Low-cost, lie-flat or private jet: What’s the best way to fly from New York to Miami?

Mar 9, 2020

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For many who live on the East Coast of the U.S., fleeing the cold, gray melancholy of a northern winter is an annual tradition; Miami is a classic destination for an escape. Its location at the southeastern tip of Florida all but guarantees sunny, tropical weather almost year-round. One of the most diverse cities in the United States, Miami offers travelers a healthy dose of Latin flair in terms of food, music, way of life and so much more.

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Art Deco buildings in South Beach, Miami. (Photo by Nick Ellis / The Points Guy)
Art Deco buildings in South Beach, Miami. (Photo by Nick Ellis/The Points Guy)

It’s not just the weather that draws people to Miami. The city has earned a reputation for being one of the most glamorous destinations in North America, full of luxurious beachfront hotels, a buzzy dining scene, posh bars and thumping nightclubs that attract flocks of revelers from all over the world.

(Photo by Nick Ellis/The Points Guy)

Today, with more links than ever before between the Northeast — and the rest of the country — and South Florida, travelers have a plethora of options to get down to Miami for a getaway, especially from New York City. As it’s such a popular destination for all kinds of people, the methods for traveling south run the gamut from bare-bones to opulence.

With that in mind, we set out to experience three different ways of flying between New York and South Florida to see if it’s really worth jetting in style, if you’re better off “roughing it” on the way down and saving your pennies for South Beach or if a perfect compromise between the two really does exist.

Related: The best times to visit Miami

To accomplish this mission, we sent three TPG staffers on three very different journeys from New York City to the Miami area on a Friday afternoon.

I would be holding down the budget end of the spectrum with a Spirit flight between LaGuardia and Fort Lauderdale. Points, miles and deals reporter Vikkie Walker would fly the middle option, with a lie-flat seat in first-class onboard American Airlines‘ daily Boeing 767 service between JFK airport and Miami. TPG contributing writer Benji Stawski would be the envy of us all, flying BLADEone’s private jet service between Westchester County Airport north of Manhattan and Miami’s Opa Locka Executive Airport.

(Photo by Nick Ellis / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Nick Ellis/The Points Guy)

Three very different flights to Florida, but with one goal: Deciding, once and for all, if it’s really worth spending a lot on your flights on a relatively short hop to the sun.

The challenge

When we decided to do this project, we decided against a signature TPG “race,” since the BLADEone service only operates outbound flights to Miami on Thursdays and Fridays and returns to New York on Sundays and Mondays. Instead, we’d take note of the times we left either our homes or the TPG office in Manhattan as well as the time at which we reached a previously agreed finishing point: The Miami Beach Edition hotel. And then, taking into account both the total time spent journeying from NYC to Florida as well as the total amount of money spent (including ground transportation) to make our call.

The answer? Well, it’s complicated. Read on for our findings — and stay tuned for individual posts on the three different flight experiences, to be published in the coming days.

Method one: Just get me there, please

  • Airline and class of service: Spirit Airlines, economy (not that Spirit has any other classes of service)
  • Departure time (from home/office): 12:34 p.m.
  • Arrival time in Florida: 6:39 p.m.
  • Arrival time at Miami Beach Edition: 8:20 p.m.
  • Total travel time: 7 hours, 46 minutes
  • Total cost: $352

I had successfully avoided it since 2012, but Feb. 21, 2020 was my day of reckoning. It was time to do something I said I’d never do again: Fly Spirit Airlines. But, in the name of journalism, I booked myself a flight on Spirit from LGA to FLL. And not even in the Big Front Seat, either.

Related: Is Spirit’s Big Front Seat worth it?

I went into it expecting the worst, but hoping for the best. And, truth be told, my flight vastly exceeded my expectations. I arrived to LaGuardia’s Terminal C, which is shared with my beloved Delta Air Lines, to a surprisingly serene check-in area where I printed out the tag for my checked bag that I had paid a staggering $40 for a few days prior.

(Photo by Nick Ellis/The Points Guy)

After I tagged my bag, I saw it on its way at the self-drop station and made my way through security. Since I was in Terminal C, I could take advantage of Clear, which made the screening process a breeze. The standard screening line wasn’t much longer, either, likely thanks to my timing.

The Spirit experience is about as bare-bones as they come, though I did treat myself to some “upgrades” like early boarding ($6) and an advanced seat assignment ($21).

