Star Alliance

Review: LOT Polish Airlines Chicago to Vienna and Back

I recently had a business trip to Vienna, Austria. I’d originally made it easy on myself by booking a one-stop flight: Memphis to Chicago on United and Chicago to Vienna on Austrian Airlines. About ten days before departure Corporate Travel called to say that my company and Austrian were having a bit of a tiff and I’d have to re-book on a different airline. Well.

The obvious choice would have been to go on Lufthansa but apparently we don’t get good discounts with them and it would have cost several thousands of dollars more. At one point I spoke to a grumpy agent in our travel department who told me there was no way I could get to Vienna on Star Alliance flights and I should just consider flying somewhere like Munich and taking the train. Munich is 4.5 hours away by train so no, I wasn’t going to accept that. I thanked him and went off to do more research on my own.

It would have been nice to take United as far as Brussels and then Brussels Air from there but I would have arrived in BRU too late to take the morning flight and it would have been about a 4-5 hour layover for the afternoon flight.

I ended up booking LOT Polish via Warsaw. I’d never flown LOT, been through the Warsaw Airport or laid eyes on Poland so it seemed like a good fit. As a bonus, our corporate rate was very cheap compared to the Austrian ticket.

My flight from Memphis to Chicago was uneventful. The downside of flying this route on Saturdays is that United only offers 1-cabin service.

Air France/KLM Lounge – Chicago O’Hare Terminal 5

I arrived in Chicago’s Terminal 2 and the LOT flight left out of Terminal 5, which I thought was the international terminal even though I know United does have some of their overseas flights depart from T2. I recalled from a previous visit that the lounges in T5 weren’t great so I went ahead and had lunch at the Cubs Bar & Grill in T3. (As a St. Louis Cardinals fan it’s tough to deal with all the Cubs memorabilia but I managed.) Afterwards I wandered down the G concourse to the end then took the stairs to the lower level. There I found Gate G17 for British Airways and that’s also the place to catch the transfer bus. The nice thing about catching the bus at this location is that it’s the last stop before T5 so after my boarding pass was checked and the bus arrived the 5 or so of us were able to hop right on and go straight to T5.

When we arrived we had to get to the second level via a series of ramps, some of which were a little steep. If mobility is an issue you may want to call the airport and discuss transfers ahead of time. It might be easier to exit security, take the transfer bus to T5 (the train is currently down) and re-clear security there. I was surprised to see gates for Frontier Airlines flights. I hadn’t realized they were located in this terminal.

I think it had been about eight years since I’d been to T5 and it looked like it had been refreshed since my last visit or perhaps I just walked past more gates and restaurants than I did on my prior visit. I arrived at the Air France/KLM lounge which displayed a banner stating they were the lounge for the following airlines in addition to AF/KL: Air India, Alitalia, Royal Jordanian, Etihad Airways, VIP Access Lounge, LOT Polish Airlines. Technically this is also a Priority Pass lounge but it was so busy during my visit that Priority Pass customers were not being admitted.

I checked in and then had to hunt a little for a place to sit. I eventually sat at a hightop bar with charging ports. The room was brightly lit with views on to the tarmac but it was not too hot on this summer afternoon. There was food in the other room but I did not even look at it, having just had lunch. It was far too crowded to take photos though there were certainly lulls between the time one group would leave and the next would arrive. It was a nice place to charge my electronics and use the free wi-fi but I was glad when the time came to head for my gate.

I arrived a little early and was called to counter so they could verify my passport, even though this had been done by UA staff in Memphis. I assumed this was because the LOT flights were on a separate ticket from the United flights.

We began boarding right on time at 16:40 through door 2L.

LOT 2 – Chicago to Warsaw – Saturday, August 24

LO 2 ORD-WAW
Boeing 787-8
Departs: 17:25 (scheduled) 17:10 (actual) 17:30 (takeoff)
Arrives: 09:30 (scheduled) 09:03 (landed) 09:11 (at gate)
Duration: 8h 31m (actual)
Seat: 3C Business Class

LOT flies a 787-8 between Warsaw and Chicago on Saturdays. It has 18 business class seats in a 2-2-2 layout. All six seats on row two were taken as were the two right seats on row three. Row one had one window seat and one of the center seats taken. When I booked I didn’t know if anyone might get upgraded so I selected one of the two center seats on row three so at least I would have aisle access. It turned out no one else was in the cabin so I had the two center seats to myself. I used the other one for storing the pillows and blanket and had my phone charging from the port on the other seat. That meant I didn’t have to worry about the cord getting stuck as I adjusted the seat.

