Unfortunately these days, anyone not stranded on a deserted island is all too familiar with the effect COVID-19 has had on the world and subsequently the travel industry. But if I were to make any attempt to spin it, there are currently more opportunities than ever to fly international first and business class products domestically.
If anyone else is like me, they are longing for the days of boarding a red eye flight to a far flung destination. Nothing quite compares to the feeling of jet lag, or the excitement of planning extra time in a lounge on a layover. While it isn’t exactly feasible for us check off all the boxes these days, its still fun to kick it in an airport lounge before experiencing the hard product of American Airlines Flagship First Class for the very first time.
And this is exactly what led to our first official Window Seat Weekend…
Yes, that’s right.. an entire weekend trip was planned around finding the cheapest Flagship First Class Seat on American’s 777-300ER. As luck would have it, the aircraft was being flown between Miami International Airport (MIA) and New York John F. Kennedy (JFK) at an extremely reasonable price, all things considered.
On a normal international itinerary, think London or Hong Kong, American would sell Flagship First and Flagship business as two separate cabins, with Flagship First commanding prices as high as $10,000 one way depending on the time of year. Given this, I was thrilled to see both cabins were being sold as one first class domestic cabin, allowing me to book a ticket for $273 and select 2 of the 8 coveted seats up front. Upon confirming our seats I set out on planning the rest of the weekend. If we lived in Miami this would’ve been an easy trip, but given that we live in Ohio we were in store for a slightly ambitious weekend, but I would argue that makes things even more entertaining.
Getting to the Flight – Friday
Booking a flight out of Miami certainly had more benefits to it than simply getting us into the aforementioned seat. Not only is Miami a huge international gateway, offering a plethora of direct flights, but it also meant we would have 24 hours for a mini vacation.
The goal for the trip was to maximize our time relaxing without spending any money on the front or back end for hotels or positioning flights. For our flights to Miami and home from New York we settle on redeeming Chase Points through the travel portal at 1.5 cents a piece. While this isn’t the highest value redemption for chase points, there are a few reasons I still find this to be a valuable, so keep on the lookout for a future post going into more detail on this subject.
For Friday night we decided to stay at the Ritz Carlton Coconut Grove to both accomplish our no spending goal and make the most of our quick stay. The Ritz Carlton Coconut Grove allowed us to use a Marriott Free night certificate, which was too appealing to pass up for a 5 star stay. It also made for an excellent home base to relax and explore Coconut Grove.
The Ritz Carlton Coconut Grove, Miami is a Marriott Category 6 property, meaning the standard redemption pricing for one night is 50,000 points. This also means the free night award offered every year with the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express card was able to cover our night at the Ritz. The annual fee is steep, at $450 a year, but this night alone would have cost us over $600 including taxes. So without even mentioning any of the other card benefits we were coming out ahead. The card also offers a $300 annual credit on all Marriott spend. This allows for charging dinner, room service, and drinks at the pool directly to the room and upon checkout when the charges hit the credit card statement they are immediately credited back, up to $300 of course.
It’s an excellent card for anyone who likes to visit Marriott properties when traveling and it really helped to improve our stay by reducing the cost of dinner and drinks.
The hotel ended up being perfect for our short stay. We had a King room with a balcony and views of the Bay, a very spacious bathroom, and a rather new flat screen tv. After enjoying dinner and drinks at the lobby restaurant, Isabelle’s Grill, we retired to the room to make sure we would be refreshed for the big day ahead.
Coconut Grove – Saturday
Given our short stay we set out straight away in the morning to explore the nearby area of Coconut Grove. We had received multiple recommendations for Greenstreet Cafe so we made that our end goal with a plan to checkout anything that looked cool along the way.
During our short walk to breakfast we passed the harbor and enjoyed spotting different sailboats before continuing along our way and counting more restaurants than we had time to visit. We made sure to pop into a cafe along the sidewalk for a quick latte and iced tea. As we continued, one restaurant really stood out to us, PLANTA Queen, an asian inspired vegetarian restaurant. And since Allison is vegetarian, she is is psyched about the prospect of returning to try it one day soon. After our nice leisurely stroll we arrived at Greenstreet Cafe, hungry and ready to see what all the hype was about.
We never actually set foot inside the restaurant as we requested seating outside along the sidewalk. We figured, when in Miami, why not enjoy the hot humidity 🙂 right? Anyways, they are well aware of this and had a couple fans out to help keep things at a reasonable temperature. One thing I did notice right away were the projectors playing football reruns along a white painted cinderblock wall behind the bar. Certainly a neat concept and I bet those bar seats are a hot commodity come football season.
As we settled into our seats we noticed Greenstreet had adopted the barcode menus. Personally, I find these to be a welcome addition at all restaurants since I find it to be a much more efficient way to pull up the menu. It also meant we had our questions ready for the waitress as soon as she arrived. She was very knowledgable on the offerings and we quickly had our orders ready.
