Review: Delta Sky Club O’Hare International Airport Terminal 2

Review: Delta Sky Club O’Hare International Airport Terminal 2

On a recent flight to the East Coast, I used my AMEX Platinum credit card as a way to get complimentary access to the Delta Sky Club at ORD. Access can be gained either through status (Diamond Medallion) or a combination of status (Gold and Platinum) and an international ticket, regardless of where you’re sitting in the cabin. If you are using an AMEX Platinum credit card, you must be ticketed on a Delta flight to gain entry. You can also gain access by purchasing a Delta Sky Club membership for $545 annually. Another way to gain access is by purchasing a day pass for $50 but I’d highly recommend not doing that.

DeltaLoungeEntrance

 Seating Area

The Delta Sky Club at O’Hare is located in Terminal 2, Concourse E, right across from gate E6. During my visit here on a weekday morning, I was expecting it to be packed since it’s the only Delta Sky Club at ORD. Fortunately for me, it wasn’t even half full and there was plenty of seating available.  Just about every seat was situated by an outlet and the layout and ambiance were very appealing. There are two larger seating areas which are separated by a wall.  It’s not a huge lounge relative to other Delta Sky Clubs but since Delta doesn’t have a hub in Chicago, I suppose they can mostly get away with it for the time being.

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DeltaLoungeSeatingArea

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Food Selection

Delta has really enhanced its breakfast offering over the past couple of years. Unlike their competitors (I’m looking at you United), they actually offer a hot breakfast. I had the omelet with salsa and since it was bought out just a few minutes before I got there, it was fresh and flavorful. There were also multiple flavors of yogurt, cereal, a variety of bagels and bread, donuts, and pancakes. Their espresso machine offered a variety of beverages and I chose the cappuccino.  Compared to other legacy airlines, Delta has done a great job with their food offerings and improving their on-the-ground experience.

Teacups

DeltaLoungeToast

DeltaLoungeOmelet

DeltaLoungeBreakfast

DeltaLoungeBeverages

Miscellaneous

The Delta Sky Club does have a business center with a computer and access to printers. It also has clean restrooms (based on my experience) without showers. It’s a nice place to get work done or grab a bite before takeoff. Having warm offerings for breakfast and not being crowded certainly adds to the appeal. With Terminal 2 at ORD set to be replaced by a Global Terminal in the upcoming years, there is a great chance a newer Delta Lounge will have a much larger footprint at ORD. Until then, this lounge is perfectly capable of getting the job done for most business and leisure travelers.

DeltaLoungeTarmacView

DeltaTarmac2

 

 

Review: United Club Chicago O’Hare International Airport B5

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

MainSeatingArea2

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

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

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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.

Review: United Club Chicago O’Hare International Airport- Terminal 1 Gate B18

Review: United Club Chicago O’Hare International Airport- Terminal 1 Gate B18

On a recent trip from Chicago, my wife and I decided to visit the United Club after the Polaris Lounge shut its doors at 9pm. Our flight was scheduled to depart at 10:45pm so we still had well over an hour to spare. Fortunately, the United Club at Terminal 1 near gate B18 was open until 10pm. United has four United Club lounges at O’Hare, in addition to the Polaris Lounge. I had visited the United Club Lounge in Terminal 2 several months ago and you can read about that here. Just keep in mind that this lounge, just like every other United Club Lounge, is not a Priority Pass lounge.

Entrance

If you have an international premium cabin ticket on United or its Star Alliance partners or transcontinental premium cabin ticket, you will have access to the lounge. If you have a day-pass that is offered with the Chase United MileagePlus Explorer card, you will also be able to enter the lounge. Each person must have their own pass. You can also purchase a day-pass for $59 but I would strongly recommend not doing that.  At peak times, United does reserve the right to turn away day-pass users. Since United does have four of these lounges, you wouldn’t expect crowding to be an issue at O’Hare. Given how crowded the main seating area was at 9pm, it’s entirely possible that capacity issues may arise during peak hours. Just keep in mind, this lounge just like every other United Club Lounge is not a Priority Pass lounge.

UClubEntrance
Located near Gate B18 in Terminal 1

Upon entering, the receptionist scanned our boarding pass and welcomed us into the lounge.

