Shove Off, Bud – or That Will Be $30: Hotel Revenue Management Gone Bonkers?

By Robert McGarvey

The San Francisco Chronicle headline tells the story: “Lingering too long over breakfast? At one Nob Hill hotel, that’ll cost you $30.”

Phil Matier reports that “They say talk is cheap, but talking too long could cost you a bundle this week at San Francisco’s swank Fairmont Hotel, where lingering too long over breakfast will add an extra $30 an hour per person — plus tax — to the tab.”

Joe D’Alessandro, the head of San Francisco Travel, explained it away as “premium or congestive pricing.”  He added that airlines and hotels all do it.

Uh, well, no, they don’t.  What they do is “revenue management” where a room costs more in peak season and an airplane seat costs more in peak season.  But the lunch on the plane in coach does not cost more in peak season (and, please, let’s not give airline mandarins any ideas). And a mocktail at the hotel bar doesn’t cost more in peak, either.

The trigger for the Fairmont charge apparently is the J. P. Morgan Healthcare Conference at the Westin St. Francis, apparently one of the city’s biggest conventions. Attendance is estimated to be around 9000.

The only available room at the Fairmont for the night I checked – a Queen Queen Room – was priced at a breathtaking $1549.

The same room, a week later, was priced at $503.

Incidentally, breakfast at the Fairmont during the J P Morgan week involved a minimum $50 per person plus an 18% service charge and taxes.

And the $30 tab for overstaying is hit with an 8.5% city tax.

What do you want to scream about first?

But first: I know I have walked into a busy Peet’s Coffee on Market Street in San Francisco, ordered a coffee, and as I picked it up noticed every available seat was occupied – often with no sign of a coffee cup or food near the person who, frequently, was tapping away on a laptop. And I have wanted to scream, move along, bud, real customer wants the effin’ seat.

I have not screamed that. Yet. But I make no promises about the next time.

So I understand the restaurant desire to move customers along, to hustle them out the door to make room for new customers. Restaurants in fact have all manner of tools and tricks they use to move diners along and a surcharge isn’t usually one of them.

I also know that Uber surge pricing – where rates may double or triple or more over typical fares – has given all of us an object lesson in revenue management on the fly.  

So maybe it makes sense to wave a $30 penalty flag – and hope it doesn’t have to be actually collected from anyone.

And I have long advised anybody who asked to avoid some big meeting cities during peak conventions.  Here’s a list of some of the biggest. Prices just are surreal during many of them and often restaurants, even taxis and ride shares are stressed by the volume.

Sure, the people who live and work in San Francisco have to be there, even during the big conventions. They have my sympathy.

But back to the Fairmont and its $30 fee for overstaying breakfast.

You know what, the Fairmont allots 90 minutes for the meal – that’s without a surcharge – and I cannot remember the last time I spent that long at breakfast. Not even ones that are more about a meeting than eating.  

Count me as okay with the $30 fee, tho I suppose I wish we all just knew when we had occupied a table long enough and moved on voluntarily.  Maybe that is no longer possible.

I am more irked by the tripling of the room rate.

The $30 dawdler fee is avoidable.  The extra $1000 for the room isn’t if you want to stay at the Fairmont the week of the conference.

The solution? Stay elsewhere.

Was me I’d stay at the Claremont in Berkeley –  $437 per night during that J. P. Morgan shindig across the bay and, by the way, it’s also a Fairmont.

Problem solved.

CU 2.0 Podcast Episode 73 Joseph Cooper Justice for Me

Joseph Cooper calls it “the justice gap” and what he is pinpointing is the avalanche of unfiled lawsuits and the unpursued legal matters that the middle class often just lets go untended.

The rich pay lawyers. The poor, in many cases, can access free legal assistance.  The middle class is out in the cold.

Enter Cooper’s Justice for Me, where he is creating a system that helps attorneys find clients, helps those clients borrow money to pay for their legal assistance, and just may also help credit unions add a powerful new loan product to their portfolio.

Wake up, smell the vanishing auto loan.  Legal loans just may be a great new product and it also is a product that aligns well with the core credit union mission of helping the middle class.

Justice for Me avoids most criminal law, will not do contingency fee cases (personal injury), but there are many, many other matters such as wills, adoptions, divorces, contract law, bill disputes and much more.

