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.
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.
Upon entering, the receptionist scanned our boarding pass and welcomed us into the lounge.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The bar area of the lounge had plenty of seats available. It may not be the case during peak hours.
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.
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.
Maui was the first of two islands my wife and I visited during this particular trip to Hawaii. The second island we visited was Kauai and you can read about that here. Our last trip to Hawaii (Feb 2019) covered The Big Island and if you are interested in reading about our time there, you can do so here. Maui, also known as the Valley Isle, is the second largest island in Hawaii and with endless beauty. Our three days didn’t cover everything, but it covered most of the main attractions. We had a total of 7 days in Hawaii (the first day was more like a half day), three which we spent in Maui and four in Kauai. The question a lot of people ask is if 3 days is enough to see most of the main sights in Maui. It was enough for us for two reasons: First of all, we woke up at the crack of dawn and got an early start to our day. This is absolutely crucial. If you’re not in your car by 8 am every day, it’ll be very difficult. The second thing which was totally out of our control but worked in our favor was the weather. We had sunshine all 3 days and that’s just us gambling on great weather for 3 days and getting lucky. Ideally, you want to have one or two extra days as a buffer for rain.
How We Got There
You’ll probably notice a trend with just about every itinerary I post. We rarely use cash to get to our destination and this trip was no different. Now keep in mind, my wife and I have schedules that for the most part, allow us to take these trips during peak travel season. This trip to Hawaii happened to be during the last 9 days of December which is high season in Hawaii. Likewise, the number of miles that airlines require to get to Hawaii is also doubled from most cities. United usually charges 22.5k miles a person one-way to get to Maui. That redemption rate from Chicago, Newark, and D.C were 45k miles per person one-way. Fortunately for us, Denver still had the saver award redemption at 22.5k miles so we decided to spend two days there (both of us had never visited Denver), and depart to Maui from Denver International Airport.
Even though this was technically our first day, we arrived too late to do anything significant. Our flight to Maui arrived at 4:35pm and by the time we deplaned, got our bags, and picked up our rental car, it was close to 5:45pm. At this point, we only had about 15 minutes of daylight left. We checked into our hotel, the Napili Shores by Outrigger, ate an early dinner and decided to go sleep at 8pm. The next day was going to be very long.
Day 1: Haleakala National Park & Papawai Scenic Lookout
Haleakala National Park
If you’re visiting Maui, you simply can’t leave without witnessing the sunrise at Haleakala National Park. It’s something that can’t be replicated elsewhere and it’s magical. The ideal day is when there is a layer of clouds below you that allows the sun to rise above that layer. Sometimes it can get cloudy enough where there is little to no visibility and that’s the type of day you want to avoid. Your best bet is keeping an eye on the weather. You do have to pay $25 per car at the entrance and you have to make a reservation for $1.50 if you’re going there at sunrise. The ticket for the sunrise is good for 3 days and it can be purchased up to 60 days in advance. My wife and I got there 2 hours before sunrise to assure ourselves a good parking spot. You should aim to get there no later than an hour before sunrise or the desirable parking spots and viewing areas will fill up quickly. It’s a relatively slow 45-minute that has steep curves and hairpin turns after hairpin turns. It does require your full attention and if you’re the type that gets distracted with a cell phone easily while driving, turn it off until you’re at the top. If you run into fog, it can get a little challenging but fortunately for us, it was clear all the way through during our drive to the top.
A few important things to keep in mind. When you’re at the viewpoint, you are at an elevation of about 10,000 feet. Not only is it cold, it is very windy! You will need a warm jacket and ear covers or I promise you it won’t be pleasant. The air is obviously much thinner so If you’re sensitive to elevation or have had trouble breathing in elevation before, please reconsider. Once you’re done with the sunrise, you can stop at other viewpoints on the way down. There are fantastic picture opportunities of the surrounding craters and landscape
Papawai Scenic Lookout
On our way back to Lahaina, we decided to stop at the Papawai Scenic Lookout. Locals recommended this spot as a great place to whale watch from land. During the winter months, mother humpback whales will birth their calves and teach them important behaviors in the waters right off of Maui. It took a little bit of patience but it paid off and we got a show of a lifetime. About 15 minutes after we got there, we noticed a mist of water that was sprayed about a quarter mile offshore. And there it was, a baby humpback whale under the watchful eye of its mother practicing breaching behaviors. At first, the calf looked like it needed a bit of support just to breach halfway.
After about 8 attempts of getting halfway up, it completely breached the water. I kept my camera in rapid-fire mode and I was fortunate enough to capture a memorable moment.
Even if you don’t manage to see whales, the lookout provides excellent photo opportunities.
At night we walked around Lahaina Town and stumbled upon one of the best Ice Shave’s you will ever have. It’s called Ululani’s Hawaiian Ice Shave and they have over 50 flavors. I had the ‘Haleakala’, a mix of coconut, leche, and condensed milk. I really wish I took a picture to post here but I guarantee you’ll find whatever you’re looking for.
