Airlines Are Unlocking New Value In Their Frequent Flier Programs

February 26, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Reversing the direction of what we’ve seen recently in frequent flyer programs, Business Insider says that airlines are now finding value in their frequent flyer programs.

The recent trend has been for airlines to find ways to deny privileges to customers involved in frequent flyer programs (such as putting a stop to mileage runs). That trend probably isn’t going to change, but airlines are finding ways to monetize these programs in a way that, so far, doesn’t seem to be of much benefit to travelers themselves.

Multiple racks of servers

If you’re using Big Data, you need some Big Servers. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Getting on board the Big Data bandwagon, airlines have started harvesting and selling the data they’ve gathered about their frequent flyers. They’re selling this data to a variety of sources; Business Insider lists credit card providers, rental car companies, and hotels.

This data is so valuable, Air Berlin recently sold a stake in its frequent flyer program for more than what the entire Air Berlin corporation was valued at.

“It’s extremely powerful data, especially as it tends to be slanted towards the premium segment,” said Marc Allsop, senior vice president and head of global business development at Aimia.

In other words, frequent flyers tend to be very desirable customers. Anyone who travels enough to rack up that many miles tends to have money to spare, even when the person’s travel is on the company’s dime.

Plus, the information being harvested isn’t just related to facts about the person. It can potentially include details about recent trips a particular person has taken.

How do you feel about your frequent flyer information being harvested and sold to a third party? Leave us a comment to let us know if that sounds just fine to you or if you’d prefer to go back to the days when your data was just between you and your airline.

Worth It or a Waste? The Real Deal on Five Common Travel Upgrades

February 12, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

A recent article on Lifehacker got us chatting about which travel upgrades seem worth it to us, and which were a waste of money.

There were differing opinions on the Travelpro team about whether shelling out for extra space is worth the additional cost. Those of us who feel hemmed in on flights, especially those of us who are tall (I’m 6’5″) said they will pay extra, especially for longer trips. Those who are more frugal (or smaller) said they don’t see a big difference in comfort and recommend snagging an aisle seat since that can give you the illusion of more space. Another good way to increase the amount of space you feel like you have is to keep the under seat luggage to a minimum. It’s worth it if you need the room, but a waste if you’re smaller, or the trip is shorter than two hours.

English: Delhi Airport Lounge

Delhi Airport Lounge (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We didn’t like the idea of paying for wifi, either at the airport or your hotel, especially if you’re on vacation. And even if you’re traveling for business, we suggest you trot down to a local coffee shop to get wifi while you sip a nice latte. Another option, which the article also mentions, is paying for a mobile hotspot so you have your own wifi wherever you go. And apparently, the new iPhone 6 includes this as a feature you don’t even have to pay extra for the bandwidth. (Another reason to upgrade sooner rather than later!) This one is a waste, unless you get the iPhone or other mobile hotspot.

A luxury we can get behind is the concept of club floors at hotels. These are special floors that serve meals, snacks, and drinks. You pay extra for the access but you do get pampered and you can eat there instead of going out. This feature adds about 20 to 30 percent to your bill, which is fine for those who don’t plan on eating out very often, making this worth it for the home bodies. It’s pleasant to be pampered, but foodies may not find it worthwhile. But if you’re going out more than staying in, or you prefer local eateries to chain food, this one is a waste.

A luxury the article doesn’t discuss is the option of paying for a day in the first class airport lounges. This typically costs about $50 for a day. It’s a great idea if you’re traveling for business or if you have a particularly long layover. The atmosphere is a lot more relaxed than the rest of the airport. Wifi is included and the staff make sure you know when your flight is getting ready to leave. This one is definitely worth it.

What are some of the worth it/waste upgrades you’ve found on your travels? Leave us a comment and let us know.

The Case of the Disappearing Amenities

February 10, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Most people take home a tiny bar of soap and some lotion when they leave a hotel. They may also have tiny bottles of shampoo and conditioner tucked away in their luggage as they glide through the lobby and out the front doors. Perhaps a shower cap to boot.

Not a big deal, as it turns out. In fact, many hotels sort of expect, and even want you to take their small sample soaps.

Sofitel Arc de Triomphe מלון סופיטל שער הניצחון

Sofitel Arc de Triomphe מלון סופיטל שער הניצחון (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A recent study by Hilton Hotels showed that 73 percent of respondents were willing to admit they took home some swag from their last visit to a hotel.

People take these toiletries home and use them to stock their guest bathrooms. It does feel pretty fancy to select your own soap when staying the weekend with Auntie Margie. Others use the stuff themselves or even give it away as gifts. (Because nothing says love and friendship like a small bar of soap with a major hotel chain’s name on it.)

