Tallest hotel in the West opens: InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown

Breakfast overlooking LA from the 70th floor Club lounge of the new InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown (Chris McGinnis)

Hello from the 70th floor of the new Wilshire Grand Center in downtown Los Angeles, home to the new InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown. TravelSkills buzzed into LA this week to watch Delta sign its new joint venture agreement with Korean Air and to watch InterContinental open its newest, tallest hotel– all in the same spot.

How are the two related? Well, Korean Air, which is part of the giant Korean conglomerate Hanjin, is the owner of the Wilshire Grand Center. So when it came time to do the deal with Delta, Korean Air chose its newest real estate gem for the occasion. It just so happened that the joint venture announcement and the hotel opening coincided, so it was quite a big deal with CEOs of both Delta and Korean Air in attendance.

Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian and Korean Air YH Cho sign joint venture deal at new LA hotel (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown is in the the new Wilshire Grand Center, a gleaming glass tower that is now the tallest building west of the Mississippi at 1,100 feet. (It beats out the US Bank Tower, which stands at 1,018 feet.) InterContinental runs the hotel part (floors 31-73) of the building.

The $1.2 billion mixed-use complex also houses five floors of meeting space, office space, retail stores, and observation decks. The new tower at 900 West Wilshire Boulevard is on the site of the old Wilshire Grand Hotel, which closed in 2011 and was demolished in 2013.

Check in on the 70th floor lobby of the new InterConti LA- a concept familiar to those who’ve stayed at Asian skyscraper hotels (Chris McGinnis)

The InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown is big, with 889 guest rooms and suites. The guest rooms are located below the hotel’s public areas, which include a “sky lobby” for check-in on the 70th floor (a 50-second ride on the hotel’s high-speed, double-decker elevators).

The hotel has five restaurants and bars, including a French steakhouse, La Boiucherie, on the 71st floor (with pink velvet banquettes) and an open-air rooftop bar on floor 73 with whimsical designer touches like astroturf chairs.  On the 69th floor you’ll find a sushi restaurant called Sora and an upscale restaurant called Dekkadance with a variety of traditional and comfort foods.

Pink banquettes at La Boucherie in the InterConti LA (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Quirky furnishings at dramatic rooftop bar include shaggy astroturf chairs (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Don’t forget your sunglasses when you come to LA, or dine in the new Dekkadance restaurant with big sweeping views during day, twinkling lights at night (Chris McGinnis)

Other features of the hotel include 94,000 square feet of meeting space (including a 21,000 square foot ballroom), a business center, and valet parking. The hotel also has upgraded Club InterContinental rooms and suites with extra amenities and services, as well as a Club lounge on floor 70 (see photo at top) with free breakfast, all-day refreshments, afternoon tea, and evening cocktails.

My double room at the InterConti LA- first person to sleep here! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Standard rooms at the InterContinental start at 385 square feet, with beginning rates of $289 double. One-bedroom suites go for $495.

The hotel is in the city’s financial district, but is also close to popular sports and entertainment venues like the Staples Center and L.A. Live, as well as the Los Angeles Convention Center.

Lobby of new InterContinental LA Downtown #hotel #design #la #dtla #travel

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Disclosure: Chris McGinnis was a guest of Korean Air for this trip, which included airfare from SFO and hotel for 2 nights. 

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Airbnb tests a new luxury category

This Airbnb guest house in Santa Monica lists for $160 a night. (Image: Airbnb)

Do you hesitate to book an Airbnb stay because you’re not sure that it will provide all the comforts and amenities that you know you’ll get at a hotel? Airbnb is working on a way to change your mind.

According to a Bloomberg News report, Airbnb is planning a pilot program that would create a new category of luxury properties. The new category could give the home-sharing netowrk a way to attract affluent consumers and business travelers who haven’t yet tried Airbnb.

The company would use a team of property inspectors armed with a checklist of all the special touches that an upscale customer might reasonably expect. Properties that pass the inspection would be eligible for inclusion in the new luxury category, with priority placement on its website and its app.

 The company is using the name Airbnb Select for the test program, although a permanent identity hasn’t yet been firmed up.

Airbnb will pick potential Select properties based on the quality reviews they have received from customers. Hosts will have the option of whether or not to subject themselves to the inspection.

If they agree and are approved for inclusion in the luxury category after a property inspection, hosts would be eligible for special benefits from their Airbnb membership, like having a professional photographer take pictures of the property for the Airbnb website, and having access to a consultation with an interior decorator provided by Airbnb.

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Fly thru SFO’s new on-airport Hyatt hotel

A brand new on-airport Grand Hyatt coming to SFO in 2019. Scroll down for fly-thru (Photo: SFO)

San Francisco International Airport broke ground this week on the new Grand Hyatt at San Francisco International Airport, a new luxury hotel located on airport grounds, which should open in mid-2019.

The hotel will be located to the right of the airport’s roadway entrance, adjacent to the International Terminal parking garage. (Don’t miss the fly-thru below!)

It will face the large apron area behind the International Terminal A, offering  fantastic views of Boeing 747s from British Airways, KLM and Qantas (among others).

Here’s what rooms will look like at SFO’s new Grand Hyatt (Rendering: SFO)

The hotel will have direct access to the airport AirTrain rail system– Hyatt expects that 60 percent of hotel visitors will arrive via the AirTrain to the lobby on the fourth floor. The roadway entrance will face the airport, with the noses of big jets peering over the blast fencing from the apron. Guests arriving by road will take elevators up to the fourth floor lobby.

The hotel will be built on the same site as the old Hilton Inn at SFO, which was built in 1959. For a reminiscent look at the old low-slung Hilton, and to see the dramatic expansion of the airport since then, check out this image from the SFO Museum. Anyone remember the hotel’s famous Tiger-A-Go-Go nightclub?

Grand Hyatt at SFO will feature 351 rooms, 15,000 square feet of meeting space, several restaurants, a Grand Club lounge and an extensive fitness center.  Regrettably, there will be no viewing deck on the roof as previously hoped. But views from rooms, conference facilities and dining venue will be outstanding. Not sure I could pay much attention in a meeting when there’s a 747 lumbering past outside the window!

Check out the video below for a fly around the exterior of the new hotel.

The $237 million Grand Hyatt at SFO is being designed by San Francisco-based architecture firm Hornberger + Worstell with ED2 International, and constructed by Webcor Builders.  The construction is expected to provide 350 jobs followed by an anticipated 200 hospitality jobs once the hotel opens.

What do you think? Are you an airport hotel regular… or not? Please leave your comments below. 

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Trip Report: What’s a Marriott AC Hotel like?

Marriott AC Hotels

Some but not all AC hotels are built new from the ground up, like this one in Atlanta (Chris McGinnis)

AC Hotels is one of Marriott’s newest brands. It started out in Spain in 1999, spread throughout Europe, and is now making a move on the U.S. where there are 19 hotels open.

Last week I stayed at the new AC Hotel Atlanta Buckhead, located adjacent to the city’s tony Phipps Plaza shopping center on the northern edge of Buckhead. My midweek rate was $185 per night plus tax. Parking in the underground deck was $20 per night.

Here are notes from my stay and a walk-through with Jamie Krueger, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing:

Marriott AC Hotels

Like the rest of the hotel, the check in desk is clean, austere with a hip designer look (Chris McGinnis)

This Buckhead property opened last August. Atlanta will get two more AC Hotels this year– one downtown and another in Midtown. There are other AC hotels in Boston, Chicago, New York, Irvine, Phoenix, San Jose among other cities. (See all locations.)

Some, but not all AC Hotels are built new-from-the-ground-up like the one in Atlanta. Some are conversions from other hotels, so design and features can vary. (For example, its recently opened Atlanta downtown hotel used to be a Holiday Inn.)

The brand is aimed squarely at the millennial market and the design is super minimalist. Rooms have gray faux wood floors, white sheets, some beige wood and leather furniture. This baby-boomer would describe it as somewhat cold and austere, but I know there are travelers out there who like those clean lines and functional design.

Marriott AC Hotels

The view from my room on the 6th floor looking south across Phipps Plaza toward the Buckhead skyline (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Marriott AC Hotels

Rooms are clean and cool with all white bedding, wood and leather trimmed headboards and built-in benches, faux wood floors (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Marriott AC Hotels

Bathrooms clean and functional, no tubs, but only sliding glass doors separating them from the room (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

There are 166 rooms in this six story building fronting the Phipps Plaza Parking lot. It’s located at the corner of Peachtree Road and Wieuca Road. The hotel gets 4 out of five stars based on 78 TripAdvisor reviews. 

The only carpeting in the hotel is in the hallways. The lobby and rooms have faux hardwood floors. It has a gray and brown color palette throughout. Bathrooms do not have traditional doors– instead you’ll find sliding glass panels, which are not sound or light-proof, which may cause disturbance when there’s more than one guest in the room.

Cool feature: Windows are “self tinting” which means they turn bluish in direct sunlight. This helps cut the air conditioning bill and will help the hotel get its LEED certification later this year. Regrettably, none of the room windows open to the outside, which is a turn off to me.

There is a small, square indoor hotel pool, not set up for laps, and appears more like a big hot tub.

Marriott AC Hotels

In a nod to its Spanish roots, shaved jamon Iberico served at breakfast (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

cheese

An impressive and robust selection on the breakfast buffet feels very euro (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

I was very impressed with the robust selections at the breakfast bar. The sliced meat, cheese, muesli, warm quiche, loaves of bread, croissants, espresso and especially the shaved jamon Iberico made me feel like I was in Europe.

Breakfast is the only meal served at the hotel. During lunch or dinner, there’s a light-bite tapas style menu. Plus there are many restaurant options in the surrounding area and adjacent mall– and a free hotel shuttle for rides within a two-mile radius.

Marriott AC Hotels

Hotel business center located adjacent to lobby area includes art, books and business equipment (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Marriott AC Hotels, creamer, half and half, cream

Always a good sign: When a hotel provides half and half for in-room coffee (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Marriott AC Hotels soap

AC Hotels offers its own designer soap– smells great, but it’s like trying to wash your hands with a golf ball (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Marriott AC hotels wifi

Like other Marriotts, basic wifi is free. Higher speeds run $5 per day unless you are gold or platinum elite (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Marriott AC hotels thermostat

This looked like one of those irritating motion-sensing thermostats that turn off in the middle of the night. However, A/C blew softly and cooly throughout the night (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Standard weekday rates run about $249 per night, and $189 on slower weekends. (But as we all know, rates can vary significantly based on demand.)

The hotel bar is the nerve center of the hotel– bartenders are (of course) mixologists and have created an unique menu of craft, signature and barrel aged cocktails to choose from. Guests can order tapas such (which are likely enough for a light meal) including bruschetta, mixed salads, nuts, olives, aioli potatoes, etc.

Read more about the AC Hotels chain here. 

On summer nights, the hotel has a live DJ and when it’s not too hot, guest can sit indoors or outdoors. The bar and lobby space doubles as special events space, so you could find yourself in the middle of a party when you go down for a drink.

Overall, for a one-night stay, this was a nice, easy and efficient hotel at a decent price in an excellent location. I’d prefer a warmer ambience, but that might just be me.

Have you stayed at an AC Hotel? Would you? Please leave your comments below. 

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Most popular: Marriott policy change + Domestic 747 + Cheeseburgers + American inch

Le Meridien Atlanta

Starting June 15 a new cancellation policy went into effect at all Marriott and Starwood properties like the Le Meridien in Atlanta (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

TravelSkills’ 10 most popular posts over the last week (descending order):

Marriott/Starwood confirms restrictive new cancellation policy

United adds 11 new nonstops to Hawaii

Routes: United, Domestic Delta 747 flight, Virgin America, Southwest, Frontier

Alaska’s new double miles partner promotion

Cheeseburgers, pizza take off in economy class

A back of the bus burger on United– very good! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Another Mideast carrier cuts U.S. service

Airport news: Denver, LAX, San Diego, Houston, Las Vegas

American gives back an inch

Delta, TSA test fingerprints as boarding passes

10 Reader Report: Final ride on a Delta 747

Watch Boeing show off its sleek and nimble new jets in this video released for this week’s Paris Air Show.

 

Links to stories from other sources that we thought you’d like to read:

Beware when connecting through Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport! Here’s a tip from reader D.M.:

You may have addressed this earlier and I missed it but Europe travelers need to know to avoid connections at CDG at all costs. I recently went to Venice, via CDG, and even though it was through Delta (and adhered to their minimum connection times at CDG) it still took nearly two hours to connect to an Air France flight into VCE. Needless to say, we missed the original connection and had to take a later flight. Upon returning to ATL, I discussed this with three other frequent Europe travelers who confirmed that they had the same recent experiences in CDG. Part of the problem is the layout and part is the fact that, with about 200 people attempting to connect to other concourses, the French police only had two agents checking passports and documents for intra-airport passengers.

Air France’s bhub at Paris Charles de Gaulle. (Image: Parisinfo.com)

Trump’s new travel ban- on Americans

“Manspreading” banned in Spain

Take a look at Delta’s newest bird: The Airbus A350

Expansion plans Atlanta’s popular Concourse T, housing United, American & Delta gates

Oy: United flight attendants to earn $50 for hawking Chase cards on planes

United: More than 30 percent of main cabin customers are buying Basic Economy

DOT saw a spike in passenger complaints after release of United ‘dragging’ video

Southwest tests dual-door deplaning at two California airports

See a United 767 spewing fuel from a wing just before takeoff at Newark

First look: Cabin designs for El Al’s new Dreamliners

How hotels are upgrading their fitness facilities

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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Marriott/Starwood confirms restrictive new cancellation policy

The Marriott Residence Inn in Portland, OR now has a 48 hour cancellation policy (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Oh, come on! You now have to cancel your hotel reservation two days ahead of time or face getting dinged for that first night? Yep. Afraid so.

Effective today (June 15, 2017), new last-minute cancellation policies are going into effect at Marriott/Starwood hotels. 

In order to avoid paying for that first night (including taxes and fees), you now have to cancel a full 48 hours (or more, depending on property) in advance.

Here’s the official word from Marriott today:

Marriott International is implementing a cancellation policy at hotels in the Americas including the United States, Canada, Caribbean and Latin America, across all brands except for Design Hotels. The revised policy allows us to make rooms available to guests that would have otherwise gone unoccupied due to a last-minute cancellation.

The change: While cancellation policies vary by hotel, hotels whose policy is to allow guests to cancel their room reservations on the day before arrival without incurring a fee are faced with a significant number of unsold rooms due to last minute cancellations. Guests will now be required to cancel their room reservation by midnight 48 hours prior to arrival to avoid a fee. This will allow hotels a better chance to make the rooms available to guests seeking last minute accommodations.

The revised cancellation policy will take effect on June 15, 2017 and applies to reservations made on or after June 15, 2017. 

Because cancellation policies vary by hotel and for certain events and rates, customers should always check the cancellation policy that applies at the time of booking. Cancellation information is provided to guests prior to finalizing a reservation on www.Marriott.com

Some observers suspect that hotel chains impose these rules to prevent travelers from booking a standard rate, then canceling the reservation at the last minute and re-booking at a cheaper rate using popular new last-minute booking sites and apps.

We checked today, and sure enough, there’s the two-day cancellation notice on this reservation for the Residence Inn Portland Pearl District

This sucks for business travelers because our schedules can change on a dime, and frequently do so with much less than 48 hours advance notice. Remember the good old days when you could cancel without penalty up to 6 pm on the day of arrival? In 2015, both Marriott and Hilton did away with that, upping the deadline to 24 hours- which did not sit well with TravelSkills readers at all (see post). Now this.

Now that Marriott has cornered the market with its purchase of Starwood, it can make consumer-unfriendly moves like this. Regrettably, we’ll likely see the rest of the industry follow suit– and keep in mind that several brands already have onerous cancellations policies in place, so always check before you buy! Another tip: Many hotels will work with travelers individually on these fees, so try to work it out with an agent if you can. 

How do you feel about a 48 hour cancellation policy? Please leave your comments below. 

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Most popular: Delta 747 + Fare sale + New routes + Longest United flight + New Bev Hills hotel

United Airlines showing its true colors for Pride month (Image: United)

TravelSkills’ 10 most popular posts over the last week (descending order):

Reader Report: Final ride on a Delta 747

Big late summer/fall airfare sale takes off (Expired)

Routes: Southwest, AA, Delta, Alaska, + a new 787 route

Routes: JetBlue to Europe + AA, Delta, Norwegian, United, Avianca, Etihad

Two rare birds land by the Bay- with ultra cheap fares

Major transformation at Denver International + more airport news

7 Airports ask Trump for a raise, but you’ll pay for it

United’s longest flight won’t have this

3 U.S. cities get cheap new nonstops to Rome

10 New: Hilton-Beverly Hills, Hyatt-NYC, Marriott-Phoenix, Westin-Milwaukee, Choice-Chicago

Don’t miss: Global travelers shrug off political, terror concerns

TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis took some time off for a family reunion in North Carolina this week at the High Hampton Inn– nice! And not like any Hampton Inn he’s ever stayed in before!

Blue Ridge Mountain time #travel #northcarolina #mountains #blueridge #summer

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Links to stories from other sources that we thought you’d like to read:

Yellow Taxi sharing goes live in NYC

Travelers growing accustomed to terror?

Best Western testing in-room Alexa

PricewaterhouseCoopers sees an end to U.S. airline consolidation

Hilton picks AmEx as exclusive provider of Honors  credit cards

Delta recruits L.A. celebrity chefs for Delta One transcon in-fight service

Gogo says its high-speed 2Ku satellite Wi-Fi service is now on more than 200 aircraft

Here are the 20 longest flights operated by U.S. carriers

British Airways cabin crews plan four-day walkout in mid-June

KLM starts offering boarding passes, flight status updates via Twitter

Wyndham Hotels starts a new brand for three- and four-star independent properties

Take a look at the new ‘Canopy Park’ coming to Singapore’s Changi Airport

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New: Hilton-Beverly Hills, Hyatt-NYC, Marriott-Phoenix, Westin-Milwaukee, Choice-Chicago

Guest rooms at the new Waldorf Astoria in Beverly Hills all have balconies. (Image: Waldorf Astoria Hotels)

Recent hotel openings include a Waldorf Astoria in the heart of Beverly Hills; the first Hyatt House property in New York City; a dual-branded Marriott in downtown Phoenix; Choice Hotels International’s Cambria brand in Chicago’s Loop; and a new Westin in Milwaukee.

Hilton’s luxury Waldorf Astoria brand has cut the ribbon on the newly-built, 12-story Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills, located at the intersection of Wilshire and Santa Monica boulevards, adjacent to the Beverly Hilton Hotel and within walking distance of Rodeo Drive. The property has 119 guest rooms and 51 suites, with a décor “inspired by the contemporary interpretation of Hollywood glamour and the Streamline Moderne style of the 1930s and 40s,” the company said. Each room has floor-to-ceiling windows and a private balcony. The hotel has a guests-only rooftop pool deck with VIP cabanas, and food/drink venues created by renowned chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, including a rooftop restaurant, the Jean-George Beverly Hills Bar, and the signature Jean-Georges Beverly Hills restaurant. The hotel’s Rolls Royce will take guests anywhere within a two-mile radius. Honors rates start at $635.

