Seven Irish Things You Want To Do in Dublin

 

By Robert McGarvey

 

Suddenly Dublin is an “in” capital again, in part because of Brexit worries among the London monied set (many are weighing Dublin as a safer harbor) and specifically for this readership because Joe Brancatelli has found for subscribers a special Aer Lingus business class fare to Europe that includes free stopovers in Dublin or Shannon.

The stopover isn’t mandatory – you can choose to fly on to Rome or Milan, Italy; Madrid or Barcelona, Spain; and Paris, London or Amsterdam. Word of advice: do plan to spend a couple night in Dublin.  If you haven’t been before, it’s a must.  And if you’ve been before, know that Dublin has been in continuous, sometimes wrenching change over the last 30 years as it transformed from a bucolic capital of an impoverished agrarian state into a hubbub of tech and real estate deals which led to an epic meltdown but now the capital again rises as an approachable, also unique city.

Size matters. Dublin is small.  Here’s a list of EU cities ranked by population.  Dublin comes in 49. that’s behind Cologne, Leipzig, even Bremen, tho it does nose out Lisbon among EU capitals.

That’s a key to its charm. This is a town that can be readily explored and enjoyed in a few days. Walk the City Centre. Stroll along the River Liffey.  Dublin is a charming, very old place and just being there is fun.

The key to enjoying Ireland is to do uniquely Irish things.  Treat Dublin as a small London and, well, you’ll be bored because London it isn’t.

Mainly proudly so. That’s what to focus on. How?

Drink a pint.  Joe Brancatelli recently snorted to me about pint prices in Dublin topping five Euros and he’s right — expect to pay near six in the trendy Temple Bar neighborhood.  But two things: you don’t tip the barman in Ireland and this will be the best Guinness you have ever tasted.

Personally I despised the stuff – tarry bitter swill, I thought growing up in northern New Jersey.  In Dublin it just tastes grand, sweet in fact, always does but no need for more than one or two.  It’s the first that taste like nectar.

Where to drink?  Not in a hotel.  Pick a pub frequented by locals in whatever neighborhood you happen to be. Personally I’d point you to John Kavanaugh’s near Glasnevin Cemetary in north Dublin.  Michael Collins, Brendan Behan,  Maude Gonne, Parnell, O’Connell, a who’s who of important Catholics in Irish history are buried there.  Stop in the cemetery, say a prayer, be Irish. Then toast the departed with a Guinness.

The Book of Kells.  I never go to Dublin without seeing the Book of Kells at Trinity College, itself a delightful, oldtime – Elizabethan – college (and still a credibly good institution of higher education).  The illuminated manucript is believed to have been created around 800 A.D.; it’s often said to be Ireland’s finest national treasure.

National Gallery of Ireland. Call me ignorant but I had no idea the Nobel laureate poet William Butler Yeats had a brother Jack until I visited the National Gallery and saw a grand collection of his art.  That is exactly the beauty of this museum: the emphasis is on things Irish so rather than having minor works by minor 17th century Dutch painters, it has extensive holdings in artists who really get Ireland because they are Irish.

James Joyce.  The other much celebrated Irish writer in my mind is James Joyce and Dublin was a city that figured large in his literature, especially Dubliners and Ulysses.  There’s Davy Byrnes pub where the thing is to order a gorgonzola cheese sandwich and a glass of red wine.  There’s Gresham Hotel, now Hotel Riu Plaza, a central place in “The Dead” short story. There’s Sandymount, a stop on the DART lightrail, and a setting for important action in Ulysses.  You could spend days retracing Joyce’s Dublin and the surprise is that much is still in tact.

A full Irish breakfast.  Don’t tell your cardiologist – I won’t tell mine – but a trip to Dublin is not finished until you start the day with a full Irish breakfast at a no frills place like TJ’s in north Dublin but near City Center.  Again, get out of the hotel and look for a neighborhood place that dishes up the real deal with fried eggs, toast, bacon, bangers, potatoes, black pudding, a few spoons of baked beans and, yes, have a cup of tea with cream and sugar.  Wherever you eat don’t spend over 10 Euros for it.  That’s plenty for a real breakfast, pay more and it’s too fancy.

A Night at the Theater.  What I love about Dublin theater is it’s easiness.  Usually I have bought same day tickets.  Typical price: about 30 Euros.  You can’t dream of doing similar on Broadway, not even off Broadway.  My usual haunt is the Abbey aka the National Theatre of Ireland. It opened in 1904. Great history including W. B. Yeats and G. B. Shaw. The Gate also is worth a look.

