Review: KLM Crown Lounge Amsterdam Schiphol International Airport

While I was checking in for a recent flight from Lisbon to NYC via Amsterdam, KLM offered me a very good offer to upgrade to business class during the Lisbon to Amsterdam leg of the trip: 99 euros per person on the four-hour flight with business class lounge privileges in both Lisbon and Amsterdam. I jumped on this offer since this meant several hours of comfort both in the air and on the ground. The KLM business class experience during our four-hour flight was fantastic and I’ll get to that in a separate post. When we landed in Amsterdam, we had access to KLM’s Crown Lounge, its flagship lounge in Amsterdam. KLM actually has two of these lounges and the one we visited is called Lounge 52 near the F gates and after passport control. If you just follow the sign for Airline Lounge 52 , it will lead you there.

Lounge52sign

Just follow this sign and it will lead you to the KLM Crown Lounge

If you have a flight to the U.S or Canada, this is the one you want to go as you won’t have to worry about dealing with long lines to get through passport control. Even though my wife and I only had a business class ticket for the first leg of my flight and I was going to fly economy on the Amsterdam to NYC, it was sufficient to get into the lounge as KLM only requires one of the legs in business class to grant access.  This lounge is not a Priority Pass lounge. It’s open to all passengers flying business class on KLM or its SkyTeam partners, or anyone flying KLM or its SkyTeam partners that have status (FlyingBlue Platinum or Gold, Delta elites, etc). Once we entered, the receptionist at the desk scanned our boarding passes and we were good to go.

Entrance

LoungeEntrance

This lounge was the largest airport lounge I had ever visited. Easily 3-4 times larger than some of the larger ones I had been in the U.S. Despite its size, this lounge was probably at 85% capacity when we entered. It’s a split level lounge that has a ramp taking you to second level.

Seating Areas

This lounge had something for everyone in terms of seating. They had areas with a variety of different lighting and seating configurations.

seatingarea2

SeatingArea

I was a big fan of these red lounge chairs. Nice touch by KLM

DimSeating

WindowSeating

The seating area above near the windows was undergoing renovation but this area felt more like a cafe area with a ton of natural light.

SeatingArea&Lounge

If you want to get a plate full of food and don’t want to traverse through the crowd, this is the best option for seating. Right near the buffet and bar areaCrownLoungeSeatingThis is also near the buffet area and you can see just about every table is taken. WorkArea

BusinessRoom2

If you have work to get done and need to spread out, they have a perfect area for that as well.

Breakfast

Since we got to the lounge toward the latter half of breakfast and into lunch, we got to see a wide variety of items they had at the buffet. Pancakes&Eggs

CheeseMeats

Croissants&RollsBreads&Muffins

A variety of breads, rolls, muffins, and pastries. I had the croissant and the raisin bread and both were excellent. The pancakes were good and the eggs were okay. Overall, the breakfast was very good and they did a great job at replenishing items that were running low.

Lunch

Their lunch buffet had a wide variety of options and something fore everyone.

Pasta

Pasta with tomato cream sauce

AgedCheeseSandwich

Aged cheese sandwiches 

Salad&Hummus

Veggies with feta and hummus

Coleslaw&Potatoes

Cole slaw with baked potatoes. Pardon the terrible picture quality for this one. Had to rush it because of the growing line behind me.

The lunch was excellent and since we got to it while it was hot and fresh, I’m sure that made a big difference. The pasta with the tomato cream sauce was delicious. The hummus was top notch and even their aged cheese sandwhich, as simple as it may sound, was very good. There were many other options but these are the items I was able to get to discretely without embarassing myself (lol). KLM Crown Lounge did a great job with their food offerings.

SelfServeDrinks

This is one of the two self-serve bar areas at the lounge

The bar area was exensive and they had fountain drinks available in addition to adult beverages. They also had an espresso machine with plenty of options to suit your taste. I had the cappuccino twice.

Miscellaneous

This lounge is equipped with showers but you have to go to the help desk and reserve a shower room in advance. This lounge also has a designated smoking room and was definitely the quietest room of the lounge. There were plenty of European plug outlets but no USB ports so be sure to have an adapter if you’re traveling from the U.S or Canada. Unlike the previous two premium lounges I visited, this one did not have private bedrooms. If you do need to sleep, you can lie down on the cushioned booth style seating near the bar area. I’m not sure if its frowned upon or not but I did see several travelers catching a snooze this way.