(Photo by Nick Ellis / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Nick Ellis/The Points Guy)

Predictably, the standard economy seats are thin. I wouldn’t have wanted to spend much more time than the 2.5 hours it took to fly to South Florida in one of them. They’re 17.75 inches wide, which subjectively didn’t feel terrible to me (though there was no one occupying the middle seat in my row), and pitch is just 28 inches, but given how thin the seats are, I didn’t feel particularly squeezed.

(Photo by Nick Ellis/The Points Guy)

There’s absolutely nothing on offer in terms of amenities or Wi-Fi. Let’s just say I got very familiar with the printed card that listed the inflight food and beverage options.

(Photo by Nick Ellis / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Nick Ellis / The Points Guy)

I knew that I’d have nothing to keep me entertained, so I downloaded several episodes of a podcast for the journey, which, along with a $20 order of snacks and a cocktail, kept me occupied until we landed.

(Photo by Nick Ellis / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Nick Ellis/The Points Guy)

Overall, this was an uneventful flight. Boarding was easy, the seat wasn’t too uncomfortable, the crew was friendly and, most importantly, the flight departed on time and landed early.

We arrived at Fort Lauderdale Airport, which lies about 22 miles away from the Miami Beach Edition, and since it was around 7 p.m. on a Friday, traffic was bad. It took over an hour to reach the hotel, which was frustrating, but nothing I’m not used to living in NYC.

Related: The full TPG review of the newly reopened Ritz-Carlton, South Beach

If you do your homework and show up to the airport prepared, there’s no reason to dread a flight with Spirit. Would I want to fly one of the airline’s longer flights to South America? No. But, would I do it again if I could find a really cheap fare to Florida? Absolutely.

(Photo by Nick Ellis The Points Guy)

Method two: Luxe-lite

  • Airline and class of service: American Airlines, first
  • Departure time (from home/office): 10:35 a.m.
  • Arrival time in Florida: 3:32 p.m.
  • Arrival time at Miami Beach Edition: 4:47 p.m.
  • Total travel time: 6 hours, 12 minutes
  • Total cost: $567

We’re big fans of airlines using internationally configured wide-body jets for domestic flights, which is exactly what American Airlines does for one of its daily frequencies between New York-JFK and Miami. It’s also the only regularly scheduled service with lie-flat beds between the two cities.

(Photo by Victoria Walker/The Points Guy)

Even though it’s not a very long journey, Vikkie jumped at the chance to live it up on her flight south.

She took a Lyft from her home in Brooklyn to Terminal 8 at Kennedy Airport, where she arrived more than an hour before boarding. She admired the terminal, noting that it felt fresh, open and airy. Things were quiet at T8 around 11 a.m., and the lines for check-in counters, kiosks and security were pretty much nonexistent.

Even though this flight was operated by an internationally configured aircraft with lie-flat seats up front, it’s treated as a domestic first-class flight, so there’s no lounge access included with a ticket. She considered stopping for a meal at Bobby Van’s Steakhouse, which participates in the Priority Pass restaurant program, but ultimately decided against it and headed for the gate.

Related: Your guide to Priority Pass airport restaurants

Boarding started just before noon with a single Concierge Key passenger, followed by Group 1. Vikkie found her seat, 8A, and immediately noted that the interior of this aircraft felt old. Nevertheless, she’d be flying in a lie-flat seat, so she got comfortable and ordered a glass of sparkling wine to sip on before departure.

(Photo by Victoria Walker / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Victoria Walker/The Points Guy)

Each business-class seat in AA’s 767s is 20 inches wide and reclined to a fully flat bed. However, there’s no built-in IFE system, so on long-haul flights, the crew distributes tablets for watching TV or movies. On this short flight, though, passengers got nothing. The aircraft is equipped with Wi-Fi, but it was painfully slow, so Vikkie squeezed in a half-hour nap.

(Photo by Victoria Walker / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Victoria Walker/The Points Guy)

She was served a complimentary meal, but it certainly wasn’t a multicourse affair like you’d get on a long-haul biz flight. Lunch was lasagna, which was decent, salad and bread. For dessert, passengers were served cookies, which Vikkie enjoyed with a coffee.

(Photo by Victoria Walker / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Victoria Walker/The Points Guy)

Vikkie landed on time in Miami, though the notorious traffic in the city made the 13-mile journey from the airport to the Miami Beach Edition almost an hour.

