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United BusinessFirst and Domestic First Class Reviews

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The beginning and end of my Round the World 2016 journey was flown with United Airlines. Since I’m based out of Hawaii, I could have flown using the Hawaiian Airlines points I accrued, however, I wanted to save those points for redemption on their new lie-flat seats on their first class cabin, which I’ll get to try out in May 2017.

The two United flights I took to/from Hawaii are as follows:

UA903 from Honolulu to Tokyo Narita on the Boeing 777-200 on February 4, 2016. It was a late morning flight that left at 11:35AM and arrived about 8 hours later into Tokyo at 4:00PM next day.

I flew in BusinessFirst on seat 3E. Because it’s an international flight, I had access to the United Club lounge at Honolulu.

The total redemption rate for this United BusinessFirst segment (along with an Economy leg with EVA Airways from Tokyo to Taipei) was total of 42,500 Mileage Plus points plus $18.30 taxes & fees.

UA15 from Newark to Honolulu on the Boeing 767-400ER on May 31, 2016. The flight left in the morning at 9:15AM arriving about 11 hours later in Honolulu at 2:00PM late afternoon, on the same day.

I flew in First on seat 1D. Although I was flying in first class, because the flight is considered domestic, there is no lounge access allowed. It might sound strange since the flight from EWR to HNL is 11 hours, almost double the amount of time it would take even with flights going from Newark to Europe. However, it’s just United rules. That being said, I had United Lounge Passes from the Chase United card, so upon presenting that lounge pass, I had access to Newark lounge as well.

The total redemption rate for this United First segment is 46,000 United Mileage Plus points plus $5.60 taxes & fees.

Now that I’ve given the brief background into the first and last flights of my Round the World trip, let’s move on into some details of the actual lounges, service, and cabin features.

United BusinessFirst Honolulu Lounge

Prior to boarding my flight to Tokyo, I first relaxed at the United lounge in Honolulu. The lounge itself is a bit dated, still using antiquated furniture that looked like it came from the 90s. Although I’m not surprised by the style since it is retro-Hawaiian accents on the wooden chairs and windows.

Don’t expect too much in terms of food either – just the basic fruits, coffee, tea, and some snacks. However, all in all, it wasn’t crowded at 10:00AM in the morning, and the internet worked just fine for the few minutes I had to write out a couple emails letting people know I was starting my Round the World journey!

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Photo above: The United lounge at Honolulu International Airport

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Photo above: Refreshments and snack at United lounge in Honolulu

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Photo above: The bar area at United lounge in Honolulu. Looks like it definitely needs an update!

United BusinessFirst Cabin Features, Amenities, and Dining

After relaxing in the United lounge, I was off to board my flight. At Honolulu airport, they have two separate bridges to board BusinessFirst separately from Economy class (photo below).

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Upon first look at the seat, it’s nice to see a huge plush pillow. I have to say the pillow actually is quite comfortable, and although perhaps not as extravagant as Emirates or Etihad, the pillow sufficed for good sleep.

The seat is fully lie-flat and has multiple controls on the side of the seat. As well, there is a small compartment area just to the upper left area of the seat that can store your electronics and drinks. The plugs and outlets are also located there as well.

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The United BusinessFirst amenity kit is decent. I do like the amenity kit bag. At the time in February 2016, United partnered with Cowshed to supply the amenity items including lotion, lip balm, and others. Inside included comb, sleeping mask, ear plugs, tooth paste and tooth brush. Good kit, but nothing extraordinary.

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In terms of legroom, there was ample space lengthwise when my seat was upright. When the seat is in lie-flat position, there is enough space widthwise from the head to the waist, although the foot rest area might be a bit tight as you can see from the photo below. If you are a tall person over 6 feet, you might feel a bit squeezed while in the lie-flat position.

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The next series of photos was the dining experience from Honolulu to Tokyo. Not surprisingly, the dinner menu had Japanese, and with my liking of Japanese cuisine, I opted for the Japanese style appetizers along with the main course. The Japanese appetizers was actually surprisingly delicious. The fish and miso soup for the Japanese entree was decent, but not great.

As for the salad course and cheese course, those were good as well, but nothing out of the ordinary. Overall, the dinner service was good and the flight attendant came back several times to check on if I needed anything else. I couldn’t help but order many rounds of my favorite cocktail: Disaronno and orange juice 🙂

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Photo above: Japanese appetizer course.

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Photo above: Salad course.

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Photo above: Japanese main entree course.

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Photo above: Fruit and cheese course. I decided not to have the dessert course.

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Photo above: Light snack and refreshments prior to landing.

