Google Enters Travel Booking World

October 8, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

You’ve been thinking about going to Montreal or New Hampshire in a few weeks to see the fall colors. When you start your search process, you notice that Google is offering to not only help you book your flight, but your hotel as well.

The ubiquitous tech giant is now dipping its proverbial big toe even deeper into the travel booking pool with its new initiative, “Book on Google”. And it has some of the other booking websites a little nervous.

Montreal, First YMCA. Now Hotel Gault.

Montreal’s Hotel Gault. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Google is currently conducting a beta launch in North America with 20,000 hotels that allows travelers to remain in its own navigation system from initial search to completed booking. Google’s partner? Sabre, the biggest global distribution system in the world used by more than 350,000 travel agents to access accommodation information.

The new “Book on Google” is the next generation of Google Hotel Ads, a search engine that searches other search engines and compiles the results for available hotels. What “Book on Google” provides that Google Hotel Ads doesn’t is direct booking all the way through to payment on mobile devices from Google Search, Google Maps, and Google+ platforms.

The hotels share the commission with Google and Sabre. This program complements Google Flight, which resulted from the purchase of ITA software, a flight information company, in 2015.

So now you can book a flight and find a place to lay your head without ever leaving Google. What’s next? Google room service, please.

Would you book with Google, or have you already done so? Let us know what you think in the comments section or on our Facebook page.

New Family Travel Association Works to Help Family Travelers

May 12, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

A recent article in USA Today discussed a new organization fighting for the plight of families traveling with children. The Family Travel Association is a new industry association that seeks to inspire people with kids to travel and to educate them on the positive impact that traveling has on both children and adults.

“Now, the industry is joining forces to present a clear and unified message — that travel with kids can be transformational, not just recreational, and that there are things you can do with your children that you may never have dreamed possible,” said Rainer Jenss, president of the FTA, said in the article.

Jenss said the goal of the FTA is to lead the industry toward making travel easier for parents with children since many surveys indicate that parents often come home from trips more frazzled than when they left.

English: PBair female flight attendant at work...

Female flight attendant at work on board of a ATR 72 (Thailand). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The FTA plans to promote kid-friendly companies, including airlines and hotels that tailor services to families with kids. The fact is, many businesses are either unaware of how to make things easier for families or are sometimes downright unwelcoming.

The article even mentions a mother who always flies with a print out of each airline’s rules for traveling with children, since flight attendants are often unfamiliar with the facts.

Since travel is both beneficial and difficult for families, the FTA has a lot to offer if they can make things easier for parents shepherding their children through the pleasures and perils of vacationing.

It’s very beneficial to be able to get away with your family. In fact, our Vogue line is intended for the family traveler, so this association is something we’re very interested in following and seeing how it turns out.

Would you use it or not? What are some of the difficulties and joys you’ve had traveling with your family? Leave us a comment below or stop by our Facebook page and share your thoughts.

Bring This, Not That: Pillows and Bedding

May 7, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Some folks love to travel with pillows and bedding, usually when traveling by car. There’s just something about having your own pillow with you when you’re sleeping in strange beds halfway across the country.

Once you’re talking about getting on a plane, however, all bets are off, unless you are truly dedicated to traveling with your own bedding and have extra money to burn on baggage.

Truth is, a pillow or a blanket can be a great addition to a car trip. Your own bedding is often very comforting, and if you’re going to see someone with limited bedding, it can also help your host.

English: A pile of pillows.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And if your young children have their special little pillow or blanket, you should certainly take that along with you. Separating children from their security blanket or pillow leads to stress all around.

We just read about someone who takes his own inflatable mattress and pillows on vacation, because they can blow them up in hotels for their kids. This saves money, because they can decrease the number of rooms they need, and young kids can pretend they’re camping out in the hotel room, which makes the trip more fun for them.

This plan is reasonable for a car trip, but if you wanted to take it on a plane, it might be an overwhelming burden. Those things are heavy!

My wife and I used to rent cabins with her family and the mattresses were not exactly the height of luxury; a blow up mattress was a great step up in comfort. Plus, bringing along an inflatable mattress was convenient because you can easily set these mattresses aside when you’re not sleeping. That can save you some room and make things seem less cramped.

Do you travel with your own bedding? Do you have a favorite pillow or blanket you won’t leave at home? Leave us a comment here or on our Facebook page.

First Look at Amazon Travel’s New Hotel Contract

March 5, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

It’s never a surprise to hear that Amazon is planning to do something new, but this may be a little unusual: the online bookseller company has now decided to venture into the hotel booking business.

We recently read a Skift.com article about details about the contract, which discusses how they’re compensating the hotels and what type of commissions Amazon will receive for the service.

English: Bungalow at The Hotel Amazon Bed & Br...

Bungalow at The Hotel Amazon Bed & Breakfast, Leticia, Amazonas, Colombia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We actually didn’t even know Amazon was getting into the travel business, but it makes sense that an online mega-player such as Amazon would jump into the lucrative hotel marketplace. The company has already dipped its toes into the hotel booking pool by offering severely discounted, last minute deals via Amazon Local, which is a service similar to Groupon, but less well known.

The new scheme will expand that market significantly and allow hotels to list full price rooms.

It’s hard to say how their prices will shake out in comparison to discount travel sites at this point and it will be fascinating to see how this foray will work out for them. We’re especially interested to see how they stack up against Expedia, which we consider to be the main powerhouse in the travel website space.

Since Expedia has just gobbled up Travelocity, Orbitz, and other travel websites, we’ve seen a trend toward consolidation. It will be interesting to see how Amazon’s entrance affects all of that. Although the older companies have a big head start, Amazon is known for introducing change into the marketplace just by being one of the biggest.

