This Saudia First Class Fare Is Tempting Me…

“Saudia first class” and “tempting” are probably phrases which don’t typically go in the same sentence.

As you guys know, I’m trying to review as many new airline products as possible, even ones which might not be so great.

This year I’ve done a good job of sampling new airlines, and I think it’s because I’ve changed my mentality. When I find a good opportunity to fly a new airline I ask myself why I shouldn’t try it, rather than why I should. If I can’t come up with a good reason not to, I typically end up booking it. That’s how I recently ended up booking a trip from Colombo to Casablanca in Qatar Airways and Royal Air Maroc business class. Even though it was totally out of the way, the positioning flights will let me review several new airlines as well, including China Eastern, Kuwait Airways, and Royal Jordanian.

Saudia is another airline which is on my list of airlines I want to review. While they don’t seem to be actively terrible, they do seem to have underwhelming first & business class products.

Their business class cabin is in a 2-2-2 configuration.

Saudia-Business-Class-1
Saudia 777 business class

Bizarrely, their first class cabin is also in a 2-2-2 configuration, so there seems to be very little difference between the two cabins. Given that it’s a dry airline, it’s not like the alcohol selection is a point of differentiation either, or anything.

Saudia-First-Class
Saudia 777 first class

That’s a far cry from the experiences you’ll find on other Gulf carriers, like Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar, where their first class products really shine.

I’ve been thinking of a few different ways to tackle a premium cabin flight on Saudia:

  • I could redeem Delta SkyMiles for business class between the US and Middle East
  • I could redeem Korean Air SkyPass miles for first class on Saudia, though I’d likely only do so for travel between Europe and the Middle East, given the mileage cost is more reasonable, and I don’t really want to take two 16 hour flights on Saudia
  • I could book a reasonable paid first or business class fare on Saudia, as there are quite a few out there

Saudia seems to have one especially good paid first class fare, for travel between Istanbul and Kuala Lumpur — the roundtrip fare is ~$1,450.

Saudia-First-Class-Fare-1

What makes this so tempting is that the flights between Riyadh and Kuala Lumpur are operated by 777s (which have first class), while the flights between Istanbul and Riyadh are operated by Saudia’s brand new 787s. Those planes don’t actually feature first class, but rather just business class.

What’s ironic is that Saudia’s business class product on the 787 is nicer than their first class product on any plane they operate. Their new 787-9 business class seats are in a reverse herringbone configuration, so they’re fantastic. I’d get to sample their great new business class hard product, while also sampling their first class service.

Saudia-787-Business-Class
Saudia 787 business class

The catch is that I’d need a visa to enter Saudi Arabia (which isn’t happening), so that 14hr50min layover on the return seems rather torturous, given that I can’t leave the airport. I could also book the fare just one-way, for a bit more than half the cost:

Saudia-First-Class-Fare-2

If I did that, I could fly Japan Airlines business class from Kuala Lumpur back to the US, which is another product I’ve wanted to review (I’ve only flown Japan Airlines in longhaul first class).

For the flight to Istanbul I could review either AZAL or Ukraine International Airlines, as they both have reasonable paid business class fares from the US to Istanbul.

Which review would you guys most like to read?

  • Saudia’s mediocre business class between the US and Saudi Arabia?
  • Saudia’s new business class on the 787 combined with first class on the 777 between Istanbul and Kuala Lumpur?
  • Saudia’s old first class roundtrip between Europe and the Middle East?
  • Something else I’m not thinking of?

Comments

  1. I like the idea of one way IST-RUH-KUL as well as the AZAL or Ukraine there and JAL back. You could also check out EgyptAir business to IST and the new MH J and connect to JAL J, if you could work that into your schedule

  2. If I’ve heard correctly, Saudia can handle transit visas for you. However, considering your blogger status (and the fact it’s Saudi Arabia heh), I’d go with simply booking two one-ways.

