Future gazing In 2015 with Microsoft

Back in 2011, Microsoft presented a couple of videos around their vision of the future. At the time I posted about them HERE and HERE

So here we are 4 years later and Microsoft has again launched a video setting out their vision of the future. I must admit it doesn’t look as futuristic or exciting as the previous videos but none the less, it’s interesting to see how we may all be playing, working and learning in a few years time.

Much more on Microsofts website HERE

Hotel Loyalty Schemes – Time For A Change

I have been traveling for business for about 15 years now and one thing I was introduced to very early on was the value of Loyalty Schemes with hotels, airlines and car hire companies.

Rack up enough points with the right hotel to reach that elite membership status and the front desks really do start to treat you differently. Free drinks, room upgrades, invitations to drinks and canapés with the management and so on. The best example I can give here is when we stayed in Budapest a few years ago as a family.

I had managed to score what I was sure was a mispriced room at the Intercontinental Budapest through American Express travel. From what I could see, Amex had forgotten to include the VAT. Of course this was for a small basic basic room. Upon arrival though, as soon as it became clear I held Platinum status in the Intercontinental Hotels loyalty scheme it didn’t matter that I had only paid £50 per night for the room. I was now an important guest and was promptly upgraded to a executive room with a river view and free drinks vouchers for the bar.

Add to this that the loyalty points also have a value themselves. Typically this means free hotel nights. So in the last 10 years, I can probably count the number of nights we have spent in hotels as a family where I have needed to pay anything on 2 hands.

The same applies to airlines. Membership status equates to better treatment and points result in free flights or upgrades for you and your family.

Indeed you can earn something on just about everything you spend. Cobranded credit cards, cash back debit cards, club cards converted to Airmiles and the list goes on and on.

So over the years I have tended to stay loyal to a handful of brands making sure I get that elite membership and maximise the free hotel nights and airline rewards.

On the hotel front I have stayed loyal to Intercontinental Hotels (IHG) as in the UK at least they have lots of properties (such as Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express and Crowne Plaza). And as with Budapest and with all the free nights my family has enjoyed it worked. I stayed many nights and got plenty back in return.

But over the last 3 years, even for somebody like myself who spends a lot of time away from home, reaching that coveted platinum status has become harder and harder.

First they made changes that meant that not all the points you earned counted towards status. Then they started bringing out “tailored” bonus points schemes that set impossibly high goals that I needed to reach for a few extra points. Points by the way that did not count towards status.

Last year (2014) I spent over 50 nights in IHG properties which is what you need to make Platinum. The tailored bonus point scheme suggested I spend at least SIX Saturday nights in their properties over a period of Twelve weeks to earn an extra 5000 points (I can earn 2000 points for a 1 night stay anyway). Somebody is having a laugh. Do they not think I spend enough nights with them already without giving up 1 in 2 weekends as well?

And the other schemes both with hotels and airlines are all at it.

Every week I am reading about yet another loyalty scheme that has devalued the rewards or changed the criteria needed to attain that top tier status.

One thing that is obvious however is that you can bypass all of this by taking out a cobranded credit card instead.

So this year has seen a change in my travel habits anyway. I am flying more and am staying in regions very different to where I traveled to previously. Indeed as I write this I am about to jump on a plane to Singapore for the second time this year but that has made me review my loyalty to these companies. Clearly they take my loyalty to them for granted.

So I am giving up on top tier status chasing. The rewards are getting slimmer and slimmer and when you only get that free upgrade occasionally these days, it’s not a good enough reward. My thinking is that if I can get to Silver status (on a grading of bronze, silver or gold/platinum) then I will get the recognition that I am a regular user of a particular chain and get treated better than somebody who booked through lastminute.com. That’s good enough. If I want the status bad enough I can take out the cobranded credit card which is a lot less effort than spending 60 nights in a Holiday Inn Express or Crowne Plaza. After all, nobody says you actually have to use the credit card once you have got it.

Points on the other hand are important so I will make sure that whatever hotel I stay in, I am collecting the points. Likewise I am ensuring that every penny I spend is either getting cash back or points that are actually worth something to me.

But by doing this and cutting my allegiance to a particular chain, I am able to be more creative on where I stay.

So this week in Singapore I could have stayed where I did in January and where I now have Platinum status. I could have booked a standard room and then seen a free upgrade due to status to a executive room. But instead, by choosing a different hotel in a chain I have never stayed in before I was able to get a Club Room on the Club floor in a location closer to the office I am going to be working out of for S$30 per night less. As I am staying in the hotel for 9 nights, access to the club lounge with free bar and a free breakfast is much more useful to me.

I will still collect the points which in this case can be turned into cash if i return in the future but for now it’s about getting the best deal for the best room with the points coming second and status last.

Yes I will be making sure that I am getting the best return on my spend in terms of points and rewards but the hotel chains have managed to persuade me that status no longer has a value and my loyalty is taken for granted. It looks like those free nights and perks will be spread across more brands this year.

Feature photo used under Creative Commons License via Flickr Photo used under creative commons license via Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/booleansplit/

Hotel Review : Hilton Newbury North

I stay in hotels every single week and every now and then, things go wrong. But occasionally you get a stay that is a disaster from start to finish and oddly a large percentage of these types of stay seem to occur in a Hilton hotel. Indeed I can’t remember a stay in a Hilton hotel that has not resulted in me vowing never to return again.

So I arrived at the Hilton Newbury North around 7:30pm on a Thursday evening in November. Once again, we see that somebody has been to the EasyJet school of geography as this isn’t so much in North Newbury as it is North of Newbury.