I went with the peach iced tea and whole wheat protein pancakes while Allison ordered the vegetarian option eggs Benedict. The peach iced tea was presented beautifully, with a dried peach slice akin to what one would normally find as an orange equivalent in a nice old fashioned. Then the pancakes were out of this world. Normally you can tell when pancakes are made to contain extra protein but whatever the chef did to prepare these knocked them out of the park. I would not hesitate to order them again, blueberries and all.
After a filling breakfast we decided to walk off the pancake coma with a stroll around the block. One spot we noticed and wished had been open was The Barnacle Historic State Park. It is only open Sunday – Wednesday from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. and would’ve allowed us to check out the land and former home of Ralph Middleton Munroe. He was one of the earliest residents of Coconut Grove and had a major influence on it’s early growth and development. For those interested, a link to the park website is here. It’s on our short (quickly growing..) list of places to visit when we return for a slightly longer weekend.
Since we couldn’t get into the park we had to settle for exploring some other parts of the nearby town. One cool feature we discovered is they have plaques denoting all the different historical spots around Coconut Grove. We came across what used to be the first theatre in the area, and coincidentally the first place in town to have air conditioning. We couldn’t help but laugh about how they had an unfair monopoly at the time for getting people to come see their theatrics during the hot Miami afternoons. We even learned that Coconut Grove is is the oldest continuously inhabited neighborhood of Miami.
But after a morning of eating, exploring, and educational enrichment, we decided to head back to the hotel for a couple hours of poolside relaxation before heading to the airport.
Ritz Carlton Coconut Grove Pool – Saturday
Thankfully we were able to secure 4 p.m. checkout from the hotel courtesy of Ambassador status, which left us with a few hours to relax at the pool and get packed up before exiting the premises. The pool itself didn’t have any ocean views, or really any views for that matter, but it did offer a tranquil escape with excellent pool side service.
Immediately upon arriving one of the pool attendants greeted us with towels and chair covers, a menu, and offered to bring over water. The pool had plenty of chairs around and cabanas on offer for daily rentals. There was also a bar off to the side offering food and beverages. We didn’t order any food, given our recent visit to Greenstreet Cafe, but I selected a cigar city brewing beer since I always tend to gravitate towards the local–to Florida–option when traveling. I enjoyed it and our time at the pool flew by way to quickly.
Even though we weren’t ready to leave, we were hardly disappointed heading to the airport.
AA Flagship First MIA to JFK
If we had been flying this seat on a usual route it would have provided us with complimentary access to the Flagship lounge and Flagship First Dining. However, since we weren’t doing that we had to “settle” for the Centurion Lounge courtesy of our American Express Platinum cards. The Centurion Lounge featured a self serve buffet with hot food for dinner and a bar with specialty cocktails, all of which was complimentary for guests of the lounge.
We were lucky enough to find a great seat next to the window and settled in to enjoy the fantastic views of the runway. Sure enough, we can confirm time flies when you’re having fun, and before we knew it we were off to the gate to catch our flight to New York
The end result was a fantastic flight that we sincerely wished had lasted longer than 2.5 hours. I was able to watch Justice League, enjoy a cheese platter, sip on Gin & Tonic, and catch up on work. All in all a satisfying first experience in the 77W Flagship First seat. While I’m not convinced I would pay the required premium over business class to fly this seat internationally, it’s still something I would love to experience. I will be on the lookout for ways to upgrade in the future but I’m not yet ready to pull the trigger on the additional mileage redemption premium when compared to business class since that is an excellent product in it’s own right. Maybe we’ll just have to try it out one more time 🙂
New York City
We managed to pull up to our gate at JFK around 11pm but given what is apparently around the clock traffic in the city that never sleeps we didn’t arrive to our hotel until sometime after 12:30am. We decided to stay at the Hyatt Union Square, using 25,000 Hyatt points for the night. For anyone considering a stay here, I have to say, the room was nothing spectacular, especially given the amount of points we used for the night. But what it lacked in room decor and ambience, it made up for in location. But if I were to return in the future I would be hard pressed to say it wouldn’t be worth the additional 5,000 points for a stay at the Park Hyatt.
Given our late arrival from Miami we slept in Sunday morning before going on a 30 minute walk around the area and checking out Union Square. Upon returning to the hotel we remembered the front desk had mentioned Bowery Road Restaurant was open again so we decided to check it out for brunch. While the restaurant does offer an entrance via a door in the Hyatt Union Square Lobby, it is most certainly its own restaurant not managed by Hyatt. I am always a fan of these options since it allows for trying a local restaurant while still being able to charge the meal to the room for extra points. A winning combo in my book.
We arrived at Bowery Road just a few minutes before the brunch menu went live, meaning in typical brunch fashion we were required to order a screwdriver and mimosa to hold us over. As luck would have it, the waitress came back to our table a few minutes later and said the chef approved of us ordering before the designated brunch time on the menu. We appreciated this gesture and placed an order for the margherita pizza and huevos rancheros. Both were excellent and unfortunately the huevos rancheros disappeared before I was able to get a picture of them.
Our brunch was great. Our time in New York was brief. And Miami was still fresh on our minds. But it was already time to pack up and head to LaGuardia to catch our flight home and catch a glimpse of the newly renovated airport.
A memorable Window Seat Weekend in the books with many more to come.
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