Next Stop: Mongolia, In Air China First Class & MIAT Business Class!

There are very few international first class products I haven’t yet flown. By my count, there are just six airlines remaining that I haven’t flown in first class, the biggest of which is Air China.

Air China is a huge airline, and something interesting always seems to happen to me on Chinese airlines, so a review is long overdue. My plan for this was coming week was to finally try Air China’s first class.

As an aviation geek, there’s an additional “treat” here. Air China is one of only three airlines in the world to operate the passenger version of the 747-8. I’ve flown the Lufthansa 747-8 and Korean Air 747-8, so this is the last one for me to try.

However, Air China has a bizarre layout on their 747-8. Rather than putting first class in the nose like Korean Air and Lufthansa did, they put it behind business class and in front of economy, on the main deck. Truly strange. If you’d like a better sense of that, let Mr. Panda give you a tour of the Air China 747-8:

I booked this using Air Canada Aeroplan miles, now that they’ve restored relations with Air China.

My plan was originally to just turn around in Beijing, but I started looking into possible destinations of interest. Since it didn’t cost any extra miles, I decided to add a flight from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, on the same award. Mongolia has long fascinated me, and while I won’t spend as much time on the ground as I’d like, it’s better than nothing.

Then out of Mongolia I of course had to book MIAT Mongolian to Frankfurt. MIAT has been on my mind since I first saw one of their planes in March at Incheon Airport, so I’m happy I’ll finally have the opportunity to fly with them. Their business class fares from Ulaanbaatar to Frankfurt are pretty reasonable, at ~$1,000 one-way.

There’s very little about MIAT Mongolian online, though it looks like their 767 business class product is in a 2-1-2 configuration, with seats that look very similar to Asiana’s business class.

So my routing for this trip looks as follows:

I’m still not exactly sure how I’ll get from Frankfurt back to the US. I was thinking about maybe flying Condor business class, or Air India business class (London to Newark), or Air Europa business class (Madrid to Miami), or something. If anyone has any ideas, I’m of course open to them!

Bottom line

The planning for this trip simply started with wanting to review Air China’s 747-8 first class, though if it doesn’t cost anything extra, I figured I might as well add on a visit to Mongolia. Live and Let’s Fly and I plan on going to Mongolia later this summer via another interesting route, so I hope to do that as well. But in the meantime, this seemed like a fun enough trip idea.

Has anyone been to Ulaanbaatar? Without enough time to spend a week in the desert, any tips on what to do in the city, or in nature that’s not too far from the city?

Comments

  1. I’m seeing great fares on Air Europa. Looks like a United seat but with Premium Economy -like food and service. Would be interesting to hear your thoughts. I look at most SkyTeam carriers as 2nd or 3rd rate compared to Star/Oneworld but when the price is right …..

  2. @ Ryan — Any particular markets where you’re seeing good Air Europa fares? Not seeing any at the moment. 🙁

  3. I say Singapore airlines from Frankfurt to New York or PIA from Manchester to New York they have kind of updated their service but not the seats they will be changed in October

  4. Condor business class would be interesting with their new Alaska partnership, to see if that’s a worthwhile use of AS miles.

  5. Lucky you could always book a famous Lifemiles trick-route from Europe to USA via Asia in First Class 😉

  6. Hi! You can easily take a day trip to one of the nature parks near the Ulaanbaatar, or if time permits (?3 days) a short trip to kharkorum is doable too (at least that’s what i did, though I regret deeply for not staying longer to explore the deserts and dunes.

  7. Anyone notice in the video around the 0:23 mark the panda says “365 passengers can sit here” but the graphic says 233 passengers can sit here?

    Reminds me of the time many years ago when they had a brochure talking about their charitable efforts (or something like that). They mispelled something and put a sticker over it with the correct word they wanted. So naturally I peeled it off to see what the screw up was: if memory serves me correctly they were trying to talk about children’s welfare but mistakingly put “children’s warfare” in the original brochure and I guess were too cheap to print new ones. Oops. =P

  8. Air China fifth freedom flight from Madrid to Sao Paolo, then Sao Paolo back to the US?

  9. Go for FRA to the Yukon! You know you want to fly on the world’s most random transatlantic flight!

  10. Was just in Ulaanbaatar last week! The new Holiday Inn is actually really nice… for a day trip, we found a guide (named Enda – GM at Modern Mongolian Hostel)… he booked a trip to the countryside to stay in a yurt with a real nomad family for a night… pretty magical and only $65/person. Totally worth it

  11. @lucky well I just booked my parents one way $1450 from Tel Aviv to Miami on Air Europa. Not a steal but still a bargain compared to eveyone else

  12. And what about reviewing the new Iberia Premium Economy available from Madrid to Chicago, Madrid to New York or Madrid to Miami?