L’Ecrivain.  People often ask where to go for a gourmet meal in Dublin – a city that’s had a culinary renaissance – and I still point them to chef Derry Clarke’s L’Ecrivain in City Centre, where the unexpected – deer, partridge – are there with the expected (local prawns, wild turbot). A perennial Michelin star winner.  I still recall my first visit, maybe a dozen years ago, when the chef-proprietor joined me at my table after I’d finished my meal with a bottle of Midleton whiskey in hand and introduced me to what I believe is Ireland’s finest tipple.  I can’t promise he will do the same for you but the Midleton is on the menu at 22 Euros a shot. Taste it.

What about a hotel recommendation? Nah.  I have never stayed in one I’d rave about, and I’ve not stayed at one I hated either.  The TripAdvisor ranking is a good starting point.  Set your budget, select a neighborhood – I recommend City Centre, posh Dublin 4, or grittier Glasnevin – and you’re off.

Tiocfaidh ár lá.

 

Robert McGarvey has visited Dublin since 1989.  He holds Irish citizenship and lately admits to thinking about relocating there.

Your Views on Business Travel: The Amex Take

 

By Robert McGarvey

 

American Express says it knows what we are thinking about business travel.  

That’s the claim in the inaugural American Express Business Travel Survey, where YouGov surveyed 251 adults and their answers produced the results.

Do they in fact think as we do?

Surprisingly yes, often. At least when I use myself as the barometer.  Not always – in a few cases I strenuously disagreed – but in many instances we are on the same page.

What about you?

Below I provide the key Amex survey results.  Use the comments form to note your agreements or disagreement.

57% of us say business travel makes our work more interesting. Count me in. Travel broadens the mind, in pleasure and also business.

62% say the face to face time in travel spent with colleagues is a top perk. Yep. I have made and kept a number of friends initially encountered on business trips.  I have also learned a lot in informal conversations over coffee at meetings.  

77% say last minute delays are the most common setback in travel.  True. And seemingly ever more of an inescapable hassle.  

61% pointed to connectivity and tech issues as common trouble spots.  Right on. But I have to say: issues seem to occur a lot less nowadays, except when traveling to exotic foreign or rural destinations.  In Berlin my phone works exactly as it does in Bayonne. And WiFi makes connecting a laptop as easy as turning it on.  

60% said they had problems with last minute changes to business agendas and meeting locations.  Can’t say I see this often.  You?

67% said experiencing new cultures and countries is a real plus of global business travel.  Agreed.

56% said not getting enough sleep on the road is a real hassle.  Sure. That and eating poorly are the two big health drawbacks to a steady diet of travel on my experience.  

As for how we seek to combat hassles on the road, respondents pointed to three tactics:

58% say that business class travel is an important perk.  I concur, at least when I can persuade a client.

47% like access to club floors in hotels.  Personally I don’t care. When I’ve had access, I’ve found the floors to be fine. But it’s not a perk I’ll fight for.

46% like access to airport lounges.  For me, this is much, much more important than hotel club floors. I find airline clubs ever less appealing but point me to a Centurion and I am abuzz.  

86% say that being aware of local customs makes it easier to achieve objectives when traveling overseas.  Can’t disagree with this.

85% do research on a country and its business customs before traveling there.  Basic but impossible to disagree with. I will also say that simply being sincere and respectful will cut a traveler slack about moments of ignorance. Or so I have found.  

How do you stack up against the Amex findings?

Mainly I agree – aside from my lack of interest in club floors and my much higher fondness for airport lounges.

How about you?

Rating the Hotel Rewards Programs

 

By Robert McGarvey

 

Hotel rewards programs are not created equal. That is a clear takeaway from the 2017 CarTrawler Hotel Reward Payback Survey. Some programs are three times as generous as the stingiest.

Some programs definitely are worth joining and using.

Others are worth it only for the free perks such as WiFi.

I know about the latter because I belong to a number of programs but only in a haphazard way. I have no recollection of ever earning a free room for points and probably have joined the very same program multiple times over the years, mainly because I wanted a perk and afterwards I forgot that I belonged.

The CarTrawler survey came as a wake up call for me.

Here’s the study’s lead: “Wyndham Rewards returns an average of 16.7% from room night spending as reward stay value in the third annual CarTrawler Hotel Reward Payback Survey. That’s 3+ points higher than the brand’s 2016 result and a 211% higher return than the reward value provided by Starwood’s SPG, which was ranked last among the six hotel loyalty programs at 5.4% for reward payback.”

Read that again. It is saying Wyndham is more than twice as generous as Starwood and it also says that Wyndham recently sweetened its deal. That latter observation says that we need to monitor our programs because, apparently, they do change.

