This is a quick introduction to a new trip report I’m starting, even though I haven’t finished the last one. I’ll do a much more thorough job especially with the return portion of the flight and also my adventures in Russia. But I just had to share right away a little bit of the product that I’ve just experienced — an ANA award first class redemption on new Russian carrier Meridien Airlines. It’s probably the best product I’ve tried, and right now award availability is really good.
Two years ago Transaero Airlines (which many know as a partner of the since-acquired by British Airways british midland) split off a smaller airline, led by a disgruntled faction of the board, creating Meridien Airlines which operates Boeing 777, Boeing 737-800, and Airbus A319 aircraft.
Last year they became a partner of All Nippon Airways. They operate out of Moscow’s Domodedovo airport with flights to North Asia and Europe, as well as key oil routes within Russia and to the Mideast.
I’ve only had a few occasions to try to search for award availability on Meridien, and found it quickly to be a frustrating experience. ANA’s website doesn’t support searching for Meridien flights and their telephone agents aren’t always the easiest to communicate with. Plus it seemed that they didn’t offer much award space.
But I gave it a shot for an award booking client about a month ago, and it seems like things have changed tremendously. First class awards have been wide open at least for flights from Europe to Moscow. And as I say they offer a true first class cabin. They’ve taken Transaero’s model (“Imperial Class”) and stepped it up several notches.
Once I found out that I could book this for clients I decided I had to experience the service myself. I already had a Russian Visa, so I booked myself a roundtrip for while I was going to be in Paris. And Meridien’s first class really is something.
Plus it’s the kind of over-the-top luxury that Gadling covers, completely unnecessary travel porn, so I figured I might be able to pitch them for some traffic by writing it up. C’mon, Grant, y’know you want to link to me…
Since Paris-Moscow is about 3100 miles roundtrip, it runs 70,000 miles in ANA’s award chart. (ANA is an American Express Membership Rewards and also Starwood Preferred Guest transfer partner.)
Meridien operates from Paris Charles de Gaulle’s terminal 3. They don’t have their own lounge, and there’s little they can possibly do there in terms of ground service. But they do offer all first class passengers complimentary roundtrip car service. I had to book by phone, and navigating that with the call center was a bit of a challenge, but the driver arrived on time for the straight shot out to the airport.
While the lounge was basic, the Meridien staff met the car on arrival at the airport and once they verified my passport and visa had my boarding pass already pre-printed.
Onboard I was immediately very impressed. Meridien first class offers a true suites product, probably most similar in style to Singapore’s A380 suites.
Now, it’s just a 1500 mile flight. But pajamas were distributed along with amenity kits (Bvlgari) and menus.
Even though is is such a short flight I changed into PJs, and I did so while still on the ground so I’d have time for maximum comfort.
I was also asked if I’d like to begin with champagne. I said, “yes, please!”
A word about their champagne. Meridien stocks three vintages of Dom Perignon — on this flight they had 1996, 2000, and 2002. They also carried Bollinger Grande Annee — possibly to keep their passengers from using dom Perigon and mixing it with orange juice, they have to have a somewhat lesser bottle?
Shortly after takeoff dinner service began. And I was blown away. As a Russian super-premium product, Meridien’s first class offers a choice of caviars. I was cheeky and asked if they wouldn’t mind bringing them all out so I could take a picture? They obliged. I had my very first taste of Beluga caviar (I had never had anything more impressive or rare than Ossetra).
Now, I’ll do a full report on the meal service. But this is just incredible!
Impressively — or disgustingly — the caviar doesn’t stop there. My next course was sea urchin.. and caviar.
That was followed by a really delicious braised lobster, by far the best lobster I’ve ever eaten on board a plane.
Take that luxury, Grant Martin!
Emirates first class on the A380 has showers. Meridien has a first class hot tub. I was going to snap photos it isn’t really private, it’s in the back of the first class cabin, and there weren’t many times when it wasn’t occupied — usually by older Russian men with their much much younger, ahem, daughters. They were in speedos. I didn’t take photos.
I suppose that many an oil deal could be done between passengers in that hot tub.
In the end the best part of the trip was that points posted back to my ANA frequent flyer account, complete with class of service bonus for a first class trip.
Although second best might be, you know, actually getting to see Moscow for the first time, right? Is it weird that I was so much more excited for the flight than I was to see a new world city that I had never visited?
So perhaps, for now, just a few shots from the ground on arrival.