LOT 787 Business Class Cabin

LOT 787-8 Business Class Cabin

The seat itself reminded me of the one on the Turkish Airlines A330 I flew from Istanbul to Houston. There’s not a lot of privacy but you don’t feel squeezed into the seat in front of you when change to lie-flat mode.

LOT 787 Business Class Seat

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SAS Business Class Review: EWR-CPH-EWR

On a recent business trip to Copenhagen I had the opportunity to fly SAS (aka Scandinavian) Airlines between Newark and Copenhagen. I would have preferred to have flow from Chicago but apparently the EWR-MEM legs are codeshares while the ORD-MEM legs (both on United) are not and thus the price would have been much higher. I’ve actively avoided Newark in the past but my other choices were two-stop flights on Delta/KLM or American and BA/FinnAir. Since I have Silver (low-level) status with United I wanted to help get that re-established for next year.

SAS Lounge Newark

I don’t have any photos because it was already fairly busy when I arrived. I had a feeling I’d enjoy the decor in most places on this trip as I love Danish Modern design and that was definitely the theme for this lounge. It was light and airy with big windows looking onto the tarmac though you really couldn’t see much outside as there was a walkway from a gate out to the jet bridge in between.

I arrived around 3 PM for my 5:40 PM flight and the only food in evidence at that time was the salad bar. The soft drink fountain was not working but there was a cooler with lots of cans, a full self-serve bar as well as still and sparkling water on tap. Around 3:30 PM lasagna with meat sauce found its way to the food service area. I got just a little snack since I had skipped lunch. It was nothing special but it did take the edge off until dinner.

The lounge could use a kids area as I didn’t see anywhere for them to play and not all of the children were using their inside voices.

As the afternoon progressed the lounge filled up even more. There are three SAS flights each day and the lounge is used by Emirates as well, so I was glad to move on. Continue reading

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Et tu, United?

On Friday, like many of you, I got an email from United telling me about upcoming changes to their MileagePlus® program. Since they released this information on a Friday afternoon, you may be thinking this is not good news. You would be right, for the most part.

The Bad News

Just in time for the holiday season, United is removing their award chart. For flights on November 15, 2019 or later, the current rules for how much an award flight costs will be flexible. That is, an award flight will cost whatever they say it costs for that date on that route. So for popular routes for holiday travel you can expect higher prices – in some cases much higher.

The Good News

Award flights within the US and Canada that currently price at 10K to 12.5K miles may price lower sometimes. This pricing is already available for some routes.

Effective November 15 the close-in booking fee of $75 will be eliminated if you book a flight within 21 days of departure. Previously this fee was waived only for certain elite members.

If you are an elite member or hold one of the Chase United credit cards there are still no blackout dates for award travel – though of course you might not like the price that is charged.

For now, the Star Alliance award chart is not changing. For now.

In the end

It’s very disappointing to see United following Delta’s lead with this dynamic pricing. I would bet that American is not far behind. While it’s nice that the close-in fee is being eliminated, it’s not something I’ve ever had to pay as I typically book many months in advance. This is going to make award trip planning more challenging as you may see an award price for X-miles one day, save up enough for that, only to find it now costs Y-miles when you’re ready to book.

I’m just a lowly Silver elite this year and unless I take a business trip this year am unlikely to requalify. I chose United because it’s more reliable than American and I could do more with my miles than I could with Delta miles. Yet they’ve taken that advantage away.

The United website has a page with more detail.

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United 777-200ER Old Style vs. Polaris Business Class

Introduction
Lodging Review: Novotel Torino Corso Giulio Cesare
Attraction Review: Museo Egizio
Lodging Review: Hilton Bonn
Lounge Review: Lufthansa Lounge, Cologne-Bonn Airport
United 777-200ER Old Style vs. Polaris Business Class

Though I usually do these trip reports in sequential order as to the activities, I skipped over the flight from Chicago to Munich as it was on a B777 configured in the old 2-4-2 layout that we experienced on our flight from Chicago to Brussels a few years ago. So I’ve included the food options below but am not providing a detailed review. Since my reservations were made only 10 days before, I was not surprised to find that the only available BusinessFirst seats were middle seats in the middle section. However, when I checked in 24 hours in advance I was thrilled to see it was the new 1-2-1 layout. But I was unable to select a seat. I was fine with that since now it no longer mattered where I sat. Later in the day, however, the seat map later reverted to the old 2-4-2 as I assume they had changed which aircraft would be servicing this flight. The good news was that now I had been assigned an aisle seat though it was still in the center section.

