During my summer 2019 trip to visit family, I had the chance to try out Air China's short-haul business class product between Taipei and Beijing. I'll be sharing how I booked this flight for free and my overall experience!
How I Booked
I previously wrote about how I flew EVA Air Business Class between the US and Taiwan for $50 roundtrip. This Air China flight was covered using United's excursionist perk in the same trip, which essentially allows you to tack on a third destination in the same region completely for free! This is covered in more detail the article linked above.
SFO > TPE (80k)
TPE > PEK (excursionist perk, FREE!)
PEK > TPE > SEA (80k)
Key Trip Info
- Flight #: Air China CA 186
- Route: Taipei (TPE) - Beijing (PEK)
- Departure (local time): 8/7/2019 1:00pm
- Arrival (local time): 8/7/2019 4:25pm
- Duration: 3hr 25min
- Aircraft Type: Airbus A330-300
- Seat: 13L (Business Class)
My trip began in Terminal 2 of Taipei Taoyuan International Airport (TPE). There was a dedicated check-in line for those flying in Air China business class or with status. Although there was a little bit of wait, it was not bad at all compared to economy.
Security & Immigration
TPE has no dedicated security screening line for premium cabin passengers. Thankfully, I've never had to wait more than a few minutes to clear through security in all the times I've passed through this airport.
Taiwan has exit passport control (unlike the US), and sometimes this step can take a substantial amount of time. Thankfully, I am enrolled in Taiwan's E-Gate program, so was able to speed through the automated kiosk in a matter of seconds! Note that this service is open to citizens and foreigners from specific countries (mostly countries with reciprocal benefits for Taiwanese nationals such as Global Entry in the US), but you must enroll prior to entering the air-side area of the airport.
I initially expected a Star Alliance Lounge when I got my lounge invitation. To my surprise, it was actually for the China Airlines Supreme Lounge (華航梅苑貴賓室), which is part of SkyTeam...so very interesting partnership. I will cover this lounge in more detail in a future article!
Here is a quick picture of the interior. Overall, it was very empty, quiet, and has decent food options. The environment was very nice! Sadly, no lounge in the terminal has direct window view of the tarmac.
Although, I did find out later that with a premium cabin Star Alliance flight, I was actually eligible to visit all the other Star Alliance lounges, such as those from EVA and Singapore Airlines. I haven't tested it though, so cannot confirm it will work 100%.
Additionally, when I flew in 2019, the two Plaza Premium lounges in the terminal were actually considered better than the airline lounges. However, they recently left the Priority Pass program. Good news is, if you are an Amex Platinum cardholder, you still have access to the Plaza Premium lounges through a direct partnership! I will cover this in more detail in a future article.
Boarding & Pre-Flight
The Airbus A330 that will take me to Beijing!
Boarding was pretty smooth and on-time!
Nice day to fly...
Since this is a much older product, I didn't really have much of an expectation. The seats are arranged in 2-2-2 configuration, so it is better for couples since the window seats do not have direct aisle access.
That being said, the lie-flat seats turned out to be very comfortable. Additionally, the cabin was less than half full, so everyone traveling alone got 2 seats to themselves! Not having a seat-mate really made this experience very nice as I had ample space and direct aisle access..
Here are some additional pictures...
Shortly after settling down, I was offered a pre-flight beverage.
I was also provided the food and drinks menu..
Overall, the food was very mediocre, which is what I expected from Air China. However, since I already ate some food at the lounge, this was fine.
The highlight for me was definitely the Häagen-Dazs ice-cream at the end!
This was the most surprising part of my experience (in a pleasant way). Air China has really improved a lot in this area and I found the flight attendants to be incredibly polite, attentive, and detailed-oriented. A few observations:
- They will remember your tea preference and replace your pot with fresh leaves and hot water without you asking
- The toilet is cleaned after each use
For a completely free 3-hour flight, I was very satisfied with the experience. The lie-flat seat was spacious (definitely helped that the cabin was only half full), the food was "just fine", and the service was superb. Perhaps I have gotten used to how 6-hour US trans-continental service is like, making this much more enjoyable in comparison. That being said, I would probably not pay cash for this, and it is not a "premium cabin" experience worth purposely routing your journey for.
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