United Airlines

Upgrade to United Airlines Polaris Business Class

Dinner on United Polaris Business Class - braised beef cheeks

July 26, 2017

Today I am flying from Singapore to San Francisco on United Airlines, and I am thrilled that I am upgraded to Polaris Business Class. It is a 17-hour flight, and an upgrade to a lie-flat seat saves the day. It would have been rough being crammed into a small economy seat with little legroom for 17 hours. Yes, I know how crammed it is, especially with the seat in front of me fully reclined. I have endured that before numerous times and survived.

In recent years, after I have regularly qualified as a UA Mileage Plus Gold member, the worst that I have to endure is in an economy plus (E+) seat which at least offers a bit more legroom (seat pitch = 34” vs 31”).

The following is a review of my experience on this upgrade to United’s Polaris Business Class.

Table of Contents

United Polaris Seats (Old Configuration)

For such a long flight, nothing beats a United Polaris lie-flat seat. As you can see from the picture on the right above, the foot well is currently storing my blanket, amenity kit, and slippers. When I am ready to sleep, the seat will slide all the way inside the compartment on top of foot well and turn into a flat bed.

The control buttons are intuitive and easy to use. You can easily slide the back of the seat up and down and tilt the leg rest to a comfortable position. I particularly like the one-touch buttons that converts the seat to a completely flat bed and to restore it to a fully upright position when needed.

While this is the old Polaris configuration, I actually like it more than the new configuration with cubicle-like seats. I like that it is more open. And when I am traveling as a couple, I like the fact that I feel closer to my wife than in the new configuration.

Go here for a comprehensive review of the newly retrofitted Polaris pod seat.

Dinner Service

Dinner is always the highlight of an upgrade to a United Polaris business class flight. The salad and app are served together. The appetizer is pistachio-crusted tuna with balsamic reduction sauce. The plate is garnished with mozzarella, artichoke, olives, and sun-dried tomato.

The salad is a traditional mesclun mix tossed with bell peppers, shredded carrots, and olives. It is served with a balsamic vinaigrette (the small bottle next to the wine in the above picture on the left.)

The choices for the main course are braised beef cheeks, chicken breast stuffed with bacon and sage, and sauteed prawns in a cream sauce with noodles. The vegetarian option is vegetable kofta (a fried dumpling) in marsala sauce with basmati rice.

I am getting the braised beef cheek which is very tender. The beef is drenched in a pool of braising sauce which is rich and flavorful, with a hint of red wine. The plate is accompanied by polenta, bell peppers, and zucchini.

For dessert, I am getting a cheese plate with grapes, followed by an assortment of mini cakes.


After that, I’ll indulge in a couple of bloody Marys and watch a few movies. In United Polaris business class, the screen is much larger (16” vs 9”) and I also get upgraded noise-reduction headphones.

The lie-flat bed is long enough for my 5′ 11″ frame, and I am guessing that it can comfortable fit someone who is 6-2 or maybe 6-3. The Saks Fifth Avenue bedding is soft and comfortable, and I am going to fall asleep very quickly. In fact, I sleep so well that I completely sleep through the mid-flight snack service of sandwiches and fresh fruits.

I wake up shortly before breakfast, feeling refreshed and energized.

Pre-Arrival Service

The Polaris pre-arrival meal options are omelet or Chinese congee. The egg option consists of a ham and spinach omelet served with sausages, lyonnaise potatoes, asparagus, and fruits. The congee option is a bowl of traditional Chinese congee topped with shredded chicken, mushrooms, and garnishes. It is also served with fresh fruits.

Congee has always been my comfort food so that is what I am getting. My expectations on airline food aren’t usually too high, but the congee turns out to be very good.

How Much Does It Cost to Upgrade to United Polaris?

This one-way upgrade from a discounted economy ticket (T fare) costs 30,000 miles plus a copay of $600 per person. If I were to buy up to United Polaris, it would have cost me about $1,800. (Note that buy up costs vary widely and depend on the route, equipment, capacity, fare class availability, days to departure, among many other factors.) If we do the math, after the $600 copay, my 30,000 miles cover the cost difference of about $1,200. That equates to about 4 cents per mile

How much is a United Mileage Plus mile worth? Well, there is no consensus on this subject, but most knowledgeable estimates fall between the range of one to two cents per mile. Now you see that the 4 cents per mile valuation for my miles on this trip is at least double the value of what they are worth.

In a very general way, you can figure out the value (in terms of dollar per mile) by applying the following formula:

(Buy up cost − copay) ÷ (number of miles used).

In my particular case here, it is (1,800 − 600) ÷ 30,000 = $0.04 per mile.

As you can see, you get much more value for your miles using them to upgrade to United Polaris Business Class on a transpacific or transatlantic flight than using them on a domestic flight.


Based on the above calculation, this upgrade to United Polaris Business Class is one of the best ways to use my United miles and to maximize the values of my miles. It is a great deal and an awesome flight which I enjoy from start to finish. I can’t wait to be able to do this again.

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