We have just returned from one of my favorite family vacations to date. This was a trip with Little C, my husband, my parents, and myself to the Big Apple to take in all of the wonderful holiday offerings than New York City has available. The trip was planned and booked almost a full year in advance (primarily on miles and points), and it was very much worth the wait. I’m going to divide the trip report up into a few different segments because we crammed so many different events into a few days, and I think this is a trip that many other families will hopefully have interest in taking themselves. Most of my readers are based in the US, so for many of us this is a trip that doesn’t require passports, overnight flights, vaccinations, foreign currency, etc. However, it is a trip that is very magical and fantastic in its own right.
Subject to change, here are the segments I plan to cover:
Getting to NYC: BusinessFirst on the 787 (this post)
Grand Hyatt – VIP Suite Review
Andaz Fifth Avenue – Splash Suite Review
NYC Logistics with a Family
NYC Holiday Activities with a Family
Since Manhattan on a weekend in December can be quite pricey, most of the major components of this trip were paid for using miles and points, so I will also cover tips related to how you can use miles and points to replicate a similar trip yourself.
Planning the Outbound in BusinessFirst on the 787:
I have been extremely fortunate since this flight was actually my fourth on the new United 787 Dreamliner. However, for everyone else in my family, this was their first trip on the fancy new plane. I booked tickets in BusinessFirst using United miles back in January 2012 for our November/December 2012 trip when the schedule was first released. That is often how I book our trips on miles since we are booking for multiple people, and we need to plan well in advance. That system doesn’t work for every type of booking, but it worked great for this trip. This was actually Little C’s first trip at the front of the plane. I wanted to wait until she was almost three to sit up front because she was old enough that I trusted her to (likely) be well behaved. She also was large enough to do okay with just the lap belt, and would appreciate the in-flight entertainment and lie-flat seat. Of course when we booked the flight it was not known it would be the 787, but we were planning to be at least on a 767 with the flat-bed seats.
I only booked tickets in first on the outbound mostly to conserve miles. I wanted this trip to be very special, but spending 50,000 miles per person to sit up front both ways on a domestic ticket was a bit impractical. However, spending 37,500 per person to experience an exciting trip to NYC was worth it for us. I personally had no interest in taking my child on a long-haul flight in a first or business class flight while she was so young (or in any class of service for that matter), but I absolutely had interest in taking her to meet Santa sitting up front. My opinion is that for a special flight, getting first domestically if the plane has lie flat seats can be worth it on miles, but your typical domestic first class seats are not usually worth the extra cost in miles.
I think we could have probably used her car seat in the BusinessFirst seat, but that would have seriously diluted the point. She would not have been able to lie flat if we had done that. She was probably marginally less safe since we were relying solely on the lap belt, but she is now large enough it would have restrained her in most instances of turbulence.
We told her she would be in a special seat that turned into a bed, but we explained it was because the airplane was new and left so early in the morning (7:20AM departure to get on the 787 from IAH-EWR). I want her to enjoy some of the “finer” aspects of travel with us, but I do not want her to feel entitled to sitting up front. Thankfully, on our return flight where we were seated in coach on a 737 she didn’t say anything at all about the seat not being “fancy”. If she did, I would have explained that not all planes have those seats, and we all have to take turns sharing the special seats with other passengers.
The Actual Flight:
The morning of the flight, we were all very excited. As soon as we woke her up (before 5AM) she asked if we were going to the airport and when I said that we were she said “woohoo”! We waited for a little bit in the United Club and then it was time to board the plane.
I’m not sure who was smiling more – us or the plane.
We boarded and immediately noticed that about 90% of the people in BusinessFirst on the Houston to Newark flight appeared to be folks traveling alone for business. That is not surprising given the origin/destination and the early weekday morning flight. However, no one gave us any flak for being there with a two year old. The only time she made noise was when she celebrated that the in-flight entertainment started working. The in-flight entertainment on the 787 is pretty snazzy, and she enjoyed watching portions of Charlotte’s Web, Cars, Finding Nemo, and Brave (she had a hard time deciding on one movie). However, the entertainment system kept freezing and to re-set it required some time, and it impacting a section of the plane anytime they reset because one of the systems froze. It happened several times on the three hour flight.
She fell asleep very quickly into the flight, and when that happened I reclined her seat into the lie-flat position. At first I only reclined her back a little, and then I put her all the way down. It was a pretty cool feeling knowing that my kid was able to take a comfortable nap thanks to my miles.
She stayed asleep for about an hour or so, and when she woke up the flight attendant brought her some food since she slept through the breakfast service. To my shock, she ate a very good amount of the fruit, yogurt, eggs, sausage, and potato thing. Apparently my child thinks airplane food is delicious. I liked the fruit and potato thing the best.
Once she was awake she liked the seat reclined some, but not all the way. She also liked playing with the dimming feature of the windows. She could have easily flown several more hours on that plane in that seat.
For families looking to book in BusinessFirst on the United 787, give some thought as to which seats to select. We booked seats 2A, 2B, and 2D. However, I think that 2A, 2B, and 1D would have been a better choice as it was hard to see and interact with my husband since his seat was a bit behind ours due to the way the seats are configured. It actually felt much more spread out than it looks in the photo below. It would have been easier to have him help out if he was in 1D. However, either way there is some distance and angling between the two seats on the side and the ones in the middle. Regardless, for the most part, your family has to be grouped into pairs.
As has been the case on all four of my Dreamliner flights, I found the plane to be very comfortable, quiet, and enjoyable. I like the large windows, upgraded inflight entertainment, huge bins, and quiet cabin. When we flew home on a United 737 it was just so much louder than the Dreamliner. I’m sad this plane won’t be making all these domestic runs much longer, because it is a fun and easy way to experience the plane.
Was it Worth it?
Our family found this adventure sitting up front together to be very exciting and worth the miles. We certainly won’t do it on every trip, but we will enjoy it from time to time. Again, our focus would be on upgrading to first when the aircraft we are on has a nice premium cabin. The regular domestic first class seats just aren’t that much better than the coach seats for us. We are now not far away from booking her first “big” international flight in a premium cabin. I think she is almost ready for that adventure, and this flight helped firm that up for me.
How You Can do it:
If you want to replicate a flight like this on United for your family, then look for credit cards that have a pretty decent sign-up bonus. The United MileagePlus Explorer card has offers of 50K+ for some targeted folks who log into their MileagePlus account, or that offer is reportedly fairly widely available in Chase branches. There is a 30,000+ United MileagePlus Explorer Card offer that is available to everyone, if you can’t get either of the other offers. The Chase Sapphire Preferred offers 40,000 Ultimate Reward points after spending $3,000 in three months that can be transferred 1:1 to United. The Ink Plus Business Card or Ink Bold Business Card award 50,000 Ultimate Reward points after spending 5,000 in three months, and you can also transfer those points 1:1 to United.
If you specifically want to experience BusinessFirst on the United Dreamliner then here are the current domestic schedules (at least what I think is still the schedule – they updated it a few times, so there may have been some adjustments since I last checked). Some of these routes start getting phased out early in 2013 as the plane starts getting utilized for international service.
Flight times: 7:20 a.m. northbound, 11:21 a.m. southbound
Flight times: 7:30 a.m. northbound, 1:50 p.m. southbound
Flight times: 6:40 p.m. westbound, 11:50 p.m. eastbound
Flight times: 4:06 p.m. westbound, 7:47 p.m. eastbound
I know not all families are interested in using miles for first if they are not traveling around the world, but I do think it can be fun to use some miles to splurge for a fancy seat on a domestic flight – at least flying one-way. I’d love to hear if your family has done something similar!
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