How I’m Flying To & From Bhutan (I Think?)

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I’m really excited about visiting Bhutan in March. It looks stunning, and there are two new and nice looking Le Meridien properties there. I love the outdoors, so it seems like a beautiful place to enjoy some fresh air and hiking.

As I’ve explained in a previous post, flying into Paro, Bhutan, isn’t easy. It’s one of the most dangerous airports in the world, and only a couple of airlines fly there. In our case, I booked us on Druk Air from Kathmandu to Paro, and then on the return from Paro to Dhaka (these flights tend to sell out in advance given the limited capacity, so that’s the best I could do).

Given that Druk Air doesn’t have any partnerships (at least that I know of), these tickets need to be booked with cash and on a separate reservation from longhaul tickets.

So, how are we flying to Kathmandu and from Dhaka? I have the outbound confirmed and am just finalizing the return, so am excited to share my plan and hear if you guys have any other ideas. As you guys know, my goal is to review as many new business class products as possible, and I think my plan accomplishes that pretty well.

Flying to Kathmandu

Logically I could have flown one of the Gulf carriers to Kathmandu via their hubs, though what’s the fun in that, given how much I’ve reviewed them? This time around I’m doing something different.

Korean Air SkyPass is an Ultimate Rewards transfer partner, meaning you can transfer points earned on cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® CardInk Business Preferred℠ Credit Card, etc. This is such a useful currency with incredible access to transpacific first class award seats, a very generous ticket hold policy, etc.

However, I’ve reviewed Korean Air first class many times before, including on the 747-8, A380, and 777.

So this time around I want to review Korean Air’s new business class, so we’re flying from the U.S. to Incheon on a 747-8, and then from Incheon to Kathmandu on a 777, which features the old business class product.

This cost a total of 85,000 SkyPass miles per person, and in theory we could have added a free stopover in Seoul (though elected not to). I can’t wait to see how Korean Air’s business class stacks up, given how much I love the Apex Suite.

korean-air-747-first-class-82

Flying from Dhaka

Dhaka is an interesting market, and in looking at options, there were a few ways we could get out of Bangladesh, some of which involve paid discounted business class tickets (given how reasonable fares are).

For example, we could fly BIMAN Bangladesh to London for ~$950 in business class:

Biman

Or we could fly Kuwait Airways all the way to New York for ~$1,410 in business class, on their brand new 777-300ER:

Bhutan

Or we could redeem miles for Etihad’s A380 Business Studio.

Or there are a bunch of other options.

Personally I’m leaning towards the Kuwait Airways option, given that their 777s are brand new and have flat beds in business class (they have B/E Aerospace Diamond seats, similar to what’s offered on airlines like AeroflotAeromexico, Air China, Royal JordanianSaudia, United, etc.). The added benefit is that you can add a stopover in Kuwait City at no extra cost. I’ve never been to Kuwait City, though it’s somewhere I’ve never been, so I might as well check it out for a couple of days. Not that I have terribly high hopes, but I think just about everywhere is worth seeing at least once.

What do you guys think — how should we fly out of Dhaka? Should we take Kuwait Airways with a stopover as I’m leaning towards, or is there another (better) option?

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Comments

  1. I would LOVE if you could review the Etihad Business studio, as I’ve heard many great things and I am to fly with it in October but I would like your opinion as you seem to have the most objective views regarding onboard products. Also, I think you would probably enjoy that itinerary more, as Etihad is top notch. thanks!!

  2. SFO-ICN for the 747-8 ? Would allow you to review the AF lounge there.

    Any plans on reviewing CA’s 747-8 premium cabins ? (Doing what you did for the A380’s but with the 747-8)

  3. Forget Etihad. The Gulf 3 are the most reviewed out there.

    Choose Biman since when is the next time you’ll have that opportunity?

  4. My vote goes to Biman. I’ve become quite curious as to what constitutes a Biman premium class experience. I’m also already eager to read of Ben’s impressions of Dhaka.

  5. Review Etihad business as you have only reviewed EK business before. Will give a comparison point for the Gulf carrier reviews

  6. You won’t get any alcohol on board if you choose the Kuwait option..There goes the ability to look for some class act champagne offerings Haha

  7. @Lucky

    If you want any advice on Bhutan please private email me, Lucky. As a side life I am an avid whitewater kayaker and have six separate trips running rivers there over the past 10 years (one of which was an invite from the govt to do feasibility work on the potential of river based tourism). It’s a very special place indeed and one that deserves a sensitive approach to blogging with an open mind to what it offers. And, of course, what it doesn’t offer (which are crowds, stoplights, and bling). It will need special planning though to get out of the close-by areas around Paro and Thimphu…and while those places are fine the real rewards are in the smaller villages and locations around the country. Just give me a shout if you need any first-hand insider advice.

