When we travel for business, saving money is often of paramount importance. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always equate with a comfortable or exciting experience. Luckily, some organizations are focusing on making transcontinental business travel a more engaging– and even lavish–experience. Icelandair’s Stopover Buddy program, American Airlines’ Flagship Lounge, and JetBlue’s new Mint service are three diverse experiences that will make business travelers more excited to travel. Yet, partaking in these experiences is not always realistic. So, when are these upgrades worth it? In order to decide, business travelers must weigh the pros and cons. Is the price reasonable? How much free time do you have on your trip? These are only some of the questions travelers might need to consider before trying out these new airline trends.
Icelandair’s Stopover Buddies
Most luxuries aren’t free, but Stopover Buddies may be as close as you can get. Icelandair offers flights that go from New York, Boston, Seattle, Denver, and DC to Iceland and Europe. The airline does stopovers in Reykjavik, which are unique because you can stop en route for up to seven days without the cost of your ticket increasing. Icelandair recently began matching staff volunteers with passengers who wish to see Iceland from the perspective of a local. This is a smart way for Icelandair to showcase their friendly employees and to promote Iceland as a stopover location. Most of the activities passengers can participate in are free, aside from any rental equipment charges.
Stopover Buddies: How it Works
Icelandair describes their “buddies” as a “versatile” staff that does “all kinds of interesting activities when they’re off-duty, such as sea swimming, mountain biking, heli-skiing, cross-country running, knitting pink jumpers, and a lot more. You know, quirky and eccentric stuff mixed with your usual variety of extreme sports.” There is no cost for booking a Stopover Buddy; you only have to pay for the activities themselves. When you sign up for a Stopover Buddy, you are paired with an employee who could be “anyone from the CEO or pilot to the check-in agent.” Based on your lifestyle, your health, and your sense of adventure, your buddy will plan an exploration of Iceland that can last up to twenty-four hours. Depending on your preferences, you could be matched with a “food buddy,” a “culture buddy,” or an “adventure buddy.” If you’re flying through Iceland, you can book a Stopover Buddy you can book a Stopover Buddy here!
Stopover Activities: Seeing New Places and Meeting New People
Icelandair passenger Jennifer Bain, a travel editor for thestar.com, was paired with a Stopover Buddy who shared her love of horseback riding. In her review of the service, she describes how, after a long flight from Toronto, she was greeted by “Adalheidur ‘Heidi’ Halldorsdottir, holding a sign with [her] name and photo;” Heidi then wrapped Jennifer in a “welcoming hug.” She even gave Jennifer “a sweater, socks, and a heavy jacket for good measure” before they went horseback riding. Though Jennifer only spent a day with Heidi, she was still able to get to know her well. Many Icelandair customers have found that their Stopover Buddies are nothing but open, kind, and helpful.
If you are interested in Icelandic culture, your Stopover Buddy is the perfect person to teach you. Heidi took Jennifer to get traditional Icelandic food: “dried haddock ‘chips,’ cheese, flatbread, smoked lamb, smoked trout and pastries.” While exploring Kopavogur and Reykjavik via horse, Jennifer didn’t feel like a tourist. For these “precious hours,” she states: “I was an interloper than didn’t speak Icelandic, but felt welcomed in the world of this tight-knit group of horsey friends.” Jennifer expected an average, one-hour trail ride, but what she got was a rare opportunity to experience life as a local. On their last ride, the women Jennifer was riding with began singing an Icelandic riding song. At this moment, Jennifer saw “the lines between past and present, traveller and local, blur.”
Another customer, Carole Cadwalladr, describes the Stopover Buddy program as “the best marketing gimmick of all time.” She commends Icelandair for their brilliant idea, stating that it successfully “promotes Icelandair’s routes from Europe to North America… by tempting people to spend a night in Reykjavik.” This is one temptation that is worth giving in to. Cadwalladr describes her Stopover Buddy experience as “exhilarating.” On the first day, she fell “head-over-heels for Iceland.” Though each employee is only required to show their passenger around Iceland for one day, Cadwalladr’s buddy continued exploring Reykjavik with her. On her second day, she had dinner with her host and his wife. On the third day, her buddy took her to Reykjavik’s “geothermal beach, Nautholsvik, where [they] soaked in a hot pool before… plunging screaming into freezing waters.” The possibilities seem endless if a local shows you Iceland.
Is Trying a Stopover Buddy Worth it?