Day 2: Road to Hana
Along with Haleakala National Park, the Road to Hana is another excursion you simply cannot leave Maui without experiencing. It has black sand beaches, waterfalls, bamboo forests, flower gardens, breathtaking ocean views, and it was one of the highlights during our stay in Hawaii. The Road to Hana from start to finish is about 52 miles it is a journey which will take the majority of the day if you factor in the time you will stop at various stopping points. There is over 600 hairpin turns, 54 bridges (46 which are one lane), and you will have to concentrate while driving as the roads can get very narrow at certain points. My wife and I had a rental car so if there were certain stop points we liked better, we were able to spend more time. You can opt to take a tour bus but then you’re on their time. If you are driving there, fill up your tank before you start. The last town prior to starting this journey is Paia and the gas prices over there are expensive. You’re better off filling up in Kahului. There no gas stations between Paia and Hana. If you are driving yourself, I highly recommend downloading Gypsy Guide – Road to Hana on your iPhone or Android.
It cost me $5 and it was the best $5 I spent on the island. The app will recommend which points of interests are worth stopping for, which ones don’t require a lot of time, and which should be skipped altogether. It honestly felt like we had an actual person with us and the app even told us of approaching food shacks and cafes. The great thing about this app is that it worked even when we lost data connectivity. On the way back, the app tells you more of the cultural significance of different points in Maui. These are the places we stopped in chronological order:
1. Garden of Eden Arboretum
This is one of the only points of interests on the Road to Hana where you have to pay to get in since it is privately owned. The cost is $15 for adults, $5 for children, and infants are free. They do offer student and AAA discounts. My wife and I found it to be worth it and you can budget about 30 minutes here. They have numerous native and indigenous plants, many you might have never seen before and it also offers some great photo opportunities. The garden also has a smaller waterfall and you’ll see peacocks on the premises as well.
2. Waikamoi Ridge Trail
This was a hike which really stimulated your senses. The best thing about this trail? There are mango trees all around and it smells like heaven. They also have one my favorite trees, the rainbow eucalyptus tree which looks like the bark has been colored by a pastel. The trail can get extremely muddy so if you’re wearing flip-flops or don’t want to get your shoes destroyed, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to skip this and spend more time at Twin Falls (which we skipped).
3. Halfway to Hana Stand
They’re known for their banana nut bread and it’s delicious. If it wasn’t worth the hype I wouldn’t tell you to stop here. It won’t take long and you can park on the side of the road.
4. Upper Waikani Falls
There is only room for a couple of cars on the side of the road to see this trio of waterfalls but it certainly is beautiful and worth stopping if parking allows.
4. Nahiku Market Place
Two words: fish tacos. Perfect place to have lunch. The fish tacos were super fresh and delicious. I wish I had a picture but I inhaled them before I realized I’d had forgotten.
5. Wai’anapanapa State Park
This is one of the places where you absolutely have to stop. A beautiful black sand beach which also has an abundance of volcanic rock, a cave that takes you to the waters, and you can also go for a swim. The waves are very strong so something to keep in mind. We spent a solid hour here and honestly we wished we could have spent more.
6. Wailua Falls
Another point of interest that you should definitely stop by. You can park on the side of the road and walk down to the base of the falls. I even saw a few people swimming near the base and they seemed quite comfortable doing so. I have no idea how deep it is so please be cautious if you decide to go in the water. It’s a beautiful waterfall and probably the largest one you’ll see on The Road to Hana.
7. Oheo Gulch (7 Sacred Pools)
This was our last stop on The Road to Hana. Unfortunately, due to mudslides, access to these pools was closed during our visit to Maui. We were able to see some of the falls from the trail but no one was allowed to swim at the base. Oheo Gulch is located 15 minutes past the town of Hana. Here is a very important detail to keep in mind. If you go beyond this point in your rental car and if something bad were to occur, your insurance becomes void! Even your credit card coverage would be voided. The road beyond this point is mostly gravel and dirt and the major rental companies have this written out explicitly in the contract agreement. Many tourists will risk it because there are some beautiful sites to see even beyond Oheo Gulch. But even something as minuscule as a flight tire means you’re on your own.
Day 3: Napili Bay
Maui has plenty of amazing beaches that you can choose to spend your day. Or you can even go beach hopping and get a taste for almost all of them. Since our hotel was situated at Napili Bay, we decided to spend the day on the beach over here. If you’re into snorkeling and seeing marine wildlife, this was an awesome spot for that. I saw plenty of colorful fish and was lucky enough to see a few sea turtles, one which was managing to get by with a flipper missing. You can see the video below.
If you happen to be in the Lahaina area, I strongly recommend stopping by Gazebo Restaurant for breakfast. Their white chocolate macadamia nut pancakes with homemade whipped cream were amazing. They are also very generous with their portions.
So this was Maui for us in a nutshell. We wish we could have stayed a day longer but that meant subtracting a day from Kauai. We felt pretty satisfied with our 3 days here (excluding travel) and felt like we accomplished just about everything we wanted to accomplish. If you want to continue reading about Kauai or the Big Island, scroll to the top of this page and you will find the links. Thank you for reading.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.