Category Archives: United Airlines

Comparing Lufthansa and United Airlines Business Class – Transatlantic Business to Business

In advance of last year’s major devaluation of United’s MileagePlus program, My Partner F and I raided our Household Points Kitty for a New Year trip to Amsterdam and Paris. In addition to ringing in the New Year in view of the Eiffel Tower

Celebrating Ringing in the New Year's Eve Bar La Vue Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile

… we scored a couple of Business Class seats to Europe before the cost to redeem our miles shot up. You see, when you play the Miles and Points “Game” (what I like to call Pointing), you need to constantly be mindful of the principle of Earn and Burn.

United is my longtime “home airline. However, after a taste of luxury in Lufthansa’s Frankfurt First Class Terminal and stretching out in a private bed on upper deck of one of one its 747s …

Lufthansa 747-400 First Class Seat

… I’ve developed a bit of a crush on the German carrier. Fortunately, my Pointing hobby enabled me to compare the two airlines on the same trip. So how did Lufthansa and United compare?

Comparing Lufthansa and United Airlines Pre-Departure Service

The boarding of our overnight United flight from Chicago to Amsterdam was a bit rushed. We received a quick yet professional “welcome aboard” as we cleared the jetway and entered the BusinessFirst (what United calls International Business Class) cabin.

United Business Class Seat

It took awhile before someone offered to hang up our coats. However, once we were settled we were served a pre-departure beverage and I opted for some sparkling wine. Having something to wet my whistle was a nice touch. However, serving my drink in a plastic cup knocked some of the “ambience” out of sitting in a premium cabin.

United Airlines 767 Business Class Seat Chicago to Amsterdam

On the way back, we flew home from Paris via Munich. I’ve written previously about Lufthansa’s Intra-Europe Business Class Service so I’ll skip the details for now about our pleasant but uneventful Paris to Munich segment. For the purposes of this blog post I’ll focus on our experience on our Munich to Chicago flight.

Lufthansa A340-300 Munich AIrport bound for Chicago

Our flight out of Munich was delayed about an hour. However, once boarding commenced we found that the Lufthansa crew greeted us with friendly smiles and immediately took our coats once we reached our seats.

Lufthansa A340-300 Business Class Cabin Munich to Chicago

Although champagne wasn’t offered, the crisp white wine I chose as a pre-departure was served out of true glassware …

Lufthansa A340-300 Business Class Pre-Departure Beverage Munich to Chicago

… and set more of an upscale tone for the rest of our flight.

Comparing the Lufthansa and United Airlines Business Class Seat

Awaiting us in our United Airlines BusinessFirst seat was a pillow, blanket, headphones and amenity kit.

United Airlines Business Class 767-200 BusinessFirst Seat Chicago to Amsterdam

The seat was comfortable and reclined into a fully flat 180-degree position. Although the compartment felt a bit narrow and “coffin-like” at times, I have to admit the privacy afforded by this seating configuration was appreciated and allowed me to get a solid block of sleep on our transatlantic flight. However, one minor gripe is that there really isn’t a lot of storage space available at you feet so you’ll have to stow your gear for takeoff and landing.

United Airlines Business Class 767-200 BusinessFirst IFE Inf-Flight Entertainment System Chicago to Amsterdam

United’s In-Flight Entertainment options were plentiful and the video screen was large and easy to navigate / operate.

I found the Lufthansa seat to be fresh and modern looking. That said, this is their “old” business class seat and a new version is currently being rolled out across the fleet.

Lufthansa A340-300 Business Class Seat Munich to Chicago

Once again, we found the standard pillow, blanket, headphone, and amenity kit combination waiting for us on the seat. A bottle of water was also ready-to-go in a small nook to the rear of the armrest. Lufthansa’s seat is more open and lacks the privacy you may want if seated next to a stranger for a long flight. In addition, although the seat reclines flat, it does so at an angle. As a result, you may find yourself sliding down the seat when trying to get some shuteye.

Lufthansa A340-300 Business Class IFE In-Flight Entertainment System Munich to Chicago

I did appreciate that the seat featured more ample storage in front of you. However, the In-Flight Entertainment screen seemed smaller and less sharp than its counterpart on United. In addition, the system’s offerings were more limited and its navigational controls were a bit clunky.

Comparing Lufthansa and United Airlines In-Flight Meals and Service

Once we were settled in our seats, the United Purser swung by to take my dinner order. She was gracious, polite and referred to me as “Mr. A.” Subsequent interactions with the Flight Attendant crew were more informal though I was addressed as “Sir” throughout the flight. In general, the crew was cheery, friendly and in good sprits.

