Review: United Club Chicago O’Hare International Airport- Terminal 1 Gate B18

On a recent trip from Chicago, my wife and I decided to visit the United Club after the Polaris Lounge shut its doors at 9pm. Our flight was scheduled to depart at 10:45pm so we still had well over an hour to spare. Fortunately, the United Club at Terminal 1 near gate B18 was open until 10pm. United has four United Club lounges at O’Hare, in addition to the Polaris Lounge. I had visited the United Club Lounge in Terminal 2 several months ago and you can read about that here. Just keep in mind that this lounge, just like every other United Club Lounge, is not a Priority Pass lounge.

Entrance

If you have an international premium cabin ticket on United or its Star Alliance partners or transcontinental premium cabin ticket, you will have access to the lounge. If you have a day-pass that is offered with the Chase United MileagePlus Explorer card, you will also be able to enter the lounge. Each person must have their own pass. You can also purchase a day-pass for $59 but I would strongly recommend not doing that.  At peak times, United does reserve the right to turn away day-pass users. Since United does have four of these lounges, you wouldn’t expect crowding to be an issue at O’Hare. Given how crowded the main seating area was at 9pm, it’s entirely possible that capacity issues may arise during peak hours. Just keep in mind, this lounge just like every other United Club Lounge is not a Priority Pass lounge.

UClubEntrance

Located near Gate B18 in Terminal 1

Upon entering, the receptionist scanned our boarding pass and welcomed us into the lounge.

IMG_1612

We were not in any mood to eat since we both had the full dining experience at the Polaris Lounge. Nonetheless, I checked out the offerings for the sake of the review.

Food

UClubBuffetArea

Even though I had no intention of eating, the buffet and food options at this lounge were very underwhelming, both in terms of quality and quantity.

UClubBuffetSalad

The options available were more like snacking options rather than a buffet. The salad did not look appetizing and I probably would not have eaten it even if I was hungry.

UClubBuffet

The cheese looked a bit more appetizing but again, I was full from having dinner just an hour earlier so I didn’t bother helping myself. 

UClubBrownies

The brownie might have been the most appetizing snack that was offered at the lounge

UClubEspressoMachine

The espresso machine offered all types of drinks including lattes, mochas, and cappuccinos. 

I did have the latte from the espresso machine and that was surprisingly good. I do confess that my main purpose in caffeinating myself was to induce hunger for the business class dinner on the Lufthansa flight. The fact that the latte tasted good just happened to be a bonus.

Seating

UClubBarArea

The bar area of the lounge had plenty of seats available. It may not be the case during peak hours. UClubLounge

UClubSeatingArea

The lounge has an “L” shape and the main seating area was quite crowded for 9pm. The seats were very comfortable and plug outlets were available on the side of the center table. I can only imagine how crowded this lounge would get during peak hours.

BarArea

Bar

 

Wifi

Wi-Fi speeds were pretty good and this is important for business travelers that need internet connectivity. Overall, this lounge was unimpressive and I’d have to say it was a notch lower than most Priority Pass lounges I have visited.  This lounge does not offer showers, does not have a ton of space, and offers subpar buffet options. I’d rate this lounge a 2.7/5. If you’re departing from a gate near B18 and you have no desire to walk to another United Club Lounge, I guess this is your only option. The United Club Lounge in Terminal 2 is far more spacious and has a much better ambiance. If you have the time, you should walk over to Terminal 2 and enjoy that one instead. And please don’t purchase a $59 day-pass for the sake of visiting THIS lounge. It’s not worth it.

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.

breadbasket

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.

IMG_1523.jpg

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.

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.

Review: The Langham, New York City

Thanks to my cousin Salma Hatia for this detailed review on The Langham.

This was my 2nd time staying at the Langham in NYC, but my 1st time staying at the Langham as an AMEX Platinum Member—which was a whole new experience! Don’t get me wrong, I had a great first stay, it was what I expected for a 5-star hotel, however as an AMEX member I felt like the experience was so much better—like, seriously, who was I?When I checked-in, they immediately upgraded me to an executive suite with a kitchen on the 21st floor because I was an AMEX Platinum member. Along with the upgrade, they told me that I had a $100 credit to use on whatever I wanted, like the spa or room service, complimentary breakfast for 2 at their Michelin-star restaurant, Ai Fiori, and late checkout at 4pm, which was clutch because our flight was at 5:30pm on Sunday.

