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Mo Cards in Movember

November 28, 2012 5 comments

(If you despise posts just about credit cards, skip this. I don’t have credit card referral links — the links in the post are to other blogs’ posts that better explain what I’m trying to say, or to credit monitoring services).

I’d be lying if I didn’t say the majority of my miles/points come from credit cards. I’ve usually been conservative when it comes to applying for cards for myself, only applying for 1 or 2 at a time, letting my credit history grow a little bit. However, I feel like it’s ready for me to “graduate” and test myself with a 3-5 card app-fest. In this post, I’ll explain how I went about with this set of applications:

My goals for this set of applications:

I wanted to avoid Barclay’s and US Bank, since those are the banks I most recently applied to in the late summer/early autumn. I also wanted to avoid Citi, since I’m planning on applying for another set of American Airlines AAdvantage cards once my 18 months from my last applications pass in January 2013. Because of this, I ended up focusing on Chase, American Express, and Bank of America/Bank of Hawaii.

I applied for a couple of cards in March, one cards in August, and one card in October so I chose a date that was 91 days since the August application, just so that I can start setting up a schedule. Frugal Travel Guy wrote why he does a 91-day schedule and it makes sense to me for several reasons. One is that most spending requirements are within 3 months, so you give yourself time to meet spending requirements. Next is that some banks don’t like seeing too many recent inquiries within the last 6 months, so going on a 91-day cycle means that your churn 2 cycles ago is outside of that 6-month window. I’m not going to say I know the rules down to a T, but this is what I’ve learned from experience and from others, and it seems to work.

I’m not really much of a hotel guy, and I would rather collect airline miles than hotel points, and stay at more “authentic” places when abroad. I know a little about hotel programs but don’t really bother with them. After all, this is Points TO Point B, not Points AT Point B. Nevertheless, I figured having a stash of points to fall back on could prove useful, and decided to start racking up some hotel points, particularly Hilton points since they’re so easy to tally up through multiple credit cards and I can see myself using them overseas for otherwise expensive cities.

While coming up with my list of cards, I realized that I don’t actually have a Chase Ink card for myself … the ones that I’ve used for the past several months are as an employee on a family business with others as the primary cardholder. Since the spending requirement recently went down to $5000 in 3 months, I figured I should include an Ink card since I love Ultimate Rewards points for their ability to transfer to United miles (and in case I need a room at a Hyatt, that too!).

I decided to apply for the Ink Bold (card #1), because I figured that when it comes time to possibly apply for a 2nd Ink down the road, it’ll be easier to convince a possible reconsideration representative that I want a Chase Ink Plus because it allows payment flexibility as a credit card, unlike the Bold which is a charge card. It probably doesn’t matter, but I tend to overthink things, and this seemed like a legitimate reason to go with the Bold over the Plus for my first Ink card.

Since I was already doing a Chase business application, I decided to add a Chase personal card to the mix. I already have the Sapphire Preferred and the United MileagePlus Explorer (which I think is the best offer of the year, giving you 55,000 United miles for $1000 spending if you have an active United account). I don’t really care for Southwest points at the moment … before you call me an anti-Southwest elitist (which I probably am!), I actually think Southwest points are great for some uses. I recently learned that if you book a Southwest points redemption, you can cancel your award ticket for free and get all the points back. That’s actually really huge for a commitment-phobe like me. Unfortunately, Southwest flights are tied to the price of the ticket, and I really don’t see Southwest flights being so much cheaper than other airlines for the flights I want to take.

In the end, I decided to go with the Priority Club 80K (card #2) offer on first spend, available here on FT. This is great because it’s easy hotel points for one swipe of the card, and unlike the Chase Hyatt or Citi Hilton Reserve cards, I don’t have to spend thousands of dollars and have only a year to maximize the free night credit (I’m looking for a stash of points to fall back on, I don’t have a specific redemption in mind at the moment). The points will stay in my account for a while to come for any use — I used 5K points for a PointsBreak night in Frankfurt when I had a one-night layover, saving me over $200! The Chase PC card comes with the first annual fee waived and renews at $49 where you get another free night at any property. Sounds great to me!

As for American Express, I decided to go with the no annual fee Hilton 65K offer (card #3) (40K after $750 in 3 months, additional 25K after reaching $3000 in 6 months). This offer ends on November 30th. I’ll use this card at bonus category places like pharmacies and grocery stores at 6x, especially now that Reloads can be purchased at CVS. I could make this a 75K+ signup bonus with that sort of spending. This doesn’t have the elite benefits that the Amex Hilton Surpass or Citi Hilton Reserve cards have, but all I’m trying to do now is start building up a portfolio of Hilton points, and this is an easy way to do so.