Accommodations at the new Hyatt House in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood. (Image: Hyatt)

The newest addition to Hyatt’s extended-stay Hyatt House brand is in New York City. The 150-room Hyatt House New York/Chelsea is at the corner of Sixth Avenue and 28th Street. Accommodations are studio and one-bedroom units, ranging in size from 270 to 510 square feet; all units have a refrigerator and microwave, and half of them have full kitchenettes. They also come with floor-to-ceiling windows, large flat-panel TVs and dedicated work spaces. The 30th floor rooftop features an open-air “recreational area” with great Manhattan views, along with a 24-hour indoor fitness center. The H Bar on the second floor serves up breakfast and evening food and cocktails, and the hotel has a 24-hour take-out market. Rates start at $329.

Marriott’s new Courtyard/Residence Inn in downtown Phoenix. (Image: Marriott)

In the heart of downtown Phoenix at 132 South Central Avenue is a newly-opened, dual-branded, 20-story Marriott property that includes a 120-room Courtyard and a 200-suite Residence Inn. The hotel has direct access to the city’s light rail network and is within walking distance of the Phoenix Convention Center. Shared facilities for the two brands include an indoor pool, a fitness center, and 5,733 square feet of meeting space. The Courtyard features a new guest-friendly room design that offers a “tech drop” ledge for charging personal devices. The multipurpose lobby provides “media pods,” free Wi-Fi and a bistro. The Residence Inn has studio suites designed for stays of five or more nights, each equipped with full kitchens. Amenities include free breakfast, grocery delivery, free Wi-Fi and a 24-hour market. Rates start at $83 at the Courtyard and $129 at the Residence Inn.

Public areas at the Cambria Hotel in Chicago’s theater district. (Image: Cambria Hotels)

Choice Hotels International’s fast-growing Cambria brand has added a new property in downtown Chicago: The Cambria Chicago Loop-Theatre District. The 199-room hotel occupies the top 19 floors of the 22-story 32 West Randolph building, which went up in 1926. The lower part of the building is occupied by the historic Oriental Theater. Rooms have smart TVs, Bluetooth and free Wi-Fi, and the hotel has an American bistro restaurant called Social Circle. The hotel offers valet parking, and a game room with table games and TVs for watching sports events. Rates start at $178.

The new Westin Milwaukee has views of Lake Michigan. (Image: Westin Hotels)

Marriott’s Westin Hotels & Resorts brand has opened its first property in Wisconsin: The 220-room Westin Milwaukee. It’s located near the Lake Michigan waterfront at the end of Michigan Street, and is connected to the U.S. Bank Center. The property has nine meeting rooms totaling more than 9,000 square feet, along with a grand ballroom. The brand’s signature WestinWorkout fitness studio is there, along with suggested running routes along the lakefront as part of the RunWestin program. The hotel’s signature eatery is an Italian-American steakhouse called Stella Van Buren, and its bar has a “meticulously curated selection of bourbon” as well as an all-Wisconsin draft beer menu. SPG member prepaid rates start at $249.

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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Get ready: Busy summer ahead

Airport gate crowd

Will this be the busiest summer travel season…ever? Maybe (Photo: Chris McGinnis

For the past three years, we’ve seen one blockbuster summer after the other… with each season breaking records in terms of the number of travelers on the road and in the skies. It’s been crazy out there. But despite the heat and the crowds, we’ve all survived, had great vacations or business trips, and returned home safely.

This year, I predict we’ll see a similarly busy summer, but with some differences you should know about.

First, let’s take a look at demand, which remains healthy. How healthy? Well, according to Best Western Hotels & Resorts, advance bookings for peak summer season at its 2,000+ hotels in the U.S. are up 6.9 percent compared to this time last year.  Plus, travelers are staying longer— the number of room nights booked at Best Western’s U.S. hotels is up 9.9 percent. Advance bookings are even stronger in Canada– up 14.8 percent compared to last year, and room nights booked are up 20.5 percent.

Airlines in the U.S. will see a very busy season, too, with a record 234.1 million passengers expected in June, July and August, which is four percent more passengers than last summer according Airlines for America, the industry trade group. It also says that the nation’s airports will handle 100,000 more passengers per day than last summer. More competition and lower fuel costs are resulting in airfares that are flat to down slightly compared to last summer, which is attracting more flyers.

Consumers have spent $19 billion on airfare year-to-date, a 4.3% rise over the year-earlier period, according to the Airlines Reporting Corp.

Peak season hotel bookings in the U.S. are likely up due to a strong economy and increased interest in road trips after the string of airline customer service snafus exposed in social media this spring. In addition, low gasoline prices are making road trips an even more attractive option. A May 2017 Gasbuddy.com survey of 1,500 users found that 82 percent plan to take a road trip this year- that’s up 7 percent over last year. Gasbuddy points out that the normal springtime gasoline price increase was only 1.5 cents this year compared to the average spring season increase of 47 cents.

(Source: Gasbuddy.com)

With summer just around the corner, let’s take a look at the trends that will shape our travel experiences over the next four months.

First, expect a mass migration from the U.S. to Europe this summer. Transatlantic airfares have hit new lows due to increased competition from low fare carriers forcing established carriers to match the discounts. These days airlines can lower fares relatively painlessly because they are paying so little for jet fuel. In addition to airfares, the U.S. dollar is still very strong against European currencies, making summer trips across the pond even cheaper for Americans. The opposite is true in Europe, where a strong dollar is forcing Europeans to reconsider summer trips to the U.S. Lower demand from Europeans means lower airfares for Americans as airlines scramble to keep seats full.

Lower demand from Europeans should also help keep prices low in the U.S. cities and regions historically attractive to Europeans- think New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami and the desert Southwest.

TIPS:

Be Flexible: Did you know that most Friday and Saturdays in July and August now outrank Thanksgiving as the busiest air travel days of the year? With demand like that, you can always expect to pay top dollar during the peak season, which generally runs about June 20 through August 20. If you have the flexibility to book summer business or vacation trips in early June, or late August, you may still find a few “deals.”

Fly midweek: If possible, try to fly on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday to avoid those lengthy lines at airport security checkpoints. Bonus: Fares for midweek trips are usually slightly less than those on more popular weekends.

Last minute: Low demand for European flights (by Europeans) could mean that we’ll see even lower last minute fares on transatlantic routes later this summer. Monitor this by signing up for fare alerts on specific routes on sites like Google Flights or Kayak.

Don’t wait: For domestic trips, make reservations NOW if you have specific dates and destinations in mind. The most convenient flights, the hotel rooms with ocean views, or the right size rental car for your family will likely sell out soon. Get to the front of the line and reserve now to get what you want. Otherwise you could be stuck with inconveniently timed flights, wrong-sized rental cars, or hotel rooms with parking lot views.

Be a smart airfare shopper: Overall transatlantic fares are down about 15 percent compared to last summer according to the Airlines Reporting Corporation. When comparing transatlantic fares, be sure you compare apples to apples. While low fare carriers like Level, Norwegian or Wow may advertise remarkably low fares, be on the lookout for things that more established carriers might include such as:

-Cheap one-way fares for the trip over, but expensive one-way fares for the trip back

-Fees for checked, or in some cases, carry-on bags with charges may apply per leg, which means you’ll pay four fees for a round trip from say, San Francisco to Paris via Reykjavik on Wow Air.

-Advance seat selection, meals, drinks and even bottled water

Go. Get. Rewarded: In addition to spending time with friends, family or colleagues this summer, it’s always nice to earn something more. For example, you can go get rewarded at all Best Western branded hotels this summer, earning a $10 gift card for every night, with no limit on how many nights you stay. Registration is required at BestWestern.com/summer. Plus, Best Western Rewards members save 10 percent when booking direct on bestwestern.com.

Pay more, get more: If you are headed to work when everyone else is going on vacation, treat yourself to an upgrade this summer. You can avoid the flip-flop and beach ball crowd by paying a fee (around $50) for a one-time pass to an airport club, or slightly higher rate for a hotel on a quieter concierge floor. Also, airlines frequently discount first and business class seats during summer months, so they end up not much more expensive than inflated economy class tickets—so don’t forget to compare when searching fares. Most important during summer: Ask for a room that does not face the noisy pool area.

Timing: While transatlantic fares are dropping, domestic fares are inching up. Airlines usually offer some pretty good fares for travelers willing to travel early or late in the summer, but those sales did not materialize this spring. That’s a sign to me that domestic demand is high and airlines don’t feel like the need to discount to fill their seats.

Yosemite

A busy summer ahead, especially at National Parks like Yosemite (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

More cars: Higher fares will push many domestic travelers to the highways instead of the skyways this summer, with low gasoline prices luring them. That means more cars on key summertime routes in or near National Parks, beaches, recreation areas and major cities.

During the peak of the peak season (June 20-August 20) road trippers should always make reservations for roadside hotels a day or two in advance if possible. Otherwise, you may end up finding a full house at the end of a long day and the possibility of having to drive later into the night than you want…or end up sleeping in your car!

Off the beaten path: If you are headed to Europe and don’t like crowds, try to stay away from Paris, London, Rome and Barcelona during the peak of the peak summer season. Consider countries such as Poland or Portugal instead, which you’ll find less crowded and less expensive.

This post originally appeared on Best Western’s YouMustBeTrippin.com blog

Disclosure: Thank you for reading TravelSkills! We will periodically send out messages like this one from commercial partners about topics relevant to frequent travel.  Our sponsors’ support, and yours, help us keep TravelSkills a free publication. 


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Most popular: United growth + More Lounges + Planespotting + Travel jobs + LAX update

SF

Thursday was a great day for flying from a window seat over SF Bay! SFO>ATL on a United B737 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

TravelSkills’ 10 most popular posts over the last week (descending order):

United beefs up by the Bay to counter Alaska/Virgin

Planespotting: Boeing 737 vs Airbus A320 differences

American Express Platinum adds 3 new lounges

Nice selection of hot and cold dishes at Oakland’s Escape Lounge, now available to Amex Platinum card holders (Photo: Keonnis Taylor)

5 top jobs for those who love to travel

Routes: Alaska, JetBlue, Southwest, Delta + seaplanes to Tahoe!

LAX’s Big Move was a Big Success

‘Economic tsunami’ and ‘havoc’ caused by laptop ban

Marriott, Starwood, Ritz roll out big summer promotion

The ultimate luxury: LAX’s new private terminal

10 Planespotting: Boeing 757, 767

Don’t miss out: Alaska Airlines Visa card sweetens a key perk! 

Sea plane

Blackbird’s seaplanes will fly from the waters of the SF Bay at Sausalito to the waters of Lake Tahoe for just $124 each way for the 75-minute flight. Scroll up to read the post! (Image: Blackbird)

Links to stories from other sources that we thought you’d like to read:

Why Delta decided to stop being the mean airline

British Airways deep summer business class sale 2-4-1 (ENDS TONIGHT-SUNDAY MAY 21)

Southwest Airlines: Hawaii flights are a high priority 

Big Sheraton hotel to be leveled at ATL for runway

Uber back in Austin

Few hitches on big LAX move

U.S. airlines predict record travel volume this summer

Secret life of the King of the Netherlands: He flies for KLM as a copilot

Delta will introduce gluten-free main cabin snacks next month

Delta’s new gluten-free snacks = KIND bars (Image: Delta)

Survey: Most consumers feel no loyalty to any single airline

Cvent lists top meeting destinations worldwide

Star Alliance working to let flyers book seats across all legs of an itinerary

Korean Air sets higher fees for “overweight pet companions”

Air New Zealand developing “augmented reality” viewers for cabin crews

Air France reveals more plans for its new Boost subsidiary

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Marriott, Starwood, Ritz roll out big summer promotion

Atlanta’s Marriott Marquis Downtown recently had a big makeover. (Image: Marriott)

The Marriott lodging empire has come out with significant bonus point promotions for members of its three loyalty programs – Marriott Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest and Ritz-Carlton Rewards.

With the MegaBonus Infinite Points offer, members can earn 2,000 bonus points per stay, starting with their second stay. And they can earn another 2,000 bonus points for each additional brand they visit. There are 18 brands (!) participating in the promotion.

The Starwood Preferred Guest program’s SPG Take Three promotion will give members triple Starpoints for weekend stays (i.e., two or more nights that include a Friday or Saturday) at SPG properties, or double Starpoints for weeknight stays.

And the Summer Sojourns offer from Ritz-Carlton Rewards will let members earn double points for every two-night stay at a Ritz-Carlton.

All three offers apply for stays from May 27 through September 4, and all require participants to register online between now and August 30.

Marriott Infinite Points

SPG Take Three

Ritz-Carlton Summer Sojourns

Don’t miss out on other bonus earning opportunities for signing up with hotel program credit cards– some now offering up to 100,000 points for signing up. 

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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Airbnb business travel ready rooms now easier to find

Airbnb searches offer a new filter for business travelers. (Image: Airbnb)

First Airbnb teamed up with Delta, Virgin America and Qantas to help its renters earn airline miles or points for their stays. It has also been increasing the number of “business travel ready” rental accommodations in its database. An now the room-sharing giant is making it easier for road warriors to find them.

The company said it has developed a new filter for property searches so that only the business-travel-ready listings appear in the results. Those are accommodations that feature Wi-Fi, self-check-in, and “laptop friendly workspaces,” for instance. The new feature also permits instant bookings for listed properties – i.e., the user doesn’t have to wait for the host to get back to them.

The new search capability is available for both desktop and mobile searches. To access it, users must link their work email address to their account. Users can register as business travelers and find out more the company’s business-ready properties at www.airbnb.com/business-travel.

Airbnb said that although it started out as a service for leisure travelers, it has been making significant inroads into the business travel market, which now accounts for almost 10 percent of its bookings. The number of “business travel ready” accommodations in its database is now more than 150,000 worldwide.

An Airbnb “business travel ready” rental in San Francisco (Image: Airbnb)

Last year, the company came out with a third-party booking tool so that company travel departments can book and change reservations for employees and contact the property host for details. It also took steps to integrate its systems with travel management companies, and introduced “business friendly receipts” to streamline expensing of trips.

Delta SkyMiles members earn one mile per dollar spent on qualifying stays (not counting taxes and fees) when they book Airbnb accommodations through a link on the Delta website. The new Delta connection came just a few weeks after Airbnb forged a similar link with Qantas’ loyalty program. That one also earns one point per dollar spent, and also requires booking through the Qantas website. Virgin America has had a similar loyalty program link with Airbnb (but the fine print says that it’s only good through June 30 of this year. United added it to its MileagePlus X smartphone app last year, but regrettably disabled it in November.

American Express Membership Rewards members can also redeem points for Airbnb stays. 

“Stay on the lookout for more from us in 2017 – from integrating with corporate travel booking tools, making it easier to rebook the business travel ready listing you absolutely loved, to offering easier access to amenities like gyms and co-working spaces,” the company said.

Does this new search feature make it more likely that you’ll try Airbnb for business travel… or if you are already a regular user, will you use it more? What’s your overall experience or impression of it? 

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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‘Big Data’ tips for saving on summer travel

Start booking soon for best prices on summer vacation travel. (Image: Jim Glab)

Tech giant Adobe has come out with its annual travel report, compiled by sifting through enormous amounts of data from travel booking sites and social media, and it has offered some tips for getting the best deals on summer vacation trips.

For example, Adobe says that travelers looking to save on air fares should book domestic flights 76 to 112 days in advance, and international flights at least 125 days out, “assuming potential flight changes are not an issue.” Also, booking Saturday flights can save an average of 11 percent, while trips scheduled for Mondays can cost 11 percent more.

The absolute busiest travel period this summer (just like every year) will be the four-day Fourth of July holiday, when U.S. consumers will spend $3.7 billion on travel, Adobe said. That’s followed by the Memorial Day weekend ($2.9 billion) and Labor Day weekend ($2.8 billion).

But interestingly, Adobe says that growth in summer travel is down compared to last year. The report says, “Overall spending on summer travel by US consumers will grow by +5.1% (66% lower than last year), totaling $98.02B. Slower growth is mainly coming from nearly flat air and hotel bookings, likely the results of significant price increases. Growth has slowed for airlines and hotels mainly due to nearly flat number of airline reservations and decreasing hotels, but is bolstered by an increase in prices.”

Domestic air travel costs are running 4.8 percent higher than last year. (Image: Jim Glab)

As of March 2017, year-over-year domestic air fare prices have increased by 4.8 percent. International costs have gone up 4.7 percent, Adobe said, with one big exception: Fares for travel from the U.S. to Europe dropped 6.2 percent.

Domestic hotel prices went up by 3.7 percent over the same 12-month period, the report notes, and it recommends booking rooms 33 days in advance for the best price. Because most hotels have lenient cancellation policies “consumers can book earlier, but cancel if a better deal is found at day 33,” Adobe said.

U.S. travelers making domestic trips should see less competition for flights and hotel rooms from foreign visitors, Adobe said, noting that the cost of a trip to the U.S. is about 10 percent higher than it was a year ago. That’s mainly due to a stronger dollar, although “confusion over (U.S. government) travel restrictions may also play a role,” an Adobe spokesperson said. In the first quarter of 2017, international flight bookings to the U.S. from abroad have fallen by 6 percent.

The eclectic Adobe report has some other interesting nuggets about travel trends – car rentals, for instance.  It said that online car rentals in the first quarter of this year were down 14 percent over the same period a year ago, and it points a finger at car-sharing apps. From March to December 2016, Adobe said, social media mentions of Uber increased by 6 million, and during the same period, online car rentals fell by 28 percent – a 2 percent drop in rentals for each 10 percent increase in Uber social mentions.

Here’s where people are going. (Chart: Adobe)

Adobe also tracks destination trends by home market. For San Franciscans, the top domestic destination is Las Vegas, followed by Los Angeles and New York; and for New Yorkers, the top three are Los Angeles, Atlanta and Chicago.

And wherever or whenever you go, don’t forget to post something about your trip on social media – because everyone else does. Adobe said that every month, there are 14 million mentions of travel on social media – 1.7 times more than mentions of Justin Bieber, Katy Perry and Taylor Swift combined.

Speaking of social media, check out Chris’s Instagram feed for some nice images of his spring break in Hawaii!

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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New hotels: Stunning London luxury, Hip option in LA, Design-forward in NYC + 3 more!

A studio suite at The Ned in London’s Financial District. (Image: The Ned)

In news of hotel openings, a hot new business hotel comes to London’s financial district; InterContinental Hotels Group brings an Indigo to downtown L.A.; a British boutique property debuts in midtown Manhattan; a Baltimore pier is remade into luxury lodging; Atlanta welcomes another airport hotel; and Dallas gets a dual-branded Marriott property near Love Field.

The talk of the lodging scene in London is a new hotel called The Ned, located in the heart of The City (i.e., the financial district) in the stately 1920s-era Midland Bank building. (The building was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, known as Ned to his friends. Hence the name.)  The building’s original design features have been preserved, with a 252-room hotel incorporated into them. A project of renowned hoteliers Andrew Zobler and Nick Jones, The Ned is slated to open April 27. No cookie-cutter rooms here: Rooms come in 13 categories, and the property boasts seven restaurants (including a 24-hour brasserie and a Jewish deli), six meeting rooms, a spa, men’s and women’s salons, and even a barber shop. The building’s former bank vault now contains a bar, and there’s also a rooftop grill. Pre-paid, non-refundable nightly rates for a small “crash pad” room start at $320, although the hotel offers a special discount rate of $230 for persons under 30.