    Probably the B787 w/ JA connection.

  3. I’d say do the one-way route from Istanbul to Kuala Lumpur, and don’t punish yourself with that 15-hour layover! I think those two flights on the two different products would more than suffice in giving readers a sampling of what Saudia offers. Then you’d also have more freedom to come up with an interesting routing from Kuala Lumpur to your next stop.

  4. I think you should give them a call and ask about the visa situation, as far as I know, Saudia can help out with transit visas. A visit to the kingdom will be an eye-opening experience no doubt.

    As for the routes, all I can say is that the B787 shouldn’t be missed since it is the best offering the airline has. The B777s can be hit or miss, depending on whether you’re flying the older B777-200 or the new B777-300.

    The older hard product is in a 2-3-2 configuration and isn’t that great, which is why its being phased out.

    Its good you’ll be laying over in Riyadh, which has a much better airport than Jeddah.

    If you want to think out of the box though, you might want to consider their newest product called “the flag”, which is a business class only service between Riyadh and Jeddah, and it can open up some more routing options out of Jeddah.

    Here’s hoping the typically ignorant comments about the Middle East don’t derail this post!

  5. I’d love to see a trip report from the US since I feel like that’s what would be most beneficial to your readers (if a Saudia review is beneficial at all). Would make for some entertaining reading for sure. At the same time, it’s kind of like would rather not give them any sort of business. Doesn’t sit that well…

  6. I’ve read online that KSA requires transit visas for layovers of longer than 12 hours even if you don’t leave the airport. Might want to double check the requirements if you haven’t already.

  7. Saudia’s new business class on the 787 combined with first class on the 777 between Istanbul and Kuala Lumpur. No point in taking a 15hr layover so just do the one-way. JL Biz to the US would also fill a gap in your trip report library.

  8. This is too much fun.

    I’ve made many degrading comments about Saudia; however, it really isn’t a bad airline. The food can actually be quite good though the overall comfort factor will depend on your cabinmates; Saudia’s premium cabins can be filled with very vocally demanding customers. It would be fascinating to read of your experience on the IST-RUH-KUL route. Just do it one-way. You do not want to risk being trapped in RUH for 14 hours, though RUH is far superior to JED.

    Ukraine International to IST??? Wow. PS connecting to SV! What an awesome trip report this would be! I would second the idea of flying EgyptAir to IST but I personally couldn’t stomach a string of vodka-less flights.

    “This year I’very done a good job of sampling new airlines…”

    Wrong.

    Ben, you have done an outstanding job. I have so very much enjoyed reading of your planning processes and of your actual experiences.

    But…weren’t you going to do a brief report of your time in Mauritius?

  9. Unless your transit visa can easily be arranged via the airline, I vote for doing it one-way only. More expensive but would give you an opportunity to sample more products on the same trip.

  10. #yawn

    GA F … GA F … GA F … GA F… GA F… GA F … GA F … GA F …

    Did someone say GA F?

  11. I am starting to get noisy with my EgyptAir trip reports requests, ain’t I?

  12. Well, at least you won’t have to worry about Saudia excluding any other airline in their sponsorship of a gay pride parade……

  13. I’ve flown Saudia A320 and A330 in Economy a couple of times. Except for being dry flights I was pleasantly suprised by both their hard and soft products!

  14. Go for just the one way, that would be more than enough go review, especially that most of your readers will never fly Saudia because if they have to connect in the Middle East there would be a better option.

    Another option that you might want to think of is flying Aeroflot through SVO or DME, to position to IST which would be a report that I would love to read! Another option (although hard) would be to fly IranAir from KUL-IKA-AMS/LHR/AMS on the way back, it would be a great report, although I know it would be hard to book because you might need to work through a travel agent in Europe to book.