On the return, we did indeed finally get the 1-2-1 layout with the new Polaris amenities so I’ve included photos of that seat below. I did not include a review of one of the Lufthansa business class lounges in Munich as it was quite busy and there really wasn’t a way to take photos without people in it.

UA 952 ORD-MUC
Aircraft: B777-200ER
Seat: 8D (BusinessFirst, aisle of center section)
Depart: 1900 CDT
Arrive 0930+1 CET

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Lounge Review: Lufthansa Lounge, Cologne-Bonn Airport

Introduction
Lodging Review: Novotel Torino Corso Giulio Cesare
Attraction Review: Museo Egizio
Lodging Review: Hilton Bonn
Lounge Review: Lufthansa Lounge, Cologne-Bonn Airport
United 777-200ER Old Style vs. Polaris Business Class

I had a very early start to the day for my return trip. My flight from Munich to Chicago departed at 11:25 AM so I wanted to be sure I had plenty of time to connect – and even to catch a backup flight should my original flight get canceled. So I was booked on a 6:20 AM flight from the Cologne/Bonn airport to Munich. I booked a ride with Suntransfers and my only complaint was that they were non-negotiable as to pickup time and that was at 3:55 AM. At that time of day, with no traffic and it’s a short drive anyway, I was at the airport around 4:30 AM and the Lufthansa ticket counter didn’t even open until 5 AM so I had to stand there for half an hour with my bags. Ah well, certainly better than being late.

CGN airport is quite small. In fact, on their website, the motto is: so simple. There are two terminals. Terminal 1 handles Lufthansa, Germanwings, Austrian and Star Alliance partners and Terminal 2 handles all other airlines. Each Terminal has a lounge. In T2 it’s a generic business lounge for all the airlines while in T1 it’s a Lufthansa-branded lounge.

As the airport is small, so is the lounge. However with Lufthansa being the dominant carrier I can see that it might get crowded with elite travelers gaining access even if they’re on an economy ticket. It opens at 5:30 AM so I had to wait a bit for entry.

The lounge is circular in shape and one side of the room has the comfortable lounging chairs while the other side has tables and chairs for dining.

Lufthansa Lounge CGN Casual Seating

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All Nippon Airways B777-300ER First Class Tokyo Narita to Houston

Exploring Asia Overview
Cathay Pacific B777-300ER Business Class San Francisco to Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Lounge Review: The Cabin at HKG
Cathay Dragon A330-300 Business Class Hong Kong to Beijing
Lodging Review: Regent Beijing Hotel
Beijing: Dongcheng District
Beijing: The Great Wall
Beijing: Run-ze Jade Garden
Beijing: The Sacred Way of the Ming Tombs
Beijing: The Legend of Kung Fu
Beijing: Tiananmen Square
Beijing: The Forbidden City
Beijing: Hutong Tour via Rickshaw, Tea Tasting, Flying to Xi’an
Lodging Review: Hotel Shangri-La Xi’an
Xi’an: Qing Dynasty Terra Cotta Warriors
Xi’an: Tang Dynasty Dinner and Show
Xi’an Wrap-Up, Flying to Lhasa, Lhasa Home Visit
Lodging Review: Shangri-La Hotel Lhasa
Lhasa: Jokhang Temple and Barkhor Market
Lhasa: Canggu Nunnery and Sera Monastery
Lhasa: Potala Palace
Leaving Lhasa and Flying to Chongqing
Viking Emerald
Shibaozhai Temple
Cruising the Three Gorges
Three Gorges Dam
Jingzhou City Walls Tour
Wuhan: Hubei Bells Performance and Provincial Museum
Shanghai: Shanghai Museum
Lodging Review: Fairmont Peace Hotel, Shanghai
Shanghai: Old Shanghai and Yuyan Gardens
Lodging Review: The New Otani Tokyo Hotel
Tokyo: City Tour
Mt. Fuji and Hakone Tour Returning by Shinkansen
ANA Suites Lounge Review, Tokyo Narita
All Nippon Airways B777-300ER First Class Tokyo Narita to Houston

Date: October 24, 2017
Flight: NH 174 NRT-IAH
Seat: 2A (ANA Suites)
Aircraft: B777-300
Depart: 11:15 AM

We departed from gate 56, which was a 3-minute walk from my seat in the ANA Suites lounge. It was just a brief escalator ride down one level and a very short walk to the gate.