According to CNN, during the program’s three-month debut in 2016, almost 700 Stopover Buddy requests were received! Passengers and staff alike find the Stopover Buddy program exciting and relaxing. The Icelandair Stopover Buddy program is available to anyone who flies Icelandair across the Atlantic. If it makes sense for you to fly through Iceland, we highly recommend booking a Stopover Buddy; as long as you have the time to explore, it is affordable and exciting. Cadwalladr describes how she explained the Stopover Buddy experience to another traveler and his eyes “lit up” as he replied: “That’s exactly what I wanted. I was in central Reykjavik this morning and it was all tourists in overpriced shops and I was thinking, ‘Where are the locals?’” If you don’t want to get stuck in tourist traps, the Stopover Buddy program is a great way to go.
If you are travelling for business, it may be a good idea to spend time outside on your stopover. Instead of staying cooped up in a hotel room, with a Stopover Buddy, you can get some fresh air and forget about work for a little while. Many business travelers, in fact, are choosing to add leisure to their trips. “Bleisure,” as it has been termed, has become a trend. The writer Jacob Cherian believes that planning time for relaxation and exploration around your job is actually quite practical and efficient. Cherian states that, “the good bosses understand this [the benefits of ‘bleisure’] and actually appreciate this sort of ‘optimization.’” Rather than booking a vacation separately, you can save money on your plane ticket by making your work destination a leisure destination as well. Not only is “bleisure” an efficient way to travel, but it also may help you perform better at work. Cherian comments that, “especially if you have an intensely online and creative role…I think it’s critical to have that time away from people you know and with people you don’t know to gain fresh perspectives and new ideas.” This is exactly what Icelandair is offering: a way to gain a new perspective. Though Icelandair is not currently offering Stopover Buddies, they will return “full force with new adventures and outlooks” for autumn 2016.
American Airlines: Flagship Lounge
What if your stopover is too short for you to leave the airport? You’re in luck: American Airlines is updating its premium lounges. This means that “long-haul” customers can now wait for flights in relaxing lounges, no matter if they are flying out of the United States or from an American Airlines international hub.
How Flagship Lounges Work
Starting in 2017, all trans-Pacific, trans-Atlantic, deep South America and Airbus 321T transcontinental customers flying first or business class will have access to the Flagship Lounge. When you enter the lounge, you will first have to check in at a kiosk. According to a review of the Flagship Lounge by travel consultant Ben Schlappig, this only takes a minute. When you exit the lounge, an elevator will take you directly to the security checkpoint. Although there weren’t any escorts available for Schlappig, “perhaps because it was so early in the morning,” there is usually an escort who will take you to the front of the security line. This can “potentially save quite a bit of time, because they’ll bring you all the way to the front of the x-ray belt.” Schlappig calls this “one of the most impressive airport ‘escort’ services in the U.S.”
Flagship Improvements: New Facilities, Upgraded Space, and Better Dining
If you already use a premium airport lounge service, you may be thinking, what has changed? The answer is: a lot. According to American Airlines, their upgraded lounges will have more room for travelers to spread out, new kitchens with more “fresh options,” “updated interiors with additional power and privacy options,” and “more staff in each lounge for the highest level of service.” There are currently Flagship lounges in Chicago, New York-JFK, and Los Angeles. These existing lounges began renovation in the spring. According to businessinsider.com, these lounges will have “new furnishings and expanded space.” In addition, new Flagship Lounges will be made in Dallas, Miami, and Philadelphia during 2016.
The new Flagship Lounges also contain business centers, which “consist of four attached cubicles, two of which have PCs, and two of which you can use for your own ‘setup.’” In this area, you will also find printers and fax machines. Nearby, there are even ottomans with built-in headphones. The lounge also has shower rooms that can be reserved. In his review, Schlappig comments that this is “one area where American excels.” The shower rooms are “consistently quite nice,” Schlappig says.
The new and improved Flagship Lounges will have full-service tableside dining with “seasonal menus developed by local executive chefs at each location.” American Airlines calls this fine-dining space the “first of its kind for any U.S. carrier.” This new dining experience is based off of the success American Airlines had with their Flagship lounge at Dallas/Fort Worth International. At this lounge, the food selection “is more focused on small plates and fresh, healthy options.” As they create new lounges in JFK, Los Angeles, and Miami, American Airlines plans to focus more on the quality and variety of their menus. Customers will even be offered complimentary beverages.