    As far as Druk Air…they are awesome. Pilots are all well trained at Thai and they use nicely maintained A320’s. First class is basically US domestic first. I tended to access flights out of Bangkok. Not sure what the latest is but a few years ago when I was there last it was non-stop on certain days and I would stop in Calcutta on other days. Delhi is also a popular gateway but they are often full as wealthy Indian tourists are the biggest market in Bhutan. I was on the flight to Kathmandu from Paro once and it is the most memorable flight you will ever take. Gorgeous. But landing in Kathmandu after Bhutan truly is like going from the sublime to the ridiculous. It will feel like a sensory overload after the peace. And the landing at Paro? It’s all hype…sure, it’s complex and needs clear weather but…it’s more beautiful than it is scary. The old days at Kai Tak during a monsoon was far more exciting!

  8. How about Biman to London and then Jet Airways First from Amsterdam to Toronto or Biman to London and then KLM 787 from Amsterdam to San Francisco

  9. Let me just say, if you plan on visiting Bangladesh, BRING INSECT REPELLENT! Dhaka is full of mosquitos. As soon as they open D1, they come rushing into the plane. Just pray that it rains if you visit Dhaka.

  10. @Ted

    Nope, one ways are possible. At least on KE metal you can, but I think you can on partner too, but you have to call them. I am booked in their new business class IAD-ICN in a couple of weeks. Really looking forward to it. Then old business class to BKK. And F class on the way back.

  11. @ Lucky,

    Check out the Kuwait City Towers. There are (hopefully still) fantastic captions underneath photos on the walls there that reference the “barbarians” that invaded from the north before the first Gulf War.

  12. @Lucky going to Bhutan and staying at a le Meridien…? Tisk tisk.

    I thought you fancied yourself an Amanjunkie, and yet here you are going to Bhutan and hardly even a mention of Amankora? I guess I’m not surprised, seeing as how you’re far more interested in the passport stamp than in the experience, but it’s really a shame.

    One day you’ll grow up and join the ranks of true luxury travelers (hint: if you can’t book a room at a chosen hotel with points, it’s probably a good sign), but until then I’m sure you’ll keep yourself entertained reviewing the same drab business class seats and telling people what a good airline Garuda is.

    ps: you could’ve taken (and reviewed) a highly entertaining domestic flight from Paro to Amankora in Bumthang, but I guess that’ll have to wait for another trip when you’ve finally got some taste!

  13. While I appreciate the “new” and innovative reviews of some far out airlines, I think you should keep focus on the products that most readers will use. I was recently looking for a review of Korean apex… couldn’t find it on OMAAT. I flew through AUH and couldn’t find a business studio review on OMAAT. I thought this was very odd for a top blog. Kuwait is fun because you haven’t done it, but it’s not a big seller for us the readers because we don’t fly it. This is based on the size of market share of Kuwait airlines, the mediocre product they offer, and their hub market not having any real draw.

    You shouldn’t sacrifice the quality of the blog for something obscure while completely avoiding products people actually fly. Yes, Business Studio has been reviewed by others, but not by you. Your reviews and trip reports are what draw us in and keep us entertained because we can look at what you do and think, hey I can use my miles to do that one day; or if those of us are flying for work what is the best product to get to my destination (which is most likely a major metropolitan area).

    Said a final way, you’re behaving as if you were seat guru but only report 1-2 seats on an entire plane then forgot the review the rest of the plane / fleet so you could get on to reviewing that Saab 340 that everyone is itching to read about…

  14. Biman all the way, they are the unique airline of the country you are flying from. Kuwait has cheap biz from lots of markets, you will have another chance.

  15. I flew from Kathmandu on Druk Air many years ago. Beautiful view. Make sure you sit on the correct side to get best view. I forgot if it was the right side. Beautiful views of the Himalayans. A very unique experience. No fast food. No ATM. Have fun!