We also need to start by knowing which programs are really stingy. Starwood is the worst, returning a bit over a nickel in rewards for every dollar spent. IHG is not much better – it ponies up 6.7 cents. Best Western comes in at 7.4. Hilton at 7.5. Marriott at 8.8. And Wyndham at a staggering 16.7.

Spend a dollar at Wyndham – which includes budget oriented properties such as Super 8, but also swankier digs such as Dolce. In the mix are also Ramada and Howard Johnson – and you get back 16.7 cents in rewards.

Note: if you are an elite road warrior who plays all the edges and also has a branded credit card, this hotel analysis may not fully apply to you. CarTrawler said: “Members that have elite status and use a program’s co-branded credit card to pay room charges benefit from an array of bonus point possibilities. The value provided by reward nights is traditionally the most important attribute for many members; the results presented here don’t attempt to assess all the benefits provided by hotel loyalty programs.”

That is, for casual hotel bookers – people like me – the CarTrawler analysis works fine.

CarTrawler also noted some stunning possible wins playing the rewards programs. It pointed to an October 14 2017 stay at the New Yorker in Manhattan – a Wyndham. “The reward payback for the Wyndham New Yorker was a stunning 50.7%. Booking a room on that date cost $610 or an incredibly modest reward price of 15,000 points. That combination, and the Wyndham Rewards accrual rate of 10 points per dollar spent (in addition to ongoing bonus points) delivers a very generous reward payback.”

It found a 17.8% return at Hospitality House in New York, a Best Western, on September 21.

By contrast, a February 2017 stay at the Westin Grand Central returned a 1.8% reward. That’s roughly 1/10th the reward of the Hospitality House.

Just when you are about to cross out Starwood, know that its co-branded American Express card offered the highest reward value returned on everyday purchases of hotel credit cards, 2.7%, according to CarTrawler.

The IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card came in last with a 0.7% return.

Wyndham, by the way, came in second with its Rewards Visa card with a 2.5% return.

Should you throw your business to Wyndham? Just maybe if it has the right locations in places you travel to regularly.

But the real takeaway is this: maybe it’s time to begin really playing the hotel rewards programs. Airline programs are reaching a point of little value for most of us. Personally I accumulate miles via Amex but have begun to shrug off airline miles as such. 

But just maybe there is balm for our wounds at the hotels.

 

Why Don’t Airlines Hear Us? A Passenger’s Lament

 

By Robert McGarvey

 

Why don’t airlines hear us?

Why don’t they pay attention to us?

Customer experience management firm Clarabridge recently set out to explore those questions in the context of the airline industry and the results – found in a  10 pp. report – are chilling.

Clarabridge explained its goal this way: “Clarabridge conducted an international study intended to uncover consumers’ true behaviors and expectations around air travel so that airlines can identify actionable takeaways for improving the customer experience.”

The method:  Survey more than 1200 in the US and UK. Respondents were 18 to 60. Clarabridge also analyzed 750,000 online comments, harvested at Facebook, Trip Advisor, et. al.

A starting point: 69% of US consumers have never submitted a complaint or feedback to an airline. The number climbs to 73% in the UK. Why? Because we don’t think the carriers listen More than one third of us say we don’t submit comments because airlines don’t listen. And 46% of US consumers say that when they have submitted complaints or feedback they haven’t gotten a response.

Read that last bit again. Half of us insist that when we’ve offered feedback all we’ve gotten in response is the sound of silence.

Wow. Why bother?

Next question: what matters more in booking a flight, price or staff attitude?  Attitude wins out according to Clarabridge. “38% of American travelers, and 41% of British travelers are in agreement that staff attitude is most important.” Just 35% say price is most important.

Clarabridge added: “85% of American travelers who would recommend a particular airline cite staff attitude as the number one reason why.”

This is fascinating. I have traveled for 40+ years and I have witnessed a steady deterioration in airline staff attitude. The overtly anti passenger gestures that recently have won so much press notice are, on the one hand, anomalous but on the other hand they really are not surprising.

Often passengers, at least in coach, seem to be viewed by airline staff as nuisances and burdens.

You just don’t see such rampant rudeness even in fast food restaurants.

Flashback to the mid 1970s when I began to fly with regularity and staff was genial, helpful, pleasant.

And it went downhill from there.

Honestly, however, I have to say that front cabin staff are substantially more genial even today. I don’t recall seeing the indifferent hostility that often seems common in coach. And that means good customer service can still happen on airplanes. That’s underlined in the Clarabridge research. “67% of American travelers say that they detect that crew members treat first class travelers better than other passengers, and nearly ¾ of UK consumers (72%) detect the same,” said Clarabridge.

