Review: Art & Lounge Newark Liberty International Airport

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Prior to a recent flight from Newark to Chicago, my wife and I had a two hour layover at EWR. Since we had a 3 hour drive without any lunch from Upstate NY, I thought we might have to settle for overpriced airport food. Fortunately for us, Art & Lounge in Terminal B that was part of the Priority Pass network. As a Chase Sapphire Reserve holder, Priority Pass allows me and one guest (some cases two) complimentary access to their vast network of lounges.

Art & Lounge is located prior to security at Terminal B. You can get there via the Air Train from Terminal A or C but if you have already cleared security, you will be required to clear it again when you head back.

 

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Entrance

 

Once you’re in, the staff at the front desk will verify your boarding pass and swipe your Priority Pass card. I was starving and went straight to the buffet area to check out what they were serving for dinner….

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Grilled tilapia, baked potatoes, pizza, and steamed vegetables

 

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Bowtie pasta

 

 

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Oatmeal and shortbread cookies

 

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Orange and apple juice at the bar area

The food served at this lounge was very good. The pasta was excellent, the grilled tilapia was fresh, and the steamed veggies and baked potatoes were all on point. I got there just as they were putting out the food. Had I got there two hours later, it’s entirely possible this review is different.  Let’s move on to the other areas of the lounge…..

 

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This is one of the common areas where my wife and I decided to get situated. The TV is on via a projector and just about every seat has an outlet to plug in electronics. If you want to read one of the many books they have on the shelf, you can do that as well.  The lounge itself is not big and when we got there, it was roughly half filled.  I can imagine this place being quite packed during peak travel times.

 

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The adjacent room had plenty of available space

 

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The first common area was mostly filled when we entered.

 

The one noticeable flaw this lounge had was the WiFi speed. It was dial-up level and business travelers that need to be connected won’t be able to survive on 0.59 Mbps.

 

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I’d rate this lounge a 3.8/5

Good food, good vibe, and comfortable if you can find space. The super slow WiFi speeds and its location pre-security are minor flaws. In case you are wondering, I was able to take the Air Train from Terminal B to C and clear security all within 10 minutes.  I do have TSA pre-check and for those of you who don’t, I’d probably leave the lounge 35-40 minutes prior to boarding.

 

Lounge Review: United Club O’Hare Terminal 2

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On my way back to Albany, NY, I had about an hour and change of free time at O’Hare International Airport. As a United Explorer credit card holder, United gives me two complimentary passes to the United Club lounge every year during my card member anniversary. Without the passes, I’d have to pay $50 out of pocket for a day pass. In essence, the two United Club passes make up for the $95 annual fee even if I never used any other benefit from the card. So I figured I’d give it a shot.

 

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The United Club lounge in Terminal 2 is located in the F concourse. Once you enter the lounge, the staff at the front desk will take your pass, verify your boarding pass, and direct you to the escalators that lead to the concierge. There are many factors that I’ll look at when evaluating any airline lounge. The most heavily weighted factor in determining how I’ll rate a lounge is food. If the food is good, it can make up for shortcomings in many other areas. It happened to be breakfast time so off I went to check out the offerings……

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As you can see from the pictures, cantaloupes, honeydew melon, grapes, yogurt, and oatmeal.

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Bagels, white bread, and whole wheat bread with cream cheese, butter, and strawberry jam or grape jelly.  The fresh fruit was pretty good. The bagels? dry with the texture of sandpaper. They also had an espresso machine (not pictured) which gave you a few different choices of latte’s, cappuccino, hot chocolate, and mocha. I had the latte and it was pretty decent. There was also orange juice and watermelon infused water. In terms of the food selection, it was nothing special and certainly nothing that was memorable. So let’s move on to other areas of the lounge…..

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The common areas were very spacious and the decor was pretty nice. The lounge was clean, perfectly lit, and didn’t suffer from overcrowding that routinely plagues the United Club lounge in terminal 1.

 

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There is an abundance of power outlets and it seems that just about every seat has access to one. This is certainly not the case at the United Club lounges in Terminal 1 so good for United in addressing that here.

 

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The bar area was quiet at 8am as expected.  Very spacious, clean, and an appealing ambiance.