KLMHelpDesk

KLM help desk

I tested the Wi-Fi speed at this lounge and it was far better than I expected. This is great for business travelers and anyone who might want to stream video. InternetSpeed

Overall, this was a fantastic lounge with a lot of square footage and plenty of options for food. It can get crowded during the morning hours between 7am and 11am but due to its enormous size, you shouldn’t have a problem finding a seat. If you’re traveling through Amsterdam on a business class ticket or have access via elite status and have some time to spare, check out the KLM Crown Lounge. I’d rate it a 4.4/5

 

Review: Lufthansa Business Class Lounge Frankfurt International Airport

As part of our award redemption using United miles for a business class ticket to Lisbon, my wife and I had access to the Lufthansa Business Class Lounge during our 6-hour layover in Frankfurt, Germany.  Lufthansa has seven business class lounges and four Senator Lounges (first-class lounges) at Frankfurt Airport. The business class lounge I chose was after passport control near A26 since this was closest to our departure gate.

Entrance2

Upon entering the lounge, the receptionist scanned our boarding pass and off we were. Since Lufthansa has seven business class lounges, I didn’t expect there to much of a crowd at this one. It was about 75% filled when we arrived and became less crowded as the hours went by. TVarea

Most of the crowd was fixated on the TV’s and the World Cup match that was being played. The lounge itself isn’t huge by any stretch but has enough seating and excellent amenities.

BarArea

Seating area right in front of the bar

There were a few different seating areas and much like Polaris Lounge in Chicago, this one had seating areas with different ambiances. As much as I wanted to take pictures of every single area of the lounge, I try not to take pictures of an area if there are people that might be looking right at the camera.  I wish it was a bit easier being discrete and thorough at the same time.

ComputerRoom

The business center was being utilized by only a few people and had relatively new PC’s.

ComputerArea

The other half of the business center was completely empty but having chairs without back support probably convinced everyone to stay away. The wifi connectivity at this lounge was excellent, among the fastest I had experienced at any lounge. Kudos to Lufthansa for really looking out for the business traveler.

InternetSpeedJust like the Polaris Lounge, this lounge also had bedrooms available upon request. My wife wanted to take a nap so they gladly unlocked a room for her and provided her with a blanket.

BedArea

I wasn’t tired enough to reserve a room for myself but she said the beds were very comfortable and she slept for two solid hours. This lounge also had access to showers upon request. Next up was to check out the food offerings. Usually, this is among the first things I do at a lounge. Since I had breakfast on the plane only an hour prior, I wasn’t all that hungry and I did not want to eat for the sake of eating. So I waited a few hours until hunger struck.

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Bread basket

The bread was bread. Not terrible but not great.

carrotsalad

The potato salad was decent. Their regular salad was subpar and very dry.

Salad

Salad

CheeseNoodles

Noodles with cheese

The noodles with cheese was surprisingly good. It might not look good from the picture above but trust me, it was good. Taking pictures of the food near the buffet area is also where I ran into a little bit of trouble. There was a far greater selection than what I was able to take a picture of. However, one of the employees who was responsible for replenishing the buffet told me in half English and half German that I was not allowed to take pictures of the food or buffet area. I had no idea why this was the case (made no sense) but rather than challenge that assertion, I just took her word for it and stopped taking pictures of that area.

CaramelPudding

The caramel pudding was heavenly. This was so good I had to have it twice.

GingerAle

Nothing like have ginger ale where you can actually taste the ginger. The lounge had plenty of drinks, a solid espresso machine, and bar that was well stocked. Again, I did not want to challenge the lady and take a picture but take my word for it. As for the bathrooms, Lufthansa did a geat job maintaining the mens room.

mensroom

Mens Room

The L’Occitane soap and lotion that they provided was a very nice touch. Small details like that do not go unnoticed.

LotionLBC

SoapDispenser

I really wish I didn’t have to truncate this review with regards to the pictures but as a guest, I couldn’t risk angering the lounge employee or annoying the people that were there.  This was a fantastic lounge that checked just about every box when I’m critiquing a lounge. Solid food options, high speed wifi connectivity, enough seating, and added amenities such as bedrooms and showers. Rather than contruct two or three very large lounges and risk capacity issues, I appreciate how Lufthansa built 7 smaller business class lounges to spread out the crowd. This exact issue will come into play for my next review, the KLM Business Class Lounge at Schipol Airport in Amsterdam. As for the Lufthansa Business Class Lounge, I would rate it a 4.6/5.

