Will You Swap a Seat Upgrade or Free Flight for…a Free Drink in Economy?




Will You Swap a Seat Upgrade for…a Free Drink in Economy?


by Robert McGarvey

Call it the latest slap in the face to airline elites. In a sign that seat upgrades and free flights are ever more unattainable – just look at how full every flight you take is — United and American have announced that they will begin giving free drinks and food to elites exiled to cheap seats in economy.

Happy now?

Sure, before you got free upgrades to business class just because of your elite status or, worse guess, you spent some miles and bought the upgrade. Now you don’t get either.

Enjoy the free drink.

United said this in unveiling the program: “One new way that we’re enhancing the inflight experience for our most frequent flyers is by offering MileagePlus members with Premier® 1K® status free alcoholic beverages and snacks in United Economy®. If you’re a member with Premier 1K status, you’ll receive one free alcoholic beverage and one free Choice Menu food item when traveling in United Economy on United- or United Express®-operated flights within North America and between Guam and Honolulu.”

A Sam Adams or a glass of red is $7.99 on United.  A wrap and salad combo goes for $9.49.

American Airlines does similar. Said AA: “AAdvantage® Executive Platinum and ConciergeKeySM members traveling in the Main Cabin on board American Airlines and American Eagle® can enjoy a complimentary beverage from our standard alcoholic beverage selections as well as one snack. The snack includes any food item on our menu.”

Glass half full people are applauding all this as signs of a new airline generosity – but, really, how can they not be generous? Fuel has plummeted to prices not seen in years and capacity is at a stuffed like sardines into a can level.

So they throw us a bone and expect us not to yelp.

I have said before that airline miles are nearing null value.  The food and drink freebies underline that the airlines are trying to distract us from the uselessness of miles by giving us a few overpriced and blah items.

Items that I don’t want. Do you?

I don’t recall the last time I paid for a drink on a plane. I may never have bought food and I’d stopped eating it back when it was still free.  

I do like free flights, tho, and I am fond of spending miles for seat upgrades too.

It simply seems that now that is ever less likely to happen.

Add in program changes where ticket price paid – not miles flown – determines a ticket’s awards value and you have to know that the chances of redeeming miles for air travel get ever slimmer.

That is a reason why the airlines bombard us with offers to sell us stuff – merchandise – for miles. It also is why they are now throwing freebies at elites in economy – hoping those elites forget that just a very few years ago they almost always got upgraded to business class where drinks are free and plentiful and food too is free.

Some may call me cynical. They will point to breathless stories such as this one from Travel and Leisure that touts how miles and $5.60 bought a business class roundtrip to Ghana.   I applaud the wise mileage game player who managed this.

But it reminds me of George Orwell’s prescient comments on lotteries in 1984.  Wrote Orwell: ““The Lottery, with its weekly pay-out of enormous prizes, was the one public event to which the proles paid serious attention. It was probable that there were some millions of proles for whom the Lottery was the principal if not the only reason for remaining alive. It was their delight, their folly, their anodyne, their intellectual stimulant. Where the Lottery was concerned, even people who could barely read and write seemed capable of intricate calculations and staggering feats of memory. There was a whole tribe of men who made their living simply by selling systems, forecasts, and lucky amulets. Winston had nothing to do with the Lottery, which was managed by the Ministry of Plenty, but he was aware (indeed everyone in the party was aware) that the prizes were largely imaginary. Only small sums were actually paid out, the winners of the big prizes being nonexistent persons.”

I am not saying nobody ever actually redeems miles for flights.

It happens.

Just a lot less often than it used to.
And you have to wonder if now is the time to stop playing the game.

How Unsanitary Is Your Hotel Room? Five Star Filth



How Unsanitary Is Your Hotel Room


by Robert McGarvey


If you are reading this in a hotel room, my advice is to click to any other page.  You are not in the right place to hear the news about how abundantly -wildly – unsanitary most hotel rooms are.

