Vietnam, Cambodia, Macau and Hong Kong Trip Report: Dragonair Business Class, Siem Reap – Hong Kong

Index:

Dragonair only just started flying Siem Reap – Hong Kong in the fall. They serve the route 4 times weekly with an Airbus A320. Three days a week it’s single cabin service, and once weekly they offer both economy and business class.

It took me a short while to figure that out — I couldn’t understand why they only offered business class award space on Tuesdays! (The flight with business class now operates on Sundays. I’m told the flight is doing well, and that the specific configuration is a function of aircraft availability.)

At just 903 miles, Siem Reap – Hong Kong would be 7500 British Airways Avios for a one-way redemption in economy. And it would be 15000 Avios for business class. British Airways adds fuel surcharges to award tickets, while American does not (except for travel on BA and limited surcharges on Iberia). But Hong Kong is a low fuel surcharge destination, the extra cost for Siem Reap – Hong Kong is just $27.10.

I wanted to fly business class, even on such a short flight, largely because I’ve never flown Dragonair and wanted to see what they were like up front. It would have been a ‘better deal’ to redeem 15,000 Avios than 25,000 American miles. But I used American miles anyway, because at the time I made the redemption I wanted to burn through AA miles since I have so many, I’m going to get many more as a result of the US Airways merger, and because the entire trip was prompted by a mistaken sense that American would be starting to add fuel surcharges to all of its partner redemptions.

I arrived at the airport impossibly early — about 2 hours and 15 minutes before the flight. And it turns out that I would need most of that time.


Dragonair isn’t on the same reservation system as Cathay Pacific yet, and it shows. I had no problem checking in with Cathay Pacific in New York on my American Airlines-isseud award ticket. But I got into the business class queue, there was one person ahead of me, and when I advanced to the front of the line they saw that I had a reservation but could not find a ticket.

The agent asked if I had a ticket number. Fortunately I did, I always print out my itineraries when traveling in Asia because there are several airports that insist on seeing your ‘ticket’ (really, just printed itinerary) before you can enter. Bali and Male are two examples. And I don’t usually try to research whether this is necessary in advance. (Of course I also have copies on my computer, and in the cloud.)

I handed over my American Airlines e-ticket confirmation, and he typed away. Then he came back and told me that my ticket had already been used. While he spoke some English, there was a bit of a language barrier. I realized that of course the first ticket number was used. I had flown 3 segments, and there would have been a fourth ‘open’ segment since I was arriving Ho Chi Minh City and departing from Siem Reap. So we would be onto the second ticket by now, he just needed to search for the very next ticket number (incrementing the last digit by one).

No luck. He called for a supervisor. The supervisor had no luck. Then the supervisor decided to call Phnom Penh. Dragonair’s office there would need to help out. Apparently the Dragonair ticket office at Siem Reap is a far walk form the check-in counters, and there’s no one staffing the office during check-in for the one flight, so the easiest thing for them to do was to call the ticketing office in Cambodia’s capital.

There they went back and forth for awhile and then announced the ‘good news’ that they had found my ticket!

And they began struggling to associate it with the reservation. Try and try again, they couldn’t do it. It just wouldn’t take in the system.

Midway through this effort the agent stopped to ask me, “Are you in business class or economy?”

Now, I don’t know about you, but where I come from there is only one possible answer to this question. It also just so happened to be the correct answer. I was supposed to be in business class. But that he needed to ask wasn’t especially inspiring of confidence. It did, however, indicate to me that he was fairly close to a solution.

Finally — boarding passes came spitting out. For the correct class of service, even!

When I first approached the desk I had let them know I would be connecting on in Hong Kong to the Turbojet boat to Macau. You can check your bags all the way through, and that’s what I wanted to do.

Bag tags were generated just to Hong Kong, and I stopped them from applying the tags to my bags. I wanted to be checked all the way to Macau. It was now 55 minutes until departure.

The agent had no idea what I was talking about, but the supervisor understood ‘Turbojet’. He just didn’t know what to do with that information. So he called Turbojet in Hong Kong, and then informed me that I could just bring my baggage claim tags to the Turbojet check-in counter.

Yes, I know this. But if you through-check your bags to Macau there’s a 30 minute minimum connection time (you’re permitted to present yourself at the Turbojet check-in counter a mere 30 minutes prior to sailing) but if they need to retrieve your checked luggage because they haven’t been checked through, you need to be at the check-in counter a full 60 minutes prior to sailing.

My 12:10pm departure from Siem Reap was scheduled to arrive Hong Kong at 3:50pm. And I was booked onto a 5pm boat to Macau. That’s a 70 minute connection in Hong Kong, and if the flight arrived on time I would then have just 10 minutes to get bused in from the plane’s apron position and make it to the Turbojet desk. I really wanted to through-check my bags, because if I missed this cutoff it would be nearly 3 hours longer until the next sailing.