Review: Lufthansa Business Class Chicago to Frankfurt. A $14,400 Value

For a recent trip to Portugal, I decided to transfer 140k Chase Ultimate Rewards into United and book two business class tickets to Lisbon via Frankfurt, Germany on their Star Alliance partner, Lufthansa Airlines. Usually, I don’t redeem points for business class even though it’s a better value than redeeming for economy class. I would rather use fewer points and have enough left over for another trip than burn twice the amount on luxury and comfort. However, there were a couple of factors at play this time around. First of all the wife is pregnant and this was our babymoon so her being comfortable was a high priority. Secondly,  United had saver level awards for business class but no saver level awards for economy (30k miles per ticket) on the day we wanted to depart. So my choices were 70k miles per person in business class or 70k points per person in economy (lol). This was the most no-brainer of no-brainers. Neither of us had ever experienced an international long-haul business class flight and both of us gained a better understanding of why business class redemptions provide much better value than economy class redemptions. Here is a screen-shot of the price we would have to pay for each ticket in business class if we were using cash:

 

Capture

A combined $14,400! Instead, we used a combined 140,000 United miles plus $40 tax per ticket. We got a ridiculously amazing value of 10 cents per mile on this award ticket. This was by far the most value we have ever extracted from a miles/point redemption. Normally if you’re getting 2.5-3 cents per point on a redemption, that’s considered pretty good. In addition to the in-flight service, we both got access to the Polaris lounge in Chicago and Lufthansa Business Class Lounge in Frankfurt. Our flight from Frankfurt to Lisbon was also business class and I’ll have a separate review for that. You can read about my Polaris Lounge experience here.

Check-in

Checking in was very straight forward. We got to use the designated business class check-in counter and this allowed us to skip the line that is usually seen in economy.

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There was no one in front of us and after taking our check-in luggage and handing us our boarding pass, the Lufthansa representative informed us we had access to Polaris Lounge if we wished. That was the reason we got to the airport 5 hours prior to departure in the first place =)

Boarding and Seating

LufthansaBoeing747

The airplane we flew on for this flight

During the boarding process, we got to board in the priority lane that was reserved for first class and business class travelers. For this trip, we were going to fly on the Boeing-747, the airplane that’s known as the “Queen of the Skies.” I had not flown on a 747 since 2005 and to be able to fly on one in a premium cabin gave this award redemption added value. Upon entering the plane, we took a right turn into the business class cabin and were seated in 5A and 5C (these seats are adjacent). Lufthansa Business Class has fully lie-flat seats. This is a huge deal when traveling overnight as you can beat jet-lag and not waste a day recovering. After finding our seats, our air hostess offered us welcome drinks prior to takeoff.

LufthansaSeatingNormal

Business class seats in their upright position

Seating

These seats have space under the footrest area and a pullout compartment where you can store smaller items during the flight. This is also where the amenity kit can be found. If you would like to utilize the in-flight entertainment, Lufthansa provides Bose noise cancelling headphones in the arm-rest compartment.

BoseHeadphones2

LufthansaAmenityKit

Business Class Amenity Kit

The amenity kit provided socks, eye-covers, razor/shaving cream, lip balm, moisturizing cream, mint, toothbrush/toothpaste, ear plugs, and headphone covers for the Bose headphones they provide.

After Takeoff

Shortly after takeoff we were given salted cashews as a snack and a dinner menu.

CashewsHowever, the menu didn’t really apply to us as Lufthansa was able to accomodate us with a halal meal that I requested during the booking process. Just for completeness, I’ll post the menu right here.LufthansaMenuFor our dinner, we were served scallops for the appetizer and it was delicious. LufthansaScallops

For the main course, we received a meal both us were very familiar with:

LufthansaDinner

Butter chicken with jasmine rice and mixed vegetables cooked Indian-Pakistani style. This was also delicious and tasted like it was restaurant quality. It wouldn’t shock me if one of the restaurants on Devon Ave in Chicago is the supplier for halal requests. For dessert, we received a cup Haagen Dazs vanilla ice cream. I do wish they had something different for dessert. There is nothing wrong with Haagen-Dazs and I am a big fan of their ice cream but this is something I can get from the freezer section of my local grocery store. I suppose something more unique would have been more desirable.

LufthansaDessert

Post-Dinner

After dinner, it was time to take advantage of the lie-flat seating and get some shut-eye until breakfast time.

ShirazSleeping

Photo credit: Ayesha 

The air-hostess asked my wife and I if we wanted to be woken up for breakfast and we both said yes. This gave us about 5.5 hours to get a good sleep in.

