Tag Archives: united

Random Thoughts on 2/3/14

I’m going to be on vacation (actual vacation!) for the next two weeks, so expect more sporadic posts. In general, this blog is increasingly hard for me to update with real content given my work and travel schedules, so I’m not sure exactly what to do. I clearly don’t have the capacity to make it a one-stop shop like many of the other blogs, but I also want to write more than just trip reports, which is all I’ve been doing for the past couple of weeks. I’m thinking of briefer posts that touch on things that are on my mind. I also have a number of friends who say they want to read my blog to learn more about the miles and points world, and I know that I do a bad job for beginners, so I’ll try to work on that.

Here’s what’s on my mind now:

1) I jumped on the Citi Executive AAdvantage card for 100,000 miles after $10,000 of spend in 3 months, $450 annual fee, and $200 statement credit. I got the card in the mail Saturday morning, went to CVS and bought 10 Vanilla Reloads, and am halfway to the minimum spend requirement. I love that I didn’t have to call Citi about the charge (on the other hand, I hate US Bank for constantly declining my Club Carlson cards). I’m debating whether or not to try to go for $40,000 of spend for the 10k bonus AA EQMs, as I’m mostly debating whether or not to try to hit AA Executive Platinum for next year. I currently have about 50k EQMs booked, but I just don’t know if it’s rational for me to really fly 100k paid miles on AA every year. I would probably just do it if there were a closer source of VRs to me, but I think I need to get in a car (which I don’t have) to find them reliably, which makes this proposition less appealing.

2) I really don’t think that you’ll be able to combine EQMs from American and US Airways for status on American next year. Most bloggers seem to think otherwise, but I don’t understand why since you can credit flights to either program for EQMs. Why would they allow this AND allow you to combine EQMs? Seems like too good of a deal to be true.

3) I am constantly reminded of how much United sucks and how good of a decision it was to switch to American. I helped a friend book a flight from Thailand to the US, and Thai decided to cancel one of his flights and move him to a flight that left him a 5-minute connection in Hong Kong. Clearly, this doesn’t work, but United didn’t even email him to tell him his itinerary was now impossible. Thankfully, I was able to fix things, but I honestly don’t understand how normal flyers deal with United.

4) More United bashing: a reader told me that a United agent told him about new restrictions that will be placed on United awards along with the devaluation. If this turns out to be true, I think anyone who burned most of their United stash will be very glad that they did…

Review: United Club Tokyo Narita Airport (NRT)

The United Club in Tokyo Narita was actually the very first airport lounge that I had ever visited. At the time, I was amazed that you could shower at the airport and that there was free food (although the food was devoured almost instantly whenever a server would put out more food as the lounge was extremely full).

Returning to this lounge on my most recent visit, my expectations weren’t very high as I’ve since been to some awesome lounges like the Emirates First Class Terminal in Dubai, the Lufthansa First Class Terminal in Frankfurt, and the Qatar First Class Premium Terminal in Doha. This lounge offers some great tarmac views, and it’s a pretty large space, but it’s often ridiculously crowded, and it can be hard to find a good seat.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by my visit to the United Club this time. It’s definitely showing its age, and the lounge was still crowded, but there were definitely seats available, including some coveted seats by the windows.

Seating

Seating

Coveted window seats

Coveted window seats

One thing I was a little surprised by was the fact that there were very, very few Asian people in the lounge. It honestly felt like I was back in the US. Is this just because all of the Japanese people go to the ANA lounges?

Even though I had already showered at the United Club in Hong Kong, I figured I might as well take another shower in Narita. The United Club in Tokyo has many showers, and this time I didn’t have to wait at all to get a shower room.

Shower

Shower

I was glad to see that there are more food options than there were when I last visited the club. The first time around, people were stalking the servers waiting for the one plate of sushi to come out, and it would be gone almost instantly. Now, in addition to sushi and edamame, they have things like noodles and soups. For what it’s worth, there are two main food stations, one with more savory foods and the other with more sweet foods, so definitely check out both stations.

