Hilton embraces ‘games-players’

It’s no secret in the hotel loyalty business that Hilton HHonors has been probably the least creative and attractive among the major programs in recent years. Fortunately, its management has recognized that weakness and begun to address it, albeit cautiously.

While competitors such as Starwood, which includes the Sheraton, Westin and other brands, and to a lesser extent the InterContinental Hotel Groups Priority Club, came up with various promotions quarter after quarter, Hilton’s strategy seemed heavily reliant on name-recognition and reputation…

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…

Hilton devalues its loyalty program

Elite members of Hilton HHonors, the hotel chain’s loyalty scheme, have been puzzled for years by its sliding competitiveness. Now the company’s management has stunned them by devaluing the program even more at a time when the industry desperately needs frequent travelers.

Beginning in January, you will need about 25 percent more points on average to book a free night at a Hilton chain hotel, including Conrad, Doubletree and Embassy Suites. That is the combined effect of increased redemption requirements and raised “award” categories of many properties…

United cuts advance domestic upgrades

If you’ve become accustomed to upgrading your domestic flights on United Airlines months in advance, the party will soon be over. The carrier is abandoning its current system of so-called confirmed upgrades in favor of the last-minute upgrades that are more popular in the U.S. industry.

United announced the change last week, although it’s not planning to implement it until spring. The current system apparently was confusing for some passengers, although I prefer to call it sophisticated and not at all difficult to master if you are a semi-frequent flier. However, that’s not why United is making the change. Rather, in trying to maximize revenue from selling first-class seats for cash, it will keep more of those seats open until just before departure…

Cheap airfares endure

Who says that cheap plane tickets are a thing of the past? How would you like to go skiing in Utah this winter for less than $150 round trip from the East coast, including all taxes? Rather visit a warmer place? How about a ticket to Hawaii for less than $300?

Yes, these are real prices, but you might need to do some homework to get them. Airlines now publish low fares less frequently and often pull them off the market within hours. We’ve all heard travel experts warning that air fares have nowhere else to go but up, mainly because of record-high jet-fuel prices, as well as predictions that the era of affordable air travel is over. That may well be what the future holds. The present, however, begs to differ…

Stories about Sharon Stone

Just after 3 pm on an unseasonably hot spring day, an elegant, black sports car pulls up in front of a posh, downtown hotel in San Francisco, and out steps Sharon Stone. Sporting a stylish red scarf, she takes off her sunglasses and walks towards a virile-looking man in a dark suit and cowboy boots. This is Phil Bronstein, her husband of two years and executive editor of the San Francisco Examiner.

Stone and Bronstein then sit down for their first interview together since their wedding on Valentine’s Day, 1998. At the time, gossip columnists were quick to give their marriage no more than a year. They were wrong, but the couple acknowledge the difficulties of a marriage involving two of the most fickle of all professions.

“You work really, really hard at it, because that’s what’s required for a successful relationship,” Stone says, once the waiters in the hotel’s restaurant finally retire, having assured her of the pleasure of her presence…