Lastly, I decided to go with the Bank of America and Bank of Hawaii Hawaiian Airlines cards (cards #4 and #5). Both offer 35K Hawaiian Air miles for $1000 of spending within the first 4 months, totaling 70K miles. Those 70K Hawaiian miles can be transferred to 140K Hilton HHonors points. The main thing with the BoA/BoH cards was to get a $5K credit line on each, thus qualifying for the Signature Visa and the full bonus. My plan had been to possibly use the miles for a redemption on Virgin Atlantic, but they recently raised the prices for those redemptions by over 100%! 😦

Taking Stock of my Credit Scores:

I have a $4.95/month subscription to Citi IdentityMonitor, which tracks any inquiries that hit my credit report and any changes that occur on my credit report. I also get non-FICO credit scores through there but they seem to be lower than what the scores really are.

I also use Credit Sesame and CreditKarma, but the scores I get on those are abnormally high. I don’t believe it for a second when CreditSesame says I have an 811 score …

Luckily, I got a Transunion score last month from Barclay’s when I closed my US Airways Mastercard that I got the previous year, and that was a true FICO score showing me at 764. My US Bank FlexPerks card gives me a free Experian non-FICO score each month, and mine was 736. While it’s another non-FICO score, Experian is the most popular credit bureau the banks pull in my area (Southern California). Bank of America/FIA sent me notices about my credit shortly after applying that stated that the credit score I had when my file was pulled was 756, but I learned about this a week later. Lastly, I signed up for a trial at MyFico to check my Equifax score, which showed 751. All in all, a good place to start, since you want to stay above 700 when playing this game.

Day of Apps

1. Chase Priority Club 80K — Approved instantly

I started off with Chase and figured that I would probably have to call in for the Ink Bold no matter what, so I started with the Priority Club 80K offer to see if I’d get approved instantly. I did — for a measly $2,000 spending limit. Hah! No worries, though, the bonus is on first purchase and I plan on keeping the card for the free night credit anywhere in exchange for the $49 annual fee, the 10% points rebate, and Platinum status. I don’t actually plan on using it much. Since it’s the end of the year, I’ll make the first spend in late December so that they post in January — I’ll get Platinum via points for all of 2013 and 2014, so even if I give up the card for some odd reason, I’ll still have Platinum status for an extra year.

2. Chase Ink Bold 50K — Approved with a phone call

I then signed up for the Chase Ink Bold 50K with my personal information, which came back with pending status. I got on the phone with the Chase Business reconsideration line — (800-453-9719) — and spoke with a representative about my side business. After a while on the phone, he suggested that I close down my Sapphire Preferred since I “barely use it” (I don’t consider $5000 of foreign and/or travel transactions “barely using it,” dude!). Not only did I not want to give up this line, but my sister is currently abroad using that card because it has no foreign transactions! I can’t let them cancel that!

In the end, I ended up getting them to close my United MileagePlus Explorer card that had a paltry $4K limit and that I had no use for after opening it in March. It’s also the first card with an annual fee next year, so I decided to close that. I’m really surprised that they had me close a personal line of credit to open up a business charge card, but in the end, I have a $5000 flexible spending limit, just enough to get the minimum spending done. I lost a net $2K in credit with Chase, but it was worth getting 50K Ultimate Rewards points and 80K Priority Club points.

3. American Express Hilton 65K — Approved instantly!

After going 2/2 with Chase, I turned my eye to American Express, and got instant approval  for $5000! The best part was that they gave me my full credit card information (number, expiration, CVV code) so I got that registered for Small Business Saturday in a jiffy! The card arrived in a few days, and I was able to get an extra $25 gift certificate at a local restaurant.

4 and 5. Bank of America and Bank of Hawaii — Hawaiian Air 35K (x2) — Approved with phone calls

I applied for these in separate browsers simultaneously and got pending status on both. I first called Bank of Hawaii and answered a bunch of questions (including why I applied for 2 … because I want to separate my personal and reimburseable expenses, duh ;)). I’m used to reconsideration calls but this was had me give up the most information, including my major in college (WTF?). The rep congratulated me on a spotless credit report, even wondering how I had an Amex card at age 9 and a Discover card at 14 (gotta love credit reporting agencies!). I was approved quickly.

I then called Bank of America and spoke with a rep who asked me NO questions whatsoever. After about 5 minutes on hold, I was approved with the same $5K credit line – score!