According to the Skift article, Amazon Local first began discussing the plan with hotels last September and is already testing out the scheme in limited marketplaces.

What do you think about Amazon’s entrance into the travel space? Would you book a hotel room through them? And have you ever heard of Amazon Local before? Leave a comment below or on our Facebook page, and let us know if you’ll use Amazon for future travel.

Use Your Smartphone As Your Hotel Key

February 19, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

For weary travelers, even the tiniest road block can seem exhausting and annoying. In an attempt to smooth things out for their guests, Starwood Hotels and Resorts now gives guests the option of skipping check-in and using their smartphones as their hotel keys. Hilton is also planning on rolling out a similar scheme later this year.

The phone as room key may be a bit more complicated than it sounds though. Starwood has only rolled out the feature in one hotel so far, with plans to include it in more hotels later this year. There’s a lot of technological behind-the-scenes work that goes into making this work, such as replacing the current locks with new ones, and making sure the steps are in place so guests don’t accidentally unlock their doors.

English: Windows Phone 7 powered LG Panther(GW...

Windows Phone 7 powered LG Panther(GW910), Prototype smartphone for developers. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Plus, this only works with one phone per room, so if more than one guest is staying in the room, one of them gets to use their phone, the other(s) will use a normal room key.

In this case, hotels see many reasons to go the extra mile to make checking in easier. They’re hoping that getting guests comfortable with using their phones for hotel-related activities will ease the guests into using other hotel apps. Future wish-list items include allowing guests to order drinks while sitting poolside, book spa packages, and order expensive room service, all with a mobile app.

Of course, a lot of hotels have begun to roll out the ability to check in via your phone. You can get all the red tape out of the way while you’re in the cab, and then just pick up your old fashioned hotel key on your way to your room.

What are some things you would like to be able to do at a hotel with your smartphone? Leave a comment below and let us hear from you.

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 (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.

Hotels Join the Hidden Fee Movement: Previously Free Perks Now Cost $$

December 23, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Sad to say, some hotels are climbing on board the fee gravy train. Things that used to be included can now sometimes incur charges for unsuspecting travelers.

Of course, everyone is familiar with, and usually wary of, the dreaded minibar fees. People know to avoid the minibar if they’re frugal, and they know they’ll get charged an arm and a leg for a beer or can of coke, if they do decide to indulge.

Fees for wifi have become fairly common, especially at high end hotels. But hotel fees are becoming more varied and sneaky.

English: Hotel / Casino New York-New York in L...

Hotel / Casino New York-New York in Las Vegas. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For instance, one of my colleagues recently stayed at a hotel that noted discreetly at the bottom of a page on its website, “We have taken typical hotel fees, discounted them, and rolled them into a resort amenities fee.”

The additional fee was only $7 per day, but items listed as worthy of the charge included pool chairs and an in-room coffee maker, things most hotel customers don’t expect to pay for.

Other surprising new fees are popping up: they’re charging for luggage storage, charging for receiving packages, and even in room safes. You name it, and there’s a fee for it.

One hotel has even taken the minibar charging to a new level. According to a Yahoo Travel article about hotel fees, a resort casino in Las Vegas has sensors in their fridges that can tell when something is moved. If an item is taken out, it will be charged to the room after 60 seconds. They charge $25 just to use the fridge to chill water you brought yourself.

As with anything else related to travel, do your due diligence. Figure out what fees you’ll need to cover before you make a reservation, and decide whether you’re willing to pay for them. In some cases, the fees are rolled into the cost of the initial booking, so you may need to do a little research if the thought of a hidden charge for having amenities you don’t use doesn’t thrill you.

What’s the most aggravating hidden fee you’ve encountered? Leave a comment here on the blog or on our Facebook page.

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.

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.

Hotels Adapt Business Centers for Today’s Traveler

September 4, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

As broadband gets faster, wifi is found in more places, and smartphones can do everything but walk your dog. We’re seeing the world being disrupted, thanks to all this new technology. One place we’re seeing it is in hotel business centers.

While it was an important hub of activity 15 years ago, it’s now that lonely, empty room sitting next to your hotel lobby. There are a few desks with computers and printers. They used to be quite popular, before tablets, laptops, and smartphones sent everyone to their rooms for the night.

Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites - Paso Robles Business Center

Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites – Paso Robles Business Center

Hotels are realizing a change is in order for the business center. USA Today’s Nancy Trejos wrote an article about different hotels are approaching the business center. Some are getting rid of theirs completely while others like having the space available if a guest needs something. Others are making hotel rooms more “business center-like” with desks, USB outlets, and reachable plugs. Hotel rooms are becoming a workplace, not just a place to sleep, and the hotels are having to adjust their business centers.

As long as a hotel accommodates the needs of their business oriented guests, they’re going to earn more business versus another hotel because they recognize the needs of their target customers. When I visit a new hotel, especially on business, I quickly check the business center and my room. Is the room going to be a help or a hindrance? Will I enjoy working there, or will it be uncomfortable?

I sometimes go to the business center so I can get out of the room and into a place where I can work better. Personally, I’d like it more if a business center was like a coffee shop with a friendly, social atmosphere. I think more people would use it because it’s more of what they are used to.

As hotels look to change their business centers, they need to focus on what their guests are trying to do. If they need access to a printer and fax machine, they may already have that capability, but no longer through a business center. If travelers want a light and enjoyable place to work, the business center should have several small tables and chairs so it can be more of a social setting.

Regardless of what’s happening, business centers are changing as a direct result of new technology that makes traditional business centers obsolete. What are some features you would like to see in your favorite business center? What could you do without? Leave a comment below and share some of your ideas with us.

Photo credit: Holiday Inn Express – Paso Robles, CA (Flickr, Creative Commons)

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