Lawyers need the work – we are over lawyered these days – but they also want to be paid.  Enter Justice for Me.

It’s a novel idea. And it’s worth a listen here.

Like what you are hearing? Find out how you can help sponsor this podcast here. Very affordable sponsorship packages are available.

Find out more about CU2.0 and the digital transformation of credit unions here. It’s a journey every credit union needs to take. Pronto

CU 2.0 Podcast Episode 72 Seth Brecher Edmit on College Costs and You

The tagline of the website Edmit says a lot: Treat college like an investment.

Four years at Arizona State – tuition, room, board – will run over $110,000. 

Four years at MIT will run over $300,000.

Big money is at stake and this is why so many students graduate with immense debt loads. The average approaches $40,000.

That’s a lot of dough and it’s a huge burden.

Enter Edmit, which aims to show a student and his/her family the *real* cost of a college and that’s a factor of this school, its financial resources, this student, and the family’s financial resources. A lot of variables come into play.

But the right college choice can produce a manageable debt load. Often the school with the best package for this student isn’t the one that seems obvious.

Seth Brecher, head of partnerships and customer success at Edmit, tells us how the program works.

He also tells about the special relationships Edmit forms with participating credit unions, and he says helping families plan their higher education expenses is a good way to strengthen relationships.

Listen here.

Like what you are hearing? Find out how you can help sponsor this podcast here. Very affordable sponsorship packages are available.

Find out more about CU2.0 and the digital transformation of credit unions here. It’s a journey every credit union needs to take. Pronto

2020 Meetings Trendwatching: Vegans Hopping? Teetotalers Stomping?

By Robert McGarvey

If the futurists are right, business meetings are about to change.  The latest trend report from af&co is out and this trend watcher is so right on even the New York Times cites it as the source for insights into what we’ll be eating in 2020.  And they are making predictions that speak to a transformation of what we eat and drink at meetings and conferences.

Personally I expect to see brawls at meeting I attend. Why?

According to the Times: “‘There is a sense that the rose-colored glasses are off,’ said Andrew Freeman, president of AF&Co., the San Francisco consulting firm that for 12 years has published a food and hospitality trend report. This year’s is titled ‘We’re Not in Kansas Anymore.’

“‘The world just feels different,’ Mr. Freeman said. ‘The labor market is tight, the political landscape is a mess. All of us are trying to navigate it.’”

The company in its press release on the report added: “The greatest challenge facing the industry is that the tried and true isn’t gaining traction in the same way and operators must find new ways to reach and engage with guests in a constantly changing world.”

Ready to eat and drink different?

According to af&co. There are many trends coming down the culinary highway – Laotian food rising, porridge has its day, and culinary mashups (Mexican-Korean for instance, already popular in Los Angeles) are rising –but two trends stand out as especially shaping our travels and what we do on the road.

Are you on board? And know we will all have to confront these trends in 2020 – two of the biggest trends in fact directly challenge the way I was taught to travel on business and that involved martinis (Manhattans were an acceptable substitution) and, always, steak for dinner (permissible to not even nibble the overdone veg served with the big hunk of beef – they are decor, aren’t they?).

Brace yourself for the first 2020 trend: veganism.  

No real surprise.  This has been percolating for a good half dozen years and now, apparently, it’s about to have its turn under the spotlights.  Said af&co. “Vegan cuisine has entered the mainstream; just don’t call it that (it’s plant-based!). No longer an obscure subset of vegetarian, well-established restaurants and brands known for indulgent, craveable foods are entering the action. It isn’t just about animal welfare, but about what’s good for the environment and what’s good for us, without sacrificing flavor or presentation.”

Agree or disagree?  

The second trend and another direct shot at my travel instructions when I first hit the road: going sober, ditching the booze.  Explains af&co.: “SPIRIT OF THE YEAR: NO SPIRIT. We’re not just ‘sober curious,’ we’re getting serious about our non-alcoholic drinks! It’s important to offer enticing, highly curated beverage options for those who choose to avoid alcohol but still want to partake in the celebration. Restaurants and bars are upping their offerings with an inclusive bar program and we expect to see many more pre-bottled and canned spirit-free cocktails in the grocery aisles as well. Just don’t call them mocktails – we’re talking zero proof, N/A, spirit free, and non-alcoholic drinks.”