Payout

Impact on credit score

I’ve been keeping track of Credit Karma and Credit Sesame and they’ve been holding steady. Most of my credit inquiries came on Experian, despite applying at so many different banks. However, Bank of America sent me my Experian score after applying for their card, and I was ecstatic to see that it was much higher than expected.

 

Meeting minimum spend

I’ve actually already met the first spend on my American Express Hilton card, and have drawered that until I finish the rest (I have 6 months to reach the higher threshold). I got the Priority Club card and will make a small purchase on that soon. My Chase Ink Bold came in this week and I’m already over 20% of the way there for minimum spend thanks to Office Depot Visa gift cards and some methods of upping spend. Want to know more? Find me at Frequent Traveler University at LAX this weekend!

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1,000 United Miles for Downloading MileagePlus Shopping Assistant Toolbar

October 15, 2012 2 comments

United MileagePlus Shopping is offering 1,000 miles for downloading their shopping assistant toolbar and performing one search on it.

To qualify for the initial download 1,000 bonus miles offer, make at least one search or purchase using the Shopping Assistant. Bonus offer is only valid for the initial download and install of the Shopping Assistant. Not valid on subsequent downloads or installs. Offer ends 10/31/12.”

If you read below, you might want to do 3 searches instead of just 1. Below are screenshots of the offer:

After downloading

You want to make sure you are signed in to the toolbar before doing any searches. It should give a blue hue to show you are logged in. It says “1 Mile/3 Searches,” so I went ahead and did 3 searches instead of 1 search, just to get that extra mile and to make sure that the 1,000 miles post.

Blue = logged in.

I did the search in Safari (a browser I never use) and uninstalled it from my main browsers (Firefox and Chrome). Once the miles post, I’ll uninstall it completely. Hope they post soon!

Categories: United Airlines

An End of Summer Appfest

September 5, 2012 1 comment

It’s a busy week for the P2PB family, at least in terms of credit card approvals. Personally, I tend to stay away from huge churns, since I’m rather conservative with my fairly young credit history and would rather apply for limited-time offers as they pop up. I’ll do a maximum 2 cards at a time. This also helps me deal with large spend requirements by keeping them manageable. On the other hand, my parents are the type who don’t like to switch up credit cards that often, so I try to sign them up for a glut of cards at once so that we can deal with the annual fees and card-switching all at once. With their businesses, it’s not too difficult for them to hit high spend thresholds.

Me:
US Bank FlexPerks Visa
: Approved, luckily for the Travel Rewards card and not the less lucrative Select card (judging from posts on Flyertalk, my non-churning habits might have helped me here). I signed up for this card because it was a limited-time promotion. It was also a non-Citi/Chase/Amex card, the ones where I’ve been getting the brunt of my CC bonuses. The Olympics promotion allowed me to earn 33,150 points after I spend $2500 in 5 months, which is certainly doable. It’s best to have FlexPerks points in multiples of 10K, since

20,000 FlexPoints = Up to $400 ticket value
30,000 FlexPoints = Up to $600 ticket value
40,000 FlexPoints = Up to $800 ticket value
50,000 FlexPoints = Up to $1,000 ticket value

Since I’ll have a minimum of 35,650 points after meeting the spend threshold, it makes sense to me to go for 40K points and earn an additional $200 worth of travel. In fact, if I were to concentrate $3425 of spend on 2x categories, I’ll earn 40K points for not that much more than the required spending. For $3425 of spending, that’s up to $800 of return, or 23.36%. Even if I do 50% at 2x and 50% at 1x, that would be a bit over $4566 to spend. While not as lucrative as some mileage bonuses, cash is more liquid, and trips paid with these points earn elite and redeemable airline miles. It should help with my “re-run for Gold” early next year.

The card earns 2x on either gas, grocery, or airline purchases, depending on which has the highest spend that month. Methinks I’ll be going with grocery, since I can buy prepaid gift cards to use elsewhere. Gas currently earns 5x on Freedom, and I still have a bunch of ARCO gift cards I purchased in Q2, where Chase had grocery at 5x. Meanwhile, I get 2x for airfare on my Chase Sapphire Preferred and will get 5x on my Chase Freedom starting in October.

The card earns 2x on cell phone purchases, including monthly bills, which is less than the 5x earned on the Chase Ink cards. However, AT&T allows me to pay my cell phone bill whenever I want for whatever amount, so I might prepay a bill if it comes down to just wanting to finish the spend ASAP and get the points.