Lobby of the new Hotel Indigo in downtown Los Angeles. (Image: InterContinental Hotels Group)

The mixed-use Metropolis development in downtown Los Angeles includes a newly opened, 350-room Hotel Indigo from InterContinental Hotels Group. The newly built, 18-story Hotel Indigo Los Angeles Downtown, at 899 Francisco Street, is within walking distance of the L.A. Live entertainment district, Los Angeles Convention Center and the Staples Center. It has a lobby-level restaurant/bar called Metropole; a top-floor cocktail lounge; a large outdoor pool terrace and bar on the fourth floor; 24-hour fitness facility; and 11 meeting rooms. Rates start at $263.

A terrace suite at Manhattan’s new Whitby Hotel. (Image: The Whitby)

Newly opened in Midtown Manhattan is The Whitby Hotel, an 86-room boutique property with a strong British influence from designer Kit Kemp, who created several similar properties in London along with the Crosby Street Hotel in New York’s SoHo neighborhood. The Whitby, at 18 West 56th Street, is close to the Museum of Modern Art and a few blocks from Central Park. Guest rooms have floor-to-ceiling windows and free Wi-Fi, and some come with private terraces. The hotel has a restaurant/bar open for three meals a day, and an adjacent orangerie with high ceilings and a skylight. The hotel serves a traditional British afternoon tea.  Rates start at $695.

Room with a waterfront view at Baltimore’s new Sagamaore Pendry. (Image: Pendry Hotels)

Baltimore’s century-old Recreation Pier building along the Fell’s Point waterfront, at 1715 Thames Street, has been totally renovated into a luxury boutique hotel called the Sagamore Pendry Baltimore. Along with 128 over-water guest rooms and suites, the new Pendry has a signature restaurant called the Chop House; the Cannon Room bar; a seasonal waterfront pool with a bar and grill; 10,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space; a water taxi service; 24-hour fitness center; and a spa. Advance purchase rates start at $375.

Lobby at the Renaissance Atlanta Airport Gateway Hotel, (Image: Renaissance Hotels)

In Atlanta, an early May opening is slated for the new Renaissance Atlanta Airport Gateway Hotel, accessible from ATL on the airport’s free SkyTrain. Part of the Gateway project (which already has a SpringHill Suites and a Marriott) near the Georgia International Convention Center, it’s on the west side of the airport, about three miles from the existing Renaissance Concourse Atlanta Airport Hotel on the north side.  The 204-room Renaissance Gateway has a restaurant called Hickory & Hazel Southern Table & Bar and a fitness center. Rates start at $136.

Bar the the new Aloft Hotel near Dallas Love Field. (Image: Marriott)

Just a mile from Dallas Love Field, at 2333 W. Mockingbird Lane, is a new dual-branded property from Marriott that includes a 133-room Aloft hotel and a 91-room Element property. The two share a common entry and meeting space, along with a fitness center and outdoor pool. They’re part of the new retail/residential development called West Love. The Element Dallas Love Field’s  guest units come with full kitchens and spa-style bathrooms, free breakfasts, and bicycles to ride on local trails. The Aloft Dallas Love Field offers a grab-and-go food market and drinks kiosk, and the property has musical entertainment at its W XYZ Bar. Rates start at $179 at the Aloft and $164 at the Element.

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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Most popular: Delta 747 + Aircraft noise + New routes + SFO runways + Hyatt points

Flight attendant hat

Flight attendant wore uniforms from the 70s at the Delta 747 Experience last week. Hat designed by Yves St Laurent (Image: Chris McGinnis)

TravelSkills’ 10 most popular posts over the last week (descending order):

1 What a sight! First look deep inside a Delta 747-400 [PHOTOS]

2 Causing consternation: Ugly aircraft noise, beautifully displayed

Routes: Delta, Alaska, AA, JetBlue, United, JetSuiteX

4 Virgin’s new moves Routes: Seattle and SFO; Delta, WOW, AA, Emirates, United, BA + more

Airport news: San Diego, Newark, Atlanta, Orlando, Phoenix, Portland

6 Chris flies to London this week from OAK> Deal: $503 roundtrip Oakland-London on British Airways

Marriott Residence Inn

My fave hotel in Boston: Marriott’s popular Residence Inn Downtown Seaport (Chris McGinnis)

7 Fares still available on FOUR carriers: Full-on fare war: Atlanta-Boston $80 economy, $335 first

8 Flatter seats, fewer upgrades: Delta, JetBlue lay on more lie-flat seats, but…

9 ICYMI My most jaw-dropping window seat view…ever [VIDEO]

10 Still a hot issue: Alaska Airlines reveals fate of Virgin America

Don’t miss: Working around the laptop ban

Listen up! TravelSkills sponsor Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection recently created a podcast interview about the latest travel news with editor Chris McGinnis! Listen for yourself by clicking below, or find it on Soundcloud — Chris’s bit starts at the 10:30 minute mark:

Coyote runway

Fake, or decoy, coyotes are used to scare birds off the runway at SFO (Image: Chris McGinnis)

Runway repairs will cause 9 week(ends) of delays at SFO

Richard Branson: Alaska Air must pay for Virgin brand thru 2040!

American Express increases Platinum sign up bonus to 60,000 (keep scrolling!)

San Jose airport manager moving south

Very helpful: How to travel with an Alzheimers or dementia companion

Boeing’s new Skyview window (Boeing)

Largest airplane windows of all time offer pano views

Hyatt rolls out new double points promotion

Virgin Atlantic reveals new Upper Class design for A330s

New jacket for travelers has 10 functions

Silvercar sold this week (Facebook photo: Than Maung)

Audi plans to acquire 100 percent of U.S. specialty rental firm Silvercar

Hilton’s digital room key app now available in 1,000 hotels

U.S. company plans to build 150-passenger electric-powered aircraft

These airlines are most likely to bump you

The 10 U.S. cities ranked best for business travel

How Lyft is like a “better boyfriend”

Get the app and get $10 off your first Lyft ride!

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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Alexa! I need more towels!

An Amazon Echo digital assistant in a hotel room. (Image: Wynn Resorts)

Have you bought an Amazon Echo voice recognition device for your home yet? If not, you’ve probably talked to Siri on your iPhone. Google is also in the game with its Google Assistant. In any case, you might be talking to one of them in your hotel room soon.

Voice recognition capability for personal devices is key to the deployment of so-called “smart home” technology that lets you control heating, lighting, appliances and other things without getting out of your recliner. And hotels want to bring that same convenience to their guests.

Some higher-end hotels have already deployed tablet computers in their rooms that let the guest control the TV, sound, lighting, temperature and other things via touch-screen icons or keyboards. And according to Bloomberg Technology, hotel rooms are the obvious next frontier for voice recognition assistants.

Bloomberg said Amazon and Apple are the primary competitors in this nascent field, and that the first installations are already happening. Most of the initial devices are Amazon Echoes, which use a digital assistant called Alexa. Hotels with Apple iPads in guest rooms may already have the digital assistant Siri in place, but they still need to be integrated with in-room systems and devices. The Siri app on guests’ iPhones might also be brought into the mix. After mastering the link with “smart” guest room functions, the technology might be extended to other hotel services like the concierge desk, restaurant reservations and so on.

Apple’s Siri app is already in place on millions of iPhones and iPads. {Image: Apple)

Hotels installing Echo in some rooms and suites include the Wynn Las Vegas, the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa in Texas, and the Four Seasons in Washington D.C. Marriott is understood to be evaluating a broader distribution of voice recognition technology for one of its chains later this year, Bloomberg said.

Still to be determined is exactly how far the voice recognition systems will go in meeting guests’ demands.  “A key question is whether the interaction will be personalized, allowing guests familiar with the devices to log into their own accounts, or instead use a standard set of skills relevant to a hotel stay, like getting news reports, checking weather forecasts or calling for an Uber — commands more appropriate for those unfamiliar with the technology,” Bloomberg said.

Readers: Are you comfortable with voice recognition assistants? Do you have an Amazon Echo in your home, or do you often use an assistant on your phone? Please leave your answers in the comments! 

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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What travelers need to know about spring 2017

Spring has sprung along California’s western edge- Devil’s Slide, 30 mins south of SF. Regrettably, heavy winter rains have shut down parts of the Pacific Coast Highway (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

1. It’s going to be busy. When I ask Best Western CEO David Kong how the hotel or travel industry is doing, he usually tells me to just look at the stock market. If it is rising, he says, then you can be pretty sure that the travel industry is going to follow suit. So, looking at the records being set on Wall Street this winter with the Dow soaring past 20,000 and staying there, I think we could have one of the busiest spring break seasons we’ve had in years.

When the economy is strong and people feel confident about the future, they are more likely to travel. There’s already evidence of this: Best Western reports that its advance bookings for March and April at its 2,200 hotels in the U.S. and Canada are up 6 percent compared to this time last year. Plus, people are spending more and staying longer—the number of room nights booked is up 11.2 percent in the same period. Resort area bookings are up 17.5 percent, which means more travelers are focused on leisure trips this spring.

Airlines expect to handle 2.4 million passengers per day this March and April, up 4 percent compared to last year according to the airline trade group Airlines for America. Airlines are adding 110,000 more seats per day to handle the loads. That’s good news for airlines, but travelers should brace for busier airports and unexpectedly long lines at airport security as a result.

Gasoline prices lowest in Southeastern US, where most spring break driving occurs- cheapest is green, most expensive is red (Image: GasBuddy)

2. Gasoline prices are higher. The average price per gallon is up about 50 cents compared to this time last year according to GasBuddy.com. This means budget-focused travelers may have to trim back spring break spending to pay for gas, but I don’t think it will keep people at home. While 50 cents more per gallon is a lot, gasoline prices were at near historical lows last year (around $1.70 on average) and are still inexpensive by most measures. Also, most Spring Break driving trips take place in or via the southeastern US where gasoline prices are cheapest.

Easter is relatively late this year, which is good news for travelers (Image: Pixabay)

3. Easter is late. This year Easter is on Sunday, April 16—relatively late compared to last year when it was on March 25. (The date for Easter is determined by the phase of the moon and can fall between March 22 and April 25.) What this means for the spring break season is that it is nice and spread out—there is not a single week or two with a significant concentration of travel demand. Generally, collegiate spring break takes place during the month of March. Family spring break takes place during the week of Easter. This year, you’ll find the best deals in early April (once the collegiate spring breakers are back in school), and then again in late April after Easter.

United Economy B777-300ER

Fares are cheaper, but there are tradeoffs: 10-abreast in economy class on United’s new B777-300ER (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

4. Shoulder season deals plentiful- After Easter, we enter the shoulder season of light demand, fewer crowds and lower prices that will last until early June when peak season kicks in. If you have flexibility to travel then and are looking for great last minute deals, this is the time to check around. Aggressive discounting on the part of low-fare carriers is keeping fares low—but be aware of new restrictions for these new “basic economy” fares. Set up fare alerts with airfare search engines and check the Twitter feeds of travel brands to snag last minute deals. Travelers are definitely responding to this new round of low fares. For example, LEVEL Airlines, which launched with $300 transatlantic roundtrips last week says that it sold 52,000 tickets in a single day!

Best Western’s spring promo- $10 gift card after each stay!

While hotel rates can be less expensive during shoulder season, keep an eye out for promotions, too, like Best Western’s spring deal: Register now and get a $10 Best Western Gift Card with every stay through April 30, 2017. Spring promotions like this can help shave costs on summer vacations or business trips!

After mid-June, peak summer pricing kicks in as demand soars—and looking at the stock market as Kong advises, we could have one of the busiest summer seasons ever. That means that if you have your heart set on specific dates and locations for summer vacation, now is the time to make those reservations.

Barcelona El Prat’s big bright and gorgeous international terminal is going to be busy this year (Chris McGinnis)

5. International travel is up. While spring break is mostly a domestic affair, there’s increasing interest in travel to other countries these days as the U.S. dollar continues to strengthen. Right now, the euro is running at about $1.07 and approaching parity. The British pound is at about $1.22 compared to this time last year when it was about $1.45. Low fare carriers such as Norwegian Air and Wow Air are forcing all airlines to lower transatlantic fares to unprecedented levels (as low as $400 round trip), making the idea of spring break in London or Paris or Barcelona not very far fetched at all. The U.S. dollar has also strengthened against the Canadian dollar and Mexican peso making both countries more affordable spring or summer options.

Miami

As always, Florida is one of the most popular spring break destinations this year (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Top spring travel destinations are:

  • Nearly everywhere in Florida, especially Orlando and coastal cities
  • Cities along the U.S. Gulf Coast in states such as Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas
  • Las Vegas
  • California – Sierra and Rocky Mountain ski areas (due to an abundance of snow that could extend the season into May or beyond)
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Low-cost, nearby Caribbean destinations such as Puerto Rico, the Bahamas or the Dominican Republic
  • Mexico, especially coastal resort areas such as Cancun and the “Riviera Maya” along the east coast and Puerto Vallarta, Cabo and Baja on the west

Where are YOU going this spring? Please leave your comments below. 

This item first appeared on Best Western’s YouMustBeTrippin.com blog


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Marriott upgrades some United frequent flyers

Marriott has a new way to achieve United MileagePlus Gold status. (Image: Jim Glab)

For a few years now, Marriott Rewards has offered United MileagePlus Premier Silver status as a perk for its Platinum Elite members, but now it has added a better benefit for customers even higher on its loyalty pyramid.

Marriott Rewards members who achieve the super-exclusive Platinum Premier Elite level can now get MileagePlus Premier Gold benefits. Those include free upgrades confirmed up to 48 hours before departure; free access to extra-legroom Economy Plus seating; equivalent Gold status in United’s Star Alliance, with lounge access on international trips; two free checked bags; Preferred Access priority treatment for security and boarding; and eight award miles per dollar spent on United air fares.

Membership in the Marriott program’s Platinum Premier Elite level is awarded for one year, and only the top three percent of Platinums make it into this category. Designation as a Marriott Platinum Premier is based not on achieving a specific level of stays or spending, but rather on how much a Platinum-level member increases his or her account activity year over year. Other than the new MileagePlus Gold perk, the primary additional benefit of Platinum Premier status seems to be a dedicated phone line and e-mail address for bookings and other dealings with Marriott.

To achieve regular Platinum status, Marriott Rewards members must rack up stays totaling at least 75 nights a year.

If you achieve MileagePlus Gold status on your own, that makes you eligible to get reciprocal Marriott Rewards Gold status; that benefit was already part of the programs’ partnership. And by linking your Marriott Rewards account to Starwood’s SPG program, you get Gold status in that loyalty program as well.

The Marriott-Starwood merger created all kinds of loyalty program linking possibilities. Here’s a summary of some ways to maximize your earnings and rewards.

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Travelers getting gas over higher prices

Map shows where gas is currently cheapest (green), priciest (red). (Image: Gas Buddy)

This time last year we were paying less than $1.80 per gallon on average for gasoline. Now we are paying about $2.30.

Ouch! Have you noticed the 50 cent increase? The price of fuel not only affects travelers at the pump– it puts pressure on airlines to raise fares as the peak summer season approaches. It also makes ride-sharing drivers earn less.

The average price per gallon now $2.30, up from $1.80 last year. (Gas Buddy)

With travelers looking for relief, InterContinental Hotels Group’s customer loyalty program has started offering its members a new benefit: savings at the pump. It’s a program aimed squarely at biz travelers who drive more than they fly – which is the great majority of them.

The company said its new Fuel Rewards program link provides discounts on gas purchases at Shell stations nationwide, with the amount varying by elite status.

The savings include a 5 cents-a-gallon discount for Club and Gold Elite members of IHG Rewards Club (10 nights or 10,000 points a year); 6 cents for Platinum Elites (40 nights/40,000 points); and 7 cents for Spite Elites (75 nights/75,000 points).

How to get your discount at Shell

It’s a nice innovation for a hotel loyalty program as the price of gas keep creeping up, but 5 to 7 cents a gallon? That’s a savings of a buck or less for a fill-up. We’ve seen supermarket discount cards that offer savings of up to 30 cents a gallon.

But individuals could accumulate greater savings. IHG said the Fuel Rewards program is operated by a company called Excentus, which has similar arrangements with other national brands and retailers, and the benefits can be combined. “As members of the Fuel Rewards program, IHG Rewards Club members can stack additional fuel savings from purchases made at a variety of participating retailers, restaurants and merchants,” the company noted.

Members who want the perk must link their IHG Rewards Club account with Fuel Rewards. Here’s a link to Fuel Rewards, with details and more information.

IHG is not alone in offering fuel savings. Best Western Rewards members can redeem 13,000 points for at $50 Shell gift card that can be used at the pump or store.

How much is gasoline per gallon in your home town? Have you noticed how much it’s increased in recent months? 

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San Francisco’s overheated hotel scene could cool off

A convention in progress at San Francisco’s huge Moscone Center. (Image: Moscone Center)

The laws of supply and demand that led to a big surge in San Francisco hotel rates could soon shift in favor of supply, as a major expansion project at the city’s Moscone Convention Center will likely hurt lodging demand.

The trade publication Meetings and Conventions reports that major work on the Moscone Center is due to begin in April and will continue for two years. The project has local hoteliers “revising their strategies to attract other business in the interim,” the publication said. The center usually hosts some 70 major gatherings each year such as the huge Dreamforce event put on by Salesforce, Oracle’s OpenWorld and many others.

The Moscone Center said on its website that the Moscone North and South sections of the complex will be closed from April through August of this year.  But the center is not shutting down completely: “Moscone West will remain open and is fully booked,” the Moscone Center said.

The $500 million expansion project was considered necessary to accommodate the increasing demand for large conventions in downtown San Francisco. The Moscone Center estimated that San Francisco is losing $2.1 billion in convention spending from 2010 through 2019 “as  conventions look for larger and more contiguous exhibition space” found in other big convention cities like Las Vegas or Chicago.

Meetings and Conventions reports that the project has thus far led to the cancellation of 11 conventions, and San Francisco Travel, the city’s destination marketing company, predicts the work could cost the city 490,000 lost room nights over the next two years.

The Moscone Center’s central location is a big draw. (Image: Moscone Center)

San Francisco hotels have been going through a major boom in business over the past several years as heavy demand from conventioneers, business travelers and tourists outpaced room supply. The city’s average annual hotel occupancy rate jumped from 65.8 percent in 2011 to more than 84 percent in 2015 and 2016.

But now the pressure is on hotels and the visitor industry to keep filling those rooms as conventions play a smaller role. Hoteliers are planning to extend their marketing to new types of visitors who might have otherwise stayed farther away from the city center, and to attract smaller groups instead of giant convention crowds.

According to data from Trivago, the average online rate for hotel rooms in San Francisco during February was $228 a night, down 5.8 percent from a year earlier. Whatever happens, hotels are expecting a return to the boom years after the convention center work is finished in 2019; the entire facility is said to be fully booked during the post-construction months.

Rendering of rooftop lounge at Virgin Hotels’ new San Francisco property. (Image: Virgin Hotels)

Any blip in convention demand isn’t deterring an ongoing expansion of hotel capacity in San Francisco. For example, Sir Richard Branson’s fledgling Virgin Hotels just announced it plans to open a newly built San Francisco property this summer. Located next to the Moscone Center at 250 Fourth Street, South of Market, it will be the second Virgin property; the first opened in Chicago in January 2015. Others are under construction in Dallas and New York.