 

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This lounge also had free wifi with very good speeds. Perfect place to get work done if you have a layover or you’re there a bit early and have time to kill.

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I really want to like this lounge more than I do. It was comfortable, clean, spacious, great ambiance, not overcrowded, great wifi speeds, and had a very friendly staff. But the food was mediocre at best. And even that’s putting it kindly. I can’t justify or recommend paying $50 for a 1 day pass if the best thing they have going for them is great coffee and wifi. The only way I’d ever return is on a complimentary pass or if I booked an award ticket on business class and complimentary access came with it. On a scale of 1-5 with 5 being the best, I’d rate it a 3.2. If the food is ever on par with AMEX Centurion lounges, it would easily be a 4.5 or higher.

It is important to note that these passes do not work at United’s Polaris Lounge in Terminal 1 or any of the Polaris lounges that are due to open at Newark, San Francisco, Houston, D.C., Los Angeles (LAX), Hong Kong, Tokyo (Narita), and London (Heathrow) over the next year. For those lounges, you need to have a business class or first class ticket on a long-haul international flight. I’ve heard a lot of great things about that product and if I’m ever fortunate to experience it, I’ll share my review here.

Review: Centurion Lounge at Dallas Fort-Worth International Airport

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Entrance to Centurion Lounge at DFW

As far as U.S. airport lounges go, I have yet to visit one that offers the amenities, space, comfort, and service as the Centurion Lounge at DFW.  This is one of the seven Centurion Lounge locations in the U.S. (soon to be eight when Philadelphia opens theirs in the coming weeks).  You can gain complimentary access for yourself and two guests to any Centurion Lounge with the American Express Platinum Card. I was able to bring my brother along with me for no extra charge. Without the card, access costs $50 per person for each visit.

 

The Centurion Lounge at DFW is located in terminal D on the second floor post-security. If you have never flown from DFW, all the terminals are interconnected via skylink light rail. Once you clear security, you can take the train to any terminal without worrying about clearing security a second time. This gave me a peace of mind knowing I didn’t have to worry  about security lines once I was at the lounge, and a quick 6 minute skylink ride would get me from terminal D to terminal A.

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The member services desk at the Centurion Lounge DFW

Once I entered the lounge,  the friendly staff at the member services desk went through the usual protocol of asking my for my AMEX Platinum Card, boarding pass, and ID.  This particular Centurion Lounge had a spa and they asked me if I was interested in getting a massage. It sounded tempting but it was 7 am so I politely declined. Breakfast was being served and I purposely skipped out on the hotel breakfast to see the offerings here. And it certainly did not disappoint.

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Entrance to the lounge

 

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FOOD! French Toast, baked beans, and something that looked like jello(?)

 

 

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Breads and muffins

 

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Breakfast Pizza. What a fantastic concept. It was delicious and I helped myself to seconds.

 

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Texas style egg fritata with goat cheese. Another item unique to Centurion DFW.

 

Since I was there early and the lounge was relatively empty, I was able to take many pictures without having to be so covert.

 

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Dining area if you choose to sit near the food. Of course you are free to take your plate and eat anywhere you are situated.

 

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Another part of the dining area. I loved the ambiance of this place.

 

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A relatively quiet bar area at around 7 am.

 

 

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Plenty of empty tables and seats. This corridor leads you from the main entrance to the dining area. This lounge has really good wifi speed and I was able browse the internet and get work done comfortably.

 

 

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Business area was completely empty. Complimentary use of desktops and printers available.

 

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A lounge area that was mostly being utilized. Behind the wall is another area that had 4 leather recliners/beds. Predictably, all 4 of them were being used by people who were in deep sleep. I didn’t want to look like a creep and run into any misunderstandings so I didn’t take pics of that area but just an FYI that it is there.

 

Perhaps the next time I visit this lounge, I’ll take advantage of the massage service they offer. This was a fantastic lounge with excellent amenities,  really nice ambiance, modern design, great food, and very friendly service. And a huge plus since it is located after security. If you are an AMEX Platinum card holder and you have a layover or some time to kill at DFW, this a lounge I’d highly recommend visiting.  If you didn’t get a chance to read my review for the Centurion Lounge at LaGuardia Airport in NYC,  you can read it here.  It might be a while until I review a Centurion Lounge which I have not visited yet. If I had to guess the Centurion Lounge I’m visiting next, Philadelphia seems like a logical option since Philadelphia International Airport is a place I transit through occasionally.