Lastly, you do earn 3x for charitable donations, which is great since the spend deadline is after December 31, which is around the time most people make charitable donations. I donated $25 to Kiva and it showed up as 75 points.

The $2500 by mid-January 2013 is more than doable for me, which is great since I’m still working on finishing up my Delta Platinum Amex $25K spend to hit 10K MQMs before my fee is due in October. I decided pretty late in the year to go for $25K spend to get the 10K MQMs, and am OH SO CLOSE.

;

Mama P2PB + Papa P2PB:

Chase United MileagePlus Explorer Visa: Approved! for 55,000 United miles after $1000 of spending in 3 months (total: 110,000 United miles after $2000 of personal spend).

I think this is a great signup bonus – I got it earlier in the year when it was 50,000 miles on first purchase + 5,000 miles for adding an authorized user + $50 statement credit. The bonus now isn’t as great as it once was, but I value 55,000 United miles at over $1,000, so the $1000 spend isn’t bad. The folks have a few rental car days coming up in the next 3 months, and this card will get that activity thanks to its Primary CDW. The rest of the spend threshold conveniently fits within the monthly limits of a certain payment system. Once we hit the spend threshold, it’s back to Chase Freedom for personal spend, since that earns 1.1x + 10 rather than 1x for United miles.

Chase Ink Bold Visa: Approved (after calling in to reconsideration)! 25,000 Ultimate Rewards points on first spend, plus 25,000 Ultimate Rewards points for $10K spend within 93 days (total: 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points after $20,000 of business spend).

Both of my folks got American Express Business Gold cards last year, as both were targeted with 75K Membership Rewards bonuses for just $2K spend. We quickly hit that target, then transferred all the points to Continental before that partnership ended. However, AmEx’s $125 fee just hit and we aren’t that interested in keeping the card, since Ultimate Rewards points are better for our purposes (love that United partnership). While the $10K spend is high, it’s certainly more than doable for the nature of the two businesses, and we plan on using this for all of our major business expenses. (I applied for each card through Frequent Miler’s referral link, just because of the great work he’s done to help people maximize the earnings out of this card).

I was home for the long weekend, and so applied when Chase was open in order to facilitate any reconsideration calls. Since I applied for the personal United card first, this card went into a waiting period. I called Chase for my mother’s card first, and the representative verified my her info. She authorized me to talk to the representative, and I gave information about the business. The Ink Bold is a charge card which must be paid off every month (if you’re not paying the card off every month, you shouldn’t be doing non-0% interest rewards cards). However, we were given a credit limit that was more than what was needed. Lather, rinse, repeat with my father’s information.

The questions asked were:
1) what type of business is it?
2) what were sales last year?
3) what are this years projection?
4) what was the profit?
5) how much is your monthly spend?

Lastly, since these are Ultimate Rewards points, we really did earn 100K as a family, since UR points can be transferred freely between Chase accounts and to any partner accounts.

Barclay’s US Airways Mastercard: Approved for 40,000 US Airways miles after first purchase (total: 80,000 US Airways miles after 2 purchases).

I totally forgot about this card until I was actually doing the applications. I signed up for it last year and was successful in getting the 40K miles + a hit during the grand slam. However, I couldn’t sign up for a second card myself, but forgot to sign up my parents for one. Plus in California, Barclay’s pulls Transunion, which is sort of like the forgotten middle child of the 3 credit bureaus. This was basically a free credit pull and free 40K miles for purchasing a pack of gum. No idea what I’ll use the miles for, but US Airways offers 5K award discounts on US metal. That means that it’s only 20K for a domestic roundtrip on US or 55K for a off-peak roundtrip business class ticket to Europe. (Or with the merger talks, maybe I just scored 80K future AAdvantage miles ;)). Whatever the case, applying for this card was very low opportunity cost, so it just made sense to go for it.

Old cards:
As for the 2 American Express Gold Business cards, I called Amex for retentions. I was able to get 15K Membership Rewards to keep one card for $125, and got a $125 credit for the other account. I posted those here.

So all in all, a good weekend, more so for my parents than for me. Two 55,000 mile United bonuses; 100,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points; two 40,000 US Airways bonuses; and 15,000 Membership Rewards points for them, and some mileage run funds for me.

