Hilton tries hard to lose my business

When it comes to elite status downgrades, the landing can be either hard or soft, and each company in the travel industry has its own rules. Hilton’s harsh and inflexible policy has just made it easier for me to defect — a move I’ve been contemplating for more than a year.

I have previously written columns critical of Hilton HHonors, the hotel chain’s loyalty program. I haven’t enjoyed it, because I like the person in charge of the program — Jeff Diskin, senior vice president for global customer marketing at Hilton Worldwide. However, Hilton HHonors has lost much of its competitiveness in recent years…

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…

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…

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…

Travelers unearth rare ‘deals’

How many frequent-flier miles or hotel points have you earned without setting foot on a plane or sleeping in a bed other than your own? To what lengths would you go to beef up your account?

Most of us have credit cards that earn points with at least one of the many loyalty programs available. There also are Web sites that track promotions in various industries on a daily basis. Then there are those deals that were never meant to be deals. About two years ago, American Express Co., the fourth-largest U.S. credit card issuer, began what company officials called a pilot program that allowed customers to use their cards to buy traveler’s checks without the standard $15 fee…

Year-end travel deals trimmed

Does elite status with your preferred airline or hotel chain seem elusive this year? The good news is, year-end promotions offering elite fast-track and bonus points are back. The bad news is, they are fewer and less generous than in the past.

That, of course, is hardly surprising, with all the ills that have befallen the travel industry in recent months. What is surprising is the diversity of those deals, depending on the loyalty program to which you belong. No two of them are exactly alike — except that most require registration and end Dec. 15, so holiday travel is not covered. American Airlines is offering its customers who fly a round trip between the United States and Britain a free companion ticket for a future trip to either Britain or the Caribbean…

Traveling solo has its charm

How many times have you wanted to take a trip somewhere, but ended up staying home because you didn’t want to travel alone? Next time, don’t let that ruin your plans. Traveling solo is a great way to see new places and make new friends.

I don’t mean joining a tour group, though that’s certainly one way to meet like-minded people. Such groups tend to visit the most obvious tourist sites and don’t interact with locals — not the best path to learning about other cultures and lifestyles. If you pay for a plane ticket to a foreign country, you are probably not the type to spend the trip watching MTV in your hotel room and eating at McDonald’s. And most likely, you do at least some preparation by reading travel guides to figure out what places you should visit…