Boarding was scheduled to begin at 10:45 AM so I left the lounge at 10:30 AM just to have a look around the gate area. We had a nice nose-on view of our aircraft but for some reason the photo I tried to take didn’t work.

About 10:40 AM an announcement was made indicating that boarding would begin soon. I loved how civilized it was, with separate boarding lanes for First (and Star Alliance Gold), Business Class (and Star Alliance Silver) and Economy. There were about 5-6 (really young looking!) agents in the area working the flight and monitors overhead let everyone know they needed not only their boarding passes, but also their passports open to the photo page.

Once pre-boarding of one wheelchair and one family with small children was complete, precisely at 10:45, those of us in First Class were allowed to board. I was a bit amused that after passing the gate agents, we turned a corner to reach the jet bridge and there were another half-dozen gate agents – and even some ramp/maintenance workers – and they all bowed to us as we walked through. Once on the jet bridge, two doors were being used for boarding – 1L for First and 2L for everyone else. It was one time I didn’t mind turning right after boarding!

I was promptly greeted and escorted to my seat, 2A. The Flight Attendant, Mami, was just lovely and informed me that since only 3 of the 8 First Class seats were occupied, she would make my bed across the aisle in 2D. Wow, two suites just for me! Neither 1A nor 1D were occupied so I had the whole left side of the plane to myself.

ANA First Class Suite

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Categories: ANA, Award Travel, Star Alliance | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

ANA Suites Lounge Review, Tokyo Narita

Exploring Asia Overview
Cathay Pacific B777-300ER Business Class San Francisco to Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Lounge Review: The Cabin at HKG
Cathay Dragon A330-300 Business Class Hong Kong to Beijing
Lodging Review: Regent Beijing Hotel
Beijing: Dongcheng District
Beijing: The Great Wall
Beijing: Run-ze Jade Garden
Beijing: The Sacred Way of the Ming Tombs
Beijing: The Legend of Kung Fu
Beijing: Tiananmen Square
Beijing: The Forbidden City
Beijing: Hutong Tour via Rickshaw, Tea Tasting, Flying to Xi’an
Lodging Review: Hotel Shangri-La Xi’an
Xi’an: Qing Dynasty Terra Cotta Warriors
Xi’an: Tang Dynasty Dinner and Show
Xi’an Wrap-Up, Flying to Lhasa, Lhasa Home Visit
Lodging Review: Shangri-La Hotel Lhasa
Lhasa: Jokhang Temple and Barkhor Market
Lhasa: Canggu Nunnery and Sera Monastery
Lhasa: Potala Palace
Leaving Lhasa and Flying to Chongqing
Viking Emerald
Shibaozhai Temple
Cruising the Three Gorges
Three Gorges Dam
Jingzhou City Walls Tour
Wuhan: Hubei Bells Performance and Provincial Museum
Shanghai: Shanghai Museum
Lodging Review: Fairmont Peace Hotel, Shanghai
Shanghai: Old Shanghai and Yuyan Gardens
Lodging Review: The New Otani Tokyo Hotel
Tokyo: City Tour
Mt. Fuji and Hakone Tour Returning by Shinkansen
ANA Suites Lounge Review, Tokyo Narita
All Nippon Airways B777-300ER First Class Tokyo Narita to Houston

Since Narita Airport is so far from downtown Tokyo (over an hour’s drive on a good day) and traffic is always a question mark, Viking arranged for me to leave the hotel at 6:30 AM for my 11:15 AM flight. As it turned out, traffic was light and we made very good time. Another couple from our cruise was in the same van but they were flying KLM so there were two Viking assistants there to meet us at the airport. One took the KLM couple to the south check-in point while mine loaded my bags on a cart and guided me to the north check-in.

As I was in ANA First, we walked back to the Z check-in area which is a private area for ANA, United and other airlines. There were about 4 ANA reps inside and I was the only passenger at that point so it felt a little strange (but nice!) to be doted on so much. Check-in was very efficient and I was directed to the dedicated security lane, the one that can only be accessed directly from the First Class check-in area. Naturally that process was speedy as well.