LieFlat

LufthansaLieFlatSeat

If you’re wondering, we were both able to sleep very comfortably. Lufthansa gave us nice lush pillows and thick blankets which were hotel caliber. The 5.5 hours of shuteye was very refreshing and before we knew it, it was time for breakfast.

Breakfast

For breakfast, we received a croissant, warm turkey slices with cucumber and lettuce, fresh fruit, and orange juice. No complaints here as everything tasted great. The hostess came around a second time if we wanted another beverage or coffee. She also passed around a box of chocolates which was a very nice touch.

LufthansaBreakfast

About an hour after breakfast concluded, the descent had begun into Frankfurt International Airport. Lufthansa did have in-flight internet but I did not purchase it so I have no idea how the connectivity was. My time was going to be spent either eating or sleeping and that’s exactly how it went. If I had redeemed an award ticket in economy, I would have likely purchased in-flight wifi since I sleep very poorly when sitting upright. This was a fantastic business class experience for my wife and I and the fact that she was able to sleep well on the plane being 2/3 into her pregnancy made this part of our trip extremely comfortable for her. I also want to acknowledge the flight attendant who was assigned to our part of the cabin. She did a wonderful job and routinely asked us if we wanted anything to drink or if we wanted any snacks. The attentiveness we got in business class was not lost on us so thanks to Lufthansa.  I’m not quite sure if I’ll ever extract the value I did for this award redemption and the great thing about it is we weren’t even done. We still had access to Lufthana Business Class Lounge during our 6 hour layover in Frankfut as well as another business class flight to connect to Lisbon, Portugal. I will be posting about my experience for both so keep an eye out.

Review: Polaris Lounge Chicago O’Hare International Airport

As a traveler who doesn’t frequently travel business class or first class, I usually visit Priority Pass or Centurion Lounges by AMEX if I have the opportunity since neither require a premium cabin ticket. Don’t get me wrong, AMEX has some fantastic Centurion Lounges within their network, particularly from what I experienced in Dallas and Miami. Priority Pass also has excellent lounges within its network but most of the higher rated lounges are situated in Europe and Asia. Up until the opening of the Polaris Lounge in Chicago, the U.S. simply did not have a product that could compete with the business class lounges of Qatar Airlines, Etihad, Emirates, Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines, etc. United has expanded this product to San Francisco, Newark, and Houston. Polaris Lounges are considered the best airport lounges in the U.S. by many travel experts and bloggers. To get into the lounge, you need to have a business class or first class ticket on United Airlines or any of its Star Alliance partners (Turkish, ANA, Lufthansa, Singapore, etc.) In addition, you must be on an international long-haul flight that departs from Chicago O’Hare (or SFO, EWR, and HOU to access Polaris Lounge in those cities). This means a premium cabin flight to Canada, Mexico, Carribbean, or Central America will not get you into the lounge. If you have a first class or business class ticket to London and you are connecting in Newark, you won’t have access in Chicago but you would in Newark.  Chicago would need to be your point of international departure to have access to the Polaris lounge at O’Hare. I booked a business class ticket on Lufthansa to Lisbon, Portugal using United miles and thus had access to Polaris Lounge along with my wife. It’s not often that a place that’s been hyped up so much manages to live up to the lofty expectations. In this case, it not only lived up to it but exceeded it. My wife and I arrived at the lounge 5 hours prior to departure so we could experience just about every facet of what it had to offer.

     Location and Entrance

Polaris Lounge is located in the C concourse at O’Hare. You  have to take the tunnel with the quirky rainbow lighting and once you’re up the escalator, it’s right on the left close to gate C17. Once you enter, the receptionist will scan your boarding pass and you’re on your way.

PolarisEntrance2

 

PolarisLobby

The Polaris themed light fixture in the lobby was a great touch

PolarisLobby2

View of the front disk from the corridor

                        Polaris Lounge – Seating

One of the best attributes is the amount of seating this lounge offers. Since United only grants access to international travelers flying on a long-haul flight, this lounge will never have to worry about crowding issues. When my wife and I were there, I’d say the lounge was only about 1/3 full and never got any higher than that.

 

Polaris General Seating Area

Not a single person in this area of the lounge. 