IMG-9727

When we went up to our room the first thing me and my cousin immediately noticed was the view through the large windows—we were able to see down 5th avenue and we could see the beautiful Chrysler building.

IMG-9754

View of Bank of America Tower and the Conde Naste Building (with H&M sign)

ChryslerBuilding

Beautiful view of the Chrysler building and looking down on Fifth Avenue

The 2nd thing we noticed was that we had a powder room—when does that ever happen? Needless to say, we had more than enough room. We even had some of our friends and cousins come up to hang out with us in the room, 6 adults and a baby were hanging out comfortably. All the cafes around us were closed, so we ordered lattes from room service (using my $100 of credit) and they were excellent!

bathroom

 

IMG-9734

Full kitchen via AMEX Platinum upgrade

IMG-9735

Views of Manhattan from the bathroom

IMG-9774

Soap, shampoo, and conditioner were all Chuan, a holistic proprietary brand owned by Langham

IMG-9743

Another huge selling point for the Langham is their location. The hotel is centrally located in Manhattan, so we were able to walk to most of our destinations on Saturday. We walked to Washington Square Park, Times Square, and the Highline. The next day, we had to check out by 4pm and catch our flight at 5:30pm so we didn’t have a lot of time to waste. We woke up at 8am and called the doorman to arrange a ride to central park at 11am using the hotel car service (which is free!).

Pro Tip: The hotel has a Jaguar that will drop you off wherever you want to go up until 59th street, they start taking appointments in the morning at 8 am, and it is on a first come first serve basis.

Jaguar

Jaguar that’s provided for guests of The Langham

After we had our ride set up, we got ready and cashed in on our complimentary breakfast at Ai Fiori—which was phenomenal! My cousin and I decided to order a couple of things and share. We ordered the buttermilk pancakes, uova in purgatorio, and the house potatoes —everything was phenomenal. You can see the picture below.

Breakfast

If you asked me what the stay was like after my first time, I would’ve said it was great—all the basics of a 5-star hotel. But, staying here as an AMEX platinum member really made this experience next-level amazing, to say the least! It is rare to have a travel experience where you don’t find yourself compromising on something, whether it be the room, service, or location. But I can truly say that there was no compromising at the Langham NYC, everything was at the top of its game—the room, the service, the amenities, the location, and the (free) food were all a 5 out of 5.

 

Review: American Airlines First Class Albany to Chicago

It had been a while since I used an award redemption for a first class ticket on a domestic route.  I wasn’t really left with much of a choice since I needed to get home to Chicago and I had the following options if I wanted to book with American Airlines:

  • Spend $381 for a one-way ticket in economy
  • Spend $511 for a one-way ticket in first class
  • Use 25k American Advantage miles to book in economy
  • Use 12.5k British Airways Avios (transferrable from Chase or AMEX) to book in first class

Given the options above, using British Airways Avios to book first class on this flight was a no-brainer. Had economy tickets been available for redemption using B.A., it would have only cost 7.5k miles. For whatever reason, American didn’t make economy seats available to British Airways. Still, this is a great redemption and one which I’m getting greater than 4 cents per point. As I’ve mentioned before, this is one of the sweet spots when using BA to book on American.

My flight was on an Embraer-175 regional jet operated by Envoy Air, one of American Airlines’ regional partners. Generally speaking, people will roll their eyes when they hear their flight is on a regional jet as opposed to a mainline aircraft. This is especially true when flying in economy. In a surprising twist, I found the first class cabin to be more comfortable in the E-175 relative to a Boeing 737 or Airbus A320/321. One big advantage with the E-175 if you’re flying solo is the left side of the plane in first class is configured with only a single seat. You get to look out the window and not have to worry about asking people to move if you have to use the lavatory. The right side of the plane has the traditional two adjacent seats.

IMG-9843

IMG-9846

The seat was spacious and comfortable and since I was fortunate enough to have seat 1A, I had more leg room than I needed to stretch out.

IMG-9844

There are only a few routes such as Dallas to Chicago where American Airlines will serve a full dinner on their regional jets for flights under 900 miles. Since we were under that threshold, I was served a snack box with hummus, pita chips, and Fannie May chocolate (Chicago folks are familiar with this).