What’s your favorite San Francisco hotel? How much did you pay for it? Please leave your comments below. 

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6 smart reasons to join Best Western Rewards

Best Western Premier hotel Miami

A nice, new, clean and quiet room at the Best Western Premier hotel near Miami International Airport (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The recent wave of consolidation in the hotel business has focused attention on some big flashy chains, but business travelers should keep a keen eye on a solid player like Best Western.

Its popular Best Western Rewards program has bucked the industry trend toward depreciation– as a matter of fact, it’s the only major hotel loyalty program that has not reduced benefits over the last decade. sponsored-sliderIn fact, the program has become more lucrative for all members. And right now, you’ll enjoy the “power of 10” meaning every stay earns a $10 gift card, 10% off and 10 points per dollar- read on for details.

Not a member yet? Here are six smart reasons for you to join Best Western Rewards (BWR) today:

1> Signing up is quick and easy. What’s even better is that Best Western will match the status you have with any other hotel program. Just complete this form, fax or mail it back and you’ll get status, just like that, which means bonus points for stays, upgrades and special recognition gifts at check in. Remember that many credit cards offer automatic elite level membership in various hotel programs. Already got status? Get more by taking advantage of Best Western’s Status Match No Catch today.

2> You get lower rates that you can’t find anywhere else. All members get access to the Best Western Rewards rate when booked on bestwestern.com. If you are not a member, you don’t get the discount. For that reason alone, you should sign up for BWR today…you’ll appreciate that recognition right away.

Best Western's seven brands

Best Western’s seven brands

3> Choosing the best Best Western hotel for you is easier than ever. Best Western recently set out to clarify and better set business traveler expectations by dividing its core hotel portfolio into seven distinct brands: Best Western Premier, Best Western Plus and Best Western. Service levels are the same at each but the amenities are enhanced. At a standard Best Western you can expect to find the basics such as breakfast, free wi-fi, coffee makers, free parking and cable TV. More contemporary Plus properties add on amenities favored by business travelers such as big and well-lighted desks, in-room refrigerators, fitness rooms, pools, or business centers. Upscale Premier and Premier Collection hotels are typically located in iconic downtown or resort areas and sport high-end furnishings and design, on-site restaurants and/or bars, same-day dry cleaning service, meeting rooms and HD televisions. Typically, Plus and Premier properties earn three or more stars from AAA. Best Western is also rolling out GLo hotels, which are hip, midscale suburban boutiques with an emphasis on value, design and comfort and similar Vib hotels located in more dense downtown areas. Executive Residency properties offer the perfect combination of home and hotel for longer stays.

4> You get rewarded instantly! Best Western knows the value of instant gratification (and the power of 10!), and its current promotion provides just that. Register now and get a $10 Best Western Gift Card for every stay between February 13 and April 30. What’s best about this is that there’s no limit on the number of gift cards you earn during the promotion period- stay five times and you’ll get $50 off, 10 times and you get $100! Registration is required before your first stay.

Screen Shot 2017-02-15 at 6.40.46 PM

Enjoy the “power of 10” meaning every stay earns a $10 gift card, 10% off and 10 points per dollar at Best Western

5> Earnings add up fast. BWR members earn 10 points per dollar spent, and can redeem those points at 4,100 hotels around the world. While the average redemption is around 16,000 points per night, members can get a free night for as few as 8,000 points– one of the lowest free night thresholds of all major hotel programs. And even better, those free award nights count toward elite status! With many other loyalty programs, points expire after a certain period of inactivity. Not with Best Western Rewards! BW knows that travel can be an on-again-off-again experience, and will welcome you (and your points) back any time.

Best WEstern

6> Good for travelers…and their companies. Best Western’s Business Advantage program offers small and medium sized businesses benefits such as an across-the-board 10% discount off the best available rate. Plus, both business owners and employees get automatic elite level membership in the Best Western Rewards program. And, while each traveler earns Rewards points during each stay, Best Western also credits the business owners’ account with an additional 10 percent of the total points earned by traveling employees.

What are you waiting for? Sign up today and Go. Get. Rewarded! And if you are already a Best Western Rewards member, make a reservation and enjoy the Best Western Surprise!

Have you signed up for Best Western Rewards yet? Matched status with another program? Why or why not? Tell us in the comments. 

Disclosure: Thank you for reading TravelSkills! We will periodically create posts or send out messages like this one from commercial partners about topics relevant to frequent travel.  Our sponsors’ support, and yours, help us keep TravelSkills a free publication. 


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Size matters at hotels

Genting Malaysia

The largest hotel in the world is on a cool, green Asian hilltop where rooms go for just $11 per night (Image: Genting Malaysia)

What the largest hotel in the world? The chain with the most hotels in development or just the most hotels, period? With consolidation in the hotel biz, the hierarchy is changing.

Here’s an interesting infographic from Hotel News Now about the hotel industry, which ranks the major chains by:

Pipeline- the number of hotel rooms currently in development- there are a lot– almost 6,000 globally. Nice if like us, you seek out new hotels.

Companies- the biggest hotel chains by number of properties and rooms- Marriott now has over a million rooms; Hilton running a distant second place.

Brands- the brands with the most individual hotels with good old Holiday Inn leading the way.

Metro Markets- Check out Shanghai and Beijing, both with over 1,300 hotels each. Also interesting is how Las Vegas’s few giant hotels add up to so many rooms.

Expedia

The largest hotel in the world has rooms for just $23 per night in March (Image: Expedia)

Properties- the biggest hotels in the world. Have you ever even heard of the First World Hotel in Malaysia with more than 7,300 rooms? Crazy. It’s located just 45 minutes from Kuala Lumpur at an altitude of 6,000 feet. Here’s more. It gets 3.5 stars on TripAdvisor; on Expedia, rooms at this hotel start at just $23 per night.

Infographic courtesy of Hotel News Now. CLICK for more

Infographic courtesy of Hotel News Now. CLICK for more

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New hotels: New York, San Jose, Portland, Orange County

New York's new 1 Hotel in Brooklyn has views of Manhattan. (Image: 1 Hotels)

New York’s new 1 Hotel in Brooklyn has views of Manhattan. (Image: 1 Hotels)

Recent hotel openings include a luxury property on the Brooklyn waterfront and a DoubleTree in midtown Manhattan; new AC Hotels by Marriott in downtown San Jose and Portland; and a Homewood Suites by Hilton near Orange County’s John Wayne Airport.

Two years ago, a company called 1 Hotels opened a property in Manhattan near Central Park, and now it has cut the ribbon on its second New York hotel, the 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge. Created by original Starwood Hotels founder Barry Sternlicht, 1 Hotels brands itself as eco-friendly in design and materials, and focusing on fresh, healthy food in its restaurants.

The 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge is just south of that iconic span, along Brooklyn Bridge Park. It has 194 rooms, including 28 suites. Rooms have floor-to-ceiling windows with views of Manhattan, free high-speed Wi-Fi, 55-inch TVs, and digital newspapers via an in-room Nexus tablet. The hotel offers a 10th floor hospitality lounge, a grab-and-go café, a screening room, and access to a 24-hour fitness center. This spring it will open a rooftop bar/lounge with a heated plunge pool and firepits, and next fall it will add a spa. Guests can grab free local rides in the hotel’s Tesla. There’s also 24-hour in-room dining, and shuttle service to local subway stations and to Wall Street. Advance purchase rates start at $271.

Don’t miss: TravelSkills walks thru 1 Hotel Central Park NYC

The rooftop bar at the new DoubleTree on Manhattan's West Side. (Image: Hilton)

The rooftop bar at the new DoubleTree on Manhattan’s West Side. (Image: Hilton)

Hilton has cut the ribbon on the newly-built, 37-story DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel New York Times Square West, at 350 W. 40th Street — halfway between Times Square and the Javits Center. The DoubleTree has 612 rooms with décor inspired by the Theater District. There’s a rooftop lounge offering nightly music until 2 a.m.; American bistro-style dining at Magnolia Restaurant, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner; and a 24-hour market.  The hotel has 1,000 square feet of meeting space. Guests who book direct with Hilton can pick up 1,000 bonus Honors points through April 30. Honors discount rates start at $157.

A room at Marriott's new AC Hotel in San Jose. (Image: Marriott)

A room at Marriott’s new AC Hotel in San Jose. (Image: Marriott)

Downtown San Jose has its first new lodging option in more than a dozen years with the recent opening of a new AC Hotel by Marriott. Located at 350 W. Santa Clara Street, the AC Hotel —  Marriott’s European-inspired “lifestyle” brand — has 210 rooms with free Wi-Fi, large-screen TVs, USB ports, safes and mini-fridges. Breakfast, tapas-style dinner and cocktails are available in the AC Kitchen & Lounge. Advance purchase rates start at $170.

Public space at the new AC Hotel in downtown Portland. (Image: Marriott)

Public space at the new AC Hotel in downtown Portland. (Image: Marriott)

Another new AC Hotel by Marriott has made its debut in downtown Portland, OR at 888 SW Third Avenue, at the corner of SW Taylor Street, about a block from the Multnomah County Courthouse. It has a coffee shop, an AC Kitchen for breakfast, and an AC Lounge for cocktails and tapas-style plates. There’s also a 24-hour fitness center. Rates start at $151.

Orange County's new Homewood Suites is close to John Wayne Airport. (Image: Hilton)

Orange County’s new Homewood Suites is close to John Wayne Airport. (Image: Hilton)

Newly opened in Orange County, California is the 161-unit Homewood Suites by Hilton Irvine John Wayne Airport, at 17370 Red Hill Avenue. It has studio, one- and two-bedroom units, all with full kitchens. Daily hot breakfast is provided, along with Wi-Fi, and an evening social hour on weeknights. The hotel has a grocery shopping service, an outdoor pool and sports court, and a game room with billiards, and it offers free shuttle rides to and from the airport. Rates start at $149.

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Trump ban hitting travel business

International trips by U.S. road warriors could be on hold during the battle over Trump's travel ban. (Image: Jim Glab)

International trips by U.S. road warriors could be on hold during the battle over Trump’s travel ban. (Image: Jim Glab)

Even though President Donald Trump’s order banning travel to the U.S. from seven Muslim-majority nations was temporarily blocked again this week by a federal appeals court, an influential travel organization says international corporate travel will continue to suffer regardless of the outcome of the ongoing court battle.

The Global Business Travel Association this week released industry data gathered after the ban was introduced. It said that in the week after the ban’s sudden issuance, system-wide business travel transactions in the U.S. declined by 2.2 percent from the previous week, after showing a growth rate of 1.2 percent in the week before the ban.

In that single week after the ban, some $185 million in business travel bookings were lost “as the uncertainty surrounding travel in general had a rippling effect on traveler confidence,” GBTA said.

The organization noted that the President’s order “had a significant disproportionate effect on international travel,” which accounts for 12.7 percent of U.S. business travel.

As long as the ban continues to be litigated, business travel will continue to suffer, GBTA said. On Friday, President Trump suggested that he has other plans or options in the works to protect the US from terrorism, but it remains to be seen how these moves might affect travel.

If the courts uphold the ban and reinstates it, that “will clearly cause a rippling effect through the travel industry, ultimately hurting the economy,” GBTA said. “It also unleashes travel disruption like we saw when the order was first implemented,” resulting in the delay or cancellation of many business trips.

Will Middle Eastern airports like Dubai's see fewer U.S. business travelers this year? (Image: Emirates)

Will Middle Eastern airports like Dubai’s see fewer U.S. business travelers this year? (Image: Emirates)

But the appellate court’s decision to keep blocking the ban pending trial or further appeal is also “a losing situation for the business travel industry,” GBTA said, because “the uncertainty it will create as we await an appeal to the Supreme Court will continue to make its mark. Advanced bookings will likely slow as travel professionals cannot be sure if and when the ban will be reinstated. Meetings and events may be cancelled altogether.”

As long as a “cloud of uncertainty” hangs over the ultimate outcome of the fight, GBTA said, “large corporations and small businesses alike will suffer.” It said international outbound business travel has been “the biggest driver of our economic recovery of the past seven years.”

GBTA called on the Trump Administration “to pause this travel ban action, reassess its path forward with key stakeholders, and preserve both our national security and our economy for the future.”

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Room upgrades, late check-out, more via Marriott app

Marriott has an iOS version of its redesigned app. (Image: Marriott)

Marriott has released an iOS version of its redesigned app. (Image: Marriott)

Marriott Rewards members will see upgraded functions and personalized features in the hotel giant’s redesigned mobile app, available now for iOS users through the Apple App Store.

The company said the upgraded Marriott Mobile app will be ready for Android users later this year.

Among the changes:

  • The app has offered mobile check-in/check-out and room-ready alerts for three years, but now members who check in with the app will be able to request room upgrades and find out before they arrive whether the request was approved.
  • Users will also be able to ask for a late check-out via the app instead of calling the front desk (late check-out is guaranteed for Marriott Rewards Gold and Platinum members).
  • With the improved Mobile Requests feature, users can chat directly with hotel staff before, during or after their stay for requests that need personal attention; they can also select from a drop-down menu listing the most common requests (e.g., more towels).
  • The app’s Mobile Key function, which lets users unlock their room from their phone, is gaining more widespread applicability, coming to another 500 hotels worldwide this year.
  • The app will let users peruse destination content for their upcoming trips, culled from Marriott’s digital magazine and provided by local experts.
  • A new user interface uses a one-button design that provides “simple thumb-tap access to everything the app has to offer,” Marriott said.

Don’t miss! Get $200 for booking a trip on new Upside site! Seriously! 

Marriott offers two all-suite brands in San Diego's Bayfront. (Image: Marriott)

Marriott offers two all-suite brands in San Diego’s Bayfront. (Image: Marriott)

The app’s functionality will get even more personalized later this year, Marriott said, when it rolls out a real-time messaging service called mPlaces. That will provide users with “travel and hotel information, recognition and offers at the right time and place for Marriott Rewards members throughout their stays,” the company said.

“Over time, Marriott will add more personalized and informative content based on data and driven by beacons now installed at over 500 hotels,” Marriott noted. “For example, members who typically work out while they travel would receive information about the location, hours and services of the hotel fitness facility. Other future app features will enable members to order restaurant and room service menu items delivered wherever they are, such as lounging by the pool.”

Do you use hotel apps? Which ones, and which features, work best for you? Please leave your comments below.

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Big changes for Hilton’s Honors program

Hilton's new DoubleTree in Hilo, Hawaii. (Image: Hilton)

Hilton’s new DoubleTree in Hilo, Hawaii. (Image: Hilton)

Nope, that’s not a misspelling in the headline. Hilton no longer has an HHonors program; it’s now called Hilton Honors after the company axed the extra H.

Starting today, the hotel giant’s name is now just “Hilton” instead of “Hilton Worldwide.” And with that new name, the company unveiled the following enhancements to its loyalty program:

  • Starting late in February, members will be able to combine program points and money to pay for a room booked through the Honors app or through Hilton.com. The website has added a new slider feature that members can adjust to see how many points/dollars would be required to book a specific room for a particular night. At least 5,000 points must be applied toward a combined points/cash payment.

Screen Shot 2017-01-31 at 2.50.26 PM

  • Members will be able to pool their program points starting this spring with those of up to 10 family members or friends. “For context, a total of 11 Hilton Honors members will now be able to combine Points toward a stay – one pooler can initiate and receive Points from up to 10 other members,” a spokesperson tells T5avgelSkills. “It’s perfect when traveling for group events like family reunions or bachelorette parties.

So far 1,300 readers have taken the TravelSkills trivia quiz. Have you? COME ON! It’s fun!

Screen Shot 2017-01-31 at 1.29.15 PM

  • Hilton will expand the potential uses of Honors points starting this summer through a tie-in with Amazon. Members will be able to spend HHonors points on purchases made through the online retailing giant.
  • Diamond-tier elite members will have a one-time option of extending their status level for one year, no questions asked, if they think they won’t travel enough that year to retain the status. To qualify, the Diamond member must have held that status for at least three years, and accumulated 250 nights or 500,000 points.

Here’s how Hilton is comparing its program to the industry:

Hilton Honors

 

So what do you think of the changes? Please leave your comments below.

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Hilton’s new HHonors bonus offer

Hilton's new DoubleTree in Miami's South Beach (Image: DoubleTree)

Hilton’s new DoubleTree in Miami’s South Beach (Image: DoubleTree)

With its “Double Up” points promotion due to end next week, Hilton’s HHonors loyalty program has prepared a new bonus offer for the next few months.

HHonors’ new “2K Every Day” offer will take effect February 1 for stays through the end of April.

Good at more than 4,700 Hilton family hotels worldwide, the promotion will give registered HHonors members 2,000 bonus points “on every stay, every day,” a spokesperson tells TravelSkills. She noted that an online registration page for the promo will be coming soon.

The offer is “asterisk free,” she said – i.e., no exceptions or restrictions. It carries no minimum stay requirements, and no cap on potential point earnings.

Hilton cited the following example for a typical two-night stay: 3,000 Base Points + 1,500 Points & Points Bonus + 4,000 2K Every Day Bonus = 8,500 Points (33% more Points than you would earn under the Double Points offers Hilton ran last year).

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Uber, Lyft crushing taxis, rental cars for business travel

Uber Newark

Taking Uber from Manhattan to Newark Airport (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

A new report on business travel expenses says Uber rides now account for more than half of all ground transportation spending, citing this as an example of a “transformational change” taking place among road warriors.

Certify, a leading provider of travel and entertainment expense management and reporting, has issued its annual report for business travel spending trends in 2016, and it found that a new company has vaulted into the top spot as the “most expensed vendor”—not an airline or a hotel chain, but ride-sharing giant Uber.

The company said the “exploding popularity” of Uber among business travelers enabled the ride-sharing network to capture 6 percent of all receipts and expenses tracked by Certify last year.

According to Certify, the Uber juggernaut among business travelers was “the biggest story of 2016.” It said that among various ground transportation alternatives – taxis, rental cars, Uber and Lyft – Uber accounted for 52 percent of all expensed spending in the fourth quarter of last year, while Lyft grabbed 4 percent.

Image: Certify

Image: Certify

Comparing the fourth quarter of 2016 with the same period a year earlier, Certify said Uber’s share of the ground transportation segment jumped from 40 percent to 52 percent and Lyft’s from 2 percent to 4 percent, while the share for taxis plunged from 20 percent to 11 percent, and the share for rental cars dropped from 38 percent to 33 percent.

Looking to the lodging segment, Certify saw a similar but smaller trend for Airbnb, which it describes as an “alternative hotelier.” While Airbnb hasn’t yet broken into the top 15 most-expensed lodging brands, it is moving up fast, doubling its share of business traveler transactions each year since 2014.

“Assuming a similar or slightly improved growth rate, Certify expects Airbnb could approach the top 15 most expensed hotels sometime late next year,” the company said. “Looking at average room nights, business travelers also stayed longer with Airbnb compared to traditional hotels; 4.51 to 2.58 nights, respectively.”

Image: Certify

Image: Certify

Certify CEO Robert Neveu said business travelers’ increasing preference for “sharing economy” providers like Uber and Airbnb “underscores the trend toward consumerization of traditional corporate travel. Advances in personal technologies and travel-based smartphone apps have made it easier for business travelers to choose the experiences and vendors they prefer. And the companies they work for are following suit with expanded travel policy guidelines to accommodate new services and payment methods. More than a footnote in history, it’s the kind of transformational change that will continue to shape the industry for years to come.”

