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EVA Air Royal Laurel Class (Business Class) ORD-TPE
EVA Air boards Business Class passengers directly from the Air France / KLM Lounge for our flight to Taipei. I was the third person on board and quickly took my seat of 9A. As I was getting situated (you know, tablet, headphones and chargers out), Daisy, the flight attendant working my portion of the cabin approached, delivering menus and a warm moist towel to help you get refreshed before the 15 hour flight.
On the Ground
EVA doesn’t serve champagne on the ground, at least in Chicago. Cook County taxes are very high and they don’t want to pay them, so they serve an inferior sparkling wine, they wouldn’t even tell me what kind it was.
Daisy asks if I want the seat cover – not a mattress pad mind you, just a quilted cover over the seat. I took it. I’ll take any additional padding I can get on airline seats. Pajamas were delivered and I immediately hopped up and changed. The lavatory between the two business class cabins is much more roomy, making it much easier to change. The front lavatory is a standard sized room…small, very small.
Boarding continued and I sat back and enjoyed my drink, in my new pajamas, and thought about my trip. Was I crazy for flying so far for just a couple of days? Maybe, but I am going to enjoy the journey. The door closed at 00h20 and we were pulling away from the jet bridge at 00h23. It was fast. Then we sat on the tarmac for about 20 minutes.
In the Air
Once airborne, the crew sprung into action. It was late, people wanted to sleep and the sooner they can put us to bed, the easier their flight will be.
I had preordered the duck for my entree, which was easy to do on the EVA website. EVA offers some additional entrees that aren’t normally stocked on board, but they are catered upon request.
Another glass of champagne arrived as did the amuse bouche. It was quite lovely, Turkey Ham (huh? What’s turkey ham?) with Asparagus with champagne was a great way to kick off this Business Class Meal.
The lobster appetizer arrived fifteen minutes later. It was served with drawn butter and a quinoa salad that was just packed with flavor. I skipped the quail egg though
Right at 01h30 my duck arrived. I asked for a glass of Bordeaux to accompany the duck, but it never arrived. The duck looked…well…strange. I’m not sure what happened to it, but about three-quarters of it looked and felt like it had been eaten by someone else then spit back onto my plate. I was disgusted. I couldn’t eat it. Daisy came by and saw that I wasn’t eating and she asked a couple of questions, then took it away. The purser came back to talk to me and she was mortified. She suggested I choose a different entree, which I did. The kung pao chicken sounded good to me and it was delivered moments later.
The chicken looked strange too. It was stuffed with a truffle brioche that just seemed off when paired with a kung pao truffle jus. I scraped out the stuffing and ate the chicken. Quite a disappointing entree selection.
The fruit and cake plate and was delivered. There was no cheese course. When I asked about it, the matter of fact answer was that “There was no cheese course tonight.” Hmmmrph.
At 02h00 the dinner service was over, plates and linens cleared. I was a bit disappointed.
It was time to turn in, so I laid my seat out to a bed and put on the EVA provided headphones and listened to the Big Bang Theory as I slept. It is a great plane show – as it always makes me want to sleep.
I woke up after about 5 hours of sleep and decided to watch a movie I brought (Indiana Jones) and get some work done. The internet was slow and cost $16.95 for three hours of service. It did what I needed it to do, but it was soooo slow.
At 08h00 I ordered the vermicelli with pork, which was a great choice. I should have had three of those for dinner.
I napped intermittently until breakfast, which was served promptly at 12h30. The lights popped on with a never before seen intensity! I’m not a big breakfast guy, so I skipped the cereals and I chose to have the fruit, pastry and the bread pudding. It was all pretty great. The fruit was a little under ripe, but it was still flavorful.
At this point, breakfast is done and we are still two hours from Taipei. US and European carriers don’t start serving arrival meal until 90 minutes before landing. We had lots of time left, but now I wasn’t really in the mood for sleeping.
As we come into Taipei, the flight crew sprung into action. Unlike the rest of the trip, they seemed like chickens with their heads cut off. Seemingly executing their landing procedures in a near panic mode. For example, I had five sheets of paper stored in a cubby behind my shoulder. I was told that I couldn’t stow anything there and as I was grabbing it another stew comes over, repeats the request, then the first grabs the paper, ripping it, then shoves it in another cubby (that also said No Stowage During Taxi, Take Off or Landing). Theses were just notes I had taken to prep for my trip – not a big deal, but the service sure went south fast. The crew all took their seats and we still had 30 minutes until we touched down.