  15. Saudia J and F on the 787 & 777 between IST-KUL would be interesting, as would a return via JL business class.

  16. I have flown Saudia twice to RUH on longhauls in J and let me tell you, wont be dissapointed. They are close to TK in terms of food and service, actually better to think of it.
    RUH is very interesting city and you’d be a fool for not getting a transit visa. i have gotten the visa twice with no problems at all. The Masmak, Al Faisaliyah Al Rajhi, Wadi Hanifah are super interesting and did I mention that they are building the tallest skysraper there now(1000m) which will be done next year. I was there 3 months ago and it was impresiiiiiiiiiiveeeeeeee.

    hands down recommend going there way worth it

  17. @Samoa Saudia has a safety rating of 7/7 on airlineratings.com.

    Not sure why you’d be concerned.

  18. One-way route from Istanbul to Kuala Lumpur on Saudia.

    Garuda F or J to Europe. KLM 787 or Norwegian 787 across the Atlantic?

    Or better yet KLM 787 US-AMS-IST Saudia to KUL Garuda to Europe and Norwegian back to the US, now that would be both interesting and useful.

  19. I vote:
    SV IST to KUL
    JAL J home
    AZAL positioning flight.
    I imagine you’ll get more page hits since people are more likely to visit Baku than anywhere in Ukraine at the moment. It’s been tough for me to find many reviews of the JAL Sky Suite from people who have also flown ANA, Asiana, or Korean Air. Would also be fun to look at them as a comparison to Cathay J in preparation for Alaska award availability.

    Pretty sure the article is writing itself. 😉

  20. Have been on SAUDIA internal flights a few times not horrible but nothing great either. So far out of RUH Qassim and DMM I prefer the DMM airport (did someone say Popeyes chicken and Krispy kream). The saudia lounge is actually ok, decent food and some nice sleeping areas. I hate the Riyadh domestic terminal the lounge was ok but man talk about a CF. I think getting the visa might be a challenge and to be honest there are lots of other options. One funny thing I found was I needed to fly from AMS to DMM a couple times and while KLM was trying to charge like 3400 euro for biz I found the flight on SAudia website (still Klm iron) for like 1400 euro. BUT I had a horrible lay over and DMM is literally 1 hour from Damman or al kobar was even further. So my great idea to go sleep in DMM was messed up. I figured maybe I could get the late night connect to RUH and after being sent from one desk to the next (literally 3-4 different desks) I just gave up. I tried to call SAUDIA but their office closes at like 11 or midnight ksa time. So I tried to call the USA office who informed me only changes could be made at the airport. Very frustrating after a long day. The stewards and stewardesses all seemed to not be SAUDI (they were fairly nice). I have to say on one hand SAUDI Arabia is a nice adventure on the other lots of malls (full of the same shops you find in the USA) makes it a place I’ll visit when I need to do some work but not my first holiday destination. It is truly a place who doesn’t see much tourism, on one hand the Saudis can be super hospitable and nice (especially the ones I ended up working with) on the other hand there are some major jerks too.

    One funny story I was on the bus from the gate to the plan on Qassim as I was flying Qassim to RUH in Biz I got on first and promptly took up a position near the bus exit. When the shuttle finally got the plane I was about to get off and an old Saudi guy literally grabbed my arm pulled me back and then proceeded to exit. He just felt he was more important (by the way he was in economy). Considering he was like 80 years old and couldn’t have weighed more then 100 pounds (I’m a bit more like 250) I couldn’t really do anything but look on amazed. On a couple of the internal Saudi flights you really had people yelling at the crew and generally trying to win a spot on worst passenger of the week.

    I told one of my SAUDI friends about it and he just said yes unfortunatly lots of camel farmers there in Qassim. Maybe the equivalent of Saudi hillbillies I dunno.

    Also you need to pre book a taxi in DMM. Almost impossible to get one otherwise (and safer). The ICH there is actually pretty good. The doubletree and Sheraton also.

