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…

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…

Airline elite status now easier to earn

Are you resigned to being kicked off the airline elite-status wagon because your travel has dropped significantly this year? Don’t give up quite yet. The trips you make in the next couple of months could earn you double miles that count toward your status, so you could maintain it with half the normally required travel.

It has been rather amusing, though hardly surprising given the persistent slump in demand for seats, in the last two weeks to watch the so-called U.S. legacy carriers match and sometimes outbid each other in their efforts to entice more customers to buy tickets. You might have heard about the various fare discounts currently on offer, including prices to Europe of just more than $400, including taxes and fees, which haven’t been seen in years…

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…

Hilton changes rewards

With airlines changing the rules of their frequent-flier programs to help improve their balance sheets, it was only a matter of time before hotel chains began to re-evaluate their own loyalty schemes.

Still, many travelers were surprised, confused and even angry when, earlier this month, Hilton Hotels Corp. announced two major changes to its program, Hilton HHonors. It made it more difficult to qualify for elite status, and it restricted access to so-called executive lounges at its high-end properties. In 2005, Hilton pioneered a “rolling VIP tier qualification” system, which replaced the industry standard of requiring a certain number of stays or nights during a calendar year — from Jan. 1 through Dec. 31 — to win elite status…

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…