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Tim Foolery

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Flight Planning: Argentina

We had so much planning to do for our trip to Argentina. First things first: Getting There. Our Argentina Flight Planning followed our standard logic. Do we use miles and fly Business Class? Maybe we pay for Business Class? Do we pay for Economy and just deal with it? Or do we pay for a higher fare in Economy and use our Global Premier Upgrades (GPUs) to upgrade to Business?

Our Plan

Since we both needed the Elite Qualifying Miles to keep our status with United we knew that we couldn’t cash in miles for this trip. We earn nearly 12,000 premier qualifying miles for this round trip from Chicago. We couldn’t let those miles go to waste. When we flew to Lima, we found round trip Business Class tickets for about $1,800 per person. If we could find something like that for this trip, we’d book it in an instant. Unfortunately all Business Class tickets were going for well over $5K each. The only way I’d pay that much money for a flight is to hurry home to someone’s deathbed or to flee the country with no notice to avoid a criminal indictment.

Flight Planning Argentina
No direct flight to Buenos Aires from Chicago, so we routed through Houston and Newark.

The difference between the upgradable Economy Fare and the normal Economy Fare was about $200 more per person. Basically, we’d pay $200 more for the opportunity to use our GPUs. If the upgrades didn’t clear, we’re out that money.

United 777-200 Business Class
United 777-200 Business Class

We followed this same logic as we booked our tickets to Rio in 2017. We booked airfare about eight months out and the upgrade cleared about a month later. Figuring that Argentina wasn’t a huge Thanksgiving destination, we thought this was our best bet.

The days, weeks and moths passed. No upgrade. We had some flight schedule changes, still no upgrades. We chatted up the fine folks at United and they couldn’t do anything, but tell us that they were pretty sure we’d clear.

The Results

Finally, it’s day of travel. We checked in and our upgrade still hadn’t cleared. We kept refreshing the upgrade list. The frustration set in. We’d paid extra money to sit in the same old Economy Seats for nearly three hours to Houston and 10 hours to Buenos Aires.

Fast forward to the return trip. The exact same scenario played out. We watched the list. Our names hovered towards the top of the list, but never crossed that magic threshold. Once we checked in at the airport, we were notified that our upgrades had cleared – for the leg between Newark and Chicago. Of the 26 hours of flying time with United we’d have on this trip, two of those hours would be in Business Class.

I’ll touch on a couple of the details on these flights later on, but at the end of the day, these flights were fine. We arrived safely. The United crew was a good mix of fun and surly, mostly surly. While our Argentina Flight Planning didn’t end up exactly as we wanted, we did have a pretty great trip.

Do you follow the same logic as we do when determining how to get somewhere?

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Austrian Airlines Business Class BKK-VIE

My flight home from my 68 Hours in Singapore was a bit of a round about experience.  Leaving Singapore to Bangkok, I continued on to Vienna.  I’ve flown Austrian Airlines in Business Class a few times before and was looking forward to trying it again.  I left the Thai Airways Business Class Lounge about 50 minutes before scheduled departure.  The boarding area was utterly packed with passengers.

People were getting a bit restless, as announcements were made about early boarding. People would line up, then another announcement saying we weren’t boarding. This happened two times before we actually boarded.  There were many people traveling with children too.  These false starts really got the children confused and frustrated.

Bangkok Airport Boarding Area

Very Crowded Boarding Area in Bangkok

On Board

I boarded early, as I usually like to do.  A single seat wasn’t available, I had to sit in the middle area in the two-seat section.  I could have moved to a single seat, but it would have cost me an additional €500.  It wasn’t worth it to me.

Austrian Airlines Business Class Seating Boeing 777

Business Class Seating on Austrian Airlines

Our seats already had pillows, blankets and the amenity kits waiting for us.  After I got settled, the flight attendant came up with menus.  She introduced herself to me and I attempted to speak German, as I usually do when flying Austrian.  My college level German gets me far enough on a flight, but it’s just utilitarian, not conversational.  I started off my journey with some sparkling wine and some still water.