  21. Make sure to let the immigration officer when he’s taking your DNA know your boyfriend is a travel advisor.

  22. When I was there 3 weeks ago they didn’t take dna, just a hand scan. I assume you mean Kuwait who passed that dna law.

  23. Hi lucky, definetly recommend doing the 787 and 777 to KL. I thought about booking saudia first class from from JNB to LAX on a330 and 777-300er but chose Emirates instead to avoid risk. I have not been to Saudi Arabia but my friends who have visited it to try to not show homosexuality. Good luck!

  24. @me All you need is a fingerprint scan.

    It’s Kuwait that passed the DNA law not Saudi Arabia, get your facts straight.

  25. I would also suggest taking the 14+ in RUH….. I was there in 2000 visiting my father… fascinating city. Getting a transit visa for 72 hours shouldn’t be too hard, as long as there isn’t an Israeli stamp in the passport you use.

  26. Don’t waste your money or miles to fly Saudia. Saudi Arabia is one of the most unicivilized countries of the world. Women, gay people don’t have any kind of right and there. It’s also one of the biggest Isis’ sponsor. Come to Florence, instead. There are very good Starwood properties here, and you could review Alitalia Magnifica/business class. Think about it.

  27. @me such a pathetic argument to defend your ignorance. I say lets keep this about travel and airline reviews instead of making a fool out of yourself.

  28. Just to mention that a lot of Saudia’s other airplanes such as 77W and the A333 have the B/E Diamond seats. You could be lucky to snag some of those as well.

  29. @Alex you can transit Saudia Arabia for up to 18 hours without a visa (this only allows you to remain airside though).

    I flew Saudia economy class a few years back from London to Kuala Lumpur via Riyadh and I fondly remember that it was one of the best economy products I have ever flown. They were new 777’s, the food was excellent, the in flight entertainment was as good as any other airline (you aren’t allowed to see female skin of course!) and the 3 hour transit in Riyadh was hassle free. The fact that it was a dry airline didn’t bother me too much. I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to fly them again but I haven’t heard great things about the transit experience in Jeddah though, so would stick to going via Riyadh.

  30. Go Saudia one way and then Iran Air the other way (KUL-RUH-IST-IKA-KUL) Iran Air operates a 747SP on the IKA-KUL route

  31. Lucky, Air Serbia is flying to JFK in Jun 2016; try long haul Air Serbia and also intra-Europe Air Serbia to IST. (U can try inaugural flight too!)

    If possible, test out Etihad Guest’s redemption on Air Serbia and also Air Serbia’s award availability.

    From there, do one-way Saudi to KUL.

    For return, fly China Airlines from KUL back.

  32. This def not a political comment, but I wish there was a cost effective way for you to review El Al First, because it would be very funny! Business isn’t too bad from what I hear…anyway please be careful in Saudi Arabia (again, not political, but it’s not super safe for us there).

  33. I second @flyingfish’s suggestion about taking Air Serbia to IST, though I still think a review of Ukraine International would be more entertaining. And I’m sure some folks may have considered PS due to that airlines’ very reasonable business class fares; thus, a review of Ukraine International could be useful.

    @Sam S.

    I have traveled many times to KSA and I am openly gay. Never had a problem though one must use common sense and not flaunt one’s sexuality. Having said that, being hit upon by Saudi men is a fairly common occurrence for me.

  34. Hi Lucky,
    It’s probably to late for this trip, but in the future consider going to Israel and flying El Al to get there. It’s an airline on which virtually no premium cabin trip reports exist.

    Also there is an airline called United which I don’t think you’ve ever reviewed a premium international product for. If your looking for mediocre products with just decent service I don’t know why you wouldn’t review them.

  35. @Imperator

    Haha that’s hysterical! I’ve admittedly never tried, since there are so many reasons they wouldn’t want me even in their airport, it isn’t worth the risk! If you say there aren’t problems, I’ll take your word for it.

  36. I’d really love to see you flying Biz in Air Astana, they feature a nice product on their 767s. It would definitely be a rather “unique” airline….

