Travel companies teach customer-service lessons

One of the biggest misconceptions about the travel industry is that it offers the worst customer service around. In fact, in the last couple of years, airline and hotel companies have achieved significant improvements, and it would be wise for other businesses to watch and learn.

Regular readers of this column can testify that I’m no apologist for the travel sector — I try to point out both good and bad practices, though the criticism may sometimes outweigh the praise. But I get angry when I read or hear in the media that airlines are synonymous with bad customer service…

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…

Free hotel Internet for elites slowly becomes the norm

Another domino in the hotel fees game has began falling. Three of the world’s largest chains — Starwood, Marriott and Hyatt — now offer free Internet access to their elite members. Another two, however — InterContinental and Hilton — are holding out. For how long?

Like most frequent travelers, who are usually also elite members of various loyalty programs, I’ve become accustomed to free hotel perks, such as breakfast, room upgrades and lounge access. At the same time, I’ve oddly got used to paying Internet fees that are sometimes higher for one day than my monthly charge at home, and for speed several times lower…

Hilton, InterContinental cross swords

Fierce competition in the hospitality business is nothing new, but last week one of the world’s largest hotel companies took the game to a new level with a bold move aimed at enticing customers of a major competitor.

The InterContinental Hotels Group took advantage of many frequent travelers’ anger with Hilton Worldwide for devaluing its loyalty program, HHonors, last month and offered them bonus points if they also have an account with InterContinental’s scheme, Priority Club. As I reported in November, Hilton decided to increase the number of points required for “award” stays at many of its hotels…

Donate miles or money to Haiti?

Are airlines and hotel companies trying to benefit from charity donations to Haiti? When you donate miles or points, how do they decide into how many dollars your contribution converts? Should they be more generous than they are?

Every major U.S. carrier and hotel chain is offering the members of its loyalty program to redeem points in support of earthquake relief operations in Haiti, which was almost totally devastated earlier this month. For many Americans who may be short on cash but have thousands of points in various accounts, that is a rather attractive option…

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…

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…

Will cost-cutting trim elite hotel perks?

Do you still find having top elite hotel status worthwhile? Are you worried that cost-cutting might take away some of the benefits that make you stay loyal to your preferred chain?

The management of those loyalty programs desperately wants you to believe that, despite the hard times in the travel industry, the perks you’ve become used to aren’t going away. After all, the last thing they want in this difficult economic environment is to lose their best customers. As if they needed a reminder of the dire business climate, the latest figures for the week that ended Aug. 22 showed that U.S. hotel occupancy fell more than 7 percent to about 60 percent compared to the same period last year…

Higher standards for travel sector?

How many horror stories about airline customer service have you heard? There are certainly plenty in the press and many more on various travel Web sites. Still, do we apply the same standards and scrutiny to companies outside the travel industry?

The nature of the airline and hotel businesses requires constant face-to-face interaction with customers, and an employee’s every step is evaluated by a flier or a hotel guest much more often than by a supervisor. In fact, thanks to the Internet, thousands of people can learn about an incident involving a front-line employee hours — if not days — before the company’s management does. Earlier this month, a San Francisco man complained that a United Airlines agent took a break…

Hotel rates too high? Get creative!

Is the room rate for your next hotel stay too high for your travel budget? No need to cancel that trip yet. There are creative ways to pay for your accommodation, and using your own money is just one of the options.

The creativity I have in mind involves more than just redeeming your hotel points with a loyalty program. In fact, let’s assume that you don’t have enough points for your intended stay. Mike Schlappig was recently in that position. He was planning a trip to Egypt next month and wanted to spend the last two nights at Le Meridien Pyramids in Cairo. However, he was unpleasantly surprised by the rate of $220 per day, which is relatively high for that market…