Chart: Certify

Chart: Certify

The company’s analysis of spending covers more than 10 million receipts and expenses logged per quarter by travelers at Certify’s client companies, including business meals, air fare, hotels, gas, ground transportation and several other categories.

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Marriott innovates; Hilton adds a brand

Marriott's innovation lab tests new lodging ideas.(Image: Marriott)

Marriott’s innovation lab tests new lodging ideas.(Image: Marriott)

How do these new lodging concepts sound to you: a “communal room” for every four guest rooms; to-go food containers with customized contents; and a portable wine cart activated by the guest’s key card? Meanwhile, Hilton plans to add a 14th brand.

To gather feedback on new lodging concepts, Marriott International has opened what it calls a pop-up innovation lab in downtown Los Angeles. And those are some of the ideas it is putting to the test for its fast-growing Aloft and Element brands.

The company said it will invite not only hotel professionals but also hotel guests and members of the public to check out innovations on display at the facility to gauge their reaction.

The initial round of new concepts includes a new floor layout that provides a communal room in the center of four guest rooms, “allowing travelers to share a kitchen, dining room and lounge area.” Such a design, the company said, is aimed at groups “who would like to spend time together in a more private setting.”

The company’s food and beverage team has its eye on more fresh and healthy items like spinach, quinoa and avocado. Guests would use a digital kiosk to order “customized ‘pots,’ a healthy meal in a colorful to-go container with food that reflects regional tastes,” Marriott said.

And bringing technology to beverage service, a proposed “portable wine cart” at Element properties would automatically dispense a glass of wine when activated by a room key card.

The Great Room at the M-Beta at Charlotte Marriott City Center. (Image: Marriott)

The Great Room at the M-Beta at Charlotte Marriott City Center. (Image: Marriott)

After Marriott gathers sufficient feedback at the pop-up lab, the new ideas could be seen in Aloft and Element hotels as soon as fall of 2017, Marriott said. It’s the second “test lab” that Marriott has opened recently; it is also trying out new concepts in real time at at a hotel in Charlotte, N.C.

Hilton, meanwhile – perhaps feeling pressure from the massive collection of brands at the newly merged Marriott/Starwood — announced it is adding a 14th brand to its family.

tapestry

Called Tapestry Collection by Hilton (www.tapestrycollection.com), the brand will be somewhat like Hilton’s Curio Collection in that it will bring more independent properties into the Hilton reservations system and HHonors loyalty program.

The company said the new Tapestry brand “is positioned in the upscale segment just below Curio,” which is going into its third year with a membership of more than 30 “upper upscale” hotels in seven countries, and 45 more in the pipeline.

Hilton said the first Tapestry member properties will be in Syracuse, N.Y.; Chicago, Ill.; Nashville, Tenn.; Warren, N.J.; Hampton, Va.; and two in Indianapolis, Ind. It did not name the hotels. It added that it has 35 more potential Tapestry members in process, with the brand scheduled to kick off in the third quarter of this year.

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New hotels: Houston, San Diego, New York, Honolulu, New Orleans

The outdoor terrace at the new Houston Marriott Marquis.(Image: Marriott)

The outdoor terrace at the new Marriott Marquis in Houston.(Image: Marriott)

Marriott has cut the ribbon on a 1,000-room convention hotel in downtown Houston. The new Marriott Marquis Houston at 1777 Walker Street is connected by a skybridge to the city’s George R. Brown Convention Center. The big new hotel boasts 100,000 square feet of meeting space along with a multi-level sports bar called Biggio’s, a tapas-and-wine bar, a coffee shop, an American restaurant and a Mexican restaurant. There’s also a full-service spa and fitness center, rooftop infinity pool, and an outdoor terrace with cabanas, views of Discovery Green Park below and a “river” in the shape of Texas that flows around the terrace. Marriott Rewards member rates start at $293.

The Pendry San Diego is in the Gaslamp Quarter. (Image: Robert Green Co.)

The Pendry San Diego is in the Gaslamp Quarter. (Image: Robert Green Co.)

Montage Hotels & Resorts has a new sister brand called Pendry Hotels, and its first property is slated to open this month in San Diego, at 550 J Street (between 5th and 6th) in the city’s Gaslamp Quarter. Three blocks from the city’s convention center, the new Pendry San Diego has 317 rooms (including 36 suites), a rooftop pool, 24-hour fitness center, a spa, six restaurants and bars, and 35,000 square feet of meeting space. Standard guest rooms start at 350 square feet and feature Bluetooth speakers, minibars, luxury bedding and 24-hour room service. Rates start at $360.

The new Four Points in Manhattan is near the Javits Center. (Image: Starwood)

The new Four Points in Manhattan is near the Javits Center. (Image: Starwood)

In New York City, Starwood has set a January 25 opening date for the new Four Points by Sheraton Manhattan Midtown West. Located at 10th Avenue and West 35th Street, the 148-room hotel is just a long block from the Javits Center, near the Hudson Yards development. The Four Points offers free high-speed Wi-Fi, a 24-hour business center, 24-hour fitness center, free Internet-based printing service in public areas, and a casual restaurant/bar called the Hudson Bar Room with American cuisine. Starwood Preferred Guest member prepaid rates start at $137.

(Speaking of New York City, here’s a reminder for readers: The iconic Waldorf-Astoria Hotel on Park Avenue will close its doors on March 1 for a major renovation project that is expected to last two years.  You might recall that the hotel was purchased by China’s giant Anbang Insurance – the same company that tried to buy Starwood – which plans to convert most of the Waldorf’s space to apartments, leaving it with just a few hundred hotel rooms.)

A guest room at the Hyatt Centric Waikiki. (Image: Hyatt)

A guest room at the Hyatt Centric Waikiki. (Image: Hyatt)

What was once the Waikiki Trade Center in Honolulu at 2255 Kuhio Avenue has been converted into the newly opened 230-room Hyatt Centric Waikiki Beach. (In fact, Waikiki Beach is a short walk away from the hotel, across Kalakaua Avenue and past the big beachfront hotels.) The new Hyatt Centric’s guest rooms have floor-to-ceiling windows and free Wi-Fi, and the property offers a pool with private cabanas, a fitness center, business center, lobby restaurant and bar, a tapas eatery, and a Starbuck’s. Gold Passport member rates start at $225.

A queen room at the new Troubador in New Orleans. (Image: Joie de Vivre Hotels)

A queen room at the new Troubador in New Orleans. (Image: Joie de Vivre Hotels)

The boutique hotel group Joie de Vivre has opened its first property in the South – The Troubador, in New Orleans’ central business district. The 184-room hotel is a redevelopment of an office building at 1111 Gravier Street that is on the National Register of Historic Places. Food and beverage outlets include Petit Lion, a casual restaurant open for breakfast, lunch and dinner; and Monkey Board, a rooftop bar that also serves “food truck” small plates. The hotel has a fitness center, free Wi-Fi, room service, and valet parking. Rates start at $139.

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Airbnb finds hotel loyalists aren’t so loyal

This Airbnb apartment in San Francisco goes for a fraction of the cost of an upscale hotel room. (Image: Airbnb)

This Airbnb apartment in San Francisco goes for a fraction of the cost of an upscale hotel room. (Image: Airbnb)

New research suggests that members of hotel frequent guest programs are more likely than other travelers to try Airbnb as an alternative for accommodations.

Traveler surveys conducted for Morgan Stanley Research found that a person’s membership in a hotel loyalty program is a good indicator of how likely he would be to try staying in an Airbnb property instead of a commercial hotel, according to a report in Quartz.

You might suspect that a hotel program loyalist would be less likely than a non-member to try an alternative form of accommodation, but the study found that the opposite is true.

Instead, it found that hotel loyalty program members were more than twice as likely as non-members to use Airbnb. And what’s more, that pattern holds true no matter how frequently the person travels – i.e., loyalty program members who take only a few trips a year are still more than twice as likely to stay at an Airbnb properties as non-members who are infrequent travelers.

Source: Morgan Stanley Research

Source: Morgan Stanley Research

The research suggests that the major hotel companies’ loyalty programs alone, with their promise of rewards and special perks for frequent stays, may not be enough to keep Airbnb from making more inroads into their business.

In recent months, Airbnb has been making a concerted effort to attract business travelers, who are the core members of hotel loyalty programs. It has created a separate area of its website just for business customers, where it offers special listings of its member properties that have the kinds of amenities and services road warriors want. It also has taken steps to integrate its payment system with those of companies and corporate payment networks, so employees who book Airbnb properties can automatically expense their stay.

Another recent Morgan Stanley study found that the number of travelers who use Airbnb as an alternative to a hotel is increasing faster than expected, and could be impacting the growth rate of hotel industry revenues. Its consumer survey in the U.S. and Europe found that traveler awareness of Airbnb has hit 75 percent, and that its market penetration is growing as well: The proportion of leisure and business travelers who have used Airbnb was 19 percent and 18 percent respectively, up from 12 percent for both groups a year earlier.

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Starwood’s out at Virgin’s Elevate program

Starwood is shifting kts Virgin America loyalty link to Alaska Airlines' Mileage Plan, (Image: Alaska Airlines)

Starwood is shifting its Virgin America loyalty link to Alaska Airlines’ Mileage Plan. (Image: Alaska Airlines)

Members of the Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) loyalty program won’t be able to participate in Virgin America’s Elevate plan in about a week.

John Wolf, a loyalty marketing executive at Starwood parent Marriott International, tells TravelSkills that SPG “has decided to focus its partnership on Alaska (Airlines’) Mileage Plan and end its partnership with Virgin America’s Elevate program.”

The company is encouraging SPG members who participate in Elevate to join Alaska’s Mileage Plan if they’re not already in it.

After January 6, Wolf told us, SPG members won’t be able to earn Elevate points on their hotel stays, or directly transfer SPG Starpoints into Elevate accounts.

“SPG members will be able to use Starpoints to travel on Virgin America by transferring Starpoints to Alaska Mileage Plan miles and redeeming them for Virgin America flights on alaskaair.com starting January 9, 2017,” he said.

“Furthermore, SPG members can continue to transfer Starpoints to Alaska Mileage Plan at a 1:1 ratio – and earn 5,000 bonus miles when they transfer 20,000 Starpoints to Alaska Mileage Plan.”

Alaska Airlines has already said that starting January 9, Elevate members will be invited to start new accounts in Mileage Plan so they can earn award travel on Alaska and its international partners. The airline said Elevate members will be able to convert Elevate points into Mileage Plan miles at a rate of 1.3 Mileage Plan miles per Elevate point.

Marriott Rewards is also an Elevate partner, but Wolf noted that there is no change in the Marriott-Elevate relationship. “The two programs (SPG and Marriott Rewards) continue to be run separately until a new program is introduced,” he said.

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Marriott/Starwood’s big new bonus points promotion

The JW Marriott in Chicago's Loop. (Image: Marriott)

The JW Marriott in Chicago’s Loop. (Image: Marriott)

Members of the Marriott, Ritz-Carlton and Starwood loyalty programs can earn double points during an upcoming three-month period.

Following the recent announcement that members of Marriott Rewards, Ritz-Carlton Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest can link their accounts to transfer points and get elite status matches, the merged hotel giant has come out with a new double points promotion that starts next month.

Holders of the SPG AmEx card can now earn points for spending at Marriott Hotels. (Image: American Express)

(Image: American Express)

The double points offer applies for the member’s first three stays in the Starwood program and in either Marriott Rewards or Ritz-Carlton Rewards at participating hotels from January 16 through April 15 of next year.  So it’s good for a maximum of six nights total across two loyalty programs.

Participants can register from now through March 15; you can find links to the bonus point registration for each of the three programs here.

Two months ago, Marriott announced a link between the co-branded credit cards of its hotel companies, with holders of Starwood Preferred Guest’s American Express cards earning two Starpoints per dollar spent at hotels in the Marriott Rewards program, and holders of the Marriott Rewards Chase and Ritz-Carlton Rewards JP Morgan credit cards earning five points per dollar spent at SPG member properties.

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New facets for HHonors Diamond lifetime status

HHonors Diamond members can get free premium Wi-Fi at hotels like the New York Hilton Midtown. (Image: Hilton)

HHonors Diamond members can get free premium Wi-Fi at hotels like the New York Hilton Midtown. (Image: Hilton)

Hilton’s loyalty program is making it a little easier to earn its highest elite status permanently.

Effective next month, a company spokesperson tells TravelSkills, Hilton’s HHonors program is making a couple of adjustments to the requirements for lifetime Diamond designations.

The current rules state that members who want lifetime Diamond status must have maintained Diamond status for a minimum of 10 years — not necessarily consecutive ones – and stayed at least 1,000 total paid nights in Hilton properties.

HiltonHHonorsLogoUnder the new terms, those 1,000 nights needed to qualify can be either paid nights or award nights.

As an alternative to the 1,000 nights, 10-year Diamond members can now gain lifetime status by accumulating 2 million base points in the HHonors program.

“Only base points are eligible” for the latter requirement, the spokesperson said. “Bonus points earned via promotions, co-branded credit cards, or other means do not count towards status.”

The company will notify members by email in February 2017 if they have qualified for a lifetime Diamond status by December 31 of this year. “If you want a sneak peek to find out if you will qualify, you can contact the Diamond Desk and the team will be happy to help,” the spokesperson said.

Here’s a summary of the current requirements to achieve Diamond status annually, and a list of the benefits associated with that level.

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Delta tweaks SkyMiles upgrade policies

Free upgrades to Delta's Comfort+ seating are now available to Starwood elites. (Image: Delta)

Free upgrades to Delta’s Comfort+ seats are now available to Starwood elites. (Image: Delta)

Delta Air Lines has updated its rules for snagging a better seat, including changes for Starwood Preferred Guest elites, passengers on international flights equipped with the airline’s new Delta Premium Select cabins, and travelers on transatlantic partner Virgin Atlantic.

Platinum Preferred members of Starwood’s loyalty program who are enrolled in Crossover Rewards for travel on Delta can now request free upgrades to both First Class and Delta Comfort+ based on their SPG tier level when they have paid tickets. The free upgrades apply for flights within the U.S. and Canada, and select Asia/Pacific and Latin America/Caribbean markets. A few months ago, shortly after the conclusion of their merger, Starwood and Marriott introduced the ability for members of both loyalty programs (and Ritz-Carlton’s) to link their accounts, and also offered them elite status match with reciprocal benefits.

Delta's premium economy cabin will debut on its A350s in about a year. (Image: Delta)

Delta’s premium economy cabin will debut on its A350s in about a year. (Image: Delta)

Delta’s new ‘Premium Select’ international premium economy cabin will start to appear as the airline deploys new Airbus A350s in 2017, and the airline confirmed that SkyMiles members can use miles to upgrade to those seats after they buy a Main Cabin ticket. Diamond Medallions who select Global Upgrade certificates as a benefit can use them to upgrade to Premium Select from Main Cabin or Delta Comfort+ seats, but neither regional upgrade certificates nor complimentary upgrades can be used for Premium Select. The airline also said that Medallion members who purchase Premium Select seats will get a 50 percent Medallion Qualification Miles bonus.

And SkyMiles members can now use miles to book partner Virgin Atlantic’s premium economy cabin on flights from the U.S. to the U.K., either by phone through Delta reservations or through delta.com. Virgin’s premium economy section includes priority boarding and dedicated check-in, upgraded dining and leather seats with power ports. (See Virgin Premium economy video above or here.)

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New hotels: W – Vegas, Conrad – Chicago, Hilton – New York, DoubleTree – Hawaii + more

A Philippe Starck-designed guest room at the new W Las Vegas. (Image: Marriott)

A Philippe Starck-designed guest room at the new W Las Vegas. (Image: Marriott)

In U.S. hotel news, Marriott/Starwood opens a new W in Las Vegas; the Conrad Chicago makes its debut; Hilton adds a location in downtown Brooklyn and an affiliate in Manhattan, as well as a DoubleTree in Hawaii; and there’s a new boutique property in the Twin Cities.

One of the two towers at the SLS Las Vegas – which is a member of Marriott’s Tribute Portfolio – has been transformed into a 289-room W Hotel. Marriott took on the W brand as part of its merger with Starwood, and this becomes the first W in Las Vegas. The W’s rooms were designed by Philippe Starck, offering “a cheeky interpretation of luxury hospitality,” the company said, along with the W brand’s signature bedding and Bliss bath amenities. At the top of the tower is a 2,382 square foot Extreme WOW Suite designed by Lenny Kravitz. (Yes, that Lenny Kravitz.) The W has 15,000 square feet of its own meeting space, plus another 80,000 in the SLS complex. There’s a rooftop bar called the Wet Deck, a spa and fitness center, and a total of seven restaurants in the complex. Rates start as low as $114.

An atrium with a view at the new Conrad Chicago.(Image: Conrad Hotels)

An atrium with a view at the new Conrad Chicago.(Image: Conrad Hotels)

At 101 E. Erie in downtown Chicago, a former office building has been transformed into the newly opened Conrad Chicago, a part of the Hilton family of brands. The 20-story Conrad has 287 rooms and suites equipped with personal refrigerators, big 96-inch beds, 65-inch TVs and keyless entry. Guests can use the hotel’s luxury car service for free drop-offs within a two-mile radius. Food and beverage options include an Italian restaurant on the ground floor, a “bourbon- centric” eatery with American cuisine on the 20th floor, and a Japanese rooftop restaurant coming next summer. Guests can sample some of what Chicago offers without leaving the premises by using the hotel’s VR Concierge, offering 360-degree views through an Oculus VR headset. Rates start at $225. (The previous Conrad Chicago in 2015 was transformed into The Gwen, a member of Starwood’s Luxury Collection.)

A guest room at the Brooklyn Hilton. (Image: Hilton)

A guest room at the Brooklyn Hilton. (Image: Hilton)

New York City’s borough of Brooklyn has become a hot spot for commercial development, and Hilton has just opened a property in Brooklyn’s Boerum Hill neighborhood, two blocks from Atlantic Avenue and not far from the Brooklyn Heights Historic District and the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. The Hilton Brooklyn New York at Smith and Schermerhorn streets occupies a building that used to be a rope factory in the 19th century. The 196-room Hilton has a 24-hour fitness center, a business center, concierge service and a grab-and-go pantry. Through May 29, HHonors members can earn an extra 1,000 points per night when they stay here. Non-refundable advance purchase rates start as low as $135; regular rates are from $159. (Meanwhile, an independent luxury property called The Renwick that opened last year in Manhattan on East 40th Street has just become a member of Hilton’s Curio Collection, making it a participant in Hilton’s reservations system and HHonors program.)

Hilton's new DoubleTree in Hilo, Hawaii. (Image: Hilton)

Hilton’s new DoubleTree in Hilo, Hawaii. (Image: Hilton)

In Hawaii, the former Grand Naniloa Hotel in Hilo, on the Big Island, has gone through a $30 million overhaul and emerged as a DoubleTree by Hilton. The 320-room hotel – the first DoubleTree on the Big Island — is on a 70-acre oceanfront site just two miles from Hilo International Airport. It has a nine-hole golf course, a big outdoor pool, 24-hour business center, and 13,000 square feet of meeting space. Guest rooms come with free Wi-Fi, big work desks, microwaves, refrigerators, and DoubleTree’s signature beds. Hilton is offering Honors members 5,000 bonus points for a minimum three-night stay at the hotel through March 15 when they book directly with Hilton. HHonors rates start at $154 in January on direct bookings.

