Review: Conrad Washington DC

 

ConradEntrance

One of the newest hotels in Washington DC at just a couple of months old, my wife and I got to experience this beautiful property courtesy of our AMEX free weekend night certificates.  Unfortunately, the American Express Hilton Honors Ascend Card no longer has this benefit on the cardmember anniversary. Now you have to spend $15,000 in a given year to get the free night and I don’t think it’s worth forgoing points with Chase or AMEX Platinum/Gold to pursue a free night with Hilton in most instances. Since my wife and I both have the AMEX Hilton Honors Ascend Card, we were able to combine our free nights into a weekend stay. The nightly rate for our room was $450 so we got $900 worth of value plus $50 credit towards dining for the cost of the annual fee that we paid for both cards ($95 per card).

Check-In

When you walk into the hotel, take the elevator to the third floor. There is no second floor and the third floor is where the check-in desk, lounge, restaurant, and lobby is located. Upon checking in, the receptionist verified our Hilton Gold status, courtesy of the AMEX card and upgraded us to a room on the 9th floor. We were given a choice between 1,000 Hilton points and a $50 dining credit. We took the dining credit (please don’t ever take the points in this scenario). The receptionist was kind enough to give us a mini-tour of the hotel, Estuary restaurant, and some of the amenities this hotel offers.

ConradLobby

The circular lamp changes color each hour

My first impression when walking in was that this hotel did not have many 90 degree angles. The architect made a concerted effort to make the interior as curvy as possible. The lobby was beautiful and since the hotel was only 45 days old when we stayed, it still had that brand new scent.

ConradClock

Looking down from the 10th floor to the lobby below.

Hotel Room

Our room was on the 9th floor which gave us a nice view of New York Street down below. Keeping up with the theme, the room was curvy but spacious and very comfortable.

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ConradHotelRoom

ConradCoffee

Coffee and snacks

As an avid coffee drinker, I always appreciate when a hotel provides a Keurig type machine with pods. The coffee was complimentary per usual but the snacks were completely overpriced. If you need snacks, there is a CVS across the street where you can get the same offerings for 1/4 of the price.

ConradShower

The bathroom provided two sinks and a separate blurred door to the toilet so two people can use the bathroom simultaneously while still having some semblance of privacy.

ConradToiletries

The toiletries were Shanghai Tang and the scent was very nice. Not too overpowering but not too light either. The room also provided slippers, a safe, laundry bag, iron, and bathrobes.

Estuary and Estuary Bar

Estuary is the restaurant on the premises which is located on the 3rd floor. We went there for breakfast on Saturday morning and ordered a custom made omelet and buttermilk pancakes. Both were delicious, albeit smaller in portion than your typical brunch diner.

ConradPancakes

ConradBreakfast

The Estuary Bar area was spacious and seating was plentiful during the day time. If there is an event going on at the hotel, it’ll likely get packed during the evening going into the late night hours. ConradLounge

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ConradLoungeArea

3rd Floor Terrace and Rooftop Bar

Since the hotel was only 45 days old during our stay, the Rooftop Bar was not officially open to guests so I could only take pictures from behind the glass door. At this time, it’s likely open and running.  The 3rd-floor terrace was open for use.

ConradBalconyView

View from the Rooftop Bar

ConradTerrace

The Terrace on the 3rd-floor

Fitness Center

The fitness center was one of the better ones I had seen at a hotel. Upon entering, guests are greeted with towels, earphones, and apples.

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ConradGym2

There are multiple treadmills, elliptical machines, and stationary bikes

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If you’re into lifting, they have that covered as well.

Miscellaneous

Although I forgot to measure the internet speed, I had no issues with speed or Wi-Fi connectivity. If you are planning to park your car at the Conrad, the price of parking at their garage was $36 a day. I opted to use the Parkwhiz app and found a garage two blocks away which allowed me to park for $14. There is also metered parking on the street but it has a 3-hour time limit during business hours and it’s free overnight. One of the most appealing aspects of staying at Conrad DC is that the National Mall, White House, Capitol building, Smithsonian, and many other points of interest are only 10-15 minutes away by walking. I also want to acknowledge the receptionists on the 3rd floor who always gave us complimentary bottles of water whenever we walked by. The staff made an excellent stay that much better. We look forward to coming back in the future.

