Category Archives: Thoughts

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/

Reboot – Blog Update

The planets have aligned and a new chapter seems to be opening up with new opportunities

The arrival of a company car (a first for me) has opened up an opportunity to explore new places both in the UK and into Europe without the worry of putting loads of miles on my own car and the cost that this entails. This alone has seen us make a commitment as a family to get out more. To visit new places and explore the country that we live in. So expect to see more day trips getting blogged about. Our approach is simple. If we see somewhere that looks interesting, we will add it to the list and make a point of going there.

In addition, trips onto the EuroTunnel and beyond are likely to become more common so watch this space.

So if you have read through this blog, you will know my love of photography however on recent trips, I have really struggled to get the shots I wanted which has forced me to rethink my approach to photography and resulted in me upgrading my camera equipment. More on that in a future post.

And finally, I am going to use this blog to tell the world about my travels. Both business and personal. Expect to see a bigger emphasis on travel. Whilst I am not claiming that this will be a full on travel blog, travel and photography will be a big theme but as well as trip reports, I will also post more reviews on the restaurants I eat in and hotels I sleep in. After all I already take the time to post reviews on TripAdvisor so why not include those reviews here.

So notable changes, a slightly different approach and more emphasis on travel and traveling. Enjoy the ride

 

 

Kicking And Screaming–They Killed Google Reader

Maybe it’s an age thing.

I am sat here questioning if I am turning into a dinosaur.

We used to joke about how you needed to get a child to help their parents program the VCR (remember them?) but I can’t help thinking I am heading in that direction myself.

This week I have been reminded that the online world that I have existed within since around 1995 is constantly changing and evolving as Google has announced the retirement of Google Reader.

For me this was my primary source of news and information online. With some 250  RSS feeds, I was able to sit down in a morning and rattle through hundreds of relevant (and not so relevant) news items in a matter of minutes from many different sources. The workflow was efficient and, in line with modern thinking, I could access this “river of news” from any device at any time. If I read an article on one device it was marked read on all other devices.

But now I am forced to change.

So it’s not as if I haven’t done a whole hearted shift in approach before. Not that long ago I went through the exercise of moving my online world online. Shutting down my own servers and using platforms such as Google Apps, WordPress and SmugMug to do the heaving lifting. Enabling me to concentrate on the content and not the platform.

Continue reading Kicking And Screaming–They Killed Google Reader

More connected but I still haven’t got my flying car

Well another year has passed and even though I am sure that the vision of the future included hover boards and flying cars, Santa isn’t bringing me any of these this year.

So what has changed in the last 12 months?

Often it hard to pick out those advances in technology that impact your day to day life because the don’t arrive with a big bang. The arrive bit by bit so that you think you have always done things in a certain way.

I mean 6 years ago, none of us were using Facebook or Twitter and now look.

But as I get to the end of 2012 I can’t help noticing that my life and my home is a lot more connected.

Take my living room as an example. Continue reading More connected but I still haven’t got my flying car

Virtual Tourism

It’s no secret that I love to travel. See new places, experience different cultures, try different food and so on. At the same time I have to balance this against the ever increasing cost of air travel, hotel costs, tourist taxes and what have you.

But at a conference in Frankfurt a couple of years ago, one of the keynote speakers was Dr Robert Ballard who is a oceanographer and devotes his life to exploring the depths of our oceans . His big claim to fame is that it was he who discovered the wreck of the Titanic.

He talked about how technology now enabled him to explore deeper and for longer than ever before. By using robots backed up with high speed data communications, instead of flying out to a ship somewhere in the Pacific Ocean and then spending 2 hours slowly descending in a submarine to spend just 2 hours exploring before spending 2 more hours trying to get back to the surface without getting the bends, he can now do his exploration from the comfort of a university campus on the mainland.

Continue reading Virtual Tourism