IMG-9855

The hummus and pita chips were decent, certainly better than the normal mini-pretzel bag served in economy. The flight attendants came by multiple times during the two-hour flight to ask if I wanted anything to drink so they were certainly attentive. If you’re a T-Mobile customer, don’t forget that you get an hour of free wifi on American Airlines when flying within the U.S. and Canada. You are also able to text throughout the flight for free by turning on your wifi calling.

IMG-9852

 

American Airlines serves 3-course meals on all first-class flights over 900 miles. They have certain routes under 900 miles where they will still serve a 3-course meal in first class.

DinnerScreenshot

If you find yourself booking between Chicago and any of the cities above, you would get enhanced value with the 12.5k Avios redemption for first class because dinner is included. Since BA has a distance based award chart, you can travel as far 1,150 miles from your departure city to get the 12.5k redemption in first class.

 

 

Featured image via UPGRD.com

Review: Conrad Maldives Rangali Island Resort

Since there are several readers who have asked me about the Maldives and my accommodations during my stay there, I figured I would just do a proper review of the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island.  I have already made a post on the number of miles and points it took to book this trip and you can read about that here. The Maldives is one of the world’s premier beach destinations and there really isn’t any place like it. Crystal clear waters, an abundance of marine wildlife, and hospitality that is unparalleled regardless of the hotel you may choose.

This Conrad is located on Rangali Island, an island that is part of the Alif Dhaal Atoll. The Maldives has 26 different atolls with some of them subdivided into two or three.

RangaliIslandMap

The atolls of The Maldives.

The only way to get to Rangali Island is via 45-minute seaplane flight through Transmaldivian Airways from the capital city of Male. The distance between the two islands is about 59 miles or 95 km.

Since my wife and I booked with Conrad,  our experience actually started upon landing at Velana International Airport in Male. Conrad staff guided us to an exclusive Conrad Lounge as we waited for our seaplane to arrive. It’s very rare for a hotel to have a branded airport lounge and this was our first time experiencing one. The lounge was very spacious, had a decent selection of food and drinks, and was clean and well maintained. It also offered free wifi and couches that could be used as beds. It was much better than most airport lounges we’ve visited.

 

About 45 minutes later, our seaplane arrived and it was time to take the much-anticipated flight to Rangali Island.

Seaplane

 

I apologize for taking this video vertically.  The plane seats around 15 people and flies at an altitude of about 5,000 feet. You get some amazing views of the other atolls and islands on your way. It’s a loud flight due to the propellers but it was much smoother than I anticipated.

Once we arrived, we boarded a golf cart that took us to our villa. The staff gave us a tour of the villa, the amenities, and explained to us in detail the services that they offer. We also found a complimentary bottle of sparkling grape juice and a fruit basket that had been left for us. You can see the video of our villa below.

Sorry again for the vertical video. Snapchat and Instagram have basically programmed me to do it this way.

DSC_0224

The stairs lead you straight into the water. I’d say the depth is around 7 feet.

 

DSC_0246

 

MaldivesPath

The path to the beach area

 

Sunset Jacuzzi

Jacuzzi with a view

 

ConradVilla

Shower area

 

Spa

Private spa room

 

SunsetVilla

Majestic sunsets are the norm in the Maldives

 

As a Hilton Gold member, Conrad upgraded us from a water villa to a retreat water villa. The retreat water villa came with our own jacuzzi and also had a more private feel since the neighboring villas were several hundred feet away.  The villa itself was incredible. This property has won numerous awards including the best luxury resort in the world.  Each villa also included a private spa room with two massage tables. We didn’t use this service since all we wanted to do was be outside and soak in the sun. Each villa also has stairs which take you right into the water. I would estimate the depth to be around 7 feet right at the villas so if you don’t know how to swim, you might want to keep that in mind. It gets much shallower once you’re near the beach.