 

 

 

 

Review: Renting a Car With Turo

During my recent trip to The Big Island of Hawaii, I decided to give Turo a shot since car rental prices for a 5-day trip were ridiculously expensive. When I entered my travel dates on Kayak, the cheapest rate I found was $568 for a Ford Fiesta. Having a car in The Big Island is almost a necessity if you don’t plan on spending your entire time on a resort because the island is bigger than all the other Hawaiian islands combined. If you’re staying near one of their two major towns, Kona or Hilo which are on the opposite sides of the island, the driving time to get from one to another is about 2 hours. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is closer to Hilo and a 2-hour drive from Kona without making any stops. The time will increase significantly if you stop at viewpoints and other points of interest along the way (you really should). You can also take the mass-transit bus but it’s more than 3 hours each way and you’ll regret not being able to stop at places along the way. But man, $568 for a Ford Fiesta. I was looking for a compact car that would get great gas mileage but also comfortably fit an infant car seat such as a Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla. Those types of cars were going for $615 for 5 days and since my goal was not to offset the savings I had on my flight (I redeemed AA miles) by splurging on a car rental, I turned to Turo and see what they offered.

 Booking Process

Turo markets themselves as the Airbnb for cars. Regular people make their cars available to rent and you can often get luxury cars or convertibles for the price of a standard car at a rental company like Hertz. I found a compact car (Dodge Dart) going for $280 for 5 days on Turo and the car owner had a near perfect rating with over 30 reviews.  I booked the Dodge Dart which also included 500 miles (extra 45 cents/mile if I went over) and bought their standard insurance coverage for $10 a day. Even after adding that to the cost of the rental, it was still significantly cheaper than what the standard car rental agencies were offering.   It is important to note that credit card companies will not cover damage on car rentals from Turo. If you decide not to purchase any of the three tiers of collision coverage that Turo offers, you will be liable for any damages.

                                     Picking Up The Car

Prior to departing DFW for our flight to Kona, I gave the car owner our flight info and he responded back immediately with directions on how to get the car. Once we landed, he sent me a video which showed me where the car was parked in the airport parking lot and how to walk over to the parking lot. It was right across the street from the baggage claim with the keys in the glove compartment. No lines, no waiting, no hassle. Since he took a ticket to get the car into the parking lot, he told me to pay whatever the total amount was upon exiting and to keep the receipt. That fee would be reimbursed. He also gave me his cellphone number and told me to give him a call in case any issues would arise.

The Dodge Dart I rented was big enough to fit two suitcases in the trunk and had plenty of space to install the base of the car seat as well as the car seat itself. Gas was $3.62/gallon for regular so having a fuel-efficient car was optimal since I knew I’d be driving at least 450 miles in the 5 days we were there. I ended up driving 494 miles, most of that being the round-trip from Waikoloa to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Everything worked as it should and the AC was very cool and needed for the mid-80’s temperatures.

Returning The Car

We were set to return our car to the airport parking lot by 8 pm but our flight was closer to midnight. Our car owner (Anthony) said it wouldn’t be a problem at all if we returned the car at 10:15 pm so we would not have to spend close to 4 hours at the airport. I got to the airport parking lot, pulled out a ticket, and parked the car near the same area where I picked it up. I took a picture of the car and texted it to show him where it was parked. This was basically the “checkout” process. The picking up and dropping off process may differ with every car owner. I was very happy with my experience renting from Turo as it saved me both time and money. Anthony was an awesome dude and he asked me to spread the word about his cars. He has multiple cars available for rent in Kona on The Big Island, Kauai, and Honolulu. His rating is close to perfect so I highly recommend renting from him. In addition, if you use my link right here, you will save $25 off your first rental from Turo.

