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.

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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.

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Salsa and tortilla chips for breakfast? Why not?

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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.

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

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Bar area

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Conference table

Business

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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

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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.

Travel Itinerary: 5 Days in Big Island Hawaii

Big Island was the fourth Hawaiian Island my wife and I visited. This trip was also our first long distance trip with our 5-month-old son so there was a bit of uncertainty on how he would handle being in a plane for 8+ hours. Fortunately, he was very well behaved and this gave us a ton of confidence in doing future trips with him. During this trip to Hawaii, we did encounter a day of heavy rain and another day where the eastern half of the island had rain so we could not see certain points of interest. This forced us to cancel a couple of sights we had planned to see. However, there was a positive trade-off of being “stuck” on the resort and you will see why as you keep reading.

Day 1: Arrival

We arrived at Kona International Airport on the Big Island at around 3pm. Since we rented a car from Turo (you can read my review on Turo and our experience here), it was a matter of collecting our luggage and walking to the airport parking lot where our car was already waiting for us with the keys inside. The distance to Hilton Waikoloa Village from the airport was about 20 miles and a 30-minute drive. On the way to the resort, we stopped at a lookout point to take in the scenery. If you see a lookout point anywhere, just stop your car and enjoy the views.

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Vegetation growth on volcanic rock at a lookout point.  The Big Island is home to multiple volcanoes, some which are still very active.

Since sunset was around 6:15 pm and by the time we got situated it was already close to 5 pm, we spent the rest of the time on the resort to enjoy the sunset views.

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I’ll have a separate review on the Hilton Waikoloa Village but this was a wonderful property that was very kid-friendly.

 Day 2: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and Stops Along the Way

On the second day, I drove from Waikoloa to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park while making a few stops in between. I downloaded the Gypsy App specific for Big Island and it guided me on where to make stops in between Waikoloa and Volcanoes National Park. It costs $9.99 and you do not need to have data for it to work. The most appealing aspect of this app is that the narrator gives you historical context with regards to culture and geology at various stopping points and why it might be worth stopping or skipping. The app serves as a very knowledgeable tour guide and I highly recommend using it for Big Island.

 

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The Gypsy App is available for each Hawaiian Island. I highly recommend it.

Places of Interest En Route To Volcanoes National Park

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A lava field lookout point on the way to Volcanoes National Park.

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This viewpoint is right off the side of the road.

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This is one of the places you should definitely stop by on the way to Volcanoes National Park.

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Punalu’u Black Sand Beach

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Sea turtles basking in the sun at Punalu’u Black Sand Beach.

Punalu’u Black Sand Beach Park was the last place I stopped prior to entering Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. There are a few other points of interest after this one such as South Point (southernmost point out of all the 50 states) and Papakolea Beach which is a green sand beach. Getting to the beach does require over 2 hours of hiking and I did not want to run out of daylight where I’d be hurrying at Volcanoes National Park. I skipped these two but if you find yourself leaving prior to sunrise from Kona or if you’re staying in Hilo, you’d have plenty of time to see both of these places.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

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VNPSign I’ve been asked if I bought my 5-month-old to this park and the answer is no. Since the steam vents emit sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide gas, I did not want to expose my son to potential lung irritants. If you’re pregnant, have heart problems, asthma, or COPD, it’s probably best to avoid the steam vents at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

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One of the many steam vents that are found in the park.

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The Kilauea Caldera. You can either park at the visitors center and take a half mile hike to get here or you can just park on the road and walk a few hundred feet. I chose to do the hike so I would get to see most of the steam vents along the path.

There were some parts of the park that were still closed due to the eruptions from 2018. The lava tubes were also not accessible during this time. As you continue your drive through the park, I highly recommend taking Chain of Craters Road all the way down to to the coast. It’s about 20 miles from the caldera and drive is one of the best you will find in any of the 50 states. Pictures really don’t do it justice so I took a short video so you get a better idea.

You will also find plenty of amazing photo opportunities and other points of interest.

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One of the scenic viewpoints on Chain of Craters Road.

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Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs Field

Closer to the shore, you will find a sign for the Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs Field.  This area is considered sacred to the people of Hawaii and you will find many symbols and images that were carved into the hardened lava. It’s 1.4-mile round-trip hike and I highly recommend it. Further down the road, you will see cliffs that are made from lava. This is the newest land on the Big Island and it’s made when lava hits the water and solidifies into rock.

