Review: United Business First Dubai to Washington

After spending an enjoyable three days in Dubai, we arrived at Dubai International Airport where we went through check-in, immigration and security without a hitch.  We had about an hour or so to kill before we needed to go to the gate for another round of security, so we headed to the Lufthansa Senator Lounge for a bit.

This lounge isn’t the largest lounge in the world, but there were a few options of cold appetizers as well as beer, wine and soft drinks.  I had a drink and a quick bite to eat as my buddy and I relaxed a bit before our impending long haul back to Washington.

Lufthansa Senator Lounge - Dubai

Lufthansa Senator Lounge – Dubai

It was finally time to get to the gate, so we made the ten minute trek through the expansive Dubai Terminal 2.   Since this was a flight back to the United States from Dubai, there was an additional security screening at the gate.  They took business class passengers first, but that only meant that we were allowed into the holding pen first at the gate, as boarding had not yet started.  Finally, after about thirty minutes of sitting around, we boarded our United B777-200.

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American AAdvantage and US Airways Dividend Miles Combine – What it means to you

On Tuesday, American Airlines announced that it would combine the legacy loyalty programs of American Airlines and US Airways on this coming Saturday, March 28.  Previously, American had stated that these two programs would be merging sometime in the second quarter 0f 2015, so this puts them a little ahead of schedule.  The newly combined program won’t be a huge change to those loyal to American Airlines, but it looks to be quite an adjustment for those US Airway Preferred members — and many of those adjustments are good!

So now that these programs are merging into one, what does that mean to the frequent flyer?

In general, passengers should know the following tidbits while this merger goes through this week:

  • Both websites will be functional this week as the programs combine
  • Some US Airways Dividend Miles functionalities will be unavailable until Saturday, March 28
  • The last day to book US Airways awards and to take advantage of its unique award chart is Wednesday, March 25.
  • If you’ve already linked your US Airways Dividend Miles and American AAdvantage accounts, they balances will be combined
  • If you haven’t linked your accounts, the airline will combine your accounts and issue a new American AAdvantage number to you that will show your combined airline activity

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Review: United Business First Washington to Dubai

A good friend of mine and former roommate moved to Dubai from Washington a few years back, but I’d yet to successfully visit him out in the desert.  Two years ago, I tried to meet up with him while on a trip to Dubai, but engine problems on the Dreamliner and the resulting 24-hour delay forced me to miss meeting up in Dubai that time around.  For this trip, I planned to visit my friend with another good friend from grad school.  We booked the flights back in June with the intention to use my United Global Premier Upgrades to ride in business class of the long-haul weekend trip.

I ended up booking the trip to Dubai out of Boston.  Why?

Well, the price for an upgradeable economy class fare on United (W-fare) was substantially cheaper when departing from Boston — like $700-800 cheaper.

My itinerary would take me from Boston, back to Washington — and then non-stop from there to Dubai.  Luckily, the upgrades cleared in July and August, so we weren’t even close to sweating this one out — we were able to rest easy knowing that the long journey would be in relative comfort of United Business First.  Anyway, in order to position myself to Boston, I purchased a cheap US Airways flight from Washington-DCA up to Logan.

After a moderately lengthy layover at the recently refurbished United Club at Boston’s Logan International Airport, I took a quick hop down to Washington-Dulles where I met my friend in the Lufthansa Senator Lounge in Terminal B.  Since it was winter time, the lounge closed early and Lufthansa evicted us at 5:45pm.  We trudged to the United Club by gate D-5.  Though it was definite step down from the Lufthansa Senator Lounge, the United Club served as a perfectly comfortable setting to pass some time and drink some (very) cheap scotch.

The chariot awaits -- our B777-200 being prepped for the journey from Washington to Dubai

The chariot awaits — our B777-200 being prepped for the journey from Washington to Dubai

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My Last Hurrah as a United Premier 1K: A Weekend in Dubai

With my United Premier 1K status set to end at the end of January 2015, I wanted to make the most of it before it expired.  That meant I had some Global Premier Upgrades to burn!  United 1K members receive six Global Premier Upgrades (and two regional premier upgrades) that are good for an upgrade from economy class to business class or business class to first class on any route that United flies.

The caveat to these Global Premier Upgrades is that the economy fare must be booked into a certain, minimum fare class in order to have the upgrade be valid.  On United flights, this booking class is known as a W class fare.  A W class fare is an economy fare that typically is sold for substantially more than the lowest, discount economy fare.

However, if you’re vigilant and know how to hunt for it, some good W class fares are out there.

