Tag Archives: United

Swiss Miss?

As I work my way through becoming a certified “blogging expert” – which is totally a thing – one of the things I never know about is whether stuff I happen upon will be of interest to you, my loyal reader(s). Hyatt mistake price at a mediocre hotel in Paris? OMG LOL OMFG!!!! Tons of availability in first class from New Zealand to the US? Snoozeville. So, with that in mind, here’s something:

Swiss just loaded a bunch of business class availability from Zurich to San Francisco next spring. I found out because I have a bunch of Expertflyer alerts set for the day I’m flying home from my trade show in Germany in June. Here’s United’s calendar for that route (some of those days with availability are for mixed cabin awards on other carriers, but most of them have direct availability on Swiss):

swissmiss

As far as my situation is concerned, I’m trying to decide whether or not to change my current itinerary, which is in business class on SAS via Copenhagen. There are some pros and cons to changing. Pro: no connection, no 7AM flight from Zurich to Copenhagen followed by a 3-hour layover, and the direct flight on Swiss would give me time to check out the awesome-looking terrace in the Swiss business class lounge. Con: Aeroplan’s new higher change fee ($150 CAD). Plus, I’d have to call Swiss customer service to pick a seat, since there are only a limited number of “throne” seats, and all but three are currently filled on the day I need to fly – and it would suck if I went through the hassle of calling Aeroplan to change my flight only to find out I had to *GASP* sit next to a stranger. Plus, I’m booked in 9H on my SAS flight, which, as you’ll know as a loyal reader of my blog, is my favorite seat on the plane. I think it’s worth the shitty itinerary in exchange for 11 hours in 9H on SAS’s A340 vs. rolling the dice on Swiss. That said, I also have a bunch of alerts for first class awards back from Europe on that day (Swiss via ZRH, which I know is unlikely, as well as Singapore and Lufthansa via Frankfurt), and I’ll jump through all manner of hoops if any of those become available.

So there you go – is this interesting to you? Is it rare for Swiss to release so much award space? Does that calendar not really count as “so much,” since there’s only availability on around half of the days? Who knows, but if I help just one person fly back from Europe in luxury, then I’ve succeeded at life.

Lounge Life, Part 3

Because you can’t and will never be able to get enough, I’m back with another round of my very popular lounge reviews. It’s really gratifying to see my 80-point scale become the standard across the point & miles blogging community, since I really do think it’s the best representation of lounge quality. So, without further ado, let’s dive in…

Amex Centurion Studio (SEA)

Furnishings: Centurion-chic. My one concern as Amex opens up more and more of these lounges is that they start to run together, thus making them more mundane through repetition. Still, though… nice. 9/10
Cookies: Macaroons. I LOVE macaroons. 9/10
Snacks: I was here in the morning and had some oatmeal for breakfast. This lounge has like 10 different types of seeds you can put in your oatmeal to make it more crunchy. You know how people use “crunchy” as a word to describe hippies in Seattle and Portland? They’re literally talking about how many seeds those hippies put in their oatmeal. Supposedly Amex brought some of those crunchy hippies in to consult on all the various seeds they wanted to put out in the lounge. 7/10
Alcohol: Craft beer on demand… 10/10
Views: Okay views, but they suffer for not being through floor-to-ceiling windows. You kind of have to crane your head over a half-height wall of frosted glass to see the airfield. Lotsa Delta on view too… talk about a boring livery. I suppose every livery is boring if you see it all the time, but Delta’s just screams “Live John Tesh Concert” to me. 5/10
Bathrooms: Clean single-stall bathrooms with lots of space, really thick paper towels (seriously, they’re like bath-towel thick), and L’Occitane products to wash up with. Only complaint is that there are only two, and there’s sometimes a wait. 7/10
Outlets: Ample. 10/10
Other amenities: This lounge really is tiny, so it’s sometimes hard to find a seat. I had a good time watching some football in the little TV area (where there are three chairs), drinking beer, and eating crunchy oatmeal and macaroons. Here’s my one issue with this lounge – more and more, every Centurion lounge becomes a referendum on how worthwhile the Amex Platinum card is vs. other cards that offer lounge access. And while the Centurion Studio is unquestionably nicer than Alaska’s Board Room, it isn’t *so much nicer* that I’d want to keep the Amex card just to access it. Especially since the Board Room will probably get remodeled any time soon. So while it’s a much nicer lounge, it isn’t a world apart or anything. 7/10
Final score: 64/80

United Club (SFO, domestic gates) – sorry I don’t have pics, but if you’ve ever been to a United Club, you can picture it.

