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American Airlines First Class Shuttle Review

A convenient, comfortable, and cost-effective way to hop through the Northeastern United States.

In a very, very crowded field of competitors all vying for the customers who transit the lucrative Northeast Corridor, American Airlines has perhaps the most robust offering.  Just about every hour on the hour for fifteen straight hours — from 6am to 9pm to be precise — every single day, you can fly AA between Washington, New York, and Boston.  It couldn’t get more convenient than that and, if you’re running late to the airport, no worries!  You can just get on the next flight without changing your schedule too drastically.  This level of flexibility is great for the business travelers who frequent these routes, and the comfortable seats and relatively cheap fares are just icing on the cake.

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American Airlines 767 Business Class Review

A recently-refurbished plane remains retro thanks to an underwhelming premium product

Across its expansive fleet, American Airlines features eight different kinds of business class seats.  Naturally, as you might expect, some are better than others.  On one end of the spectrum you have excellent reverse herringbones found on its Boeing 777s and 787-9s.  On the opposite end, on its Boeing 767s, you have staggered seats that would’ve been state-of-the-art 15 years ago.  Of the these two extremes, they share unlikely commonalities:  AA installed them on its planes only as recently as a few years ago, and it typically charges comparable, astronomically-priced fares for both.  If the airline brings the goods — so tasty dining options and warm, amicable service (among other things) to complement a comfortable chair that reclines 180 degrees — then it can get away with this pricing model.  If it doesn’t, well, such a poor value isn’t “higher flyer” and it probably isn’t worth your time.  By those metrics, the business class experience on AA’s 767s is, while more pleasant than economy, probably one to avoid.

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Cathay Pacific A350 Premium Economy Review

For better and for worse, an embodiment of both “premium” and “economy”

Most passengers on Cathay Pacific’s long and ultra-long haul flights have to cram in to too-tight seats in the backs of the planes for hours upon hours.  What miserable fates they have!  Fortunately there’s premium economy, which serves as a pain-easing option for some.  You’ll pay more for such relief, sure, but at least the increased comfort comes in the form of a generously-pitched and padded recliner, and what the airline claims to be improved meals, and better, more-attentive service.  Cathay’s offering is no bargain though; it costs more cash than a modestly-priced upsell, and so the return on investment should be abundantly apparent all the time.  That’s regrettably not always the case.

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DoubleTree Madrid-Prado Review

A Hilton DoubleTree masquerading as a quaint boutique hotel in the heart of Madrid

Hilton as a brand doesn’t have a particularly aspirational reputation.  Sure, its hotels are mostly comfortable and are more than serviceable, but the average Hilton usually lacks the glamour or pizzazz or charm that a mid-level Hyatt or a legacy Starwood property (RIP) might have.  Hilton’s DoubleTrees are some of the worst offenders when it comes to generic corporateness — they’re typically marketed to business travelers, and utilitarian design doesn’t lend itself well to pleasing aesthetics — but the brand’s sole property in Spain is an obvious outlier.  While “DoubleTree” might not evoke images of boutique luxury, the one in Madrid should very well challenge your assumptions.

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Norwegian Air 787 Economy Class Review

A proud symbol of the era of affordable air travel

The 787s that Norwegian Air uses for its longhaul operations are far from glamorous — expect slimline seats clad in grey “leather” for as far as the eye can see — but they are representative of an undeniably positive development in the commercial airline industry:  more people can afford to travel.  Norwegian occupies an interesting position in the market; it was one of the first carriers to take the low-cost/LCC model and successfully apply it to intercontinental travel.  Its fares are so consistently low (it’s not unusual to see oneway transatlantic tickets go for around $100), but correspondingly, it’s natural to wonder if there’s any sort of catch involved.  Is flying Norwegian an absurdly miserable experience or is it a viable option for higher flyers?

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British Airways 777 Club World Business Class Review

Business class closer to greatness, yet still far away

Despite being reviled by customers and critics alike, British Airways’s business class — referred to as ‘Club World’ — is undeniably important in the realm of higher flying.  It was the first true lie-flat product to enter the (uber-competitive transatlantic) market, and it single-handedly elevated the standard of what international business class should offer to premium travelers.  In the few short years after that introduction though, BA’s competitors both caught up and surpassed the original in terms of quality and value offered; Club World’s revolutionary reputation has long since faded and replaced by something far less flattering.  Perhaps no longer contempt to be the butt of jokes, British Airways announced new, much-needed investments into the passenger experiences in April 2017 and then again in March 2019.  While tangible improvements have been rolling out across all classes of service, Club World is noticeably better and now has most all of the makings of a competitive offering.  In practice is it actually competitive though?

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Another Weekend to Europe

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?

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Iberia A350 Premium Economy Review

A good value that balances comfort and affordability effectively

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.

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AAround the (one)world

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!

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