How Much Free Time Is There on A Business Trip?

 

By Robert McGarvey

 

A survey from Jos. A. Bank, the clothier, offers up some of the most insightful data about business travel that I can recall seeing – starting with how little free time we have on a trip.

Per Jos. A. Bank we get about two hours a day of free time – and we log 14 hour work days.  Which is pretty much my personal reality on business trips.

As for the free time it amounts to one hour, fifty-five minutes daily for exploring the city, networking, etc. The rest of the day is prescribed – meetings, meals, and the other activities that fill days on the road.

It’s a bleak picture.  But also spot on.

Color me surprised by the accuracy of this portrait and, no, I’ve never shopped at Jos. A. Bank.

But I devour data about business travel and most of it, much of the time seems fictitious.

Yes, Jos. A. Bank is shilling suits – the survey even served up silliness such as this quote attributed to company president Mary Beth Blake: “While traveling for business can yield some unexpected obstacles, the one thing you should be able to rely on is your suit.”

It also noted that we fret about our clothes on road. 57% of us, said Jos. A. Bank, “have trouble keeping their clothes and suits tidy and unwrinkled while on a trip.”

Uh, okay, sure. (And, nope, I can’t recall worrying about wrinkles on the road. But maybe I’m just a slob.)

Let’s move on because there are lots of other insights that are quite to the point.

46% of us complain about the hassles of dealing with airports.

39% worry about how to stay fit and healthy while traveling.

36% say living out of a suitcase is a challenge.

And 34% say they work longer/harder on the road.

All sounds smart to me. Especially the observation that we work longer/harder when we travel.  When I first started to travel on business, decades ago, business travel was a cake walk – and often we took off the day after we returned home, just to catch up with life on the homefront and nobody complained.  Today is a very different environment. We fly out Sunday night (on our own time!) and basically are on the move from 8 a.m. Monday until we get home, typically late at night. It’s a grind and it’s tiring.

Why do we put up with it?

Partly because it may be mandatory. Also because there are benefits, tangible plusses to going on the road.

As for the benefits of business travel, Jos. A. Bank reports that we said we like air miles (48%) and hotel loyalty points (53%).

But the biggest single benefit – 56% of us say so – is seeing a new place.

And 55% like meeting people face to face.

49% say they enjoy good food and drink on the road. They must travel in different company than I because to me the best meal I get on the road often is an egg sandwich at Starbucks.  I cannot recall the last good meal I had on a business trip and I am not complaining, just reporting reality. But, no, I don’t count hotel meeting food as “good.”

24% also said it “feels like a paid vacation” – and I really have to question that.  Or, maybe, these poor souls go on really miserable vacations.

As for what we do with the limited free time we have on the road, 77% of us say we try out local restaurants. 67% say they explore the city.

Sift the data and a take-away is that, indeed, business travel is every bit as rugged as we believe it to be.  Glamorous? Don’t jest.

But, somehow, when it’s done we have that sense of accomplishment. And it is deserved.  Very much so.  The data prove it.

Do You Know Where Your Travel Data Are?

 

By Robert McGarvey

 

You are your data. That is today’s reality and, increasingly, travel and hospitality providers want your data by the bushel, in order, they suggest, to deliver better, more personalized services.

Do you trust them with your data?  

Of course we already do.  They have our credit card info, airlines have our Known Traveler Number or similar, airlines and hotels alike often have our passport numbers.

But they want more, lots more.

Some travelers are pushing back.  The 2018 IATA Global Passenger Survey found mounting unease on our parts.   Reported IATA: “65% of passengers are willing to share additional personal information (e.g. address of destination, travel purpose, picture) to speed up their processing at the airport vs 70% in 2017.”

Reported TNOOZ: “A drop of five percentage points in consumer confidence when it comes to how airlines and airports  manage their information is notable, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that the majority of respondents still wanted to benefit from personalization.”

That is the reality. Fewer passengers today are eager to part with their personal data – but still a majority are ready to do so.

But when provoked we will pull the data plug. Facebook is a glaring case in point.  Pew elaborated: “Just over half of Facebook users ages 18 and older (54%) say they have adjusted their privacy settings in the past 12 months, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. Around four-in-ten (42%) say they have taken a break from checking the platform for a period of several weeks or more, while around a quarter (26%) say they have deleted the Facebook app from their cellphone. All told, some 74% of Facebook users say they have taken at least one of these three actions in the past year.”

So users are striking back.

Sort of. 

But we are not necessarily targeting all users of our data.