I’ve personally flown both classes of carriage and can say that, definitely, everything is better up front.

I’d also acknowledge that airline management treat employees at airport desks and flight attendants terrible, and it’s the passengers who pay the price for this.

But when blame is to be heaped on people, shovel it on the bosses in corporate headquarters.

Clarabridge’s third observation is that carriers need to dramatically improve their digital feedback channels. Here’s why: “Of the customers who do frequently provide feedback, 42% and 46% (in the US and UK respectively) do so via email, and 13% and 11% by social media. Across both regions, more than half of all customers utilize digital tools in some way to comment on their travel experiences,” said Clarabridge.

Make it easier for us to offer feedback and we just may – and that feedback may be a goldmine of data for airlines as they seek to improve their competitiveness.

Airlines have much to gain if they can hear these research findings. That’s because Clarabridge reported: “A large portion of American travelers (31%) are agnostic when it comes to airline brand allegiance, and a quarter of consumers in the UK also report no specific airline loyalty.”

Clarabridge pointed out: “This presents a huge opportunity for airlines to stand out from competitors by truly listening to the Voice of the Customer. Airlines can get an edge on competition if they understand exactly what consumers want from their air travel experiences.”

Indeed.

Carrers need to hear us. And respond to us. They also need to treat their own employees better and encourage them to treat us better.

None of this is hard. None of this wasn’t commonplace on airplanes 40 years ago.

It’s easy. Carriers just have to acknowledge that the have a problem. And they need to know they can fix it.

 

Beating the Big Hotel Chains’ Cancellation Policies

 

By Robert McGarvey

 

There’s good news and bad when it comes to how business travelers can best cope with the new 48 hour required cancellation imposed by Marriott and Hilton.  Cancel later and you will be stuck with a one night stay penalty fee.  Ouch.

That adds up.  Hotel booking service HRS has estimated that the 48 hour policies will cost business travelers 2% in increased hotel costs this year. But there are smart ways to get this down to zero,

Understand, too, that Bjorn Hanson at NYU is forecasting a bonanza year for hotelier fee revenues.  According to Hanson, “total fees and surcharges collected by US hotels are forecast to increase to another record level of $2.7 billion in 2017. Fees and surcharges were higher than forecast for 2016; although occupied room nights were lower than anticipated, fees and surcharges were higher, with the largest increase in cancellation fees.”

Yep – cancellation fees are lining the pockets of hoteliers.

Hanson noted: “The industry also has become stricter about cancellation of reservations with fees for cancelling within two days of arrival as most common, but three days for an increasing number of hotels.”

He did not break out the exact contribution to profits of cancellation fees.

Hanson did wryly note: “Fees and surcharges are highly profitable; many have incremental profitability of 80 to 90 percent or more of the amounts collected.”

You bet.  Whacking a traveller for a room night just because he/she cancelled 47 hours before arrival is a pure profit play.

And when US hotel occupancy is about 60% who’s kidding whom that hotels need an advance notice of a cancellation in order to manage their supply of rooms.

Hotels did fine managing rooms up until a couple years ago even though the cancellation deadline was typically 4 pm of the day of arrival.

All that has changed is that the big hotel chains – enviously eyeing the fee income of airlines – want their share and they think they have us over the proverbial barrel.

They don’t.

Enter independent hotels.  According to a recent story in Hotel News Now, “Indies look for flexibility in cancellation policies,” said the headline.

The subhead got more specific:  “Owners of independent hotels said they’re unlikely to change their policies in light of moves by the major brand companies toward tighter cancellation windows.”

Richard Millard, CEO of Trust Hospitality, a boutique hotel management company, told HNN when asked if he planned to impose cancellation policies in line with airlines: “I don’t think we have the clout to do that,” he said. “It’s a different business model.”

Many independent hotels are sticking with a 24 hour cancellation policy or, in some cases, the classic 4 pm cancellation.

The odds – room availability – are on our side.  Don’t forget that when tempted to look at a Marriott or Hilton. If a meeting or event is there and you want to be in the thick of it, sure, go for it.  I’d probably do likewise.

But when the whole city is before me I will duck Marriott and Hilton and others with long cancellation windows and book elsewhere. I am sure I won’t sleep on a park bench.

At 3:45 pm PT on a Tuesday in late September I checked availability in San Francisco for that night. The Marker, a Joie de Vivre hotel, wanted $221 on Hotel Tonight.  The Hotel Zoe was mine at $209.  The Argonaut wanted $292.  Many more hotels wanted my business in Hotel Tonight.