In fact, Hilton is using premier brands as an additional selling point for their hotels. A recent article in Premier Traveler Magazine’s website lists Neutrogena, Giovanni, Aroma Actives, Refinery, and Peter Thomas Roth as new additions to Hilton’s arsenal of body care products. These are some toiletry heavy hitters. Hilton, in fact, is glad to offer these miniature bottles of bliss as part of what they offer the weary (and upscale) traveler.

We understand the importance of quality toiletries in ensuring guests stay revitalized during — and after — their travels,” said Chris Naylor, vice president, brand operations for Hilton Worldwide. “The refresh of these bathroom products is part of our commitment to enhancing the overall travel experience, leaving our guests fresh and ready for their next adventure.”

The brands themselves also get buzz from being placed into the posh hotels.

Of course, it’s unlikely that someone will book into a hotel based solely on a love for Peter Thomas Roth, but these little details add up. And in the world of high end travel, encouraging your guests to steal soap can be a solid move.

Avoid Booking a Bad Hotel

January 6, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

It’s one of our worst nightmares. The only thing worse than being stranded or lost while traveling is being stuck in a bad hotel. But how can you be sure if the hotel you’re considering is a good one, and not just the result of a few faked reviews and a clever Photoshop job?

Your best bet in finding a good hotel is to do your research before you book a stay.

TripAdvisor — the app or the website — is a great resource for the traveler looking to avoid a night of pure misery at some flea bag motel next to a loud bar. Although TripAdvisor has received some criticism about its review system, it’s still a great resource because it lists so many reviews from different folks.

While it’s normal to see one or two bad reviews in a great hotel, and one or two great reviews at a bad hotel, these anomalies sometimes make people worry that something’s fishy on the review sites. When researching hotels on review sites, look for patterns. You may see one or two people who either have an axe to grind or they’re just jerks and like posting bad reviews. That’s almost normal these days, because people like to do that sort of thing. But if you see a pattern — 12 bad reviews, and one good one, or 12 positive reviews that all misspell the same word (which means they were probably planted by management) — then you can get a better picture of what that hotel is like.

A recent article in USA today mentions some other red flags. Visit the hotel’s website. If it’s outdated or doesn’t have a lot of information or photos, that could be a bad sign. If you can’t get someone on the phone when you call to ask questions, that’s also a bad sign.

An adult bed bug (Cimex lectularius) with the ...

An adult bed bug (Cimex lectularius) with the typical flattened oval shape. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You can also check out Google Street view to see what the place really looks like. Another great resource to find out if other, unwelcome guests will be staying in your room is the Bed Bug Registry.

Another way to improve the odds of finding a good hotel is simply to stick to the chain hotels. They have performance standards they have to meet in order to maintain that license. While many of us may prefer the local experiences when we visit new cities, sometimes you have to stay with the thing you know just to make sure you know what you’re getting. (Save the local experiences for the restaurants and sights.)

After you finally check into your nice hotel, you still have to stay on your toes. The desk clerk is probably a very nice person but often has a goal of filling the least desirable rooms first, which means you may be steered toward a room next to the elevator or with a view of the trash cans. Ask questions about placement, noise, and views right off the bat and you’re likely to settle into a more comfortable perch for the night. One trick we like to use is to ask for a room on one of the higher floors. At the very least, it’s a little more secure, and you’re less likely to get a terrible view. You can also ask about rooms at the end of the hall, away from the elevators.

How do you avoid booking a bad hotel? Tell us your tips. Leave a comment here on the blog or on our Facebook page.

Some of the Best Luggage Hacks Ever

December 26, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Everyone loves a list of life hacks, so we were unable to resist a recent article on Australia’s News.com called The 15 Best Luggage Hacks Ever.

There are some great ideas on this list, and we’ve even talked about some of them in the past, but we found a few old favorites as well as a couple new ones.

Everyone should follow rule number one on this list, which is to put some sort of distinctive marker on your luggage so that you can easily pick it out from the crowd when retrieving it from the luggage carousel after your flight. Most suitcases, including ours, are black. We make several others with distinctive colors, but still, the majority of bags you see on a carousel are black. So tie a bright piece of cloth around the handle or put a sticker somewhere easy to see, as a way to distinguish your black bag from everyone else’s black bag.

Maxlite3 Expansion Spinner

Maxlite3 Expansion Spinner

We especially liked tip number 14, Buy a lightweight suitcase. Most airlines charge extra if a packed bag exceeds their weight limit, so you want to start with luggage that doesn’t weigh very much to begin with.

That’s where our line of Maxlite 3 suitcases comes in handy. We designed them to be lightweight and sturdy, so they hold up well to the rigors of travel without adding a lot of weight. We also recommend that you choose your size wisely. If you only need a medium sized bag, don’t lug a large one to the airport; that only adds to your load and the overall price tag.