A cozy room at The Hewing in Minneapolis. (Image: Aparium Hotel Group)

A cozy room at The Hewing in Minneapolis. (Image: Aparium Hotel Group)

What was formerly an old warehouse in the North Loop section of Minneapolis has been reborn as a boutique hotel. The 124-room Hewing Hotel is at the corner of Washington and 3rd Avenue, featuring “Nordic-inspired décor” like lots of bare wood and rooms with exposed brick walls and timber ceilings. It has a rooftop bar, spa pool and sauna; and a main floor restaurant called Tullibee. The Hewing is operated by the Chicago-based Aparium Hotel Group, which also runs the Iron Horse Hotel in Milwaukee. Rates start at $179.

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Why Best Western’s new winter promo works; Hilton, too

Best Western Premier

A gorgeous new Best Western Premier opened this fall in Orange, Beach, AL – Photo: Best Western

Best Western’s hatched a new winter promotion to help stir up bookings during one of the slowest times of year.

During the holidays and early winter when business travelers stay off the road, demand falls and hotels lower rates. They also add on extras to keep as many rooms occupied as possible.

Best Western’s deal is one of those extras: Get a $10 gift card with EVERY Best Western stay between now and January 29- you must register to take advantage of this promotion.

Why is it so good? Well, you’ll likely be paying a very low rate at this time of year, PLUS you’ll be getting $10 off your next Best Western stay each time.

Each Best Western Rewards member can earn unlimited $10 Travel Cards during the promotion period.

Once your stay is over, you’ll receive a $10 Best Western travel card via email that can be used for up to four months.

Details and registration here.

Best Western’s not the only hotel chain offering specials during the cold, dark months of December and January. Hilton today launched a flash sale offering 15-20% off during the holidays. Details here. It also extended its double/trip HHonors points promotion through January 31.

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How holiday travel will be different this year

Listen to TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis discuss the outlook for holiday travel on KCBS Radio.

Gas map

Gas prices in the US in November 2016 (Source: Gas Buddy)

The holiday travel season can be the best of times or the worst of time for frequent travelers. Best because it’s a time for us to kick back, relax and enjoy some time off work with our loved ones. Worst because of all the hassles and high prices involved in getting there.

A word of warning: Holiday travel could be crazier this year than in previous years. Why? High demand and the calendar. And weather is always the wild card (for example, there’s snow in Denver and 2.5-hour rain delays at SFO as we write this).

Demand is up

Advance bookings at Best Western’s 2,000+ hotels in the US from November 15-January 15 are up 6.1% compared to this time last year.sponsored-slider The number of nights booked is up 10.5%, which means those who are traveling are planning to stay longer. In Canada, advance bookings and the number of nights booked are both up 13%. AAA expects 48.7 million Americans will travel over Thanksgiving- that’s a million more travelers than last year, and the busiest Thanksgiving since the great recession of 2007. The trade group Airlines for America expects Thanksgiving air travel to be up 2.5% over last year, which means 55,000 more travelers on planes and atairports every day across the country.

Calendar is the problem

The outlook for Christmas is going to be dicey. That’s because we are faced with Christmas and New Year’s Day both falling on Sundays this year. This means that the holiday season will be more densely packed with travelers on or around both of those weekends. (When Christmas and New Year’s fall mid-week, the season is more spread out.)

Busiest days at Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving will be the pretty standard this year, with busiest days on the Wednesday before the feast and the Sunday and Monday after. But you should also be aware of big crowds and delays on the Friday and Saturday before Thanksgiving, too. That’s because more people are taking the whole week off. My advice: Make your trip short and sweet: Depart early Thanksgiving morning (the slowest day) and get home in time for the feast. Then fly or drive back on Friday or Saturday before the Sunday rush.

Craziest days at Christmas/New Year’s

For Christmas and New Year’s, expect the busiest days at airports and freeways to be the Thursday and Friday (Dec 22-23) before Christmas. Since New Year’s Day is on Sunday, you’ll see heavy traffic that afternoon as well as on the Monday and Tuesday after New Year’s (Jan 2-3).

Winter road

Most holiday travelers will see this instead of a view out a plane window! (Image: Pixabay)

Driving

While most major media focus on air travel during the holidays, the reality is that nearly 90% of holiday travel is by car. And since most of Best Western guests arrive by car that 6.1% increase in demand is a good indicator of how busy roads will be this year. In addition, record low gas prices and fear of airline hassles will be pushing a lot more Americans into their cars for holiday trips.

Fuel prices

One key reason for high demand for travel during in the months ahead is the declining price of gasoline. Currently, the average price per gallon nationally is about $2.15—down from a high of about $2.35 in June. Those driving in the Midwest will find the least expensive gas this year ($1.70/gal)- those driving in the West will pay the most (>$2.50/gal). Airlines are enjoying the dip in fuel prices, too, which means that holiday airfares, while always high, will not increase much this year compared to last year. Some fares might even decline slightly.

Europe

Would you consider spending the holidays in Europe? If you’ve been waiting around for a deal, this might be the year to go. Transatlantic airfares are at new lows due to increased competition and low fuel prices. Plus, major currencies have tumbled in relation to the dollar. As I write this, 1 euro is worth about US$1.07 and is approaching parity. The British pound is at about $1.24.

Holiday Travel Q&A

Chris doling out the tips on a "radio media tour"

Chris doling out the travel tips on a “radio media tour”

During the holidays, I’m frequently on TV and radio doling out travel advice. Here are my answers to some of the most frequently asked questions:

When’s the best time to buy airline tickets for Christmas? Due to high demand, there simply are not any real airfare “deals” on the peak days around Christmas and New Year’s this year. Travelers who want the most convenient flights on their preferred airlines should book as soon as possible to get seats on those flights – otherwise they will likely be stuck paying the same high price for less desirable flights that depart super early or late, they’ll have to sit in those dreaded middle seats, or make several stops en route to their destinations.

Should I drive or fly this year? I always stick to the five hour rule: If you can drive to your destination in five hours or less, it’s likely smarter to hit the road instead of the skies during the holidays. This is especially true for families traveling together. If you haven’t done so yet, download the Waze app, a GPS-based mapping tool that uses information provided by other drivers to help you avoid traffic, road hazards – and speed traps!

What’s a good way to avoid holiday travel stress? Always try to book nonstop flights, because you double your chances of a delay or cancellation with a one-stop flight, even though you might save a few bucks. Another stress-busting move: Consider staying over in a hotel when visiting families during the holidays. Rates at new hotels like a locally owned Best Western in or near suburban office parks hit annual lows during holidays (due to the lack of business travelers), and facilities are usually new and nice. Having your own space at a hotel is a big relief for both the traveler and the host during the stressful holidays.

Boeing's iconic 747 is gradually flying off into the sunset. (Image: Jim Glab)

Take a nonstop flight if you can! (Image: Jim Glab)

Are there any alternatives or hidden secrets to getting good deals this year? If you have the flexibility to travel during the slowest times of year, the so-called “dead weeks” of early December and early January, you can save 50-70 percent on airfare or hotels. Some ski resorts will discount lift tickets during dead weeks. It’s also a good idea to check out airline or hotel social media streams on sites like Twitter or Facebook to look for short term, last minute sales.

Is now a good time to redeem points or miles for trips? It’s nearly impossible to use airline frequent flyer awards during the blacked out, heavily restricted peak holiday season. On the other hand, demand for hotels declines during holidays, which means that it’s a lot easier to redeem those hard-earned loyalty points—or find good last minute deals.

What about airline baggage fees? If possible, avoid checking bags during the holidays; the risk of your bag getting lost and ruining your trip is just too high. Try to learn to live out of a carry-on. If you have too much for a carry on, ship your bags ahead of time, but do so at the “ground” rate at UPS, FedEx or the Postal Service. Shipping a 25 lb. bag via next-day or two-day express is just too expensive.

Listen to TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis discuss the outlook for holiday travel on KCBS Radio.

 

This post is sponsored by Best Western and originally appeared on its YouMustBeTrippin.com blog

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Disclosure: Thank you for reading TravelSkills! We will periodically send out messages like this one from commercial partners about topics relevant to frequent travel.  Our sponsors’ support, and yours, help us keep TravelSkills a free publication. 


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One night at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC

Trump hotel DC

Quiet hotel hallways bathed in natural light from the sky-lit atrium at Trump International in DC (Chris McGinnis)

In this post: A look inside the hallways, rooms and towers of the Trump International hotel in DC, an interview and tour with the managing director, and conversations with people who work there…plus lots of photos! 

I was in Washington DC recently for meeting of Boarding Area bloggers and could not resist the opportunity to report on what is likely the most talked-about hotel in the U.S. these days: The brand new Trump International Hotel Washington DC.

Because I flew in from the West Coast, I had to arrive a day early  to attend sessions beginning on Friday afternoon. The meeting was at the Marriott Marquis, but it was full on Thursday night, so I began my search for options.

During my search, the Trump International popped up several times at $404 per night while many of the city’s other four and five star hotels were sold out. Seeing the Trump hotel show up reminded me that I know the managing director there, Mickael Damelincourt, an old friend of TravelSkills I’d met when he opened hotels in Chicago and Toronto.  So I sent him an email letting him know was coming to DC and that I’d like to meet up with him to find out more about his the hotel for a post on the blog. I wrote, “The post would be completely and purposefully non-political. I just think it would make a really well-read item considering the brouhaha around the election the curiosity about the new hotel.”

Trump Hotel key

Key to room 721 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

A few minutes later, bingo! I heard back from him with an offer to comp my one-night stay, which I accepted. Here’s what I experienced and learned and heard from all kinds of folks connected to the hotel. 

I flew into Washington Reagan National Airport on Virgin America (arriving 4 pm) and called up Lyft to pick me up for a ride to the hotel. I was a little worried about what the driver might think when he learned of my destination. So when I got in the car, and realized that the driver was from Africa (Ghana he later shared) I made a joke and said, “You have my destination right? Take me to the devil’s house!” He let out a big laugh and said, “I have been wanting a pick up or drop off at the Trump hotel ever since it opened last week! You are my first! I don’t care who wins this election, I just want it to be over. So let’s go see his house!”

Tourists snagging selfies at the Pennsylvania Ave entrance to the Trump DC (Chris McGinnis)

Tourists snagging selfies at the Pennsylvania Ave entrance to the Trump DC (Chris McGinnis)

Clearly the driver had never been to the hotel before, because when we arrived, he could not find the entrance, and dropped me off on 12th Street. Both the 12th St and Pennsylvania Avenue doors were closed, so I dragged my bag around to 11th Street where the main entrance is.

As I approached the door, a smiling bellman in top hat and tails rushed out to greet me and take my bags, and asked my name. Within seconds of entering the hotel, it felt like I was in Asia– why? Because the bellman had somehow let the staff know that my name was Mr McGinnis, and soon they were all greeting me by name, and did so throughout my stay. Last time I experienced that kind of name recognition was in Hong Kong. Impressive.

Guests enter the hotel through a dark wood-paneled portico, and are led into the huge, bright eye-popping lobby, which used to be the factory floor of the US Post Office, full of sorting machines and workers. Now it’s full of blue velvet, marble, crystal chandeliers, a big bar with four giant TV screens. Soaring 200 feet above is a new glass ceiling that allows natural light to flow into the lobby atrium and the nine floors of corridors leading to 263 rooms and suites. It’s a lot to take in!

Trump International Hotel

The lobby of the Trump International used to house a mail sorting facility. Now look! (Chris McGinnis)

As I was standing there soaking it all up, Damelincourt appeared to welcome me and set up our appointment for a tour the following morning. He pointed up to the old Post Office clock tower through the glass ceiling and said, “I’ll take you up there tomorrow- it’s the second highest building in Washington and has been off limits to the public for years. The US Park Service will open it to public tours later this winter.”

There’s been plenty of speculation about whether or not the Donald’s controversial campaign has affected business at this hotel, so I was on the lookout for signs, and I do think it seemed rather quiet. At 5 pm on Thursday, the big bar area had about 50 customers being served by white-coated staff. “How’s business?” I asked. Damelincourt said that the bar has been quite popular and he’s averaging between $18,000 and $25,000 in receipts per night. He said the biggest nights in the lobby so far were during the debates when they had it tuned in on all four lobby screens. He said a big crowd from both sides showed up to cheer on their candidates in a good natured fashion and the nights were a big success. He’s expecting a similar crowd on election night as well as Super Bowl Sunday.

Trump hotel

The Trump hotel was once the Old US Post Office building on Pennsylvania Avenue (Chris McGinnis)

As far as hotel business is concerned, he said that he’s opened two other Trump hotels before, and that early bookings at this one seem to be in line with those. It’s true that a brand new hotel takes time to establish itself in a market. Plus hoteliers like business to build up slowly in order for staff to get up to speed. But still, I was on the lookout to see just how slow business was.

Once I checked in at the desk, a beautiful Latina woman escorted me to my room on the seventh floor. On the way to the room, she pointed out the details of the restoration of this one-time office building. From the old radiators surrounding columns in the lobby to the crown molding in corridors, it’s gorgeous. We were having a great chat as we walked through the long corridors to my room. She told me she was from Miami and that she’d worked in the hotel business for a while, but that this was the best job she’d ever had. I had to ask, “So what do your friends back in Miami have to say about your working for Mr Trump?” She looked at me and said, without skipping a beat, “Trump is very popular in Miami, so most of my friends are supportive of my job or don’t really care. It’s not an issue, really.” Fair enough, I thought.

Trump Hotel

Room 721 at the Trump International Washington DC- 14 foot ceilings, crystal chandeliers and lots of gold leaf (Chris McGinnis)

She showed me around my “premier” room, which is one step up from the entry level “deluxe” rooms. Since the hotel officially opened just last week, I felt like I could have been the first person to sleep in this room- it sure smelled that way! It was huge with 14 foot ceilings, two brilliant, freshly scrubbed crystal chandeliers (there are 628 throughout the hotel), a big king bed with an ornate gilded headboard that screamed Trump, plus a wonderful nook for a gilded desk in a corner turret with stunning views of the Washington Monument and the surrounding sandstone buildings in the Federal Triangle. The big bright bathroom was sheathed in Carrara marble and includes a dual vanity, huge soaking tub and walk in shower.

Trump hotel

Carrara marble everywhere in the big bathroom in room 721 (Chris McGinnis)

As I was unpacking, the doorbell rang, and it was a butler with bottle of sparkling wine and some strawberries as a welcome from the hotel. The brand was Trump Blanc de Blanc ($26) of course!  I had a glass and it was actually very good, but I’m no wine connoisseur.

I was eager to get out of the room, take my own mini-tour of the hotel, then find a place for dinner. Walking out of my room to the corridor, I peered over the balcony and saw the entire hotel…every floor down to the lobby. Damelincourt told me that as a manager, he loves this since it’s easy for him to look out and see what’s happening all at once– something that’s tough to do without a big atrium like this. The hallways were gorgeous and lit with crystal chandeliers, lamps and sconces, chairs, tables, chintz and views. They are also super long, which, due to the Halloween season, made me think of the movie The Shining and the word Redrum 🙂 . But there was not a soul in sight. I wondered if I was the only guest on the seventh floor.

On my way out of the hotel I approached the concierge who greets me by name. I asked him for suggestions saying, “I’m just off the plane from San Francisco, and did not eat much since breakfast. I’m starving for a good walk and an early dinner. I’ll be dining alone so would like a place that’s easy and casual.” He lit up when I said San Francisco. “Did you know that there’s a Tadich Grill right across the street? You can go there and sit at the bar and they’ll take good care of you. Tell ’em Robert from the Trump hotel sent you.” He insisted on walking out the door to show me exactly where it was.

Tadich Grill

The new Tadich Grill in Washington is across the street from the Trump International (Chris McGinnis)

So I took a nice spin down Pennsylvania Avenue, then went to Tadich Grill for a delicious dinner of lump blue crab cakes (perfection!) and a glass of chardonnay. I had a nice chat with the bartender and asked, “So what do you think about having the Trump hotel across the street? Do you get much business from there? Does it seem busy?” He lit up at that and had plenty to say. First, he said that competition among bartenders was fierce for a job at the Trump because “he pays top dollar [$19/hr + tips] to bartenders and pays for health insurance, too. At other places, you’ll get about $9 per hour and you are lucky if you get insurance.” He has friends on staff at the Trump who tell him that the hotel is running about 50% full, while others in the area are oversold- he said, “Just go look at the windows and see how many lights you see on and you’ll get an idea.”

He said that much of the hotel’s business is driven by the curiosity factor for now, and that anyone who won’t stay there for political reasons will forget about that soon after the election. I have to agree. Location is typically the primary factor business travelers use when choosing a hotel, and the Trump is ideally located midway between the White House and the Capitol. Plus, during recent elections I heard from readers swearing that they’d never stay at a Marriott again after the Marriott family donated so much to the Romney campaign… that obviously had little impact on what is now the largest hotel company in the world. Time will tell….

The Trump International at night (Chris McGinnis)

The Trump International at night (Chris McGinnis)

So when I left Tadich and resumed my walk I looked up a hotel windows. From the street, The Trump looked about half full. But when I looked up at the nearby Willard InterContinental or JW Marriott, both were nearly 100% full.

 Plenty of lights on at the nearby JW Marriott Hotel in DC (Chris McGinnis)

Plenty of lights on at the nearby JW Marriott Hotel in DC (Chris McGinnis)

I slept well and woke up the following morning for breakfast at BLT Prime in the lobby. Since I was on Pacific time, I was a little late, sitting down at about 9 am. There were only about six other patrons in the restaurant. I ordered a delicious breakfast popover stuffed with scrambled eggs and chunks of smoky bacon served with fresh berries. The coffee was good, and naturally Trump branded. From my perch on the balcony overlooking the lobby, I could see the four giant TV screens at the other end and noted that none of them showed Fox News.

BLT restaurant

My breakfast popover at the BLT restaurant in the lobby (Chris McGinnis)

At 10 am my tour started with the Damelincourt. Here are some highlights from that spin through the property:

-Despite their political persuasions, Damelincourt says that most Washingtonians are most happy that something was finally done with the the beautiful but dumpy old building that had struggled since the post office moved out long ago.

-Trump leased the hotel from the federal government for 60 years and invested about $200 million in the refurbishment. The hotel shares the space with the U.S. Park Service, which oversees the iconic clock tower that stands above the hotel, and will begin offering tours in January.

-There are 263 rooms in the hotel. That includes 35 suites  which go for $1,000-$20,000 a night. Deluxe rooms start at around $400. Premier rooms (larger, with better views) start at about $550. Executive rooms and junior suites start at around $650 per night. (Rates of course are based on demand, so can vary widely.)

Trump hotel

Looking up at the clocktower through the glass ceiling at the Trump Hotel (Chris McGinnis)

-The best entry-level rooms? “Well if you are a history buff, ask for a deluxe room with an atrium view- from your room, you can look up through the glass roof to see the famous clocktower.”

-The Presidential Suite was at one time the office of the US Postmaster General– it’s huge (three times the size of the Oval Office!), ornate and covered in with masculine wood paneling. The bathroom once served as the Postal Service safe, and retains a two-foot thick doorway to enter.