Beer machine

Beer machine

Alcohol

Alcohol

Sushi

Sushi

Edamame

Edamame

Noodles

Noodles

Soups

Soups

Desserts

Desserts

This United Club is a little old and could use some updates, but the amenities offered are better than just about any other United Club. It can get quite crowded at times, but it’s still a good place to take a shower, grab a beer, and eat some food. That being said, I would almost always choose the ANA lounge over the United Club, so unless you’re getting lounge access through a day pass or a United Club membership, I would probably head to an ANA lounge instead.

Review: United Club Hong Kong (HKG)

The United Club at the Hong Kong airport is supposed to be one of the best United Clubs out there, so I was excited to check it out when I flew out of Hong Kong back to the US.

Entrance to the United Club

Entrance to the United Club

Upon entering the lounge, I asked to take a shower, as I got to the airport pretty early and didn’t have the chance to take one before I left. Since it was quite early in the day, the lounge wasn’t crowded at all and the shower was free, so the desk agent led me to the shower immediately. There’s only one shower available, so you might have to wait a while later in the day if you want to use it, but then again, Hong Kong isn’t a huge Star Alliance connection point.

The shower room and the shower itself were large, and the water temperature and pressure were good. The only negative was that the shower room smelled a little funky when I entered.

Shower room

Shower room

After showering, I checked out the food options, and I don’t think I’ve seen any United Club with more food offerings than the United Club in Hong Kong. There were a couple of salads, some snacks, pastries, several hot food options, and a sushi bar.

Salad bar

Salad bar

Alcohol selection

Alcohol selection

Pastries

Pastries

One of the hot food dishes

One of the hot food dishes

Sushi bar

Sushi bar

The food wasn’t particularly good (the scrambled eggs looked disgusting, and the sushi was pretty terrible), but at least they offered more than just snacks, and I was able to put together a decent breakfast with the food offerings.

The club also offers ample seating, or at least when I was there in that morning there was plenty of room. It did not feel overcrowded at all, unlike almost any other United Club that I’ve been to. There are also pretty nice views of the tarmac, if you like to watch planes.

Seating

Seating

More seating

More seating

View of the apron

View of the apron

My only other complaint about the club was the wifi. Every 5 minutes or so, I’d have to reconnect as the wifi would cut out, and I’m not sure if I was the only person having the problem. But otherwise, yes, the United Club in Hong Kong is one of the nicest United Clubs I’ve been to, but that’s only because domestic airport lounges in the US are almost all not very nice. Compared to other international lounges, the United Club is decidedly mediocre in terms of the food offerings, but the space is nice, and I appreciated the views and ample seating.

United.com No Longer Showing Singapore Award Space

I was searching for award space on SQ 2 from Hong Kong to San Francisco for a friend in economy class, and I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t even SEE the flight on United.com, especially since I found space on ANA’s website (which does show availability for economy space, just not for premium cabins on long-haul routes).

Well, I wasn’t going crazy, as UA Insider has posted on Flyertalk that they’re no longer going to display Singapore Airlines award inventory at all starting December 13th.

Hi everyone,

I wanted to give you an early heads up about an upcoming change to the Star partner award availability you see displayed online. Singapore Airlines and United have agreed to remove Singapore Airlines inventory from our award flight search results on united.com and on the United Mobile App. This will take effect starting tomorrow, December 13, You will still to be able to book and change award reservations involving Singapore Airlines by calling our reservations lines.

Please let me know if you have any clarifying questions, and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Aaron Goldberg
Sr. Manager – Customer Experience Planning
United Airlines

United is continuously making me glad that I decided to leave them for American.

Burn, United (Miles), Burn: United PS Business Class New York JFK to San Francisco

Introduction
Planning
United Global First Lounge Washington Dulles (IAD)
Lufthansa Business and Senator Lounge Washington Dulles (IAD)
ANA First Square Class Washington Dulles to Tokyo Narita
ANA Suite and Business Class Lounges Tokyo Narita (NRT)
ANA Business Class Tokyo Narita to Beijing
IBIS Beijing Capital Airport Hotel
Air China First Class Lounge Beijing (PEK)
BGS Premier Business Class Lounge Beijing (PEK)
Business Traveler’s Lounge Beijing (PEK)
Lufthansa A380 First Class Beijing to Frankfurt
Lufthansa First Class Terminal Frankfurt (FRA)
Lufthansa B747-400 First Class Frankfurt to New York JFK
United PS Business Class New York JFK to San Francisco


