In the last few hours of my flight’s departure from Dulles to Charles De Gaulle, I noticed United offered the Premium Plus upgrade at a mere $229. Originally the price was quoted at more than $2k, with Polaris closer to $6k. These were astronomically silly numbers given the relatively short 7-8 hour flight. But not having flown internationally in many years, I decided the price was worth a try.
The seats were the old school domestic leatherette business class seats which are slightly wider (meaning you could wedge a pillow to the left and right) and enough legroom to stretch the legs entirely. At 5’7, I’m always in-between feeling like there is enough and not enough room. For me the issue really was seat comfort when sitting for too long, and these offer more padding along the entire back so you can constantly adjust or twist for comfort.
United fully separates this tiny purple-colored section in the middle of the aircraft above the 777 wings. It’s very small, only 4 rows in a 2 x 4 x 2 configuration. Surprisingly hardly anyone else took the upgrade, with my entire back row being empty. I later even took the upgrade back home and still had an empty seat. My back row had full decline, with a full wall behind me. The only issues were sometimes I could hear people banging on the wall or there was a floor storage locker behind me.
The math was interesting in that waiting for the last minute to upgrade saved about $100 if you upgraded on both legs. The typical Economy ticket for summer is $775 and the Premium is $1375. There isn’t much difference in amenities other than booze was free and you are given the same meals and drinks as Economy. All entertainment was free. WiFi was useless. Purchasing food and alcohol isn’t that much money to begin with. Pillow and blanket were already on the seats but they are free for Economy too. I did get a free grab bag filled with some lotions and a face mask on the leg to Paris.
Still, the $450 price difference is a big chunk. It’s half splurge and half practicality. Practical reasons, you are almost guaranteed overhead space, you get off the plane faster, you are served and helped faster, and your comfort and space is sufficiently increased especially if you have to stay awake to work on a laptop. The splurge is that for a less than 10 hour flight, if you just want to zonk out, you would be generally fine in economy. I found it ironic when some of my Premium Plus seat mates skipped the meals. It’s like you paid all this money just to sleep (which by the way, isn’t going to resolve your jet lag).
I was really shocked how many people took the last minute $600 upgrades to Polaris. The section was nearly full. Sure you get to sleep flat and have fancier dishware, but it’s just about 7 hours, and in fact many people ended oversleeping and had to be woken up as we were getting off the plane. Also don’t diss the economy food, we had a breakfast charcuterie plate on par with Parisian cafes.
Final notes, I would not be worried about things to do on the plane or bringing too much. My books went unopened and was just extra dead weight. My “spa” toiletry bag was unnecessary (the meal came with a hand towel so I borrowed it for the rest of the flight). Wifi was useless so I barely touched my iPad. I ended up watching tons of shows and parts of movies and napping in-between. Most helpful thing I did bring was a massage ball for my back and a beanie neck pillow to avoid straining.