  16. @Lucky,

    I think you should wait on Kuwait Airways. They will be introducing new crew uniforms shortly and most likely an improved onboard service concept to match the overall brand refresh. Also, their New York flights go non-stop effective Mar 26, and their B77W will fly to BKK, MNL, FRA, CDG, AMM, DAC in addition to JFK, BOM and LHR within the coming months, however if you’re after their A340’s, their gone by August.
    Check these links out for KU’s B77W and A332 network & the uniforms:
    http://www.routesonline.com/news/38/airlineroute/271509/kuwait-airways-announces-major-expansion-in-s17/
    http://248am.com/mark/fashion/the-new-kuwait-airways-crew-uniforms/#more-124127
    https://twitter.com/KuwaitAirways/status/608504457941295104

    Cheers,
    B

  17. I’ve mentioned this on the prior post about the trip, just reiterating The westin is the best located spg property in Dhaka and skylounge (priority pass) the best lounge

  18. Biman to London? Are you out of your mind(s)? Firstly, there may not be boarding passes, or even if there are, it’s sort of s stampede when the plane boards. Secondly, the flight may be delayed by hours, or suddenly commandeered so a governmental worthy can go shopping in London. Thirdly, bring your own food, and something to cover the seat.

    It isn’t a high-class operation. There’s a new MD every year, as it’s an airline ruled by unions and thousands of excess employees. You get the idea.

    In Dhaka, the best hotel to stay in for charm, decor and service is the Six Seasons, in Gulshan 2 district. Of course there’s the Westin a few blocks away, but it’s nowhere nearly as interesting as Six Seasons, which is located in a quiet residential neighborhood. Pay no attention to the rates on their Web site, just e-mail them and ask for a lake view suite. Excellent food 24 hours a day, truly friendly and attentive staff.

    I live in Kathmandu, so feel free to contact me for a get together. The Hyatt near Bodnath is over the top… excellent location on 37 acres of land, wonderful breakfasts, friendly staff. I’ve stayed there for months at a time while organizing permanent digs. Yes, the furniture is worn, but will be replaced during the summer. I’m planning to go to Bhutan as well, possibly in March.

  19. Please give us the details of your itinerary from KTM to Paro, and traveling inside Bhutan. My impression was that individual travel wasn’t possible, and that the local government tends to push visitors into packaged tours with spectacular daily taxes of $250/day plus actual costs. The Aman circuit is around $1,500 including all these taxes and feeds. Let’s just say they’re not encouraging the budget tourist crowd.

  20. @Lucky, best cup of coffee in Thimphu is at Karma Coffee in Chang lam plaza across & 1 block down from the post office

  21. @ Lucky

    1. Korean Air, really do not like the option here. Please check some other option till KTM (may be via Delhi) and Delhi to KTM by AI /9W. And then KTM to Paro by Druk Air.

    2. Kuwait Airways good option.

    3. Try Biman to London and then AI to EWR in their 787-8 Transatlantic flight.

  22. For two people, the government fee is $350 per night… plus $40 for visa. These fees are above and beyond the $400/night for one of the Le Meridien properties.

    Per government law set by the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB), a tourist tariff will be levied on guests from all countries except India, Bangladesh, and the Maldives. This tariff, which is not included in the hotel’s room rates, is valid throughout the year.
    This mandatory tourist tariff can be arranged through the hotel’s partnered travel agency at the following discounted rates:
    A booking for one guest: 180 USD per person per night
    A booking for two guests: 175 USD per person per night
    A booking for three or more guests: 170 USD per person per night
    There is no fee for children below the age of 5. There is a 150 USD fee for children 6 to 12 years of age.
    In addition, a one-time visa fee of 40 USD per person will also be levied.
    The tourist tariff offered includes the following services and charges, which are handled by the hotel’s partnered travel agency:
    Roundtrip airport transfer
    Daily sightseeing with an English-speaking guide
    All applicable government taxes
    All museum and monument fees

  23. You could try Etihad’s Business Studio, as I don’t think you have reviewed that, or Kuwait First Class if the price is right.

  24. @Nicholas That is the whole point. Bhutan is not encouraging budget travel in that it chooses to monetarily limit the number of tourists so as not to overrun a small and culturally unique country that would never be able to handle an influx of tens of thousands of backpackers that would swarm the place otherwise. One needs only to visit Nepal (also a beautiful place), a much larger country, to realize that this is a brilliant policy to allow for a more sustainable opening of their home. Further, the money is reinvested into education and preserving Bhutan’s special cultural heritage so thus has a direct and worthy impact that is free of corruption and political windfalls.

