I spent $910 for a roundtrip United flight from Newark to London — and it was worth every dollar when I got my first upgrade to Polaris. Here's what the business class flight was like.

Roddy SalazarFollow me on my quest to one million lifetime miles with United.
  • I’ve been a member of United’s Mileage Plus program for 31 years and have flown 479,533 miles with them.
  • That puts me just shy of halfway to my goal of earning lifetime gold with United by flying one million miles.
  • In August, I flew from London Heathrow to Newark, New Jersey.
  • This was the first time I had ever been upgraded to their Polaris Business Class.
  • The experience was so good that I did not want to leave the plane. Having your own personal area and being able to lay flat made this the best flight I have ever been on.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

As United recently reminded me, I’ve been a member of its Mileage Plus program for 31 years.

Mileage Plus is United’s loyalty program that allows you to accumulate miles, all while earning different status levels each year. There are three status levels: Silver, Gold, Platinum or 1K. Members of the program must fly at least 25,000 Premium Qualifying Miles (PQM) and spend $US3,000 each year to be a Premier Silver level member – and that’s the lowest recognised premier level.

While these status levels only last for one year, United has a lesser-known million-miler program that will earn you a lifetime status once you earn 1 million miles.

Over the summer, I travelled to London Heathrow. I spent $US910 on my roundtrip flight from Newark, NJ. As a planner, I try to book flights far in advance to get the best deal, but I delayed on booking this flight as I was travelling with my boyfriend and schedules were up in the air until a few weeks before. I spent about $US200 more than I typically would have – but it worked out to my advantage because I was upgraded to Polaris Business Class for the flight back to Newark.

Here’s what it was like to fly on United’s Polaris Business Class – and why it was worth every extra dollar.


I’m on a personal quest to hit one million lifetime miles with United. That will earn me lifetime gold with the airline.

Christie Clemens / Business Insider

About seven years ago, I decided to make it my personal goal to earn lifetime gold by flying one million miles through United’s million-miler program. These miles are only accumulated when you physically travel one million miles on flights booked through United. There are no shortcuts to get these through credit card points or purchased mile acceleration bonuses.

Each year, I make it a point to fly at least 50,000 miles and spend $US6,000 of United’s Premier Qualifying Dollars (PQD) to earn gold status. PQDs are the total dollars that you spend on these flights, not counting taxes or fees.

PQD can actually be the tougher bit to get to, as I do my best to book the best flight deals.


In August, I flew roundtrip from Newark New Jersey to Heathrow London. I paid $US910 for the flight, which is more than I usually would — but as I would quickly discover, the extra $US200 paid off when I was upgraded to Polaris for my flight home.

Christie Clemens / Business Insider

My flight departed at 6:00 p.m.; I have TSA pre-check, so getting through security is usually a breeze, and I got to the airport at 4:00 p.m.


When I was booking my flight, United congratulated me on my long-standing loyalty with the airline: I’ve been a member for 31 years.

Christie Clemens / Business Insider

A fellow traveller once gave me some advice to never buy a seat in first class, but to earn status to get the complimentary upgrade instead.

With my current gold status, I was able to book an Economy Plus seat for no extra charge.

On the way to the airport, my seat assignment changed, but I never received any other notification of the upgrade. With the combination of my ticket’s fare class, my Mileage Plus status and the number of open seats, I was moving on up!


At the airport, I took advantage of the United Club that was close to the gate. Their food selection had pretty much every type of cuisine you could want, from pasta to curry. Knowing there was more food headed my way, I limited myself to just one plate but managed to try a little bit of almost everything.

Christie Clemens / Business Insider

Before long, it was time to board.


The Polaris section on the plane was quite large. There were 16 rows totaling 46 seats on this Boeing 767-300. A pile of goodies welcomed me on the plane: pillows, blankets and complimentary toiletries.

Christie Clemens / Business Insider

I made my way to seat 6A, which was both an aisle and a window. There were even a few empty seats in the cabin for the flight.


And the bonuses didn’t end there: The seat had a small locker complete with a bottle of water and premium headphones to use while in flight.

