After the fun and success of the first Weekend to Europe, I was excited to plan a sequel to help ring in 2019. Madrid had long been on my radar, and at the beginning of winter, the perfect opportunity to visit presented itself. This was made possible in part thanks to Iberia’s remarkable promotion in the summer of 2018, during which the airline awarded up to 9,000 Avios to each customer who made a single booking. But that’s not all! Buy two flights, and you’ll get another 9,000, and adding a third earned another 9,000… and so on all the way up to 90,000 Avios! It didn’t matter if you actually took the flights you paid for, you just had to make the booking to receive the credit! This deal came with a caveat though: all award bookings had to be made before December 1, 2018, otherwise the points would disappear forever. What better use for them than crossing the pond for a quick weekend trip?
Is premium economy really just lipstick on a pig? For one thing, it definitely isn’t the same as standard economy class with an extra three extra inches of legroom. With cabins akin to North American regional first class and food served with proper chinaware, premium economy is trending within the industry and for good reasons. As more and more airlines unveil their own versions of it, it’s abundantly clear that there’s a market for higher flyers who want something better than cramped, poorly-padded chairs but also don’t want to pay fortunes for business class. Iberia’s Turista Premium, as it’s called, does a good job catering to these travelers; it’s an obvious step above steerage and usually doesn’t carry significantly higher price tags. The product isn’t perfect, but if you’re trying to fly to Europe in comfort while maintaining a budget, you should look to Iberia for a smart solution.
It’s cliché to call the start of a new year bittersweet, but this typically trite sentiment should ring true for many higher flyers. There’s nothing quite like the sting of seeing all zeroes when you check your airline and hotel accounts after New Year’s Day… but that doesn’t have to be all bad! If you’ve been on a single loyalty
hamster wheel treadmill for too long, there’s no better time than in January to start anew somewhere else. The potential of elite status on American Airlines — in spite of all of the devaluing cuts to it — had long intrigued me. When a series of attractive oneworld fares materialized later in the winter, I had to take, ahem, AAdvantage!
Ah, Spirit. The airline that travelers love to hate, yet somehow keeps convincing those who say “I’ll NEVER fly Spirit again” to give the ultra low cost carrier another go. There are a number of good reasons why Spirit has become as notorious as it has, but perhaps none are as infamous as its fee-driven business model. After flying on it a few times though, I’m convinced that Spirit is a viable option for higher flyers, albeit with a few conditions. You can’t go in expecting Emirates — this passenger experience will be much more akin to riding a public bus (that flies!) — but you can definitely count on a safe, affordable, and effective mean to your end. For those reasons alone, it’s worth your while to at least consider Spirit for accomplishing your travel goal(s).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.