Review: The Updated Centurion Lounge Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)

The Centurion Lounge at DFW moved to a larger 12,000 square feet space in September of 2018, expanding their footprint by an additional 3,000 feet. Their old lounge was excellent but it certainly felt crowded at times so the additional space should help alleviate that. Rather than going up the escalator to enter the lounge as it was previously, you will find the entrance to the lounge on the ground floor. This will lead to an elevator which you take to the second floor to enter the lounge. To enter the lounge, you need to be a holder of the AMEX Platinum Card, AMEX Business Platinum Card, or the AMEX Centurion Card. Other AMEX cards won’t get you in.

centurionentrance

Food (Breakfast)

My wife, son, and I were here during breakfast hours and I remember how great the spread was the last time I was here back in 2017. The items may have changed but the breakfast was still awesome.

Breads

The sweet corn muffins were excellent. My wife loved the oatmeal with granola.

Granola

fruits

Centurion Lounge always delivers with their fresh fruit offerings.

salsachips

Salsa and tortilla chips for breakfast? Why not?

EggFritata

Goat cheese egg frittata.  This was the best part of having breakfast here. Delicious and you’re probably going to get up for a second serving.

In addition to the items pictured above, there was also pancakes and fresh juice. Since there were multiple people behind me, I refrained from taking a picture at that particular time.

espressomachine2

The espresso machine can make a variety of beverages. I got their latte and it was delicious.

Seating Area

As you would expect with the lounge that has expanded by more than 3,000 square feet, seating was plentiful and not once did I feel like the lounge was overcrowded. Certain sections of the lounge were more trafficked than others but in general, there was plenty of seats for everyone.

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corridor2

They had different types of lighting to suit everyone’s needs.

commonareaCorridor

bar

Bar area

longtable

Conference table

Business

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conferenceroom

For those that need a conference room, Centurion DFW has one.

Kids Room

This is one of my favorite aspects of this lounge. They had a dedicated children’s playroom and it was perfect for my 5-month-old son as he was able to enjoy his first ever visit to an airport lounge.

 

 

Miscellaneous

restroom

The restrooms were clean and there was also a dedicated shower area that you could utilize upon request at the front desk.

This lounge also has a spa where they give you a complimentary massage. I forgot to measure the Wi-Fi speed but I can assure you it was fast. I have not visited a Centurion Lounge where connectivity was slow. The old Centurion Lounge was among my favorites and AMEX has delivered and improved the experience at their newly renovated Centurion Lounge at DFW. Just keep in mind, AMEX no longer allows passengers who have landed at their final destination city to use a Centurion Lounge in that particular city. Prior to the rule change, if Dallas was your final destination, you could still visit by showing your boarding pass.  I think this is a fair rule change to alleviate crowding concerns. AMEX also won’t allow you in if your departure time is more than 3 hours away. I believe this is also a change for the better. As far as this lounge, it scores a perfect 5/5 and continues to be my favorite Centurion Lounge I have visited thus far. There are a few others under construction and I’m looking forward to visiting the one in JFK once it opens later this year. That lounge will be the largest Centurion Lounge at 15,000 square feet.

Review: United Club Chicago O’Hare International Airport B5

On a very recent flight from Chicago to Albany, I had the opportunity to visit the United Club in Terminal 1 near gate B5. Special thanks to my mom for giving me her United Club pass and allowing me access. And speaking of United Club Lounges at ORD, I’ve crossed three of them off the list and have one more to go after completing my stay at this one. This particular lounge is located at Concourse B which means you don’t have to go through the underground tunnel in Terminal 1 to get here. If you saw my last review for the United Club Lounge near B18, the same rules apply to this lounge.

 

Entrance

Entrance

This lounge is located near gate B5 and B6. Once you have cleared security, take a left. The agents at the front desk will scan your one-day pass and boarding pass or just your boarding pass if you’re flying international business class or first class on a United Airlines or Star Alliance partner flight. If you have the United Club credit card, you have complimentary access as part of your card benefits.

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The escalator will take you to the main seating area

Food

Food3beanSalad

Three-bean salad and Mediterranean salad

I wasn’t expecting a whole lot in the food department because that’s not what United does well at their Club Lounges. They don’t really offer the hot meals you would find at Centurion Lounge and certainly not the variety you would find at their upscale Polaris Lounge. This lounge had a variety of cheeses, veggies, three bean salad, and a Mediterranean style salad. The cheese was okay at best and the three-bean salad was average. They also had hot broccoli-cheddar soup that was delicious. But let’s be honest, it’s really hard to mess up broccoli-cheddar soup. If they had done that, food should be canceled at their Club Lounges.