We rolled into TPE at 04h05, 11 minutes early. Despite this flight being more than 15 hours, I wasn’t ready for it to end. I really do love EVA. The flight timing is great – I can work a full day, leave at 00h30 and be anywhere in Asia by noon the next day. That’s no small feat from Chicago. The seats are among my favorite in Business Class. If you are traveling with someone it is a bit difficult to chat, but for a solo traveler, you can’t beat these seats. The food is usually pretty good – the entrees on this flight were pretty abysmal, but the other courses were enjoyable. Loved the noodles.
I used 90,000 United Miles (Saver Award) on this Business Class flight (including the next one), the value can’t be beat. I haven’t ever checked the actual cost of the flight, because I’m not expensing these flights back to a third party. I’m not paying thousands of dollars this flight (likely) costs in Business Class.
Have you flown EVA Business Class before? Do you dig their service? What do you think was wrong with that duck entree I had? Have you ever not wanted to get off a flight after more than 15 hours of flying?
Singapore: By the Numbers
Regular readers know that I had a quick trip to Singapore – returning home last Monday. This was indeed a whirlwind trip. My better half was in Singapore for work and since I had never been and always wanted to go, I found a way to make it work. I’ll have much more details notes coming soon, but here are the high level numbers and stats.
- Airlines Flown: 3
- Flights Taken: 5
- United Miles Redeemed: 180,000
- Miles Flown: 20,288
- Hours in the Air: 44
- Time in Singapore: 68 hours
- Time in Vienna: 15 hours
- Airport Lounges: 6
- Hotels Nights: 4
- Hotels Stayed: 3
- Cities Explored: 2
- Meals Eaten: 6
- Restaurants Dined: 1 (everything else was Street Food / Hawker Stalls)
- Cocktails / Wine / Champagne Consumed: Countless
It was a quick trip, but with more hours on the ground than in the air, which is always a key metric for a trip like this. That being said, spending 44 hours flying (excluding layovers) in some great business class products isn’t too bad of a way to spend a the dog days of summer.
Give me your honest opinion – would you go to Singapore for just 68 hours? Does the fact that it cost nothing (other than points and time) change your opinion? What’s the longest you’ve traveled for the shortest stay?
A Weekend in Vienna
Having no real travel in the first quarter of 2018 really started to wear on me. I decided to take a long weekend (Thursday through Sunday) and visit Vienna. I had been to Vienna once before, also for a long weekend and will undoubtedly have more opportunities to visit in the coming years – so I don’t feel obligated to hit it hard and see everything on one trip. The purpose of this trip was to escape from the daily winter work life in Chicago, cash-in some miles and points and get away.
If you follow me on Instagram, Twitter or Vero you’ve seen some of my time in Vienna (and if you don’t, you should). This trip was like almost all of my trips, centered around good food, exploring a city, experiencing it’s art, culture and history — and finding a nice glass of wine along the way.
Over the next few days/weeks, I’ll be posting about key parts of my trip, including:
- United Polaris Club (ORD)
- Swiss International Lounge – Terminal 5 O’hare
- Austrian Airlines ORD-VIE (OS66)
- Hotel Bristol Vienna – A Luxury Collection Hotel
- The Most Instagrammable Places in Vienna
- Steirereck – Fine Dining in Vienna
- Going to the Opera – A Night Out In Vienna
- Standing Room Only Tickets – Vienna Opera House
- Bristol Lounge
- Austrian Airlines VIE-IAD (OS93)
I’d love to hear your thoughts on my trip and get suggestions from you all for my future trips to Vienna. What am I missing? What shocks you that I haven’t seen? Do you have a favorite dessert place you always go?
Is Hotel Status Worth Chasing?
Hotel status is an interesting animal for me. On one hand, I really dig the suite upgrades and the additional points earned for stays, but on the other, the upgrades are so infrequent, why worry about them? I’m Platinum with Starwood and Marriott (their not-so-recent merger allows for a status match between programs). I earn this status by staying 50 nights a year at SPG Properties (plus the nights/stays credited because of the co-branded credit cards). I do struggle maintaining this status because sometimes my work travel doesn’t afford me the opportunity to stay at an SPG Property.
Does Platinum Status even matter any more?
Friends have commented on how Marriott isn’t all that generous with their Platinum members – negligible upgrades being the biggest issue. What minimums do I expect from a hotel program? I expect high speed internet for at least three devices (I need my phone, tablet and laptop all connected…and if I’m traveling with anyone else, we need at least four devices connected), I would like access to a club lounge with bottles of water and some snacks and cocktails (even grocery store wine is an acceptable amenity). I don’t care about breakfast, complimentary parking, or discounts at the on-property restaurants. A room free of feathered linens and located away from the elevator is also high on my list.