  37. You could go with:
    IST RUH KUL booked in A (787 and 777) 2h 45m connection
    KUL JED CDG booked in I (777 and 787) 5h 05m connection
    Just $1606 and you could review:
    – both first and business class products
    – lounges in both SV hubs
    – don’t suffer from long connections

  38. At least flying Ukraine Int Airlines you can earn rdm with flying blue. As far as I can tell Azerbaijan Airlines only credits to their own spend based program. Then do the one way to kul on saudia and new jal business back.

  39. @denis

    That’s a pretty good idea, except that the Jeddah lounge is really bad, and it wouldn’t be very helpful since the new Jeddah airport is in its final touches and will open soon. Unless, of course, if he made the trip after the new new airport is operational then it would actually be very helpful.

  40. I say go for the 14 hr layover or may be a bit more. There is so much homosexuality in the magic kingdom, more than you can imagine.

  41. As one of the gheys living in the Kingdom, I can tell you that you’ll be fine. No one cares!

    I fly Saudia quite a bit – both long-haul, international short-haul, and domestic. Its not Emirates, that’s for sure, but I’d say its pretty on-par with Turkish or Malaysian. The dates in your post are post-Ramadan and during the Eid holiday, so you should be able to make an uneventful transit here in the KSA. Book it and check one more off the bucket list. 🙂

  42. As someone who lives in Saudi, I really hope you do this. I would avoid a 14-hour layover in the airport, though.

    The thing you really need to see is the carnage left after the Economy passengers disembark. It’s truly staggering – it’s basically like visiting a garbage dump. I’ve often thought if someone filmed the scene as they walked out, it’d probably go viral.

  43. Could always check out the new St Regis in KL while you’re at it, I understand it’s a 2016 property.

  44. You have not reviewed Turkish Airlines in a long time and I am going to be booking a trip on them in business class. I would love it if you flew them! That would be much more useful to me than the other airlines.

  45. Ben,

    I’ve flown in J to and from the US to Saudi. While I was in the 2 by 2 not great seat you showed, the service was outstanding, and food and alcohol free drinks were outstanding. Only better biz class food I’ve had is Alitalia. Lounge in Riyadh when coming back to US was also very good.

    I will echo how poorly women are treated, but I still think you should do the trip.

  46. I have tried Saudia’s business class service on some of their older Boeing 747s. Seats were older but comfortable and the service on-board was good. The service on the ground was not very good and when ground crew came on-board, they were also not pleasant.

    I also wanted to reiterate a comment that was made above in terms of needed a visa or authority to enter the country even if you are not leaving the airport. I had previously asked Saudia agents whether a visa was needed, and they replied as to why I would take Saudia if I was not going to Saudi Arabia.

    Also a tip – Saudi Arabia is not known for their customer service nor for their tolerance

  47. Try egyptair when the dust settles and saudi or el al.
    Its a pity you have never flown the jewish airline

  48. Cant wait to read the review for ‘Saudia’s new business class on the 787 combined with first class on the 777 between Istanbul and Kuala Lumpur’!

  49. Hey Lucky, what flight search portal are you using to price those first class flights between IST and KUL? The only availability that shows up on Saudia’s website is on business class.

  50. You should definitely try Saudia 787 (I’m Saudi but I’m not bias 😛 I like to criticize them often :D) since I’ve been meaning to fly it but never had the chance to yet 😛 (they also recently unveiled their new first class which looks like a huge improvement over the current one so you should check that out on their twitter page). Also DON’T take the long Riyadh layover (this is from a longtime Riyadh-er) unless you can get a transit visa (the airport is getting better but 6 hrs max maybe 7). Take JAL or Iran Air or any other suggestion from the comments, just not the long RUH layover.

  51. @denis

    I’ve been to JED several times and had bad experiences every time. A new airport is opening soon but for now I avoid JED as much as possible.

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