PolarisGeneralSeatingPolarisGeneralSeating2PolarisPersonalSeating

 

As you can see in the pictures, absolutely no shortage of seats. United did nice job with the variety of seats and lighting that is offered. If you prefer a darker environment, they have that. And if you want a lot of natural light or like to watch planes takeoff and land, they have optimal seating for that as well

Polaris777view

This was my favorite seat.  Near the window and watching various jets takeoff and land.

PolarisSingleBooth

I was a big fan of these personal work areas that provided privacy but didn’t make you feel confined to a closed space. Excellent touch, United. 

PolarisSeating

                          Polaris Lounge- Buffet

This was one of my favorite aspects of visiting the lounge. If you’re going to visit any Polaris Lounge, please come hungry.  And pace yourselves. Their selection was the best I had ever seen at a U.S. lounge. And this was only the self serve buffet!

PolarisMedSalad

PolarisMozarella

Stacked caprese salad with fresh mozarella. This was delicious

PolarisPotPiePolarisSalmonTart

PolarisSalmonTeriyaki

The salmon teriyaki was excellent. Never had it before.

PolarisShrimpPasta

The shrimp baked pasta was also delicious. At this point, I had to keep it to a few bites if I wanted to experience the sit down dining

PolarisCakesPolarisCookies

PolarisPastries

Eating any of the desserts meant there would be no hope for further food consumption. It was a tough mental battle but I willed myself into avoiding any of the pastries and desserts. 

PolarisMiniBar

The minibar was stocked and had just about anything you’d want.

PolarisInfusedWater2

Fruit infused water

                    Polaris Lounge – Full Service Dining

This is another aspect of the lounge that differentiates it from other lounges. It has a full-service dining option that allows you to pick from a menu and have your meal made to order. PolarisMenuPolarisMenu2

Since my wife and I were there during the dinner hours, we chose to share a cheese tortellini and have our own ice cream. PolarisDiningPastaPolarisicecreamThe tortelleni was amazing and the ice cream was great as well. I really wish I didn’t sample as much from the buffet prior to dining but lesson learned for next time. Please don’t make this same mistake. Just a reminder that even though the dining is complimentary, remember to tip the waitress/waiter. They really go above and beyond at Polaris Lounge and help make the experience what it is.

        Polaris Lounge – Bedroom and Shower

This lounge has 4 dedicated bedrooms if you want to catch a snooze prior to your flight. Linen from Saks 5th Avenue is provided for your comfort. None of the rooms were occupied during my time at the lounge and the rooms have a 3 hour limit if there is a queue.

PolarisBedroomPolarisShower

PolarisVanity2

PolarisStarCorridor

The corridor that leads to the bathrooms. This is separate from the shower rooms which are found behind the buffet area. The Polaris themed lighting on the ceiling going down the corridor was a great touch by United. 

The shower area and bathroom were all well maintained and the receptionist was kind enough to give me a tour.

                     Polaris Lounge – Bar and Buffet Area

PolarisBarArea

The bar area was relatively empty and United did a great job with the blue ambiance. 

PolarisBar2

PolarisBuffetArea2

The buffet area was very elegant. Synced perfectly with the type of dishes that were being offered. 

                         Polaris Lounge – Conclusion

As I mentioned above, this lounge exceeded my expectations and I had some very high expectations going in. Even though I forgot to measure the wifi speed, I can assure you it was very fast when I was connected through my cellphone. This lounge has it all-excellent dining, comfortable sleeping rooms, spacious shower rooms, variety of seating areas, fast internet connectivity, vibrant bar area, and more. The Polaris brand of lounges is the standard barrer for U.S. lounges and I hope I have the opportunity to visit one again in the near future. This lounge gets a 5/5 rating.

New York City Area to Hawaii for $330 Round-Trip on United Airlines

United is offering an amazing deal from Newark Liberty International Airport to Kona, Hawaii for only $330. Kona is located on the Big Island of Hawaii and while they did have volcanic eruptions recently, it was on the opposite side of the island away from the tourist areas. Interisland flights are generally cheap, both in terms of cash and mileage redemptions so you can also use this as an opportunity to explore another island as well. If you click on Google Flights and open up the calendar, you will see availability for $330 throughout September and October. EWR2Kona

This price is also showing up on the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal so if you own the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card, you can book a round-trip flight for just a shade under 22k Ultimate Rewards points, an amazing redemption. Not only that but you would also earn United miles on this trip if booking through Chase. If you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred, you can redeem your Ultimate Rewards points for 26,400 Ultimate Rewards Points. I did a sample search on the Chase portal as Chase Sapphire Reserve cad holder:

EWR2KonaChase

This deal probably won’t be available for much longer so if you are planning a trip to Hawaii, here is your chance to book a flight at a heavily discounted price.

