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

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

 

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

Check-in

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

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

Boarding and Seating

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The airplane we flew on for this flight

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

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Business class seats in their upright position

Seating

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

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Business Class Amenity Kit

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

After Takeoff

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

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

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

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

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Post-Dinner

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

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Photo credit: Ayesha 

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

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

Breakfast

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

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

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.

 

Lounge Reviews: Centurion Lounges at Miami International Airport and Buenos Aires Ezeiza International Airport

Over the last 10 days, I was fortunate to transit through two airports that feature a Centurion Lounge. You can read about the Centurion Lounge at Miami International Airport right here and the Centurion Lounge at Buenos Aires Ezeiza International Airport right here.

Lounge Review: Centurion Lounge Miami International Airport

Prior to my flight to Buenos Aires Argentina, I had some free time at Miami International Airport. I heard many great things about the Centurion Lounge at MIA so as an AMEX Platinum card holder, I figured I might as well give it a visit.

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This lounge can be found on the fourth floor of the north terminal near gate D12.  If you have been to the Centurion Lounge in Dallas, this one offers some of the same services and amenities. It’s roomy and there is plenty of space available. First thing I did (like I do at every lounge), I surveyed the food offerings.  Since there were many people in front of me and behind me, I didn’t want to act like a first timer and take pics (I’m really sorry). But the offerings were lamb, Indian style chickpeas or chole, salad, brown rice, and apple crumble for the dessert. I sampled everything but the lamb and found everything to be delicious. Again, I wish I took pictures and perhaps next time I won’t care whether people are around me. The espresso machine had various offerings such as latte, cappuccino, espresso, etc.

 

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If you are more of a tea person, they had you covered as well

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As I mentioned above, there is plenty of seating available. Many of them give you access to USB and plug outlets. The cushioned seats are very comfortable if you need to stay there for a few hours.

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If you want to sit near a window and airplane watch, plenty of room for that as well.

 

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Shower availability is really convenient for those who have arrived from a far away destination and want to freshen up before a connection onward.

 

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You can even get a manicure and pedicure done in the lounge

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I love the family room aspect of the lounge. Keeps the kids busy while the adults can adult.  I wish more lounges would do this.

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This was my one major issue with this lounge. The internet speed is unacceptable for a brand that touts itself as business friendly. Those are some dial-up caliber speeds that I encountered and in my two hours spent at the lounge, the speed only got worse.

 

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Overall, I’d rate this lounge a 4/5. It has just about all the comfort, food offerings, and amenities you would need in a lounge. It gets knocked down a point due to poor WiFi connectivity. If that issue is addressed, this lounge would be a perfect 5. Fix it American Express!

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.