I wanted to fly non-stop from Melbourne to Los Angeles and my only options were to fly with either United, Qantas or Virgin Australia.
There was no availability on any non-stop Qantas flights using American Airlines Award Redemption (Business Saver level) even though there was an open availability in Economy.
I personally wanted to try the new Virgin Australia Business Class by redeeming Virgin America miles, however since March 2017, Virgin America is no longer an SPG Transfer Partner.
Following the acquisition of Virgin America by Alaska Airlines, the Virgin America frequent flyer program is getting diminished along with their credit card partnerships. Since redeeming an award seat using Virgin Australia miles requires an astronomical amount of miles, I didn’t even want to bother.
My next bet would be flying United Polaris (their new re-branded United BusinessFirst cabin). I was able to transfer my Chase Ultimate Rewards points to United MileagePlus program instantaneously which is a great advantage when you’re trying to book a flight at the last minute.
Unfortunately on the date I wanted there was no award saver availability from MEL to LAX.
So my option was to purchase an economy seat and tried my luck in upgrading using MileagePlus Awards that requires 30,000 miles + $600 in cash. The cash component is quite hefty for an upgrade however considering this will be a 14-hour flight, I found it to be worth the leg room and most importantly the flat-bed seat.
Here’s the pdf link for the United MileagePlus Upgrade Award Chart.
If I were to pay cash for the seat in a United flight from Melbourne to Los Angeles:
USD 6,735 for a one-way Business Class seat with 2-2-2 configuration? No, thank you.
Award redemption cost from Melbourne to Los Angeles:
- 40,000 miles in Economy
- 70,000 miles in Business (Saver Award)
- 175,000 miles in Business (Standard Award)
When I made my reservation, I was able to secure a one-way refundable economy airfare for USD 830, which I find to be quite a better deal than paying over USD 1,000 for a one way trip.
To request for an upgrade you need to call United Customer Service which can be a hit and miss because my first call with the agent – she said my upgrade had been requested but I didn’t see a ‘requested’ status on my United app so I thought I should wait for another 24 hours – and yet there was still no change.
The next day, I made another call to United Customer Service and the agent said there was no upgrade requested on my booking (sigh). This time around the agent had successfully requested an upgrade because I can immediately see the status change on my booking from the United App.
Unfortunately you still need to be on a waitlist even though they’ve already deducted your miles and charged your credit card and you can get a confirmation anytime between the day of you get waitlisted up until the day of your flight (the agony!).
Luckily, 4 days out of my departure, I received an email from United about my upgrade confirmation. As a premium cabin AV geek I got overly excited to finally experience the new United Polaris.
There was hardly any line at the United Polaris / Premier 1K check-in while the economy check-in line was extremely long.
United Polaris passengers were given access to the Cathay Pacific Business Lounge located on a lower level not far from the departure gates. This lounge was nothing extraordinary although it was very well-maintained and modern. For a short-wait it was definitely sufficient.
UA 99 – Melbourne to Los Angeles (non-stop)
Aircraft: Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner,
Flight Time: 13.5 Hours
Seat: 6A (then switched to 6L)
Pitch/Bed Length: 78″ (198 cm)
Seat Width: 22″ (56 cm)
Polaris Cabin: 48 Flat Bed Seats
Sitting in the first cabin of Polaris section would be one of the best options as passengers would board behind Row 5, so Polaris’ passengers sitting in Row 1 – 5 wouldn’t have the rest of the passengers walking past through them as they board.
Unfortunately there was no window seat available in the front cabin when I was selecting my seat, so I settled for 6A.
While United Polaris Business Class is still on its way to being retrofitted into all of United’s international aircrafts (as of now, these have only been installed into a handful of aircrafts), United has started upgrading the cabin’s ‘Polaris experience’ through its dining, amenities, bedding and service.
I love dimmable windows where you can set the brightness without annoying other passengers.
The dishes were quite tasty but not exceptional. The presentation was great and the full set side dishes surely made a good impression.
The IFE system had a comprehensive list of entertainment (movies, shows, games, music) which I find to be essential when flying on a long-haul flight such as these.
I find the overall service was great and attentive, it helped that I was sitting close to the galley that I was served quite promptly every time I needed something.
The flight was thoroughly comfortable and enjoyable even though I had to step over another passenger when I needed to use the lavatory.
The spacious legroom allowed me to exit from my seat just fine without interrupting the passenger next to me (as long as they’re not on a lie flat position).
This cabin might have very little privacy for solo travelers, but it is perfect for passengers traveling in pairs or family with children as they can easily reach the person sitting next to them.
Would I fly this cabin again? Absolutely, as long as I don’t have to pay the ridiculous price tag.