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Chain of Craters Road on the way back also has stunning views.

Day 3: Pololu Valley and Stops Along the Way

On this day, there was rain in the forecast after 2 pm so I made it a point to get this hike done as early as possible. The mornings also have cooler temperatures so it makes for a much more comfortable hike as it is. Pololu Valley is about a 45-minute drive from Waikoloa and about 1 hour and 15 minutes from Kona. You can just park your car on the road and enjoy the views from the look-out but if you really want to get the splendid views of the valley, you should do the hike. The hike down isn’t difficult but it can be slippery at times due to the frequent rainfall in the area. The hike going back up is moderately challenging and you will certainly need plenty of water and some granola bars.

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Pololu Lookout. If you decide not to do the hike, you still can’t go wrong with these views.

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Pololu Valley from the parking area

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The Black Sand Beach once you hike your way to the bottom.

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This is the view you hike down for.

 

Waimea Valley is nearby and also offers spectacular views. However, hiking there does require that you go on private property and that would be considered trespassing. You can also drive down there but you would definitely need an AWD or 4WD vehicle with some clearance.

Day 4: Whale Watching From Hilton Waikoloa Village (due to rain)

On this day, the plan was to go to Akaka Falls. If you are in Big Island, please make an attempt to visit Akaka Falls because it is beautiful from the many pictures and videos I have seen. Unfortunately, a lot of rain moved in and it basically spanned the entire island. But there was a silver lining.  As I’ve mentioned before, winter is humpback whale season in Hawaii. Mothers and calves are near the coasts of every Hawaiian island and this is the time when mothers teach their young on how to be whales. Since our resort was right on the shore, I took my camera and started filming the minute someone pointed out the whales in the distance. Then they started coming closer and closer.

Out of nowhere, the mother whale breached the water and I was lucky enough to have my camera recording. I do want to apologize for the grainy quality.

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Two humpback whales right off the shore of Hilton Waikoloa Village

Whales were seen 4 out of the 5 days we stayed at Hilton Waikoloa Village and it really made it fun and exciting for the kids who were also whale watching.

Day 5: Snorkeling in the Hilton Waikoloa Village Lagoon and visit to Kona

Day 5 was supposed to be a visit to either Akaka Falls or the green sand beach for the second day during our trip both those of places had rain in the forecast while our side of the island was bright and sunny. I used this time to go snorkeling.

 

 

This property does not have an ocean front beach due to the powerful waves and riptide currents that are common along the Big Island. It does have a lagoon with sand that functions as a beach and the lagoon is excellent for swimming and snorkeling. I saw plenty of colorful fish and several sea turtles, one which I was able to follow for almost two minutes.

Kona

For dinner, we were recommended Umekes Fishmarket Bar and Grill in Kona by the owner of the vehicle we rented from Turo. We ordered the Tempura Battered Fish & Chips and Cajun Style Ahi Fish Tacos. Both of the items we ordered were perfect.

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This concluded our trip to the Big Island in Hawaii. A popular question I get asked is among the four islands I have visited, which one is my favorite? I really can’t say I have one. Each island has its own unique charm and offers something different for everyone. The Big Island has a volcanic landscape that’s so vast, it can’t be seen anywhere else in Hawaii. It also has stunning valleys, excellent beaches, and a green sand beach that can’t be found on any other Hawaiian island. Since it is not as heavily trafficked by tourists, you get a better flavor of Hawaiian culture throughout the island. Big Island is also known for its coffee and macadamia nuts. If you have the time, you should visit a coffee or a macadamia nut farm.  But just like the other Hawaiian islands my wife and I have been fortunate to visit, the locals are wonderful. They are some of the nicest and friendliest people in the world. The physical beauty of the islands is certainly attractive and makes for great pictures but it’s the Hawaiian people and their hospitality that keeps us coming back. We look forward to coming back sometime in the near future. As always, thanks for reading.

iPhone and Android Apps for 2019 to Help With Your Travel Goals

Happy New Year Everyone! I hope 2019 allows more of you to travel and experience various places throughout the world. I’m going to share a few apps which I feel almost everyone would benefit from because of their ability to passively earn points/cashback. You don’t have to use the points for anything related to travel but since this is a travel-oriented blog, I’ll show you how you can if that’s what you would prefer.