Alternatively, per the HNN article, look for independents where you travel.  Many will be much more flexible than are the big chains that seem delusional in their sense of marketplace power.  When 4 in 10 hotel rooms are empty every night, it hardly seems hoteliers have the whip hand.

Incidentally, multiple San Francisco Marriotts had room available that very night, for booking at 3:45 pm PT. Which means you could do it on the BART from SFO into the city and that way you know you won’t be hit with a cancellation fee.

There’s essentially no excuse for getting hit with a Marriott or Hilton late cancellation fee. If you want to stay in those properties just don’t book until you land in the destination city.  Simple. Cost effective. And there will be plenty of rooms just about everywhere.  

 

Can a Credit Union Satisfy a Frequent Traveler?

 

By Robert McGarvey

 

“Oh, I couldn’t belong to a credit union.  I travel too much. I need to be able to do my banking wherever I go.”

I hear that a lot from business travelers when they learn that a primary work interest of mine is credit unions and that’s because I view the member owned institutions as honest and decent and usually community minded.

So how do I travel and also depend upon credit unions for the bulk of my banking when most are hyper community focusd with a handful of branchs?

Know too that the nearest branch of my primary credit union, Affinity Federal, is about 2400 miles away in north Jersey.  I moved to Phoenix from Jersey City five years ago and took Affinity with me.

Why? I had BillPay set up. I had the Affinity account set up to receive direct deposits from many clients.  It also works with my person to person payment network accounts. I could unravel all those strings but why?

At the Affinity website I input my zip and up pop dozens of ATMS where I have surcharge free access – mainly at 7-11s, by the way – and there are also a few nearby credit unions where I can enjoy what’s called “shared branching” and that means I can make deposits.

Mobile Remote Deposit Capture – snapping a photo of a check with a cellphone – lets me refill my accounts with a few clicks.  I don’t even need to walk to a nearby ATM to make a deposit. I do it at my desk.

CO-OP, the company that manages the shared branching network, says it has 5600 locations. That’s second only to Wells Fargo with 6100.  It’s ahead of Chase with 5300 and Bank of America with 4300.

That means my north Jersey credit union has a more convenient footprint than just about all banks.

CO-OP also has around 30,000 ATMs where there is surcharge free access.  About 7500 also take deposits.

CULiance runs another ATM network numbering some 300,000. This is the country’s largest surcharge free ATM network. (For the record, I do blogging for this company.)

Among banks, Chase operates the biggest ATM fleet with around 19,000 machines.  B of A has around 16,000.  

So, you see, a credit union actually provides more convenient access than any large bank.

Oh, even if you travel abroad, your credit union ATM card will work as well as a bank’s.  I’ve used mine in Italy, Germany, Spain,the United Kingdom and other countries I am blanking on.  No problems. Note: Joe Brancatelli pointed out to me that just about no cedit union offers surcharge free ATM access abroad. If that’s important to you, shop accordingly.

Not all credit unions belong to CO-OP or CuLiance.  Most do – thousands of them. But ask before setting up an account if far-flung ATM access matters to you.

Can you do everything at a credit union that you can at Chase?  Nope. Maybe at a handful of the very biggest credit unions but maybe not. Navy Federal is the largest credit union and has been for some years; its assets are around $81 billion. J.P. Morgan Chase’s assets are about $2.5 trillion.  That’s a lot bigger and I know just about any banking need, in just about any corner of the globe, can be handled inside Chase.

But the other reality is that for most except the 1%, credit unions have ample services and products.

Truth is, I also have a Chase account which I have because I write about banking and Chase is a good one to study.  It’s also convenient – there are two branches near me – when a deposit is above my MRDC limit at Affinity (and, yes, I could get it raised with a phone call but why bother).  And I used Chase to handle a six-figure wire transfer in association with a real estate purchase a few years ago because it was easier to do it in branch and I also happened to be in Las Vegas at the time  and a Chase was a short cab ride off Strip.  

Could I get by without the Chase account? Yep.

But my suggestion isn’t to burn all bridges with money center banks.  It’s to open a credit union account and see what it’s like to bank in an institution in which you are an owner.

 

 

Would you Fly a Supersonic Plane If Available?

 

By Robert McGarvey

 

Start-up Boom now is saying that by 2023 it will have in service a supersonic airplane that is faster than the Concorde and will cut our over the ocean flight times in half.  Of course there are skeptics Boom will do anything but go bust but put that aside for now.  Just feast on the idea of getting to Europe, or China, in half the time of today’s flights.