    I have contributed and volunteered in the past for the Bhutan Foundation, a non-profit in the U.S. that helps to better explain this policy and the rich culture. As well to help Westerners appreciate the policies set forth by the King. It is a great website to learn more about this lasting and wonderful place.

  25. @ Lucky

    How about Biman till LHR and exploring AI dreamliner on their Fifth Freedom from LHR to Newark – Thereby you can review your long pending AI Dreamliner too!!!

    Looking forward!!

  26. Hey Lucky you were always planning to review AI executive class. Why not fly AI on Dhaka-Delhi-London-Newark (Delhi-London-Newark on B788). We would love to have an AI executive class review.

    And believe me, with your Indian following growing, you might as well find yourself swarmed with your fans at Delhi airport. Just make a post in advanced about it.

  27. @Stuart… I’ve been living in Nepal the past six years, and have seen the effect of budget tourism, meaning southern Chinese in our case, which up to a point is harmless enough, people are entitled to have a nice vacation, of course, but it also encourages degenerate elements as well. And of course popular seaside spots in Thailand have been overrun in recent years…

  28. @Nicholas….That is awesome that you live there and I do love Nepal. But yes, as you say, the stampede on culture is profound and nowhere better to witness it than there. Such a beautiful place but when I land In KTM from Bhutan I almost feel like my head is going to explode with sensory overload, lol. The big risk in Bhutan is that Indian tourists are not subject to the same monetary restrictions as the rest of the world so we will see what happens in time. At the very least the King is making the inevitable a gradual process.

  29. Lucky,

    We were just in Bhutan at Christmas and did the Aman circuit. The Druk Air flight in you need to be on the A/C side so as to view Everest if flying from Kathmandu. The views are amazing and the landing is one you will never forget.
    The Aman circuit of the 5 lodges was one of the most amazing journey’s we’ve been on almost anywhere. From the moment your guide and driver pick you up at the airport till the drop you off when you leave, you are treated like family. The care and attention that the staff at every one of the 5 lodges was like we have never seen. Everything slows to a Bhutan pace which is very beautiful on it’s own. Roads are like you will never experience, and if you go to the farthest east lodge in Bumthang, the airport there will be the smallest terminal you will ever see. A small shack with an X-ray machine inside and control tower above. Your luggage pickup location is literally a pickup truck that brings your bags to the parking lot.
    Paro and Thimpu are the easiest ones to see that you listed, but it’s the ones in Gangtey, Punakha and Bumthang that are the most special of all, and not to be missed, and you will never forget them. Many friends had said the same before we went, that is was one of the most memorable trips that left a lasting impression. It was the same for us.
    We meet the GM of the Amankora in Dallas, and he was a big help as well. Can send you his details if your interested.

    So do the Aman circuit there, and you will leave with an experience you will never forget.

    Kevin

  30. @Kevin: what is the cost to stay in three small towns? How do arrange for the reservation? Do they also provide tour guide in town and on the next destination?Can you post info in the comment section here? Thanks
    @Stuart & Nicholas: I plan to visit Nepal and Bhutan around mid October of 2018 for four people. I would appreciate your suggestion on tour guide/ package, visa entry, estimated daily cost, etc..I am saving $ and miles for the trip next October .How is the weather in Oct-Nov? How to visit Tibet since the Chinese government does not allow tourists there? Can you also post info here as well? Thanks

  31. @globetrotter…. Well, the weather will be lovely. Saving up is a great idea because on a budget trek, you get what you pay for, which will be altitude sickness and bad food. 🙂 No problem visiting Tibet on an organized tour. There are non-stop flights every day from KTM. Please get in touch with my friend Royal Lillge a.k.a. Atmaramdai@me.com and mention that we’ve been in touch. He has been to Tibet and Mt. Kailas over 5 times, and knows all the issues that need to be addressed for a great experience.

  32. @Nicholas: Thanks a zillion for a prompt response. I’ll put in my travel notebook and contact him in the fall. I will also ask him about Bhutan as well.

  33. @Luckey Welcome to the Land of Gross National Happiness. You have chosen the right timing for your visit to Bhutan as we have many beautiful flowers blooming all over during this season. Hope you will enjoy your stay here. If I can be of any help to you do let me know at chhetri.purna@gmail.com . I stay in Thimphu. Safe journey and Tashi Delek.

  34. Kuwait is seriously dull. And Kuwait Airways is dry and pretty blah. Go Biman for some adventure!

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