1. Drop

Drop

As of right now, this is my favorite app to earn points which can be redeemed for gift cards. When you first sign up, you pick 5 retailers from their list for which you would earn points. Pick the 5 you would use the most since you can’t change it once you have made your choices.  Based on my shopping habits, I picked Target, Walgreens, Whole Foods, Starbucks, and Uber. Starbucks earns 12 points per dollar while the others earn 8 points per dollar. They also have a multitude of online retailers if you decide to click through via Drop and earn additional points.

DropPoints

That process is also very simple and straightforward. You log into your bank account or credit card account and it will automatically link every credit card with that particular bank. Once the credit cards are linked, there is nothing else you need to do any further. The points will show up 2-3 days after you make your purchase.

 

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Every 1,000 points is equal to $1. Once you get to 5,000 points, you can start redeeming for gift cards.

 

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For travel-related purposes, I prefer to redeem for Amazon gift cards. You can use Amazon gift cards to purchase Southwest Airlines gift cards, Airbnb, and Hotels.com gift cards on Amazon.com. This is a really easy way to lessen the cost of travel in a completely passive manner. If you use my referral code (yc826) and link your first credit card, you’ll get 5k points to start out.

2. Dosh

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Dosh is another app that allows you to earn cashback passively. It doesn’t have an extensive list of retailers compared to Drop, but it does offer a lengthy list of restaurants which offer 5% cashback.

Dosh

Among the retailers listed,  Sephora, Sam’s Club, and Forever21 are the standouts.  Occasionally they will also have Exxon-Mobil at 3% cashback. If you want to see the restaurants which offer cashback on Dosh, be sure to have your location access enabled.

DoshBankUnlike Drop, you do have to enter each credit card manually so I would just enter the credit cards that I use most often. Once you reach $20 in cashback, you’re eligible to redeem. I like to redeem at the end of the year and use the cashback on travel related expenses. You can withdraw the cash either into your PayPal account or straight into your bank account. If you use my referral code (SHIRAZU1), you’ll get $5 when you link your first credit card.

3. SPENT Money

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SPENT is another app that many people will find some value in. They only offer a 1% cashback payout but their categories are the type which many people will use extensively. SpentMoney2.jpg

They have multiple gas stations (Shell, Mobil, and Chevron), Netflix, Starbucks, Whole Foods, Uber, etc. There’s also a nice little overlap with Drop since they both offer Uber, Whole Foods, and Starbucks. When you add in the fact that Chase Freedom is offering 5x points this quarter on gasoline purchases, having the Chase Freedom linked to SPENT Money essentially gives you 6x cashback if you happen to fill up at any of the listed gas stations. SpentMoneyBanks

To add your credit cards, simply log into your account and it will automatically add every card associated with that bank.  These apps won’t pay for a vacation by themselves but even they can shave the cost of 2-3 nights off a hotel or Airbnb stay, the few minutes you spent downloading the apps and linking your credit cards would have made them well worth it.

Chase Adds JetBlue as a Transfer Partner, Loses Korean Airlines

Chase added JetBlue as an Ultimate Rewards transfer partner today, a few days after losing Korean Airlines. JetBlue is one of my favorite U.S. airlines and one of the few that isn’t packing their planes with seats at the expense of leg-room. They provide free in-flight Wi-Fi, free cable TV, and serve gourmet snacks on the flight. I have not flown on their transcontinental premium cabin called Mint just yet.  It is a product which many travel enthusiasts have rated as the best business class service for domestic flights in the U.S. JetBlue routinely has flash sales and when the cash price of a ticket is cheap, so is the redemption using their frequent flier miles for that particular flight. If you’re based in the Boston, NYC, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, and Los Angeles areas where JetBlue has a vast network, you will benefit from this partnership the most. You can transfer UR points into JetBlue if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve or the Chase Sapphire Preferred. If you have the AMEX Platinum or Gold, you can also transfer AMEX Membership points. Most of the time, the transfer rate is 1000 AMEX points for 800 JetBlue TrueBlue miles (right now its 1:1 as a promotion) so I would advise against using the AMEX option at the non-promotional rate. Chase has it as 1:1 but also remember to use the Chase Portal and see if you can get a better redemption if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve. You get 1.5 points per mile by booking through their portal and it’s certainly possible that the UR travel portal may be the better redemption option versus transferring to JetBlue.