Christie Clemens / Business Insider

Each seat had an easily accessible plug to charge your electronics. There was even a small mirror on the inside to make sure you are looking your best as you lounge in style.


A cute little light made the pod feel extra cosy.

Christie Clemens / Business Insider

The flight attendant came around to each person, introduced himself, welcomed us by name, and took orders for our dinner entree. The menu offered four selections for main entree: beef, chicken, fish or pasta. I went with the beef.

Christie Clemens / Business Insider

They even had an option for a speedy meal service if you wanted to sleep or not be bothered during the flight.

Since I don’t often get upgraded, I was going to take advantage of the full service.


Once we were in the air, it was time to relax. I reclined my seat and put up my footrest. The legroom was fantastic.

Christie Clemens / Business Insider

A flight attendant came around with a warm towel and offered everyone slippers, which I took advantage of.


The selection of movies was the same as in economy, but the screen was much bigger.

Christie Clemens / Business Insider

Not too long into the flight, the meal service began with an offering of warmed nuts and a beverage. I chose Champagne — living my best, upgraded life over here!

Christie Clemens / Business Insider

Then came the first course: Caprese salad and mixed greens. They offered three types of bread — pretzel roll, sourdough, and garlic bread. I went with the garlic bread.

Christie Clemens / Business Insider

I was pleasantly surprised by the bread as it was warm and had a nice garlic butter flavour. Having two salads as the appetizer felt like a bonus, as airlines typically make you select one option.

With the blue linen service, real cutlery and glassware, it felt like I was at my own private restaurant.


When it was time for the main course, I switched to red wine to pair well with the beef short rib entree.

Christie Clemens / Business Insider

Get this: They had four options for red wine alone.

The beef was tender and fell apart, no knife needed.


The options for dessert were an ice cream sundae or cheese plate. I wasn’t in the mood for anything sweet, so I went with the cheese plate. It also came with a glass of port. It was the perfect way to end the meal.

Christie Clemens / Business Insider

The plane’s lavatory had some nice items to make you feel refreshed — face wash, toner and hand lotion.

Christie Clemens / Business Insider

Aside from the premium amenities and colourful blue lighting, it was a basic plane bathroom. It was no larger or fancier than any others on the plane.


With the upgraded amenities in the bathroom, it was time to check out the amenity kit that was waiting for me back at my seat. Everything was branded with Polaris — I’m talking eye mask, earplugs, toothbrush, tissues, and even a small pen all had the Polaris logo on it.

Christie Clemens / Business Insider

After all the eating and drinking, it was time to get some sleep. The seat came with two types of pillows and blankets for ultimate comfort.

Christie Clemens / Business Insider

I had both a feathery soft pillow and a memory foam pillow complete with Polaris branding. And, in addition to the standard aeroplane blanket that everyone received on a flight, I also got a Saks Fifth Avenue comforter.

Needless to say, it was quite luxurious.


As I lowered my seat to the lay flat position, I snuggled up with the Saks Fifth Avenue comforter. I was asleep in no time.

Christie Clemens / Business Insider

Luckily, I’m able to sleep on planes, though I usually do find myself with a strain in my neck when I wake up. After this snooze, I felt refreshed. In retrospect, it may have been even more comfortable than my own bed.


After a few hours of sleep, it was again time to eat. The final meal before landing was an option of pizza or chicken ragout with gnocchi and mixed vegetables. I picked the Gnocci; while it wasn’t as outstanding as the short rib, it was quite flavorful.

Christie Clemens / Business Insider

An hour and a half later, we touched down in Newark. I really didn’t want the flight to end.

Christie Clemens / Business Insider

All in all, I had a great experience in United’s Polaris class.

Even though my fare was more expensive than I typically like to pay, it was well worth it with the upgrade. The small touches made the time fly by and I really didn’t want to get off the plane.

While I loved having my own area, it would have been nice to be able to close off the pod for a bit of privacy. It felt as though there should have been a door or block to slide over, but there wasn’t.

The next time I book a flight on a Polaris plane, I’ll definitely be tempted to pay for the upgrade if it costs a couple hundred dollars and I have to feel refreshed upon arrival – even if my status doesn’t earn it for me.

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