United Airlines Business Class 767-200 BusinessFirst Cocktail Service and Warm Nuts Chicago to Amsterdam

The evening’s meal started with pre-dinner cocktails and warm nuts. A variety of spirits were available and I opted for a glass of red wine and a Diet Coke.

United Airlines 767-200 Business Class Appetizer and Salad Course BusinessFirst Chicago to Amsterdam

The chilled appetizer consisted of smoked salmon and shrimp. It was served along with a fresh seasonal greens salad with roasted tomatoes, Kalamata olives, baby mozzarella and a choice of blue cheese or balsamic vinaigrette dressing. Bread was served on a separate plate. The presentation of both the appetizer and salad was simple. Although the starters weren’t all that creative, I still found them satisfying and executed well.

United Airlines 767-200 Business Class Main Course Beef Entree BusinessFirst Chicago to Amsterdam

For my main course, I selected the short rib of beef which was served with a red wine sauce, mashed potatoes, green beans and carrots. As is typical of “airline steak,” the meat was dry and a bit stringy. My Partner F selected the fillet of salmon with lump crabmeat and unfortunately that entrée suffered the same overly dry fate. That said, the accompanying vegetables were nicely cooked, flavorful and not soggy.

United Airlines 767-200 Business Class Cheese Course BusinessFirst Chicago to Amsterdam

I wrapped up my meal with a fairly standard selection of cheeses …

United Airlines 767-200 Business Class Dessert Sundae BusinessFirst Chicago to Amsterdam

… along with a customized ice cream sundae (I went the strawberries and chocolate route). I have to admit, there’s always something fun about having ice cream while flying at 40,000 feet.

United Airlines 767-200 Business Class Pre-Arrival Meal BusinessFirst Chicago to Amsterdam

Prior to landing in Amsterdam, a light breakfast was served. The chilled deli selection consisted of Swiss cheese, Black Forest ham, Genoa salami and turkey. Fresh fruit, a croissant and yogurt rounded out the meal.

United BusinessFirst also offers an Executive Dining option that allows you to be served your main meal followed by dessert based on your own schedule.

Turning to Lufthansa, I’ve heard others comment that Business Class service on the German carrier, while efficient, can sometimes be less personable and even “robotic” in nature. On our flight from Munich to Chicago, I noticed that several members of the crew, although professional, seemed to lack a “warm and fuzzy” quality. Fortunately, the Flight Attendant serving our seats provided us with a great deal of personal attention and was quite engaging and attentive.

Our experience on this flight may have actually been an early “trial run” of Lufthansa’s Business Class Signature Service. This concept has each flight attendant focusing on only a limited number of passengers in an effort to personalize the in-flight experience. Blogger Lufthansa Flyer wrote a more detailed post on the Lufthansa Business Class Signature Service, which is continuing to roll out in additional markets.

I kicked off dinner with cocktails and found that Lufthansa’s spirits menu was more extensive than United’s.

Lufthansa A340-300 Business Class Cocktail Munich to Chicago

Drinks were served off of a cart and I opted for a Campari and Soda. However, I was surprised that packaged nuts, in contrast to the warmed option served by United, accompanied the cocktails.

Appetizers consisted of Aniseed marinated Salmon with Potato Salad, Basil Vinaigrette and Cream Cheese Mousse with Chives.

Lufthansa A340-300 Business Class Salad and Appetizer Munich to Chicago

The small Seasonal Leaf Salad was less “hearty” than United’s option. However, it’s simple presentation was actually a nice compliment to the more creative appetizer. The quality of Lufthansa’s bread selection was better than that of United’s. I chose the Pretzel Roll which was served on a separate plate.

Since I was having trouble selecting a wine to go with dinner, the Flight Attendant cheerfully suggested that I have a “wine flight” and served me all the options that were being offered that evening.

Lufthansa A340-300 Business Class Main Course Beef Entree Munich to and Wine Flight Chicago

Just as on my inbound United flight, I went for the beef option and chose the Fried Tenderloin with Chocolate Red Wine Sauce, Potatoes us Gratin and Green Beans. Although the beans were a bit soggy, I found the meat sauce and the potatoes to be rich and highly satisfying. In contrast to United’s beef option, Lufthansa’s tenderloin was juicy and flavorful. However, it was served a bit more on the rare side than some diners might enjoy. That said, I prefer my meat “Joan Crawford bloody” (just watch Mommie Dearest and you’ll know what I mean) so I thoroughly enjoyed my meal.

