This is the second post in a series about how I used Singapore miles to book United BusinessFirst between San Francisco and Buenos Aires, as well as a review of the product and travel experience.
- Trip Report Part I: United Clubs in San Francisco and Houston
- Trip Report Part II: United BusinessFirst Houston to Buenos Aires (this post)
- Anatomy of an Award: Booking United BusinessFirst with Singapore Miles (future post)
- Changing a Singapore Award (future post)
United Airlines Flight 819
Houston (IAH) – Buenos Aires (EZE)
Depart: 9:40 PM on Wednesday October 5, 2016
Arrive: 9:45 AM next day
Duration: 10 hours, 5 minutes
Aircraft: Boeing 777
Seat: 8J (BusinessFirst)
As I explained in Part I of this series, I fly between Buenos Aires and the United States roundtrip at least twice a year, as my home base is now Buenos Aires but my family and many of my friends are based in the US.
One of the best parts about flights between North and South America is that the time difference is minor and doesn’t cause any jet lag. The majority of flight options are red eyes, so if you’re flying Business or better, the intercontinental flight will have very little impact on your daily schedule.
A couple of weeks ago I flew from San Francisco to Buenos Aires with a connection in Houston. The first leg was in United economy as there was no domestic First Class award seat available (I monitored award space but it never opened up–more on that in the Anatomy of an Award post).
The transcontinental leg was in United Business Class, which will be the only leg I cover today.
Before Take Off
After relaxing in the United Club of Terminal C in Houston, I made my way to the gate. The plane was already boarding. A long line of people were waiting for general boarding but with Group 1 boarding I was able to walk right on the plane with no wait.
I settled into my seat and turned down the offer of a glass of champagne for a water instead. I had some work to finish up. The flight attendant also gave the dinner menus to peruse, informing us he’d come around a bit later to take our order.
United’s BusinessFirst on the 777 has 40 seats arranged in a 2-4-2 configuration. Unfortunately there’s no seat you can choose that guarantees you won’t be climbed over or have to climb over someone at some point.
I booked this award within a few weeks of departure, so the best seat at the time was 8J.
I wanted aisle access as I’d rather be climbed over than have to be the one climbing over. It was right next to the galley though so there was a fair amount of of traffic and noise.
It was not a luxuriously wide seat–20 inches–but most importantly, it reclined 180 degrees to a fully flat bed.
There was a small ottoman underneath the TV, which my feet couldn’t actually reach, but I had plenty of room to store my laptop bag. Legroom was ample.
Behind me to my right was a small shelf with an electrical outlet–handy for keeping your devices charged–as well as a USB outlet, headphone jack to plug into for watching the in-flight entertainment system, over the ear headphones, and safety information pamphlet.
The seat controls were basic and allowed you to position the seat at varying degrees from straight up all the way to fully flat. All the buttons worked.
The amenity kit provided looked like a time capsule and was branded with the Olympic rings, as United was a partner in this past summer’s games.
All toiletries within the amenity kit were by Cowshed.
- Face Toilette
- Lip Balm
- Hand cream
- Travel toothbrush and toothpaste
- Facial tissue
- Ear plugs
- Eye mask
- Hand sanitizer
One thing that stood out in the amenity kit to me was the socks. Most of the premium cabin socks I’ve received on long flights are lacking the elastic band at the top that helps them stay positioned correctly on your leg. United’s socks were not missing this band, so they’re worth keeping to wear again.
Preparing for Dinner
I took a look at the menus as I knew I’d be approached to order shortly.
For the starter, I decided on the smoked salmon with wasabi mayonnaise.
For the main course, I decided on the short rib of beef. Every time I’ve ordered chicken on an airplane I’ve regretted it because it’s always dry.
Here is the beverage section of the menu.
A few minutes before take off, the lead flight attendant approached me and the man sitting to my right to personally introduce himself, which he did to everyone in the Business Class cabin that I could see. He also double checked if we had any dietary restrictions. This was the highlight of service on the trip. Apart from this introduction, I didn’t receive special treatment from any of the other crew members.
Immediately following his introduction, a different flight attendant came around and took everyone’s order for dinner.
United’s touchscreen in-flight entertainment system had a large variety of old and new films, as well as music and TV Shows. I picked a film titled Big Splash featuring Tilda Swinton as we taxied and prepared for take off.
There was also a remote for the entertainment system if you prefer that over touchscreen.
A flight attendant dropped off hot towels first for refreshment. He then retrieved them and dropped off water, a glass of red wine which I requested, and hot nuts.
Shortly following the warm nuts the same flight attendant came around with a bread basket which was also warm. I chose a pretzel roll and garlic bread. The pretzel roll was delicious and probably one my favorite parts of the meal.
Next came the smoked salmon with wasabi mayonnaise. If you look back at the menu, you’ll see that it said the smoked salmon was supposed to come wrapped in nori. That was not the case, but it was tasty nonetheless.