 

 

Review: Centurion Lounge LaGuardia Airport

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Front desk of the Centurion Lounge at LGA

 

If you are an AMEX Platinum card holder, one of the best perks that comes with the card is complimentary Centurion Lounge access to any of the locations across the US. Platinum card holders are also allowed to bring two guests free of charge. If you were to pay for access, one day passes cost $50 per person.

The Centurion Lounge at New York’s LaGuardia airport is located on the 3rd floor in terminal B.  The lounge is located pre-security and the staff will recommend you depart the lounge and arrive at security 45 minutes prior to departure, particularly if you don’t have TSA pre-check.

It might be a bit confusing at first but you will see many signs that point you towards to the elevators that take you up to the 3rd floor.

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When you enter the lounge, the friendly staff at the member services desk will ask you for your AMEX Platinum card, a form of ID, and your boarding pass.  Once you’re in, your free to move about. The first thing I checked out was the food options……

 

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The salad bar had your basic run of the mill options. Nothing that really stood out.

 

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The ginger rice with sauteed vegetables and roasted carrots were delicious

 

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I had an almond coconut cookie on the right. Perfect combo of moist and soft. I can tell they weren’t sitting there the whole day. The brownies looked good too but I need to relax on the sugar.

 

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The bar and dining area. I was there at 5:30 pm on a Friday. Generally one of the busier times due to the influx of business travelers.

 

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Full scale bar

 

If you arrive at the lounge between 10 am and 6 pm, personal space might be difficult to find. I was fortunate to find an empty sofa my second time visiting this lounge. No such luck during the first visit.

 

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The personal space is very comfy if you can find a spot. Plenty of outlets, and more than enough space to lay out your food, drinks, and laptop.

 

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If you’re able to get one of the few private booths, consider yourself lucky.  Everyone is eyeing them and waiting to make a dash once a booth becomes available. Both times I have visited this lounge, I was unable to find a private booth.

 

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Larger conference table at the Centurion Lounge

 

If you have the AMEX Platinum card and you have a layover or some time to kill, the Centurion Lounge at LaGuardia is worth checking out. This is especially true if you are laying over or departing from terminal B. This lounge has a decent food and drink selection, comfortable personal space (if available), free WiFi, and staff that will do everything they can to make your stay comfortable. It’s also a great spot to get work done. One drawback for this lounge is that it is located pre-security. I would highly recommend taking a glance at the security lines prior to going to the lounge so you have a better idea on when to depart the lounge and arrive at security.

Although I have not been to the United or American Airlines Admirals lounge at LGA,  I have heard anecdotally from people who have that the Centurion Lounge beats them in food and comfort. Perhaps in the not too distant future, I will have a chance to visit one or both and give a detailed review.  In the next day or two, I’ll post a review of my recent experience at the Centurion Lounge at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

Review: Spirit Airlines

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We have all heard horror stories from friends and family about flying Spirit Airlines. The much maligned “ultra low cost carrier” gets a bad rap for being the pioneer among U.S. carriers for excessive fees. Bringing an overhead carry-on into the cabin? That will set you back $37 if you pay for it during the booking process, $57 if you declare it during  check in at the airport, and a ridiculous $65 if you declare it at the gate. Forgot to print your boarding pass at home? Having them print your boarding pass at the airport will cost you $10 (although Spirit does have kiosks at some airports which allows you to print for free). Thirsty while on the plane? You’re not getting a complimentary beverage. I literally had to get a rundown of all the rules from a friend so they wouldn’t have that “gotcha” moment with me. Love them or hate them, this is Spirit’s business model and Wall Street will tell you it’s been a relatively successful one. In fact it’s been so successful that American, United, and Delta have all dedicated the rear of their cabin to basic economy where customers can purchase a similar no frills ticket at a cost that competes with Spirit and Frontier. When I fly an airline for the first time, I really look forward to the experience if they are known for excellence in customer service. Admittedly, I also look forward to flying an airline for the first time when the customer service is on the opposite end of the spectrum.