A cheese plate, that was a bit more refined than United’s course, was served to wrap up dinner.

Lufthansa A340-300 Business Class Cheese Course

The selection for the evening consisted of Ashed Goat Cheese, Morbier and natural Yogurt Cheese with dried Apricots.

Dessert was a Mascarpone Pear Cake with Passion Fruit Sauce.

Lufthansa A340-300 Business Class Chocolate Snowman Dessert Munich to Chicago


Unfortunately, the pastry was so delicious that I had scarfed it down before remembering to take a picture. Therefore, you’ll all just have to settle for this photo of my Lufthansa Chocolate Snowman which was all that remained of the dessert course.

Since our flight was landing in the late afternoon in Chicago, Lufthansa served a pre-landing meal that was much heartier than the breakfast option provided on United.

Lufthansa A340-300 Business Class Pre-Arrival Meal Munich to Chicago

A hearty Belgian Goulash Soup with Apple Wedges accompanied a Mixed Leaf Salad with Quinoa, boiled Egg, Zucchini, Cherry Tomato and Red Radish served with Yogurt Lime Dressing. A savory Bread Twist and Chocolate Raspberry Cake rounded out the meal.

Just like on United, Lufthansa offers an “Express Service” meal option for those passengers who prefer more time for working or sleeping. The multi-course meal consists of a cold entrée, appetizer, salad, cheese and dessert upon request.

Conclusion – Comparing Lufthansa and United Airlines Business Class

Service on both airlines was generally friendly. However, I have to give the edge to Lufthansa which seemed to offer a more personalized and warmer experience. That said, since the United leg of my journey was an overnight flight, some allowance needs to be made for the fact that the Flight Attendant team was likely moving expeditiously through the service in order to maximize their passengers’ sleeping time.

When it comes to food and drink, Lufthansa also takes the lead. The quality, variety and creativity of the meal selections were definitely a notch above that of United. Although I would place my hometown carrier’s meal service in the “not bad” category, it was hard getting past the more “institutional kitchen” flavor of the food options.

Comparing Lufthansa and United Airlines Business Class

Where the Friendly Skies comes out ahead is in its “hard product.” I much preferred United’s true 180 degree lie-flat seat to the “angled” lie-flat seat on Lufthansa. United’s BusinessFirst seat offers you the best shot at getting an uninterrupted block of sleep on an overnight flight. That said, Lufthansa’s new business class might soon level the playing field.

How about you? What’s your favorite Business Class product?

United Club San Diego Airport LOUNGE REVIEW – From Terminal to Terrace to Tarmac

After spending a great week on the beach in San Diego’s North County, I was a bit melancholy about leaving town. Fortunately, I had one last opportunity to enjoy Southern California’s sunny, wide-open spaces in United Airline’s new lounge at San Diego International Airport.

The 5,842 square-foot United Club is located is located on the upstairs Mezzanine level of the airport’s newly expanded Terminal 2 West.

United Club San Diego Airport Lounge Entrance

Immediately past the check-in desk, is the Club’s modern bar area.

United Club San Diego Airport Lounge Bar Area

The San Diego lounge is the third club to feature the airline’s new design concept. Clean-lined modern furniture complements the space’s beige, cream, grey, stainless steel and marble-look finishes. The overall feel of the place is light and airy. The color palette is calming and spa-like.

Behind the bar is a dining area with café tables and lounge chairs.

United Club San Diego Airport Lounge Dining Area

Adjacent to this space is a self-service snack area. Since we were leaving on a morning flight, the food options consisted of bagels, cereal and doughnut holes. Coffee, tea and juice were readily available. In addition, a refrigerator below the counter contained small cans of juice and milk.

United Club San Diego Airport Lounge Food Options

Beyond these areas, additional banquette and café table seating is available under a large vintage aviation photo.

United Club San Diego Airport Lounge Cafe Seating

This section overlooks a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows that open out to my favorite aspect of the San Diego United Club.

United Club San Diego Airport Lounge Outdoor Terrace Seating

An airy terrace overlooks the terminal’s new Sunset Cove atrium food court. From this Mezzanine level vantage point you can enjoy panoramic views of the airfield and the nearby Point Loma seaside community.

United Club San Diego Airport Lounge View from Outdoor Terrace

Comfortable lounge chairs with convenient access to electrical outlets are arranged in conversational groups of four.

United Club San Diego Airport Lounge Seating

High top bar chairs provide additional seating and power ports at a countertop that runs along the perimeter of the United Club’s terrace.