Then it was down the escalator to Immigration, where, of course, I picked the line that didn’t move. But I had plenty of time and once the one person holding up the line finally got through, our line moved efficiently as well.

I turned left and walked past a number of shops and one gate before coming to the escalator leading to the airline lounges.

ANA Suites Lounge Narita Lounge Entrance

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Categories: Airline Clubs, ANA, Asia, Japan, Star Alliance | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Earn United Miles for Gasoline Purchases with BP

Most of us have or are aware of credit cards that earn bonus miles/points for purchases at gas stations.  For example, during this first quarter of 2018, the Chase Freedom card  has gas stations as one of its bonus categories and you can earn 5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent.  The IHG card will earn 2 points per dollar.  The Hilton card will give you 5 points per dollar.  And now you can double up those bonuses when you link your card to your BP Driver Rewards account.

You can sign up at this website or if you’re like me and already have a BP Driver Reward account, just log into your account, click on the BP Driver Rewards tab at the top and scroll down just a little until you see the photo of the United Airlines plane.

When you click on the Learn More button you see that you can earn 1, 2 or 3 miles per gallon:

Even better, you’ll earn 200 bonus miles for your first purchase after linking a debit or credit card to your BP Driver Rewards account and paying with that card.

The downside to this is that you can’t earn both cash back and airline miles for the same purchase. If you already have a BPDR account and you want to earn miles, you’ll need to log into your account to change your rewards type.  You can do that on the My Account tab.

NOTE: This promotion is not available to California residents.

If you don’t have other ways of earning United miles, this is a great way to extend the life of the miles you do have, since every addition of miles extends the life of your entire pool of miles for 18 months.

What if BP gas is not the cheapest in your area?  United miles are worth approximately 1.4-1.5 cents apiece.  So if BP gas is more than about 2 cents per gallon more expensive than your usual gas station it might not be worth more than an occasional visit to help extend your UA miles.  I’ve recently stocked up on Kroger fuel points thanks to a 4x fuel points on gift cards promotion this weekend so it may be a month or two before I take advantage of this BP promotion.

But for those of you who spend a lot at the pump, this could be a nice way to bump up your UA stash of points.

 

HT: Pizza In Motion

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Earn Miles for Donating to California Wildfire Relief

From now through the end of the year you can earn bonus United MileagePlus miles for donating to their partners for disaster relief due to the California wildfires.  United is partnering with the American Red Cross and the San Diego Humane Society.  If you’re a MileagePlus member you’ve probably already received an email to this effect and you can click on the link in your email or you can click here to to be taken to the donation page.

United will give bonus miles based on a tiered structure:

  • Donations of $50-99 will receive 250 bonus miles
  • Donations of $100-249 will receive 500 bonus miles
  • Donations of $250 or more will receive 1,000 bonus miles

United will award up to 3,000,000 bonus miles in total and will match the first $100,000 donated.

Note that the donations are handled by CrowdRise so they will not count as an airline charge for points-earning purposes.

It’s never a bad time to help those in need and doing so over the next couple of weeks will earn you bonus miles for doing so.

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United Miles Mystery Sale

From now through November 20th, United is offering targeted, tiered discounts on purchased miles. To see what your personal offer is, log into your account on United.com and hover over MileagePlus.

From there click on Buy, Transfer or Give Miles and you’ll be taken to this screen.

Click on the Reveal Now button, which will bring up a pop-up window for you to enter your MileagePlus number (again) and your last name. Enter that info and the next screen will show you your targeted bonus.

Mine will allow a bonus of up to 100% if I buy 30K-75K miles. United allows up to 150K miles to be purchased in a calendar year.

The drop-down menu shows the base cost of each increment of 1000 miles from 1000 to 75,000. Selecting one of the entries will then cause the calculator on the right side of the page to display the full purchase price including the taxes.

Buying 75K miles has a base purchase price of $2625. So getting 150K points for that price brings the price-per-point down to 1.75 cents each before tax. Since taxes are almost $197, that raises the price to 1.88 cents apiece.

Is it worth it?

It all depends on your needs, of course. If you’re looking to top off your miles to reach a specific award, then it might indeed be worth it. But if you’re looking to buy miles speculatively, then no, it’s probably not worth it. As noted above, the best-case scenario is about 1.88 cents apiece. Ben at One Mile At A Time values United miles at 1.4 cents each while Brian, the Points Guy, says they’re worth 1.5 cents apiece.

So I’ll be sitting this one out since I don’t have an immediate need.

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