Meeting planners take note: cocktail receptions are so Mad Men (and that was set in the 1960s, wasn’t it?).  

Are you ready to join the Sober Curious movement?

It’s no longer an academic question. My bet is that in 2020 people at an evening reception at a meeting will look at a martini swiller the same way they would look at the bloke who lights a cigar at the event.

And very probably those people will be as horrified by the fellow who slices into a bloody hunk of black and blue steak and chews with loud gusto.

Should I just put my rollaboard in storage and declare my unavailability for 2020 travel?

Well, no, because the strange irony is that nowadays I mainly eat a plant-based diet – not vegan but mainly veg and fruits and little meat.  Vegan strikes me as too limiting but with a bite of cheese, maybe even the occasional dab of butter and the very occasional pasta Bolognese I am fine with what I eat. The era of thick steaks nightly on the road is over.  

I am also okay with the switch to non alcohol drinks (and in fact am elbow deep into the 2020 Dry January movement and successfully completed Dry January last year too).

I cannot recall the last time I had a martini or a Manhattan.

Color me on trend.

What I am waiting to discover is how on trend the meeting and conference organizers I encounter in 2020 are. I am not optimistic – but that will make observing the scene all the more fascinating.

Will we have food fights at the breakfast buffet with angry attendees hurling pork sausage links at the organizers?

Will sober curious meeting-goers attack the bartenders at the next reception and demand mocktails?

We will see and I bet it will get interesting on the road this year as meeting realities lag behind attendee demands.

CU 2.0 Podcast Episode 71 Gideon Taub Pinkaloo and Modern Giving

Quick, how does a company get named Pinkaloo?

Meet Gideon Taub, CEO of Pinkaloo, a company focused on modernizing charitable giving for the 99% – that means us – and now it also is helping credit unions find a way to claim a central place in guiding members to more effective giving.

With Pinkaloo, a use can set up a budget for giving, access tools to help find organizations of particular interest, get gifts sorted for tax purposes, and – this is huge – do research without falling victim to the insecurity of some charity websites.

It’s win-win-win, for the member, the credit union, the charities.

Pinkaloo is about bringing efficiencies to something that for many of us has been haphazard.

Note: Pinkaloo does not require core access.

Also note: credit unions may find that Pinkaloo helps them know much better what their members want to support and this may help steer credit union charitable giving in a much more precise direction. Just sayin’.

Listen here

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Find out more about CU2.0 and the digital transformation of credit unions here. It’s a journey every credit union needs to take. Pronto

Immobile mobile banking: Stuck in the mud

by Robert McGarvey

How many of your members do most of their banking via a mobile app?

How many should?

Milestones to remember before answering:

  • iPhone introduced June 2007
  • SMS banking via phone debuted in Europe 1999
  • Mobile banking smartphone apps take off in 2010

We are 20 years into the banking by mobile revolution and 10 years into the banking by smart app revolution so tell me this: why do roughly half of us not use a mobile banking app, according to a 2018 Harland Clarke report.

About half plain never use the thing.  Never.

Continued at CUInsight

Talking Centurion Blues in Phoenix

By Robert McGarvey

It was on a recent trip through Sky Harbor in Phoenix that I recognized how much I have come to like American Express’ Centurion Lounge. Its absence, due to a delayed opening at Sky Harbor, drove the point home.  

I had nowhere to go.

Priority Pass had bupkis in Phoenix. It had lost access to The Club (it had also hosted BA passengers during certain hours), which was a pleasant enough if thoroughly non descript club. Usually quiet however and that’s a plus.

On this recent flight I was flying Southwest and it doesn’t operate its own lounges.

I was tempted to go to the under construction Centurion Lounge and just look at the thing but, on second thought, that seemed creepy.

So I bought a bland torta at an airport eatery and sat in the din of Southwest’s boarding gates – a process that still, understandably, confuses occasion SWA pax – and I meditated on how long it would be for Centurion to open at PHX.

The good news: AMEX, acknowledging it missed its November opening date, now says the Centurion will open at PHX in December.  It hasn’t by mid month, I see no firm date announced, so I am not holding my breath. But I am not flying again this year and I remain confident that the Centurion will open at PHX in January.


