Tag Archives: united

How to get from Singapore to Miami, or why March can’t come soon enough

I finally had time to sit down and plan my leave for 2017. Although the vast, unexplored spaces of South America and Africa beckoned, I consider myself to be pathologically boring and decided to visit the USA (again). But just so no one could call me predictable, I decided to explore the great state of Florida this time round.

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Florida, aka America’s wang

Miami would be my first port of call. My virgin US open experience had whet my appetite for more high quality tennis and the Miami Masters were scheduled to take place at the end of March/start of April.

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But Miami is also known for great beaches, beautiful art deco buildings, Cuban and Argentine influenced cuisine and much more.

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And since I’m in Florida, it only made sense to visit Orlando too. I do love theme parks and the idea of visiting the theme park capital of the world, excites me to no end. Orlando boasts Disney World, the Epcot Centre, Discovery Cove, Universal Studios, Universal’s Islands of Adventure, Legoland. Seaworld…the list goes on and on.

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I’ll definitely do a separate writeup on Orlando and Miami with things to do ala my DC trip report, but let’s first look at the higlight of the trip- getting there!

Getting to the States

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It’s not that straightforward to get from Singapore to Miami on miles (if you’re wiling to pay revenue prices you could fly SIN-LHR-MIA, with the LHR-MIA leg operated by Virgin Atlantic). The closest major international airports to Miami were Houston and New York, both of which were about 2.5 hour connecting flights away from Miami. SQ25/26 is one of the hardest routes to clear award flights on, so I decided to look at Houston instead.

SQ recently announced that it would start routing its IAH flight through Manchester instead of Moscow, presumably due to the downturn in the global oil sector leading to less oil-related travel between Houston and Moscow. The flight is currently operated in a 3-class 77W (with the 2006 premium cabin products) but eagle eyed observers noted that from 1 Jan 2017 First Class space was no longer available for redemption or revenue bookings. The most logical conclusion was that SQ has identified this route for deploying the A350.

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I’m going to fly Thai’s A350 in December from Bangkok to Singapore, but this will be my first long haul A350 experience and I’m really excited.

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SQ’s A350 has its newest (2013) business class seat, and although there are some complaints out there about how narrow the cabin is, I think it’ll still be a great trip report to write. The cost of a one-way redemption was 72,250 miles + S$412 of taxes.

Once I land in Houston I have 90 minutes to make my connection to a domestic flight to Miami. It’s a short connection for international-domestic and some might say I’m playing with fire, but I’ve recently been approved for Global Entry which gives me a good feeling about this. What could possibly go wrong!

Here’s where I took advantage of one of the great sweet spots on the Krisflyer partner award chart– the ability to redeem domestic US tickets for only 12,500 in economy.

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I did so because the one-way ticket prices from Houston to Miami that matched my schedule were in excess of S$400. 12,500 miles and S$8 of taxes got me my United economy ticket. It’s a 2.5 hour flight and since Netflix now lets you download movies to watch offline, I figured I’d be just fine.

Getting back to Singapore

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The next problem I faced was how to get back from the States. I had two options.

I could fly back to IAH and take EVA back to Singapore. The problem was that flights between Orlando and Houston were expensive and didn’t suit my timings. The most workable option was to fly with United, but that would get me into Houston at 5.55pm for a flight that took off after midnight.

And that would be an awkward kind of layover, because it’s too long to stay in the airport and too short to go out and explore. Plus, I didn’t really fancy paying US$70 for an Uber roundtrip to downtown Houston for just a couple of hours, with my bags in tow.

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So I looked at option 2 instead, which was to fly to JFK and take EVA’s 1.25am flight home. And that solved it- Jetblue was offering S$219 tickets one way from Orlando to JFK (with a bag included- any FYI, Jetblue flights now earn Krisflyer miles) that got me into JFK at 11pm. That was plenty of time to make the connection.

Despite hearing so many great things about Jetblue, this is actually going to be my first time flying with them, It’s unfortunate I couldn’t take advantage of their great points matching promotion not too long ago, but I’m nonetheless excited to see why this LCC is so much more loved than the legacy carriers in the states.

The only downside of this arrangement is that EVA operates its Hello Kitty service to Houston but not New York.

