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The Higher Flyer

How To: Not get screwed by Spirit

Spirit offers a far from glamorous flying experience, but its no-frills service approach isn’t exactly the reason why the airline so reviled. Its flight crews and staff are helpful and competent and pretty kind, while the carrier’s operational reliability is just about in line with everyone else in the industry. Its fleet is even the youngest in North America! Spirit is fine — definitely no more awful than its legacy competitors like American, Delta, and United — and its fares are markedly cheaper. “How does the airline make money?” you might wonder. Easy: its notorious fees make profit margins skyrocket. You definitely wouldn’t be the first to scream “Spirit sucks!” as your expenses balloon and frustrations mount… but you don’t have to suffer this fate.

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(Dis)Spirited Away?

The key to happiness, some say, is to keep low expectations. You may agree with that sentiment, you may not, but when you’re planning a trip on Spirit, it definitely helps to have that frame of mind. Its tickets, which are (affectionately?) referred to as “bare fares,” are just that: means for you to get from point A to point B. You’ll have to pay extra for everything that you might possibly want on a plane — including drinking water — but if you know what you’re getting in to, you’ll tolerate Spirit at the minimum. If you can play its game and avoid making some far-too-common mistakes, you’ll easily save a lot more than what you would on a legacy carrier. Your fatter wallet alone can be worth those frustrating, tacked-on fees, and while the travel experience itself is far from perfect, who cares at prices like these? #FlyHigher indeed.

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AC Hotel Times Square, New York Review

For better or for worse, Marriott has spent the past few years expanding its footprint (independent of the Starwood merger) by increasing the presence of its eurocentric subsidiaries stateside. The AC Hotel brand for instance, whose original parent was headquartered in Spain (and established by a Spaniard named Antonio Catalan), expanded to New York’s Times Square at the end of April 2018. This marks AC’s first big splash in the North American market, and with physically stunning spaces and kind, responsive staff members, it’s a worthy addition to the Marriott portfolio.  Continue reading “AC Hotel Times Square, New York Review”

Air France Business Class Review

Despite owning a prestigious reputation, Air France’s premium cabins had been, until recently, objectively mediocre. For an airline that once battled British Airways to first feature beds on board, it lagged behind its competitors only a few short years after installing them. While fully flat became the new norm, angled flats, which just aren’t up to snuff anymore, remained the default in Paris until late-2014. Since then however, the carrier has revitalized its fleet and also its business class offering. New planes, like the 787 I flew on, are highlighted by a brand new top-of-the-line reverse herringbone seat. It’s been a return to grace — there aren’t many better ways to cross the pond nowadays — and I couldn’t have been more pleased with this leg of the trip.

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Air France Business Salon Paris Charles de Gaulle Review

Air France has long enjoyed a prestigious reputation, seen by many as a standard bearer for sky-high luxury. When the airline rolled out a completely redesigned business class in 2014, featuring a new hard product and improved ground services, it was intending to solidify its place at the top of the competitive premium transatlantic market. The onboard experience has done just that, garnering plenty of positive publicity in the years since its introduction. The recently renovated lounges have not attracted similar amounts of attention, although they probably should. Don’t read too far in to this coverage (or lack thereof), the Salon for Air France’s international business passengers is excellent through and through.

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L’Hermitage Gantois, Lille, France Review

After fulfilling my professional obligations in London, I hopped on a train and soon found myself in Lille, a French town located so far in the north of France that it’s practically Belgium. It’s often overlooked by international tourists, and with a population of around 200,000, many of whom are students, it’s not the most burgeoning hotel market either. There is an unsurprising amount of hostels (which is to say: “there are lots”), but the other end of the spectrum is lacking. If it’s luxury you seek, you’ll have better luck in Brussels, which is a short ride away… but if you must be in Lille, I’m pleased to report that the Marriott-affiliated L’Hermitage Gantois is worthy of your attention.

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United Arrivals Lounge London Heathrow Review

A crew member, as is typical on international flights, offered landing cards and customs declaration forms during our final approach in to London. She strolled through a second time shortly thereafter, but now presenting pamphlets informing premium passengers of access to expedited immigration and a (mysterious) arrivals lounge. I was eager for the former — Heathrow is notorious for its long waits early in the morning — and curious about the latter. Because there wasn’t a lot of available information, the cynic in me expected a lame continental breakfast stuffed in to a closet. That would’ve been better than nothing… but man, this was even better than something!

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United Airlines Polaris Business (Diamond Seat) Review

Until the new Polaris hard product makes its way on to United’s entire longhaul fleet, higher flyers will more-often-than-not be stuck in a forward cabin seat that’s past its prime. There’s the legacy United first class (really very nice for what it is) and the dormitory-styled seats in business class (nightmarish by all accounts), and then also Continental’s old premium offering. My outgoing leg to Europe featured that third alternative: a B/E Aerospace-designed “Diamond” seat that’s competitive in the crowded transatlantic market. Couple that with a much-improved soft product, and you have what amounts to a solid ride across the pond…although it isn’t without its faults either.

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A Weekend To Europe

A number of The Higher Flyer Consulting obligations had me jetting off from the East Coast to London on a Friday, taking the train to France on a Saturday, and then returning home on a Sunday. A weekend like that, in theory, sounds absolutely brutal… And, well, sitting down at my day job desk that Monday morning was a struggle. The trip was well worth it though, and thankfully, premium accommodations all the way through to the end made it all the better.

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