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We were not in any mood to eat since we both had the full dining experience at the Polaris Lounge. Nonetheless, I checked out the offerings for the sake of the review.

Food

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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.

UClubBuffetSalad

The options available were more like snacking options rather than a buffet. The salad did not look appetizing and I probably would not have eaten it even if I was hungry.

UClubBuffet
The cheese looked a bit more appetizing but again, I was full from having dinner just an hour earlier so I didn’t bother helping myself. 
UClubBrownies
The brownie might have been the most appetizing snack that was offered at the lounge
UClubEspressoMachine
The espresso machine offered all types of drinks including lattes, mochas, and cappuccinos. 

I did have the latte from the espresso machine and that was surprisingly good. I do confess that my main purpose in caffeinating myself was to induce hunger for the business class dinner on the Lufthansa flight. The fact that the latte tasted good just happened to be a bonus.

Seating

UClubBarArea

The bar area of the lounge had plenty of seats available. It may not be the case during peak hours. UClubLounge

UClubSeatingArea

The lounge has an “L” shape and the main seating area was quite crowded for 9pm. The seats were very comfortable and plug outlets were available on the side of the center table. I can only imagine how crowded this lounge would get during peak hours.

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

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

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.

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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.

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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.

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.

Review: Polaris Lounge Chicago O’Hare International Airport

Review: Polaris Lounge Chicago O’Hare International Airport

As a traveler who doesn’t frequently travel business class or first class, I usually visit Priority Pass or Centurion Lounges by AMEX if I have the opportunity since neither require a premium cabin ticket. Don’t get me wrong, AMEX has some fantastic Centurion Lounges within their network, particularly from what I experienced in Dallas and Miami. Priority Pass also has excellent lounges within its network but most of the higher rated lounges are situated in Europe and Asia. Up until the opening of the Polaris Lounge in Chicago, the U.S. simply did not have a product that could compete with the business class lounges of Qatar Airlines, Etihad, Emirates, Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines, etc. United has expanded this product to San Francisco, Newark, and Houston. Polaris Lounges are considered the best airport lounges in the U.S. by many travel experts and bloggers. To get into the lounge, you need to have a business class or first class ticket on United Airlines or any of its Star Alliance partners (Turkish, ANA, Lufthansa, Singapore, etc.) In addition, you must be on an international long-haul flight that departs from Chicago O’Hare (or SFO, EWR, and HOU to access Polaris Lounge in those cities). This means a premium cabin flight to Canada, Mexico, Caribbean, or Central America will not get you into the lounge. If you have a first class or business class ticket to London and you are connecting in Newark, you won’t have access in Chicago but you would in Newark.  Chicago would need to be your point of international departure to have access to the Polaris lounge at O’Hare. I booked a business class ticket on Lufthansa to Lisbon, Portugal using United miles and thus had access to Polaris Lounge along with my wife. It’s not often that a place that’s been hyped up so much manages to live up to the lofty expectations. In this case, it not only lived up to it but exceeded it. My wife and I arrived at the lounge 5 hours prior to departure so we could experience just about every facet of what it had to offer.

     Location and Entrance

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

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The Polaris themed light fixture in the lobby was a great touch
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View of the front disk from the corridor

                        Polaris Lounge – Seating

One of the best attributes is the amount of seating this lounge offers. Since United only grants access to international travelers flying on a long-haul flight, this lounge will never have to worry about crowding issues. When my wife and I were there, I’d say the lounge was only about 1/3 full and never got any higher than that.

Polaris General Seating Area
Not a single person in this area of the lounge.

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As you can see in the pictures, absolutely no shortage of seats. United did a nice job with the variety of seats and lighting that is offered. If you prefer a darker environment, they have that. And if you want a lot of natural light or like to watch planes take-off and land, they have optimal seating for that as well

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This was my favorite seat.  Near the window and watching various jets take off and land.
PolarisSingleBooth
I was a big fan of these personal work areas that provided privacy but didn’t make you feel confined to a closed space. Excellent touch, United.