UA 504
New York (JFK) to San Francisco (SFO)
Tuesday, November 5th
Depart: 9:00am
Arrive: 12:35pm
Duration: 6h 35m
Aircraft: Boeing 757-200 (old config)
Seat: 9B

This flight was on one of the few remaining old configuration United PS planes with three classes of seats, although it’s sold and served as two classes of service. I selected a seat in row 9, which is renowned for its unlimited leg room, and while not actually unlimited, it’s far more leg room than a single person could need. One of the other passengers in row 9 was at least 6’5″, and he had no problems, and you could probably lie down in the space between seats and still not reach the seat in front.

Old business class seats (not row 9)

Old business class seats (not row 9)

Unlimited leg room for row 9

Unlimited leg room for row 9

These planes and seats are definitely showing their age. The seat controls were pretty old school, and my seat mate was alarmed that some of the plane parts around the emergency exit seemed to be falling off.

Very old seat controls

Very old seat controls

Power ports and open storage space

Power ports and open storage space

The service on the flight was typical for a US carrier i.e. adequate but not great. They passed out the tablets used as in-flight entertainment soon after takeoff, and I asked if I could get one later if I declined to take one now, and they told me that no, they’d be too busy to give one to me later. Of course, later in the flight, since the cabin was only half full, they spent most of the flight sitting in row 5 and talking to each other…

In-flight entertainment

In-flight entertainment

The choices for breakfast were an omelette, french toast, or cereal, but I had pre-ordered an Asian vegetarian meal (well, when I called, I just asked for a vegetarian meal, but I’m pretty sure the phone agent was Asian and saw my Asian last name and said, “Asian vegetarian meal, right?”, and I just kinda went along with it). The AVML was some sort of chana masala-like chickpea sauce on top of fritters, which was pretty tasty for United food.

Breakfast menu

Breakfast menu

Asian vegetarian meal (AVML)

Asian vegetarian meal (AVML)

After eating, I tried to get some sleep. While the seat reclines very far back and there’s unlimited leg room, I could get the leg rest to go up very far, so the ample leg room went to waste. I slept okay for a recliner seat, but I’m looking forward to flying the flat-bed config early next year.

Seat 9B in reclined position

Seat 9B in reclined position

Overall, the flight was fine. Almost anything is going to be a let down after three long-haul flights in ANA and Lufthansa first class, but the food on this flight was decent enough and the in-flight entertainment kept me entertained when I chose to use it. The most remarkable parts of the flight were the very tall man also sitting in row 9 and my very talkative seat mate who had much more anxiety/neuroticism about flying than I would typically expect from someone flying in business class and seated in one of the best seats in the cabin.

Burn, United (Miles), Burn: United Global First Lounge Washington Dulles (IAD)

Introduction
Planning
United Global First Lounge Washington Dulles (IAD)
Lufthansa Business and Senator Lounge Washington Dulles (IAD)
ANA First Square Class Washington Dulles to Tokyo Narita
ANA Suite and Business Class Lounges Tokyo Narita (NRT)
ANA Business Class Tokyo Narita to Beijing
IBIS Beijing Capital Airport Hotel
Air China First Class Lounge Beijing (PEK)
BGS Premier Business Class Lounge Beijing (PEK)
Business Traveler’s Lounge Beijing (PEK)
Lufthansa A380 First Class Beijing to Frankfurt
Lufthansa First Class Terminal Frankfurt (FRA)
Lufthansa B747-400 First Class Frankfurt to New York JFK
United PS Business Class New York JFK to San Francisco


I’m not going to cover my domestic flights to get to Dulles, so I’m going to start off the trip report with the United Global First Lounge at Washington Dulles airport (IAD).

I generally don’t expect much from domestic lounges, but I was interested to see what a United Global First lounge was like, as one might assume that they’d have to be on par with international lounges since the only way to get access is to the lounge is to fly a Star Alliance flight in first class.