People tell me the airline lounges are much improved – I hear that often now.  My own visits to airline operated clubs this year have found same-old, uninspired lounges. But one was a United Club in Terminal 2 at PHX and that whole terminal is slated for demolition.  Folks there are ghosts going through the motions and how can you blame them?

Nonetheless, there’s rather wide agreement that US based carriers have never gone full out to create lounges that compete at a global level and while I will use free carrier lounge passes when I have them, I am not buying them.

And although I can access Delta lounges when flying Delta – via an Amex Platinum card – I just don’t fly Delta enough to have a comment.  But bet that if the Centurion delay persists I will rethink that. Delta appears to have made an effort to produce a decent lounge in Phoenix and my next PHX flight may well be on Delta.

It all depends on the Centurion Lounge at PHX.

Sure, I know Amex has cut back on Centurion access.  Used to be often I stopped in the Las Vegas Centurion after landing there and now no can do.  Access is limited to cardholders with a departing flight within three hours.

But such limitations had to come. The Centurion lounges were at risk of being destroyed by their own popularity and maybe they still are. Here’s a recent report: “On a recent trip, I entered the American Express Centurion Lounge at San Francisco International at about 3:00PM. There was a line to enter the lounge and most guests seemed to be traveling alone. I waited about five minutes to enter, only to find there was not a single seat available. Not a single seat anywhere in the lounge! I waited 10 minutes!”

I’ve heard similar from fellow travelers but so far haven’t personally experienced severe overcrowding in a Centurion Lounge.  Crowding – you bet. But not so thick it made me want to flee out into the terminal.

Then, too, Amex knows it has crowding issues and it also knows that the Centurion Lounge is a prime cardholder perk (especially as Priority Pass seems ever less useful, at least on my domestic travels).  Are they working on fixes? You bet. That’s no guarantee there will be fixes but there is hope.

And the parade of opening Centurion Lounges grows – in 2020 look for JFK, LAX, LHR, Denver and Charlotte. That brings the total to 15.

Will I join the “why bother with clubs” crowd that seems to be growing in number? On a recent trip through SFO I didn’t bother hunting for a club – yeah, there’s a Centurion but in a distant terminal from the one I was routed through – mainly because I cut down on my time at the airport.

But I don’t see that becoming my norm.  Not just yet. And so I am counting down to the opening of the PHX Centurion. I just hope it meets my expectations.  

CU 2.0 Podcast Episode 70 Tommy Marshall Georgia Fintech Academy

“We are facing a global talent shortage,” said Tommy Marshall, executive director of the new Georgia Fintech Academy, by way of an an answer to the question: why was your organization formed.

It’s an ambitious undertaking. The idea is to pull together resources from 26 Georgia public universities – including Georgia Tech, Georgia State, and Georgia Southern – and to offer students the opportunity to earn a degree focused on fintech.

Right now, the emphasis is on a bachelors degree program but there are plans for an advanced degree as well as professional development courses.

Understand this: Georgia has gotten a jump on other states. Nowhere else is there such a sweeping program that draws upon a wide range of institutions, all joining together to produce grads with degrees that will help them get good, well paying, interesting work.

Marshall of course is looking for companies that want to hire grads – FIS is already a primary program sponsor – and he specifically saus in this podcast that he wants to hear from credit unions. If you have needs for fintech grads and you are in Georgia, shout it out because this might become an answered prayer.

In the program, Marshall tells exactly why Georgia started the Academy, how he got his job, and why this all just may be very important to economic development in Georgia.

Like what you are hearing? Find out how you can help sponsor this podcast here. Very affordable sponsorship packages are available.

Find out more about CU2.0 and the digital transformation of credit unions here. It’s a journey every credit union needs to take. Pronto

Listen here

CU2.0 Podcast Episode 69 Casey Boggs on Reputation Management, Hackers and You

What are people saying about your credit union?

That means members, staff, and community members?

And how does a nasty hack impact your reputation?

Meet Casy Boggs of ReputationUS, where the business is in fact reputation management and a primary emphasis is work with credit unions.

You think you have a great reputation? Don’t guess. Know. Get a reputation audit done and be prepared to be surprised by the results.