We did wonder a bit at some of the suggestions in tip number 15 Have a little bag full of these random but useful essentials. The list includes small sheet of bubble wrap, universal bath plug, pencil sharpener, and a calculator. Those don’t strike us as essential items. And since many of the other items listed are very sharp (mini scissors, safety pins, tweezers) make sure you don’t stow this little kit into your carry on as the TSA could possibly confiscate it (or at least the sharp pieces).

Other good tips on the list include suggestions to keep your luggage fresh by sticking a scented dryer sheet in there during down times, using compression bags to save space, and turning light colored clothes inside out so they don’t get marked up if they happen to come in contact with the bottom of your shoes.

What are some valuable luggage hacks you’ve learned over the years? Share them in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

10 Interesting and Helpful Travel Websites

December 18, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

If you’ve ever needed help with travel planning, but have some specific needs that the giant travel sites can’t help you with, Nomadic Matt published a very useful blog post in September about some lesser-known travel sites that can be very helpful when planning trips.

One site on the list that we really enjoyed was Tripping, which aggregates information from a variety of apartment rental websites, including FlipKey, Housetrip, and Booking.com. One thing to note about Tripping is that it doesn’t pull information from Airbnb, so you need to do a separate search on that site if you want to compare.

English: Apartment in Pursilahdenranta, Helsinki.

Apartment in Pursilahdenranta, Helsinki. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We like the idea of apartment rental as an alternative to staying in a hotel because it can give you a more authentic travel experience. You get to live the way locals do, rather than tucked away in a hotel. You’re close to the shops, restaurants, bars, and coffee houses the locals use, and you get to experience the city the way they do.

Apartment rental can save you a lot of money, especially if traveling in a large group. It’s often cheaper to rent a house or apartment, plus there is usually a kitchen included so you can cook some of your meals “at home.” And you have more privacy and intimacy with your group.

Trover is another interesting site. It adds photography to short user reviews of restaurants, hotels, and landmarks. It gives a more realistic look at restaurants or hotels you’re considering. Some places Photoshop their photos, or are selective about what they post, to present a better image than the reality, so this lets you see what the place is really like. You can share your photos with fellow travelers, and add a review to the mix to help future visitors make an informed decision.

Finally, we were also impressed with Busbud, a site that offers extensive information about bus services in countries around the world. This can be an invaluable resource for international travelers because in some cases, this information is difficult to find anywhere else.

What about your favorite travel sites? Do you have any unusual or little-known sites you prefer? Leave us a comment here or on our Facebook page.

Demanding a Return on Investment From Business Travel

December 9, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Business trips are a necessary part of doing business around the country or around the world. Trade shows, conferences, and client meetings are all a part of the game. Meeting someone face-to-face can change the dynamics of a key business relationship. The personal touch is still an important part of business, even in a world of e-mails, social media and text messages. But are you actually accomplishing goals with your travels, or are you just “traveling to travel?”

Business class coach.

Business class coach. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Amanda Stillwagon explains in her article on Small Business Trends the importance of demanding an ROI from business trips. She suggests making a list of must meet people, and then following up with them afterward.

If all you’re doing is traveling because it’s what you’ve always done , it might be wise to rethink your travel strategy into a business strategy. According to Stillwagon, the U.S. Travel Association states every dollar spent on business travel returns $10, if done properly.

You need to have some method of determining the trip’s value, by calculating potential sales or marketing opportunities, and then measuring the actual results. Set up goals before your trip, and measure the results afterward to see if you hit them. For example, if a trade show isn’t generating a positive ROI within a year, drop it and find a better one.

Take these trips as an opportunity to learn more about an industry to expand your network, showcase your products and/or to close a big deal.

Is a trip halfway across the world worth your investment? If there are top industry leaders you could meet, then probably, yes. But if it does not generate a positive ROI to the business, then it is just glorified sightseeing, and definitely not worth the money.

Last-Minute Travel Upgrades: Are They Worth It?

December 4, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

We have discussed the little luxuries of traveling and how the experience can be enhanced by little niceties such as a mint on your pillow or a bottle of water when you check in. Getting an upgrade can be one of them.

Or not.

I have been offered upgrades due to my loyalty status in a frequent traveler program. They have been offered as a courtesy and to keep my continued business. In that sense, it’s worth it, because I’m going to keep using that airline, hotel, or rental car company. But for others, it may not give you the benefits you need.

English: EK J-Class

EK J-Class (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When checking into the airport or hotel, or renting a car, companies have begun asking at the counter if you want to pay for an upgrade, trying to make it sound like a good deal. For some, the upgrade is totally worth it, while others end up feeling like they suffered from a marketing scheme.

