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After leaving the abysmal lounge at O’Hare International Terminal 5, we boarded through door 2L and turned left to our seats in EVA Air Business class. We elected to use United MileagePlus Miles for our international flights on this trip. We were able to find tickets from Chicago to Yangon at preferred times at Saver Prices — so this trip cost us 80,000 miles each, in Business Class from Chicago all the way through to Yangon.
Flight: EVA Air 55 (Business Class)
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300
Departure: 00h20 (00h00)
Arrival: 05h00 +1 (04h36 +1)
Royal Laurel Class occupies the first ten rows of the Boeing 777 and is broken into two cabins. The first with six rows and a galley separating the final four rows. All seats offer aisle access and are arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration. The reverse herringbone layout is one of my favorites. It offers you privacy as every seat faces away from the aisle. Although it isn’t even fully enclosed suite, so people can see you, but it’s pretty difficult.
We were one of the last to board in Royal Laurel Class. Of the 22 business class seats in the forward cabin, 19 were occupied. I found my seat and began getting prepped for the flight – grabbing my tablet and headphones. I noticed the Rimowa Amenity Kit was already and the my seat. It was filled with Harnn products, including lip balm, hand lotion, a hairbrush, a toothbrush and even a screen cleaning cloth. The real beauty of this kit is the carrier itself. Made by Rimowa, this hard sided case is really practical for future uses – United offers those tin amenity kits from time to time and they dent and bend so you’d never want to or be able to use them again. I snagged one of these kits when we flew First on Thai a few years ago.
As I sat in my seat, the flight attendant approached asking if I would like a pre-departure beverage. She also addressed me by name – as did every other flight attendant on board. I wasn’t allowed champagne, but could get some sparkling wine. The tax laws in the US frustrate me. If the airline opens a bottle on the ground they pay tax on it, but not in the air. I had a lovely sparkling wine and a water while we boarded. I was also quickly told that I couldn’t leave my tablet in the stowage area near my seat…and she stood there until I moved it.
The menus were handed out at that point – a food menu plus a separate wine list were opened to the appropriate pages (English language and direction of travel). I was excited to see EVA was serving Krug on this flight, I thought they were serving Veuve Clicquot Grande Dame, but they made a change. The champagne was good…just not enough of it, as they ran out halfway through the flight.
With about five minutes to review the menu, the flight attendant came back asking about my selection. I had been researching the options for a couple of days, so other than the Krug, I knew what was up. I was surprised when they were quasi demanding our selections right then. Pajamas were handed out while the dinner orders were being taken too.
I love airline Pajamas. Yes, I am the guy who complains about people wearing yoga pants to fly, but that is different…somehow.
The captain came on telling us details about the flight and that the door was closed and we were ready to depart…20 minutes before schedule. The Taiwanese appear to be an efficient bunch.
In Flight Service
Climb out of O’Hare was about bit choppy, but just a few minutes off the ground the flight attendants jumped into action, serving our drinks and setting our tables. Before my table was set, I took off for the lavatory to change into my pajamas. Surprisingly they fit pretty well…maybe a little short in the legs, but that is to be expected – I’ve got long legs.
The tray tables are very large and we’re covered with a beautiful cloth – not those thick white bland clothes United uses, but a delicate fabric with a beautiful and intricate design.
Dinner was served.
Throughout dinner I was watching the Brad Pitt movie Allied, which I thought was pretty good, but was it just me, or did you think you were coming in late to the movie?
From the time we took off until dinner service was completed and cleaned was less than two hours. I just hate when the meal service takes a long time. A flight leaving at midnight has two types of people, those who want a sleep immediately and those that want a quickly eat….then sleep immediately.
I converted my seat into and bed, cozied up under the duvet and went to sleep. While it wasn’t solid sleep, it was good sleep. I woke up and few times. It always surprises me how freaking hot it gets on these planes. That’s what really kept me from getting proper sleep…it was just too blazing hot. That being said, I woke up at 09h30 (CDT) after going to bed around 02h15…that’s pretty solid sack time for an airplane.
When I woke up, I polished off a bottle of water and order another meal. This time I wanted the chicken and rice in a lotus leaf. I hit the flight attendant call button and before I could even ask myself “Wait…did that work?” the flight attendant who had been taking care of me all night was by my side. I ordered the chicken, some water and a glass of champagne, which is when I found out they were out of champagne.