  13. Try archery in Mongolia, and to get back to the US, try SQ Manchester to Houston – it’s now operated by an A350

  14. Hi Ben! Long time reading l, first time poster.

    What about returning to the US with Aer Lingus via DUB?

    Love the blog!

  15. @lucky You should try Somon Air, they fly one weekly between Dushanbe and Frankfurt with a 737-900ER. I’ve just flown them and was pleasantly surprised. I also stayed at the Hyatt Recency in Dushanbe which I know you were looking at, as a Hyatt I wasn’t blown away but being in Dushanbe I was amazed. Just don’t go in July like I did, it was unbearably hot.

  16. @Lucky I know it’s pretty normal, but if nothing extremely interesting is there, an update on Delta might be interesting. They have, after all, done some improving, and you haven’t flown them since 2015 (although I am a bit biased because I’m flying them soon both domestically and internationally (-; ).

  17. @ Brad — Interesting, thanks for the heads up! Any clue if their business is like a domestic first class product in the US, or do they have a better product?

  18. @lucky Their business class was like domestic first class in the US. I flew economy so I can’t comment on the service but in economy we received a good meal after take off with the choice of chicken or beef and a small continental breakfast before landing. I only flew on the FRA-DYU sector so can’t comment on the service on the DYU-FRA sector, apparently there isn’t a meal service at all. Going out of Dushanbe I flew UTair DYU-VKO-GYD.

    Just to warn you the flight seems to be consistently delayed by 3 hours, the cabin is worn and there is no IFE. What impressed me was the flight crew, the pilot was very apologetic for the delay and the cabin crew while not polished were very friendly and attentive.

    Overall it wasn’t the best flight I’ve ever had but nowhere near the worst. I wouldn’t hesitate to fly them again and it was by far the easiest way to get between Europe and Tajikistan (even with the delay). Perhaps you could fly them between Dushanbe and Bishkek, I personally really liked Bishkek and I can put you in touch with an amazing tour guide (there’s also a Hyatt in Bishkek, I’d say its on par with the one in Baku)

    Also at the Hyatt in Dushanbe I booked a standard room for $184 per night and when I arrived I was offered an upgrade to an executive suite for only $30 extra per night, the suite itself usually goes for around $530 a night. This included breakfast but not club access. Personally I was more impressed with the Hyatt in Dushanbe than Baku.

  19. Agree with Jig and Izz – gotta go with the Yellowknife flight, then use Aeroplan to get back to the US via YVR.

  20. Fly to New York with delta or UA via Athens, and maybe visit the Greek capital (my home!!) or other beautiful destinations of the country- so far I don’t think you’ve visited Greece…?

  21. I second Max J suggestion to get out of the city. Ulaanbaatar is pretty much a dump, felt like an ex Soviet Union city. The most interesting I did there was to go to a North Korean restaurant where they played karaoke propaganda songs showing armed tanks etc.. it was bizzare. But 1-2 hours out of the city to the steppes would bring you to a completely different world. The landscape is totally like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. Staying with local family yurt would be way outside my comfort zone, but there are quite a few ‘luxury’ tourist yurt camps which are actually pretty decent, such as this one I stayed before, only 2 hours or so from Ulaanbatar http://www.mongoliagercamp.com
    Have fun!

  22. Hello,
    Have you considered transiting through Canada or is it too much of a pain to then go to the US? Air Transat flies to some very interesting destinations (Zagreb, Budapest, Prague, Marseille, Porto, Lamezia) out of YUL and YYZ.

  23. Fly the Norwegian “Premium Class” to Newburgh, NY or Providence, RI
    That would be interesting to see + an additional review of U.S Preclearance in Dublin!