United Club San Diego Airport Lounge Seating Overlooking Tarmac

The fresh look and open spaces of the new San Diego United Club make it one of my favorite lounges in the airline’s network. Have you visited this lounge before? What are your thoughts?

Purchasing an Upgrade to Business Class – How much would you be willing to pay to “Bump Up”?

I love flying in a premium cabin.  In particular, the comfort of a spacious seat on a long flight makes the travel experience so much more civilized.  In addition, the ability to get some true sleep on an overnight flight allows you to arrive at your destination refreshed and ready to hit the ground running.  Avoiding that first “jet lag” day really helps to make the most of the limited amount of vacation time that a lot of us have.

United BusinessFirst Business Class Seat

The price of comfort doesn’t come cheaply, though. For example, for my upcoming trip to London a round-trip Business Class fare from my hometown of Chicago is currently priced at $6353.  There’s no way I could afford to spend that much money out-of-pocket. These high prices combined with my desire to fly “in front” are what motivate me in my Miles & Points accumulation (or as I like to call it, Pointing) efforts.

However, last summer I redeemed a large part of our household Miles & Points balance for a great trip to Italy and London.  In addition, earlier in the year I used up another big block of miles to book us for a winter trip to Thailand.  This “earn and burn” strategy is very much a part of my Pointing philosophy in the wake of a series of major loyalty program devaluations this year. Unfortunately, these great award redemptions also mean that our stock of miles and points are at an all time low. What then, are our options for flying in a little more comfort for our next flight?

The Myth of Sweet Talking Your Way Into Business Class

There’s a longstanding belief that by “dressing nicely and asking politely” that you can charm a gate agent into upgrading you into a premium cabin.  I actually was able to do this a LONG time ago (e.g,, back when Friends wasn’t running in syndication yet).  However, given the economic pressure under which most airlines are operating today, this method of scoring an upgrade is more of an exception rather than the rule. It fact, it may be more appropriate to include “sweet talking your way into an upgrade” in the “urban travel myth” category.

How Do People REALLY Get Upgraded?

Occasionally, your airline may oversell the Economy class cabin and as a result bump someone up to First or Business class. Alternatively, the carrier may offer a premium class seat in compensation for taking a later flight.  However, these types of situations only arise opportunistically as a result of operational issues and overbooking of a flight.  Most often, unsold space in First or Business Class is given to elite status members of the airline’s frequent flyer program.

Buying Your Way Into Business Class

So what are the options for a no-status leisure traveler for upgrading your Economy class ticket? Well, some airlines offer the possibility of using your frequent flyer miles to upgrade into the next class of service. For example, on our upcoming trip to London on United, I could potentially use 20,000 MileagePlus miles each-way for an upgrade from Economy to Business Class.

Upgrading United flight to Business Class using MileagePlus miles

As you can see, this option involves a co-pay of $550 each way in addition to the miles.  According to The Points Guy, a leading blogger, MileagePlus miles are valued at 1.5 cents per mile. Therefore, in actuality you’re paying out $550 + $300 (the value of your MileagePlus points) for a total of $850 for your one-way upgrade for your overnight transatlantic flight (note: in addition to the amount that you paid for your original Economy Class ticket).

Alternatively, you can wait until online check-in for your flight opens up. Airlines will sometimes offer you the opportunity to “buy up” at a discounted rate (without having to use your miles) if they have not yet sold out (or otherwise distributed upgrades to their elite flyers) their premium cabins.  We actually used this method to “splurge” on an upgrade for a New Year’s Eve flight to London two years ago for about $630 per person.

Bidding Your Way Into Business Class

A growing trend among major airlines is to “auction” off upgrades to their Business Class cabins.  For example, just last month, Air Berlin announced its airberlin exquisite program. This follows on the heels of Austrian Airlines’ Smart Upgrade program, which I had already been aware of. As I continued to do a little more research on this subject, it turns out that quite a few other airlines have already rolled out similar upgrade auction programs.  Blogger Bethaney over at Flashpacker Family has in fact compiled a pretty comprehensive List of Airlines That Allow Bidding for Business Class Upgrades. Other carriers in which I’m particularly interested include: Aer Lingus, American Airlines, El Al, KLM, Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia. In terms of crafting a bid for these auctions, I’d likely use the numbers I referenced in my United Airline example above as a “what it costs and what I might be willing to pay” benchmark (e.g., something in the $500-800 range for an overnight transatlantic flight).

Would You Really Pay for a “Bump Up”?

