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Date night in LA by private charter

Date night in LA by private charter

Our gorgeous Hawker 850XP

March 2015

This crazy saga started three weeks ago with a FlyerTalk thread and a charter company offering $4 private flights over Valentine's weekend.  Sure it was only a handful of empty legs, but it was intriguing enough to start investigating.  The company giving away flights was JetSmarter.com, a charter broker that has developed an app that displays real time empty leg availability.    Some 30% of all private flights go empty as they fly to pick up paying clients.  How to monetize these empty legs has always been a challenge for the industry.  JetSmarter seems to have broken thru the clutter with a great app and membership program.  Non-members can book an empty leg at a nicely discounted price based on distance and aircraft type.  

But the coolest feature is the membership programs that lets members fly free on as many legs as they wish.  Find a leg, click Book Now, then Confirm and it's yours.  The entire plane for the federal excise tax of $4 per passenger.  $4 per passenger regardless of distance or plane type.  Annual membership costs $7,999 and that price is grandfathered for as long as you remain a member.  Typically 40-60 legs pop up every day, mostly US and Canada but some intra-Europe as well.  These require quick decisions as the flights depart with the next 12 to 36 hours. When Mrs. SFO enthusiastically endorsed it and gave the green light to book anything departing Denver, this one was going to be no brainer.  

After teasing us with some close ones in the last week, Denver-LA popped up Tuesday morning.   And not just a light jet, but a gorgeous midsize Hawker 850XP.   Even better was the Denver departure was from close to our home Centennial airport and heading for Van Nuys.  Book it Danno.  Shortly after you touch Confirm, a JetSmarter rep texts you to discuss departure time window.  Today's flight was a 5PM departure from Signature FBO, right next to JetLinx, our regular charter company.  Perfect. Now what to do in LA.  With a 6:15P arrival, it looks like dinner tonight, poolside tomorrow and and then home tomorrow by 7PM.  Mrs. SFO mentioned The Beverly Hills Hotel and the Polo Lounge.  Done.   For our return, amazingly UA was offering 2 saver mileage F seats on their 3:45P LAX-DEN flight… unless another empty leg opens from LA.

Our regular Denver driver Sam dropped us off at Signature Flight Operations at Centennial at around 4:35P.   

Inside we met our pilot Sean and 5 minutes later walked onto the tarmac to our fabulous Hawker 850XP.  

A happy Mrs. SFO.

Time to check out the galley.

And the very nice lav.

After we settled in, our pilot Sean reviewed the emergency procedures.  Since the plane had arrived last night in crappy weather, we were also going to visit the deicing area to hose down.  A final walk around and we were ready to go.

 

After deicing we were ready to taxi to runway 17L.

Once in the air, I played flight attendant and served drinks and the snacks that I had ordered from catering.

Pilot Sean came back to check on us and visit a couple of times during the flight, and we passed the rest of our seemingly short time on board plotting our next trip and using the on board Wifi system.   And finally, our descent on a beautiful Southern California evening.

Lining up for runway 16R at Van Nuys.

And Signature VNY East.

What a spectacular flight and really the only way to fly, especially at the incredible price of only $8.  We bid adieu to pilot Sean and co-pilot Jim.  And our prearranged driver Jimmy was waiting at the bottom of the stairs and we headed out onto the 405 for the short 20 minute drive to our hotel on Sunset Blvd.

Next up:  The Beverly Hills Hotel and The Polo Lounge

Down the 405 to the Sunset Blvd. exit and a short 20 minutes after deplaning we were at the iconic Beverly Hills Hotel.  

The Beverly Hills Hotel
Beverly Hills, California

Mrs. SFO on the red carpet, still there from Oscar week.  LOL.

A quick check in and we were in our lovely and spacious room, a Virtuoso upgraded Deluxe King with Balcony.  Very nice.

After a quick pit spot, we headed downstairs to the Polo Lounge.

First stop the bar.  I guess that's why they call it the Polo Lounge.

Anyone understand this one on the wall at the bar??

And then to dinner. 

Great company, great wine, but this kitchen needs some serious help.  Not one of the six dishes was memorable or anything better than average.  

Mrs. SFO's crab cake was meh.  I thought is was worse than just meh.

My ahi was borderline tasteless.  Anyone heard of soy or any kind of spices?

