Category Archives: United

Adventures in Booking United Awards

I’m planning on going to Vietnam next year, and I had originally booked an award routing SFO-LHR-BKK-HAN on United Global First, Thai First, and then Thai Business. I was excited to fly LHR to BKK on Thai First because I thought the route was going to be served by an A380, and I had such an awesome time on Emirates’s A380.

Literally days after booking that flight, I read that these plans were scrapped due to delays in the delivery of the A380. So that meant no A380 for me ūüôĀ

But Thai does fly the A380 to both CDG and FRA, so I looked at possible routings through either of those. For CDG, even though United flies SFO to CDG nonstop, it’s on a 2-class 767, so that would mean no first class for the long leg, and then there aren’t any nonstop flights between LHR and CDG on Star Alliance. For FRA, there are plenty of flights between LHR to FRA, so I thought my best option would be to change from SFO-LHR-BKK-HAN to SFO-LHR-FRA-BKK-HAN.

I checked availability on ANA and United.com, and everything looked good for switching to LH 901 for LHR to FRA and then TG 921 for FRA to BKK. First time I called United, the woman answering the phone was a little surprised that I wanted to change to a more indirect routing, but said that she didn’t see space on LH 901. In fact, she said that she couldn’t even book a revenue ticket on that flight because it didn’t look like it existed. So I hung up and called again.

Agent #2 was worse than the first. When I explained what I wanted, he was instantly suspicious. He started asking me irrelevant questions like, “Is this a one-way award? How are you getting back? How are you getting around in Vietnam?”. I probably should have hung up at this point, but I wanted to know if he also couldn’t see space on the Lufthansa flight that I wanted. After putting me on hold, he eventually said something like, “well, there are a couple of things wrong with your scheme,” and also confirmed that he couldn’t see space on LH 901, saying that it didn’t matter what I saw on the website. Oofta.

At this point, I decided to put an award on hold for LH 901, the mysterious flight that the United reservations agents can’t see (for what it’s worth, the agents couldn’t see LH 925, LH 901, or LH 903 aka any of the three flights that would make my routing work), before calling back. So on attempt #3, after hearing the same problems of not seeing any of those flights, I ask the agent about the reservation that I have on hold for LH 901. She agrees that it’s odd that I can make a reservation on a flight that she can’t see, so she has their support team call Lufthansa to see if my award hold is valid.

After half an hour on hold, she comes back with good news: it’s booked! But she booked me in business on the FRA to BKK leg instead of first, which I only saw after checking the itinerary online before getting off the phone with her. So after the agent blaming me for that mistake, I eventually get the whole itinerary booked in the correct classes.

Moral of the story: United agents couldn’t see Lufthansa flights that were bookable on the United.com website and that were shown as available on ANA. In order to get my flight booked, I held an award for the flight that I wanted, which finally convinced a United agent to figure out why they couldn’t see the flight. Has anyone else noticed problems with United agents not able to see Lufthansa (or other carrier) award space that’s very clearly available?

Around the World in 100 Hours: United Business Class San Francisco to Seoul

Introduction
United Club San Francisco, International Terminal
United Business Class San Francisco to Seoul
Asiana Airlines Business Class Lounge Seoul
Korean Air Lounge and Singapore SilverKris Lounge Seoul
Singapore Business Class Seoul to Singapore
Ambassador Transit Lounge Singapore
Singapore SilverKris Lounge Singapore
Changi Airport Free Singapore Tour
Singapore Business Class Singapore to Colombo
Transiting Colombo
Lotus and Araliya Lounges Colombo
Qatar Airways Business Class Colombo to Doha
Qatar Airways First Class Premium Terminal Doha
Qatar Airways First Class Doha to Dubai
Emirates First Class Lounge Dubai
Emirates First Class Dubai to London Heathrow
British Airways Concorde Room London Heathrow
British Airways Galleries First Lounge and Club World Lounge London Heathrow
British Airways First Class London Heathrow to San Francisco


United 893
San Francisco (SFO) to Seoul (ICN)
Friday, May 24th, 2013
Depart: 10:55am
Arrive: 3:05pm (+1 day)
Duration: 12h 10m
Aircraft: Boeing 747-400
Seat: 15B (Upper Deck, Business)

When booking my tickets, I was trying to decide between a seat on the upper deck or lower deck. Most people prefer the upper deck, but the lower deck had many more open seats. I ended up choosing 15B as I’d never flown on the upper deck of a 747, and I was glad that I did since business class ended up going out full. In fact, first class also went out full with 5/12 non-revs, business class was full with 11/52 non-revs, and coach had 2 open seats with 1 non-rev.

It was exciting to walk up the stairs to the upper deck, and I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of space, since I feel like the business cabin on the lower deck feels a bit crowded with the 2-4-2 configuration. The upper deck is 2-2, with a large space in the middle for the emergency exits, which was good for stretching in the middle of the flight. I would definitely recommend the upper deck over the lower deck.

The upper deck business class cabin

The upper deck business class cabin

My seat, 15B

My seat, 15B

Ample leg room and large entertainment screen

Ample leg room and large entertainment screen

If you don’t mind climbing over your seat mate, the window seats are better as they have more accessible storage. As I was sitting in an aisle seat, I had to store everything in the smallish overhead bins. Luckily, my seat mate spent most of the flight sleeping, so no one ever climbed over me.