I’d been itching to get back to Dubai for quite some time to see a good friend and former roommate of mine who moved to Dubai form Washington a few years ago.    Two years ago, I tried to meet up with him while on a trip to Dubai, but engine problems on the Dreamliner and the resulting 24-hour delay forced me to miss meeting up in Dubai that time around.

Burj Khalifa, Dubai

Burj Khalifa, Dubai

The Flight Deal alerted me to some cheap fares to Dubai from Boston, so I figured I’d look into them to see how the W class fares looked.  Turns out, they looked quite good – only about $100 more than the cheapest economy fares!

Score!

Since the good fare was out of Boston with a connection in Washington-Dulles, that necessitated a positioning trip to Boston, from Washington.  Does that make any sense?

Considering it saved upwards of $800, I thought so.

Though there was no confirmable upgrade space immediately available, the seat maps for both the Washington to Dubai and Dubai to Washington flights were wide open.  So I booked the trip from Boston for myself and applied my Global Premier Upgrades.  My buddy booked his flights from Dallas and would meet me at Dulles for the long flight to Dubai — I also used my upgrades on his tickets.  To our delight, both of our upgrades cleared both ways by August!

To complete my itinerary, I purchased a cheap, $59 one-way flight from Washington-National to Boston.  I would plan to spend a few hours in Boston before hopping a flight to Dulles.

So essentially, I would be flying from Washington-National to Washington-Dulles VIA Boston.

Because that’s perfectly normal.

At $59, I guess it’s cheaper than a cab from DC out to Dulles…

My routing:  DCA-BOS-IAD-DXB-IAD-(BOS)

My routing: DCA-BOS-IAD-DXB-IAD-(BOS)

2014 Year in Review

Another year has passed, and once again I was fortunate enough to travel a good bit.  Now, I didn’t fly nearly as much as I did in 2013, but my 2014 effort ain’t too shabby!  Nevertheless, my stats for this year were less than 2013 for a variety of reasons:

  • In 2014, I focused on burning the tons of miles that I accumulated from flying over 150,000 miles in 2013
  • In 2014, I took a few very long trips instead of a dozen quick trips and weekend getaways
  • In 2014, I did not take trips “just because” due to the new Premium Qualifying Dollar requirement instituted by United.  This reduced the incentive for me to look for and fly cheap tickets for random weekends to various places, since status is no longer calculated solely by the distance one flies — there’s a dollar spent aspect to it now.
  • By the time I status matched / challenged to American, pretty much my entire year of travel was already set, and since I’d qualified for Executive Platinum, there was no reason to take trips for the sake of status.

Despite a large reduction in distance traveled, I’ve still had an incredible year traveling in 2014, and I present my 2014 Year in Review… Continue Reading →

Review: Grand Hyatt Shanghai

Since I was scheduled to pick up my award ticket and start my journey back to Washington, DC via Tokyo on an Air China flight from Shanghai to Tokyo, I arranged to get back to Shanghai the prior day, leaving the two of us with one last afternoon and evening in Shanghai.  Since we were exhausted at this point of the trip, we decided to cancel our pre-existing reservation at the Andaz Shanghai, Xintiandi in favor of the Grand Hyatt, which is located in the Jing Mao Tower — directly across the street from the Park Hyatt, where we had stayed the previous week.

After arriving on a short hop from Hong Kong on China Eastern, we this time opted to take the Maglev to town, avoiding the ripoff that we experienced on our first stint in Shanghai a few days earlier.  The Maglev only cost 80RMB round trip and took only 12 minutes to get from Shanghai-Pudong Airport to the Longyang Road stop on the metro.  A twenty minute metro ride and five stops later had us a couple blocks from the Grand Hyatt.

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Review: Hyatt Regency Hong Kong, Tsim Sha Tsui

When planning where we would stay for our weekend in Hong Kong, I narrowed it down between the two main Hyatt properties in Hong Kong:  the Grand Hyatt and the Hyatt Regency Hong Kong, Tsim Sha Tsui.  I wrote off the Hyatt Regency Sha Tin due to its location relatively far from Central and Kowloon.  I booked a room at each property and attempted to use on of my Diamond Suite Upgrades at each property.  I was immediately able to confirm a Regency Suite at the Hyatt Regency, but was unable to confirm any sort of suite upgrade at the Grand Hyatt.

I was torn between the two properties — the Grand Hyatt is well-known for being the superior of the two properties, and one of the best Hyatt properties in Asia.  The Hyatt Regency, Tsim Sha Tsui, on the other hand, has a very nice location in Kowloon, right above the entrance to the Hong Kong MTR.

