How to Fly the Real United Polaris to Europe This Summer

Jun 29, 2019

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While United has come a long way since the slow and still-incomplete launch of its new Polaris business class, this top-notch hard product is still only available on a fraction of United’s long-haul fleet. The difference between United’s old and new business class seats is night and day, from a 2-4-2 configuration on some planes (yes, that’s an eight-across business class cabin) to the sleek and private seats below.

United Polaris (Photo by Zach Honig / The Points Guy)
United Polaris (Photo by Zach Honig / The Points Guy)

With summer vacation right around the corner, today we’re going to take a look at your options for flying the “real” Polaris seats to Europe this summer, including a few routes that have a surprising amount of award availability.

How to Book Polaris Awards

If you collect transferable points like Chase Ultimate Rewards or American Express Membership Rewards, you’ll have plenty of options for booking business-class awards to and from Europe. While United is switching to dynamic award pricing for its own flights later this year, thankfully that change comes after the peak summer travel season. For now, we can still operate with the usual saver-level and standard award prices. You’ll want to seek out saver awards for two reasons: not only are they infinitely cheaper than standard awards, but saver award space means you can book the seat through a partner program instead of using United MileagePlus.

Here are your best options for one-way, United-operated, business-class awards to or from Europe:

  • United MileagePlus: 60,000 miles (will change when dynamic pricing kicks in)
  • Air Canada / Aeroplan: 55,000-57,500 miles
  • Avianca LifeMiles: 60,000-63,000 miles

United is a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, while Aeroplan and Avianca are 1:1 transfer partners of Amex Membership Rewards and 2:1.5 transfer partners of Capital One. Citi is also a 1:1 transfer partner with Avianca, making these miles incredibly easy to earn.

Where to Find the New Polaris Seats

As noted above, United’s long-haul fleet is still a mixed bag. For now, it can be broken into three categories:

  1. Fully-Polaris aircraft: These types of planes all feature the full Polaris experience.
  2. Mixed-Polaris aircraft: These types of planes have some that feature Polaris and others that don’t.
  3. Zero-Polaris aircraft: These types of planes all feature United’s old, non-Polaris business class.

Let’s start with the first category: United’s 777-300ERs and 787-10s all feature the real Polaris seats. You’ll find the 777-300ERs flying from San Francisco (SFO) to both London-Heathrow (LHR) and Frankfurt (FRA), but saver-level business class award space is practically nonexistent on these routes. The 787-10 is primarily based out of United’s hub in Newark (EWR), and it operates a number of flights to Europe.

However, most of United’s trans-Atlantic flights are still operated by 767 and 777-200 aircraft, which all fall into the second category above. Many of these have been retrofit with new Polaris seats (including United’s “high J” 767s with 46 Polaris business class seats), but there are still dozens of 767s and 772s flying today with the old business-class seats.

If you’re booked (or are looking to book) one of these planes and want to see if you should expect the real experience, you have two options. The first is to check the seat map on ExpertFlyer. The “real” Polaris cabin is in a 1-2-1 layout on 777s (as opposed to 2-2-2 or even 2-4-2), while on a 767 it’s an unmistakable 1-1-1 configuration. Alternatively, you could look at the seat map on the United website. If the business class cabin is displayed in dark blue, it’s the real Polaris seats. If the cabin is orange, that means the plane sports the old configuration.

Finally, United’s 787-8 and 787-9 planes all fit into the third category: None of them feature the updated layout. However, United did announce plans to retrofit them starting later this year, so that will be a welcome change.

For everything you need to know about Polaris business class — from where to sit on each type of plane to which lounges are open and much more — be sure to check out TPG’s complete guide to United Polaris.

How to Fly the Real Polaris to Europe This Summer

While award availability changes quite frequently, at the time of writing there are still a number of routes where it’s possible to book the real Polaris business class to Europe for this summer.

The best availability I found (by far) was from Washington-Dulles (IAD) to Brussels (BRU) on a 777-200. Every day that I checked showed the new Polaris seats, but this is something you’ll want to double check for yourself before booking. The space was so good on this route that most of these dates had seven or more awards available. At the time of writing, the following dates had award availability:

  • July: 1, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10, 11, 14, 15, 22, 23, 25, 26, 28, 30
  • August: 11, 12, 13

Most other routes didn’t have availability quite this good, but it’s still possible to find a few scattered dates with Polaris award space. This is by no means a complete list, but I also found the following dates and routes had availability:

  • Newark (EWR) to Barcelona (BCN): 7/22 and 7/29
  • Newark (EWR) to Dublin (DUB): 7/23, 7/29, 8/13, 8/20
  • Newark (EWR) to Brussels (BRU): 7/9

If you do book any of these flights, I’d highly recommend setting up an aircraft change alert in ExpertFlyer, as that will notify you if United makes a last-minute equipment swap to a plane with the old configuration. And remember that you can always add a connecting flight within Europe by taking advantage of United’s Star Alliance partners like Lufthansa, LOT Polish, SAS and Brussels Airlines.

Bottom Line

While most people book their summer vacation as far in advance as possible to lock in award space, it’s not too late if you’re looking to make last-minute summer plans. Make sure to leverage all the tools at your disposal (especially ExpertFlyer) to double check that you’re getting the real Polaris experience before you start transferring miles and booking an award.

For more on United Polaris make sure to check out the following:

Featured image by Zach Honig / The Points Guy

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