That vagary arises in a reading of an Eater report on a coffee shop called Shiru that trades a free cup of java when a user tells a lot about him-or  herself. Said Eater: “The cafe, an offshoot of a Japanese chain now open in Providence, Rhode Island, mainly serves students from nearby Brown University. For each transaction, a cashier asks for customers’ names, birthdays, phone numbers, email addresses, majors, and professional interests before serving them their caffeine fix — no U.S. currency accepted (professors are allowed to pay for their drinks with cold hard cash, however).”

Eater elaborated: “Restaurants, be they independent fine dining restaurants or quick-service chains, have long tracked customer preferences via various methods (think of a savvy maitre’d who remembers a VIP customer’s birthday, or a server who automatically brings a patron’s favorite cocktail). But as the restaurant industry grows more competitive and sales growth has slowed, restaurants are resorting to new ways to remain competitive, and obsessively tracking data to figure out what exactly their customers want is a big part of that.”

We are complicit in this. Often.

There’s lots of confusion in the mix.  Reported TNOOZ: “A survey of over 2,000 British travelers, conducted by YouGov for Pegasystems, revealed that 73% of consumers would not be willing to give airlines more personal data for personalized services, while 43% wanted airlines to remember their personal interests and preferences when they travel.”

It’s hard to reconcile that divide.  Except to believe many of us are baffled about how our data are used.

Clarity comes down to simple questions.

How much data are you willing to part with?

In return for what?

There are more questions such as can you trust the company you are turning data over to, will they protect it? With whom will they share it?

My personal belief is that the data I share is no longer in my control and it may wind up in places I wish it hadn’t.

So I usually fill out loyalty program enrollment – which I may well want for the discounts – with bogus info, a bad phone number, for instance, and possibly an errant name.  

Lie to grocers and restaurants is my advice. If you can get the perks you want but part with no real data, what’s to lose?

I can’t do that on airline info, however, because I have to show ID to fly.

Really we are in a bind with airlines and, typically, too hotels which ask for a driver’s license or similar on check in.  

I’ve thought about buying a “novelty” driver’s license.  I’d need a credit card in that fake name too so the hassles mount. That could throw hotels off the scet however.

But we can – and should – limit what data we offer beyond the bare basics needed for a flight and a room.

And I will do that.

Will you?

 

Companies Jilting Basic Economy

 

 

By Robert McGarvey

 

Time to applaud: research shows that an increasing number of organizations have turned their backs on basic economy fares.

Two years ago in this space we came out slugging against basic economy.  The basic scam is that, yes, the sticker price is less but because it delivers so much less, many travelers wind up paying more than if they had bought a more conventional economy fare in the first place.

Or their travels are filled with miseries.

My advice then was to urge travelers to push back against any organizational nudging them into basic economy.

I have not personally encountered that pressure and for this I applaud.

But I may not be alone.

I never thought business travelers would do anything but scorn basic economy. But it turns out I may have been too cynical about the corporate  response to it.

Encouraging news is that travel managers are recognizing that basic economy is a scam.  Research via the Global Business Travel Association and Airlines Reporting Corporation says this: “The study reveals a majority of travel programs (63 percent) never allow basic economy and even more (79 percent) configure their booking tool to hide basic economy fares when travelers are not authorized.”

Remember that if your organization wants to shove you into basic economy. Just say no. And stress that the majority of companies have vetoed its use.

That same research incidentally offered good news about business class fares: “Nine out of 10 (89 percent) [of managed travel programs] allow it occasionally and these policies commonly do so for lengthy flights, international flights or for senior executives.” So ask and ask again if you feel an upcoming flight should be in the front of the plane.

You just may hear OK.

All hope isn’t dashed if your program is among those that nix business class.  “Many travel programs are embracing premium economy fares, which provide extra legroom and other amenities such as early boarding. More than half (58 percent) of policies always or sometimes allow them and an additional 30 percent occasionally allow these fares,” said the research.

And premium economy is plush indeed compared to the alternatives.

The real show stopper however is the snubbing of basic economy and that’s because, over the past 15 or so years, many organizations seemingly have been in a race to see just how low they could get travel costs, and so hotel stays have slid down the value chain and so have airfares.

So my expectauons were accordingly bleak.

The formula, at the big three US carriers, is indeed grimly Dickensian.  At United, it’s a litany of no’s. No complimentary seat selection. No family or group seating.  No fullsize carryon bags unless you’re a MileagePlus Premier member. Show up at the gate with a full size carryon and you pay the bag check fee plus a $25 gate check penalty. Exactly one personal carryon that fits under the seat is allowed.  No flight changes, no refunds.