FoodCheeseVeggies

Variety of cheeses but no crackers. Come on United.

Food

The brownies were fresh and tasted pretty good

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If you wanted snacks, they had a decent variety of salty and sweet.

Soup

Broccoli-cheddar soup. This was good.

CokeMachine

This touch-screen Coca-Cola machine was one of my favorite things about this lounge.

EspressoMachine

Their espresso machine served a variety of caffeinated or decaf beverages from lattes to cappuccinos.

Seating

MainSeatingArea2

When you go up the escalators, this is the main seating area you will come across.

SeatingAreaAs far as United Club Lounges at ORD go, this may be the largest of all. There is no shortage of seats and they have a variety of seating options. SeatingArea2Almost every seat at the lounge as access to a plug outletSideSeatingAreaThis was my favorite seating area. Not too bright and facing towards the TV (not pictured) in the bar area.

DiningArea2

Seating area near the bar

DiningArea

Open seating area in the middle of the lounge

BarArea

Bar 

It is important to note that I visited the lounge at about 7:30 pm on a Sunday and it was about 40% full. On a weekday during peak business hours, it’s entirely possible that the lounge may be near capacity.

Miscellaneous

Bathroom

The bathrooms were super clean and United does put in an effort to keep it that way.

WiFI

The Wi-Fi speed was awesome. I mean this might be the most appealing aspect of the lounge, particularly for business travelers. Video conferencing would be seamless and if you wanted to stream Netflix or music, you’ll have a really easy time doing it. This lounge is certainly better than the United Club near B18 and very much on par with the United Club in Terminal 2. Just like that lounge, this one has the potential to be very good. It’s spacious, has excellent internet connectivity, clean bathrooms, excellent coffee, and decent snacks. The only thing holding it back is the lack of hot meals and sandwiches. It’s not worth the $59 you’d have to pay for the one-day pass but if you have the pass that comes complimentary with the Chase United Explorer credit card, you’d rather be here than the waiting area near the gate. I’d rate this lounge a 4/5.

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.

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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.

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SeatingArea

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

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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:

 

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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

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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Post-Dinner

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

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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.

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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.

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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, Caribbean, 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 of Terminal 1 at O’Hare. This is NOT the international terminal. However, United has their hub at Terminal 1 so all United International flights and Star Alliance partners ANA and Lufthansa (except LH437 to Munich which departs from Terminal 5) depart from Terminal 1. If you are flying on another Star Alliance partner in a premium cabin (Swiss, Turkish, EVA, etc), you need to walk over to Terminal 3 and take the Terminal Transfer Bus (TTB) to Terminal 5. This allows you to bypass another security check. Getting back to the Polaris Lounge, once you clear security at Terminal 1, take the escalators down to a tunnel which has quirky rainbow lighting and automated people movers. When you reach the end of the tunnel, go up the escalator and the Polaris Lounge is located on the left near gate C17. If your flight departs from the B concourse, you’ll have to make the 5-minute walk under the tunnel to get the C concourse. Since the lounge is located air-side after security, you don’t have to worry about budgeting time to get through security and to your gate. Once you enter, the receptionist will scan your boarding pass and you’re on your way.

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

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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.

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Not a single person in this area of the lounge.

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As you can see in the pictures, absolutely no shortage of seats. United did a 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 take-off and land, they have optimal seating for that as well

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

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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.

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                          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!

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Stacked caprese salad with fresh mozzarella. This was delicious

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The salmon teriyaki was excellent. Never had it before.

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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

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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.

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

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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 tortellini 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.

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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

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

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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 cell phone. This lounge has it all-excellent dining, comfortable sleeping rooms, spacious shower rooms, a variety of seating areas, fast internet connectivity, a vibrant bar area, and more. The Polaris brand of lounges is the standard 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.

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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.

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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.