Asia 2012 Trip Report: United Global “First” Class, London to Los Angeles

June 6, 2012 6 comments

Part 1: Introduction

Part 2: United Airlines LAX-SFO, United International First Class Lounges at LAX/SFO

Part 3: United Airlines Global First Class, San Francisco to Frankfurt

Part 4: Lufthansa First Class Terminal at Frankfurt

Part 5: Lufthansa FRA-ZRH, SWISS First Class Lounge at Zürich

Part 6: SWISS First Class, Zürich to Hong Kong

Part 7: Emirates A380 First Class Suites, Hong Kong to Bangkok

Part 8: Singapore Airlines Business Class, Bangkok to Singapore

Part 9: Exploring Singapore

Part 10: Singapore Airlines Business Class, Singapore to Mumbai

Part 11: Singapore Airlines Business Class, Mumbai to Singapore

Part 12: Singapore Airlines Business Class, Singapore to Hanoi

Part 13: Hanoi / Ha Long Bay

Part 14: Qatar Airways Economy Class, Hanoi to Bangkok

Part 15: Bangkok / Park Plaza Soi 18

Part 16: Emirates A380 First Class Suites, Bangkok to Hong Kong

Part 17: A weekend in Hong Kong

Part 18: Thai Airways/United First Class Lounges at HKG, Thai Airways First Class, Hong Kong to Bangkok

Part 19: Thai Airways Royal First Lounge and Royal Orchid Spa at Bangkok

Part 20: Thai Airways Royal First Class 77W Suites, Bangkok to Frankfurt

Part 21: Lufthansa European Business Class, Frankfurt to London (plus a day in London)

Part 22: Star Alliance Lounge at LHR, BMI Great British Lounge

Part 23: United Global “First” Class, London to Los Angeles

—————————————-

United 935, LHR-LAX
10:25am – 1:30pm, 11h5m
Boeing 777-200 (new configuration)
Seat 2A, Global First

I got to the gate just as the gate agent was describing the United boarding “process.” What was said was that they’d board by zone numbers. As an First passenger, I had Group 1 on my ticket, so when the gate agent announced, “we’d like to board the first group, Global Services,” I took the comma in that phrase as an “and.” I was turned away, as 4 eager Global Services (United über-top-tier elite status) members walked ahead to board first. Two of them were in business. Remind me again what “First” and “One” mean? I know I’m lucky to be flying ahead of the wing due to miles, but already this is an experience I wouldn’t ever put down money for if I needed to buy a ticket and United were one of several options.

A bit later, I was invited to board, and walked through the jetway. Two bridges were attached, one for Global First/BusinessFirst going to door 1 and the other for Economy going to door 2. I took my seat at 2A. Despite seeing 2 empty seat assignments at check-in, all 8 seats were eventually taken, probably with last-minute upgrades from business (U.S.-based airlines don’t “protect First Class” as much as other carriers).

Seat 1A, a bit different from 1A on the 747

Global First/BusinessFirst Divider behind 2A. Klassy with a K.

I don’t know if this is because this was a U.S.-bound flight, but there was just a lot of hubbub and commotion within the cabin. It seemed like the aisle was a fashion runway and everybody wanted to strut their stuff. Ground staff plus crew members (both service and cockpit) were running throughout the cabin – even though we boarded 50 minutes ahead of “shed-jewel.” What’s all the hubbub about? It’s another reason why I prefer 747s, either the top deck or the nose section.

I wasn’t really welcomed onboard, just asked if I would like anything to drink. Since it was barely 10am, I stuck with a cold glass of water, delivered in a plastic cup. At least the flight attendant placed the advertisements on the napkin downward. I went to place my carry-on in the bin, but found that the bin directly above my seat was filled with crew baggage. I instead put it one bin over. Not a big deal, but seriously?

After having traveled around the world for the better part of a month, I’d noticed a few things about Americans compared to other citizens of the world. We are a talkative bunch, and our flight pursers are no different. The crew was London-based, but the purser definitely spoke with a U.S. accent. In the time it takes for a Thai Airways or Singapore Airlines or Emirates purser to read through a script in 2 languages, it takes that much time for a United purser to formulate a coherent message in 1 language. Add in their some filler phrases like, “we do appreciate your cooperation throughout this flight.” No need to say that … just a simple “thank you.” Want me to fasten my seatbelt? I’ll do it. Want me to put my bag away? Certainly. Why wouldn’t I cooperate? Is it because you have an unwelcoming service environment? Oh right, I forgot about the poor souls down the back. Someone should teach them that foreign carriers like British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, and Air New Zealand fly this route as well ….