As Hilton Gold members, we were entitled to free breakfast, free afternoon tea at Mandhoo Spa Restaurant, and free cocktails/mocktails between 5-6pm. The breakfast had a ton of options and I had something different every day. The afternoon tea at Mandhoo was more like a lunch since they also had sandwiches.  Purchasing meals at this property was quite pricey. I mean it is a Conrad Hotel after all.  To minimize meal costs, we would have breakfast at the latest possible time, around 10:30 am and then have the complimentary tea and lunch at Mandhoo Spa Restaurant at 4:30. Since this was pretty darn close to dinner time, we only had to pay for dinner once.  Conrad Maldives is also home to the Ithaa Undersea Restaurant. Unfortunately, all the daytime slots were reserved during our visit there and there was no point making a reservation during the evening hours since you couldn’t see the marine wildlife.

 

Mandhoo

Mandhoo Restaurant

 

Conradlunch

Pastries, cookies, and tarts

ConradLunch2

The roast beef sandwich and the fruit tart were delicious.

IMG-7113

A wide variety of teas

 

LunchConrad

You can help yourself to as many sandwiches you want

This property actually has a total of three islands. Two of them (Rangali and Rangalifinolhu) are used to for guests and a third is used only for employees. To get from one island to another, we just called the front desk and they sent a golf cart which got us from place to place. You can certainly walk the distance if you wanted to but it would take a solid 25-30 minutes. You will save a ton of time by using the gold cart below

 

I didn’t measure the wifi speed in the villa but it was pretty fast and I had no issues with connectivity. They also have a fantastic business center within a lounge on the second floor in case you needed one. I only used it for a few minutes to print out some documents but it had everything you needed. If you’re a Mac person, they had those as well. Great job Conrad!

ConradBusiness

Lounge on the second floor

ConradBusiness2

Business center within the lounge

 

People have often asked what we did after sunset. We made it a point to go sleep by 8pm every day. Sunset was at 6:20pm so we woke up right at sunrise, around 6am, and made the most of our day. If you’re in a place like the Maldives, I’d strongly recommend waking up early and not sleeping in.  As far as activities, you can do excursions such as swimming with whale sharks or go scuba diving and jet skiing. If you’re used to paying a certain price for those activities, you will be paying double and triple that over here. Seeing the exorbitant costs, I just preferred to snorkel at the reef right off the island and swim in the waters right near my villa. If only they allowed to book excursions with miles. This Conrad also has two infinity pools, one on each island and all guests are allowed to use either. I took full advantage of that as well.

 

ConradBeach

The beach area at Rangali island. Both islands have beaches

 

InfinityPool2

Infinity Pool 2. The Dhoni ferry in the background is another way to get from one island to another.

 

MaldivesBridge

The seaplane platform which is also used to connect Rangali Island to Rangalifinolhu Island. It’s beautifully lit in the evening

When I made this reservation, I informed them that my wife’s birthday would be on the second day of our stay there. They remembered and when we entered our room after breakfast during the second day, housekeeping left a nice little gesture.

BirthdayConrad

 

AyeshaBday

They also surprised her with a delicious cake during dinner

 

 

ConradVilla5

Night time was perfect for the jacuzzi

To sum it all up, fantastic resort, pristine beaches, excellent food, excellent service, super friendly and helpful staff, and an experience that I hope I’m able to be a part of again in the future. If you do decide to book at Conrad Rangali Island, having the AMEX Hilton Surpass card or the AMEX Platinum card and the Gold status that comes along with it will take you a long way. I estimated that I got over $700 in value just by having the card.

Departure

View of the Conrad Rangali Island from the seaplane

 

Some of you have asked if you could take a speedboat rather than the seaplane to Rangali Island. From my understanding, the only way to get there is by seaplane. It’s way overpriced for what amounts to a 30-minute plane ride and unfortunately, if you don’t have miles that can be redeemed for cash (Chase Ultimate Rewards or AMEX Membership points), there really is no way around it. Transmaldivian Airways has a monopoly on this route so it probably won’t change anytime soon.  If the seaplane cost is a turnoff, keep in mind there are plenty of excellent hotels that only require a seaboat transfer from Male. The cost for that isn’t cheap either but it’ll save you about $500 between two people.

 

Lounge Reviews: Centurion Lounges at Miami International Airport and Buenos Aires Ezeiza International Airport

Over the last 10 days, I was fortunate to transit through two airports that feature a Centurion Lounge. You can read about the Centurion Lounge at Miami International Airport right here and the Centurion Lounge at Buenos Aires Ezeiza International Airport right here.