In the past, car rental companies ask if you want an upgrade for $10 a day more, but this is a relatively new concept for hotels and airlines. Airlines have increased their profit margins by this method of marketing alone, selling seat upgrades from Economy to Economy Plus, for example.

Some people have had good experiences with this new airline trend while others have not. According to Christopher Elliott’s article in the Seattle Times, Linda Petzler had a wonderful experience with her upgrade and found it well worth it. As she journeyed from London to Dallas, she made an upgrade to business class for $500 more. On the other hand, Judith Patrizzi made an upgrade on her trip from Rome to Boston, which she later regretted. She received terrible food and bulkhead seats with no more room than the ones she would have received without the “upgrade.”

This is a situation where you have to weigh the pros and cons. Is the room worth it? Or is saving money more important? We suggest always asking if you want an upgrade. Sometimes it may be given to you without a fee. For example, if your hotel has multiple stories, ask if they have any rooms on a higher level available with a great view. These are usually nicer and bigger anyway, and won’t necessarily cost anymore.

Would you pay for an upgrade to a nicer seat, room, or car? Is it worth it, or an unnecessary expense? Leave a comment on our blog post or on our Facebook page.

Why Airline Ticket Prices Vary So Widely

November 27, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

The ticket you bought for your next flight could cost twice as much, or half as much, as the person sitting next to you. It’s a rule of flying that buying a ticket at the last minute means you’ll pay more than someone who bought when prices were at their lowest. If you have to book a ticket because of a family emergency or a last minute trip, you reluctantly pay a premium.

But did you know that ticket prices on an hour long economy flight can vary by as much as $1,400? This rather startling price difference was revealed by Hopper, a travel research website. A recent report they put out states that ticket prices for economy seats between LAX and Vegas — a 60 minute flight — ranged from $200 to $1,600.

DragonAir Economy SeatsThat’s quite a price difference and $1,600 is a lot to pay for such a short flight. The person who paid $1,600 must have been desperate, or quite the high roller.

So how do you avoid being the person who paid the most for their seat?

Part of it is a matter of luck: prices for the same flight vary day to day and even hour to hour. Your best bet on scoring at the lower end of the scale is to buy ahead of time, of course.

You can also check out Hopper’s website, which gives you a good idea of the range of prices for a particular destination and what the best deal is likely to be. If you see something within your acceptable range, be sure to snap it up right away. That price may be gone in 60 minutes.

If you enter the airports you’re flying between, you’ll also get a detailed breakdown of varying flight costs, the best time to buy tickets, and the most popular days to travel to a particular destination. They also provide info on what carriers make the trip, with a percentile breakdown. Plus there’s a list of alternate airports you can travel through to get close to the same spot.

If you want to avoid getting stung by high ticket prices, plan ahead, and use the tools to do some comparison shopping. Whether it’s Hopper or any of the other travel sites online, it’s a matter of good planning and plain luck.

Photo credit: Luke Lai (Flickr, Creative Commons)

Hotels with Women-Only Floors

November 4, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

More women are traveling for business than ever before these days. With this increase comes a new form of travel marketing: some high-end hotels are offering floors dedicated only to women.

The Naumi Hotel in Singapore offers women-only floors to its female travelers.

The Naumi Hotel in Singapore offers women-only floors to its female travelers.

Some of these “no men allowed” floors even go so far as to having female staff and a female concierge serve that floor. For some hotels around the world, it’s a question of safety. For others, it’s a marketing tactic geared toward attracting more women. Some of these gender-specific features include:

  • A focus on creature comforts that are actually sized for women, such as smaller robes, slippers, hangers, and other petite items.
  • Luxury items that are seen as more appealing for women, such as yoga mats, silk clothes hangers, and white wine in the room.
  • Decor that may appeal more to women, such as floral wallpapers and so on.

It sounds great, although we recognize that some people may see these single-sex floors as sexist. A recent court ruling in Denmark stated that a hotel’s women-only floor was discriminatory and the hotel was forced to open its rooms to men as well. In other countries, the women-only floors have remained open for business. Similarly, a hotel in Calgary has offered up a men-only floor to complement its women-only offering.

Perhaps the main beneficiary of women-only floors is the hotel industry. These rooms generally come with a hefty price tag for all the extra amenities and security. And whether these floors are successful will, in all likelihood, be determined more by the bottom line than the courtroom. Hotels are driven by profit which means filling rooms. If these gender specific floors can’t stay filled, we can’t imagine they’ll be kept around.

What do you think? Would you stay on a gender-specific floor? Would it be worth the extra cost? Leave a comment on our blog or Facebook page.

Next Page »