Suites at the Trump International decorated in Navy blue and white- and lots of crystal (Chris McGinnis)

Suites at the Trump International decorated in Navy blue and white- and lots of crystal (Chris McGinnis)

-The clock tower houses bells given to the US by the UK that do not fit in the Capitol (down at the end of Pennsylvania Avenue, so they were put in the Post Office Tower. Soon those bells will be rung by hand during the opening and closing of Congress.

-There are three Presidential Suites in the Trump. The Postmaster suite is 2,000 square feet. The Presidential Suite (the most secure) is 4,000 square feet and the Trump Townhouse (two levels on the first and second floor with dedicated entry from the street) is 6,300 square feet.

Trump Hotel toilet

Check out the presidential toilet in the presidential suite! Paging LBJ! (Chris McGinnis)

-The 628 crystal chandeliers throughout the hotel are cleaned about every eight weeks by a private contractor. Nice contract, I bet!

-A few nice touches Damelincourt insisted on: a standard alarm clock in every room (they are made of brass and very heavy). He has installed handheld garment steamers in each closet, which he says remove wrinkles quickly without the muss and fuss of an iron an ironing board. And best of all (to me at least) the hotel provides real half & half with the in-room Nespresso machine! Also, in-room wifi was lightning fast, and when you sign on, it’s good for three days…no irritating daily sign on required.

Trump Hotel

View of the Washington Monument over the roof of the IRS building from the desk of my room at the Trump hotel (Chris McGinnis)

-When we were in the tower, I wondered aloud if the hotel required any sort of special security detail due to the controversy surrounding Trump. He looked around and said, “We are surrounded by the IRS and the FBI is across the street. This is one of the most secure areas in the whole city, so if anything funny happens, police usually respond within minutes, if not seconds. Every day we get a few protesters on the sidewalk who hold up placards for a photo, then disappear.”

-The Trump children (primarily Ivanka) visit and consult with the hotel frequently. The Donald is not involved in the day-to-day like they are.

Trump hotel DC

The majestic view from the clock tower at the Trump International Hotel in Washington (Chris McGinnis)

So what do you think? Once the election brouhaha has cooled off, would you darken the door of the Trump International Hotel in DC? Why or why not? Please leave your comments below. 

Disclosure: The Trump International hotel comped my one night stay and TravelSkills paid for my flights, meals and transfers related to this trip.

–Chris McGinnis

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Most popular: Cheap flights to London | Transcon sale | Free Vegas | Hilton promo | Best Credit Card

Washington DC

What a great week to be in Washington DC on the eve of an election for a Boarding Area conference (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

TravelSkills’ 10 most popular posts over the last week (descending order):Weekend Edition

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The view over the Venetian from my room at the Palazzo in Las Vegas (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

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New hotels: Minneapolis, Chicago, Silicon Valley, Nashville, Atlanta

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HiltonHHonorsLogo

Hilton HHonors members who book through the HHonors App (get it here) and pay with a Visa credit card for stays during November 2, 2016 – January 31, 2017 will earn an additional 5,000 Bonus Points.  How? Here are the details http://www.HHonors.com/VisaBonus.

hotel hall corridor

REDRUM! We checked out this gorgeous new hotel recently and will write about it this week. Any guesses? (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

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Delta rolled out updates to its already awesome app last week. Details included in this short video:

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Delta, JetBlue dive deeper into “sharing economy”

Airbnb was at GBTA for the first time with a cool hipster like lounge booth (Chris McGinnis)

Airbnb’s cool hipster like lounge booth at recent business travel conference (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

“Sharing economy” companies continue to go after business travelers by forging loyalty program connections with major airlines and hotel chains. In the latest examples, Delta is teaming up with Airbnb and JetBlue has a new tie-in with Lyft.

Delta SkyMiles members can now earn one mile per dollar spent on qualifying stays (not counting taxes and fees) when they book Airbnb accommodations through a link on the Delta website (www.delta.com/airbnb). New Airbnb customers can earn up to 1,000 bonus miles and a $25 coupon code applicable toward their first stay.

The new Delta connection comes just a few weeks after Airbnb forged a similar link with Qantas’ loyalty program. That one also earns one point per dollar spent, and also requires booking through the Qantas website. Virgin America has had a similar loyalty program link with Airbnb for over a year, and United recently added Airbnb to its MileagePlus X smartphone app, enabling customers to pick up three miles per dollar spent on accommodations.

Meanwhile, ride-sharing service Lyft this week announced a partnership with JetBlue Airways. Members of the airline’s TrueBlue program who link their accounts with Lyft can earn 30 TrueBlue points for each Lyft ride to and from any U.S. airport, up to a maximum of 1,200 points per year. Here’s how to link accounts.

New users who sign up for the ride-sharing service through JetBlue will get a $15 ride credit or 720 TrueBlue bonus points, and will have access to discounts via in-flight and digital promotions. Lyft will also get a special pick-up and drop-off area at JetBlue’s New York base, Terminal 5 at JFK Airport.

Are you more likely to give Airbnb a try now that you can earn Delta miles? Please leave your comments below. 

ICYMI, see 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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New hotels: Minneapolis, Chicago, Silicon Valley, Nashville, Atlanta

A guest room at the Radisson Red in Minneapolis. (Image: Radisson)

A guest room at the Radisson Red in Minneapolis. (Image: Radisson)

Recent U.S. business hotel openings include a pair of properties in Minneapolis, and another pair in Nashville; a dual-branded hotel in Chicago; big Bay Area/Silicon Valley hotel re-flags, and a new Marriott brand in Atlanta.

In Minneapolis, Radisson has set a November 16 opening for the first U.S. location of its new Radisson Red brand. The Radisson Red Minneapolis Downtown is a new build at 609 Third Street South, part of the Minneapolis Downtown East mixed-use development; it’s linked to the Wells Fargo Office Tower and the new U.S. Bank Stadium via the city’s skyway system. The hotel has 164 rooms (Radisson Red calls them studios) with free high-speed Wi-Fi. Its OUIBar + KTCHN focuses on locally sourced cuisine and craft beverages. And it offers a fitness center plus a 1,000 square foot “Events & Games Studio” for activities that can liven up meetings. Radisson is offering triple Gold Points for stays through February. Rates start at $139.

A King room at Marriott's new AC Hotel in Minneapolis. (Image: Marriott)

A King room at Marriott’s new AC Hotel in Minneapolis. (Image: Marriott)

Another newly built, newly opened property in Minneapolis is Marriott’s AC Hotel, part of a fast- growing new Marriott group with a style that reflects AC’s European origins. It’s located on Hennepin Avenue at S. Fourth Street, across from the city’s main library. The property is connected to the skyway system and to the Midtown Parking Garage. Its 245 rooms have floor-to-ceiling windows and smart TVs that can stream Netflix, Hulu and other services; and the hotel has several conference rooms and a fitness room. There’s no full-service restaurant; the AC Kitchen serves breakfast only, and the AC Lounge offers drinks and tapas plates in the evening. Marriott Rewards advance purchase rates start at $149.

Accommodations at Hilton's new Hampton Inn in Chicago's West Loop. (Image: Hilton)

Accommodations at Hilton’s new Hampton Inn in Chicago’s West Loop. (Image: Hilton)

In downtown Chicago, Hilton has cut the ribbon on a dual-branded hotel in the West Loop neighborhood. With a combined total of 336 rooms, the Hampton Inn by Hilton Chicago Downtown West Loop and the Homewood Suites by Hilton Chicago Downtown West Loop are at 116-118 N. Jefferson, between Randolph and Washington. That’s about halfway between the river and I-90, two blocks west of the Boeing headquarters. The Hampton Inn offers a daily hot breakfast, free Wi-Fi, 24-hour business center and a fitness center. The Homewood Suites has all-suite guest accommodations; each unit comes with a fully equipped kitchen and separate living and sleeping areas. There’s a hot breakfast buffet, evening social, free Wi-Fi and grocery shopping service. HHonors advance purchase rates start at $90 at both properties.

Lobby of the Pullman San Francisco Bay hotel (Image: Accor Hotels)

Lobby of the Pullman San Francisco Bay hotel (Image: Accor Hotels)

The big Sofitel located along Highway 101 and the shores on San Francisco Bay just south of the SFO near Redwood City is not new, but has a new name. It’s now the Pullman San Francisco Bay Hotel— still part of Accor, but likely a brand many Americans have not heard of. The only other Pullman hotel in the US is located in Miami. Have you stayed at a Pullman? What makes it different than a Sofitel? Its website states: “Today Pullman appeals to the new generation of professional travelers, the Pullman global nomads, and captures the significance of each moment and their pursuit of a work-life blend.” Rooms start at around $300 per night.

A room at the new Thompson Nashville. (Image: Thompson Hotels)

A room at the new Thompson Nashville. (Image: Thompson Hotels)

Thompson Hotels, known for its luxury boutique properties, has opened its newest U.S. location in Nashville. It’s at 401 11th Avenue South, in a trendy area called The Gulch where former industrial buildings have been transformed into commercial ventures. The hotel is on the same block as a popular music venue called The Station Inn. Dining options at The Thompson Nashville include a southern/seafood restaurant called The Marsh House; a bar and small-plate venue called L.A. Jackson; and Killebrew, serving coffee, breakfast sandwiches and grab-and-go lunch fare. The 12-story, 224-room Thompson ties into the local music culture with things like a classic jukebox in the lobby and vinyl records for sale in the minibars. Introductory rates start at $247.

The Westin Nashville is in the heart of downtown. (Image: Westin)

The Westin Nashville is in the heart of downtown. (Image: Westin)

Nashville’s other new hotel is the 27-story, 453-room Westin Nashville, at 807 Clark Place in the heart of the city, close to the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Ryman Auditorium and other attractions. The hotel has a rooftop pool and bar called L27 with daily live entertainment; a spa with nine treatment rooms; a casual lobby eatery called Decker & Dyer and a fancier venue called Oak Steakhouse Nashville. The Westin also has a dozen meeting rooms. Guests can use the WestinWorkout fitness studio or take advantage of the hotel’s suggested three- and five-mile jogging routes. Rates begin at $279.

Marriott's new AC Hotel in Atlanta's Buckhead district. (Image: Marriott)

Marriott’s new AC Hotel in Atlanta’s Buckhead district. (Image: Marriott)

In addition to its new AC Hotel in Minneapolis, Marriott has also cut the ribbon on an AC in Atlanta. The 166-room AC Hotel Atlanta Buckhead at Phipps Plaza, located at 3600 Wieuca Road Northeast, is the first new hotel in the city’s Buckhead district in eight years. Like other ACs, it lacks a full-service restaurant, but offers the AC Kitchen for breakfast and the AC lounge for drinks and evening small plate dining. Plus there is plenty to eat at the nearby Phipps Plaza or Lenox Square malls. There’s also an AC Library and a 24-hour fitness center with a heated indoor whirlpool. Marriott Rewards advance purchase rates start at $211.

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Hyatt’s brand new loyalty program

Downtown Denver's new dual-branded Hyatt Place/House is near the convention center. (Image: Hyatt)

Downtown Denver’s new dual-branded Hyatt Place/House is near the convention center. (Image: Hyatt)

Hyatt’s Gold Passport program will end this winter, replaced by a completely new one called World of Hyatt.

The hotel company said that the new World of Hyatt will begin on March 1

“Between now and then, members can continue to achieve and enjoy tier status in Hyatt Gold Passport and earn and redeem points as they always have,” Hyatt said. “Qualifying activity beginning January 1, 2017 will also count toward earning status in World of Hyatt when the program launches on March 1, 2017.”

Among the new features: All base program points will count toward tier status, including those earned for spending on dining and spa visits at Hyatt properties; members can earn a free night for staying at five different Hyatt brands; and qualifying elite members will be able to get confirmed suite upgrades at the time of booking.

The logo for the new loyalty program. (Image: Hyatt)

The logo for the new loyalty program. (Image: Hyatt)

The new program offers three elite levels: “Discoverist” status requires 10 qualifying nights or 25,000 base points; “Explorist” takes 30 qualifying nights or 50,000 base points; and “Globalist” is achieved after racking up 60 qualifying nights or 100,000 base points.

The Gold Passport program currently has two elite tiers – Platinum, achieved after five eligible stays or 15 total nights; and Diamond, requiring 25 eligible stays or 50 total nights. Platinum status provides room upgrades, a 15 percent point bonus and free premium Internet; Diamond status earns a 30 percent point bonus, Club access and free breakfast.

Hyatt said that under the new program, members will still earn five base points for every eligible dollar spent, and there will be no changes to the hotels included in each redemption category, nor to the number of points needed for free nights.

Blogger The Points Guy has compiled a pair of handy charts comparing the various elite level benefits under the current regime with those that will be offered to status members after the program changeover in March.

Gold Passport members will be getting more information on the transition “in the coming days,” Hyatt said, adding that it will “communicate directly with members about their new membership tier” before March 1.

How do you feel about the changes at Hyatt? How often do you stay at Hyatt hotels? Please leave your comments below. 

Don’t miss out on these popular TravelSkills posts:

Kicking support animals off planes | Shocked passenger refuses to pay $3 for water | Marriott-Starwood: Higher prices, better rewards | The 10,000 points question! | Eye-catching maps explain state of the world | Test your planespotting skills!

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Chinese hotel investors strike again – this time at Hilton

The new Hilton Cleveland Downtown overlooks Lake Erie. (Image: Hilton)

The new Hilton Cleveland Downtown overlooks Lake Erie. (Image: Hilton)

What is the fascination that Chinese companies have with U.S. hotel companies? Early this year, China’s Anbang Insurance made a $6.5 billion deal to acquire Strategic Hotels & Resorts, then followed up with a failed attempt to take over Starwood Hotels in a see-saw $14 billion bidding battle against Marriott.

Meanwhile, a unit of the Chinese conglomerate HNA Group last spring arranged with Minneapolis-based Carlson Companies to buy that privately-held firm’s Carlson Hotels business, including several Radisson brands as well as its 51 percent stake in Europe’s Rezidor Hotels Group. The price was not disclosed.

And now HNA Group has anted up $6.5 billion for a 25 percent stake in Hilton Worldwide; the deal is expected to close early next year.

The seller of the 25 percent Hilton stake — for which HNA paid a premium of almost 15 percent over the going price for Hilton shares – was the same firm that sold Strategic Hotels to Anbang: the giant U.S. investment house Blackstone Group, which took Hilton private in 2007 and then took it public with an IPO in 2013 that raised $2.3 billion. (By the way, Anbang also acquired the legendary Waldorf Astoria in New York in 2015 for almost $2 billion.)

The new deal will give HNA two seats on Hilton’s board. Blackstone will retain a 21 percent stake in Hilton Worldwide. HNA Group owns hotels, airlines (including China’s Hainan Airlines), airports, financial services firms and real estate companies.

San Diego's Hotel del Coronado. (Image: jim Glab)

San Diego’s Hotel del Coronado. (Image: Jim Glab)

Meanwhile, Anbang’s purchase of Strategic Hotels hit one little snag. Strategic has just 16 hotels, but they are prime properties like the InterContinental and Fairmont in Chicago, New York’s JW Marriott Essex House, and some Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton hotels. The group also includes San Diego’s Hotel del Coronado, and Blackstone had to cut that one out of the sale after objections from a U.S. government inter-agency group called the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.

The reason? National security concerns, because the del Coronado is right next to a giant U.S. Navy base in San Diego.

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Big news for Marriott Starwood credit card holders; JetBlue, too

London's Great Northern Hotel is now part of Starwood's Tribute Portfolio. (Image: Starwood)

Use your Marriott Rewards credit card at London’s hip Great Northern Hotel, a Starwood property (Image: Starwood)

Members of Starwood Preferred Guest, Marriott Rewards, Ritz-Carlton Rewards and JetBlue’s TrueBlue program have new options for racking up program points through credit card usage.

Marriott and Starwood said that effective immediately, U.S. holders of the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card by American Express will earn two Starpoints for every eligible dollar they spend with the card at any hotel that’s in the Marriott Rewards program.

On the flip side, U.S. holders of the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card from Chase and The Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card from JPMorgan will get five points in those loyalty programs for every eligible dollar spent on the cards at hotels that participate in Starwood Preferred Guest.

It’s the latest step in ongoing efforts by Marriott, Ritz-Carlton and Starwood to integrate their guest loyalty programs following the merger of Marriott and Starwood. Earlier, the companies said that loyalty members can link their accounts at members.marriott.com to achieve elite status matching and unlimited points transfers. At a meeting in New York, Marriott CEO said that members were linking accounts at a rapid clip– about 100,000 per day!

Citi cardholders can now move program points into JetBlue's TrueBlue program.. (Image: JetBlue)

Citi cardholders can now move program points into JetBlue’s TrueBlue program.. (Image: JetBlue)

Meanwhile, banking giant Citi announced that JetBlue’s TrueBlue has become the 14th travel loyalty program to link up with its ThankYou Rewards program.

The company said that Citi Premier and Prestige cardholders will be able to transfer ThankYou points into JetBlue program points at a rate of 1.25 to 1, and Preferred cardholders can do so at a 2-to-1 rate.

Eligible Citi cardholders can transfer points to JetBlue at www.thankyou.com/transfer or by calling 1-800-Thankyou.

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How to inspect your hotel room

Best Western Premier hotel Miami

A nice, new, clean and quiet room at the Best Western Premier hotel near Miami International Airport (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

On a recent overseas trip, in a fit of bleary-eyed jet-lag, I made the mistake of checking into a hotel without going through the standard list of questions I normally ask at the front desk to ensure I get a good room. (You can find that list here…it’s one of our most popular posts- ever!)

When I got to my assigned room, it was hot, smelled like disinfectant and had a view of a large exhaust fan. The air conditioning hummed and vibrated so loudly that I thought an A380 was landing on the roof. Despite wanting to just crawl into bed and crash after the 10-hour overnight flight (in premium economy), I returned to the front desk and told the clerk that the room was not acceptable. A few keystrokes and a smile later, she apologized, and handed me the key to another room in a recently renovated wing on the opposite end of the hotel.

What a change! The hallway to my room was bright and new. The bathroom was spotless, the room décor modern and clean, the air conditioner was already on, and I had a nice view of airport runways without a peep of airplane noise.

I learned then that it’s always a good idea to give your room a quick inspection as soon as you enter — to avoid having to ask for another room once you’ve unpacked and settled in.

It also reminded me of one of my frequent traveling parents’ maxims: Never take the first hotel room offered to you, especially if you plan to stay more than one night.

Aloha from Hawaii where we are burning off some SPG points at the St Regis Princeville on Kauai (Photo: Barkley Dean)

Stunning view from our room at the St Regis Princeville in Hawaii- but they don’t all look like this!  (Photo: Barkley Dean)

When I walk into a hotel room now, I always check the view, the air conditioning/heating and the bed. I pull back the bedspread to look for hair on the sheets or pillows (especially after some scary recent revelations), and I inspect around the mattress or box spring edges for any evidence of bedbugs (they look like flat appleseeds).

If I’m planning to work in the room, I’ll turn on my laptop and check the strength of the wi-fi signal before I unpack my bags.

I also check that there are disposable plastic cups for water because I’m never sure about the cleanliness of glasses.

I’m not the only one with a checklist. A good friend of mine who is also a hotel GM told me that as soon as she walks in a room, she flushes the toilet to make sure it is operational and checks grout lines in the tub and shower for a solid clean seal- a key indicator of the age and overall condition of the room.