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High on my to-do list is try one of the EVA Air Hello Kitty flights at some point in the future. But I guess that’ll have to wait until I travel one of the follow routes…

Sidenote: I cannot access the EVA Air Hello Kitty website from my office. why? Well…

The flight cost me 78,000 Lifemiles +$30 of taxes for a total outlay of about US$1,100 (I bought my Lifemiles at 1.375 cents during the last sale)

My only regret is that I really wanted to try a new cabin product this time round. I suppose SQ’s A350 sort of counts, but I was secretly hoping there’d be award space on Asiana’s Business/First class or something available with one of the European carriers.

Has anyone been to Miami/Orlando? Any highlights/must dos?

The Long Way to New York: United Airlines ORD-EWR

Singapore Airlines SilverKris Lounge, Singapore
Singapore Airlines Business Class SIN-BKK
Thai Airways First Class Lounge & Spa, BKK
Thai Airways First Class BKK-HND
Getting from HND to NRT
ANA First Class Lounge, NRT
ANA First Class NRT-ORD
United Club ORD
United Economy ORD-EWR
Visiting the US Open
Sheraton New York Times Square
Hilton New York Midtown
Wingtips Lounge JFK & Delta to DC
Exploring Washington DC
Element New York Times Square West
Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse, JFK
Singapore Airlines Suites JFK-FRA
Lufthansa Senator Lounge FRA
Singapore Airlines Suites FRA-SIN


Ah, United. The little airline that could. And then couldn’t. And then really couldn’t. And then really really couldn’t.

United Airlines is perhaps the only airline that is capable of generating such a strong emotional response in people. And with publicity like this, who needs Madison Avenue?

Bloomberg Businessweek Jan. 18 Cover

What is there to be said about an airline that has been called, with varying degrees of hyperbole, the worst airline ever, whose CEO has come out and said in so many words sorry we’re so terrible, which is edged out only by ultra low cost carriers Frontier and Spirit at the bottom of customer satisfaction scores? Does an domestic economy flight that takes roughly 90 minutes even warrant a trip report?

Of course it does!

United operates a wide body 767 on this domestic route, which, if you’re a frequent domestic flyer in the States, is a rare sight. Almost all domestic routes, even supposedly high traffic ones like LAX/SFO-JFK/EWR are operated by A320/321s or 737s. But ORD-EWR seems to be operated by a 767-300 more often than not

These aircraft are some of United’s oldest. As per Airways News

There are 35 767-300ERs in United’s fleet.  The 21 three-cabin 767-300ERs were slated to be retired soon, but United announced that it will keep them and reconfigure them into its two-class configuration. At the moment, it is not known when the conversion process will begin.

So we basically have an aircraft that United at first intended to mothball, then changed their mind because even a dead horse can move if you push it hard enough.

Here’s the shot of economy- a 2-3-2 configuration. The flight was completely full in economy.

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Note the seatback TV screens and tell me that doesn’t awaken nostalgia in you.

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No? Look at the seatrest arm controls and tell me that doesn’t awaken nostalgia (and hypochondria) in you.

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Now, today’s aircraft was being used on a short haul flight, but United still deploys 767s on long haul routes like IAH to GRU. The thought of doing a long haul economy flight with this is not exactly appealing.

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At just shy of 1.8m, I’m not exactly towering over the average American. So if this is my legroom situation, pity the six foot guy who doesn’t buy up to Economy Plus.

The flight itself was a non event. The most amusing part was probably the pre-flight safety video that was played once, stopped halfway through because the audio cut out, then played again with the Spanish soundtrack instead, then eventually given up on altogether, the flight crew presumably assuming we’d gotten the gist of it. United’s safety videos are still miles better than SQ’s though.

We took off. The captain turned off the seat belt sign. Some people got up to use the loo. Others got up to stretch. Still others tried to medicate themselves into a peaceful oblivion.

The flight attendants came by with pretzel snacks. They were free of charge. They made me thirsty. Complimentary water and juice were available.

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The flight landed safely. The crew mumbled something along the lines of “we know you have a choice in air travel and we thank you for choosing us”. Everyone in the cabin tried to avoid eye contact when disembarking, knowing very well that we had no choice in air travel. My bag arrived on time.