United BusinessFirst Tokyo Narita Lounge

After landing at Tokyo, I proceeded to find the United Tokyo Narita lounge. The Narita lounge has the general lounge area for all BusinessFirst passengers, and then a separate lounge upstairs for GlobalFirst customers. Since my next flight was only in Economy, I technically did not have lounge access, however, since I had arrived coming in on BusinessFirst, my United ticket worked in terms of access into the lounge (this works for any arrival of international airline segment and as long as United has a branded lounge at that arrival airport). If I didn’t have that, then I could have simply used my United Club lounge pass to get access as well.

The United Tokyo Narita lounge is very clean and modern. There entire lounge was well lit and the food and refreshment area was always well stocked with the evenings appetizers like sushi and various sandwich meet with Japanese salad. What I liked most was being able to grab the local Sapporo Japanese beer 🙂

The only con is that when I arrived at 4:00PM in the evening, the lounge was quite crowded and finding a seat, even though the lounge is big, was tough to come by. I initially had to sit along the window area until a regular seat opened up elsewhere.

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Photo above: Always a digital nomad in transition!

United Domestic First from Newark to Honolulu

On my final leg of my Round the World journey, I was to travel from Newark to Big Island via Honolulu. The long-haul route with United would take me from EWR to HNL and then I’d connect at Honolulu with Hawaiian Airlines to take a short-inter-island flight to Hilo.

Newark Airport has a separate check-in floor just dedicated for business and first class passengers. The entire second floor check-in area mostly has self-serving boarding pass kiosks. After grabbing my boarding pass, I proceeded to security that again, is only for United business and first class passengers.

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After going through security, I proceeded to locate one of the several Newark United lounges. Even though I was flying in First Class, because Newark to Honolulu is a domestic route, that in itself does not allow entry into the lounges. Again, kind of ridiculous when you think about an 11 hour flight not getting access to lounge when having a First Class ticket. But thankfully, I had extra United Club lounge passes, so I simply used one of them.

The United Club at Newark similar to Honolulu once again, is quite out-dated in terms of furniture and overall state of the look and feel of lounge. And again, the refreshment area choices was pretty lame in the morning, so no point in me taking much of photos of this lounge since it was nothing really special.

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After boarding, I proceeded to go towards the front of the First class cabin to seat 1D. The Boeing 767-400ER has a unique business class set-up where it’s a 2-1-2 set-up. The entire middle row is simply single First class seats that have access to the aisle on both sides. The single aisle seats obviously would be great choices for solo travelers while those who are couples travel along the window seats.

The lie-flat seat is very similar to my United BusinessFirst experience flying from Honolulu to Tokyo so I won’t repeat again the seat features. Since the flight is domestic, there is no amenity kit handed out.

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Interestingly, with a flight of 11 hours, being around 3-4 hours longer than my Honolulu to Tokyo flight, one would assume that food would be at least on par with international business or first class? Wrong! It’s really disappointing to say the least, but the food quality was not great at all.

In the below photo is what they served as breakfast in First class. The sausages tasted rubbery, and the omelette pretty much had no flavor. I usually am I person that finishes meals, but I couldn’t stomach eating all of that breakfast.

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Lunch service wasn’t any better either. The pizza calzone was rough on the palate, and again, simply had no flavor or taste. That being said … gratitude is key and I’m just grateful that I got the chance to sit up in First Class on the 11 hour flight. United economy does NOT serve any free meal on that entire long journey, so if you don’t have food, then prepare to starve or bring your own snacks and food to last you the 11 hour journey.

Hawaiian Airlines would be the better choice flying direct to Honolulu from JFK if you flew in economy as a side note! And as I mentioned before, soon, Hawaiian Airlines will fly their new lie-flat seats on that long route starting February 2017 … so the most obvious option would be to choose that airline. Hopefully this little competition will spur United to “up their game”.

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What has been your experiences flying domestic First with United?

If you also fly BusinessFirst with United internationally, do you agree that the level of service differs dramatically between domestic and international flights?

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Emirates A380 First Class Review

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On my RTW 2016 trip, I had the privilege of trying out Emirate’s luxurious First Class cabin, not just once, but three different times! I routed the Emirates flights towards the end of my round the world journey on my return back to the U.S.

The journey back started with the first A380 flight from Barcelona to Dubai (where I stayed for 5 days to meet with friends). The second A380 flight went from Dubai to Milan. And then the third A380 flight went from Milan to New York. Technically, the second and third flights were booked under the same flight, but the plane makes a stop-over in Milan to pick up/drop-off passengers before heading onwards to New York.

The one-way flights on the Emirates First Class can go upwards of $10,000 or more. When I priced out the actual cost of each of the one-way flights from Barcelona to Dubai, Dubai to Milan, and Milan to New York, the estimated total cost would have been nearly $20,000 for all three first class flights! I definitely did not have that kind of money.

So how much did I actually pay for all of those Emirates First Class flights? (drum roll …)

$79.20 – which covers the taxes and fees. Yes, you read that correctly. But how?

