Review of Our First International Business Class Experience – Part 1

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In early August, my husband and I did something that we had never before done – we took our first international business class trip as we headed to the London Olympics. I know that is “old hat” for some in the miles and points world, but for us it was a new and exciting experience. For once, we were not only looking forward to our trip, but we were also looking forward to the flight. It really is a shift in travel when the flight is a part of the vacation, as opposed to a means to an end. This is especially true since my husband had some anxiety about the length of the flight, flying over the ocean, etc. Before meeting me he had experienced some panic attacks on planes, so the only realistic way to get him to cross the ocean was to put him in a premium cabin where both his body and mind felt a bit more comfortable. If he wasn’t happy on this eight hour trip, then it would be very difficult to continue with the many “larger” trips I have planned for the next couple years.  I needed him to have a great flying experience.  It worked.

Purchasing the Tickets:

We flew direct from Houston to London Heathrow on United. Only United and British Airways offer a direct from Houston to London, so our choices were limited pretty limited.  We avoid connections whenever possible to limit the likelihood of delays, and to ensure we are away from home as little time as possible, so any flight with a connection was a no-go for this relatively short trip. In the end, we decided to fly United over British Airways mainly because it would really help both of us achieve elite status. As a result of the miles earned from the flight, my husband just obtained Silver status, and I am on track to hit Platinum with United by the end of the year.  Elite status will help make travel more comfortable and flexible for our family, so it is an important factor when we decide which tickets to purchase.

We managed to get a solid deal on purchasing the BusinessFirst tickets as a result of a sale tied to the Olympics and the year 2012.  Normally we would use miles for a premium cabin trip like this, but purchasing this ticked was doable for us because my husband’s job picked up the tab for his ticket since he had work to do in the UK. In essence, we had a BOGO deal on an already discounted business class ticket. We each earned about 15,000 redeemable and elite qualifying miles from the trip.

The handy dandy MileValue calculator tells me that when you take into account the 15,000 miles we earned on the ticket, we would have been getting a 1.74 cent per mile return on our miles had we used them instead of cash. That isn’t a terrible redemption value, but it is below the two cents per mile that I try to shoot for with United miles. Long story short, using cash made sense in this case since we only needed one ticket, and the redemption value wasn’t worth it to use miles this time. Now if we needed three tickets for our whole family, the equation would have very much shifted!

Boarding and Pre-Departure:

We were booked on a 777-200, and it looked impressive even as we saw it from the windows at the gate.  It’s not the largest aircraft in the United fleet, but since most of my United flights are on much smaller 737s, this was a definite step-up!  I would be remiss to not point out how excited we were when we got to board first and then follow the signs to the BusinessFirst cabin. I think the guy behind us rolled his eyes when I took a picture of the sign, but we were too excited to care. This was special for us and we wanted to soak in every minute.  Yes, we are total nerds. 

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Once we boarded, a flight attendant almost immediately came over to welcome us and take my jacket. We were offered a pre-departure beverage, and I very happily ordered a glass of red wine. I was feeling very sad about leaving my kid behind, and needed something to take the edge of.  If you haven’t yet had this experience, it felt very different leaving her to go to another continent than it does to fly to another state for a few days.  I didn’t cry, but I probably came pretty close as my mom was texting me videos of C while the plane boarded. For the record, they were watching the Lufthansa A380 take off from IAH while we were waiting for our flight.  It had just started flying out of Houston that week – my whole family is full of airline junkies at heart.

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We were also personally informed of what weather would be en route to London that night, and when it was likely that we might expect some turbulence. They say the same thing to everyone in business class, but it was still a nice touch. Certainly isn’t something you would be told in coach.  😉  There is a pillow, blanket, headphones, and amenity kit waiting on each chair. I’m pretty simple, so the fact that they give you toothpaste was pretty exciting to me. It is also quite handy to have readily available – they really should do some form of that for all cabins on an overnight international flight.

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Before everyone had finished boarding (and before he had even finished one drink) my husband was all smiles.  He isn’t one of those people that naturally looks happy and smiley all the time, so this was genuine.  Is a premium cabin worth it on some special trips?  To me this picture is worth 1,000 words, and the plane had yet to leave the ground.

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In Part 2 of the post that will be available tomorrow, I will cover the inflight entertainment, the meals, the lie-flat seat, and some thoughts on children in the BusinessFirst Cabin.  We didn’t have our child with us on this flight, but I was very much thinking about logistics of traveling with her on a future international adventure.

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Comments

  1. My first awards trip (and I don’t fly for business–so my trips are only a few a year) was first class w/ my family of four San Diego-Frankfurt Germany-Bologna Italy first class on Lufthansa…I am ruined!!! I paid $134 for each roundtrip ticket and the price was $17,500 each. We have since flown their business class which is almost as excellent. If you have a chance, try Lufthansa! It is so much nicer than United’s profduct. Also learned for me, domestic first is a waste of points/money. If I can get on a Virgin flight domestically, that is my first choice! Happy travels!

  2. @Jorgeluis500, you should have seen her as an infant. They really looked identical then!!
    @Kathy, I do plan to try Lufthansa. Probably good that I start more toward the bottom and work my way up than in the opposite direction. 😉 Sounds like you have a good plan in place – enjoy!!

    • @Senorric, my husband would agree with you – and for him that will likely have to be the rule. I’m a glutton so will still do longer economy flights, but I’m sure he is done with anything past 6 hours (though his threshold may be even lower)

  3. I hope this wasn’t a Freudian slip that indicates you only had ONE pre-departure drink!? “We were offered a PER-departure beverage, and I very happily ordered a glass of red wine.”

  4. @Food, Wine, and Miles, it was great – thanks!
    @MileValue, ha ha. It was in fact. Just one – I think my husband ended up having two though. 😉
    @Southern travel girl, sounds like we have similar arrangements then!

  5. I’m shocked that this is your first overseas business class experience. You are so knowledgeable about all things travel! On a side note, good thing you started with United. I had SQ for my first business class experience and nothing else is quite the same. I’m trying CX in three weeks and hope it lives up to the hype. My partner has a rule too… 6 or more hours = businss class.

  6. This may not be the right place for this comment but i dont have your email so…… i posed this question to TPG but he didn’t bother to respond…why haven’t you bloggers called US Bank out on their marketing scheme of getting people to sign up for the FlexPerks Select card with the misleading notion that they will get 33k points when in all reality its really 5k points. Since you guys promote a lot of credit cards it only makes sense for you to call out these unethical business practices and warn your readers

    • @jun, I agree that is a real problem. Barclays used to be pretty notorious for the same thing. It is actually mentioned in my most recent post as a warning to others. I got lucky with mine, but I know not everyone has been as lucky. This is a very very conservative bank, so everyone should be aware of this risk.

  7. Regarding elite status, just an fyi, but if you had flown BA instead of UA you could have gotten platinum status on American Airlines just from that one paid biz class flight for both you and your husband by enrolling in a platinum challenge (no existing status on another airline is needed) with AA, and gotten platinum through 2/14 just from the one flight…

  8. Just wait until after you fly true F on a top tier European, Asian, or middle eastern carrier as well, it will make UA biz feel like coach lol and will be impossible to go back, thats my problem, just can’t bring myself to pay for biz on a USA carrier (unless I’m using free evips on AA…)

  9. We were just as excited as you when we flew BA First this summer. We took pictures and probably got lots of eye rolling – who cares. Great experience and thanks for being so honest about yours. We made our kids “slum it” in BA Club World, they were well behaved and well taken care of.

    You are very knowledgable and I enjoy your website. Thanks.

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