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: 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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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: 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.

 

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.