Educating the flying public

Do you find that air travel has become a complex game of numerous airline rules, growing restrictions, oversold flights and never-ending fees? Do you feel knowledgeable enough and prepared to navigate that labyrinth before, during and even after a trip?

I often compare booking travel to a science — with so many different booking codes, fares, upgrade requirements, penalties and other conditions for changes and cancellations, it’s almost impossible for fliers to keep track of it all. That makes them heavily dependent on airline agents, and it’s well known that you can hear different answers to the same question…

Hotels offer flexibility to earn loyalty

What makes a hotel loyalty program most competitive? Is it the elite benefits it grants its best customers or the variety of options it offers for redeeming earned points? Does it matter who’s asking: a program executive or a traveler?

It turns out, it does. As a customer, if I decide to be loyal to a hotel chain, the first thing I do is look up the requirements for achieving top elite status, and then the benefits that status would give me. Only after that do I consider the value of the program’s points. However, Steven S. Sickel, senior vice president for distribution and relationship marketing at the InterContinental Hotels Group, who oversees the chain’s loyalty scheme, Priority Club, has a different perspective…

Customers gain sway over airlines

If you thought complaints about a policy of your preferred airline would fall on deaf ears, last week proved you wrong. As travel companies struggle to survive the economic crisis, they are increasingly listening to their most loyal customers.

As I reported in this column, United Airlines announced last month that it soon would end advance domestic upgrades, which could be confirmed using electronic certificates top elite travelers get if they fly at least 10,000 miles per quarter. Though United tried to mask that huge loss for its best customers with the promise of automatic “free upgrades” if space in first or business class is still available a couple of days before a flight, the outcry against the new policy was overwhelming…

Top hotel benefits suddenly denied

An automatic upgrade to a hotel’s executive floor, including free access to its executive lounge, is one of the most cherished benefits of top elite status with large chains, such as Hilton and Starwood. So what do you do when it’s denied to you?

I tried to find the right answer to that question in Bangkok last week, but, of course, it depends on the reason for the denial — perhaps a lounge closure due to renovation or cost-saving by reducing staff — so I wanted to make sure I understood it well before complaining too much and asking for an alternative benefit during my one-night stay. Many hotel programs used to offer free upgrades and lounge access to their gold members, but in the last year or so, they have limited them to the highest elite level…