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                          Polaris Lounge- Buffet

This was one of my favorite aspects of visiting the lounge. If you’re going to visit any Polaris Lounge, please come hungry.  And pace yourselves. Their selection was the best I had ever seen at a U.S. lounge. And this was only the self-serve buffet!

PolarisMedSalad

PolarisMozarella
Stacked caprese salad with fresh mozzarella. This was delicious

PolarisPotPiePolarisSalmonTart

PolarisSalmonTeriyaki
The salmon teriyaki was excellent. Never had it before.
PolarisShrimpPasta
The shrimp baked pasta was also delicious. At this point, I had to keep it to a few bites if I wanted to experience the sit-down dining

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PolarisPastries
Eating any of the desserts meant there would be no hope for further food consumption. It was a tough mental battle but I willed myself into avoiding any of the pastries and desserts.
PolarisMiniBar
The minibar was stocked and had just about anything you’d want.
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Fruit infused water

                    Polaris Lounge – Full-Service Dining

This is another aspect of the lounge that differentiates it from other lounges. It has a full-service dining option that allows you to pick from a menu and have your meal made to order. PolarisMenuPolarisMenu2

Since my wife and I were there during the dinner hours, we chose to share a cheese tortellini and have our own ice cream. PolarisDiningPastaPolarisicecreamThe tortellini was amazing and the ice cream was great as well. I really wish I didn’t sample as much from the buffet prior to dining but lesson learned for next time. Please don’t make this same mistake. Just a reminder that even though the dining is complimentary, remember to tip the waitress/waiter. They really go above and beyond at Polaris Lounge and help make the experience what it is.

        Polaris Lounge – Bedroom and Shower

This lounge has 4 dedicated bedrooms if you want to catch a snooze prior to your flight. Linen from Saks 5th Avenue is provided for your comfort. None of the rooms were occupied during my time at the lounge and the rooms have a 3-hour limit if there is a queue.

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PolarisStarCorridor
The corridor that leads to the bathrooms. This is separate from the shower rooms which are found behind the buffet area. The Polaris themed lighting on the ceiling going down the corridor was a great touch by United.

The shower area and bathroom were all well maintained and the receptionist was kind enough to give me a tour.

                     Polaris Lounge – Bar and Buffet Area

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

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PolarisBuffetArea2
The buffet area was very elegant. Synced perfectly with the type of dishes that were being offered.

                         Polaris Lounge – Conclusion

As I mentioned above, this lounge exceeded my expectations and I had some very high expectations going in. Even though I forgot to measure the wifi speed, I can assure you it was very fast when I was connected through my cell phone. This lounge has it all-excellent dining, comfortable sleeping rooms, spacious shower rooms, a variety of seating areas, fast internet connectivity, a vibrant bar area, and more. The Polaris brand of lounges is the standard for U.S. lounges and I hope I have the opportunity to visit one again in the near future. This lounge gets a 5/5 rating.

Why The United MileagePlus Explorer Card is a Keeper

Why The United MileagePlus Explorer Card is a Keeper

 

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I just recently got an email from Chase and the new benefits that will be rolled out for the MileagePlus Explorer card. Starting from June 1st, cardholders will get 2x the miles on hotel and dining purchases (previously 1 mile/$1), $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA Precheck, and 25% off in-flight purchases. This is in addition to the two United Lounge passes that Chase gives every year upon renewing the card. All these perks are appealing and in the realm of basic economy, having an airline card assures you of being allowed to carry a bag that can be checked in or carried-on (if you book a basic economy fare). What happens if you don’t have an airline-branded credit card and you book the basic economy fare? You can only bring a bag that can fit under your sit. Anything that goes into the overhead bins would have to be paid for and airlines are starting to enforce this policy at the gate.

Many airline credit cards are popular for churning. This means you sign up and get approved for the card, rack up the bonus miles after hitting the minimum spend threshold and cancel the card within a year.  Then you’re free to apply those miles to that destination you’ve been saving up for. Since I find myself traveling between Chicago and the East Coast several times a year, I’ve held on to the United MileagePlus Explorer card as well as the Citi American AAdvantage Platinum to save on baggage fees and for the convenience of priority boarding (on super busy routes such as LGA to ORD, it assures overhead bin space). If there was only one credit card you wanted to pay an annual fee for, I wouldn’t recommend an airline-branded card since you’re married to that one airline if you want to reap the benefits. A credit card such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Reserve would be the better option since you have multiple airlines whose frequent flier programs you can utilize via transfer. But if you’re willing to pay for two cards and you live near a United hub (Chicago, D.C., Houston, Denver, San Francisco, Newark/NYC, and Los Angeles), the United MileagePlus Explorer credit card might be one of the most appealing airline-branded credit cards available. In addition to the benefits I outlined above, United offers exclusive mileage redemptions to cardmembers only.