Entrance to the lounge, near the end of the C terminal around gate C2

Entrance to the lounge, near the end of the C terminal around gate C2

When I entered the lounge, the lounge attendant told me that the ANA lounge was open (by which she meant the Lufthansa lounge that ANA passengers use), and that while I was welcome to use the United First lounge, I should consider going to the B gates to go to the ANA lounge. I would normally take this to mean that I wasn’t really welcome, but after poking around the lounge, I think the attendant was trying to do me a favor because she knew that the United Global First lounge was a pretty disappointing lounge, particularly since it’s supposed to be for first class passengers.

At 8:30am on a Saturday, I was the only one there, and for the 15 minutes or so that I poked around, only one other person even attempted to come in (and he was denied access).

Completely empty lounge

Completely empty lounge

The food offerings were sparse for a first class lounge, although good compared to a domestic business lounge, which isn’t saying much. There were no hot options to be seen, and the continental/cold options for breakfast seemed a little sad to me. I did appreciate that there were some berries in the fruit plate instead of the conventional melon and unripe banana assortment. The drinks were self-service, but I wasn’t interested in trying anything after coming off a red-eye.

DSC03183

I'm assuming this fridge is usually fuller?

I’m assuming this fridge is usually fuller?

DSC03184 DSC03185

The lounge is small, although since the only way to get access is to fly first class on a Star Alliance flight, it should never get that crowded. There was a storage facility for luggage and a small business center where you could make copies, but there were no showers or other amenities.

Business center

Business center

After a quick walkthrough, I decided to leave for the Lufthansa lounge in Terminal B, mostly because there was nothing compelling to make me stay. I wanted a shower, which I couldn’t get in this lounge, there weren’t good views of the tarmac, and the food wasn’t particularly appetizing. Overall, disappointing for a first class lounge, but it’s a step up from your typical United Club.

Adventures in Booking United Awards

I’m planning on going to Vietnam next year, and I had originally booked an award routing SFO-LHR-BKK-HAN on United Global First, Thai First, and then Thai Business. I was excited to fly LHR to BKK on Thai First because I thought the route was going to be served by an A380, and I had such an awesome time on Emirates’s A380.

Literally days after booking that flight, I read that these plans were scrapped due to delays in the delivery of the A380. So that meant no A380 for me 😦

But Thai does fly the A380 to both CDG and FRA, so I looked at possible routings through either of those. For CDG, even though United flies SFO to CDG nonstop, it’s on a 2-class 767, so that would mean no first class for the long leg, and then there aren’t any nonstop flights between LHR and CDG on Star Alliance. For FRA, there are plenty of flights between LHR to FRA, so I thought my best option would be to change from SFO-LHR-BKK-HAN to SFO-LHR-FRA-BKK-HAN.

I checked availability on ANA and United.com, and everything looked good for switching to LH 901 for LHR to FRA and then TG 921 for FRA to BKK. First time I called United, the woman answering the phone was a little surprised that I wanted to change to a more indirect routing, but said that she didn’t see space on LH 901. In fact, she said that she couldn’t even book a revenue ticket on that flight because it didn’t look like it existed. So I hung up and called again.

Agent #2 was worse than the first. When I explained what I wanted, he was instantly suspicious. He started asking me irrelevant questions like, “Is this a one-way award? How are you getting back? How are you getting around in Vietnam?”. I probably should have hung up at this point, but I wanted to know if he also couldn’t see space on the Lufthansa flight that I wanted. After putting me on hold, he eventually said something like, “well, there are a couple of things wrong with your scheme,” and also confirmed that he couldn’t see space on LH 901, saying that it didn’t matter what I saw on the website. Oofta.

At this point, I decided to put an award on hold for LH 901, the mysterious flight that the United reservations agents can’t see (for what it’s worth, the agents couldn’t see LH 925, LH 901, or LH 903 aka any of the three flights that would make my routing work), before calling back. So on attempt #3, after hearing the same problems of not seeing any of those flights, I ask the agent about the reservation that I have on hold for LH 901. She agrees that it’s odd that I can make a reservation on a flight that she can’t see, so she has their support team call Lufthansa to see if my award hold is valid.