Review: The Lounge Boston Logan International Airport

During a recent trip from NYC to Chicago, we had a layover in Boston so we decided to stop by The Lounge at Logan International Airport. It was rather convenient since we were going to depart from Terminal C and that is also the same terminal where The Lounge is situated. This lounge is part of the Priority Pass network but also serves as a business class lounge for Aer Lingus and TAP Portugal as they both depart from Terminal C. I didn’t have any issues getting in since it wasn’t full but I have heard of incidents where Priority Pass cardholders were denied access when The Lounge expected a large influx of business class travelers flying on Aer Lingus or TAP Portugal. Since it is the only lounge in Terminal C, hours between 4pm-8pm are no sure thing for Priority Pass card holders.

FrontEntrance

Receptionist Desk at The Lounge

Upon entering, I showed my Priority Pass card and the receptionist scanned it and told my wife and I that we were good to go. The lounge was 3/4 full and filling up when we entered. Not surprising considering that we got there on a Friday at 6pm.

If you’re a business traveler that needs a plug outlet, I highly recommend going all the way to the back of the lounge. They have outlets there and a semi-partition that will give you some privacy.

Once we got situated, I went to see the food offerings. I wasn’t really hungry but for the sake of the review, I helped myself to small portions of a few things. They had pasta salad, hummus with pita, veggie sandwich which consisted of cream cheese and cucumbers, vegetables, salad, soup (clam chowder), and snacks. The pasta salad was ok but nothing special. The hummus was decent and might have been the best item they had out there. The veggie sandwich was simple but surprisingly not terrible. I didn’t have the turkey sandwich so the jury is out on that. Seems like their benchmark was to be just good enough to not be bad (does that make sense?).  The refrigerator had no shortage of cold drinks though. That was a big plus.

I don’t partake in drinking alcohol but for those of you who do, the bar looked like it was stocked pretty well.

BarArea

Bar area

My biggest gripe during my time here was the lack of dedicated WiFi for this lounge. You are forced to use Logan’s public WiFi and the speed was painfully slow. It’s certainly not business traveler friendly. The bathrooms were clean so that was a nice plus.  I would rate this place a 3.2/5. If you happen to be in Terminal C, being at this lounge would still beat sitting in the gate area. However, if you’re departing from a different terminal, I would not recommend making a trip to Terminal C just for the sake of visiting this lounge.

Frontier Airlines Announces Service to Albany International Airport. Seats Available for $39 Each Way.

Beginning in September, Albany will have their first ultra low-cost carrier in Frontier Airlines. Frontier will fly to Denver beginning September 17th and Orlando from October 2nd. They have introductory fares for as low as $39 each way. This is a nice addition to the Capital Region as flights to Orlando will likely get cheaper on Southwest and JetBlue to better compete with Frontier. Flights to Denver on Southwest should also see downward pressure. If these flights do well, Frontier could make these year-round routes rather than seasonal and could potentionally open up ALB to other leisure destinations.  It could also attract another airline such as Spirit to start service at ALB. For more info on the route, you can read about it here

Why The United MileagePlus Explorer Card is a Keeper

 

united_mileageplus_explorer_card

I just recently got an email from Chase and the new benefits that will be rolled out for the MileagePlus Explorer card. Starting from June 1st, cardholders will get 2x the miles on hotel and dining purchases (previously 1 mile/$1), $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA Precheck, and 25% off in-flight purchases. This is in addition to the two United Lounge passes that Chase gives every year upon renewing the card. All these perks are appealing and in the realm of basic economy, having an airline card assures you of being allowed to carry a bag that can be checked in or carried-on (if you book a basic economy fare). What happens if you don’t have an airline-branded credit card and you book the basic economy fare? You can only bring a bag that can fit under your sit. Anything that goes into the overhead bins would have to be paid for and airlines are starting to enforce this policy at the gate.