Of course when you’ve just stepped off a flight as amazing as ANA’s First Class, everything else is going to be a massive step down.  And the flight wasn’t bad by any means, it was just a timely reminder of why we go into the miles and points game in the first place (yes I wouldn’t have redeemed business class on a short haul flight like this but can you imagine the poor s.o.bs who have to do this aircraft in long haul economy?)

When you fly US domestic, your loyalty is really to price more than anything else. As poor as the product may be, you can’t really argue with the fares (at least on routes where there’s a good amount of competition). Especially if you’re flying in economy, there really is no good point of differentiation among carriers. Heck, if not for my Star Gold status I’d even consider flying with Spirit seeing how I need to pay for a bag anyway.

In any case, I was in New York City now, and that meant heading on over to the US open…

The Long Way to New York: United Club ORD

Singapore Airlines SilverKris Lounge, Singapore
Singapore Airlines Business Class SIN-BKK
Thai Airways First Class Lounge & Spa, BKK
Thai Airways First Class BKK-HND
Getting from HND to NRT
ANA First Class Lounge, NRT
ANA First Class NRT-ORD
United Club ORD
United Economy ORD-EWR
Visiting the US Open
Sheraton New York Times Square
Hilton New York Midtown
Wingtips Lounge JFK & Delta to DC
Exploring Washington DC
Element New York Times Square West
Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse, JFK
Singapore Airlines Suites JFK-FRA
Lufthansa Senator Lounge FRA
Singapore Airlines Suites FRA-SIN


Clearing immigration at ORD was surprisingly painless. I didn’t even need to ask for the APEC line because there were no queues at all. All major US airports now have these automated passport control kiosks that Singaporeans can use provided they have an ESTA and visited the US at least once after 2008. You also do your customs declaration here, so there’s no need to fill up the physical form.

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My bags only took about five minutes to pop out. Although my bag was checked through to EWR, you still have to collect your bags, clear customs then dump them back onto a belt for onward transit. In reality it was very simple, it was literally outside the customs point. There are staff on hand who scan the bags, make sure everything’s ok and the bags are on their way. I was in physical possession of my bag for maybe three minutes in total.

And just like that, I was in America! The land of opportunity, opportunism and all day Mcdonald’s breakfast. Not that I was interested in all that right now. It was a short train ride from the International to the Domestic terminal. United operates out of Terminal 1 at ORD.

United has 4 club locations in ORD, 3 of which are in Terminal 1 (B6 (currently closed for renovation), B18 and C6). Now, most United Clubs I’ve visited have been a dive. But United has a new blueprint for their Clubs and I was keen to see whether they could go one better (or two or three) than the facility I visited in IAH.  B18, the nearest lounge to my gate, just finished renovations in the Spring of 2016.

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The club is actually one floor down. There is a welcome area where they check your credentials but it’s really a waste of space to be honest.

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Because down the escalator there’s another reception area and there’s no reason why they can’t do the credentials check there.

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First impressions were great. This United Club had lots of natural light, nice new furniture and felt a lot less claustrophobic than the other United Clubs (probably because they’re restricting entry to day pass purchasers for now)

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There’s a cash bar. It had really nice fairy lights (I’m making up names for things I can’t describe) that would probably look good in the evening. The bartender looked really underutilized, probably hoping that someone would rationalize that it was 5pm somewhere.

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As for the food- there was the usual United Club stuff like coffee and juice

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Oatmeal (it was breakfast time)

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Bagels and other pastries

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Fruit and granola

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But wait, what’s this? Yes, this United Club had complimentary hot food options. Unbelievable. I blinked several times before I believed my eyes, but there were sausages, egg frittatas and a veggie mix.

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I mean, it’s still United so they’re not going to completely give up ancillary revenue opportunities. There’s a paid-for menu if you want something more substantial than the buffet layout.

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I found a place at the long bar to sit and enjoy my bounty.

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There are thoughtful design touches like an abundance of USB ports for charging. Strangely the power sockets are not universal- seriously how much more would it cost to have a universal plug?

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The updated United lounges are certainly not the kind of thing you arrive early for, but if nothing else they’re a very pleasant upgrade from the previous iteration. Lots of seating, natural light, work friendly touches and a better buffet menu. This, together with the upcoming Polaris product, made me feel that perhaps there was some hope for United after all.

And then I boarded one of United’s oldest 767s and was brought back to earth.