TrueBlueChaseUR

Unfortunately, this comes a few days after the news that Chase has dropped Korean Airlines as one of their transfer partners. For international and long-haul travel, this was a very valuable SkyTeam transfer partner as you were able to get great travel redemption’s on SkyTeam alliance partners such as Delta, KLM, Air France, Alitalia, Aerolineas Argentinas, and non-alliance partners such as Emirates. From the continental U.S., it was possible to fly from the East Coast to Hawaii for 25k miles round-trip, a bargain when you consider the cash price frequently tops $1k. Here is to hoping that Chase adds another transfer partner that has a vast international network such as Korean Airlines.

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

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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.

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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

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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.

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Seating area near the bar

DiningArea

Open seating area in the middle of the lounge

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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.

How to Passively Earn United Miles Using Your Normal Shopping Habits

The last time I wrote one of these shopping related posts, it was for JetBlue and their relationship with Amazon. About six months ago, both companies mutually terminated their relationship (unless you purchase on Amazon while flying on JetBlue plane) and everyone who shopped at Amazon frequently lost a pretty easy way to rack up TrueBlue miles. This wasn’t entirely a passive way to earn points since you still had to log-in to your JetBlue account and click on your personal Amazon link to get you to Amazon.com. However, United now offers a couple of truly passive ways to earn miles if you just link your credit card to the United Shopping Portal. One of them requires you to link your credit card with BP and fill up your gas there as you normally would. I made a post about this earlier and you can read about that here. The second is to link your credit card(s) with the United MileagePlus shopping portal. Remember, it costs nothing to have a United MileagePlus account so be sure to sign up if you haven’t already. I took screenshots on how add your credit card(s) to your United account and how to link your credit card to United’s shopping portal so just follow along.

How to Add Your Credit Card(s) to your United MileagePlus Account

Step 1

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Step 2

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Step 3

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Scroll down and click on “Manage Profile”

Step 4

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Scroll down and click on “View All Saved Forms of Payments”.  You can then add the credit cards you use most often

Linking Your Account with Participating Retailers on MileagePlus Shopping

Step 1

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Step 2

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Step 3

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Step 4

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Step 5

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These are just a few of the retailers that you can purchase from in-store and receive United miles. 

You will get a text message from United as soon as you make a purchase with any of your chosen retailers notifying you that the points will be added to your account in 3-5 days. Shopping alone likely won’t get you enough miles to land a business-class ticket (unless you’re a prodigious shopaholic) but it’s a nice way to bump up the United frequent flier miles balance and perhaps get you closer to an award ticket in economy.

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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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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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.

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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

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

Breakfast

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

CheeseMeats

Croissants&RollsBreads&Muffins

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

Lunch

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

Pasta

Pasta with tomato cream sauce

AgedCheeseSandwich

Aged cheese sandwiches 

Salad&Hummus

Veggies with feta and hummus

Coleslaw&Potatoes

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

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

SelfServeDrinks

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

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

Miscellaneous

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

KLMHelpDesk

KLM help desk

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

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

 

Review: Lufthansa Business Class Lounge Frankfurt International Airport

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

Entrance2

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

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

BarArea

Seating area right in front of the bar

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

ComputerRoom

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

ComputerArea

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

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

BedArea

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

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Bread basket

The bread was bread. Not terrible but not great.

carrotsalad

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

Salad

Salad

CheeseNoodles

Noodles with cheese

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

CaramelPudding

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

GingerAle

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

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Mens Room

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

LotionLBC

SoapDispenser

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

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

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

 

Capture

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

Check-in

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

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

Boarding and Seating

LufthansaBoeing747

The airplane we flew on for this flight

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

LufthansaSeatingNormal

Business class seats in their upright position

Seating

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

BoseHeadphones2

LufthansaAmenityKit

Business Class Amenity Kit

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

After Takeoff

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

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

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

LufthansaDinner

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

LufthansaDessert

Post-Dinner

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

ShirazSleeping

Photo credit: Ayesha 

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

LieFlat

LufthansaLieFlatSeat

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

Breakfast

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

LufthansaBreakfast

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