Update: In a prior version of this review, we mistakenly defined United’s Excursionist Perk. We regret the error have updated the content below to correctly define this benefit.
To maximize our saving for our trip to Europe, we decided to use our Chase Sapphire Preferred points to book award travel on United Airlines. This trip would take us from Newark (EWR) to Geneva (GVA) to Zürich (ZRH) to London Heathrow (LHR) and back to Newark (EWR) without us spending any money on air travel outside of taxes and fees. This led us to spend only 66,000 miles and $258.37 in fees for our whole trip. For this portion of our trip recap, I want to focus on our flight from Newark (EWR) to Geneva (GVA) on United Airlines.
Status Match is the Key to Upgrades
Before we took our trip, I went ahead and matched my Delta Silver Medallion status to United Premier Silver status. The reason why I wanted to do this was to get upgrades into Economy Plus for our trip. While a lot of airlines have one-time only status matches, United only prevents you from status matching for a certain period of time after your first status match. This status match worked great for our trip as we were able to get upgrades to Economy Plus on each leg of our United-operated part of our trip and expedited baggage drop-off at London Heathrow on our way back.
Baggage Drop-Off and Airport Security
After arriving to Newark in our Revel, I took advantage of United’s fast bag drop-off service at EWR. This service allowed me to check my bag online and then go straight to the baggage drop-off. After dropping-off my bag, we then got into the TSA Pre-Check lane and made our way through security. For being the Wednesday after Memorial Day, we were lucky enough not to have a long line at security and were able to get through security pretty quickly.
After making our way through security, we decided to try out the new United Club lounge at EWR. While the signage to this location could be greatly improved, we did enjoy our time here and would recommend it on a future trip.
As we got closer to our boarding time, we made our way to the gate. At the gate, we were greeted by a pretty-full seating area. Since we used United’s Travel Ready Center and had our passports verified in the app, the gate agent did not look at our passports except to see that we were holding them in our hands as we boarded our flight.
Our 767-300 was an old one with it taking its first flight in August 1998, according to Flighty. Despite its age, the plane was in a nice condition and featured Polaris business class, Premium Plus, Economy, and Economy seats.
Because of my status match I mentioned earlier, we were able to get Economy Plus tickets when we checked into our flight 24 hours early. Since our following flight was a connection on Swiss Air, a Star Alliance member, United also provided us with our boarding pass and checked my bag through to Zürich.
How was our flight?
While we were surprised that United offered us complimentary blankets and neck pillows for our 7 hour and 47 minute flight, they were definitely not the nicest blanket and pillow I have ever seen. If you are someone who likes to be able to sleep on their flight, I would definitely recommend buying your own neck pillow as United’s pillow offered very little neck support.
After takeoff from Newark, the flight attendants moved swiftly through the cabin to provide us with snacks and water before dinner meal service for our red-eye. Once the flight attendants finished snack service, they started with the main meal service.
For the meal service, the flight attendants hastily prepared trays of chicken or veggies depending on which one the customer asked for. As for an elaboration of what was the chicken or veggie offering, the flight attendants did not offer any unless specifically asked. When I asked for the difference between the two, the flight attendant said the veggie was a veggie stir-fry and the chicken was cooked over rice. My girlfriend got the chicken and said it was okay but the veggie that I got was not good. To accompany these dishes, there was a small salad with couscous, a roll, and a small tub of lemon sorbet.
After the service finished up and the flight attendants picked up our plates, the lights went off in the cabin for next 4.5 hours or so until breakfast snack service started. For our breakfast, we were treated to a Chobani yogurt and a biscotti.
After our breakfast service, the crew prepared the cabin for an early landing into Geneva. At Geneva, we were greeted to a very quick customs process.
Would I fly United Again?
In short, if I have to. While the overall flight was good, the crew’s hospitality didn’t live up to my expectations for a long-haul flight. This was mainly due to their unfriendliness during meal service and their interaction with a fellow passenger. As I made mention earlier, I did not appreciate how the flight attendant asked if I wanted chicken or veggie and did not expand on the meal offering until I asked her to. Additionally, I didn’t appreciate how it seemed that they were hastily trying to get through meal service and were in a rush.
When it came to the passenger interaction, the passenger in front of us asked a question to the flight attendant during meal service, and the flight attendant quickly answered that all of the flight attendants were busy with meal service and couldn’t help until the meal service was done. I found this response to be very direct and not very welcoming to a fellow passenger asking a question.
While the mileage redemption rate for this flight was good, I did not feel like this flight justified its out of pocket price tag. This is especially true when compared to flights on Delta, Alaska, and Jetblue flights of similar length. If we were not paying for this flight by points, we would have definitely booked on another airline.
Kyle’s Tip: If you are looking to get the most value out of your miles on United, I would recommend looking at a multi-city trip using United’s Excursionist perk. This perk, allows for a free flight within one MileagePlus-defined region that is not the region that your flight originated from. For us, that meant our flight from Zürich to Heathrow cost only the amount in taxes and fees and not in any additional miles as this flight was flown within the Europe region. This allowed us to maximize our vacation by allowing us to visit three different destinations for only 66,000 miles each. To help demonstrate how you can score a deal like this, I will be posting a video here to show you how to use the United Excursionist perk!