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…

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…

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…

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…

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…