Fitting (5) International First Class Products into a Single United Star Alliance Award

I’m just back off of a two week trip, our annual Asia first class redemption.

Prior to the gutting of the United award chart I booked two first class awards that combined five different Star Alliance international first class products, and managed to work around Starnet blocking for my transpac segments.

After much time with agents who insisted that All Nippon Airways doesn’t serve Washington-Dulles (funny, I attended their party celebrating 20 years of service, and they only refer to the flight as NH 1) I did secure ANA three-class first, which I hadn’t flown since 2006.

One sad note however is that I believe in July three-cabin service will leave DC, meaning I’ll have to hop over to Chicago if I want ANA F.

On the return I fought agents who didn’t believe it was possible to find the award seats I wanted, so kept telling me that they were checking on availability and finding one across a huge swath of dates that they couldn’t possibly be checking as quickly as they claimed… they just said no availability without even checking. So this award took a few more phone calls than it should have…

The itinerary I put together:
NRT-HKG, NH C (Air Japan)

W Hong Kong, upgraded to a Fantastic Suite

HKG-SGN, UA F (my first time in UA’s new F!)

Sheraton Grande, upgraded to a Grand Tower Suite


Royal Orchid Sheraton, upgraded to a top floor junior suite


Le Meridien Chiang Rai


Novotel Suvarnabhumi


W Seoul, upgraded to a junior Media Suite


Sadly UA killed its 4pm LAX-IAD flight on Saturdays so I was stuck with the connecting flights on the way home after the long transpac. Of course, United had other ideas in mind for me still, but that’s a story for later in the report…

Now, this represents 11 flights in two weeks and — my wife loves me but this is truly pushing the limits of that love!

But I wanted to try out the different F products, spend some time in Chiang Rai, and make our first visit to Vietnam.

The stops on this itinerary in Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Seoul were about 23 hours each, so they didn’t count as stopovers but rather connections. I figured it would be enough time to grab some nice dim sum in Hong Kong and enjoy breakfast on the river in Bangkok.

I booked this eight months out, which I never do, but I had time to kill one weekend afternoon or more correctly I was searching for award travel as a way of procrastinating from work. So it was a very long time to wait for the trip to happen. But the day finally came…

I’ll be offering up several posts over the coming days sharing details of the trip, lots of photos of the various carriers, hotels, and activities. 

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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