Brand Sagamore: Baltimore Walks The Plank

The Wall Street Journal: “Rising high above the new Sagamore Spirit distillery in South Baltimore is a white water tower with three maroon diamonds on each side, a nod to the jockey silks of the thoroughbred farm that provides the spring water for the company’s rye whiskey. The distillery, which opened a few weeks ago, is the latest endeavor of the growing business empire of Kevin A. Plank, founder and chief executive of the sportswear company Under Armour. His new enterprises — collectively they are called Plank Industries but nearly all have Sagamore in their names — are reshaping Baltimore’s waterfront and restoring luster to Maryland traditions and landmarks.”

“In March, Mr. Plank’s Sagamore Pendry hotel opened not far away in the Recreation Pier building in the Fells Point neighborhood after a roughly $60 million renovation. Outside the hotel, a fleet of new water taxis owned by Mr. Plank and modeled after Chesapeake Bay deadrise boats will soon ferry riders to Port Covington, the industrial South Baltimore waterfront area that is undergoing a $5.5 billion overhaul led by his real estate firm, Sagamore Development.”

“Inside the production center of Sagamore Spirit’s three-building complex in Port Covington, another three-diamond-stamped beacon greets passers-by: a 40-foot copper column still with a mirror finish that is believed to be the first of its kind. Asked why the finish was essential, Brian Treacy, president of Sagamore Spirit, channeled Mr. Plank, a childhood friend. ‘Because it’s all about brand,’ he replied.”

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Customer Contempt: It’s Not Just United Airlines

Helaine Olen: “In 2017, it often seems that the customer is the least important part of the transaction — unless he or she is paying top, top dollar. Take medical care. While the wealthy can turn to the growing practice of concierge medicine, where for a fee of over a thousand dollars annually, their personal doctor will always return their calls promptly, the rest of us are ever more likely to be relegated to a narrow insurance network.”

“This great economic sort is on blatant display when we fly. The airlines are seemingly forever coming up with new and innovative ways to coddle an increasingly small group, while treating the majority of fliers with greater and greater contempt. United Airlines is all too typical. The airline recently debuted fold out beds for business travelers, complete with mood lighting, adjustable lumbar supports and bedding from Saks Fifth Avenue.”

“But United’s coach class travelers are subjected to constant nickel and diming. Extra legroom is now an extra charge. So too, for travelers in the airline’s new ‘Basic Economy’ fare class, is the ability to choose one’s seat when booking a flight or the ability to bring more than one small, personal tote or bag on the plane.”

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Side-Slip: A Middle-Seat Solution

Quartz: “Molon Labe Designs has unveiled a middle seat that is set back slightly from the window and aisle seats. The seat also has a curved armrest, making it nearly impossible for the passengers sandwiching you to steal your whole armrest … This seat, which is called the “Side-Slip Seat,” could also speed up boarding because it allows for wider aisles as passengers get settled on board.”

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Collective Resorts Pops-Up 5-Star Hotels

Fast Company: “With a motto of stay tonight, gone tomorrow, alternative hoteliers are investing in mobile, collapsible accommodations … Some companies are setting up camp in areas low in hotel room inventory, like music festivals, while others are pitching tents in pristine countrysides, turning temporary hotels into a new type of guest experience—emphasis on the experience … Collective Retreats “has opened five-star retreats in the mountains of Montana, the vineyards of Sonoma, and the ranch lands of Colorado, with four more planned to open by year’s end in picturesque places where permanent hotels are not permitted.”

“Guests stay in spacious tents with electricity that are outfitted with 1,500 thread-count sheets, chandeliers, and WiFi. Each tent features a full en-suite bathroom with hot showers. Chef tableside dining is included at each locally sourced gourmet meal. Before bed, you can roast bourbon-infused organic marshmallows … Peter Mack developed Collective Retreats in response to what he calls the ‘vanilla-zation’ and ‘McDonalds-zation’ of the hotel industry.”

Tents “are a relatively inexpensive investment (at least compared to the cost of constructing a traditional brick-and-mortar inn). This leaves more money to spend on decor, food, and recreation. And because the tents are collapsible, the company has the flexibility to add or subtract accommodations on demand … Collective Retreats charges between $500-$700 a night during the spring and summer high season and $400 during shoulder season. The Yellowstone and Vail locations opened in March and already have waiting lists.”

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Match & Miles: Fidelity vs. Loyalty

The Wall Street Journal: “Travelers fell in love with an offer of 150 points from British Airways for every dollar spent by U.S. customers on new subscriptions to Match.com. U.S. members of the BA loyalty program could also get 130 Avios points, as they’re called, per dollar with eHarmony. A $215 annual Match subscription earned 32,250 points, enough to make hearts flutter among mileage fanatics.”