This on demand meal took about 10 minutes to arrive as they had to make some more rice. The midnight snack was really great. I paired it with as French white wine. I wasn’t sure if you were supposed to eat the lotus leaf that the chicken and rice was wrapped in, or not. Cutting it was nearly impossible with the cutlery on the plane, so I made the assumption that we weren’t to eat that. What do you think?
After my midnight snack, I decided to watch Arrival, which was on my list since it came out in the theater, but I kept dozing off. The seat was quite comfortable for napping, I’ll give them that. After a few attempts, I finally made it through Arrival. Afterwards I decided to watch A Street Cat Named Bob, which was surprisingly good – if you haven’t seen it, put it in your queue.
Breakfast was served about 90 minutes before landing. I had the western style breakfast – I just can’t get into congee – can you? The breakfast service was fine – the fruit was really fresh, although, I’m not a big fan of papaya, kiwi, cantaloupe or honeydew — the pineapples and berries were quite good. The yogurt they served with breakfast was very thick – like paste from a school project. The thick texture and a slightly off flavor from a traditional yogurt. I tried a few bites of it, but decided I’d hold off. I still had two more international flights in Business Class this day, I did eat the omelette with bacon and grilled veggies. It was great – even for a guy who doesn’t really like eggs.
Breakfast was finished about 45 minutes before landing and I decided to order a Bloody Mary, which was on their cocktail listing. It was a little watery and not all that flavorful – I’d skip it if I were you.
About 25 minutes before landing, I headed back to the lavatory to change into my street clothes and brush my teeth. The lavatory was stocked with toothbrushes, individual mouthwashes, toothpicks as well as soaps, lotions and facial sprays. The lavatory was a little tight for changing. I was constantly concerned my street clothes would fall to the ground and thus need to be burned. Airplane bathrooms are so gross. That being said, the lavatories on EVA were all cleaned by flight crew immediately after a passenger used it. As I was waiting to change, a passenger came out of the lav and a flight attendant asked me to wait a couple minutes, while she refreshed the area. Very nice.
We landed in Taiwan about 25 minutes earlier than scheduled and headed off to the lounge for a shower and to wait for our flight continuing on to Bangkok.
At the end of the day, I really enjoyed this flight. The seats on EVA’s Royal Laurel class are second to none for an international business class product. They offer privacy that can only be beat by a fully enclosed suite – which is tough when traveling with someone – it is almost impossible to have a comfortable conversation with them. The flight crew was stellar – they weren’t hovering over you (except during boarding when they were taking orders and being very strict about certain rules), but when you needed them they were there in a flash. While I have not flown Cathay Business Class from Chicago, I’d say EVA provides the best business class product and service from Chicago to southern China and for only 80,000 MileagePlus miles, you’d be hard pressed to find a better value.
After May 31, 2017, EVA will be operating this flight with their Hello Kitty Branded Plane from Chicago. I’m torn; on one hand I don’t care about Hello Kitty and I’m glad we weren’t annoyed with all the HK branded materials on the plane, but on the other hand, it is such a unique product, I’d like to give it a try — maybe next time!
Have you flown EVA? Were you surprised they they called themselves E-V-A (the actual letters, versus Eva, a name)? What is your favorite ultra-long-haul product out of Chicago? When are you taking EVA Royal Laurel Business Class?
We usually take one big trip a year, and by big I don’t mean expensive, I mean our longer trip. Historically our big trips have been to places like Southern Africa, Vietnam/Cambodia and Peru. This year, we decided to return to southeast Asia and visit Myanmar. We chose Myanmar because it wasn’t that long ago that Americans couldn’t tour the area an many Americans aren’t visiting now. We wanted to visit before the country was overrun with western chain restaurants and before the photos of the beautiful temples would be spoiled by a Gap or a Starbucks.
Over the next couple of weeks, I will be writing about our trip, including the following:
- O’Hare International Terminal 5
- EVA Air Royal Laurel Class (ORD-TPE)
- Thai Airways Royal Silk Class (TPE-BKK-RGN)
- Sule Shangri-La Hotel
- Sights and Sites of Yangon
- Air KBZ Economy (RGN-NYU-HEH)
- Bagan Lodge
- Sights and Sites of Bagan
- Balloons Over Bagan
- Prestine Lotus Hotel
- Sights and Sites of Inle Lake
- Food of Myanmar
- Myanmar National Airlines Economy (HEH-RGN)
- Air Asia Economy (RGN-DMK)
- St. Regis Bangkok
- Gaggan – Fine Dining Bangkok
- Nahm – Fine Dining Bangkok
- Thai Airways Royal Orchid CLASS- Ground Services BKK
- Thai Airways Royal Orchid Class (BKK-MUC)
- United Airlines Polaris First (MUC-ORD)
- Myanmar Natural Wonders Tours
- Wrap Up
If you see that I missed something, or want a little more detail on an aspect of the trip, just let me know.