Since Emirates is not part of an airline alliance, the airline is still partnered with other airlines, and one of those partners is with Alaska Airlines.

Alaska Airlines has a personal and business travel credit card with Bank of America. At the time in 2015, I had applied to both the personal and business Alaska credit cards. I would spend the minimum requirements within 90 days and then receive the 30,000 Alaska bonus points. With the first two cards, I had total of 60,000 points.

The trick to earning much more Alaska Airline points is to simply, apply for the same cards again! I know it sounds ridiculous that Bank of America would let people do this, but after every 90 days, one would be able to apply to the same personal and business card and get approved for the same cards again and receive the same exact bonus points. So I did do that, and then earned yet again another round of 60,000 bonus points, to bring my total Alaska Airline bonus points to 120,000 Alaska miles!

Onwards to booking flights, I wanted to find award availability with Emirates First using Alaska Airlines search tool. I would search routing from Dubai to New York one-way and the number of required points was 90,000 Alaska miles. Now that’s an amazing redemption. But another trick is to add a stopover, in this case, it would be simply Dubai. So I routed Barcelona to Dubai as the extra flight. And boom, it was ONLY an additional 10,000 Alaska miles, to bring the total miles required at 100,000 Alaska miles for the Barcelona – Dubai – Milan – New York routing ALL in Emirates First. Incredible!

Unfortunately, those Emirates First class redemption rates are thing of the past. Back in March 2016, Alaska intentionally, unannounced, that they would significantly raise the award redemption rates in Business and First by as much as 100%! Depending on the Emirates routing, First class redemptions now require anywhere from 150,000 to 180,000 Alaska air points. Gone are the days of easy Emirates First redemptions, even though it was not surprising that this would likely end.Also, the above credit card churning strategy may also have most likely ended as Bank of America would scrutinize over the number of Alaska Airline credit card applications you have.

So to recap, my three Emirates flights were as follows:

EK186 from Barcelona to Dubai on the Airbus A380 on May 9, 2016. It’s a late afternoon flight leaving at 3:50PM and arriving in Dubai just after midnight next day at 12:35AM.

I flew in First on seat 2K. Since Emirates doesn’t have a lounge in Barcelona, Business and First class passengers have guest access to the Sala Miro lounge.

EK205 from Dubai to Milan on the Airbus A380 on May 16, 2016. It’s a morning flight leaving at 9:45AM and arriving to Milan around 1:00PM.

Again, I flew in First on seat 3A. Emirates does have their own branded lounge at Milan airport.

EK205 from Milan to New York JFK on the Airbus A380 on May 16, 2016. It left in the afternoon at around 3:30PM and arrived at JFK around 7:00PM.

 I flew in First, retaining the same seat at 3A. Going through customs at NYC was a breeze.

Onwards to the actual Emirates First class cabin experience:

My first leg of the journey with Emirates First started out in Barcelona. Since Emirates does not have their own premium lounge at Barcelona airport, they give guest access to the one lounge called Sala Miró VIP Lounge.

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The lounge was decent, however no where near the top standards of Emirates Business or First class lounges.

Emirates First Class Cabin Features and Amenities

After relaxing in the lounge for 1 hour, I headed out to the gate to prepare for boarding. The boarding process was separated with First and Business boarding at a separate gate and Economy board at another nearby gate. One thing I wish was that Emirates had a way to separate the First/Business boarding process as it got confusing, but it wasn’t such a big deal. Once I got into the cabin, I was pleasantly enjoying the cabin interior:

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The photo above is view of neighbor First suite from my window seat. You can see how the suite doors really give ample privacy!

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There was leg room for miles! Since Emirates First didn’t have any overhead bins, you would put your carry on in the corner space under the front table. There are extendable wall straps that can hold bigger rolling carry on luggage from shifting around during the flight.

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Lighted table vanity mirror with some lotion, cream, and wake/sleep sniffing box.

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Next to the seat is a self-serve bar with sparkling water, still water, and other juices and sodas, within easy reach.

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Right in front of the self-serve bar is a tablet that controls the seat position, seat massage, all the lighting in the suite, and also controls the suite doors.

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So before take-off, the friendly flight attendants came around providing a welcome Dom Pérignon champagne drink, Arabic coffee, and a date. They also came around with newspapers/magazines and provided wonderful Bvlgari amenity kits, which included toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, shaving cream, shaver, hair comb, tissues, and Bvlgari fragrance and lotion. Comfortable slippers and pajamas were passed out as well as Emirates branded beach bag. Lots of cool Emirates items to keep!