Nevertheless, the upgrade options I’ve discussed don’t come cheaply.  At the end of the day you’ll have to be the judge of just how much value you put into having a comfy Business Class seat.  Perhaps, a more cost-effective option for dealing with a long flight would be an investment in a high-quality air pillow and a travel companion who doesn’t mind you curling up next to them at night.

How about you? Would you be willing to pay for an upgrade and if so for how much?


Redeeming Frequent Flyer Miles – Mixing and Matching Awards to get us Back to Bangkok

Earlier this year I was going through a period of travel withdrawal. I was sitting in our condo reminiscing about our great summer trip to Italy and London.

Positano Fruit Stand Lemons

Our new jobs on the Amalfi Coast

Posing with Londi Character on Thames South Bank Centre London

New Friend in London

In addition, we just returned from spending our New Year Holiday in Amsterdam and Paris …

Amsterdam Canal and Houseboats December 2013

Eiffel Tower Paris January 2014

… and I realized we had no travel plans on the horizon. It was time to start planning our next trip!

My Partner F and I funded both of those journeys largely through the redemption of our household stock of miles and points – our Points Kitty.  In fact, it’s through Pointing that we’ve been able to afford to treat ourselves during the limited amount of vacation time that we both have.  Since, I booked those trips about ten months earlier, through a strategic use of credit cards for our daily spending, we were able to rebuild a pretty healthy miles and points balance.

However, my diversification strategy meant that my miles and points were spread out across various accounts. How, then, do you craft an itinerary that gets you where you want to go ? The key to mixing and matching is through the use of two features of many frequent flyer programs: One-Way Awards and Airline Alliances.

For example, most of the major airlines allow you to redeem one-way rewards for half the cost of a round-trip award.  There are, however, notable exceptions (e.g., US Airways charges you the round-trip mileage price for one-way awards) so it’s important that you check the specific rules for the airline on which you’re redeeming your frequent flyer miles.

In addition, you should realize that you don’t have to redeem the miles on the airline you usually fly.  The major legacy U.S. carriers each belong to one of the three major airline alliances. Specifically, United is aligned with Star Alliance, Delta with SkyTeam and American with OneWorld.  What this means is that passengers can earn as well redeem miles with any of the members of your “home” airline’s alliance partners.  In addition, the upcoming merger of American and US Airways also creates additional opportunities for redeeming awards with the OneWorld alliance.

So where do we go from here? Well, having survived the Midwest Polar Vortex and the transformation of my hometown into Chi-beria, I knew that I wanted to go someplace warm for our next winter holiday.

Sheraton Krabi Beach Resort Infinity Pool

Sheraton Krabi Beach Resort

In addition, with United’s major devaluation earlier in the year, I knew I wanted to burn up the remaining stock of MileagePlus miles on which I was sitting before the new award chart kicked in. As I geeked around on United’s website running through various potential itineraries, I discovered availability for two First Class award seats from Chicago to Bangkok for the late Winter dates I was seeking.

Wat Arun Bangkok Sitting on the temple steps

Wat Arun  – Temple of Dawn Bangkok

Although we’ll be flying United on the initial leg of the trip, the airline’s Star Alliance affiliation enabled me to book space for the next segment on Thai Airway’s new Airbus A380 super jumbo jet (something very important for an aviation geek like me!). One of the great things about United’s reservation website is that it allows you to check award availability not only on its own planes but also those of most of its Star Alliance partners (LOT Polish Airlines and Singapore Airlines being notable exceptions).

Star Alliance LogoI find United’s website the most user-friendly for Pointing newbies and for researching relatively straightforward award itineraries.  Other options for searching Star Alliance availability include the reservation sites for ANA and Air Canada’s Aeroplan.

However, once we made it to Thailand, how were we going to make our way home? Since I had just used up my MileagePlus reserve, I turned next to my bank of American Airlines AAdvantage miles.  American is part of the OneWorld alliance.

OneWorld Logo

The airline’s reservation website only allows you to search partner award inventories for airberlin, British Airways, Finnair, Qantas, Royal Jordanian and US Airways.  Since we were returning home from Asia and I needed to check availability on partner carriers originating in that region, I used British Airways’ award reservation site to check for availability. Fortunately, I found two Business Class award seats on Cathay Pacific that would get us home via Hong Kong. Once I found the flight numbers, I called back American and booked the itinerary over the phone using my AAdvantage miles.

