In my October 13th post, I shamelessly confessed to being travel-selfish and determined to take my wife and daughter to Europe during the Easter/Spring Break period when everybody else also wants to go to Europe. Nonetheless, I finally gave up on Europe due to the high ticket costs and set my sights instead on an ultra-cheap Qatar Airways fare to Bangkok. However, my trip planning didn’t end there.
Qatar was enticing me with an $1100 fare RDU/BKK that seemed irresistible and unbeatable. I was ready to jump on that fare as fast as a duck on a June Bug (as we say in the South).
The fare was in coach on Qatar, of course, not even Premium Economy, since the Gulf carriers have yet to leap onto that particular cabin class bandwagon, but I’ve survived Emirates in plain old coach halfway around the globe. For such an astonishing bargain on a holiday trip with my wife and teenage daughter, I will endure economy class.
But before hitting the “buy” button at qatarairways.com, I was alerted to a new European fare sale via Aer Lingus, and I couldn’t resist a last ditch search for reasonable prices to fly to Germany. Though the Irish airline tickets were quite reasonable, the sale only extended to the end-of-year holiday period, not to Easter. I made a calendar entry to remind myself to try Aer Lingus again for a business trip in May, and I expect it will be in their business class cabin.
Thus I turned back to Qatar, then hesitated again. Always seeking a better class of service for the same or not much more money, I searched many travel websites to compare economy, premium economy (PE), and business class fares RDU to Bangkok, as well as to Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, our actual destinations.
These days one can be driven mad by the myriad and complexity of fares between any two cities on fixed dates, let alone mixing and matching city-pairs using flexible dates. It’s like playing three-dimensional chess. Soon I was lost in that game.
Delta alone has four pricing levels that apply just to domestic first class connections to their versions of PE and business class on partner airlines like China Eastern, not to mention the uncountable fare levels that apply in coach, and all airlines have what are called “married connections” that connect one “dog” flight to another to yield dirt-cheap fares that they figure bargain-hunters will go for. It takes a lot of time and patience to sift through so many airlines, partners, connections, cabins, and possible dates.
Before too long my efforts uncovered a RDU/BKK premium economy fare not on Qatar but on China Southern on their long-range 777-200 JFK/CAN (Guangzhou) flight priced at $1500 round trip from RDU, just $400 more than flying in coach on Qatar. I wondered if the PE (premium economy) on China Southern would be any good and found this video, a review of CZ 300 JFK/CAN, among other critical commentary. It pointed to a comfortable China Southern seat but inferior service compared to, say, PE on Cathay Pacific.
And the China Southern deal didn’t even offer frequent flyer miles. Worse, there was an overnight layover in Kunming, China (KMG airport) returning which would cut a day off our already short week in Thailand.
Kunming, Kunming, I thought. It rang a bell. Kunming is in Yunnan Province, southwestern China just above Myanmar (Burma), and I recalled a friend’s trip to Yunnan and Kunming some time ago that he and his family had raved about. Cursory research made me realize that we might enjoy seeing Kunming even more than another (of many wonderful) trips to Thailand. That steered me to check fares there.
Knowing that China Southern is a Delta partner led me to persistently search delta.com. That process ground me down in a hurry, but finally revealed a $1505 fares RDU/KMG in premium economy on the itinerary RDU/DTW/PEK/KMG (internal China leg on Delta partner China Eastern).
To my surprise and delight, I found that Delta’s connecting flight DTW/PEK is to be fitted by Easter, 2018 with Delta’s brand new PE cabin. It would not be the discomfort of so-called “Comfort+” service currently offered on most of Delta’s international flights, a lousy way to fly, in my opinion.
Comparing the China Southern PE fare (also $1500) to Delta/China Eastern, the schedules to KMG were similar, and I opted to take my chances with Delta’s new PE, partly out of curiosity, and partly because of the poor reviews of the China Southern PE service JFK/CAN. I wanted to fly Delta one way and China Southern the other for comparison of their PE products, but both $1500 fares are solely round trip on one carrier or the other: no splitting.
Flying on Delta, we would get miles, too (though they aren’t worth much these days). For only fifteen hundred dollars each in real premium economy! I jumped on that Delta PE fare as fast as a hound dog on a pork chop (as we also say in the South).
The nonrefundable tickets are now booked and paid for, so we’re going to Kunming during Spring Break. It fits our budget (max of $1500 round trip each), and it suits our yen to journey to a place new to us. It comports with a travel schedule which we must adhere to, selfishly or not, thanks to the tyranny of the public school calendar.
We aimed for Croatia, Slovenia, and Hungary via Germany and ended up 4.857 miles away (as the crow flies) in Kunming and surrounding Yunnan via Beijing. After the colossal time sink spent looking for deals, I am pleased, of course, that it’s over. However, now that we are locked in to these tickets, I fully expect the airlines to announce deep discount Spring Break sales to Europe starting immediately.