What Travelers Need from Hotels in 2015

So many hotels still disappoint. That’s the puzzlement. TripAdvisor is filled with rants about what ticks us off but hoteliers, many of them, seem to just shrug off the negative.

And often they don’t seem to care to know what we really want.

Let me simplify this because we really don’t need much to stay happy.

Personally, for instance, I don’t care if a hotel’s restaurants suck – most do – because I don’t plan to eat there anyway.

And much as I like a decent free breakfast – always available at the highway motels I favor on road trips – I don’t view the lack as a deal breaker.

Of course a lack of electrical outlets irks me – it’s a usual winner in the Hotel Pet Peeves Survey – but I would not call it a deal breaker. It is easy enough to pack a power strip.  But nowadays I usually travel only with four plug ins (two phones, an iPad, a laptop) and I can scrounge up enough outlets in just about every room (tho I often do unplug hotel stuff).

I am of course already on record about room features I am happy to have removed, room phones, minibar, and TVs high on the list.  

But there are deal breakers, things that hotels flub that I really cannot abide.

Such as? Here are four.

No good coffee in the morning.  I like it in inroom but, in Las Vegas, one gets used to traipsing down to Starbucks at 6 a.m. and, really, Howard Schultz pours a better cup than a K-Cup machine makes inroom.  Sure, Starbucks costs a few bucks – maybe $5 in Las Vegas – but let’s not pinch pennies. As long as good coffee is readily at hand, free or no, I am at one.

What irks me is when the only coffee is inroom, made with what looks to be a 20 year old drip machine that produces what a European friend of mine calls “American brown water.”

That is no way to start a day.

No Chip and PIN Credit Card Readers.  Hotels have been beset with credit card data breaches in recent years and very probably it will get worse after the October 1 EMV liability shift.   Frankly I am increasingly tempted to decline to hand over a credit card to a hotel; the risks are real. Whatever you do, don’t hand over a debit card at a hotel – the consumer protections in the event of a breach just are not as strong.  Bottomline: show me chip and PIN readers at the front desk and at any point of sale terminal and you have won me as a friend. Still be using magnetic stripe readers only and we won’t long remain pals; I just don’t trust you.

Note: accept Apple Pay and Google Wallet and that will be good enough for me for now.

Slow, bad hotel WiFi.  I don’t care if I can’t stream videos – it doesn’t have to be that fast – but there needs be usable hotel WiFi and it needs be free.  Yes, I have said don’t use hotel WiFi, it’s insecure and that is true.  Hotel WiFi is a cesspool of malware and eavesdroppers.

But it’s just the thing for reading Google News stories, surfing ESPN, and doing a lot of online research. Just do not enter any meaningful user IDs and passwords and, please, don’t think of online banking, checking a brokerage account or doing anything that involves money.

Your company says hotel WiFi is okay if you use their VPN? Take their word for it.  And use that VPN to hop into GMail and other password protected accounts.

But, believe me, unless the hotel WiFi is fast you are going to grow old using a VPN on it.

How do I do banking and the other sensitive stuff in hotel rooms? I use my phones to make a mobile hotspot.  That technology is much more secure than hotel WiFi.  Not perfect, no, but I feel safe enough using it. But I cannot create a hotspot if the hotel falls down on the final must have.

The ultimate deal breaker: No cellular.  There remain hotels that just don’t have working cellular and I am not talking remote Alaska fishing camps where of course there is no cellular. I’m talking northern Arizona, Las Vegas (outskirts), Vermont, to name three places I have personally confronted it.  

My advice: check out as soon as you encounter it.  Refuse to pay a cancellation fee if in fact the hotel did not fully disclose at the time of booking that it is in a cellular black hole.  Not having cellular is akin to not having airconditioning in the Sonoran desert summer. It just is unacceptable.

Here’s a business idea for a geek. Just as there is Hotel WiFi Test, somebody needs to erect a hotel cellphone test site so we know which hotels and resorts to blackball.

Those are my four dealbreakers. What are yours?

Readers: share your own deal breakers. All appropriate comments will be posted.

The Sabre Breach: How to Keep Your Travel Plans Private

The Sabre breach has to shake you. Apparently millions of hotel and airline bookings may have been hoovered out of the onetime American Airlines subsidiary, probably by the same gang of China state sponsored cybercriminals who are said to have been behind many other huge recent breaches at United, the US Office of Personnel Management, Anthem, and many more.

Exact details of the Sabre breach are, as always, sparse.   Said the company in a statement: “We recently learned of a cybersecurity incident, and we are conducting an investigation into it now. At this time, we are not aware that this incident has compromised sensitive protected information, such as credit card data or personally identifiable information, but our investigation is ongoing.”

American Airlines is apparently investigating if the hackers backed into the AA computers via Sabre. The two companies are said to share some computer infrastructure.

Even without the extra AA data, the Sabre data haul alone could be in the billions of travel records.  Then add in an apparent – and possibly huge breach of passenger records at United.  Almost certainly your information is in this very large mix.  Should you be worried?

What is obvious is that somebody – and most fingers point to China – is building an enormous database on America’s citizenry that comprises health records, employment records, personal details, and now quite possibly extensive travel records.

Nobody presently has any clue what the intent of the information gatherers is.  That has to make us all worry.

There also are obvious – deeply troubling – uses to a storehouse of travel plans. These records are gold to anybody who wants to track spies, suspected spies, handlers, and – say – M&A artists.

What can you do to protect the privacy of your travel data?  Not very much. That’s the sad truth.

But there are small steps we can take to conceal our flight and hotel plans.

In bygone years – pre 9/11 – many celebrities and even some ultra rich and executives routinely traveled under fake names.  They checked into hotels under pseudonyms and they flew under similar.

That just is not viable today, at least not for commercial air when the TSA demands positive ID and an airline ticket issued in the name on the ID.

Could a high-roller fool the system by buying a cheap SFO to LAX flight, showing that ticket and his/her real ID to TSA…then discarding that tickets and pulling out a ticket to Newark in the name of Daffy Duck?

Probably.  But for how long? And how many of us want to suffer the expense just to cover up our wanderings?

And it wouldn’t work at all for international travel.

For those who crave privacy, private planes are the only real option – and for many who want this privacy, the price is not a barrier.  When mum has to be the word, go private.

That’s one way to foil the breachers,

What about self-defense in hotels?

I cannot remember the last time I was not asked to produce a photo ID to check into a hotel. Why?

There apparently is no body of law requiring hotels in the US to verify a guest’s identity with a photo ID.

Of course, hotels – ever wary of credit card fraud – want to believe checking IDs will reduce fraud (has it? Of course not).

But that does not give them the right to demand I prove my identity to claim my bed. Or sometimes just to walk into the lobby.

Maybe we should all just stop playing along with the hotels’ identify demand – especially since there are no good reasons to believe hotels are good securers of our information (from ID to credit card data).

Just say no.

The only way to protect oneself from an unknown adversary who is sucking up as much information as he can is to get stingy about leaving traces of it, especially in places that do not need it – and, for me, in travel the obvious places that have no real need for a lot of identifying data is hotels.