Star Alliance

Review: United Polaris Business Class ORD-LHR-ORD

On my last trip across the Atlantic, I flew over on a United 777 prior to their rollout of their Polaris product in December. While the aircraft on this trip had not been retrofitted with the new hard product I was interested to see how the new soft product would differ. This report will cover both the outbound trip to London and the return to Chicago.

UA 938
Depart ORD: 21:20
Arrive LHR: 11:20+1
Duration: 8h 10m
Boeing 767-300
Seat 9A (Business Class)

After leaving the Polaris lounge, our gate was just a few steps away. By the time we arrived, orderly lines had already formed for zones 1 & 2 so we took our place at the end of zone 1. It wasn’t too much longer before boarding began. Everyone entered through door 2L so we turned right down the first aisle to our seats, which were the last two business class seats on the right and faced forward.

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Review: United Polaris Club, Chicago O’Hare Airport

I had arrived in Chicago in the morning and spent the day with friends before returning to the airport that evening. My friend dropped me off at O’Hare around 6:15 PM in advance of my 9:10 PM flight. I was excited to be able to spend some time in the relatively new Polaris lounge before my flight.

The lounge entrance is just to the left of the escalators when entering Concourse C from Concourse B/Terminal 1 check-in. There is a first checkpoint where it is verified that you’re entitled to enter the lounge. Then walk through these double doors followed by a left turn into the lounge.

Polaris Club Main Entrance

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Danube Trip: Budapest to Chicago

Danube Trip: Chicago to Brussels
Danube Trip: Brussels Adventures and Getting to Prague
Danube Trip: Marriott Courtyard Prague
Danube Trip: Prague, Czech Republic
Danube Trip: Boscolo, Autograph Collection
Danube Trip: Prague to Nuremberg
Danube Trip: Viking River Cruise Boats – the Njord and the Bestla
Danube Trip: Nuremberg, Germany
Danube Trip: Weltenburg Abbey and Danube Narrows
Danube Trip: Regensburg, Germany
Danube Trip: Passau, Germany
Danube Trip: Wachau Valley and Göttweig Abbey
Danube Trip: Vienna, Austria
Danube Trip: Budapest, Hungary
Danube Trip: Hilton Budapest (Castle District)
Danube Trip: Budapest to Chicago

My return flight left Budapest at 6:30 AM.  I had booked this leg of the trip using my Miles & More points, hoping that shortly before I left Budapest, Lufthansa would open up space and I’d be able to fly first class via Frankfurt.  But the space never opened up so I had to “settle” for business class.  Poor me.

My friend and I shared a taxi to the airport even though she was returning on Turkish Airlines and her flight was nearly three hours later.  Sure enough, when we arrived she couldn’t even check her bags as no one was at the Turkish counter that early.  So we said our goodbyes and I headed through security to the lounge.

The lounge I was directed to was very small and nearly full.  It did have free wi-fi but didn’t even have its own restrooms.  It was a contract lounge, not a Lufthansa lounge and while it was better than sitting the terminal and had some free beverages, I was completely under-whelmed.

Eventually though we boarded our flight for the relatively short flight to Frankfurt, which was very uneventful.  Like many intra-Europe flights, business class was simply economy with blocked middle seats and nice service.  We did get an edible, if unremarkable breakfast.  Before long we were in Frankfurt where I was able to enjoy the lounge for  a couple of hours.

When I got to the gate, I admit I was surprised.  Where was the German efficiency I so appreciate?  With Frankfurt being a Lufthansa hub, there are naturally a lot of people with elite status who are not flying in First or Business class.  So they hover around, waiting for priority boarding to be called instead of queuing up. I don’t think I’ve ever seen priority boarding be so chaotic, though my experience is not that widespread.  At any rate, eventually I boarded through door 1L and found my seat.

LH 430
Frankfurt (FRA) – Chicago O’Hare (ORD)
Depart 10:40 AM
Arrive  2:10 PM
Duration: 9h 30m
Boeing 747-8
Seat 6D (Business Class)

As I was traveling solo for this leg I selected a seat in the middle section so I wouldn’t have to worry about climbing over anyone or being climbed over.  Waiting for me at my seat was a blanket and this pillow.  I loved the color scheme.