Following the salmon was a mixed greens salad. It was fresh and I liked the addition of olives and what appeared to be a bonus mozzarella ball which wasn’t mentioned on the menu. Spend $2,000 within three months of opening the card and you get 30,000 bonus Mozzarella balls.
The problem with all these courses is that you start to get full before you even hit the main course. That was a good thing in this case though as I thought my main course was, while moist, over salted. The veggies were a bit depressing and the “wasabi grits” were as strange as they sound. I took a few bites and waited for dessert.
I can always get down with a good cheese plate.
And finally, the ice cream sundae bar. I remember this course from every international United Business Class flight I’ve taken, and find it a cute signature to the meal.
I drank a red Zinfandel throughout the course of the meal that was above average, and they also offered a pleasantly varied selection of Argentine wines. The timing of the courses was appropriate; I never felt rushed nor like I was waiting.
I did not wish to be woken up for breakfast in the morning (which was scheduled for roughly six hours after I had fallen asleep), and I wasn’t. The chicken sausage omelet on the menu looked appetizing, but I’m not accustomed to eating that early.
In retrospect, I realized no crew member ever actually asked me whether or not I wanted to be woken up for breakfast, they just assumed. What if I had wanted breakfast but was heavy sleeper? I think that’s an important detail that shouldn’t have been overlooked. In good premium cabins, flight attendants ask each passenger whether he wants to be woken or not for the pre-arrival meal.
Arrival in Buenos Aires
We had a smooth landing and as I was seated next to the galley at the front of the plane, I was able to exit quickly and was the first one in line at immigrations in Buenos Aires. I’ve waited in that line for an hour in the past, so arriving first was a definitely a bonus.
I was disappointed to find out my checked luggage did not arrive. I checked two bags, a large roller suitcase as well as a backpack, since my Business Class ticket allowed me to check two bags without extra cost. A United representative took down my information and assured me the luggage was not lost, just still hanging out in Houston. Apparently I made my connection but my bags did not.
Crestfallen, I left the airport sin equipaje (without luggage). It was the first time over the course of four years that has ever happened to me, and considering the fact that I was flying on a Business Class ticket where your luggage is also supposed to receive priority, I was annoyed. I recently wrote to United expressing my concern and am awaiting a response from their customer service. Luckily my luggage was delivered to my door step the following morning.
If I had charged the award taxes to a premium credit card, I might have been able to get some compensation from the credit card company. But I am currently trying to meet the minimum spending requirement on the Bank of America Asiana card (who’s sign up bonus will get me another Business Class ticket between Buenos Aires and the United States) and the card doesn’t come with such benefits.
I was satisfied with the ample legroom and comfort level of my seat.
I’m 5’7″, so the bed was long enough that I wasn’t cramped when laying totally flat. I also sleep on my side normally, which is a good thing considering the bed was relatively narrow. If you’re wide/sleep flat on your back or are tall, you may find the bed uncomfortable. I was able to get about six hours of quality sleep though.
The in-flight entertainment system had a large selection of movies and TV shows on demand to be consumed via comfortable over the ear headphones (but not noise canceling).
The flight crew was polite and efficient, but not overly friendly. When discussing this with Scott, he commented how many foreign airlines he’s flown have a premium cabin crew that is proud of the product they represent, and actively seek to ensure that you have the best flight of your life. I agree with him, as I’ve had similar experiences on foreign airlines. I did not get the feeling on this flight.
Not gourmet, but the majority of it tasted good and there was plenty of it. Flight attendants were not stingy with wine refills.
You shouldn’t expect a luxurious, competitive product when you book United Business Class. I’ve flown Asian carriers’ premium cabins, like Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong from the United States, and the caliber really doesn’t compare. With American legacy carriers, in essence you’re paying for a flying bed that gives you an extra day at your destination or one less day you have to take off work to recover.
That being said, not losing a day to exhaustion can be extremely valuable, so I would recommend flying United Business Class to Southern South America from the United States simply for the fully flat bed.
How to Book Yourself United BusinessFirst
Credit card links have been removed from posts and added to the menu bar at the top of every page of MileValue under the heading Top Travel Credit Cards.
I used 50,000 Singapore Krisflyer miles to book United Business Class to Southern South America. Singapore miles are easy to get because Singapore Airlines is a transfer partner of all four types of transferrable points. The same flights would have cost 55,000 United miles, plus Singapore has lower fees for changing and canceling awards and its miles are easier to get than United miles.
Right now, by far the easiest way to get a lot of Singapore miles at once is via the Chase Sapphire Reserve. You’ll earn 100,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards for spending $4,000 within three months of opening the card.
Locked out of Chase cards by 5/24? Get the Citi Prestige. It comes with 40,000 ThankYou points after spending $4,000 within three months of opening the card, as well as a host of other valuable benefits.
Next up is the Anatomy of an Award portion of the series, where I explain how I decided which of my miles to redeem, how I found award space, and how I booked with Singapore Krisflyer miles.