Morbid curiosity on whether my experience would affirm the hellish experience of others led me to book a flight on Spirit in January. It also helped that I was looking for a late flight from NYC to Chicago and Spirit offered the last flight to Chicago, a 10 pm departure. The one way fare was $59, or $20 cheaper than what the legacy carriers were charging for the same route. I didn’t check in any bags or have any item that was large enough to be classified as a carry-on. I purchased a rolling bag that was small enough to fit under the seat, but big enough to fit five days worth of clothes. I made sure to print out my boarding pass at home and wasn’t assigned a seat until I got to the airport (Spirit charges $5 if you want to select your seat).  For those of you traveling with children,  Spirit will try their best to seat families together but there is no guarantee without paying for advanced seat assignments. Checking in at LaGuardia was hassle free and off I went to my gate.

 

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One  of the many warnings to pay for your carry-on prior to arriving at the gate.

 

As I was waiting at the gate,  the thought occurred that this might not be terrible after all. I haven’t seen anyone get slugged, they haven’t had their “gotcha” moment with me, and I might get to Chicago in a timely manner. And then 10 minutes after that thought, I hear a Spirit gate agent announce “Good evening ladies and gentleman, Spirit flight 331 that was scheduled to depart for Chicago O’Hare at 10 pm is now scheduled to depart at 10:40 pm.” Okay then. I can live with a 40 minute delay.  This was something I expected prior to booking so I was not all that annoyed or disappointed. You see, Spirit Airlines is routinely ranked dead last among all U.S. carriers in on time performance. While many airlines structure their schedules to comfortably deplane, clean the plane, and board again, Spirit does not.  Their goal is to land and turn the plane around to their next destination as soon as possible. Their entire motto is if the plane is sitting idle, it is isn’t making money so more time in the air is good, more time on the ground is very bad. This works fine throughout the day if weather and maintenance issues don’t creep up. But if something goes wrong earlier in the day, the domino effect is felt all the way until the last flight takes off. And that is precisely what occurred with my flight (as well as the flight scheduled to depart before mine). But again, 40 minutes was not the end of the world. It can be a whole lot worse.

 

Spirit is usually at the bottom for on time performance among U.S. carriers

 

Now it was time to board the flight. The Spirit gate agents eyeballed everyone’s carry-on luggage and checked to see if anything that wasn’t fitting in the personal item bin had been paid for as a carry-on item. This is the step when people who don’t pay attention to the rules or have never flown Spirit end up wasting away the savings they got on their low fare. If your carry-on was not paid for or your personal item is too big for the bin, you’re paying $65 at the gate. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. I looked to see if any unwitting passenger got caught and fortunately no one did. It seemed like everyone on the flight was either a Spirit veteran or a rookie who knew the rules.

 

 

If your personal item does not fit in this bin, I can assure you the rest of your day will not be pleasant.

 

When I boarded the flight I braced myself for the industry low leg room that Spirit offers. Once I was seated, it certainly felt more spacious than that. It’s quite possible that the smaller seat size created an artificial feeling of extra leg room but it felt like any other airline seat in coach. The one catch? Spirit seats do not recline. This is fine for a 90 minute flight. I couldn’t imagine the discomfort on a transcontinental flight.

 

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I had plenty of legroom with space to spare. Your miles might vary depending on your height

 

Once on the flight, Spirit did not offer any complimentary beverages or snacks but they did make them available for purchase  There was no WiFi (free or paid) or seat-back entertainment. They managed to get me home safely and that was all that I expected.

Would I recommend flying Spirit? Yes, but with a few caveats.  Above all, you would have to score a really cheap fare. A lot cheaper than the competition. If you scored a really cheap fare and you are on a leisure trip where you can afford to be late by several hours in case of the inevitable delay, go for it. If you are on a route that isn’t between two airports that suffer from chronic delays, you might also fare better.

When should you avoid Spirit? If you are flying on the day of a wedding, an interview, a meeting, a funeral, or if you are flying in the winter months to or from a cold weather city. If you are planning to use Spirit to connect to a different airline on the same day, think long and hard about it.

