Last month I flew from Houston to Honolulu in United First Class. I had booked the award with 30,000 Singapore miles because Singapore miles have access to the same Saver award space on United flights as United miles do, but Singapore charges fewer miles. You can get 40,000 ThankYou Points (which transfer 1:1 to Singapore miles) from the Citi ThankYou® Premier Card which offers 40,000 bonus ThankYou Points after $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.

I was still jetlagged from flying in from Dubai just three days earlier, so I woke up at 7 AM and headed to the airport, arriving 2.5 hours before my flight. I love that Houston-Intercontinental has a Panda Express that is open even at breakfast time, so I feasted then headed to my gate. Starting an hour before departure, the gate agent began making announcements that the entertainment onboard would all be streamed to our laptops, tablets, and phones, so we should download the United app or United media player before boarding.

United 253
Houston (IAH) – Honolulu (HNL)
Depart: 10:00 AM on Sunday September 13, 2015
Arrive: 1:18 PM
Duration: 8:18
Aircraft: Boeing 777-200
Seat: 3A (First Class)

Finally boarding proceeded on time, and I was in Group 1, since I was flying First Class. Once on the jet way, First Class had a dedicated boarding door, which is nice if you don’t board at the earliest possible moment. You’ll still avoid being stuck in the economy line as people board.

Seat

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United flies several types of planes to Hawaii. I flew the 777-200. The 777-200 Hawaii configuration on a lot of the planes is 2-3-2 in First Class and features large recliners with tons of leg room. This is the second best way to get to Hawaii on United (as long as you aren’t stuck in the middle seat in First Class) because these seats have 15″ more leg room than normal domestic First Class on United.

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The best way is on a flat bed. All United 767-400ER flights to Hawaii feature flat beds in a 2-1-2 configuration, and some 777-200 international configurations feature flat beds in a 2-4-2 configuration. You can see whether a United plane features flat beds on the seat map. All flights from Newark and Washington-Dulles, one daily flight from San Francisco, and some flights from United’s other hubs feature flat beds. Here’s my review of United First Class on a 767-400ER from Honolulu to Newark.

The worst way to fly United First Class to Hawaii is on a plane that is equipped with only standard domestic First Class recliners because you have 15″ less leg room than I had on my Houston to Honolulu flight.

After take off, I tried to make myself more comfortable. The seat reclines a long way, but it doesn’t go anywhere near flat. When fully reclined, it’s awkward to put your feet on the ground, so the seat has a foot rest. Unfortunately my foot rest button was broken, so I couldn’t use the foot rest.

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I found the seat very spacious and comfortable enough for reading and watching TV, but I couldn’t fall asleep at all. Mind you I had some pretty terrible jet lag at the time and had been napping every afternoon, but I passed the eight hour flight unable to sleep because the seat just wasn’t conducive to sleep, at least not without the foot rest.

Food

Before take off, the flight attendant came down the aisles offering us three choices for lunch and asking for our top two.
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We were also offered hot nuts and a drink.
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After take off, a three-course lunch was served. I chose a delicious pretzel roll from the bread basket, and I loved that the salad was more than just lettuce with a single tomato like on a lot of airlines. I appreciated the cucumber and couscous to liven things up.

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for the main course, I got my top choice which was the Indian vegetarian dish. Mixing the peas, rice, and sauce was delicious but i was hesitant to try the white cubes, which I figured were either cheese or tofu. I asked the flight attendant what they were, and she had no idea. She conferred with a colleague and still didn’t know. I think it is pretty terrible to serve food and not know what it is.Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 8.01.35 AM

After lunch, a cart of mango sorbet and after meal drinks was wheeled through, but I abstained.Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 8.01.44 AM

There was more food throughout the eight hour flight. For the entire flight after the meal service, a snack basket was in the front galley. There were some great choices, and I had a fresh banana at some point.Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 8.01.51 AM

Finally two hours before landing, we were served cream of mushroom soup and a chicken focaccia. Both were serviceable though not as impressive as the hot steak sandwich served by Emirates. And I’m sure I would have preferred the not-free sandwiches for purchase in economy.Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 8.01.57 AM

Entertainment

I have the United app on my phone and downloaded the United media player on my laptop from the terminal to be able to stream entertainment to my devices. Importantly, at least in First Class, there was an outlet at every seat, so I could keep up with the power-draining nature of streaming entertainment.

In addition to entertainment on your own devices, United offered free tablets in First Class. These were big, heavy, and had way fewer movies and TV shows loaded onto them than were available for streaming to your own device, so these should be your back up plan.

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I thought the selection of TV and movies, all for free, was very good, though I did get some playback errors that were annoying. Hopefully as it becomes easier and cheaper to stream content, this improves.

Bottom Line

I paid 30,000 Singapore miles + $5.60 for a First Class flight from Houston to Honolulu. I got there on time, got two free checked bags, and I was fed and entertained along the way. That’s all I can really ask for, so I feel like I got great value for my miles.

However, if possible, you definitely want to fly a United plane that features flat beds in First Class to get to Hawaii.

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