After half an hour on hold, she comes back with good news: it’s booked! But she booked me in business on the FRA to BKK leg instead of first, which I only saw after checking the itinerary online before getting off the phone with her. So after the agent blaming me for that mistake, I eventually get the whole itinerary booked in the correct classes.

Moral of the story: United agents couldn’t see Lufthansa flights that were bookable on the United.com website and that were shown as available on ANA. In order to get my flight booked, I held an award for the flight that I wanted, which finally convinced a United agent to figure out why they couldn’t see the flight. Has anyone else noticed problems with United agents not able to see Lufthansa (or other carrier) award space that’s very clearly available?

Around the World in 100 Hours: United Business Class San Francisco to Seoul

Introduction
United Club San Francisco, International Terminal
United Business Class San Francisco to Seoul
Asiana Airlines Business Class Lounge Seoul
Korean Air Lounge and Singapore SilverKris Lounge Seoul
Singapore Business Class Seoul to Singapore
Ambassador Transit Lounge Singapore
Singapore SilverKris Lounge Singapore
Changi Airport Free Singapore Tour
Singapore Business Class Singapore to Colombo
Transiting Colombo
Lotus and Araliya Lounges Colombo
Qatar Airways Business Class Colombo to Doha
Qatar Airways First Class Premium Terminal Doha
Qatar Airways First Class Doha to Dubai
Emirates First Class Lounge Dubai
Emirates First Class Dubai to London Heathrow
British Airways Concorde Room London Heathrow
British Airways Galleries First Lounge and Club World Lounge London Heathrow
British Airways First Class London Heathrow to San Francisco


United 893
San Francisco (SFO) to Seoul (ICN)
Friday, May 24th, 2013
Depart: 10:55am
Arrive: 3:05pm (+1 day)
Duration: 12h 10m
Aircraft: Boeing 747-400
Seat: 15B (Upper Deck, Business)

When booking my tickets, I was trying to decide between a seat on the upper deck or lower deck. Most people prefer the upper deck, but the lower deck had many more open seats. I ended up choosing 15B as I’d never flown on the upper deck of a 747, and I was glad that I did since business class ended up going out full. In fact, first class also went out full with 5/12 non-revs, business class was full with 11/52 non-revs, and coach had 2 open seats with 1 non-rev.

It was exciting to walk up the stairs to the upper deck, and I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of space, since I feel like the business cabin on the lower deck feels a bit crowded with the 2-4-2 configuration. The upper deck is 2-2, with a large space in the middle for the emergency exits, which was good for stretching in the middle of the flight. I would definitely recommend the upper deck over the lower deck.

The upper deck business class cabin

The upper deck business class cabin

My seat, 15B

My seat, 15B

Ample leg room and large entertainment screen

Ample leg room and large entertainment screen

If you don’t mind climbing over your seat mate, the window seats are better as they have more accessible storage. As I was sitting in an aisle seat, I had to store everything in the smallish overhead bins. Luckily, my seat mate spent most of the flight sleeping, so no one ever climbed over me.

United starts their in-flight entertainment on the ground, which is a big plus in my book. I found the entertainment system to be responsive, the screen was large, and the selection was good enough for me, although I admit that I don’t watch many movies so everything is new to me.

Business class amenity kit

Business class amenity kit

Amenity kit contents

Amenity kit contents

I rather like United’s Business class amenity kit mostly for the bag itself. It’s small and decently made and much more practical to reuse than any of the other amenity kit containers that I received later in my trip.

Service was what one might find on a good domestic first class trip. I got served my meal and drinks, but service wasn’t particularly polished (e.g. I was never addressed by my name, trash would sit around for a long time before being picked up), and one of the flight attendants seemed to have a slight body odor problem, which was unfortunate when she leaned over me to serve my seat mate.