The fundamental question is: will you want to fly it?  Note that Boom will involve carriers you know – Virgin has publicly signed on.  Boom has said there are four others but has not named them.

The bigger question is: can you persuade employers or clients to pay the bill which, supposedly, will be about the same as trans Atlantic business class fares? That’s about $5000 for the New York – London roundtrip.  

If you already fly business class, there’s no reason not to at least consider SST transport.  If you don’t fly business, can you sell your employer on the idea that cutting flight times in half will make you more efficient and effective on the ground?

Just maybe it in fact will deliver precisely those benefits.

Why fly SST? Speed.  Boom will fly at Mach 2.2, about 1451 mph, a notch quicker than the retired Concorde which flew at 1350.

On Boom, New York – London is 3 hours, 15 minutes.  San Francisco-Tokyo is 5.5 hours.  Los Angeles – Sydney is 6 hours, 45 minutes.

Present flight time Los Angeles – Sydney is 14 hours, 55 minutes, more than twice as long.

Flight time on a conventional plane San Francisco – Tokyo is 11 hours, 5 minutes.

So Boom is promising to cut flight times in half.

Even so, the Concorde failed – so why will Boom succeed? Blake Scholl, Boom co-founder, told Skift that his plane will be about 75% more efficient to operate than the Corcorde. He claimed better fuel economy, also higher rates of utilization.

Scholl claimed there are around 500 routes with enough traffic to support SST flights.

The math, he insisted, supports the belief that SST can profitably fly.

There are no reasons to believe that the FAA will permit over land SST flights in the US.

But there are plenty of over water routes that, in a global economy, we are all flying more often.

Another hitch is that the plane has a range of around 4500 miles, meaning it has to stop to refuel on long flights.  On a San Francisco to Shanghai route it would stop in Anchorage for fuel and, said Scholl, refueling stops will be quick, really a matter of a few minutes, so the ding on time is less than you might fear.

Air miles JFK to Paris is around 3650.  JFK to Berlin Tegel is 3961, which is probably about the maximum route that can be made without refueling.  LAX to Maui is around 2500 miles.

Scholl spelled out the choice we will face: “Your choice will be: Do you want to spend 16 hours in a flatbed seat or do you want to speed six or seven hours and truly go to sleep and wake up in the other city?”

Sign me up for the SST.  I really like that math. I’ll find a way to convince clients to foot the bill.

Naturally, I’m skeptical that comparative airplane newbies can pull off Boom and its innovative SST – but who saw Tesla, a Silicon Valley car maker, shaking up Detroit and Munich and Tokyo?  Just maybe what the airline industry needs is a disruptor from outside.

And the retirement of the Concorde in 2003 is not a predictor of how SST will fare.  For one thing, the plane was dated, 30 year-old technology when it was killed off.  Concorde’s reputation also took a serious hit in 2000 when all 109 passengers and crew on board died when the plane burst a tire on takeoff which apparently caused the fuel tank to explode.  A lot of business fled the Concorde in the aftermath.

Think too of how many executives now are flying private planes.  In the age of the 1% could many of them be lured to fly faster SST planes?  Probably.  

I’m not saying I am optimistic about Boom’s prospects – it is hoeing a very tough row where lots of entrenched interests much like the non SST status quo – but I certainly can cheer the company on and that is what I will do.

 

Paying You to Save Money on Travel

 

By Robert McGarvey

 

Suddenly there’s an avalanche of tools designed to coax business travelers into saving money on their trips – there’s Rocketrip, TripActions, Upside, probably more.  

Will you use them?

Do you care about saving your employer’s money?

An astonishing amount of money is in play. Global business travel spend is $1.2 trillion, per GBTA.  US share of that is around $290 billion.  

Question: how cost effective are we in our travels?

Can we be motivated to help our employers save?

A lot of the present innovation traces back to Google which, for some time, has presented a traveling employee with a budget for an upcoming trip.  Come in under budget and the employee can claim up to half the savings, redeemable on future travel upgrades.

Would that motivate you to cut costs?

My sense is that when my travel is managed by a client, a third party agency selects a flight and a hotel in keeping with its view of my status in the organization. I have stayed everywhere from a Ritz Carlton to a Hilton accordingly.

Generally, by the way, I accept the hotel assignment without a grumble. I can recall refusing only once in the past 10 years because the hotel was in a wildly inconvenient Las Vegas location that would have required long, expensive cab rides to get to/from the convention center, a reality apparently not understood by the booker.

When I pointed that out the rez was changed to the Vdara in City Center which quickly became my favorite Las Vegas hotel.  

