The benefits of non-airline credit cards

You may have seen TV commercials featuring American Express or Capital One credit cards that promise points or miles with the clout to get you any seat on any airline without blackout dates. Those financial services companies try to distinguish their own loyalty schemes from airline programs, which restrict access to award seats.

Non-airline programs are not affected by award seat limits, because they don’t need award availability to book you on a flight. Instead, they sell you a regular revenue ticket, charge the ticket price on your credit card, then credit the cash amount back to your card and take miles or points out of your account, whose number is based on a standard formula…

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…

Wyndham today, Sheraton tomorrow

I’m no expert in hotel management, but it seems reasonable to expect that, when a Wyndham property becomes a Sheraton, there would be a transition period — even just one day — during which the hotel would be closed to make various changes. That didn’t happen in Miami, and hundreds of guests are still being disserviced as a result every day.

I stayed at the Sheraton Miami Airport last week and was stunned how easily a hotel can get away with charging high rates but failing to provide basic necessities, such as heat. I’m all for letting the market determine prices, except that guests book rooms at the Sheraton not knowing they will be cold and their TV won’t work…

Hilton or Starwood? Not even a close call

How do you decide which hotel to choose in the city you are visiting if you want to redeem your points for a free night? I had to make that decision this month, and unlike in many similar situations, it wasn’t even a close call.

I usually start with the chains where I have top elite status — Hilton HHonors and Starwood. Hilton’s Diamond benefits are inferior to Starwood’s Platinum perks — Hilton doesn’t give you suite upgrades and free Internet. The only advantage with Hilton is that award stays count toward elite status, which is rather significant in my book…

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…

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…