Flagship Lounge: Negative Experiences
In his review, Schlappig comments that the hot food was “pretty decent;” the breakfast menu included “eggs, bacon, sausage, breakfast potatoes, pancakes, etc.” He complains that the Nescafe espresso machine was “nasty.” Luckily, the lounge offers filtered coffee as well. Schlappig’s favorite part of the lounge was the “bottles of Evian and S. Pellegrino” because American Airlines does not offer sparkling water onboard.
Schlappig also comments that there is always “a queue for [the bathroom stall], given that there’s a single one, which might not be enough given how busy the lounge gets.” He concludes by stating that the Flagship lounge in Chicago is his least favorite because it is small and lacks good views, while the LAX lounge is the nicest, in large part due to their “superior Flagship check-in facility.”
While some agents are friendly, Schlappig does recall how an agent “barked” at him. He comments: “it amazes me how some agents speak to people. Seriously, this is the airline’s most premium lounge. Is that really how you talk to customers?” Unfortunately, no matter how luxurious your travel plans are, there is no guarantee that every employee you meet will be helpful and friendly.
What’s Next? Decide Whether It’s Worth It
With American Airline’s three billion-dollar commitment to “improve the passenger experience throughout the travel life cycle,” American Airlines is on its way to upgrading every part of the travel experience. According to Business Insider, American Airlines is the only US-based carrier to offer pre-flight dining for long-haul travelers. If this is important to you, it may be worth flying first class or business class on American Airlines. If you or your business have the economic means to purchase these more expensive tickets, it is worth checking out a Flagship Lounge. A good meal and a comfortable place to sit may be just what you need before a long flight. Unfortunately, the Flagship Dining experience will only be available to first class customers; if you are traveling in business class, you are just allowed to relax in the lounge.
For passengers with limited funds, these upgrades may be a hinderance. According to Airways News, American Airlines has previously concentrated its efforts on producing “new aircrafts, new seats, and new products.” With these new Flagship offerings, the “price point has increased.” Some of the profits the airline generates will be “reinvested to improve the travel experience, at least for premium cabin customers.” Unfortunately, if you are not a premium customer, these luxurious improvements may simply increase the price of your ticket.
Behind the JetBlue Mint Experience
If you want to continue to travel luxuriously after you leave the airport lounge, we recommend JetBlue. Customers are raving over JetBlue’s new “Mint” experience. From the moment you reach the airport, you enjoy advantages: there is faster check-in, an extra free checked bag, speed-thru security, and early boarding for every Mint customer. These airport advantages will expedite the boarding process and make
your departure enjoyable and relaxing. We have all had bad experiences at the airport; security can be tedious and boarding is sometimes stressful. With Mint, all of this stress goes away.
How JetBlue Mint Works
In order to book your JetBlue Mint ticket, simply simply click here to plan a trip. After you type in your departure and return information, you can search for ticket prices in dollars or in TrueBlue points. If you search in points, you will be able to see how many points you will need if you want a seat on JetBlue Mint. The website will show how much money–or how many points–are required for traveling using Blue, Blue Plus, Blue Flex, and Mint. This way, you can pick which option is most affordable.
The Mint experience is available on select flights only. For now, customers traveling round trip between New York’s JFK and Los Angeles International Airport, as well as from JFK to San Francisco International Airport, are the only ones who can book with Mint. Service availability will grow in 2017 to include routes to and from Boston and Fort Lauderdale, among others.
A Very Comfortable Flight
With eighty-inch-long lie-flat seats– the longest seats in the industry–that also have built-in massage systems, customers can travel across the world in luxury. This can be invaluable when you need to be well-rested for a big meeting. The Mint Cabin is split up into two-by-two and one-by-one suite-style rows. Each seat has armrests and plenty of storage space. At the moment, the suite-style seats with sliding doors are available at the same price as the two-by-two seats; one customer commented that this was “amazing, [but] will probably go away at some point.” While it lasts, Mint customers can book private seats with sliding doors for no extra cost. We recommend jumping on this deal before it goes away!
For those who have never flown first class, these seats will seem roomy. However, Greg James from travelsort.com states that “the seat compartments in the cabin are small compared with international first class flat bed products.” Even so, he notes that the space is nicely organized and gives travelers enough room to stretch out their legs. Though the seats may not be what customers used to a first-class experience expect, there is definitely more room than necessary.