As regards flights, as long as the times sync with my needs, I accept them without a grumble too.  I long ago gave up loyalty to a particular carrier and that eliminates a lot of potential friction.  Personally I won’t fly the ultra low cost carriers, or accept similar fares on legacy carriers, but I haven’t been asked to do either so no problems.

When the client selects the travel, usually I am not much asked for input or for suggestions about where to save.

My other reality is that I do all my own travel planning for many trips and, frankly, that happens more often than not these days.  I may get broad instructions from the client – “keep the costs under $1500.”  In some cases, the client also directly books a portion of the travel – often a hotel.

But the norm is that I make most or all of the choices.

Am I incentivized to save money?

Does the client care if I do?

The answer to both question is, not so much.

Maybe it’s because I am by habit a frugal travel.  I am cheap on my own vacations and I am cheap on business travel.

In that latter regard my most common dinner spot on a business trip is Subway.  Yep, under $10. I may eat dinner as a guest of the client at a fancier place but that won’t be billed by me.

My most common breakfast spot is Starbucks. Yep, also under $10.  

Usually lunch is with the client or at a meeting/convention, that is, that is not billed by me.

I prefer mass transit – BART in San Francisco, the subway in NY – and that’s cheap too.  

Would I save the client still more money if half the savings accrued to my benefit on future trips and, yes, I’d welcome a kitty for buying flight upgrades (to business class)?  The answer, definitely, is yes.

Do it the Google way and tell me I have $1500 for a three night stay in Tampa and I am sure I can bring in my total at $1200 or under.

Probably I can deliver similar savings on many trips, mainly by downgrading hotel accommodations.  In Phoenix , for instance, I could skip the Westin, stay at the Sheraton Grand and save $11/night in early September.  

Would you do likewise?

Are you offered half the savings?

Would your behavior change if you were?

Right now, a lot of players believe we will change our behaviors – and cut our travel costs – if we get to share in the savings.

I think that’s a win-win move.

 

Digging into What the New Hotel Cancellation Rules Will Cost Us

 

By Robert McGarvey

 

More analysis about the bottomline costs to travelers of the new 48 hour cancellation policies at Marriott, Starwood and Hilton hotels continues to emerge – and the outlook is not good for us.

I’ve been consistently opposed to the new rules and still believe that, generally, we can duck them without inconvenience.  

I also snicker at the hotelier claim that somehow we are to blame for the new rules – when the reality, plainly, is that hoteliers are jealous of the mammoth fee income pulled in by airlines and they want their share.  

Their problem is that they don’t have the consolidation that marks the airline business.  From Phoenix where I live I have maybe three or four convenient ways to fly commercial to New York.  I have literally hundreds of hotels to choose among once there.  And many of those hotels are active on Hotel Tonight which means I have choice even for last minute bookings.

I also have new choices on Airbnb et. al.  

Airlines, pretty clearly, don’t give a hoot what I think about them. Hotels, on the other hand, want their guests to like them and hoteliers also actively seek to create loyalties.  

Punitive cancellation policies are a fast way to alienate guests.  Duh.

HRS, a hotel booking service, has looked closely at how the new policies will impact their corporate customers. HRS is saying “companies will have to budget for additional charges totalling millions.”

HRS further noted: “For business travelers, flexibility is one of the most important criteria when booking a hotel, as business appointments change frequently.”  

HRS said that 17% – one in six — of hotel reservations are cancelled.  It added: “But short-term cancellations are less frequent. Five percent of bookings are canceled up to 48 hours before arrival.”

Even so, per HRS, “In many cases, the late cancellation charge equals one overnight stay. Factoring in these potential costs across actual cancellation patterns over the past year, the companies surveyed would incur two percent additional lodging cost.”

HRS pointed to hard data: “One proof of this is provided by a key HRS client with total hotel spend of more than $82 million USD. If all cancellations made by this company within 48 hours of arrival were subject to this charge, the budget impact would be $600,000 USD a year.”

What to do about it? HRS is advising companies that as they negotiate corporate rates for 2018, they need to put cancellation policies on the table.

Understand: the big hotel operators will blink if a large enough corporate booker insists on greater cancellation flexibility.

What about smaller companies and individuals?

We need a more clever approach.

HRS offers pointers: “As part of its hotel procurement service for corporate programs, HRS casts its eye over the overall market. This includes independent hotels as well as hotel chain organizations that may offer more flexible cancellation policies for business travelers. Free-of-charge cancellation up to 6 pm on the day of arrival is a ‘must’ for almost all companies – correspondingly, hotels stand to gain more corporate room nights if they offer guests this flexibility.”