Many airline credit cards are popular for churning. This means you sign up and get approved for the card, rack up the bonus miles after hitting the minimum spend threshold and cancel the card within a year.  Then you’re free to apply those miles to that destination you’ve been saving up for. Since I find myself traveling between Chicago and the East Coast several times a year, I’ve held on to the United MileagePlus Explorer card as well as the Citi American AAdvantage Platinum to save on baggage fees and for the convenience of priority boarding (on super busy routes such as LGA to ORD, it assures overhead bin space). If there was only one credit card you wanted to pay an annual fee for, I wouldn’t recommend an airline-branded card since you’re married to that one airline if you want to reap the benefits. A credit card such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Reserve would be the better option since you have multiple airlines whose frequent flier programs you can utilize via transfer. But if you’re willing to pay for two cards and you live near a United hub (Chicago, D.C., Houston, Denver, San Francisco, Newark/NYC, and Los Angeles), the United MileagePlus Explorer credit card might be one of the most appealing airline-branded credit cards available. In addition to the benefits I outlined above, United offers exclusive mileage redemptions to cardmembers only.

The example itinerary I used is Chicago (ORD) to Cancun from July 29th-August 4. In both instances, we’re going to use award redemptions.  The first example is the redemption available if you are a Chase United MileagePlus credit card holder.

UAExORD2CUN

This is the segment from Chicago to Cancun. Two non-stop options available exclusively with the MileagePlus credit card for 17.5k miles.

UAExCUN2ORD

These are the options for the return. Three non-stop options if you hold the credit card. 35k miles for the roundtrip for one passenger.

Now let’s look at redemption availability if you want to book this same trip using United miles but you don’t hold the United MileagePlus Explorer credit card:

UAOrd2Cun

If you want the non-stop option, it will cost 25k miles rather than the 17.5k miles seen above.

 

UAOrd2Cun1stop

They do have one 17.5k redemption to get to Cancun but look at that disgusting itinerary. Not only are you departing at 6am but you have to switch airports in D.C. By the time you’re in Cancun, you’re spent.

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The return trip to Chicago would cost 25k miles. There is no 17.5k option available for the return.

As you can see in the example above, having the Chase MileagePlus Explorer card means you’re using only 35k miles (plus the applicable taxes) with the benefit of having a non-stop flight on both legs of the journey. Without it, you’re using at a minimum, 42.5k miles and likely 50k miles if you want to have a non-stop each way and a productive first day in Cancun. How much is that 15k miles savings worth? The Points Guy values each United mile at 1.5 cents. 1.5 x 15k = $225. This is just an estimate but even if you valued it a bit lower, it becomes obvious the miles you saved by having the card is worth far more than the annual fee of $95 you’d be paying to keep the card. Again, this card isn’t for everyone and those who would benefit the most are travelers who live near a United hub. If you are an SPG or a Chase Sapphire Preferred/Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholder and you find yourself transferring Ultimate Rewards points or SPG points into United often, pairing the MileagePlus Explorer card with either of the three only enhances their value.

 

 

Photo source: http://www.chase.com

 

Travel Itinerary: 3 Days in Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor Maine

Acadia National Park had been on the bucket list for quite a while. Acadia National Park encompasses a large area of Mt. Desert Island off the coast of Maine. This beautiful setting is known for its stunning vistas, scenic hikes, views of the ocean from atop Cadillac Mountain. This is also the first place in the U.S. where you can see the sunrise between October and early March. If you’re there in the peak of summer, you can take a swim at Sand Beach when the water temperature is more tolerable. We drove from Albany, NY and it took us about 7 hours to get there. Acadia National Park is about a 4.5-hour drive from Boston and about an 8-hour drive from New York City.  If you’re not close enough to drive, you can also fly into Bangor International Airport which is about 50 miles from the town of Bar Harbor. We used Bar Harbor as our base camp and gateway into Acadia National Park.

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Day 1: Cadillac Mountain

We arrived at Bar Habor in the late afternoon about 2 hours before sunset. We stayed at the Hampton Inn which is located just 5 minutes away from the park entrance and used that as our base camp for this trip. Since it was a clear day, we decided to enter the park and drive up Cadillac Mountain to catch the sunset. The cost to enter Acadia National Park is $25 per vehicle and the pass is good for 7 days. Park Rangers routinely check for the passes (it must be hung over the rear-view mirror) so please purchase them prior to entering.  DSC_0066DSC_0118

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The spectacular sunset from Cadillac Mountain

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Overlooking the town of Bar Harbor from Cadillac Mountain

Incredible sunset views and plenty of photo opportunities. Cadillac Mountain has plenty of pull-outs so utilize them and take your time driving up the mountain. For dinner, we came across a tavern called Thirsty Whale. Their lobster rolls were delicious and highly recommended.

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No one does lobster quite like Maine. Here’s a lobster roll from Thirsty Whale in Bar Harbor.

