have miles to get me in premium classes all the time.

I think where Singapore Airlines really outshines the competition is in their Economy Class. Sure, their Business Class is nice, and I’m more than positive that we’ll see a lot of people boasting about their First Class after they accidentally opened up award space a couple of weeks ago. But compared to other carriers, this was really nice. It’s almost sickening to see that an LAX-EWR-BOM itinerary on United was coming out to just $40 cheaper. Yikes.

All in all, I have to say that this was probably the easiest way I could get Star Gold status through a coach ticket. My miles posted within 2 days, and the card is in the mail!

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