But back to the commotion … it’s tough to get ready for a flight when there are so many people running up and down the aisles. Sure, I usually fly economy, but it’s only other passengers slowly walking down the aisles, finding their small parcel of space for the next few hours. There’s a lot of camaraderie in the affair. But the First and forward Business cabins were like a warzone. I tried to escape to the area near the front lavatory, but it seemed like it was the pilots’ second home for the entire flight. Add to the fact that there was only 1 for the First Class cabin. But more on that later. I entertained myself by reading the flight plan left out near the galley.

Once the “ground crew, please leave the aircraft” announcement was made, I headed back to my seat. Ahh, now this is more like it. Well, except for the plastic cup of ice next to me. Menus were handed out before takeoff.

Read more…

Asia 2012 Trip Report: Star Alliance Lounge at LHR, BMI (British Airways) Great British Lounge

June 5, 2012 Leave a comment

Part 1: Introduction

Part 2: United Airlines LAX-SFO, United International First Class Lounges at LAX/SFO

Part 3: United Airlines Global First Class, San Francisco to Frankfurt

Part 4: Lufthansa First Class Terminal at Frankfurt

Part 5: Lufthansa FRA-ZRH, SWISS First Class Lounge at Zürich

Part 6: SWISS First Class, Zürich to Hong Kong

Part 7: Emirates A380 First Class Suites, Hong Kong to Bangkok

Part 8: Singapore Airlines Business Class, Bangkok to Singapore

Part 9: Exploring Singapore

Part 10: Singapore Airlines Business Class, Singapore to Mumbai

Part 11: Singapore Airlines Business Class, Mumbai to Singapore

Part 12: Singapore Airlines Business Class, Singapore to Hanoi

Part 13: Hanoi / Ha Long Bay

Part 14: Qatar Airways Economy Class, Hanoi to Bangkok

Part 15: Bangkok / Park Plaza Soi 18

Part 16: Emirates A380 First Class Suites, Bangkok to Hong Kong

Part 17: A weekend in Hong Kong

Part 18: Thai Airways/United First Class Lounges at HKG, Thai Airways First Class, Hong Kong to Bangkok

Part 19: Thai Airways Royal First Lounge and Royal Orchid Spa at Bangkok

Part 20: Thai Airways Royal First Class 77W Suites, Bangkok to Frankfurt

Part 21: Lufthansa European Business Class, Frankfurt to London (plus a day in London)

Part 22: Star Alliance Lounge at LHR, BMI Great British Lounge

—————————————-

Over the course of a month, I had eaten waaaay too much. I needed to go on a diet. Good thing I was about to fly United.

I made it off the Heathrow Express and took some kind of service elevator to get to the departures level. Except the door close button wouldn’t work. And every 15 seconds, a new passenger would come running toward the elevator to catch it, stopping the closing doors. That scenario repeated about 4 times. Door close buttons on elevators are just about as useful as the “Search” button on the Delta award engine.

Once I made it to the departures level, I wandered around like a chicken with its head cut off before finding the United desks. What’s this? A separate check-in area for Global Services and First passengers then? Not too shabby! I entered the area to have an airport employee ask me a bunch of nonsensical security questions before a quick check-in (due to no lines). I had actually checked in on the mobile app and changed my seat to 2A from 1A, which the agent confirmed. A check for an empty 1K or 2K yielded a negative response … I love sitting on the starboard side on approach to Los Angeles, especially on a clear day (which, I’ll admit, is rare especially in the middle months of the year). I was given a pretty vanilla boarding pass that’s quite possibly the anti-Thai Airways boarding, with a tiny “F” denoted after the flight number.

LHR Global First check-in

I was also given directions to the Star Alliance lounge, which the check-in agent ensured “has a great breakfast.” LHR is OneWorld land, since British Airways is huge there; however, it’s the major airport for a major world city, so both Skyteam and Star Alliance have large lounges for their passengers who fly out of there.

Security went by quickly, with the use of the fast-track lane. While putting my belt back on, a government official approached me, and this actual conversation ensued:

G.O.: “Good morning, sir, I’m from the government.” (if I were Ronald Reagan, I’d be terrified about now).
Me: “Uh, hi.”
G.O.: “You’re traveling to Los Angeles?” (after a peek at my boarding pass)
Me: “Yes.”
G.O. “How long were you in the UK?”
Me: “Less than a day.”
G.O.: “Why so short?”
Me: “Because then I don’t have to pay you £130 for the APD” (actual answer and reasoning).
G.O.: “I see. May I ask how much you spent in the past day, especially your lodging?”
Me: “My hotel was on points, so £0. Kill the APD, I’ll stay longer next time.”

Seriously though, what a stupid levy.