That’s the headline finding in a study conducted by the folks at travel app Travelmath.  Called “Hotel Hygiene Exposed,” that is exactly what it does.  

Note: I have been in independent, low budget hotels in tertiary cities where filth was obvious, from stained upholstery to cigarette burns in the rugs and rings in the toilet.  But those are not the hotels Travelmath has in its sights.  It takes aim at properties ranked 3 star and higher and what it found out nonetheless is disgusting.

Shockingly, in many categories, four and five star hotels are filthier than three stars, according to Travelmath.

Details momentarily.

First, this poor showing does not surprise me.  My impression was that in the hotel recession of six or so years ago many hotels cut deeply into their housekeeping budgets.  Housekeepers seemed fewer. They also showed up at ever odder hours (6 pm, for instance, when most of us are getting ready to go out for dinner).  And they forgot to do stuff.  How often have you found a cleaning rag left in a room, or a dirty towel?

Personally I felt compassion for the overworked – and underpaid – housekeepers.  What I did not compute was how unsanitary hotel rooms have become.  This is not just a matter of neatness. Health and hygiene are at stake.

Don’t blame the housekeepers, Blame their bosses.

In its study, Travelmath sent out investigators with swabs to collect what’s called colony forming units, that is, bacteria that multiply.

Here are CFU counts found across nine hotels:

  1. Bathroom counter – 1,288,817 CFU/sq. in.
  2. Remote control – 1,211,687 CFU/sq. in.
  3. Desk – 604,907 CFU/sq. in.
  4. Phone – 4,252 CFU/sq. in.

You would be right if you decide to never, again, touch a TV remote in a hotel room.  I won’t.  They are avoidable and they are disgusting.

I assume the phone count is comparatively low because who actually picks up an inroom phone anymore?

Travelmath then investigated whether a hotel’s star rating translates into a more sanitary room.

Hare are the CFU counts they found in a three star hotel:

Bathroom counter – 320,007 CFUs

Remote – 232,733 CFUs

Phone – 11.403 CFUs

Desk – 4687 CFUs


In a four star they found this:

Bathroom counter – 2,534,773 CFUs

Desk – 1,800,003 CFUs

Remote – 1,400,027

Phone – 137 CFUs


In a five star they found this:

Remote – 2,002,300 CFUs

Bathroom counter – 1,011, 670 CFUs

Desk – 40,030 CFUs

Phone – 1217 CFUs


The takeaways: avoid remotes everywhere and, the pricier the hotel, the safer the phone (probably the high-end guests do all calling on their mobiles).

Otherwise there is no obvious correlation between star ranking and cleanliness.

How bad are these results? Travelmath said: “Overall, according to the surfaces we tested, the average hotel room appears to be dirtier than a typical home, an airplane, and even a school.”


Travelmath added: “All germs are not created equal. For this study, we tested for the presence of various types of bacteria (including bacilli and cocci), yeast, and gram-positive rods (bacteria that cause various ailments, such as skin infections and pneumonia) and gram-negative rods (bacteria that cause respiratory and other infections).

“In three-star hotels, the remote control tended to harbor Bacillus spp, which could be associated with various infections, including respiratory and gastrointestinal. Additionally, tests revealed yeast present in the bathrooms in three-star hotels. In four-star hotels, Bacillus spp dominated on the remote and telephone. In five-star hotels, the brunt of bacteria were gram negative, though the phone was rife with gram-positive cocci.”

Travelmath advised: “Your best bet: During hotel stays, wash your hands frequently, disinfect surfaces before touching them, and steer clear of certain areas.”

If you must use the remote, my advice is bring a sanitary wipe and clean the thing first.  A fast wipe of the bathroom counter with a wipe is smart.  Ditto for the desktop.
Do I travel with wipes? I have not. But that will change. Hotel room cleaning is obviously something we need to take into our own hands and a few sanitary minutes ought to be plenty to sanitize a room that otherwise might be dangerous to our health.