The example itinerary I used is Chicago (ORD) to Cancun from July 29th-August 4. In both instances, we’re going to use award redemptions.  The first example is the redemption available if you are a Chase United MileagePlus credit card holder.

UAExORD2CUN
This is the segment from Chicago to Cancun. Two non-stop options available exclusively with the MileagePlus credit card for 17.5k miles.
UAExCUN2ORD
These are the options for the return. Three non-stop options if you hold the credit card. 35k miles for the roundtrip for one passenger.

Now let’s look at redemption availability if you want to book this same trip using United miles but you don’t hold the United MileagePlus Explorer credit card:

UAOrd2Cun
If you want the non-stop option, it will cost 25k miles rather than the 17.5k miles seen above.

 

UAOrd2Cun1stop
They do have one 17.5k redemption to get to Cancun but look at that disgusting itinerary. Not only are you departing at 6am but you have to switch airports in D.C. By the time you’re in Cancun, you’re spent.
UACun2ORd
The return trip to Chicago would cost 25k miles. There is no 17.5k option available for the return.

As you can see in the example above, having the Chase MileagePlus Explorer card means you’re using only 35k miles (plus the applicable taxes) with the benefit of having a non-stop flight on both legs of the journey. Without it, you’re using at a minimum, 42.5k miles and likely 50k miles if you want to have a non-stop each way and a productive first day in Cancun. How much is that 15k miles savings worth? The Points Guy values each United mile at 1.5 cents. 1.5 x 15k = $225. This is just an estimate but even if you valued it a bit lower, it becomes obvious the miles you saved by having the card is worth far more than the annual fee of $95 you’d be paying to keep the card. Again, this card isn’t for everyone and those who would benefit the most are travelers who live near a United hub. If you are an SPG or a Chase Sapphire Preferred/Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholder and you find yourself transferring Ultimate Rewards points or SPG points into United often, pairing the MileagePlus Explorer card with either of the three only enhances their value.

 

 

Photo source: http://www.chase.com

 

Review: American Airlines First Class Albany to Chicago

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

Getting the Dreaded SSSS On Your Boarding Pass

Getting the Dreaded SSSS On Your Boarding Pass

Traveling using frequent flier miles and points certainly has many advantages, such as making business class travel attainable for the casual traveler, and regardless of the ticket class you purchased, you’re saving money compared to booking with cash. However, there are instances where you might book using points from one airline in getting to your destination and use points for a different airline during your return. As far as I can remember, I haven’t ever used miles for the same airline going and coming back. For example, I’ve flown on United miles going to Europe while flying on American miles coming back multiple times. I was able to minimize the number of miles I needed to use by planning my itinerary this way. The only issue? Booking international tickets one way will often result in getting the dreaded SSSS on your boarding pass. SSSS stands for secondary selective screening selection. For me, the biggest giveaway that I’ll end up with SSSS on my boarding pass on the return trip is when I’m unable to check-in for my flight 24 hours before takeoff. The mobile app will tell me “please check in at the airport” or I’ll get an error message.  For a traveler that’s designated SSSS, the only way to get check-in is at the ticketing booth at the airport. When you receive your boarding pass at the airport, the capitalized SSSS will be highlighted by the ticketing agent. Once you are in line and the security and the customs officer scans your boarding pass, either a red light will flash or there will be beeping sound, alerting the agent of your SSSS designation.  It’s also important to note that there are other factors that may also be in play. Your name (there may be someone with the same name or similar that may be on the watch-list), the region you are traveling to and from, and your citizenship status could all play a role.