Austrian Airlines Legroom

Business Class Legroom on Austrian Airlines

Austrian Airlines Pre Departure Beverage

Pre-departure beverage with seat controls

The flight was pretty full, but I was fortunate enough to NOT have a seat mate.  I’m so happy I didn’t pay extra for a single seat.  Even if I did have a seat mate, it wouldn’t have been the end of the world.  The seats are large and while not very private, Austrian Airlines Business Class is still pretty great.

The flight time to Vienna from Bangkok is 11 hours and 30 minutes.  One of my main disappointments when I fly Austrian Airlines is that the flight from Chicago to Vienna just isn’t long enough. I want a little more time to rest, relax and enjoy the Business Class product. This flight gives me a bit more time and I was going to love it.

Meal Service

Austrian Airline’s crew includes an on board chef.  Before take off, the chef meets with every Business Class Passenger, explaining the menu and taking orders.  It is a nice additional service, although not really necessary.  It’s this aspect that I like the most I think.

After departure, drinks are served and the food service begins.  I like the antipasti trolley that wheels through the cabin.  You select the exact appetizers you want to try.  I selected all options, of course!

Antipasti Selection on Austrian

Antipasti selection, including marinated prawns, herbed chicken breast, feta cheese, Thai beef salad, maki and crab cakes.

The meal service continued for the next 90 minutes.  It was efficient and friendly.  Austrian does a good job of ensuring that your wine glasses are never dry too.

Austrian Airlines Red Lentil Soup

Red lentil soup with olive ciabatta croutons.

Main course - Stir Fried Beef on Austrian Airlines

Stir Fried Beef, ginger oyster sauce, egg fried rice.

Austrian Airlines Dessert Chocolate Cake

Dessert of Chocolate Cake

With the meal over, the we had about eight hours until we landed in Vienna.  I spent the rest of the flight watching movies, TV shows and napping. I really didn’t want to get much sleep as we’d be landing in Vienna at 19h00 and I sure didn’t want to be up all night.

Other than a little bit of excitement midway through the flight, our time in air was quiet and uneventful.  We landed 20 minutes early, but were requested to remain seated while a passenger was taken off the plane by paramedics.  More on that story in another post.

Wrap Up

Flying in Business Class on Austrian Airlines is still exciting and fun for me.  It isn’t the world’s most avant garde product, but the service is smooth and efficient.  The wine and food is good and the seats are really comfortable in both seated and bed positions.

Have you flown Austrian Airlines from Asia?  What is your favorite Business Class product out of Bangkok?

 

Changes to United Club Access

The United Club membership offers a great opportunity to escape the madness of the airport.  With complimentary alcoholic beverages and light snacks coupled with comfortable seating and ample power outlets, these lounges allow you to recharge on many levels.  Check out the changes to United Club access policy before you stop by.

Starting November 1, Club Members will need to show a same day United Boarding Pass before entering the club.  Historically, you could still access the United Club if you were traveling on another airline.  I usually fly United exclusively for domestic travel, but on the off chance that I would fly American or Delta, I’d still pop into the United Club.  That’s all changed.

United Club

Pre-Vacation United Club Bloody Mary and Banana. Breakfast of champions.

This isn’t really a shocker though. Delta and American both made these changes earlier this year too.  It makes sense in some respect, but if you are buying an annual Club membership, you’d want to have access to use the lounge anytime you are flying.

This change seems pretty reasonable, but it could sure make for a frustrating surprise if you aren’t expecting it.  Don’t show up to the airport early, expecting to enter the United Club if you aren’t flying on United!

Will this impact your travel plans at all?

 

United Premier 1K Status Just Got Harder to Achieve

Changes to the MileagePlus program, most notably the United Premier 1K Status have been announced.  MileagePlus offers six levels of status to frequent flyers: General Member, Premier Silver, Premier Gold, Premier Platinum, Premier 1K and Global Services.  Basically, the more you fly the higher your status.  I’ve been a Premier Platinum member for a few years now.  To earn this status I must fly at least 75,000 miles annually, plus spend $9,000 with United.