“But the attraction was so strong that the dating services quickly called it off after a couple of days in early March, canceling new subscriptions, refunding fees paid and pulling back points awarded. Match.com says it ordered up the quickie divorce because an affiliated promoter launched the come-on without authorization. eHarmony says the relationship soured when some married travelers signed up and others created multiple profiles, violating terms and conditions.”

“Frequent flier Dylan Schiemann didn’t sign up because he figured there was a line he shouldn’t cross with his wife.” He explains: “It seemed like a good offer, but I decided pretty quickly not to go with it. No matter how open you are, you just don’t go on a dating site if you’re married.”

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Delta & Alessia & Why Coach Class Sucks

Wired: “Delta’s clever new wine glass belongs to an extensive new line of dishes, cutlery, glassware, ceramics, and other serviceware designed in collaboration with Alessi. The collection, which is gorgeous, will appear in the airline’s premium cabins beginning April 1. That’s great news if you can afford it. But even if you can’t, Alessi’s brilliant designs say a lot about the state of the airline industry—including why your experience at the back of the plane kind of sucks.”

“Why invest in a fancy new line of serviceware that most of your customers will never use?Simple: Airlines make more money off the premium cabins than the cheap seats. The business of flying is the difference between Revenue per Available Seat Mile—RASM—and Cost per Available Seat Mile, or CASM.” Aviation analyst Richard Aboulafia explains: “RASM in the front, CASM in the back. Basically, if your CASM is higher than your RASM you lose. Vice versa, you survive. You can even make money.”

In other words: “You maximize RASM on the seats at the front of the plane, so the blankets in first class feel like blankets; cut CASM in economy, where the blankets feel like something you peeled off a dryer’s lint screen.”

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Monarch Airlines: It’s Cool To Be Kind

Quartz: “British budget carrier Monarch Airlines is offering free perks, like early boarding or seats with extra legroom, to travelers who are ‘nice’ to its call center staff. The incentives don’t cost the airline much. Early boarding on Monarch costs £5 ($6) and an extra legroom can cost around £10 ($12).”

“Even if you played well with others at school, don’t get your hopes up for that upgrade. The airline will only offer these politeness perks on a maximum of 10 bookings a week and only if the traveler rings the call center. So it’s tough luck for those who are left to resort to contacting the airline on Twitter because no one is answering.”

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JetBlue’s ‘Mint’ Does Not Cost One

The Wall Street Journal: “A lie-flat bed on a long flight used to be the ultimate perk, something fliers would pay up for. Now it’s a discount luxury.A new kind of business class has been pioneered by JetBlue’s Mint cabin on transcontinental routes … The affordable upgrade has been so popular, formerly all-coach JetBlue is now flying Mint seats from Boston and New York to the Caribbean as well as Los Angeles and San Francisco. It’s also announced expansion to San Diego, Seattle, Las Vegas and Fort Lauderdale.”

“This is not aviation’s version of a knockoff handbag. With Mint, the prices are lower but the recline remains fully flat, the pillows and duvets still soft. Service may lack some frills, but the airline still offers amenity kits with eyeshades and lemon towelettes … What’s most prized among savvy fliers are the Mint suites. On each side of the A321, JetBlue puts two seats in a row, then a row behind with just a single seat on each side. When seats fold down, the legs of the single passenger are tucked between the two passengers in front. The single passenger has a sliding door, creating an enclosed suite. The four suites cost the same as the 12 other business-class seats and usually get booked first.”

JetBlue EVP Marty St. George comments: “The biggest complaint is the single seat sells so fast.” Meanwhile, Mint’s success has forced other airlines to lower their business-class fares.

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Bulgari, Baccarat & The Hoteling of Retail

The New York Times: “The convergence of hotels and merchandise started, perhaps unsurprisingly, at luxury properties. Almost two years ago, Baccarat, a French crystal manufacturer, opened a 50-story building with a hotel and apartments across the street from the Museum of Modern Art, six blocks from its Manhattan flagship store. Crystal designs are displayed in public areas. Guests can order from the display and have their purchases shipped to their homes, saving time and a trip to the retail store. Select guest room entrances exhibit art inspired by crystal pieces.”

“Bulgari, an Italian designer of jewelry, watches and leather goods, has properties in Bali, Milan and London. Hotels in Shanghai, Beijing and Dubai are expected to open by the end of the year. The hotel website links to an online store … Tommy Hilfiger, whose designs include apparel, luggage and linens sold at Macy’s, Kohl’s and online, purchased the Raleigh Hotel in Miami Beach in 2014 and is developing it in conjunction with the Dogus Group, a Turkish conglomerate.”

“West Elm, a division of Williams-Sonoma that sells modern furniture and accessories online and in nearly 90 stores nationwide, has created model hotel rooms.” Stephani Robson of Cornell “said she expected that West Elm was hoping to reach beyond existing customers.” She observes: “A brand like West Elm can signal ‘our brand is experiential’ — reinforce positioning for customers not familiar with the brand.”

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