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  • Dean Waye 9:40 am on November 6, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Dayton Ohio, Frequent-flyer program, Hotel, ITA Software, Orbitz, Recreation, , ,   

    My Mileage Run 

    Boeing 767-300

    Image via Wikipedia

    (Why I flew to these airports, GSO-IAD-DAY-ORD-MCI-ORD-GSO, in a single day)

    Lately I have been digging into the details of ‘travel hacking’, which is a subset of (mostly business) traveling details where you exploit inefficiencies in how the travel industry operates to get either free flights, free hotel stays, or at least a better level of elite status, in order to get the former.

    I’ve been doing something similar at Hilton hotels for years, because of how they’ve structured their Hilton HHonors program. To get to their Diamond level, you need to stay 60 nights, or 28 stays, in a calendar year. The 60 nights is self-explanatory. The 28 stays is where the inefficiency lies. I don’t travel enough to spend 60 nights at hotels per year. But 28 nights, that’s achievable.

    At Hilton, a stay is a check-in +check-out. It can be of any length, and at any price point. And Hilton has a nice habit of putting their hotels near each other. To reach Diamond, I spend each night per business trip at a different Hilton property. Since most of my recent travel has been to the Washington D.C. area, I have 4 hotels there, and move daily. Most trips last 2 days, so it’s not a big deal to switch hotels once per trip.

    28 nights/stays is still a lot of travel to many people, but it’s been pretty typical for me since I moved to America.

    Note: An irony of doing a lot of business travel is that during your personal time the last thing you want to do is travel, but your family wants to ‘go somewhere’. Fortunately, when kids are small, even a local hotel is a treat, as long as it has a pool and breakfast.

    So, back to travel hacking…

    A few weeks ago I noticed that I could move up from Nobody, to the bottom level of Somebody on United Airlines, by doing the same thing I do at Hilton. I needed either 19,000 miles, or 7 segments, to get to Premier.

    My local airport is Greensboro International, a small airport, and I almost always have to fly very small regional jets, the kind where one side of the plane has just 1 seat, the other side has 2. Small. No legroom. Always cramped. Premier level would let me select exit row seats and give me automatic upgrades, and ensure I always got on the plane before nearly everyone else. My trips are typically short, I only have carry-on luggage, and the front-of-the-line perk meant I’d always have enough overhead storage space (and yes, I know these all sound like small things, but what’s airline travel except many small inconveniences and indignities piled atop each other. Relief from a few of them means a lot).

    In case you don’t fly much, a segment is the equivalent of a hotel stay. When the wheels kiss the runway, you just completed a segment. The price you paid, the length of the trip, the size of the plane, none of these matter. Did the plane land? Good, that’s another segment in your account.

    Remember, to get to Premier, I needed 19,000 miles, or 7 segments, by the end of this calendar year. There was no way I would be flying so many miles. But the segments, that I could work with.

    I knew I had one more planned business trip this year, for 2 segments, so that left 5 segments. I also wanted an extra segment in case I had a dispute with the airline. To book this mileage run (really a segment run), I needed a trip that could be completed in a single Saturday, would include at least 5 segments (6 for a safety margin of one), and it had to be inexpensive.

    To book a trip like that, you don’t use the popular travel sites like Expedia or Orbitz. What I needed was a specialized tool. The travel hacking sites point to ITA, a company bought by Google a few months ago. You can’t buy a ticket there, but if you spend some time learning the different search options, it will find you a trip as crazy as you like. In my case:

    1. I wanted a 6 segment trip

    2. I didn’t want to pay much

    3. I wanted to leave and return home in the same day

    4. And I didn’t care where I went.

    I ended up in Kansas City, Missouri, after trying a few options. Specifically, I started at 6AM in Greensboro, flew to Washington D.C., then to Dayton Ohio, Chicago, Kansas City, back to Chicago, and landed in Greensboro at 9PM the same day (last Saturday). The price was $158 plus tax. Because of how airline pricing works (or doesn’t work), it’s likely that anyone sitting next to me and flying between just two of those destinations paid more than I paid for the entire trip.

    After ITA found me the trip I needed, I booked it at United’s website.

    Summary

    The next day, the segments posted to my account, and now I’m 1 segment away from Premier. Not bad for under $200.

    Some observations:

    1. It was boring. Many times that day, I thought about how I would have been happy to pay United Airlines the ticket price and stay home. Of course, travel hacking is about inefficiencies, and that option isn’t available. Someone pointed out that my carbon footprint for that day was really, really bad.