After a couple of bites, I asked our waitress to bring a tortilla soup instead.  It was better but not memorable.  Could have come from Chili's.

For the main, Mrs. SFO had the mushroom ravioli.  Meh.

While I had the lamb.  Certainly not spring lamb.  Mrs. SFO guessed mutton.  LOL.  Not much flavor here as well.

For dessert, we shared what was advertised as banana cream pie.  Not even close to the Cherry Creek Grill or Hillstone version.

A most disappointing meal.  Bar was great but we won't be eating here again.
Before going back the room, we decided to explore the hotel and found the pool area where we will be tomorrow.  Very nice.  And cool at night.

Back to our room.

After a great sleep, breakfast the next morning, included in the Virtuoso rate.

And our very nice balcony.

We relaxed in the room until the temps rose into the upper 60's and headed down to the pool around 10:30A.  

OK, this is one seriously nice pool area.  And a spectacularly gorgeous 72F/22C degree day.

 

We soaked up the rays for 90 minutes and I passed the time watching another United IRROPS meltdown.  
Our 3:41P LAX-DEN flight was first delayed until 4:30P then 5:30P.  

And where is this plane coming from?  Newark.  Seriously?

 

But nearly an hour later, the inbound was still on the ground at Newark with a now 6:02PM arrival.  

Naturally, UA is still claiming that our flight would depart at 5:30PM.  LOL.​

Yeah, sure United, that was really going to happen.

I put the last two 3:25PM AA seats (coach only) on hold while we debated blowing off Friday morning appointments so we could pick up yet another Hawker 800XP from Van Nuys to Eagle/Vail and then drive home two hours from there.  Our great JetSmarter rep tried to get the charter operator to fly the empty leg tonight instead of the morning but they didn't want to "repo" to that "mountainous airport" at night.  Oh well, we tried.
  
Just after noon, we headed back to the room so Mrs. SFO could shower and I could call and cancel our United flight.

We checked out around 1:15P, and ordered an Uber Black Car which showed up two minutes later.  Gotta love Uber!  We absolutely loved the Beverly Hills Hotel and would stay here again in a heartbeat.  We'd definitely go back to the bar but would go outside the hotel for dinner next time.

Next up:  From the luxury of private to the misery of AA Eagle economy.

Thanks to the car pool lane on the 405, it took only 30 minutes to get from the hotel to Terminal 4 at LAX.

Despite PreCheck, it still took 10 minutes to get thru security.   We had passed on lunch at the hotel since we were running out of time and just wanted to get to LAX.  I'd read about the new Kogi@LAX in FT, so I was looking forward to trying it.  O-M-G.  How fabulous is this Korean food truck outlet right in Terminal 4. 

We shared 2 spicy pork tacos, 2 short rib tacos and 1 calamari taco.   To die for and the best meal of the trip!!

At around T-40, we headed for the Gate 44 bus gate and the luxurious ride to AA's stupid remote bus terminal.

LAX-Denver
AA 5775 operated by Mesa
CRJ-900 (US metal)
3:25P-6:41P (sked)
3:45P-7:00P (actual)
March 5, 2015
Exit row seats 12A and 13A
 
When you book last minute, you take what you get.  There were exactly two seats left on this plane when I checked poolside at the hotel.  AA wanted $650 for each seat.  LOL.  But, AAnytime seats were available for 30,000 miles each.  Not good but better than $1,300.  
 
 

Fortunately, my AA elite status let me book the exit row seats 12A and 13A.  The good news was that these exit rows had amazing leg room, way more than First Class legroom.

The bad news is coach seats and we're squished against the wall.   A not so happy Mrs. SFO.

AA Executive Platinums are entitled to a free alcoholic drink (declined) and snack for having to suffer the ignomy of sitting the back of the bus.

Although a large tray table was right in front of me, our FA chastised me for trying to use it.

Oh, the fine print.  The how about removing the "thou shalt not use the tray table" tray table?

Mercifully, this is only two hours just enough time to finish a reread of an old Lee Child Jack Reacher book.

Almost home.  

Mrs. SFO waited in the terminal while I waited for the slowest gate check bag transfer team since LAX to bring the bags to the jet bridge.

Thanks for following along on this short trip.  We're already plotting our next private charter trip.  Indeed, almost pulled the trigger on Denver-Waco 800XP for tomorrow morning, until I came to my senses.