I headed off to the *A lounge and was told to turn right toward the F side. While I’ve now been spoiled by the likes of the LH FCT and the TG FCL, this was still a pretty sorry excuse for an F lounge. Sure, it’s quieter than the J side, but it’s not much nicer in any other way. The food options were pathetic. I stayed for about 10 minutes to take some pictures, then left.

Entrance

First Class side

First Class side

Where is this “great breakfast?”

No type of lighting could make this look good

More modern-looking business class side. More people and same food, though.

I was about to roam the halls of Terminal 1 until it hit me: BMI! They were recently sold to British Airways (in the OneWorld Alliance), but at the time of my flight, they were winding down their membership within the Star Alliance. Therefore, I could potentially use their lounge … a few looks around and I found signs to their international lounge, quite a walk away at about 15-20 minutes, but I was determined to check it out.

Indeed, it is quite a walk, through some hallways and areas of Heathrow I’d think were off-limits to passengers if I wasn’t blinded by going to what must be a carrier’s flagship lounge. I made it and presented my boarding pass, which the lounge dragon took a while to peruse.

“What class are you flying?”
“First.”
“Where does it say that?”
“It’s that tiny ‘F’ after the flight number.”
“Now why would they put it there? That doesn’t make any sense. But seat 2A to Los Angeles, so I believe you.”

The only indication of cabin on the new UA boarding passes …

The BMI Great British Lounge (now the British Airways Great British Lounge) is nicely appointed and has character that was missing in the large Star Alliance lounge. It’s what I imagine a British home to be like, if designed by an airline and placed near a runway. Best yet, it has great views of the tarmac.

Seating area near entrance (The Lobby)

Nice design.

Bookshelf

Bar area (The Local)

Better than the Star Alliance Lounge selection

Yes, still better.

Daybeds with tarmac views (The Slumber)

Tarmac views. I’m going to say that this pic has symbolism (BMI caught between British Airways and Star Alliance) but that’s just lucky timing.

The only problem with the lounge is that it would take a long time to reach my flight, so I had to leave with about 20 minutes left before boarding.

Farewell, BMI.

Asia 2012 Trip Report: Thai/United First Class Lounges at HKG; Thai First Class, Hong Kong to Bangkok

June 3, 2012 1 comment

Part 1: Introduction

Part 2: United Airlines LAX-SFO, United International First Class Lounges at LAX/SFO

Part 3: United Airlines Global First Class, San Francisco to Frankfurt

Part 4: Lufthansa First Class Terminal at Frankfurt

Part 5: Lufthansa FRA-ZRH, SWISS First Class Lounge at Zürich

Part 6: SWISS First Class, Zürich to Hong Kong

Part 7: Emirates A380 First Class Suites, Hong Kong to Bangkok

Part 8: Singapore Airlines Business Class, Bangkok to Singapore

Part 9: Exploring Singapore

Part 10: Singapore Airlines Business Class, Singapore to Mumbai

Part 11: Singapore Airlines Business Class, Mumbai to Singapore

Part 12: Singapore Airlines Business Class, Singapore to Hanoi

Part 13: Hanoi / Ha Long Bay

Part 14: Qatar Airways Economy Class, Hanoi to Bangkok

Part 15: Bangkok / Park Plaza Soi 18

Part 16: Emirates A380 First Class Suites, Bangkok to Hong Kong

Part 17: A weekend in Hong Kong

Part 18: Thai/United First Class Lounges at HKG; Thai First Class, Hong Kong to Bangkok

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After an amazing weekend in Hong Kong, it was time to finally head home. Though while most people flying between Hong Kong and Los Angeles would just cross the Pacific Ocean, I’d go the Atlantic route, via Bangkok, Frankfurt, and London. The reason had everything to do with the airline I’d be flying from Hong Kong to Frankfurt.

While the outbound segment centered around SWISS First Class and the Lufthansa Frankfurt First Class Terminal, the return segment of my 120K US Airways miles award was built solely around trying out Thai Airways’s (TG) First Class product, especially the ground services at their Bangkok hub. I had quite a pleasant surprise when two weeks before the trip, I saw that the 747 I had booked from Bangkok-Frankfurt was scheduled as a 777-300ER, with the Jet Airways suites. Of course, TG is known for switching out aircraft, so I held my breath. Since this was a US Airways award, I couldn’t change any flights once I flew my first segment …

Anyway. A winding red cab ride down the hills of the Mid-Levels brought me to the Hong Kong Airport Express station. After a month of traveling, I had a suitcase overflowing with goodies to bring home (mostly things given by relatives on one continent to get to other relatives on other continents … I tend to be a family courier when I travel due to free bags via status or premium cabins). Luckily, the Airport Express allows one to check-in bags at Hong Kong Station. What a concept!