 

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My SSSS designation from Dubai to NYC last summer

Every country differs on their protocol for conducting the secondary screening. In Reykjavik, Iceland, I was taken a to a separate room and all the contents of my carry-on bag were removed. All electronics were swabbed and scanned and the procedure was completed in 10 minutes. The personnel were very friendly and explained what they were going to do in advance. In San Jose, Costa Rica, the security personnel gave me a pat down and searched my bag right at the gate. I actually hated this experience since almost everyone on my Southwest flight headed to Baltimore was already at the waiting area. I had 170 pair of eyeballs watching me as one agent thoroughly searched and swabbed my backpack and all its contents while the other gave me a thorough pat down.

There are also instances where you might get SSSS on your boarding pass when traveling domestic. This occurred in 2015 when my wife and I returned from Istanbul, Turkey. Istanbul was deemed as a high risk travel area (it still might be), and anyone returning home from that area was getting SSSS on their boarding pass for the ensuing months. Upon returning, my wife and I had domestic flight from Chicago (ORD) to NYC (LGA), a flight we had taken countless times. This time, we both received the SSSS on our boarding pass, much to our surprise. The TSA officer asked if we had been anywhere recently. I told him we were in Istanbul the prior week and he explained everyone coming back from that region was being selected for secondary screening. He wasn’t wrong as even people with TSA Pre-check and Global Entry were being flagged from secondary screening. In this instance, we were both given thorough pat downs (more like a massage) and had every electronic device swabbed and scanned. Our laptops had to be taken out and powered on. Even The Points Guy had a similar experience upon returning from Turkey around that same time and you can read about that here.

If you do get an SSSS on your ticket, be cooperative and understand that the security personnel are just following protocol and doing their jobs. It will make the process easier, quicker, and you’ll be on your way a lot sooner. During my recent trip to Argentina, my wife and I did not get the SSSS (finally!). But if you can’t check-in 24 hours in advance, budget more time than you normally would when heading to the airport.

 

Review: Art & Lounge Newark Liberty International Airport

Review: Art & Lounge Newark Liberty International Airport

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

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

 

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Entrance

 

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

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Grilled tilapia, baked potatoes, pizza, and steamed vegetables

 

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Bowtie pasta

 

 

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Oatmeal and shortbread cookies

 

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Orange and apple juice at the bar area

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

 

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

 

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The adjacent room had plenty of available space

 

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The first common area was mostly filled when we entered.

 

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

 

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I’d rate this lounge a 3.8/5

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

 

United and Delta Devalue Their Miles

United and Delta Devalue Their Miles

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Airline devaluations are one of the guarantees in life.  Some airlines will devalue their mileage currency annually and some will do it every three to four years. This hurts the consumer since it often takes more miles or a larger fee has to be paid in the form of a “surcharge” for an award redemption. Delta is known to devalue their Sky Miles frequently and without warning. Some in the frequent flier world refer to their miles as “Sky Pesos.” United doesn’t devalue as often but this particular devaluation will hurt travelers regardless of cabin class.

 

                               United

Prior to November 1st, the most you would ever use for a domestic one way ticket in economy was 25k miles . Now if you want that one way ticket during the holiday season or any other holiday, there are some days where you won’t have an option that’s cheaper than 32.5k miles. Here is an example for a one way ticket from Chicago to Los Angeles:

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Business class transcontinental award tickets will also jump up to 35k miles for saver economy and 60k miles for everyday or peak times. The same holds true for an international award ticket.  Business class tickets originating in the U.S. will see a 5k to 10k increase in miles on just about every route.

 

                                    Delta

Delta on the other hand is starting to devalue their Sky Miles by rolling out fuel surcharges on flights to Europe. You won’t see it on every route just yet but here is an example of a one way flight from Paris to Seattle:

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As you can see, the surcharge for this one way flight is a ridiculous 215 euros. That’s in addition to the 50k miles at minimum that are needed for this redemption. Whether Delta rolls out this surcharge for all flights into and out of Europe or only those are departing or landing on the West Coast remains to be seen.

Regardless of which airline program you participate in, frequent flier miles always depreciate over time. Sometimes, the devaluation occurs without warning. Use them quickly because you just might need a whole lot more if you wait.

 

 

Image source: http://www.trendler.com