Here are a few odd facts about Spirit Airlines: If you go to the airport and book your flight, you will save on the passenger usage fee which is usually around $15-$18.  It seems odd that in 2017, an airline would discourage booking online vs booking in person but that’s what Spirit does.  Spirit also charges MORE for a carry-on than they do for a checked-in bag. So if you have a rolling bag that’s too large to be a personal item and doesn’t contain anything of significant value, you’re better off just checking it in. It costs $32 when you pay for it during booking (this increases to $52 if you pay for it at the airport) and your bag can be as heavy as 40 lbs.

I have heard from friends that if you ask to be seated in an exit row seat at the gate, Spirit agents will put you there at no cost if it’s available. This will give you plenty of leg room if you can score a seat. It doesn’t hurt to ask and the worse thing that can happen is them saying “no.”

Spirit also has a frequent flier program called Free Spirit. Any flight you take with them will earn miles. In addition to that, they have a unique program called the $9 fare club which gives you access to lower fares and cheaper check-in fees for a cost of $59 per year. I suppose if you are really loyal to Spirit and fly them multiple times per year, it’s a program which might benefit you.

 

Airbnb vs Hotels

airBNBEven though Airbnb has been around since 2008, I never used it to book an accommodation until 2015. For those of you who have never used it, it is a website where homeowners rent out their houses, apartments, condos, cabins, even tree houses. There are filters that allow you choose what type of accommodation you’re looking for such as an entire place or a single room. I have used it seven times since and all but one of my stays were excellent. Five of those trips have been in Europe where I strongly believe booking Airbnb was the better option versus booking a hotel. During our trip to Prague, decent hotels were going for $140+ in desirable locations such as Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square. Nonetheless, there were many excellent apartments and condos near these locations that were listed on Airbnb.  These accommodations were just a 5 minute walk away from Old Town Square or Wenceslas Square, which eliminated the need for taxis, Uber, etc. Including taxes and cleaning fees, our total for 3 nights came out to just $67/night. I’ve included pictures of the place we booked below.

 

There are a few things to keep in mind prior to booking an Airbnb:

1) Make sure the place you’re interested in has a minimum of five reviews that are spaced apart (I ignored this step once and ended up booking a place that had no reviews.  This resulted in my one below average experience using an Airbnb.)

2) If the owner has not posted pictures of the interior, that’s a red flag and you should avoid it.

3) Try to book a place that is a short walking distance away from as many tourist attractions as possible. By doing this, you’re saving money avoiding taxis and Uber.

So whether you’re traveling somewhere where hotels might be pricey or if you’re traveling with multiple families and want to rent out an entire house on a beach, Airbnb is a great alternative to hotels. If you use my link here you will also get $40 off your booking of $75 or more.  If you have used it before, feel free to share your experience in the comments section below. As always, thanks for reading.

– Shiraz

 

 

Etihad Business Class Lounge Review

Since I booked an Etihad business class flight from Abu Dhabi to Male, Maldives via American Airlines miles, access to the Etihad business class lounge was part of the package. Usually I won’t make an effort to get to the airport early simply for lounge access. But since my wife and I had access to an exclusive lounge with many rave reviews, I felt like we would have missed out on a great opportunity if we arrived an hour before departure. So we arrived 2.5 hours before departure which gave us plenty of time at the lounge.

Our boarding passes were scanned upon entry and the staff gave us a tour of the lounge. The buffet area, business center, bar, lounge area, and of course the spa.  We purposely skipped the hotel breakfast to have the breakfast here and we were glad we did.There was a great selection of food with breakfast meats, traditional Middle Eastern fare, and a healthy selection that included a variety of fruits and oatmeal.

 

 

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variety of meats

 

The lounge itself was very spacious and there was no shortage of seats.  There was also a dessert table which I really tried hard to avoid but I couldn’t.  It was basically yelling at me to come over and so I did

 

Dessert options at the Etihad business class lounge

 

The lounge area is perfect if you have to get work done and need a semi-quiet area. The six senses spa located in the lounge used to be complimentary for business class passengers but that is no longer the case. You can get a variety of massages starting at $25 for 15 minutes. If you’re traveling from Abu Dhabi via business class, be sure to stop by the business class lounge. You will be glad you did.