Quick and Delicious Food
While you must wait for your food on most long flights, on JetBlue Mint, the food is waiting for you. As you arrive, the flight attendants bring every Mint customer a honey-infused limeade with fresh mint; you can have this with or without vodka. Throughout the flight, the JetBlue staff offers complimentary wines and cocktails. The meals on Mint are catered by Saxon + Parole, a restaurant that Boardingarea.com believes has “impressive…bold dishes with big flavors, crafted specifically to counterbalance the taste loss you experience in the air.” Marion Emmanuelle, the Marketing Director at Saxon + Parole, loves the partnership with JetBlue because it’s “wholly authentic;” the guests at their restaurant are “the same type of target audience that JetBlue goes after.”
The menu on Mint changes every month; it always has seasonal choices. Guests get to choose three of the five available plates on board. One passenger recalls her delicious meal that consisted of “pancakes with pomegranate seeds, poached pear, and crème fraîche; spicy eggplant shakshuka with feta; and creamy scrambled eggs with ratatouille and grilled sourdough.” These dishes were served in “sleek white dishes” and follow by “spiced cider sorbet.” On top of unlimited in-flight food options, JetBlue offers a departing gift. One customer received a “brownie gift from the NYC-based bakery Mah Ze Dahr… packed in a ribboned box” that “quite literally left [him] with a good taste in [his] mouth” These departing gifts give customers a final treat and a boost of energy before they head off to work.
Other Benefits of Mint
In addition to the departing gift, JetBlue also gives Mint customers an amenity kit, which contains luxury soaps, hand lotions, lip balm, and even pomade. If you are heading to a hotel or a meeting, this is perfect–you won’t have to stop to buy any basic travel products because you’ll already have it all.
Free wifi, or Fly-Fi, is also available during flights. Zach Honig states that customers will “be able to surf the web from 36,000 feet with speeds that rival (or often exceed) what we’re used to on the ground.” This is a big improvement from the quality of wifi that customers usually experience on flights. Free and fast wifi may be just what you need if you are traveling for business–you can finish up any last-minute work before you land.
So…Is Mint Worth it?
Although JetBlue stresses the benefits of expedited check-in and early boarding, these perks may be unnecessary. One Mint customer commented: “The check-in line was empty when I arrived at the airport so I didn’t get much from the quick check-in. I have TSA Pre-Check so expedited security is usually not much of a benefit.’” Depending on the circumstances, you may not need any expedited services. Though getting on the plane early is helpful in economy because it guarantees overhead baggage space, it is not necessary when there is bin space specifically for Mint customers. Even so, it is always nice to sit back and relax instead of waiting in line to board a plane.
Though JetBlue Mint is cheaper than other transcontinental first-class flights, it is still expensive for the average traveler. If you aren’t up for spending a lot of money, the easiest way to use Mint is to rack up enough JetBlue frequent flyer TrueBlue points. For 35,000 points, you can travel Mint for free. If you want a completely refundable, unrestricted seat, you will need 110,600 points. One customer states: “I’m not sure I’d pay if I was just taking a typical flight. If I just wanted to be working on the plane, I’m not sure the benefits of food and a more comfortable seat would outweigh the extra $450 you pay.” However, if your company pays for business class or can afford an upgrade, the experience is worth it. In addition, if your company is flying in a client, it may be wise to use JetBlue Mint– traveling in luxury will definitely make your client happy.
The Next Step: Should You Try These Airline Trends?
Though traveling can be expensive, there are ways to travel luxuriously and affordably. If you have a limited budget, we recommend saving up enough points to use JetBlue Mint. Unless your company will pay for your flight, this is the most reasonable way for the average business traveler to experience this luxury.
Before you decide to try out American Airline’s new lounges, we recommend thinking about where you are traveling and why. If you are going on a long business trip, traveling first class may be the best way to get the rest you need. On shorter flights, however, it may not make sense to spend the extra money. If you do decide to fly first class, we recommend exploring the new Flagship lounges; why not take advantage of everything you are offered? Especially if you need to get work done or grab a meal before your flight, these lounges are the perfect places to relax.
JetBlue Mint and American Airline’s Flagship Lounges are exciting, but potentially expensive travel options. Lucky, Icelandair’s ingenious Stopover Buddy program is perfect for those of us who want both luxury and affordability. If your flight goes through Reykjavik, we highly recommend booking a Stopover Buddy; it will get you out of the airport and into a new, exciting environment.