Thursday, June 18, 2015

Boracay planning!

Good friends are getting married in Boracay December of 2016 and a bunch of us will be heading there from both coasts of the US. I use my blog as a notebook to keep track of the stuff I've learned while I'm looking for a good fare. This is what I've learned so far. Please email me or leave a comment if you have anything to add or have any questions. I'll keep adding and revising stuff as I find it.  (updated 29 Sept 2016)

Intro

  • Here's the Wikipedia entry for Boracay for openers. Wikitravel guide is here.
  • Looking at their airport situation, there are two: KLO airport (90 minutes by car from Boracay ferries, several international flight options) and MPH (right next to the ferry, but only has flights to Manila and Cebu).
  • Several of my frequent flier friends who've done this say that unless you want to spend some time sightseeing in Manila, arriving to KLO from another country is the way to go. 
  • Here are all the direct flights into KLO (keep in mind not all of these are year-round or 7 days a week)
    Direct flights into KLO (updated Sep 2016)
  • All that said, my first thought is to try to fly into one of these places and spend some time there before heading over to KLO. Singapore, Hong Kong, and Seoul all sound great for a layover. 
  • ... OR to go to Manila with Nico (a good friend who's originally from there) beforehand and just party eat for a while before heading over.
  • (FYI - Jin Air is a new low-cost carrier owned by Korean Air. They have Boeing 737s in an all-economy configuration)

General Tips

A couple of tips before you click Buy:
  • Google Flights is a speedy, well-designed place to search for and buy flights. (There's a great tutorial for it over here). Kayak has a larger selection of flights in its database so, especially for less-common Asian carriers, always double-check Kayak
  • Make sure you look at the flight number (or the plane type) and use SeatGuru before you buy. A bit of poking around and you can sometimes find a good seat in Economy (like #2 in the pic below) that's a bit less painful than the others. Also note the seat pitch -- if you feel cramped in United's 32" seats, are you going to survive a long flight in 28" seats? If you click on the flight detail in Google flights, it does a good job flagging flights with good or bad legroom. 

Look at all that legroom
  • Make sure you look at the layover times! Having an 8 hour layover in the middle of the night at the airport is not fun. For example, here are two identically-priced itineraries for NYC-KLO, but the second one will have you sleeping overnight in the Manila airport.

  • If you read through the Wikitravel article, you'll see that even after your 28+ hours of air travel, you've still got customs, a 2 hour car ride, a ferry ride, and tricycle taxi ride to your hotel. I'm thinking I might want to break that up a bit... Maybe spend a day or two in Seoul or Hong Kong before continuing on.
  • Philippine Airlines has "direct" service to Manila from JFK and Toronto, both flights have a stopover in Vancouver en route. 

Prices

  • Right now most flights from North America to KLO are pricing out around $1100 in economy, $4500 in Business Class, and "Ain't Nobody Gonna pay that" in First ($10,000+) on most of the airlines. 

Best Bets Flying on Points

  • Sadly Philippine Airlines isn't part of any of the big alliances, so using points with them isn't possible
  • My first instinct is to fly via Seoul. There are usually quite a few seats available on Asiana (United/Aeroplan/Star Alliance) and Korean Airlines (Delta/SkyTeam) even up until the last minute. A Saver award seat on Asiana or Korean in Economy is 35,000 each way. For flying "fancy" to Seoul, I'm going to transfer Chase points to Korean Air – their First Class is priced the same as the other carriers' Business Class. (Our trip report here).

    UPDATE: we've booked our tickets and, indeed, we're coming back from Boracay on Korean Airlines via Seoul. We transferred Chase points (important note on that here) to Korean Airlines and are doing the upper deck on their 747-8 on the long leg to JFK. 
  • From Seoul to KLO there's three flights a day (AirAsia, Philippine Air, Jin Air) on most days of the week. It's a 4.5 hour flight and both flights have seats smashed together even closer than the worst US carriers so it might be worth springing for Business Class on Philippine Airlines (AirAsia is 100% Economy). Though if you look at the seat map, you might be good if you can snag 42A or 42K in Philippine Air Economy, though. These flights are running $400-$500 in Economy and $900 in Business.
  • The glamour route of course would be Singapore Suites class to Singapore and connect to KLO there. A Saver reward in Suites is 110,00 miles each way, per person - if you can find an available seat. Some tips about booking this reward are here. The flight from Singapore to KLO is 3 hours 45 minutes and isn't daily, so plan accordingly. At least one of the legs will likely be TigerAir, which has no Business Class.
  • And if you're flying Singapore Suites-level of baller, you might as well get helicopter service to your resort from Manila... it's only US$2000 :P
  • For OneWorld/Avios/American Airlines, I'd do Cathay Pacific JFK or SFO to Hong Kong. It's another high-glamour choice that's a bit more attainable than Singapore Suites. If you have American/British Airways points it's 35,000 points each way for Economy, 70,000 for Premium Economy, and 105,000 for Business. (More points are required when flying from Boston...) My trip report from that plane is here.
  • If you geek out on planes, you could try to route yourself there on a double-decker A380 or a new 787. The flight detail in Kayak and Google flights shows the plane type. Asiana, Korean, Singapore, and several others operate A380s. A list of 787 routes is here.

Other Options

  • Ultimately, for the flight to the Philippines we chose to fly through Taipei, mostly because we want to fly on the Eva Air Hello Kitty plane. Its only North American destination is currently Houston 3x a week, but when I saw Saver Business Class seats we jumped on them even though it's a more convoluted routing. Eva Airlines is part of Star Alliance and is priced similarly (35k/80k each way).

    I finally found the direct Taipei – Kalibo flights: China Airlines, flight 707, Monday and Thursdays only, 7am. Philippine Airlines flight 893, Wednesdays and Saturdays, departing 9:40am.
  • Kuala Lumpur has no direct flights to the USA, so I'd probably not take that route. It's just under 4 hours on AirAsia's extra-cramped Economy from KUL to KLO.
  • Beijing/Shanghai I would only do if I were stopping off there for a few days to actually see China just because I've never been there and I'd feel lame being so close and not stopping over. Boston has direct service to Shanghai and Beijing on Hainan: $1200 r/t in Economy, $3500 in Business. They have a new Boeing 787 on that route with lie-flat seats. They aren't part of an alliance so no points here. For the life of me I can't get AirAsiaZest to display the direct flights from China to KLO, so maybe it's a unicorn. I guess just keep an eye on this one... 





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