Read that again: it is saying book only at hotels that allow cancellation without charge up to 6 p.m. of the day of arrival. And always read the fine print in any reservation. Usually that’s where onerous cancellation clauses hide.

Incidentally, Bjorn Hanson, a hotel industry guru at NYU, told Skift why company wide cancellation policies make no sense: “A single, national cancellation policy is unwise,” he said. “In New York City, where occupancy is going to be, on average, 86 percent, cancellation policies are more important than they are in markets that run relatively low occupancy, for example. To implement a uniform cancellation policy with those two extremes is unwise and might cause guests to feel like they’re being treated unfairly.”

Absolutely right.  

My guess:  if enough of us hold tough, I would be surprised if we don’t see a broad retreat from the 48 hour rule, at least in many markets.  But it’s up to us to continue to make our dissatisfaction known.  Book at properties with kinder, gentler cancellation rules and don’t be shy about making your choices known on Twitter and Facebook.

That’s how to help hoteliers get this right.

 

Are We To Blame for the 48 Hour Cancellation Policies?

 

By Robert McGarvey

 

Read the recent Skift story about the Marriott and Hilton 48 hour cancellation policies – which we are on record blasting – and a quote jumps out. Hilton CEO Christopher Nassetta put the blame for the policies squarely on our shoulders: “customers, many of them, ultimately have been trained to do multiple bookings and do things that have created a scenario where cancellations have, in some markets, skyrocketed. They’ve got, they’ve gone way up.”

Have you made multiple bookings on business trips?

On vacations, yes, sometimes we all do this – and maybe we also monitor price fluctuations and will cancel a rez to re-book at a lower price.

I don’t recall ever doing this on a business trip though.

I have asked frequent fliers in my circle if they are guilty as charged and to a person they say no, at least as regards business travel.

I am not disputing that what Nassetta said may be true in some holiday markets. I’d say it’s true because hoteliers have trained us to expect price fluctuations. You know the Trivago ad claim – that different sites show different prices for the same room – and probably, like me, you think it’s true. Probably like me again you don’t know why that should be but we have come to accept that there is the appearance of irrationality and arbitrariness in much hotel pricing.

The hoteliers have in fact trained us to shop around. In assigning blame for a spike in cancellations- assuming there is such – then hoteliers needs to look at themselves and their own erratic pricing policies.  Just watch the Trivago ad again. 

But, frankly, I am lazy when it comes to business travel. I will look for a good price on a room that works for me and falls within the client’s budget and when it’s booked, that chapter is closed. I don’t keep shopping.

So again I ask, do you often make multiple hotel bookings for business travel and why? I just don’t get it.

Look, I accept that many, many resorts have long cancellation clauses – a week isn’t uncommon, 72 hours may seem downright kind. And, yes, I think those policies are bad for guests, who typically get whacked with a penalty of a night or two when cancelling outside the permitted window. But I also know that, generally, resort reservations, once made, will be honored, certainly among the people I’ve asked. It’s hard enough to get agreement on a vacation date and once made, nobody wants to break it.

I know I have never paid a resort cancellation fee if only because I stick with my reservations.

Business travel is different. Often my travel involves a meeting with a very senior executive and stuff happens in their world. I have found them as a group to resist changing meetings for frivolous reasons but I also have had many meetings shifted at the last minute – same day of travel – because something big came up for my guy.

Sure, I’d bill the cancellation fee through, just as I bill airline change fees, but I don’t want to. I want hotels in particular to accept that occasionally I have to cancel late and they give me a pass because usually I honor my reservations.

Is that asking too much?

Apparently at Marriott and Hilton it is. Ditto Intercontinental, although it has imposed a 24 hour clock which is significantly more reasonable for business travelers.

Still, I say: book elsewhere or wait until the last minute and book the room you want (and always look for a discount because that last minute room would be empty without you).  

The numbers are on your side. Nationally, occupancy in 2016 came in at 65% and that means your chances of getting the room you want are good.  Sell outs are rare for most hotels.  Many never sell out, not even once a year.

There are plenty of rooms for last minute bookers.

I am looking at Hotel Tonight for rooms in San Francisco. JDV’s “The Marker” in Union Square is $189. The Petite Auberge on Nob Hill is $155. Hotel Zoe on Fisherman’s Wharf is $189. All same day bookings.

In Manhattan the Michelangelo is $179, Gild Hall is $179, the Tuscany in Murray Hill is $299. Same day bookings.

Hoteliers are playing a game of chicken with business travelers but the reality is that the math is against them. Know that and you know you can win this duel – especially when you understand this is all their own making.