Always check the space between the bedside table and bed for cleanliness (Photo: Chris McGinnis) Picturee- Hotel Nines in Portland, OR

Always check the space between the bedside table and bed for cleanliness (Photo: Chris McGinnis) Picturee- Hotel Nines in Portland, OR

She also said that she checks the the floor space between the nightstand and the bed, which indicates how thorough the room cleaning and inspection process has been. She also checks for air conditioning fan noise and looks out the window to see if there is anything that might disrupt sleep.

Which reminds me of another thing I frequently forget to ask when I make a reservation or check in: Does this room have a motion-sensitive thermostat that turns off in the middle of the night when I’m asleep? Is there a way to bypass that? I’ve read about several solutions to this on other blogs, but have so far been unable to bypass a hotel thermostat. Have you?

What are the first things you check when you walk into a hotel room? Please leave your comments below.

A similar version of this post was written by TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis for BBC.com 

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Marriott’s new beta-test hotel in Charlotte

The Great Room at the M-Beta at Charlotte Marriott City Center. (Image: Marriott)

The Great Room at the M-Beta at Charlotte Marriott City Center. (Image: Marriott)

Marriott’s 32-year-old Charlotte Marriott City Center in North Carolina has gone through some changes in recent months, and has now been repurposed as the lodging giant’s testing lab for new hotel concepts. It’s now called M-Beta at Charlotte Marriott City Center.

All big hotel companies have venues where they try out new room designs, guest technology and so on, but they are usually not for the public until the new concepts are actually approved and deployed. At this Charlotte hotel, Marriott guests are trying out the new ideas in real time.

Throughout the hotel, guests will see “Beta Buttons” that they can punch to register their approval of a particular innovation. “Beta Button engagement, votes and feedback on hotel innovations are then aggregated and brought to life in real-time via Beta Boards, digital screens placed throughout the hotel for all to see,” Marriott said.

Marriott chief Arne Sorenson (center) was present for the opening. (Image: Marriott)

Marriott chief Arne Sorenson (center) was present for the opening. (Image: Marriott)

The new concepts and services will change from time to time, but here’s what the property is testing right now:

*The elimination of the front desk, replaced by personal greeters who meet arriving guests in the lobby or even at curbside.

*A selection of hundreds of on-demand workouts that guests can access on video screens in the hotel’s fitness studio or in their rooms, plus access to nearby fitness centers.

*A meeting space that includes a full kitchen, “providing an elevated food and beverage experience that can be tailored to any type of gathering, from a brainstorm to a networking event.”

*An interactive experience in the hotel’s Stoke restaurant that lets guests communicate directly with chefs by removal of the wall between the kitchen and dining area. Guests can watch and learn, make suggestions, or take cooking classes.

*A new “social hub” that lets guests mingle, try out coffee and food offerings from local small businesses, and enjoy a varied program of musical, entertainment and educational events.

“Every corner of the hotel allows for rapid prototyping, inviting guests to test and give feedback in real-time, ultimately shaping their future hotel experience,” Marriott said.

Don’t miss out on these popular TravelSkills posts:

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Gorgeous new hotels: New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Maui, Buffalo

The impressive lobby of the new Four Seasons New York Downtown (Image: Four Seasons)

The impressive lobby of the new Four Seasons New York Downtown (Image: Four Seasons)

In domestic hotel developments, Four Seasons adds a second Manhattan location; the hotel closest to Los Angeles International Airport gets a makeover and rebranding; Hilton adds a DoubleTree in South Beach; Marriott Rewards members get a new option in Maui; and Starwood opens a Westin in the heart of New York State’s second-largest city.

At TravelSkills, we love NEW hotels– don’t miss our archive of the best of this beautiful new bunch here

Four Seasons Hotels, which has had a flagship property in midtown Manhattan for many years, has now opened a downtown location in the Big Apple. Located at 27 Barclay Street, at the corner of Church Street, The Four Seasons New York Downtown is close to the new World Trade Center and a block from City Hall Park. The property has 189 rooms and suites ranging from 400 to 2,400 square feet, and is home to the first Wolfgang Puck restaurant in Manhattan, called CUT. The hotel has a spa, an indoor lap pool and a 6,000 square foot fitness center. The building housing the hotel also has 157 Four Seasons private residences from one to five bedrooms, with access to hotel facilities. Rates begin at $629.

A refurbished suite at the Hyatt Regency at LAX (Image: Hyatt)

A refurbished suite at the Hyatt Regency at LAX (Image: Hyatt)

The Concourse Hotel, a block from Los Angeles International Airport at 6225 West Century Blvd., was already a Hyatt affiliate, but now the 580-room property is getting a $75 million overhaul and has been rebranded as the Hyatt Regency Los Angeles International Airport. The work should be finished in a few months, equipping all guest rooms with the Hyatt Grand Bed, wall-mounted 55-inch TVs with HDMI streaming, free high-speed Wi-Fi, and rain shower heads in the bathrooms. The redesigned lobby will feature a pair of new eateries: Open Market, with grab-and-go sandwiches, salads, soup, noodles, pastries and Illy coffee; and an all-day dining option called Unity LA. Free shuttles for guests depart to LAX every 10 minutes. Rates start around $186 for Gold Passport members.

Hilton's new DoubleTree in Miami's South Beach (Image: DoubleTree)

Hilton’s new DoubleTree in Miami’s South Beach (Image: DoubleTree)

What was once the 1954 Ankara Motel in Miami’s popular South Beach has been rebuilt and is now the newly opened Gates Hotel South Beach-A DoubleTree by Hilton. Located at 2360 Collins Avenue, the 235-room property is a walk away from Ocean Drive and the area’s dining and nightlife options. The hotel has a lobby bar that exits to an outdoor pool with solar-powered device charging stations. There’s a restaurant called The Continental; free Wi-Fi throughout the property; 24-hour business center and fitness center; guest bicycles; and free transportation to the beach. Rates start at $122.

The pool at Marriott's new Residence inn in Maui (Image: Marriott)

The pool at Marriott’s new Residence Inn in Maui (Image: Marriott)

Marriott Rewards members looking to redeem points for a Hawaii vacation have a new option: the newly-built, newly-opened Residence Inn by Marriott Maui Wailea. The all-suite property has studio, one-, and two-bedroom units with fully equipped kitchens and balconies. Recreational facilities include an outdoor pool and hot tub, putting green and basketball court. Guests get free hot breakfasts, grocery delivery service, and access to a fitness center, Wi-Fi, 24-hour grab-and-go market, and a business center. The hotel is located close to a shopping center, beaches, golf courses and a tennis club. Rates begin at $269.

Buffalo's new Westin is in the heart of downtown. (Image: Westin)

Buffalo’s new Westin is in the heart of downtown. (Image: Westin)

Got business in Buffalo? As part of an ongoing revival of the city’s downtown, Starwood Hotels has opened the newly-built Westin Buffalo at 250 Delaware Avenue, in the midst of the business and entertainment districts. All 116 rooms and suites have the signature Westin Heavenly Bed and Shower. The Westin offers 7,300 square feet of meeting space and a pair of dining venues: a signature restaurant called Patina 250 and the casual bistro-style Jake’s Café. Guests can take advantage of the WestinWORKOUT fitness center, and can borrow workout gear from New Balance or bicycles from the local Reddy Bikeshare program. Rates start at $166.

At TravelSkills, we love NEW hotels– don’t miss our archive of the best of this beautiful new bunch here

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Surprise winner for best value hotel program

The Wyndham Orlando Resort is part of the Wyndham Rewards program. (Image: Wyndham)

The Wyndham Orlando Resort is part of the Wyndham Rewards program. (Image: Wyndham)

Want to get the best possible return on your hotel spending when you claim award stays in a loyalty program? According to a new study, you won’t get the best reward stay value from Hilton, InterContinental, Marriott or Starwood.

The second annual investigation from IdeaWorks Company and Switchfly found that loyalty program members get the best return from Wyndham’s Wyndham Rewards, which provided members an average reward stay return of 13.6 percent on their spending. “That’s a 143 percent higher return than the reward value provided by Starwood SPG, which was ranked last among the six hotel loyalty programs at 5.6 percent for reward payback,” the company said.

In a similar study it conducted a year ago, IdeaWorks only included Marriott, Starwood, Hilton and InterContinental Hotels Group. This year, it added Wyndham and Choice Hotels International.

And this year’s study was conducted in August – just before the Marriott/Starwood merger was finalized, and before Marriott announced that members of Marriott Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest could link their loyalty accounts.

ideaworks

How did the company calculate a traveler’s award stay “return” on hotel spending? It conducted more than 1,300 reward stay requests across the six brands, recording the lowest point price for rewards and the corresponding dollar price of the room, adjusting for the different rates of point accrual in the various programs. Thus it came up with a percentage return on spending. (What this survey leaves out are the elite level perks that can greatly increase the perceived value of each program, especially in the eyes of business travelers.)

“For example, the 9% rate for Marriott Rewards represents average reward value payback of $9.00 for every $100 spent on hotel room rates,” the company said. “By comparison, IdeaWorks Company calculated that reward payback for major US airlines ranges from 3.1% to 7.9%.”

The report noted that these returns are only averages, and that the actual “payback” on award rooms can vary considerably depending on the property selected and the dates of stay, since room rates vary by demand while award prices generally remain the same. The best return the study found was a 39.1 percent rate for a December 10 stay at Wyndham’s NYC-The New Yorker hotel, where 15,000 points secured a room priced at $587 that night. The worst was a 2.0 percent return for a February 18 stay at Starwood’s Westin New York Grand Central, with 25,000 points required for a $253 room.

ideaworks2

The company said it added Wyndham and Choice to the study this year to include brands that are heavy in “the economy end of the market,” vs. the higher-end products of Hilton, IHG, Marriott and Starwood.

“Consumers should be careful when choosing a program,” the company noted.  “Choice has a very unusual and highly restrictive approach for availability and booking. General members can only book rewards 30 days in advance, or 60 days for hotels outside the US and Canada. Elite status provides a larger booking window up to 100 days in advance. And while Wyndham Grand (i.e., Wyndham’s high-end brand) was found to offer exceptional reward payback, the brand’s global footprint is limited to 30+ hotels in eight countries.”

A room at the Howard Johnson Manhattan Soho hotel in NYC (Photo: Wyndham Hotels)

A room at the Howard Johnson Manhattan Soho hotel in NYC (Photo: Wyndham Hotels)

Wyndham has 15 brands, including Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, Wyndham Garden Hotels, Wyndham Grand, Wingate by Wyndham, TRYP by Wyndham, Travelodge, Super 8, Ramada, Microtel, Knights Inn, Howard Johnson’s, Hawthorn Suites, Dolce, Days inn and Baymont Inn & Suites.

What do you think of Wyndham’s brands? Does it’s higher value rating make you more inclined to stay at one of them? Please leave your comments below. 

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Earn airline points for Airbnb stays

Qantas 747's like this one return to SFO in December (Image: QANTAS)

Qantas has a new way for loyalty program members to earn points. (Image: QANTAS)

Partnerships with hotel chains have been a mainstay of airline loyalty programs for decades. And now a “sharing economy” enterprise that some see as a threat to the hotel business is slowly wading into the same pool.

That enterprise is Airbnb, which has been making a concerted effort in recent months to court business travelers with things like automatic links to corporate expense reporting systems and up-front information about the business traveler-friendliness of its member properties. And it has seen business traveler bookings surge as a result. The obvious next step was airline loyalty programs.

Qantas just announced a new tie-in with Airbnb that will let its customers earn points in its frequent flyer program when they book through the Qantas website (www.qantas.com). Participants can earn one Qantas point for every dollar they spend on Airbnb accommodations worldwide, if they book through the Qantas site.

“We know many of our customers are just as likely to arrange an Airbnb as they are to book a hotel, and we wanted to recognize and reward them for that,” said Qantas CEO Alan Joyce.

This modern two BR Victorian in San Francisco's Noe Valley is $300/nt (Image: Airbnb)

This modern two BR Victorian in San Francisco’s Noe Valley is $300/night (Image: Airbnb)

Qantas isn’t the first airline to do this. About a year ago, Virgin America entered into a similar partnership with Airbnb for bookings made via a link at the Virgin website. Members of Virgin’s Elevate program earn one point per dollar spent on Airbnb. Members who have never used Airbnb before and create an account get a one-time bonus of 1,500 Elevate points and a $20 Airbnb credit. Virgin’s tie-in with Airbnb is currently effective through October 2017.

Meanwhile, United just added Airbnb to the vendors listed on its MileagePlus X smartphone app. The new partnership allows users to rack up three MileagePlus miles per dollar spent at Airbnb. If you aren’t using MileagePlus X yet, here’s a link to get started.

And American Express has a tie-in with Airbnb that lets its Membership Rewards participants pay with program points for Airbnb bookings. Members must create an Airbnb profile with their American Express login.

 Readers: Would you be more likely to book Airbnb if it was affiliated with your primary airline?  Post comments below.

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Most popular: New transcons | Crazy low fares | Dogs | United Polaris | Odd flight numbers | New SeaTac bridge

Delta Sky Club San Francisco

Watching the sun and the planes from a pretty perch at Delta’s exceptional Sky Club at SFO (Chris McGinnis)

TravelSkills’ 10 most popular posts over the last week (descending order):

1 This post has gone viral: Kicking “support animals” off the planeWeekend Edition

Routes: New JetBlue transcon + more Mint, Delta, OneJet, United, AA

3 A sneak peek: Deep Dive: United Polaris business class (Part 1 of 3)

4 Flight 420? Unique, unusual or eccentric flight numbers

United Polaris

Soon in United Polaris business class: A Bloody Mary cart on flights that depart before noon (Photo: Scott Hintz)

Deep Dive: United Polaris business class (Part 2 of 3) Food & beverage, lounge

6 Low demand = super low prices this fall: The season for jaw-dropping low fares

7 100,000 members link accounts every day: Marriott Starwood: Higher prices, better rewards

Routes: SFO, Seattle, Oakland-Rome, JFK, Boston, Montreal, Detroit

9 Nice work, DL! Inside Delta’s newest SkyClub (Slideshow)

10 Vamos! Airlines start rolling out Havana schedules, fares

Renaissance New York Times Square bar

Looking down on the cacophony of Times Square from the cozy, recently renovated R Lounge at the Renaissance New York Times Square hotel (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Last week I was in NYC for the Skift Forum, which is something like TED talks, but for the travel industry. I spent two days hanging out with wunderkinds, CEOs, visionaries, and media in the spectacular Alice Tully Hall in Lincoln Center. (More on what I learned in a future post.) Thanks to the Renaissance New York Times Square hotel (4.5 stars on TripAdvisor) for putting me up for two nights to check out its latest updates, which include a refresh of the dramatic R Lounge overlooking Times Square. Since I’m not a big fan of Times Square, I found the lounge the perfect place to quietly sit above the fracas and enjoy the colors and a cocktail. I also checked out the hotel’s newest suites on the fourth floor…all are big bright (white and canary yellow) with terraces overlooking 7th Avenue. In a quirky twist, the terraces are carpeted in astroturf and have life sized plastic sheep that appear to be grazing. Rates start at around $350 per night. — Chris

A big bright white & yellow room with terrace overlooking Times Square (Chris McGinnis)

A big bright white & yellow room with terrace overlooking Times Square (Chris McGinnis)

Links to stories from other sources that we thought you’d like to read:

Cathay Pacific B777 Economy

Economy class on Cathay Pacific’s B777 is now 9-abreast as seen here. Soon it will squeeze in one more seat.  (Photo: Ramsey Qubein)

Oh no! Cathay Pacific to introduce dreaded 10-across seating on Boeing 777s

A short history of airport moving sidewalks

Gogo plans to speed up inflight wi-fi…. in 2018

Frontier and Spirit to join TSA PreCheck 

Maps that show how Americans speak English differently

West Elm starts a hotel brand

Best Western launches new brand in the economy hotel segment

Check out what’s coming at Seattle-Tacoma International: A new glass enclosed pedestrian sky bridge that’s high enough for a 747 to pass underneath. Construction begins this fall and it’s expected to be operational in three years as part of the airport’s new international terminal. Full report from Glenn Farley here.

Frontier Airlines passengers can now use TSA PreCheck

Harvard Business Review warns biz travelers are targets of ‘spymail’ hacking on the road

World airline group finds air rage incidents are increasing

Orlando Airport’s lobby gets 1,560-foot-long hi-def video wall

Air France KLM will install Gogo satellite Wi-Fi in long-haul fleet

Uber starts selling gift cards

Lufthansa acquires the rest of Brussels Airlines

Air Berlin’s fleet shrinks in restructuring plan

Celebrity chef brings Latin cuisine to DFW Airport

Don’t miss out on these popular TravelSkills posts! Kicking support animals off planes | Shocked passenger refuses to pay $3 for water | Marriott-Starwood: Higher prices, better rewards | The 10,000 points question! | Eye-catching maps explain state of the world | Test your planespotting skills! )

DONT MISS! The 100,000 points question!

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Popular: Dogs on planes | SkyClubs | Marriott’s big move | 100,000 points | Mis-pronounced foods

Suzie Dog Labrador Retriever

My dog Suzie wonders why everyone’s so upset about dogs on planes! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

TravelSkills’ 10 most popular posts over the last week (descending order):

1 Don’t miss comments from both sides of this hot issue: Kicking “support animals” off the plane

2 It’s a bad news-good news story: Marriott Starwood: Higher prices, better rewardsWeekend Edition

Routes: Finnair to SFO, Delta, Virgin Australia, Austrian, AA, SAS + more

It’s go time for huge Marriott-Starwood merger

5 Private passageway for the posh: British Airways’ new “millionaire’s door” at Heathrow

Airport news: Inside newest Delta SkyClub + Phoenix, Seattle, Boston, LAX

7 What the future holds: An amazing upgrade for LAX- in pictures

8 Bedazzling, story-telling maps: Eye-catching maps explain the state of the world

9 Got THE card yet? The 100,000 points question

10 How does yours rank? 5 airports with best/worst cell phone reception

Links to stories from other sources that we thought you’d like to read:

Crystal Cruises plans to have a B777 like this to whisk its top customers to the ship (Photo: Crystal Cruises)

Crystal Cruises plans to have a B777 with interiors like this to whisk its top customers to the ship (Photo: Crystal Cruises)

Crystal Cruises pimps out a B777 like you’ve never seen before

Alaska-Virgin deal hits snag, delays ensue

Virgin America’s new app has landed! 

Hawaiian Air nonstops to London? On an A380? 

Basking in SFO’s $5.7 billion to-do list

Alaska Air not expected to decide on fate of Virgin brand until late this year 

Earn Delta EQMs with new Hilton promo (registration required)

BRUSCHETTA (broo-SKEH-tah)

16 foods you are probably mispronouncing

JetBlue considering adding wide-bodies to its fleet?

Virgin America flight attendants angry as merger approaches

Virgin Atlantic’s A330s will all have speedy satellite Wi-Fi by year’s end

The Fairmont Claremont (Image: Fairmont)

The Fairmont Claremont (Image: Fairmont)

Bay Area’s historic Claremont Hotel becomes a Fairmont after an overhaul

Carlson Rezidor Hotels offers its loyalty members direct booking discounts

Dubious honor for Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta Airport

Southwest exec discusses carrier’s international growth plans

World’s airlines score $40 billion in fees for 2015; United leads the pack

New app handles same-day bookings at independent luxury hotels