And you board last.

Welcome to the friendly skies!

Delta and American are about as awful.

But just because something is bad doesn’t mean organizational bean counters won’t embrace it. It in fact seemed to me inevitable that, in many companies, basic economy and middle seat passage would become the norm.

Except this time they don’t appear to be.

“It’s not surprising to see many business travel programs shying away from basic economy fares,” said Michael W. McCormick, GBTA executive director and COO. “These fares pose a challenge for travel programs, creating difficulty for spend visibility and comparison shopping when add-ons are factored in. Additionally, travel buyers are increasingly factoring in traveler preference and convenience as they recognize the importance of their role in employee retention and recruitment in a strong economy with low unemployment.”

Bottomline: corporate bean counters are realizing that basic economy may seem cheaper – but often it isn’t.

According to Skift, too, many companies are even opening their wallets a thin crack. Said Skift: “When it comes to add-ons, most policies allow in-flight meals, Wi-Fi access, and extra checked bags.”

But 74% of travel programs do not reimburse for airline lounge access.

And 54% will not pay for early boarding.

But ask and you may get what you want.

Push back and, just maybe, the organizational masters will hear your complaints.  Business travelers travel to make their organizations money, it’s that simple. But wearing us down – on overcrowded flights, in too small seats – is no way to put a refreshed team on the ground.

Insist on that message and, at least sometimes, it will get heard.  Sometimes. 

Just raise the volume to try to make yours one of the ones that get that money spent on better business travel often returns dividends in happier employees.  

 

 

The Ever Changing Airlines’ Goal Posts for Elites

 

By Robert McGarvey

 

Imagine you are playing a football game, you score a touchdown, and when next the ball is yours it seems the goal posts are 40 yards farther away.

Don’t imagine, experience a similar reality with airline loyalty programs.

Skift even ran with the analogy in its headline about United’s most recent changes: “United Airlines Moves the Goal Post for Earning Top-Tier Elite Status.”  

For some years, I’ve chided airline loyalty programs as essentially shell games, where the passenger mainly loses. That’s why I’ve suggested sidestepping the programs and getting the essential perks at no extra cost when using an airline branded credit card.  (I carry two and mull picking up a third.)

The latest slap in the face from United reminds me why I’ve decided not to play that game. For the 2019 program year, earning United top tier 1K status will require a $15,000 spend, up from the current $12,000. The mileage required remains the same at 100,000.

In making that move United is matching Delta. American is the last of the big three that retains a $12,000 spend for its executive platinum status.

Airlines are feeling the pain of rising crude oil costs – and at least some experts believe crude prices will double in the next year.  For airlines that’s a world of hurt on profits and those pains will be leveled on passengers, both elite and non elite.

But the maddening thing about the changing mileage and spend goal posts is that even the most loyal passengers feel the pains.

It’s arguable that the most loyal always feel the most pain precisely because of that loyalty which keeps them locked into a particular loyalty program and once you start playing the game you get hooked.

Even when it’s a game you can’t win.

At SFGATE.com, Chris McGinnis hypothesized that a reason United made this move – aside from the simple desire to match Delta – is that the group of qualifying flyers may have become “too large.”

He quoted Luc Bondar, head the MileagePlus program, as saying that United made the change because it wanted to be sure  “the value promise we promise to elite level members is one that we can deliver.”

One way to get there is to winnow the pack.

United also is fiddling with the upgrades earned by elites. It said on its website: “Currently, Premier members earn two Regional Premier Upgrades for every 25,000 PQM or 30 PQS and two Global Premier Upgrades for every 50,000 PQM or 60 PQS after reaching Premier 1K status. In 2019, Premier members will earn one Global Premier Upgrade for every 25,000 PQM or 30 PQS after reaching Premier 1K status, and will no longer earn additional Regional Premier Upgrades.”

Noted McGinnis about this change: “That’s good news for those who travel a lot internationally, but not so good for those who like to use regional upgrades to bump up to first from the back of the plane on domestic flights.”

Add it up and what do elites get? Less and less.  That is fact. Loyalty used to deliver a steady stream of upgraded seats and of course a sprinkling of free flights bought for miles.  I have flow to Rome, Berlin, many more places – highly desirable – using miles as my currency.

But the common complaint I hear today is that just are no available award flights on the routes travelers honestly want.