LH 430 Business Class Seat

LH 430 Business Class Seat

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Danube Trip: Chicago to Brussels

Danube Trip: Chicago to Brussels
Danube Trip: Brussels Adventures and Getting to Prague
Danube Trip: Marriott Courtyard Prague
Danube Trip: Prague, Czech Republic
Danube Trip: Boscolo, Autograph Collection
Danube Trip: Prague to Nuremberg
Danube Trip: Viking River Cruise Boats – the Njord and the Bestla
Danube Trip: Nuremberg, Germany
Danube Trip: Weltenburg Abbey and Danube Narrows
Danube Trip: Regensburg, Germany
Danube Trip: Passau, Germany
Danube Trip: Wachau Valley and Göttweig Abbey
Danube Trip: Vienna, Austria
Danube Trip: Budapest, Hungary
Danube Trip: Hilton Budapest (Castle District)
Danube Trip: Budapest to Chicago

I took an early morning flight from Memphis to Chicago where I met up with my travel partner for the next two weeks.  She lives in the area so she picked me up and we had lunch with a mutual friend before returning to the airport for our evening flight.

Our visit to the United Club was the last day before one of the other clubs in a different concourse reopened after remodeling, so the club that was right across from our gate was absolutely packed.  It was so full that there was actually a line outside the club and people had to leave the club before they’d allow others in! We had some soft drinks but nothing to eat (not that there was a lot on offer) knowing that we’d be fed on our flight.  We couldn’t even fully enjoy the free wi-fi as the signal kept getting used by all the people in the club.

When it came time to board we only had to step across the hall to our gate, which was nice.  I was actually very impressed by all the lanes United had set up to separate the boarding groups and the boarding process proceeded in a relatively orderly fashion.

UA 972
ORD-BRU
Boeing 777
Seats 6J & 6K (BusinessFirst)

We entered via door 1L and proceeded through the galley to the far aisle before turning right through First Class and into Business Class.  United uses a 2-4-2 seating configuration in Business Class. I guess that middle section can actually be good if you’re traveling with several people but would be odd with strangers.  In addition, every other rows faces the opposite way.  So our seats faced forward but those in the middle beside us faced backward.  It was just weird. Our seats were the first row of BusinessFirst on the far aisle as we boarded.  In our seats were a blanket, a pillow and a set of headphones.

ua-972-seat

UA 972 BusinessFirst Seat 6J

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Categories: Award Travel, Star Alliance, United | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Trip Report: Danube River Cruise

I have a group of friends that like to travel together and one of them knew of another small group that was doing a Danube River cruise with Viking River Cruises.  Having cruised the Rhine with Viking a couple of years ago, we were excited to join that group for another European float.

One of my good friends who lives in Chicago agreed to be my travel partner for this excursion. We looked at the trip extensions Viking offered: a pre-trip extension in Prague before the cruise began in Nuremberg, and post-trip extension in Budapest, where the cruise ended.  As we looked at what was offered, we decided to do our own versions of these extensions and use our hotel points (mostly) to pay for our rooms.

Naturally we used airline miles to cover our flights in business class.  We both used United miles to fly to Prague with a long layover in Brussels.  My friend also used UA miles for a return flight from Budapest on Turkish Airlines via Istanbul.  I used my Lufthansa Miles & More miles via Frankfurt, hoping to be able to upgrade to First Class as the time for our flight grew closer, but it wasn’t to be.  No first class award seat ever opened up on the FRA-ORD leg on my flight date.  Note to self: in the future, don’t fly on a Monday.  Loads of business travelers!  I saw award seats on both Sunday and Tuesday around my date but by then the rest of our plans had been set so I had to “settle” for business class.

Our outbound flight connected in Brussels and I have a Twitter friend who lives in Belgium.  Though we’d never met in person, she was kind enough to drive down to Brussels and meet us for lunch and take us on a walk around the area near the train station.  I love the way the world gets smaller with social media!

danube-flights

My flights in red, my friend’s flights in cyan, joint flights in green

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Categories: Austria, Award Travel, Cruises, Europe, Germany, Hungary, Lufthansa, River Cruise, Star Alliance, United, Viking | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Danger of Using Credit Card Points to Buy AA and UA Tickets