United starts their in-flight entertainment on the ground, which is a big plus in my book. I found the entertainment system to be responsive, the screen was large, and the selection was good enough for me, although I admit that I don’t watch many movies so everything is new to me.

Business class amenity kit

Business class amenity kit

Amenity kit contents

Amenity kit contents

I rather like United’s Business class amenity kit mostly for the bag itself. It’s small and decently made and much more practical to reuse than any of the other amenity kit containers that I received later in my trip.

Service was what one might find on a good domestic first class trip. I got served my meal and drinks, but service wasn’t particularly polished (e.g. I was never addressed by my name, trash would sit around for a long time before being picked up), and one of the flight attendants seemed to have a slight body odor problem, which was unfortunate when she leaned over me to serve my seat mate.

StartersMains + BreakfastDrinks

Chilled appetizer and salad

Chilled appetizer and salad

Vegetable-filled mezzaluna pasta

Vegetable-filled mezzaluna pasta

Herbed scrambled eggs for breakfast

Herbed scrambled eggs for breakfast

For meal services, the flight attendant took orders from back to front. For lunch, she asked every person for his/her first and second choice of entree, but I’m not sure how she determined who got what or if everyone was able to get his/her first choice. For breakfast, they had run out of the Asian-style soup option by the time the flight attendant had reached me.

The food was fine. I actually quite enjoyed the vinaigrette on the salad, but the chilled appetizer included some sort of stitched together frankenfish slice. The side of vegetables to my pasta had a nice peppery kick, but the pasta itself was not to my liking as I’m not a big fan of cheese (for what it’s worth, I had preordered a VGML meal, but it wasn’t loaded onto the flight). I passed on the sundae (I know, blasphemous for a trip report), but I didn’t want to eat so much dairy, and the ice cream looked pretty icy and not so creamy.

The assorted sandwiches offered as mid-flight snacks were really sad-looking. Like maybe something you’d find in your school lunch. They were saran-wrapped and kinda squished with meager fillings. But there were also other packaged snacks available besides the sad sandwiches.¬†Breakfast was forgettable, which I think is probably a good thing.

Seat in bed mode

Seat in bed mode

I found the seat to be quite comfortable for lounging and sleeping. It was softer than the seat in US Airways Envoy class, but it has less privacy and is narrower (which didn’t really bother me, but I can see how it’d be a problem for larger people). I also thought the duvet was nice (again, much nicer than the staticky blankets they hand out in US Airways Envoy), although the pillow was a little thin.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by United BusinessFirst. I found the hard product to be much better than expected, and although the soft product was lacking by objective standards, I had such low expectations in the first place that I was fine with it. And I found it a good sign that my supposedly “worst” flight planned (in terms of carrier reputation) was quite comfortable and enjoyable.

Around the World in 100 Hours: United Club San Francisco, International Terminal

Introduction
United Club San Francisco, International Terminal
United Business Class San Francisco to Seoul
Asiana Airlines Business Class Lounge Seoul
Korean Air Lounge and Singapore SilverKris Lounge Seoul
Singapore Business Class Seoul to Singapore
Ambassador Transit Lounge Singapore
Singapore SilverKris Lounge Singapore
Changi Airport Free Singapore Tour
Singapore Business Class Singapore to Colombo
Transiting Colombo
Lotus and Araliya Lounges Colombo
Qatar Airways Business Class Colombo to Doha
Qatar Airways First Class Premium Terminal Doha
Qatar Airways First Class Doha to Dubai
Emirates First Class Lounge Dubai
Emirates First Class Dubai to London Heathrow
British Airways Concorde Room London Heathrow
British Airways Galleries First Lounge and Club World Lounge London Heathrow
British Airways First Class London Heathrow to San Francisco


The trip was off to a promising start when I saw that my boarding pass said TSA PreCheck. This was the first time I had received PreCheck for an international flight. Global Entry has made travel so much easier as it also qualifies you for TSA PreCheck, and after a couple of weeks of waiting, I’ve received TSA PreCheck on every eligible flight.

So knowing that I had TSA PreCheck, I proceeded to the Premier Access security check at SFO, which is located at the end of Terminal 3. Even though I was traveling internationally, it’s a relatively short walk from that security checkpoint to the international terminal.

My first stop was the United Club in the International Terminal. I tried to go to the Singapore SilverKris Lounge, but it only opens 3-4 hours prior to Singapore’s two flights each day, which are currently at 2:20pm to ICN on SQ15 and 1:15am to HKG on SQ1, and my flight was leaving 10:55am, so that was a no go.

The United Club is typical for a domestic lounge, which means that it’s honestly pretty bad in the realm of airport lounges. It was really crowded on this Friday morning, and the food options were sparse. WiFi was fast, though, and I was able to get a little bit of work done.

Crowded United Club. Hard to find a place to sit!

Crowded United Club on a Friday morning

Meager food options. I had an underripe banana.

Meager food options. I had an underripe banana.

Much less crowded

Much less crowded bar area. Head to the left instead of the right when you come up the escalators.

Overall, it was a decent place to spend half an hour before my flight, but my time was made better knowing that everything from here on out would be better!