Particularly interesting is how a hack impacts a credit union’s reputation, a topic Boggs has studied in depth.

Among his findings: 48% of us are very unlikely to remain a member if their data has been hacked and then used to set up a bogus credit card account.

Good news, per the survey, is the vast majority of us hold credit unions in high reputational esteem.

But don’t take it for granted.

Boggs says in this podcast that too many institutions are unprepared to deal with events that involve a reputational hit – they lack a plan and a plan can smooth the path to recovery.

Bad stuff happens. Are you prepared?

Find out what’s involved in this podcast. Listen here.

Like what you are hearing? Find out how you can help sponsor this podcast here. Very affordable sponsorship packages are available.

Find out more about CU2.0 and the digital transformation of credit unions here. It’s a journey every credit union needs to take. Pronto

The Airplane Wi-Fi Rip Off

by Robert MGarvey

Inflight wi-fi does not work. Don’t believe me. Believe Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta, who in a stunning September interview at the Economic Club of Washington derisively referred to GoGo as “No Go” and elaborated that when usage of inflight wi-fi goes above 10% of the passengers, the “performance starts to erode.”

The interview snippet is here, under two minutes and a must listen if you are a regular inflight wi-fi user.

Bastian added that the system inadequacy is why the carrier charges for wi-fi (which he indicated should be free: “I’m a firm believer that we need to make Wi-Fi free across all of our service and we are working towards that,” he said). If it were free now, however, everybody would use it and it would crash, said Bastian.

This is the bit I love. Therefore, carrier logic is charge for it, fewer of us will use it, and, yeah, the performance is middling, but at least it doesn’t crash.

Got that?

By that logic carriers should charge for the poor coffee they serve – maybe it would be a little better if fewer of us ordered it? Nah. That makes no sense.

But neither really does this argument that constraining usage with a fee for a poor wi-fi product results in a somewhat better product.

And it may not even be secure. In 2016 a USA Today reporter wrote about an inflight wi-fi hack he experienced. In 2017, SmarterTravel published a piece hedlined, Why You Should Never Use Inflight Wi-Fi. The core argument is that all public wi-fi systems have vulnerabilities (hotels and airports definitely included) and wily hackers will figure out ways to penetrate inflight systems.

Bad performance, possible insecurities do not add up to an enticing offering.

We all agree on this. The 2019 J.D. Power airline survey concurs. “The one area where both traditional and low-cost carriers can still improve, however, is in in-flight services. It continues to be the lowest-ranked factor in the study, as many airlines still struggle with in-flight entertainment, connectivity, in-seat power and food service,” said Michael Taylor, Travel Intelligence Lead at J.D. Power.

Mind you, Delta nickels and dimes us for No Go. Rates start at $16, special pre-flight pricing, for 24 hours of service in North America. Global access is $28.

Most carriers charge about the same. Here’s a round-up of pricing on many carriers.

And yet the service is seriously flawed.

Even though it has been around for a generation.

Inflight wi-fi dates to 2000 – that means the 20th anniversary is next year and it still sucks.

In recent months I have been flying more than I had been, mainly short trips (the longest has been Phoenix to Chicago, round trip), and I have not used the inflight w-fi once. Before boarding I make sure I have downloaded several Kindle books and so I turn the plane into a mobile reading room. It’s more enlightening than doing email, which had been my inflight ritual, but it also has proven less exasperating than wrestling with inflight wi-fi inadequacies.

Experts tell us that airlines are making steady improvements in inflight wi-fi, that on some carriers it’s not as awful as we say. Probably that’s true, just as we have seen steady improvements in cellular coverage and signal quality over the past 20 years, there may have been real improvements on a few carriers.

But I am simply not broadly optimistic about inflight wi-fi. Not near-term. Carriers, supposedly, will invest north of $100 billion in inflight wi-fi upgrades by 2035 and this has many giddy with the possibilities – but that is 16 years from now and I do not see making predictions about technology that distant to be a smart move. Maybe it will be much better in 2035, more likely it will be entirely different, but what good will that do me on my next flight this month?

Absolutely no good at all.

But I thank Mr Bastian for telling me I am right that inflight wi-fi indeed sucks. And when next I am asked why I don’t use it anymore, I’ll simply send a link to his comments, QED.