VIDEO Trip Report: United Polaris Business Class London to Washington, I mean Houston, Uh-oh

I recently got back from an awesome vacation to Ireland and the UK, and had a blast. On the way back, I thought I’d try out United’s new Polaris Business Class service across the pond from London to Washington D.C. and then connecting to my hometown of Minneapolis. While United hasn’t rolled out their new Polaris business class seats on routes to Europe, I was curious about how the service has changed since I last flew internationally in United BusinessFirst two or three years ago.

I also was feeling creative and decided to put the video below together to show you the experience. I show how I got to the airport as well as the ground experience at the United Club in Heathrow airport (my favorite United Club in the network!).

I had applied and confirmed the upgrade a couple of days prior to flying using 20,000 miles and a (steep) $550 copay. Boy do I miss the days when you could upgrade with just the miles. When requesting a upgrade using miles, its important to ensure there is confirmable space up front, else you risk ‘waitlisting’ your upgrade and not confirming a seat until right before the flight departs. I was lucky to be flying on July 4th (Independence Day in the USA) and so loads were relatively light on most routes from London to the US. My upgrade confirmed and I enjoyed the last couple of days of my vacation.

You can imagine my disappointment when I woke up to a text from United saying my flight from London to DC had been delayed, and as a result they had proactively rebooked my connecting flight for the next morning (July 5th). I do appreciate United rebooking me here, and it was good to have been notified well before heading off to the airport, but it sort of complicated things. I had a few options of what to do:

  • Do nothing, and arrive back to Minneapolis a day late (not ideal as I had work the next day!). I’d also have had to pay for a hotel room myself, although travel insurance probably would’ve covered that.
  • Switch to a flight through Chicago on a three class 767 that didn’t have any confirmable upgrade space, but still had some seats available. I was interested in this to be able to visit the new Polaris Lounge in Chicago, and to get home about three hours earlier than originally scheduled.
  • Switch to a flight through Houston, which had the nicer former Continental Airlines seat on a 777. This flight still got me home two hours early but left earlier and was tight to make from where we were staying.

I elected for the second option and called United. I really wish I had done some research first, as the agent was happy to rebook me but told me I wouldn’t be able to carry over my upgrade and the the miles + copay would be refunded. My flustered self accepted this and was rebooked back into economy. I later learned from FlyerTalk that if I had hung up and called again they likely would’ve opened a business class seat for me and honored the upgrade.

Instead I called again and was able to get put back on the waitlist for the London – Chicago flight. Options looked good with one seat left as I headed to the airport, but as I got close to Heathrow the last seat disappeared and two passangers ended up above me on the waitlist!

I decided to switch to the Houston flight (this was all free due to the delay) but again, my waitlisted upgrade didn’t transfer. I called and was told they re-added me but upon reaching the terminal I still wasn’t showing on the waitlist. I found an agent at the terminal who was able to call and get me re-added, and so the waiting game began.

Luckily I scored the upgrade about an hour before departure while sitting in the United Club, and even kept the same seat I was originally meant to be in from London to Washington! Alls well that ends well I suppose, and I had a great Polaris business class to Houston (with an extra two hours of flight time compared to my original flight!).

Check out the video below to see my experience, and forgive the subtitle saying I was flying to D.C.. I must’ve been jet-lagged when I edited it!