Furnishings: If I were worried about lounges running together, I guess I shouldn’t bother going to United Clubs, right? Close your eyes and think of the furniture in the lobby of a Marriott Courtyard hotel in the mid-90s. You just pictured any United Club. 3/10
Cookies: Brownie crunch. 4/10
Snacks: I’ve discussed this before, but because I had just come to this lounge from the Centurion lounge at SFO, I’m giving it a low score. 3/10
Alcohol: I didn’t even ask… 1/10
Views: Here’s where this lounge shines. It’s a long room, with floor to ceiling windows all the way across, meaning you get panoramic, unobstructed views of the airfield. And not just United planes, either. 10/10
Bathrooms: I’m just going to go out on a limb and say “not great.” I didn’t use them. 7/10
Outlets: I had to hunt a little bit for one, which I hate doing. They’re around, though. 7/10
Other amenities: Okay, so I had a realization at this lounge. I had planned to spend my time at the Centurion lounge before my United flight to EWR, but it was crowded, and I was flying in first class and would have a meal on the plane. The only open seating was at a table in a not-so-comfortable chair, and I almost started to feel claustrophobic in the small space with no windows to the outside. I left and decided to try the United Club (which is included with a premium transcon ticket), which, for all its United Clubby shabby drabness, was exactly what I needed. It wasn’t crowded, it was quiet, the lights were pretty low, and I could sit in a comfortable chair and watch planes go back and forth until my flight. My realization was that, while Amex lounges are definitely “nicer,” in terms of food/decor/amenities/etc, if you just need a lounge to relax in before the flight, there may actually be better options out there. Given I had had a really stressful morning and was able to chill out a little bit before a long flight, I’m going to give this lounge a 10 here. Oh, also – there’s a long hallway that leads you to the check-in desk, and there are pictures of tall ships on the wall. I’m all like, “You’re an airline, United! Where are the planes?!?!?!?!” 10/10
Final score: 45/80

My Intro to Points & Miles

It seems crazy that a year ago I had no idea that distance/region-based miles even existed. For most of my early adult life, I had a hard enough time holding down a job and a place to live, so earning miles was a distant concern. Then, when I did start putting effort into flying the same airlines in order to accumulate points, my airlines of choice were Southwest and Virgin – both of which have fixed-value points. As a result, I always just assumed that all airline miles were like this, and I never put much thought into which loyalty program I used. I got a Chase Sapphire card, but I didn’t see the point in transferring points to United when I could just use Chase to get 1.25 cents per point. In other words, I was the rube that most credit card companies market to. This is probably why I was targeted for a 100,000 point sign-up bonus on the American Express Platinum card, and it’s also why I threw the application away thinking, “What the hell would I do with 100,000 American Express points?”

platinum dumbshit

Finally, a friend of mine sent me a link to United’s redemption chart, and I realized that most carriers do indeed assign award prices based on either distance or regions… then all hell broke loose. This was right after United’s devaluation, but I wasn’t savvy enough at that point to be pissed, since 110,000 miles for a business class ticket to Europe at least made business class attainable to me when it previously wasn’t. See, I’ve been obsessed with long haul business class products for years, and I always thought that maybe I’d splurge on two seats for my wife and I on our 20th anniversary or something. I simply had no idea you could get these seats by accruing miles.

So, step one was to kick myself for how many Ultimate Rewards Points I had pissed away using Chase’s travel portal. Step two was to start hoarding points with an eye on an eventual United business class redemption. I realized it would take at least two years to get the 230,000 points we’d need for two round-trip tickets, but at least it would no longer be a one-time extravagance. However, once I got into it, I really got into it, and as I read travel reviews on sites like One Mile at a Time, I also started to pick up tips on other credit cards and faster ways to earn award tickets. Fast forward to today… I just got approved for my seventh card of 2015, and I’m already looking past our next trip, since I have all the miles we’ll need for that one.

Requisite question designed to spur a flurry of responses in the comments section: How did YOU get involved in the points/miles game, and did you used to be as clueless as me?