 

Day 2: Jordan Pond and Bubble Rock Trail

Our second day in Maine was overcast with a slight drizzle at times, but nothing that would keep us from further exploring Acadia National Park. On this day, we decided to hike the trail around Jordan Pond and climb up South Bubble Rock. Jordan Pond is actually a small lake and there is no swimming allowed as it is the main source of drinking water for residents in the area. You are allowed to bring a kayak or small boat and utilize it on Jordan Pond. The circular trail around Jordan Pond is 3.4 miles and isn’t difficult at all. We saw people of all ages, from 5-year-olds to senior citizens. The hike up Bubble Rock is a different story. It’s only 0.4 miles but it’s all vertical and there are areas where you have to climb. I wouldn’t recommend this trail for kids or those who aren’t fit enough to climb vertically. Please wear proper hiking shoes if you decide to do this hike or any other at Acadia. They do get precipitation often and gym shoes on slippery rocks is a recipe for disaster. Once at the top, the views are magnificent.

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Jordan Pond

 

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Part of the trail around the perimeter of Jordan Pond.

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Atop Bubble Rock. The hike to get here isn’t long but it is steep. The views at the top are amazing.

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We all made it.

For dinner, we stopped in town at went to a restaurant called Geddy’s. Their haddock sandwich was delicious. Seafood from Maine really is on a whole different level.

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The town of Bar Harbor, Maine. 

Day 3: Bowel Trail, Beehive Trail, Sand Beach, Cadillac Mountain

Day 3 gave us perfect weather and we took full advantage of it. First on the agenda was the top of Beehive Trail. There are actually two ways to get to the top. The first is taking the most direct route which is Beehive Trail itself and vertically climbing straight to the top. There are handlebars as you get higher and if you’re afraid of heights or you’re a novice hiker, this route isn’t for you.   The other way to get to the top of Beehive Trail is by taking the longer Bowel Trail. The hike is longer (1.4 miles) and you gain elevation gradually. This trail also offers multiple picture opportunities and allows you to loop around a small lake. If you do hike the Beehive Trail to the top, you have to hike Bowel Trail on the way back down as Beehive Trail only has one-way traffic going up. From the top of the trail, you’ll get spectacular views of the ocean, the park, and many islands around Mt. Desert Island.

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A view on the Bowel Trail

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Egg Rock Light, a lighthouse built in 1875 and still active today as seen from the trail. I used a zoom lens to get this close up shot. Still looks beautiful.

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View from the top of Beehive Trail. Sand beach in the background

 

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View of  Sand Beach from Beehive Trail

After we were done hiking, we walked across the street to Sand Beach to get an up-close look. The water looked very enticing but given that it was still early May, the water was still too cold to go for a dip. Perhaps late June through early September would be a good time to go for a swim. The beach is very clean and the water as blue as it looks in the picture.

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Sand Beach at Acadia National Park

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Sand Beach

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The rocky shore of Acadia National Park

Since we were going to pass Cadillac Mountain on the way back, we figured we would stop by and soak in the views from vantage points we missed the first day.

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Cadillac Mountain

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We stopped at a pull-out and walked a few hundred yards over the granite to get this view on Cadillac Mountain

For dinner, we went back to Geddy’s because of the wonderful experience we had the day before. This time we all opted for the fish and chips. And man, it did not disappoint.

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fish and chips with coleslaw and tartar sauce

This was our trip in a nutshell. I want to point out that there is a very steep and difficult trail called the Precipice Trail which is closed between March and August due to falcons nesting between that time. If you happen to go outside of this timeframe and you’re physically fit to hike the trail, check it out because I’ve heard nothing but great things about it. Whale watching season was still a few weeks away during our visit but if you’re in the area and are interested, it’s a great opportunity to potentially see humpback whales, minke whales, and finback whales. If you plan on visiting Acadia National Park, budget at least 3 days. 4 or 5 days would be optimal in case a day or two isn’t productive due to the weather. This was a memorable trip and Acadia National Park is a setting with endless beauty and plenty of things to do. We had a blast and we hope to visit again soon.

 

Frontier Airlines $15 One-Way Flash Sale. Must Book Today.

Frontier has an ongoing sale where you can purchase one-way tickets (subject to availability for $15. Itineraries such as Chicago to Las Vegas, Chicago to Phoenix, Denver to Minneapolis, Philadelphia to Orlando, and many many more are available. You must book by today. There are select dates that you can choose from for this fare so if you have flexibility this is a great deal. For more info, click https://www.flyfrontier.com/ways-to-save/online-deals/