    🙂

    2. I didn’t bring a laptop, for probably the first time in 15 years. I did bring a Kindle, and it’s a great travel companion. I brought an Ipod, and never used it. I brought my Spint Evo cellphone to text my wife every time I landed and to use an app to keep my flights & gates organized. Highly recommend it.

    3. The flight had so many segments, I couldn’t print all my boarding passes from United’s website. It has a maximum of 4 segments per day.

    4. Kansas City has the stupidest layout I have ever seen. Every time you leave your gate area, you can’t return without going through Security (complete with X-ray) all over again. Want to cross the aisle and buy a coffee? That’s a security check when you return to the gate.

    5. I’d probably do it all again, but I hope I don’t have to.

     
  • Dean Waye 12:01 pm on September 9, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Health, , Hotel, Montreal, Paris Hilton, Reproduction and Sexuality,   

    Dear Hilton Hotels, Thanks for the Condoms (?) 

    Hilton Place Bonaventure

    Dear Hilton,

    Sometimes, you crack me up 🙂

    I DO appreciate the option, at the Montreal Hilton downtown, to buy different internet speeds (are you reading my blog?). Although, having wi-fi only in the lobby is not useful.

    On the other hand, I have to give you points for creativity, or understanding (some of, but not me) your customers… this is the first hotel in my experience where next to the snacks and a mini-bar, you also sell ‘Intimacy Kits’, with condoms, lube, and ‘obstetrical towelettes’. (I confess, I have no idea what those are, but I am not willing to pay $12 to find out).

    Still, someone must buy them, or you wouldn’t sell them. Go Montreal!

    Canada…. it’s like a whole other country.

     
  • Dean Waye 12:06 am on September 8, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Department store, , , Hotel, , , , Vending machine   

    Dear Hilton, Why Aren’t You Selling Me Anything? 

    Hilton Brand Logo

    Image via Wikipedia

    Dear Hilton,

    I am at a new hotel near the Raleigh Durham airport right now. And it is the same, hotel room experience as always.

    Which started me thinking… why is it always the same experience, everywhere?

    I mean, you have me here and there, at hotels all over this country (and others), and what do you sell me besides a benign experience? Why do you only ever try to sell me the same thing, for the past decade(s)?

    –  A pay per view movie? I can get movies and TV shows from a lot of different places now. This is 2010, not 1990.

    –  A spa-something? Never been interested. And only offered at a fraction of locations anyway.

    –  Internet access? Well, now it is free. Thanks for that. But let’s be honest. It is uniformly lousy. Have you seen that iPhone commercial where the person in the hotel is using the video conferencing on their phone? That could never happen with any hotel wifi anywhere.

    Can you please think about selling me any of the following?

    –  On demand fast-as-blazes wireless Internet. Sometimes I need a g.d. fast connection.  This is doable. Honest. I’ll pay for it. If only because it would let me watch TV and movies from the sources I prefer anyway.

    –  Something in the vending machines besides stuff that could have been put there last year.  Because I get hungry at night.  I work a lot. And I can pay for real food.

    •  Car detailing … since I am leaving it in your parking lot all week. And it is dirty.

    –  Freemiums.  People in hotel rooms are bored (sorry, in case this is news to you).  There must be a ton of other companies that would be interested in your guests. Internet services and very small sizes of things would be the logical first step since I already packed without making room for more stuff. And national brands would work best, I suppose, or items that are not location-dependent, since I might not ever be back here. Anything I would buy using a laptop can work.

    … A hotel room is one of the last places where that sort of shopping or sampling can be done privately.

     
  • Dean Waye 12:00 am on September 6, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Arts, Bacon, , Hotel   

    Dear Hilton, What’s My Type? 

    Hilton Brand Logo

    Image via Wikipedia

    Dear Hilton,

    Do you group guests into types? If so, what type am I?

    Is there a type for people who stay often, but only for a night or two, don’t drink at the bar downstairs, but do fill out the feedback surveys online that you send out?

    Is there a type that wishes the internet speeds were better than what I could get on AOL ten years ago over a phone line?

    Maybe there’s no group for that type, because it would contain pretty much everyone. 🙂

    PS Thanks for the bacon at the free breakfast. You guys make my favorite bacon anywhere. I eat it every stay, even though I shouldn’t. I tell myself that it’s rare for me since I might not be a another hotel again soon (though we both know that’s a lie).