A couple weeks ago I posted my 2016 Travel Year In Review and I’ve done so for the past several years (2015, 2014, 2013, 2011 – yeah, I don’t know what happened with 2012). I thought I’d share with you my most popular blog posts from 2016. Let’s look at that metric two ways 1) The most popular post that was issued in 2016 and 2) The most popular post from any period in 2016.
Interestingly enough, both of these posts are reviews of premium cabin airline travel. First, let’s take a look at the most popular post I wrote and released in 2016. This post comes from February 2016 and goes into the details of my flight in Business on Austrian Airlines from Chicago to Vienna (OS66). Such a great flight and a perfect way to kick off a long weekend in Vienna.
The most popular post of all time (and the most popular post viewed in 2016) is another airline review. This time it is on Asiana’s unfortunately named Business Class called Quadra Smartium from Seoul to Chicago (OZ236). I had two disappointments on this flight – they weren’t serving bibimbap (breakfast service only) and the outlandish fact that they ran out of champagne midway through the flight).
I’m not sure why these two posts are the most popular – I figured my flight from Frankfurt to Bangkok (TK 941) in First Class would have been the number one post. They were some of my favorite flights I’ve taken and perhaps they are more approachable – business class seats cost fewer dollars and fewer miles than first – plus usually there is more availability for award seats in business class than in first.
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?
Last night we closed out 2016 and as is a tradition for me, I like to provide a Travel Year In Review. I’m not sure if you’ve all noticed this yourself, but the disparity between paying for a coach seat and paying for a business or first class seat (at least domestically) has shrunk pretty dramatically. I found myself actually purchasing domestic first outright a couple times – often the difference between a coach seat and United’s domestic first has been just $100-$150 round trip (and that’s between ORD and LAX/PDX/SFO). You get double the Premier Qualifying Miles and a bit more on the your Premier Qualifying Dollars too. Thanks to these pricing changes, I was able to cross a new threshold with United this year – I’m now Premier Platinum (more on that to come). Here’s how my year ended up – with the previous 3 years included as a comparison.
By the Numbers: (2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013)
Total Miles Flown: 68,278 | 72,293 | 53,322 | 73,825
Total Segments Flown: 45 | 41 | 37 | 44
Cabin Segment Breakdown (F/B/C): 8/5/32 | 2/5/34 | 0/5/32 | 7/4/33
Total Airlines Flown (new airlines bolded): 5 (United, LATAM, Avianca, Air France, Air Canada) | 5 | 4 | 7
Total Hotel Nights: 69 | 67 | 56 | 71
Total Hotel Stays: 35 | 47 | 32 | 31
Total Airlines Miles Redeemed: 0 | 155,000 | 37,500 | 105,000
Total Hotel Points Redeemed: 106,000 | 283,500 | 134,000 | 13,400
Countries Visited (new Countries bolded): 2+2 (Peru, Bolivia, Canada, France) 3+2 | 6+1 | 8+1
Longest Single Segment: ORD-CDG @ 4,153 | ORD-HKG @ 7,787 | MUC-ORD @ 4,535 | ORD-PVG @ 7,056
Shortest Single Segment: CUZ-AQP @ 195 | CVG-ORD @ 264| YUL-YQB @ 145
Northernmost Airport: CDG (Paris) | LHR (Heathrow) | ARN (Stockholm) | LHR (Heathrow)
Southernmost Airport: LPB (La Paz) | HKG (Hong Kong) | MCO (Orlando) | SGN (Ho Chi Minh City)
The most frequent non-home airport: Tie between EWR & LAX (Newark and Los Angeles) | BNA (Nashville) | YYZ (Toronto) | BNA (Nashville)
I flew enough miles to:
Circumnavigate the world: 2.3 times | 2.9 times | 2.0 times
Make it a quarter | a third | a fifth of the way to the moon
How did your 2016 Year in Travel turn out? Did you keep your status – upgrade your status? Were you able to check off one – or more – of your travel bucket list items this year? What is in store for 2017? Do you plan on taking that one big trip you’ve been talking about, or are going to take many smaller trips to visit friends and family? If you want my advice, it doesn’t matter where you go, just go. Enjoy the journey. Experience the destination. Share a drink, a meal and a laugh.