In the end, our mix-and-match award itinerary looked like this:

Chicago to Frankfurt in United First Class (Star Alliance)
Frankfurt to Bangkok in Thai Airways First Class (Star Alliance)
Bangkok to Hong Kong in Cathay Pacific Business Class (OneWorld)
Hong Kong to Chicago in Cathay Pacific Business Class (OneWorld)

We’re definitely looking forward to this trip and to escaping the Chicago winter. In addition, we’ll have the opportunity to experience premium class service on Thai Airways and Cathay Pacific – two airlines I’ve heard great things about and which will be “new” to us.  Finally, this trip will represent another travel “first” for us.  As you can see, this itinerary will enable us to circumnavigate the globe on a single trip. In other words, we’ll be going “Around-the-Word in 12 Days.” I see some fun trip reports ahead for us – stay tuned!

How about you? Have you ever booked an award trip by mixing-and-matching loyalty programs? I’d love to hear about it.

United Airlines Post-Devaluation – I Wish I Knew How To Quit You

On November 1, 2013 my Pointing world came crashing down around me.  Okay, well maybe I’m being a bit of a drama queen.  However, it was pretty bad.

On that day United Airlines announced a major devaluation of their award chart that sent the miles and points collecting world reeling.  Effective February 1, 2014 United’s Mileage Plus Program Award Chart will look like the following (Round-trip Award Prices; Changes in Blue):

United MileagePlus Award Chart Post-Devaluation

The good news is that for travel within North America and in Economy class, there haven’t been drastic changes.  However, for those who enjoy redeeming their miles for Business and First Class the news isn’t as bright.  What makes matters worse is that United has implemented a new tier of award redemptions for travel on its Star Alliance partner airlines that increases mileage redemption requirements even further.

Under this new Award Chart, the award redemptions from my Italy trip last summer (check out my post on What I Did On My Pointing Vacation for more details) would increase as follows:

1 United First Class ticket from Chicago to Frankfurt; connecting flight on Lufthansa Business Class from Frankfurt to Naples (check out my Transatlantic Trifecta and Flying Lufthansa Intra-Europe posts for more details on the service experience)


Old Award Price: 67,500 MileagePlus miles
New Award Price: 80,000 MileagePlus miles
18.5% increase!

1 Lufthansa First Class ticket from London to Chicago; connecting in Frankfurt (check out my Lufthansa First Class Trip Report for more details on the over-the-top service experience as well as post on my Visit to the Lufthansa First Class Terminal for more details).

Lufthansa First Class Seat

Old Award Price: 67,500 MileagePlus miles
New Award Price: 110,000 MileagePlus miles
63% increase!

I also burned up some points a few weeks ago on a trip to Europe.  That very same itinerary will cost the following in about a week:

1 United Business Class ticket from Chicago to Amsterdam

United Airlines 767 Business Class Seat Chicago to Amsterdam

Old Award Price: 50,000 MileagePlus miles
New Award Price: 57,500 MileagePlus miles
15% increase!

1 Lufthansa Business Class ticket from Paris to Chicago; Connecting in Munich

Lufthansa A340-300 Business Class Seat Munich to Chicago

Old Award Price: 50,000 MileagePlus miles
New Award Price: 70,000 MileagePlus miles
40% increase!

However, as upset as I am about this changes, they really shouldn’t have come as a big surprise. If you participate in the Miles & Points / Pointing “game” (as I outlined in my earlier post Burn Points Baby Burn), then you have to live with the fact that it’s not matter of “if” a devaluation will occur but “when” such an event will happen. A good Pointer collects, diversifies and more importantly USES those points.

I considered defecting from United to one of its rivals.  In my case, American Airlines would have been a contender.  However, a few years ago I formally decided to “boycott” the carrier because of a very bad service experience on a First and Business Class award redemption to Buenos Aires and have not flown the airline since then. In addition, there’s no guarantee that American won’t be devaluing their award program in the future.  In fact, once the airline sorts out its ongoing merger with US Airways it’s likely that American will be “next up.”  Ironically, an “American Airlines strategy” is a cornerstone of my point diversification strategy.  Keep an eye out for a future post on “Why I collect miles on airlines I never fly.”

So why am I sticking with United?  Well, despite the devaluation, MileagePlus is still a pretty good program.  I like the fact that I can redeem for one-way awards without a penalty.  This allows me to “mix-and-match” awards across different frequent flyer programs and join forces with my Partner F and his various programs (check out my earlier post on Feeding the Points Kitty on how we do this).  The airline’s award search feature on its website is pretty efficient and I’ve found that, with the appropriate amount of planning, both domestic and international award availability through MileagePlus is pretty good.

