The introduction of new, remarkably fuel efficient planes like the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 have led to two significant developments in the commercial airline industry: the emergence of really, really long routes (think Singapore to “New York” nonstop) and the application of the low-cost-carrier business model to longhaul flying. The former is useful and convenient for premium passengers especially, but the latter is special because it affords more people more opportunities to travel. Norwegian Airlines is one of the most prominent operations to do this; it’s taken advantage of relatively lax EU laws and has set up shop all over Europe to offer cheap flights to the Americas and Asia. Is it glamorous? Far from it. For the price though, Norwegian is comfortable enough and can certainly be considered “higher flyer” for its excellent value proposition.
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?
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?
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.
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!
A rewardingly cheap experience for the brave
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.
Fashionably French longhaul luxury
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.