  24. Frankfurt to JFK on Singapore first/business, then catch a AA flagship first to LAX to review the Flagship dining.

  25. Aer Lingus via Dublin? Be a good opportunityto review their new businessclass and check out how well the pre clearance facility works at DUB

  26. Hi Lucky, I’m not sure when you need to be back and I know you’re not too fond of recliners, but Icelandair will be flying to TPA starting in September. Perhaps you can try that and at the same time, use the free stopover in Reykjavik.

  27. Hey, fly LOT either KRK – ORD (new route, they have just restarted, once per week, each Monday and a very nice city to visit as well) or WAW – LAX (they really did change their business class service for the better!). Otherwise, you might wanna try Corsair for example!

  28. You could try Aegean to Athens and then UA, DL or EK to New York. And that gices you the benefit of visiting Athens, which is really great.

  29. Air Canada Rouge and Air Transat also fly to Canada from ATH. But I really recommend Aegean. I live in Athens and I fly them or Olympic Air twice a year (Easter and summer) and their service in economy on 45 minute flights is better than J in many airlines. And Greece has many wonderful places and is ideal for a stopover.

  30. UA does fly the 744 FRA-SFO and will be retiring them soon, could be a good chance to fly on another 744

  31. I rarely pipe up on message boards but really have to say having been there for work 6 or 7 times a couple of years ago, that is a city that is stunningly intolerant of gay men. Shockingly so. Would be extremely careful if you plan transiting for more that a short time. I think it’s a cultural thing or something but it’s really not cool there.

  32. Hi Lucky, You could fly SWISS’s new business class back to the U.S, It would be great !

  33. Try flying Condor business class from Frankfurt. to Anchorage, then Icelandair business class from Anchorage to Reykjavik before heading back to the US. Both flights are non-stop in the summer.

  34. Ben, I was in Mongolia for just a few days last November (cold!) with my husband. We also flew Air China F on the 747-8 and MIAT J on their 767. Perfectly serviceable but, as you might imagine, not at all polished. We had originally booked three nights at the Shangri-La but then on a whim after arriving decided to spend night #2 in a ger (Mongolian for yurt). The concierge set us up with guide/driver/ger and it was an amazing experience. On the way to or from your ger experience in the country check out a temple or two and don’t miss the bizarre Genghis Khan Equestrian Statue. Pick up a yak wool shawl for your mom at the State Department Store in Ulaanbaatar.

  35. As a Mongolian reader of your blog, I am excited that you are finally reviewing Mongolian Airlines and spend some time in my country. There aren’t many things to see/do/explore in Ulaanbaatar, but it might be interesting to see how nomadic culture, Soviet Union’s influence, and Western investments in mining industry in recent years have shaped the city. If you don’t have enough time, a day trip to the Terej Gorkhi National Park would be a great option.

  36. It would be nice to see you reviewing the Singapore Airlines fifth freedom route from Frankfurt-New York even if it is their business class. They advertise their business class as the widest biz seats in the industry so your take on that would be interesting.

  37. Lucky, can you try the Air New Zealand LHR-LAX 5th Freedom flight NZ1? Its been years since you’ve done that route, and you can check out the reconfigured B77W (with new Premium Economy). You can make the definitive judgement versus AA/BA and Air NZ.

  38. I flew from SFO-DEL on Air China a couple days ago. The flight to Ulaanbatar was very late that day and some people got in a fight. I’m pretty sure the flight leaves from Gate E51 which is one of the gates where you have to take a bus to get to the plane

  39. Ever thought about Air Algerie? Because they seem to have reasonable business class fares ($1300) for all of august between Algiers and Montreal. Even better, they have fully flat seats. Otherwise, Air India, Air Caraibes (they have a a350 with fully flat seats), or get around to the Aer Lingus Review.

  40. I’m curious to hear if Air China “Forbidden Pavillion” Class (really Lucky, you need to test what’s ‘forbidden’!) still has cheap plastic eyeshades that basically melt onto your face as you sleep. Good luck.

  41. Remember to credit your MIAT flight to Asia Miles if they expand codeshare with Cathay Pacific.

  42. Bask in the sunshine at Sukhbaatar Square during the day, take a photo with the Genghis Khan monument. At night enjoy a drink and the view from the Blue Sky Bar located in the Blue Sky Hotel.

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