And seat upgrades are harder and harder to come by, mainly because airlines have decided to monetize those seats – selling them, sometimes at bargain prices, shortly before boarding.  

Puzzled about what’s going on here, really? At AirlineGeeks, contributor Thomas Pallini noted, “Even though they don’t realize it, airlines are not rewarding loyal travelers, they’re punishing regular travelers.”

Low level elite status increasingly resembles flying with no status perhaps 10 years ago.

That is why I suggest skipping loyalty and buying a credit card that delivers the perks you want such as early boarding and free checked bag.  

Fair enough, airlines want to reward their most profitable passengers.

For the rest of us what makes sense is stepping outside the system.

I’ll admit, at first it is disorienting to arrive at an airport without elite status.  But you get the hang of it, you do.

By now I’m content with my lot.

Are you?

 

 

Do You Know Who’s Stealing Your Airline Miles?

 

By Robert McGarvey

 

The dark web is aflood with stolen airline miles for sale.  That’s the surprising punch to the face in a recent report from Comparitech.

The subhead delivers the message: “There’s a black market for your frequent flyer miles. Stolen frequent flyer accounts and rewards points are a hot commodity on the Dark Net.”

According to Javelin Strategy + Research, in 2017 11% of attacks on existing financial accounts were on loyalty programs. That’s up from 4% in 2016.

According to Barry Kirk, Vice President of Loyalty, Maritz Motivation Solutions, “Every sizable loyalty program was a victim of attempted fraud or hacking in 2017. Those who believe they weren’t simply haven’t paid attention.”

Maritz research says that 7% of us self identify as victims of program fraud.

Left unknown is how many of us are victims but haven’t realized it – probably because a little used account was pilfered.  If we do eventually return to that site, we may have forgotten what our miles total should be and just accept that, well, I must have emptied it out, I forget on what.

Headline winning breaches of loyalty programs are few.  The Hilton attack four years ago comes to mind.

In 2015 United and American admitted their programs had been hacked – but both were relatively small thefts. Some 10,000 accounts were said to be compromised at American, fewer at United.

Yet hackers are continually nibbling away at our stashes of miles and points.

A proof is that brisk dark web marketplace, reported by Comparitech, which observed: “On Dream Market, one of the largest black markets on the dark web, a single vendor sells reward points from over a dozen different airline reward programs, including Emirates Skywards, SkyMiles, and Asia Miles. Going by the handle @UpInTheAir, they sell a minimum of 100,000 points for the reward program of your choice, starting out at $884 as of time of writing (this was probably $1,000 originally, but Bitcoin price fluctuations caused it to go down).”

A rule of thumb is that miles are worth 1 to 2 cents apiece (of course smart shoppers can get significantly greater value and less astute shoppers will get lower returns).

On the dark web, however, the going rate, according to Comparitech, appears to be much lower – often as little as 1/10th of the typical value.

There’s a reason for that. Stolen miles probably will not get cashed in for flights, mainly because of ID issues.  So what are they good for?

Stuff.  

For instance, in 2017, Air Miles, a Canadian loyalty scheme, issued a warning that thieves were using miles to buy merchandise in stores that participate in the program.

In other cases, bolder crooks redeem miles for flights and then sell the travel on websites, often at huge discounts.  See a flight going for half what it’s worth and that’s a red flag for trouble ahead.

How do thieves get most of their stolen miles? Generally by hacking into individual accounts – meaning they figure out your user name and password, or they use a robot to try enough combinations until it stumbles into the proper formula.  It sounds labor intensive but, increasingly, it is automated.

Loyalty programs now are in a fast track mode to contain fraud. According to Maritz’ Kirk, “Until very recently, program fraud was only discussed in hushed tones or dismissed as a non-issue. Now all major loyalty agencies proudly promote their fraud protection tools and process.”

Even so, the burden is on you.  The miles and points are yours and that also means they are yours to safeguard.

How? That’s easy.  Comparitech offered a number of tips, including:

“Shred your boarding pass after a flight.
Never post a photo of your boarding pass online.
Use a strong and unique password for your frequent flyer account.
Monitor your account for suspicious activity.”

The last is crucial.  Make it a habit to stop into your loyalty accounts at least monthly.

And also make it a habit to change your passwords occasionally, certainly yearly.

One last bit of advice: just don’t use public wifi to access your loyalty accounts. Of course it’s tempting when you are sitting at the airport to put the time to use surfing your airline and hotel websites. Don’t. At least don’t on public wifi. Use a cellphone hotspot instead.

It’s up to you to protect your miles.  Know that and do it.