In reality, I can get all my hotel needs met with a mid-tier (Gold with SPG, Marriott and Hilton) status. I get access to upgrades (that rarely materialize even with Platinum status), I get free internet and I get access to the club lounges. I get this status without running on the Hotel Stay/Night hamster wheel.
The American Express Platinum card offers Gold Status with both Hilton and Starwood. United offers Gold Status at Marriott for flyers who maintain Gold or higher status with MileagePlus. I’ve got all the major programs covered, why should I push for Platinum Status? Should I just find the best rate at the best hotel and use whatever savings I’m getting to pay for a nicer room when I really need it.
Since the Marriott and SPG loyalty programs will likely be combining in 2019 and I have confidence that it will look more like Marriott Rewards than SPG, I’m changing my hotel strategy – Find a hotel with a good rating, great rate, close to everywhere I want/need to be and call it good. I hope it feels freeing that I don’t feel obligated to stay at a property I’m just not digging because I need the Stay/Night credit (I’m looking at you, Westin Arlington, VA).
What is your hotel strategy for 2018 and beyond? If you are a Marriott fan, tell me how your luck has been with your upgrades and elite recognition.
United Airlines – Premier Platinum
For years I’ve earned United Premier Gold Status – what use to be called Premier Executive. This required flying 50,000 paid miles annually. I first earned this status when I was flying back and forth to PDX when my dad was sick and have managed to keep that status for more than 8 years. Luckily, I travel a bit for work each year, which helps me get a leg up on the status treadmill.
This year, I was able to achieve the next status level with United – Premier Platinum. This threshold requires earning 75,000 Premier Qualifying Miles, plus $9,000 Premier Qualifying Dollars. As I mentioned in a post earlier this month, I didn’t actually fly 75,000 paid miles this year, but with more reasonable pricing for premium cabin flights, I was able to earn bonus qualifying miles. I found that I could pay for first class (domestic) for only $100 more round trip on many flights to the west coast. Paying for first changes your mileage earning – you get twice the Premier Qualifying Miles. For an additional $100 round trip, that breaks down to just $12.50 per hour for the better seat, a mediocre meal and complimentary booze. Mostly, it allows me more room to get work done on the flight – unfortunately, I can’t get reimbursed for first class tickets nor for paid upgrades.
So what does this status change actually mean? You can take a look at the full benefits chart on United.com. For me, two biggest benefits – that I’ll actually use – are 1) Higher Priority for Complimentary Upgrades and 2) Increased Award Miles.
Higher Priority for Complimentary Upgrades. As a Premier Platinum, my complimentary upgrade could clear 72 hours before departure, where the upgrades only clear 48 hours prior with Premier Gold. If the upgrade doesn’t clear before departure, you are also higher on the upgrade list as a Platinum. You’ll be behind Global Service Members and Premier 1K, but you’ll be ahead of Gold and Silver members. I will see how much this status bump actually impacts my ability to get complimentary upgrades. I found, as a Premier Gold, I’d be often somewhere between number one and number 15 on the upgrade list — AFTER all the seats were taken. I often would joke that I was the first loser on the upgrade game. If the logic is true, then I should be seeing many more upgrades during my travel year in 2017. Premier Platinum members also get two Regional Premier Upgrades, which put you even farther ahead on the upgrade list. Since you only get two of those, I’ll need to plan my use strategically.
Increased Award Miles. A few years ago, United changed the way in which you earn award miles – instead of being based on the actual amount of miles flown, times a multiplier based on your elite status, you know get award miles based on the cost of your airfare, times a multiplier. That multiplier for Premier Gold is eight times the fare, with Premier Platinum you get nine times the fare. While this isn’t a huge increase, it should give me an additional 9K miles each year.
You also get additional benefits like an extra checked bag for free – bringing your total to three bags for no charge. Unless I’m fleeing the country or moving, there is no way I’m checking three bags. The idea of lugging that much luggage around gives me a panic attack. One also with Premier Platinum status you board with Group One – as a Premier Gold you board with Group Two (the people who have the United Explorer Credit Card get to board with Group Two). This isn’t necessarily a big deal, except when you are on a smaller plane with very limited overhead space.
How did your airline status end up this year? Did you keep your status or were you like me, fortunate enough to make it to the next level? What benefit, of any status level, do you most value?