How not to sell hotel rooms

If you are in the hospitality business and a potential customer inquires about a product or service you are not offering at the moment, would you suggest an alternative or simply send the person away? The reservations office at the Dorchester South Beach Hotel did the latter last week, which I attributed to poorly trained staff.

I noticed on TravelZoo’s Twitter page a very attractive deal at the Dorchester, promising a room “across the street from the ocean in Miami’s trendy South Beach Art Deco District for $69 per night.” I just booked a trip to Miami in January, and though it seemed the promotion wouldn’t last that long, I thought I’d inquire anyway. I called the hotel’s in-house reservations number, and an agent named Alvaro told me the low rate was valid only through late October…

Military lounges are airport oases

If you are in the military, you have probably visited the special lounges at the airports close to your base on your way to or from deployment. But did you know that you can use dozens of such lounges across the country while on a personal trip with your family?

Those so-called airport centers are operated by the United Services Organization (USO), a private, nonprofit group whose mission is “to support the troops by providing morale, welfare and recreation-type services to our men and women in uniform.” I’ve written about airline business lounges before, and like most frequent fliers, I can hardly imagine travel without the oasis they provide in crowded terminals. I had no idea, however, that there were military lounges…

Myths vs. realities of celebrity travel

Who is the biggest celebrity you’ve seen on a plane, at an airport or in a hotel? Did they draw attention to themselves or quietly mind their business? Whatever happened, you probably told stories about it.

As we were reminded last week, the only celebrity travel tales commanding media interest tend to be those that involve making a scene. Actress Lindsay Lohan, the Fox News Web site reported, did just that at the Tampa, Fla., airport Jan. 31, when she was told that there were no first-class seats left on her Delta Airlines flight. “You’d better come and visit me back [in coach] in case I die,” she was quoted as telling a friend traveling with her who had secured a seat upfront…

New hopes for rail travel

Have you heard that trains are “in” again? They have been “out” for so long, it’s almost hard to believe it, but President-elect Barack Obama’s decision to ride the rail into Washington for his inauguration has excited many train lovers.

Since flying became the main form of long-distance transportation in the United States in the past couple of decades, repeated warnings by railroad executives and industry advocates that insufficient funding and out-of-date equipment would lead to the system’s collapse seemed to fall on deaf ears. Finally this fall, Congress more than doubled funding for Amtrak, the semi-public company, in a $13 billion railroad improvement bill sponsored by Reps. James L. Oberstar, Minnesota Democrat, and John L. Mica, Florida Republican…

Brand USA falters

If you’ve traveled overseas in the past few years and watched CNN International in your hotel room or at an airport, you must have seen the commercial promoting travel to Croatia that runs several times a day.

More recently, newly independent Montenegro, another part of former Yugoslavia, has been showing off its tourist attractions on the air. It’s only natural for small countries to do that, but even Germany has promoted its tourism on National Public Radio. When was the last time you saw or heard an ad campaign aimed at foreign visitors to the United States? For many years, both government and travel industry officials assumed that Brand USA was a sufficient incentive for millions of foreigners to flock to the new world and spend even more millions of dollars here…

Trying, crying times

Ted Olson’s eyes fill with tears when he talks about his late wife, Barbara, but he doesn’t mind the emotion, even in public. More than eight months after she died in the September 11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon, he still can’t get used to waking up alone in bed and not speaking with her on the telephone several times a day.

“This was a love affair that lasted as long as we knew each other,” he says, staring into the distance. “That relationship was the most wonderful thing that ever happened to me, and when I think about her, I can hardly think about anything else.”

Olson has had a lot to think about — he is the US solicitor-general, or the government’s top courtroom lawyer — but trying times such as these are certainly no novelty for him. During the disputed 2000 presidential election, he argued George W. Bush’s case before the Supreme Court. In the early 1980s, he defended President Ronald Reagan in the infamous Iran-Contra scandal…

Being airline elite can be simple

Many of you must already hate me — not me personally, but people like me, known as “elite” passengers.

Remember that time you were on standby for hours, then suddenly a guy walked over to the gate, asked the agent if he could get on what you hoped would be your flight, because he didn’t want to wait another hour for his original flight? A minute later, he walked away with a boarding pass in hand, and there was no seat for you on the plane. It wasn’t me, but it could have been. Elite passengers can be added to a waiting list minutes before a flight and go right to the top. The highest-level elites — and their travel companions — are exempt from all sorts of fees…