This is the tenth report in a series covering my trip to Europe and Africa around New Year's 2016. The trip involved three nested itineraries (which turned into four): A OneWorld roundtrip itinerary from the US to Milan, a Tunisair roundtrip itinerary from Milan to Tunis, Tunisia, and a Star Alliance roundtrip itinerary from Tunis to Windhoek, Namibia. The return portion of the Star Alliance itinerary would turn into a one-way itinerary on Qatar Airways due to South African Airways delays (hot weather), horrible customer service by South African Airways and United Airlines, and a cancellation of the remainder of the Star Alliance itinerary. I submitted a claim to World Nomads travel insurance for the Qatar Airways ticket I had to buy because I had faced a 24 hour delay by Star Alliance. World Nomads rejected the claim (as well as my appeal). According to them, they're off the hook unless the "common carrier" is completely shut down for 24 hours due to weather or a labor strike. The verbiage in the policy doesn't include "common carrier" though. I submitted a complaint to the California Department of Insurance, but they don't actually do anything besides forward the information to the insurance company, who had already ruled on it anyway. I filed a small claims lawsuit against Trip Mate, which administered the plan, and the trial date is set for February 2017; so stay tuned for that. I can't recommend using World Nomads travel insurance. I've bought five travel insurance policies through them. This is the first time I made a claim and it has not been a smooth process to say the least.
The OneWorld itinerary was an open jaw from Chicago to Milan in Economy, and Milan to San Diego in Business. The total cost was 63,000 AAdvantage miles and $84.10. Normal cost would've been 70,000 miles (20,000 for the outbound in Economy and 50,000 for the inbound in Business). However, I was able to get 10% back thanks to my Citi AAdvantage MasterCard.
The roundtrip cost for the Tunisair ticket was $182.48, bought through Vayama.
The roundtrip cost for the business class Star Alliance ticket was 70,000 United MileagePlus miles and $135.00. On the surface, this is an incredible value. Intra-Africa airfares are quite a sweet spot on Star Alliance if you go from one end of the continent to the other. However, my faith in Star Alliance has been completely shattered and I don't think I'll ever take advantage of this intra-Africa MileagePlus fare again.
———- Tunis to Milan Malpensa (Tunisair Economy): No Show
——————– Johannesburg to Doha (Qatar Airways Business): Jo'burg to Doha ——————– Doha to Milan Malpensa (Qatar Airways Business): You Are Here
—– Milan Malpensa to Miami (American Airlines Business) —– Miami to Chicago O'Hare (American Airlines First) —– Chicago O'Hare to San Diego (American Airlines First)
Unfortunately, my inbound flight didn't get a gate with a jetway, but business class passengers did get their own bus over to the terminal.
My flight from Johannesburg landed at 6:20 AM which is during the morning rush. One of the lounge workers told me that 6:00 AM till 8:00 AM is their busiest time and this day proved to be no exception. The security check for transfer passengers was crowded but moved along (especially the business class line). The only weird thing that happened during the security check was that the guy checking boarding passes didn't think one of the other business passengers from my Johannesburg flight was actually in business class. He got it cleared up and was able to go through. From there, I headed up to the Al Mourjan Business Lounge.
They were serving breakfast when I got there, but I headed for the showers. Even though this was the middle of the morning rush, I still only had to wait 15 minutes. By the time I finished showering and shaving, the morning rush was nearly complete and the lounge was almost deserted. I checked my bag into a locker and went for a walk around the terminal and the rest of the airport was almost completely deserted as well. When I returned to the lounge, I got a made to order panini which turned out to be one of the best sandwiches I've ever had. I purposely booked a longer layover so I'd have more time to experience amenities like this and I'm glad I did. For an AvGeek, having the Al Mourjan Business Lounge nearly to yourself for hours is like being a kid in a candy store. After a bit of time surfing the internet and exploring the rest of the lounge, I went to the other restaurant. For lunch, you could either go to the buffet or order off the menu (or do both, which is what I did). I made a plate of food from the buffet and ordered pumpkin ravioli off the menu. After a few more hours of chilling in the lounge, I sadly said goodbye and headed to my gate.
I Googled "Qatar A330 Business Class" when I was booking the ticket and saw images of angled lie-flats, so that's what I was expecting. But I was pleasantly surprised with an updated cabin. I had originally picked 2E because I like being in the middle section of a 2-2-2 configuration (aisle access for both me and the person next to me). However, I noticed there was no one in 5A or 5B so I asked if I could move back there and the flight attendants were fine with it. The flight attendant assigned to my row was incredible and made it abundantly clear I could order whatever I wanted for dinner and could eat at any time I wanted. Compare this to United where you're supposed to pre-book this sort of thing before your flight. I was still pretty full from the lounge so I watched Bridge of Spies before ordering dinner. I managed to sleep for a while after dinner, but this route isn't actually that long (usually between 6 and 7 hours). Overall this flight was incredible, both thanks to the modern hard product and the unparalleled soft product.
Passport control at MXP was fine. I booked a room at the Moxy hotel (part of Marriott) which is located right at the airport. You can take the free shuttle over to Terminal 2 then just walk across the parking lot. My only gripe is that there was no normal thermostat and I couldn't figure out how to heat up the room based on this weird dial system they had to control the temperature. I don't know if I wasn't using it correctly or the heat wasn't working. The rooms are pretty small and the whole "we're trying to appeal to millenials" schtick was a little over the top. Overall though, the hotel is very new, modern, clean, and a pretty good value.
Qatar Airways Al Mourjan South Lounge
Doha - DOH
Milan - MXP
I can't say enough about how great my overall experience was on Qatar Airways, both on my flights in and out of Doha and also in the lounge. All of the employees were incredible as well. Not only the flight attendants, but all of the lounge workers were very friendly as well. I know we've all heard horror stories about working conditions for foreign workers in the gulf states, but everyone seemed to at least somewhat enjoy their job and they were happy to chat with me about their country of origin. The guy who was checking in bags at the storage lockers was from Kenya and we struck up a conversation about my travels there and where his hometown was. This could have all been an elaborate act, but I have a friend of a friend who's a flight attendant for Emirates and she genuinely seems to enjoy her job.
When I see United touting their new Polaris product, I can't help but laugh at that fact that they're actually years behind the curve. You have business class cabins with all-aisle access and food menus in the lounge?! Wow! The funniest part is that they've only retrofitted a few planes so far and only have one Polaris Lounge up and running but still act like the airline has undergone some sort of historic revolution.
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