Historically, United Premier 1K Status has been awarded to members who fly 100,000 miles annually and spend $12,000 with United.  I’ve never flown enough paid miles (miles flown on award tickets don’t count in this tally) in a given year to earn 1K Status.  I’m pretty content with my simple Premier Platinum too.  Each year, I do the math and see if it makes sense to accelerate travel to earn 1K status. I never has, for me.

United just announced a change in the earning requirements for Premier 1K Status.  In addition to flying 100,000 miles annually, you’ll have to spend $15,000 with United.  That’s a 25% jump year over year.  Now this is effective for status starting in 2020.   Therefore, you’ll have to fly the same number of miles, but spend quite a bit more money just to keep (or earn) your Premier 1K Status.

United BusinessFirst Amenity Kit

United BusinessFirst Amenity Kit

United has been making some other changes recently too.  In addition to the changes to their boarding process, they are also changing the earning bonus on one of their premium fares.  You can check out their dedicated website for all the details.

Are you currently a Premier 1K?  How does this change impact your travel plans for 2019?  How easy will it be for you to requalify for this lucrative status.

United Airlines’ New Boarding Process

United Airlines just announced changes to their passenger boarding process. Every couple of years it seems like the airlines (not just United, of course) try a new method for boarding their planes. For a while, it seemed like every airline had an elaborate queueing process, with half a dozen or more boarding zones. These zones caused people to line up long before boarding actually began. Sometimes the passengers getting off the arriving plane were met with a wall of people eagerly lined up to board. It was a mess.

United is trying to fix that issue. How many of you have been to O’hare, SFO, or EWR recently and had your path obstructed by dozens of people in the boarding line, snaking into the main concourse? Well, United’s plan to fix this is simple. Passengers should only line up if they are in Boarding Groups 1 or 2. Groups 3-5 remain seated and then they’ll be called once the first two Groups are on board. That part of the plan seems fine, although I really don’t think it will work. See, if you are in Groups 3-5, you’ll end up boarding through Lane 2…which means you’ll likely still be fighting for your spot in that line.

United Airlines' New Boarding Process

United Airlines’ New Boarding Process

Reorganization

My biggest issue is how the new Boarding Groups are organized. I’m a Premier Platinum flyer with United, meaning I fly 75K+ miles each year and spend $9K with them. Currently, I board in Group 1. Group 1 consists of Premier 1K (100K mile flyers), Premier Platinum and First Class Passengers. We are the first to board the plane after the pre-boarding folks (Uniformed Military, Families with small children, Global Services and people with mobility issues). This is great for me. I board and get situated; I never have a problem finding overhead bin space near my seat for my roller bag. Group 2 included Premier Gold (50K mile flyers), Star Alliance Gold, and certain credit card holders. When I use to board with Group 2, I had a hard time finding space for my bag near my seat – often times I’d need to go back 4-5 rows to properly stow the bag. Now I don’t usually need my bag while in flight, it is just problematic when we deplane. Swimming upstream to get my back is always a pain the neck.

The New Process

The new process adjusts who is in Group 1. Now Premier 1K is part of pre-boarding. Group 1 consists of Premier Platinum, Premier Gold, Star Alliance Gold and Premium Cabins (First and Business Class passengers).
Now I know that on the grand scheme of things, this is a minor issue. The most important part of flying is arriving safely and close to the schedule. One of the benefits for hitting 75K miles each year was to board a bit earlier. If I’m not traveling with my roller bag, I don’t board early.  I wait until the bitter end as I don’t want to sit on the plane any longer than I have to.

The best part of this change is that it keeps the credit card passengers a Group behind us. Once I get a couple more trips under my belt, it may all work out just fine and I’ll actually enjoy this new structure. I’m not sold on it now though.

If I were designing the boarding Groups (purely for selfish reasons of course), I’d have Global Services continue to pre-board. Then Group 1 would be First Class, Premier 1K and Premier Platinum. Group 2 would be Premier Gold, Star Alliance Gold and credit card people (I believe that United makes decent money off these folks). Group 3 would be Premier Silver, Star Alliance Silver and people who purchased Priority Access. The rest of the Groups would remain unchanged.

How will this change at United Airlines impact your travels? Are you boarding sooner or later? Do you not care at all because you just check your bag and don’t have to worry about it?