United’s in-flight “hard product” also strikes a positive tone with me. I appreciate the opportunity to “buy up” into United’s extra-legroom Economy Plus seats.  Also, the airline’s 180-degree lie-flat BusinessFirst seats are comfortable and a good way to get some rest while crossing the Atlantic on an overnight flight.  While I wouldn’t classify First and Business Class awards on United as an “aspirational” travel experience, I do consider them a good value for my miles.

I’ve also found that in general my service experiences with United over the past year have been pretty positive.  In fact, I’ve noticed that the “friendly quotient” has been noticeably higher in most of my interactions with United check-in agents, United Club receptionists and flight attendants.  There seems to be a concerted effort by front-line customer facing employees to present a more welcoming atmosphere.  Either that, or I’ve been lucky to catch most of the airline’s employees on a “good day!”

United Airlines isn’t perfect and there is significant room for improvement.  However, any of the complaints that United’s critics may have could equally be levied against any of its competitors.

Hilton Sorrento Palace Sea View Room of Vesuvius

This is Vesuvius and not Brokeback Mountain …

Yes, I don’t know how I’ll “quit” United.  In fact, I don’t think I’ll even try. Rather than completely abandoning the airline, I’m looking at it as one of the elements in my overall Pointing strategy. Stay tuned for several future posts that will outline how I’ve redefined What Kind of Pointer Am I and some new directions I’m taking my Pointing efforts.

What has been your reaction to the “Great United Airlines Devaluation?”


Transatlantic Trifecta – Comparing United’s First, Business and Economy Class Service

United is my hometown airline.  The carrier is my primary Pointing vehicle (see my earlier post on What Kind of Pointer Are You? for what this means) and its MileagePlus program is one of the most useful and versatile frequent flyer programs in the industry. Over the past year I’ve flown quite a bit with United and have been able to experience all three of its service classes (First, Business and Economy).

On New Year’s Eve I flew from Chicago to London in BusinessFirst (Business Class) and on the way back in Economy.  This past June, I “turned left” and was able to try out service in GlobalFirst (First Class) from Chicago to Frankfurt on our way to Italy (see my post on What I Did On My Pointing Vacation to see what I … well did).  So how did these experiences compare?


I have the United MileagePlus Club Card that gave me access to the airline’s lounge located in O’Hare’s C Concourse.  You can also use the lounge if you’re flying on an international Business Class ticket.  The lounge is huge but can get quite busy during peak travel hours.

United Club Chicago

Traveling on an International First Class ticket gave us access to the Global First Lounge in Chicago which has a similar layout and décor but is smaller and MUCH quieter.

IMG_0837United Global First Lounge Chicago

In London, we had access to the Star Alliance Lounge which, like the United Club in Chicago, also had a “buzzy” (e.g., busy!) atmosphere.

Star Alliance Lounge London

The United Club offers bar service and free beer, wine and basic spirits.  Champagne and more premium options are available for purchase.  On the other hand, the Global First Lounge offers a nice “self-service” selection.

United First Class Lounge Chicago Bar

There is similar “pour your own” access in the London Star Alliance Lounge.

Star Alliance Lounge London Bar

Lounge food options in the United Club usually consist of a simple selection of cheese, crackers and fruit.  Of course, I also manage to sneak a few (e.g. several handfuls) of Pepperidge Farm Milano and Walker’s Shortbread cookies into my carryon for a nice mid-flight snack.  My United Club pre-flight meal usually looks like the following …

United Club Food Options

You can find a more substantial spread in the Global First Lounge which includes a mini-Las Vegas buffet style shrimp option …

United First Class Lounge Chicago Food Options

Leaving Heathrow, one nice touch in the London Star Alliance Lounge was the opportunity to partake in a traditional English Breakfast before boarding our flight back to the States …

Star Alliance Lounge London Heathrow Food Options

Onboard Seating

After we boarded our 777 aircraft to Frankfurt we settled nicely into our seats. I’ve flown United’s First Class product in the past.  However, this was my first experience with their updated First Class Suite.

United GlobalFirst Seat

Source: Courtesy of United Airlines

The seat was spacious, comfortable and reclined into a fully flat bed that had some nice storage compartments and power outlets …

United First Class Seat Storage

… and a diverse selection of In-Flight Entertainment.  On the way over I watched Roman Holiday with Audrey Hepburn … very appropriate since we were on our way to Italy!