We wanted the space of a suite since three of us would be sharing the room, and ultimately that was the deciding factor — since my suite upgrade never cleared at the Grand Hyatt, we chose the Hyatt Regency for our stay.

After arriving on a short hop from Shanghai on China Eastern, we hopped the Airport Express to Kowloon MTR station.  Here, we took a cab to the Hyatt Regency (HKD $32).

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US Airlines Continue to Cut Passenger Services, Please Investors

Snip, snip, snip….

This is apparently the week for US-based airlines to make all sorts of passenger un-friendly changes and cuts.  While ultimately screwing over the passengers, the cuts are largely going to please investors on Wall Street.

Just this week, Delta, United and JetBlue have announced some cuts that hurt the consumer, and in many cases, they’ve prettied-up their press releases to make it look consumer-friendly.  Tsk, tsk…

Some of the changes this week include:

  • JetBlue announces “refresh” of A320 cabins (read – less leg room)
  • JetBlue announces that free checked bags are no more!
  • United makes a number of “enhancements”
  • Delta announces new 2015 award chart
  • Delta eliminates stopovers and open jaws on award tickets

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Review: Park Hyatt Shanghai

First of all, I’ve made no secret of my love for Park Hyatt properties.  I feel that they are some of the nicest and well-done properties in the world, and are certainly amongst the best hotels in which I’ve stayed.  Before my trip to Shanghai, I’d previously stayed at Park Hyatts in Tokyo, Dubai, Melbourne and Zurich, and all four of them ranked at or near the top of my list of favorite hotels.IMG_9170

The Park Hyatt Shanghai easily joined the very top of that list.

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2015 Combined AAdvantage Loyalty Program Announced

This morning, American Airlines announced its 2015 AAdvantage Loyalty Program for the combined American and US Airways.  As an American elite, the program remains largely un-changed, and that’s a great thing!  With that said, there are a few changes to the program that I’ll highlight in this post.  The theme of the whole deal is that the combined carrier will run one loyalty program (AAdvantage) for two separate airlines and reservations systems at American and US Airways.  This is a bit awkward, but if they make it work like it’s laid out here, it should be fine.

The Changes

Elite Qualification

  • From an initial scanning of the new program, the biggest change is an increase in the qualifying criteria for qualifying by segments.  The new program features an increase of Elite Qualifying Segments (EQS) for Gold / Platinum / Executive Platinum from 25/50/100 to 30/60/120.  The qualification criteria on Elite Qualifying Miles (EQM) and Elite Qualifying Points (EQP) remains the same, and that’s a HUGE sigh of relief.
2015 AA Elite Qualification Criteria

2015 AA Elite Qualification Criteria

Elite Benefits Flying on American

  • For Gold and Platinum elites, 500-mile certificates will still be needed to upgrade on flights over 500 miles, but upgrades continue to be unlimited for Executive Platinum members when flying American
    • Previous US Airways elites will receive 500-mile stickers based on their qualification history so they can upgrade on American flights

Elite Benefits Flying on US Airways

  • When flying US Airways, complimentary upgrades will be cleared automatically, based on status (up to 2 /3 /4 days for Gold / Platinum / Executive Platinum)
  • Integration of Auto-upgrades at US Airways (AA elites will be auto confirmed on US Airways instead of at check-in) — this is great!

General Elite Benefits and Notes

  • All AA elites are now eligible for unlimited complimentary upgrades on flights under 500 miles
  • Executive Platinum Systemwide Upgrades (SWUs) can now be used on US Airways flights, too
  • Addition of free same-day changes for Executive Platinum Members!
  • Mileage balances, elite qualifying miles and  segments, and lifetime miles will be combined in early 2015

Mileage Earning

  • There are no changes to the mileage earning schemes other than:
    • The mileage earning bonus for business class tickets will increase from 25% to 50%.

You can read all the details on the changes here:  2015 AAdvantage Program

The Timeline

Here’s a high-level timeline on when benefits will be available to AAdvantage members:

Right now

January 2015

Second quarter of 2015 (when programs are combined)

More detail on the timeline can be found here:  2015 AAdvantage Integration Timeline

Initial Thoughts

I am very happy with the changes.  As an American Executive Platinum member, I view these changes to the 2015 AAdvantage Loyalty Program as all positive (other than the increase in segments needed for qualification).  Since I will likely qualify via EQM, this does not affect me.  The benefits also increase a bit for Gold and Platinum members, but the level of benefit for those members pales in comparison to what Executive Platinums get.

I was very worried about the addition of a revenue requirement, but that was not included…. for now.  We’ll see what happens after the two airlines are fully integrated.

Note:  I’ll continue to analyze some of these changes throughout the day and provide more commentary, as needed