     
  • Dean Waye 12:00 am on September 1, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Conrad Hotels, , Hampton Inn, Hilton HHonors, , Homewood Suites by Hilton, Hotel, ,   

    Dear Hilton, A Key That Works at Every Hotel 

    Hilton Brand Logo

    Image via Wikipedia

    Dear Hilton,

    The other day, as I was checking in, I wondered… why do I have to check in at all?

    Avis didn’t make me stand in line to get my car: I walked to it, got in, and left. And unlike a hotel room, I could actually take a car. Away.

    The airline (!) didn’t make me stand in line for a boarding pass, I printed it before I left home.

    Why can’t I check in on my smartphone before arriving at the hotel and skip the line? Why can’t I use my free Hilton HHonors membership card as my room key at all Hiltons? I don’t carry it today, because it’s useless, but I’d carry it if it opened my door wherever I stayed (especially this one).

    Instead, I have to wait in line, again, even though I have stayed at this same hotel several times, as recently as last week, on the same days of the week. And again, the guest  in front of me has apparently never stayed at a hotel before, and doesn’t understand why things are the way they are.

    On that, fellow traveler, we agree.

    The takeaway: If your hotel membership card was also your door key wherever you stayed, wouldn’t that be a game changer? If your favorite chain had that feature, and the other chain didn’t, wouldn’t that help keep your loyalty?

    Related Articles

     
  • Dean Waye 8:00 pm on August 27, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , HiltonHotels, Hotel   

    Dear Hilton, The Bed is Nice, but You Missed the Point. 

    Hilton Brand Logo

    Image via Wikipedia

    Dear Hilton (in this case, the brand new Doubletree in Sterling, VA),

    Thanks for the nice bed. It is comfortable enough, I suppose.

    But how did no one notice that the bathroom ceiling fan never turns off (there’s no switch for it), and the AC unit sounds like I am trying to sleep next to a jet engine?

    I stay at a lot of hotels each year, mostly Hilton properties, and this issue is more common than not. And as a Hilton Diamond person, I assume I am not even in the worst rooms.

    So why all the interest in beds? Is it because the beds are an easier problem to focus on than a noisy room?

    Because I have to tell you, the best bed in the world doesn’t do much for a tired traveler if the room is noisy 24/7.

    You are still my favorite hotel chain though. 🙂

     
  • Dean Waye 10:23 pm on August 26, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Hotel, Hotels and Motels, , New York City, , Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, Waldorf-Astoria Orlando   

    Dear Hilton, Thanks for the Points 

    Logo of The Waldorf=Astoria Collection

    Image via Wikipedia

    Dear Hilton,

    Thanks for the points. Seriously.

    My kids are young enough that staying at a hotel (even one around the corner) is a treat, and if you asked them to name their favorite meal, they would say “hotel breakfast!”. So thanks for the points, because I get a ton of them, they don’t expire, they rarely suffer from inflation (2010 being an exception), and all those accelerators I have (Double Dipping, the Amex Surpass card, staying at a different hotel every night of my trips to hit Diamond faster) all make for a much better customer experience than I ever got from airline points.

    One suggestion… is there ever an opportunity to use money + points for an upgrade, the way airlines do? Just asking…

    Speaking of upgrades, I used points to stay at the brand new Waldorf-Astoria Orlando this month, and it was WONDERFUL. One of the best hotels I have ever seen, and definitely worth 50,000 points (Low Season). My family is looking forward to the ‘real’ Waldorf-Astoria in December. Look out, NYC.

     
  • Dean Waye 6:39 pm on August 25, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Hotel, , Tow truck, ,   

    Dear AAA, Thanks for the Android App 

    The AAA logo

    Image via Wikipedia

    Dear AAA,
    It will soon be time for me to renew my subscription. With cars so reliable these days, and roadside assistance available from many providers (including my cell phone company), my AAA membership renewal decision breaks down to 3 components:
    1. I travel for work, so if my wife has car trouble she has someone to call
    2. A small discount on hotels (which I don’t pay for anyway, see #1)
    3. Possible discounts using the ‘Show Your Card’ program at some retailers and other providers.
    For #1, since the same tow truck shows up no matter which roadside assistance plan I belong to, I have decided it’s basically a wash.
    For #2, no one really cares if I save $5/night on a hotel. Choosing a cheaper flight is much more important.
    That leave #3, and this week when I was traveling with my own car and needed new brakes, I didn’t remember to ask, nor was I offered, a discount via AAA. In fact, I am not sure one was available.
    But if I had thought to download the AAA Android app for my phone that could point me to a place that did offer a discount, a single purchase could have saved me enough to justify my annual membership.
    Thanks for the app… did you ever send me anything, telling me it existed?
     
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