(Photo by Victoria Walker / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Victoria Walker/The Points Guy)

For an internationally configured aircraft, American’s 767s are basic and tired. The lack of IFE and the poor Wi-Fi were disappointing, too, even for a quick flight. Still, flying in a lie-flat seat is better than flying in a not-lie-flat seat, and with ticket prices often reasonable on the route, even in first, Vikkie thinks it’s a mini-splurge she’d go for again.

Method three: Jet-setting to paradise

  • Airline and class of service: BLADEone, private
  • Departure time (from home/office): 12:40 p.m.
  • Arrival time in Florida: 5:25 p.m.
  • Arrival time at Miami Beach Edition: 6:18 p.m.
  • Total travel time: 5 hours, 38 minutes
  • Total cost: $2,990

TPG contributing writer Benji Stawski definitely got the luck of the draw on this trip, flying on BLADEone’s private jet service between New York and Miami via Westchester County Airport (HPN), about 30 miles outside New York City, and Opa Locka Executive Airport (OPF) in Miami.

Benji’s luxe journey started on a high note with a helicopter transfer from the Blade West Lounge near Hudson Yards in Manhattan to HPN.

Benji arrived at the lounge with plenty of time to spare to enjoy a drink and some snacks before the helicopter flight.

(Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

The helicopter transfer took just 16 minutes, and it landed just steps from the jet that would whisk Benji to Miami. Transfering to it was seamless and there was no time wasted on the ground. All of the other passengers, who had started their journeys at Blade’s Westchester lounge, were already on board when the helicopter arrived so the doors were shut soon after Benji boarded. 

(Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

Since only eight of the 16 seats were occupied, Benji was offered to switch to a seat in the first row for some more space, which he gladly did.

(Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

Benji was offered a pre-departure beverage of his choice shortly after boarding but was surprised that there was no Champagne on board — just a bottle of Viamora prosecco. Blade told TPG that it will be switching its bubbly offering — to Lamberti Organic prosecco — in the coming weeks.

The crew came through the cabin to take another round of drink orders and ask passengers if they would be having lunch. The catering on Bladeone service is provided by BLT Group, a major player in the New York City food scene. The meal began luxuriously, of course, with caviar, followed by a lobster Cobb salad, burrata, glazed carrots and a perfectly grilled medium-rare filet mignon. Espresso chocolate brownie and fruit skewers were offered for dessert.

(Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

Benji notes that he felt that the meal service was a little too drawn out, but he was still able to rest a little bit before landing.

The flight touched down at OPF at 5:25 p.m. and Benji was in his Uber to the Edition by 5:28 p.m., though landing in the middle of rush hour and Opa Locka’s slightly further location meant that it took him over 50 minutes to reach the hotel.

While flying Blade’s service certainly saves time over flying commercial, and greatly reduces the stress of getting to and navigating the airport, is it worth the enormous cost? Your answer depends, but there’s really no better way of arriving in Miami in style — short of, well, your own private jet.

Bottom line

Going to Miami is great, no matter how you get there. And, as a destination that can offer something to everyone, there of course are different methods of getting there for practically every budget and style of traveler.

If you’re fine with putting in some effort into your experience and completing all the necessary steps before getting on board, Spirit is truly not a bad way to fly, especially if you can find a bargain-basement fare.

If you happen to be a loyal AA flyer who could score a complimentary upgrade, use miles for the ticket or just happen to find a decent fare in first class on the route, it’s hard to beat a lie-flat seat on a domestic hop, even if the planes themselves are very outdated.

Finally, if you’ve got money just begging to be spent, why not splurge on a BLADEone flight? You’ll save time (and stress) when compared to commercial flying, you’ll have some seriously A-list experiences like helicopter transfers and caviar on board a private jet and, of course, you’ll arrive in one of America’s flashiest cities in a whole lot of style.

So, what did we learn when we tested three different ways of getting between the nation’s largest city and Miami? Above all else, the best way to get there is based on your personal preferences. If you value time and convenience over everything, it’s hard to argue with BLADEone’s service, but if you’d rather save your money for the pricey food and drink in Miami, then a low-cost carrier could be perfect for you. But, if you’d like a little flash without breaking the bank (AA charges about the same as its competitors for a first-class ticket on the route, even with the lie-flat seats), American Airlines has you covered.

With reporting by Vikkie Walker and Benji Stawski.

Featured photo by Nick Ellis / The Points Guy

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