StartersMains + BreakfastDrinks

Chilled appetizer and salad

Chilled appetizer and salad

Vegetable-filled mezzaluna pasta

Vegetable-filled mezzaluna pasta

Herbed scrambled eggs for breakfast

Herbed scrambled eggs for breakfast

For meal services, the flight attendant took orders from back to front. For lunch, she asked every person for his/her first and second choice of entree, but I’m not sure how she determined who got what or if everyone was able to get his/her first choice. For breakfast, they had run out of the Asian-style soup option by the time the flight attendant had reached me.

The food was fine. I actually quite enjoyed the vinaigrette on the salad, but the chilled appetizer included some sort of stitched together frankenfish slice. The side of vegetables to my pasta had a nice peppery kick, but the pasta itself was not to my liking as I’m not a big fan of cheese (for what it’s worth, I had preordered a VGML meal, but it wasn’t loaded onto the flight). I passed on the sundae (I know, blasphemous for a trip report), but I didn’t want to eat so much dairy, and the ice cream looked pretty icy and not so creamy.

The assorted sandwiches offered as mid-flight snacks were really sad-looking. Like maybe something you’d find in your school lunch. They were saran-wrapped and kinda squished with meager fillings. But there were also other packaged snacks available besides the sad sandwiches. Breakfast was forgettable, which I think is probably a good thing.

Seat in bed mode

Seat in bed mode

I found the seat to be quite comfortable for lounging and sleeping. It was softer than the seat in US Airways Envoy class, but it has less privacy and is narrower (which didn’t really bother me, but I can see how it’d be a problem for larger people). I also thought the duvet was nice (again, much nicer than the staticky blankets they hand out in US Airways Envoy), although the pillow was a little thin.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by United BusinessFirst. I found the hard product to be much better than expected, and although the soft product was lacking by objective standards, I had such low expectations in the first place that I was fine with it. And I found it a good sign that my supposedly “worst” flight planned (in terms of carrier reputation) was quite comfortable and enjoyable.

Around the World in 100 Hours: United Club San Francisco, International Terminal

Introduction
United Club San Francisco, International Terminal
United Business Class San Francisco to Seoul
Asiana Airlines Business Class Lounge Seoul
Korean Air Lounge and Singapore SilverKris Lounge Seoul
Singapore Business Class Seoul to Singapore
Ambassador Transit Lounge Singapore
Singapore SilverKris Lounge Singapore
Changi Airport Free Singapore Tour
Singapore Business Class Singapore to Colombo
Transiting Colombo
Lotus and Araliya Lounges Colombo
Qatar Airways Business Class Colombo to Doha
Qatar Airways First Class Premium Terminal Doha
Qatar Airways First Class Doha to Dubai
Emirates First Class Lounge Dubai
Emirates First Class Dubai to London Heathrow
British Airways Concorde Room London Heathrow
British Airways Galleries First Lounge and Club World Lounge London Heathrow
British Airways First Class London Heathrow to San Francisco


The trip was off to a promising start when I saw that my boarding pass said TSA PreCheck. This was the first time I had received PreCheck for an international flight. Global Entry has made travel so much easier as it also qualifies you for TSA PreCheck, and after a couple of weeks of waiting, I’ve received TSA PreCheck on every eligible flight.

So knowing that I had TSA PreCheck, I proceeded to the Premier Access security check at SFO, which is located at the end of Terminal 3. Even though I was traveling internationally, it’s a relatively short walk from that security checkpoint to the international terminal.

My first stop was the United Club in the International Terminal. I tried to go to the Singapore SilverKris Lounge, but it only opens 3-4 hours prior to Singapore’s two flights each day, which are currently at 2:20pm to ICN on SQ15 and 1:15am to HKG on SQ1, and my flight was leaving 10:55am, so that was a no go.

The United Club is typical for a domestic lounge, which means that it’s honestly pretty bad in the realm of airport lounges. It was really crowded on this Friday morning, and the food options were sparse. WiFi was fast, though, and I was able to get a little bit of work done.

Crowded United Club. Hard to find a place to sit!

Crowded United Club on a Friday morning

Meager food options. I had an underripe banana.

Meager food options. I had an underripe banana.

Much less crowded

Much less crowded bar area. Head to the left instead of the right when you come up the escalators.

Overall, it was a decent place to spend half an hour before my flight, but my time was made better knowing that everything from here on out would be better!