 

6 Senses Spa inside the lounge

Etihad Business Class: Airline Review

Before I get to the review, let me explain the ways you can go about redeeming miles. For people that have accumulated airline miles, there are two prevailing thoughts on how to use them.  The first is redeeming for a product that gives you the most value. For example, redeeming 60k miles for a business class ticket that would cost $3,000 if you were to pay with cash. This gives you a value of 5 cents per mile ($3,000/60,000 miles = 0.05 cents/mile).  The second is using the redemption that costs the least number of miles so you can put the savings into another trip for the future. An example of this is using 30k miles to book a ticket in economy class  that would usually cost $600. This gives you a lower value of 2 cents per mile ($600/30,000 miles = 0.02 cents per mile) but now you have miles left over for a future trip.

Up until this particular trip, I have always fell into the latter. I usually preferred sacrificing comfort and indulgence for the opportunity to travel more. When I called American Airlines to redeem their miles on their partner airline Etihad, I did so fully intending to book economy for my wife and I. This would have came at a cost of 15k miles per 1 way ticket from Abu Dhabi to Maldives. When the customer service rep looked into my inquiry, she informed me that only business class redemption’s were available on this flight since economy was fully booked. The redemption was 30k miles per ticket. I thought about the opportunity cost the higher redemption might have for a future flight but  gave her the green light to book business class. And it was probably the best redemption decision I have ever made in terms of value.  Had I booked that same business class ticket using cash, it would have cost 6,345 AED or $1,727.47 per ticket.  Using this redemption, my wife and I got an incredible value. of 5.7 cents per mile.

The cash price of booking a one way business class ticket from Abu Dhabi, UAE to Male, Maldives

 

As for the product itself, you really feel like you’re getting the most for your miles when you book with Etihad.  When your flight originates from Abu Dhabi, you reap the benefits before you even arrive at the airport. Etihad offers a luxury chauffeur service for business class travelers where a Mercedes or BMW will pick up you up from your hotel/home and take you to the airport. This service was offered in various cities worldwide before Etihad pared it down to their hub city. Unfortunately, I had a one-way car rental from Dubai so I was not able to utilize this service. Upon checking in at Abu Dhabi airport, my wife and I had complimentary access to the Etihad Business Class lounge. You can read about that experience here.  After spending over an hour at the lounge, it was time to head over to our gate for our flight to Male. Our plane was parked on the tarmac away from the jet bridge and a shuttle would ferry us there. The first shuttle was only for first class and business class passengers. It was 75% empty and they could have easily fit an additional 30-35 passengers. At that point it became clear that Etihad really goes the extra mile in adding to the exclusiveness for their first and business class customers. Once seated on the plane we were immediately offered beverages and given a menu. The choices are seen below.

Business class breakfast

 

Scrambled eggs, chicken sausage, and a hashbrown

vanilla pancakes, fruits, croissant, and orange juice

I went with the scrambled egg option while the wife opted for the vanilla pancakes.  I’ve never had chicken sausage before and while I would have preferred beef, it still tasted pretty good. I took a bite from the wife’s pancakes and kind of wished I ordered that instead.  Both were delicious but the pancakes were a tad bit better.  The flight was about 4 hours long and the flight attendants came by routinely to ask if we wanted any beverages. The cappuccino was good but not much different than any other cup of cappuccino I’ve had.  And they gave a pouch with eye covers and socks.

Since we were flying in the Airbus A320, our seats were not the fully lay-flat seats seen in the Boeing 777 or Airbus A380.  They still reclined a great deal and were plenty comfortable. Just prior to landing, we were given an expedited customs card which allowed us to go to the front of the line for immigration/customs. Looking back on it, the value we received for the extra 15k miles per person was tremendous. Had I booked economy (if it were available), the 15k miles per person saved might have been enough for two one-way saver award tickets or one round trip ticket anywhere in the continental U.S. on American. Perhaps the total maximum value would be $450 on the 30k miles saved. By booking business class, the extra 15k miles spent per person netted us a benefit of $900-$1000 per ticket. That is called getting value for your miles. It may also have me rethink my strategy when booking future award flights.