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Now, after taking off from Barcelona, I noticed something strange in that the plane kept circling around and around. After 45 minutes of circling, the pilot finally came on and mentioned that the landing gear had issues retracting back. I was thinking, uh-oh, that can’t be good. To ease my mind, I decided to simply explore the cabin by meeting up with a fellow business class passenger I had made acquaintance with and hang out with the friendly flight-attendants while the pilots were figuring out if they had to return to Barcelona. In the end, the pilots decided to return and cancel the flight.

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While the flight was dumping fuel, I decided to have some fun and become an Emirates flight attendant, wearing their signature head piece.

Once we landed back in Barcelona, you can imagine the amount of stress and work that the ground crew would need to do in rebooking over 500+ passengers into hotel rooms overnight. Luckily, I got my hotel room all paid for at the Renaissance Barcelona Fira Hotel along with dinner and breakfast. When I showed up the next morning, they still handed me another food voucher for more breakfast. Nice touch. And since the Emirates plane cancellation was well over 5 hours, under the EU compensation laws, I ended up getting 600 euros. So not bad for one plane cancellation!

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So up and early, I boarded our replacement flight that flew in from Dubai the night before. Luckily, no problems and it seemed like everyone was optimistic for a pleasant on-tim journey towards the Middle East. The flight crew was the same from the day before, so it was fun joking around about the whole cancelled flight situation!

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Emirates Onboard Shower, Spa and Bathroom Amenities

Back in late 2015, Emirates made a short commercial featuring Jennifer Aniston, that poked fun at the US-based airlines. In the commercial, Jennifer Aniston gets up in a bath robe and asks the flight attendants, “where’s the shower?”. And to her dismay, the flight attendants make fun of her for making a ridiculous remark. You can view the Emirates commercial here.

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In actuality, I kept thinking back to the Jennifer Aniston commercial as I went into the Emirates First bathroom. It truly is the biggest airplane bathroom facility I’ve ever seen.

The bathroom has amenity kit drawers, hair dryer, sink, full size toilet, close-in door timed shower, and full line of hand/body soaps and body products.

A flight attendant goes around to each First class passenger and asks what time you would want to take a shower. The showers are limited to around 4-5 minutes, however, on flights where it’s not as full, the flight attendant can manually set it to as long as 8 minutes. There is also a bathroom/shower attendant who freshens up the bathroom and helps with any questions pertaining to the use of the shower.

After you take a shower, they set the table with a post-shower tea, brandy, and fruits. Nice touch!

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If you are hungry for other treats or want to make a drink (without having to ask flight attendant), the front of the First class cabin area has a self-serving mini-bar.

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Emirates Inflight Cocktail Bar and Lounge

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The cool thing about each of the Emirates flight is their inflight bar. The inflight bar is located towards the back of business class on A380. I decided to venture across the business class cabin (which felt like a long journey lol) to get to the inflight bar. There, I had a good time pretending to be making drinks.

The Emirates flight attendants were happy to assist in taking souvenir photos of me (and my acquaintance friend) behind the bar using a Polaroid camera. The inflight bar area is spacious with two couch seatings on each side of the inflight bar area. There is also a big flat screen TV showing the flight path along with extra snacks and treats to grab.

Emirates First Class Dining Experience

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I’ll let the various above photos of my Emirates dining experience speak for itself. Prior to the Emirates flights, I had experience a bunch of other business class flights ranging from United to Qantas to Royal Jordanian to Thai Airways. But nothing was going to prepare me for the thick menu booklet with tons of appetizers, main entrees, and desserts to choose from. So much food, so little room in my stomach!

The appetizers I enjoyed the most was the caviar plate and the Arabic mezze. For the main entrees, I opted to order more of the fish dishes.

And lastly, the drinks, below it was awesome to hold the incredibly expensive Hennessy Paradis bottle that cost upwards of $900 per bottle and the 40 year old Tawny Port. Of course, I had to sample both!

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Emirates First Class Lounge at Dubai Airport

Upon arriving to Dubai airport from Barcelona, the flight attendant hands a Fast-Track pass, which allowed me to bypass long lines at customs. That being said, Dubai airport is incredibly HUGE. It was hard to find where to go, but luckily I found my way out!

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After having a great time in Dubai with friends, I headed off to the airport. Emirates has it set-up where Economy class passengers have separate check-in terminal and the Business and First class have their own check-in terminal. It’s a pretty big check-in area for Business and First class passengers!

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Further more, Business and First class passenger lounges are separate as well. Above is the entrance to First Class lounge.

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I was greeted to have breakfast and seated at an empty table within the First lounge breakfast area.

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The rest of the First class lounge is enormous and spans across the second floor of the terminal.

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Overall Emirates First Class Impressions

My experience flying with Emirates First three times all were definitely amazing. It’s unfortunate that Alaska Airlines redemption rates have doubled, so I’m grateful that I was able to take advantage of the low redemption rates prior!

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Have you ever flown Emirates First? What was your experience like?