They continued to insist this was not possible. I told them they just needed to add the turbojet ship as the ‘next flight’ on the baggage record. Dragonair has an interline baggage agreement with Turbojet. I explained I had done this before. They asked me whether that was on Cathay Pacific or Dragonair? I thought about insisting I had done it with Dragonair, but decided against that. And they simply told me that ‘Dragonair was different.’

And then, finally, someone decided to try what I suggested. And it worked. Out popped baggage stickers tagged all the way to Macau. It was now 40 minutes prior to departure.

Of course, this being Siem Reap I suspect the only time that departing passport control and security might back up at all would be prior to the departure of the Asiana and Korean Air Seoul flights which leave within 15 minutes of each other.

There was pretty much no wait at all, I was through both exercises in no more than 2 or 3 minutes, and would even have time to visit the lounge.

I had time to grab a beverage, log onto the internet, and shut down my computer as my flight began to board.

We were bused out to the aircraft, and business class had its own bus.

Our plane was parked beside an Air Asia jet. I just love their slogan, “Now Everyone Can Fly!”

Once onboard pre-departure beverages were served. Instead of a hot towel, a packaged towel was distributed as well. That was the first difference I noticed in Dragonair service from a mainline Cathay flight of similar distance (the first difference all around of course was the seats — which are very much like domestic first class seats in the US rather than intra-Asia business class hardware).

Menus were distributed. There would be a choice of hot entree on this 900 mile flight operated by a regional subsidiary.

Meal service was efficient, service overall was friendly, and the flight was short. Approach to Hong Kong was surprisingly smooth, and about 2 hours and 15 minutes from pushback we were on the ground in Hong Kong.

As a Dragonair flight we arrived and parked in an apron position, and were bused back to the terminal.


About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community Milepoint.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary ┬╗

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Comments

  1. You think 2 hours and 15 minutes before departure to be “impossibly early” when you’re in a developing country embarking on an itinerary involving another country’s airline, a connection on a boat, and a third party’s ticket stock? You have greater faith in humanity than I do!!!

  2. Looks like you got an old bird. I recently flew CNX-HKG on one of their newish A330’s. The Biz seats were the new regional Biz seats (same as CX)

  3. Wait, how could this be the same ticket? AA doesn’t allow overseas stopovers/open-jaws on award tickets, right?

  4. You don’t need this to be one award to be on the same ticket. American’s partner awards (not their oneworld distance-based awards) are all one-way. A simple roundtrip would be two awards, but still on the same ticket. In this case there were three one-ways, all on the same ticket.

  5. Gary I share your passion for aspirational travel in Asia. I followed your lead and went to the Conrad Koh Samui, Maldives and Hong Kong. Have you found anything else that compares? I am looking to book my next trip.

  6. @Ted there are plenty of places that will meet or exceed… the challenge is to do it as a good value on points, which is why I will be returning to the Park Hyatt Maldives for a 3rd time. There aren’t many Marriott properties I want to stay at. The Hilton ones are now priced atronomically (I still want to try the Conrad Sanya). IHG Rewards won’t let you redeem for better than a base room and doesn’t require elite benefits to be honored on award stays (there are some very nice properties such as Bora Bora, and awards there book into a base overwater villa though I would buy up to a better view). That leaves Hyatt and Hilton. There are some fantastic Hyatts, mostly city hotels though (Tokyo, Sydney, Paris). Starwood has some amazing resorts but the pricing can be choke-worthy at ‘double points’ category 6 or 7. But there are better hotels outside the chains if you will pay cash of course..

  7. Gary,

    Great story about the check-in process. DragonAir couldn’t find your itinerary with your AA Frequent Flier number, or with the record locator? Unless your ticket number was the record locator? It is confusing why you had to go through all that.

    As for the Macau connection to the ferry through HKG, great work. I myself, simply for the convenience, just go into HKG, into the arrivals lounge, then take the train to Hong Kong station, transfer to the MTR, and again go through HK customs, to again go through another customs in Macau to the hotel shuttle bus. LOL.

    Loved the review! Thanks.

    ED.

  8. @ED – they found my reservation but could not see any ticket associated with that reservation. Although I never did figure out how, if they had my reservation, why they would be asking me what class of service I was supposed to be in.

  9. Gary:
    It sounds like you had a less then stellar experience. I’ve flown them between Hong Kong and Beijing a few times and have had a different experience. No issues with seeing ticket # etc but then again you were in a smaller airport. While the hard product is closer to u.s. first the service on board we received was close to cx service with attendants going above and beyond to serve. ..

  10. @avi – I agree with your assessment, I thought that came through in my report, good food and service for a short flight. The only issue was check-in, the reservation system, and the confused agents at the airport. No complaints about in-flight!

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