My timing wasn’t great as I had arrived just as a bus full of foreign tourists had unloaded so the lobby area was chaos. I had to assume that somewhere beyond the crowd was a check in desk but as there were no staff on the entrance (don’t Hilton employ a concierge anymore) I had to wait (and wait and wait).

IMG_2375

Eventually the crowd subsided and after some time I was checking in. I was “upgraded” to an “executive” room (which is always welcomed) and before long I was leaving the still heaving lobby and bar area and wandering down the rabbit warren of very tired corridors searching for my room.

Upon arrival the room itself was of an OK size although was rather bare and unwelcoming. The room had a very strong chemical smell to it and no air conditioning or ventilation. Opening the triple glazed windows revealed that the room is a matter of feet away from the M4/A34 roundabout which is always very busy. Also being on the ground floor meant that security would be a concern. I am guessing staying here on a warm summers day would be impossible.

At this stage I also discovered that my Executive Room did not have a safe and that the remote for the TV didn’t work. It also had a selection of water, wine and chocolate spread out on a side table with no indication if this was complementary or just part of the Hilton ever spreading mini bar. I ended up having to ask at reception to get the answer (it was complementary)

Ever expanding minibar?

By now it was getting late so I went for dinner. Because of the location of the hotel, your options are limited to eating in as you are long taxi drive from the town centre.

Dinner itself was fairly average but as seems to be the norm for a Hilton, the cost of a glass of wine at £9 is just crazy. After a couple of drinks in the bar, I retired for the night.

In the morning I awoke with a pounding headache which I put down to the very stuffy unventilated room and the chemical smell

I went for breakfast and waited and waited. Plenty of staff were busy clearing tables and kept walking past me and the other guests waiting to be seated but not one member of staff acknowledged us. Would it really hurt to perhaps say good morning and explain that somebody would be with us shortly rather than just ignore us?

Eventually I was seated and ventured over to the hot buffet to find a rather disappointing selection of empty dishes sitting under a heat lamp. I went and helped myself to a coffee from the self vend machine before returning just as a “pot” of bacon was being put out and a fresh plate of fried eggs.

I filled my plate and returned to my table. Why there was no ketchup to be found anywhere is beyond me

The fried eggs were clearly not freshly cooked being totally solid. I have to guess they had been sat in the kitchen for some time. The bacon was very salty (cheap) and seriously over cooked. The rest was just as bad. For £15 this is disgraceful. One bite was enough for me to give up and leave.

Back in my room, I discovered that the bathroom was not only tired and worn but that it didn’t work very well. The shower gave out a dribble of water that was sprayed in all directions (except downwards) and that was at best tepid. I got cold and almost wet but felt somewhat short changed. The hot water in the taps was the same and I ended up having to shave in “almost” warm water.

With no breakfast, half a cold shower and a cold shave I really did not leave my room feeling ready for the busy day ahead.

I did raise these points at checkout but I got the impression the receptionist had heard them all before

So a disaster of a stay.

I thought I had hit rock bottom in Newbury hotels a few weeks ago. I was wrong. It could (and did) get worse and once again I have found a Hilton hotel that I will not be returning to.

It wouldn’t be so bad if this were not one of the more expensive hotels in the area that tries to set itself above the crowd. It fails at this especially when you realize that this is a number of miles outside Newbury.

If you are staying in the town, there are better hotels for less money.

Hotel Review : Holiday Inn London-Heathrow M4, JCT 4

Airport hotels exist for a single reason. In the case of this one, it is to serve Heathrow. It is not somewhere you would normally stay if you were visiting central London or the rest of the UK.

Arriving by car (as usual) the hotel was easy to find (just off the M4) and there was plenty of space in the car park (not always the case with airport properties). As expected, the entrance area outside the hotel and the lobby was very busy. Lots of coaches, taxis, suitcases, aircrew and tourists.

But the lobby was large and well staffed and I did not have to wait more than about 30 seconds before I was at the front desk checking in. My IHG Rewards status was recognised and I was soon checked into an executive room on the 6th floor.

The room was clearly newly refurbished and the smell of fresh paint still lingered in the air. I do like the style they have gone for and the room itself was well thought out, of a good size and comfortable. The addition of a good quality bluetooth speaker in the room meant I could play some music from my phone and was a really nice touch. The WiFi (free because of my rewards club status) was average for a hotel like this (meaning you would not want to be streaming Youtube videos on it)

I ate in the Sampan Asian restaurant in the hotel which served up mainly Chinese and Thai food. The food was OK and whilst not the cheapest Chinese food I have, the price offered fair value and the service was good.

After dinner I first retired to the on site irish “pub” but the lack of comfy chairs (plenty of stools but few actual chairs) saw me relocate to the lobby bar. Here there were proper chairs but to be honest, you felt like you were sitting on the chair rather than in the chair. Eventually after watching the world go by (airport hotel lobby areas are always fascinating to observe) for a while, I retired to me room for a good nights sleep.

Breakfast was a fairly typical affair but had plenty of choice then before I knew it I was checked out and back in my car for a day of meetings in the Heathrow area.

Normally I stay in the Crowne Plaza when needing a hotel near Heathrow. Based on this stay, i would score the Holiday Inn to be just as good and at a much cheaper rate (I paid £100 including breakfast plus £10 for parking). I do understand that not all the rooms have been refurbished yet so would expect those rooms to feel tired and in need of some TLC. A stay in one of those rooms might have resulted in a very different review so make sure you get one of the refurbished rooms.

So a nice stay in a nice room with OK food and no drama. All in a hotel a few minutes from the airport.

My World : My Travels : My Thoughts : My Life : My Blog

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