United GlobalFirst In-Flight Entertainment IFE

In addition, United recently launched a turn down service in GlobalFirst (see this article for more details) that provides a special sleeping cushion and duvet cover for the flatbed suite.  This service is available “on request” but I was pleasantly surprised when the purser proactively offered to make up the bed for me.  The added amenity of the sleeping cushion certainly did make the seat more “bed like.”

Our 767 Business Class flight to London also featured completely lie flat seats.  However, BusinessFirst lacks significant in-seat storage.

United Business Class Seat

The on-demand In-Flight Entertainment system was similar to the one in First Class although I did like the fact that the screen seemed closer and more accessible to your seat.

United Business Class In-Flight Entertainment

In the fully reclined position the seat felt significantly narrower than the First Class Suite but was still comfortable.  On our transatlantic flight I managed to get several hours of solid sleep.

A lie-flat seat was less necessary on our return home from London to Chicago since it was a daytime flight. Even though we were unable to secure extra legroom Economy Plus seats, the flight was still perfectly comfortable.

Economy Class Window View

In addition, the smaller seat got me closer to the window where I was able to take in the view.

In-Flight Meals

Even with all of my pre-flight snacking in the lounge prior to boarding the plane, I still manage to squeeze in a full meal on every flight that I take.

United GlobalFirst’s dinner service was a multi-course affair starting off with a selection from the bread basket and a coconut crusted chicken skewer and eggroll served with a spicy chutney.  Although “not bad” the quality of this course was squarely in the Whole Foods frozen appetizer category.

United First Class Appetizer

This was followed by a creamy corn chowder which was “tasty enough” but on the thick side.  Let’s place this course in the Campbell’s Chunky Soup category.

United First Class Soup

Next up was a nicely prepared salad.

United First Class Salad

For the main course I went with the beef option accompanied by a slice of garlic bread.

United First Class Main Course

The steak was tender and not dried out while the side of steamed asparagus tasted fresh.  The weak link in the meal was the side of gnocchi pasta that tasted a bit overcooked and “crunchy.”

I finished off the meal with a made-to-order ice cream sundae.

United First Class Sundae

In Business Class, the meal service is compressed with the shrimp and salmon appetizer coming out at the same time.

United Business Class Appetizer and Salard

The beef option in Business Class was somewhat similar to the First Class meal although this version sported a nice red wine sauce.

United Business Class Main Course

Dessert options included a cheese course (also offered in First Class)….

Business Class Cheese Course

… and the tried-and-true made-to-order sundae.

Business Class Sundae

Of course, I had BOTH!

Meal service in Economy was a much simpler affair with everything (once again the beef option) coming out all at once.

United Economy Class Meal

The food was passable though not memorable.  However, my biggest gripe was with the strangely shaped molded plastic serving tray that didn’t lay flat. I never was able to figure out the best way position it on the tray table so that it didn’t seem like it would accidentally flip over into my lap.  That said, a well-placed, misplaced elbow would certainly have resulted in some interesting Economy cabin aerial acrobatics.


Over the years, I’ve found the service on United to be hit-or-miss.  However, on this particular set of flights I’m happy to report that I experienced a pretty drama-free service experience.

The First and Business Class service experience was very similar. United’s crews on its international routes tend to fall into the “seasoned veteran” category.  Although I found the interaction with the flight attendants to be rather informal, everyone was friendly and seemed to be in generally good spirits.

The real standout, though, was in the service we received in the Economy class cabin.  The London-based British Flight Attendants worked the cabin with a “Lufthansa-like” efficiency (Note: To see what I mean, check out my series of “Love Letters to Lufthansa” here, here, here and here). Special kudos go out to this team who exhibited a crisp professionalism that made sitting in the back of the plane “not so bad.”

What’s Really Important

I’m glad I was able to experience all three of United’s service classes this year.  Comparing United First and Business Class, I have to say that if were to redeem points for future travel, I probably wouldn’t “pay” the premium to fly in First Class for a “relatively short” transatlantic 8-9 hour flight. Although the GlobalFirst seats are certainly more spacious, United’s BusinessFirst lie-flat seats are also pretty comfortable.  In addition, United Economy flying home on a daytime flight isn’t all that bad.  If I wanted a bit more comfort at the back of the plane I’d just pay the additional fee to lock in an extra legroom Economy Plus seat.

Of course, the TRUE test of the quality of an airline’s in-flight experience is how good you look in the obligatory pre-flight champagne toast photo.



What do you guys think?  Have you flown in different classes on the same airline?  What are your thoughts on the differences between the First, Business and Economy class experiences?