Yesterday both American Airlines and United Airlines rolled out their new basic economy fares in limited markets.  These are cheaper fares that come with a number of restrictions like no carry-ons in the overhead bin, no seat selection, no flight changes (even for a fee), last boarding group, limited mileage accrual and lesser credits toward elite status. (Some of these restrictions are waived if you have elite status and/or hold one of the co-branded credit cards.) When you book these fares on their website, there should be clear indication of what is and is not included in your fare.2017-01-18-aa-basic-economy
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Donate to Hurricane Matthew Relief, Earn UA Miles

2016-10-08-ua-relief-efforts

As Hurricane Matthew has now passed through some areas, relief efforts are kicking into high gear.  United Airlines is offering its MileagePlus members the opportunity to earn bonus miles for donating to one of four charities aiding those affected.

  • The American Red Cross is a humanitarian organization that provides emergency assistance, disaster relief and education inside the United States
  • Airlink is a rapid-response humanitarian relief organization that links airlines with pre-qualified nonprofits.
  • Americares is a non-profit disaster relief and global health organization providing immediate response to emergency medical needs and supporting long-term health care initiatives for people in the United States and around the world
  • Operation USA is a non profit humanitarian organization dedicated to helping communities alleviate the effects of disaster, disease, and endemic poverty throughout the world by providing privately funded relief, reconstruction, humanitarian aid and development aid.

If you donate via the United Airlines link, you may earn bonus miles based on the amount of your donation:

  • Donate $50–$99 and earn 250 bonus miles
  • Donate $100–$249 and earn 500 bonus miles
  • Donate $250 or more and earn 1,000 bonus miles

United will award up to five million bonus miles to MileagePlus members who donate and they will match up to $100,000 of customer donations.  Note that because the donations are administered via CrowdRise, they will not count as United spending if you use your MileagePlus credit card to make a donation.  The donation might, however, count as a charity donation if you have a card that gives a bonus for that category.

Note that the deadline to earn miles for your donation is October 21, 2016.

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Convert IHG Rewards Club Points to United MileagePlus Miles

2016-09-16-ihg-to-ua-conversion

Between now and October 10, 2016 you can transfer your IHG Rewards Club points to United MileagePlus miles.  For each 10,000 points you transfer you get a 50% bonus.  The kicker is that 10,000 IHG points usually becomes 2,000 airline miles. With this special you’ll end up with 3,000 UA miles.  So it’s not a great ratio, obviously.

The process is quite simple.  First go to the United site and register for the promotion.
Next, contact the IHG Customer Care Center to initiate the transfer.

Is this something you want to do?  As usual, it depends on your personal situation.  If you are IHG points-rich and just need a few miles to top off a UA award then, perhaps.  Otherwise I’d give this one a pass.

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Great airfare deals on AA and UA to/from Chicago

I saw a tweet this morning from Ric Garrado of Loyalty Traveler that American and United are having fare wars between certain cities.  His blog post showed a screen shot of a fare on United where the base fare was $53!  There were taxes and fees that brought the cost up to $86 but still, that’s a fantastic deal for a round-trip ticket.  His post lists the 12 cities and the base fares that he found.

Great news for those who live in Chicago or want to visit the Windy City!

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Last day to buy MileagePlus miles on sale

UA MileagePlus LogoIf you’re a member of the United MileagePlus program, you likely received an email today stating that it’s your last chance to buy MP miles with a bonus. The amount of the bonus is targeted. The offer I received:

Buy 5,000 – 19,000 miles, save 15%
Buy 20,000 – 49,000 miles, save 25%
Buy 50,000 – 149,000 miles, save 35%
Buy 150,000 miles, save 50%

The offer expires at 23:59 US Central Time tonight and are non-refundable. These miles are redeemable miles and do not count towards elite status. Canadians will be charged GST/HST. It may take up to 48 hours for the miles to post.

This will show on your credit card as a charge by Points.com so it will not count as airline spend for credit card bonus categories.

Even with the 50% bonus, it’s not a terrific deal for those of us who like to use the points for premium cabin international travel. The 150K miles cost $2625 (before taxes, fees, processing charges, etc.) which is 1.75 cents per mile. At the present time Ben from One Mile at a Time values UA miles at 1.4 cents each while Brian, The Points Guy places their value at 1.5 cents apiece.

I’m giving this sale a pass as my present travel needs don’t call for travel on Star Alliance carriers.

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