Unfortunately, I got “TG’d” on my first TG flight. The seat map the day prior showed the newer 747 configuration, with seats similar to those on the Swiss A340 I flew from Zurich to Hong Kong. However, Thai subbed in an older 747 for this flight. This is a frequent occurrence with Thai Airways, and so frequent flyers call it getting “TG’d.”

Due to a light load in First, the desk agent said each set of 2 seats would have 1 blocked. In addition to boarding pass, I was also given a Lounge Pass to the Royal First Lounge and a “voucher” for a golf cart ride from airport check-in counters to lounge (though I never figured out how to use it … plus after a weekend of delicious Hong Kong food, I sorely needed to walk around their massive airport).

I hung around the Hong Kong Airport Express station to hang out with my cousin who I was visiting. That’s one thing I love about HK … many of the big shopping/food centers are built around MTR stations. Everything is so accessible. It really is ingenious.

Once at the airport, I bee-lined for the Thai Airways lounge. It’s a large space with a separation between Business and First Class passengers. Upon entering, I was shown to the right, to the First space, and asked by a staff member if I’d like a drink and/or snacks. The sole difference between the First and Business space is pretty much the amount of people in each … it looks to be the same amenities, just with a partial wall in between.

Entrance to the HKG Royal Orchid Lounge

First Class area

Pretty limited food/drink selection

Not much of a division between the First and Business sides, either. Same massage chair as well.

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Asia 2012 Trip Report: United Global First, San Francisco to Frankfurt

May 24, 2012 2 comments

Part 1: Introduction

Part 2: United Airlines LAX-SFO, United International First Class Lounges at LAX/SFO

Part 3: United Airlines Global First Class, San Francisco to Frankfurt

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United 900, SFO-FRA
1:55pm-9:45am +1 (10h50m)
Boeing 747-400
Seat 1A, Global First

I have to say “Global First” because United now calls their Business class “BusinessFirst.” What a crock. Their Business Class has 8 seats in one row …

Anyway … the GLOBAL First cabin feels almost utilitarian. A lot of gray and then some more. I took my seat in 1A, and checked that item off my bucket list. Unfortunately, 1A is very close to seat 1K, and looking to my right side, I could made direct eye contact with seat 2K. A bit awkward.

The seat has a bunch of nooks and crannies to store things in; a large storage bin between the seat and aisle, a headphone stowage mini-closet, and a storage bin between the seat and window. The screen is a good size and very sharp. The IFE worked on the ground, so I started watching the movie “Hugo” (although with my own headphones, since the ones supplied by UA are rather pathetic).

As a first-timer in the nose section, I was glued to my window, facing partially forward due to the curvature of the fuselage. What a view. I would later be given a front row seat to the Aurora Borealis later that night. Unreal.

View down the runway, before the turn to takeoff (Seat 1A is in front of the front wheel).

The plane I really wanted to fly from SF to Frankfurt, but alas, no award seat availability 😦

Service began shortly after takeoff and the meal was somewhat decent. I’ve heard that UA’s First menu is simply the Business menu with another choice added on there, and I believe it after the meal. Perfectly edible, but no excitement in it either. I’ve had better lunch meals on Delta’s transcon business class from LA to New York.

Table setting

TO BEGIN
Chilled Appetizer – Jumbo shrimp cocktail with wasabi-infused sauce.
Soup – Mushroom Brie.
Fresh Seasonal Greens – Roasted tomatoes, Kalamata olives, mozzarella and croutons with blue cheese dressing.

MAIN COURSE
Grilled Filet Mignon – Port wine demi-glace, roasted rosemary potatoes and sautéed asparagus with sun-dried tomato
Pomegrandate-glazed Breast of Duck – Pomegranate sauce, jasmine rice with cashews and Chinese broccoli with carrots
Grilled Fillet of Mahi Mahi – Mushroom-Sherry wine sauce, sweet potato pie and sautéd spinach with garlic
Portobello Mushroom-filled Mezzaluna Ravioli – Tomato vodka sauce, sautéed mushrooms and Parmesan cheese.

TO FINISH

International Cheese Selection – Amablu St. Pete’s Select Blue, Four Year Aged Cheddar and St. Rocco Triple Creme Brie. Served with seedless grapes, crackers, and Graham’s Late Bottled Vintage Port
Dessert – Ice cream

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