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Airport Business Travel Frequent Flyer Money Travel Technology Travel Trends

Priority Pass vs. Lounge Pass: Which Is Better for Affordable Airport Lounge Access?

Airport lounges hold a sort of mystical appeal for the weary budget traveler. What oasis lies behind those discreet doors? What peaceful pleasures are bestowed upon those fortunate enough to cross that threshold? Well, for the most part you’ll find snacks, beverages, comfortable seating, and a generally quieter environment than the terminal gates and food courts. (And sometimes, really magical lounges even have showers.)

Airport lounges can be a much-needed respite, particularly for frequent flyers looking for a moment’s rest amidst a packed schedule and long flight delays or layovers. But access is usually limited to elite frequent flyers or travelers with the means (read: bank account) required to fork over hundreds of dollars a year for membership or elite status.

But if you only want to use a lounge a few to several times a year, there are economical third-party options available, usually in the form of a membership or a pay-as-you-go service. Lounge passes like Priority Pass can also be a great way to save money at the airport if you typically dine or drink on a long layover; pricey airport meals add up quickly. Let’s review two popular examples of these services to weigh the price and advantages of each.

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Priority Pass

One of the most popular lounge pass options out there, Priority Pass, is a membership service that provides lounge access at a meaningful discount over airline-affiliated lounges. The program offers three membership tiers:

  • Standard (for “occasional travelers”): $99 annual fee plus $32 per lounge visit
  • Standard Plus (for “regular travelers”): $249 annual fee; covers 10 visits, additional visits are $32 each
  • Prestige (for “frequent travelers”): $429, unlimited lounge visits

Right off the bat, the only Priority Pass tiers that really make sense are the Plus and Prestige. Let’s do some quick math: If you opt for the Standard tier and make five lounge visits in a year, your total cost (including the annual fee) would be $259. That’s $10 more than the Standard Plus tier for half as many lounge visits. In other words, Standard is not a good deal.

Fine, let’s say you purchase the Standard and make just three lounge visits instead of five: You’d spend $195 total, or roughly $65 per visit, which we’ll see later is still a substantial overpay for lounge access. Even if you’re using Standard minimally, it’s not a good deal.

Conversely, the Standard Plus option actually delivers decent value if you use it six or more times per year, and especially if you use the full 10. At six visits, the per-visit cost for the Standard Plus would be $41, going down to $25 per visit if you use the full 10. Just $41 is reasonable for a lounge visit, and $25 is relatively cheap, not to mention about how much you probably already spend on a sub-par airport meal in the busy terminal.

Long story short, for most travelers it’s Standard Plus or bust. (Note: Guests are $32 per visit, regardless of tier.)

As for what you get, Priority Pass grants access to 1,200 lounges. The options include a mix of independently-owned and airline-affiliated options, but if you aren’t picky there’s a good chance you’ll find something in your airport. That said, check before you sign up to make sure your most frequented airports and terminals have facilities covered by Priority Pass. In Boston, for example, Priority Pass only offered facilities in Terminals B, C, and E, and the Terminal B option isn’t lounge access at all: it’s a $28 discount at one of the post-security restaurants, instead. Priority Pass has relationships with several credit cards that offer this restaurant credit, but American Express notably reduced its agreement earlier this month.

Lounge Pass

On the other end of the spectrum we have Lounge Pass, a fairly a straightforward a la carte service that lets you book individual lounge visits. Lounge Pass says you can book these for as little as $19 per visit, but that will vary. The Lounge Pass network is smaller, with just 500 lounges available at 300 airports worldwide.

As for pricing, a quick search of Boston, again, delivered three options (and no odd restaurant discount situations) available for between $35 and $40 per visit. I found similar prices in Seattle ($40), Chicago O’Hare ($40), Dulles in Washington, D.C. ($50), and Newark ($38). Compare these prices to the per-visit cost of a Standard and it’s clear this is the better option for less-frequent travelers, especially considering many of the lounges are the same in both programs.

The Verdict

Priority Pass and Lounge Pass are both owned and operated by the same company, Collinson, which also provides various loyalty and customer experience services to major airlines, as well as to retailers, banks, and other businesses. In effect, these two options are simply different versions of the same product.

Priority Pass does throw in some window-dressing benefits, including vague “exclusive offers,” 24/7 membership support, and a mobile app with a digital membership card and the ability to pre-order take-out from airport restaurants. (But, aren’t the lounges supposed to have food?) These are certainly nice to have, but don’t add significant value to the program.

Ultimately, which version you prefer probably depends on how much money you’re willing to shell out in one purchase, and how often you use or surmise you’d need an airport lounge. Priority Pass is a good pay-ahead option if you fly more often, while Lounge Pass is more pay-as-you-need for less-frequent or non-business travelers.

What to Wear in the Airport

For info on these editor-selected items, click to visit the seller’s site. Things you buy may earn us a commission.

Readers, have you ever booked an airport lounge for your travels? What service did you use? Comment below.

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Airport Business Travel

A Guide to Global Entry Renewal

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If you’re a Global Entry member, you probably agree: It’s the best $100 you’ll ever spend on travel. Once you’ve skipped the painfully long border control lines on return to the U.S., you don’t want to go back to waiting with everyone else—so you’d better make sure you don’t let your membership expire. Here’s what you need to do for Global Entry renewal.

When to Start Your Global Entry Renewal

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  • You can renew your Global Entry membership beginning one year before yours expires.
  • Customs and Border Protection (CBP) recommends that members renew Global Entry early to prevent a lapse in membership.
  • If you renew early, the additional five years will be added on to your expiration date, so you aren’t losing any time by completing your Global Entry renewal before the deadline.

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How to Renew Global Entry

  • Log in to your Global Entry account on the CBP’s Trusted Traveler Page and fill out the “renew application” form.
  • Pay $100, which covers your membership for the next five years.
  • In some cases, you may be required to complete an in-person interview, so you’ll need to schedule an appointment at a Global Entry office in order to finalize your renewal.
  • If you aren’t flagged for an interview, you will be mailed your new Global Entry card to the address you have on file.
  • Once your Global Entry renewal is conditionally approved, you’ll receive an email indicating a status change to let you know that you’ve been either approved or conditionally approved with a requirement to schedule an interview. (This information is also posted to your Trusted Traveler account.)

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Important Tips for Global Entry Renewal

  • If you also need to renew or get a new passport or driver’s license, you must also update that information on your Trusted Traveler account.
  • Changing your name? You won’t be able to update that online, so once you’ve received your new passport and driver’s license showing the change, you’ll have to go to an enrollment center to add the new documents to your account. Appointments are not accepted for this service, so you’ll need to do a walk-in.
  • If an interview is required for your renewal, and you are booked on an international flight, CBP may offer you the option of doing your interview upon arriving home.

Personal Experience with Renewing Global Entry

I submitted my Global Entry renewal about one year before my membership was due to expire. I was not notified that I had been approved, but approximately three months later, I received my new Global Entry card in the mail, along with a letter of approval.

Traveling? Aim for a Carry-On That Does MORE

The Bigger Carry-On from Away

3 words: lightweight, durable, & multi-functional. The Carry-On from Away makes traveling that much easier, especially with its removable, TSA-approved battery for your electronics.

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Caroline Morse Teel posts plenty of travel tips, including on Global Entry renewal. Follow her on Instagram @TravelWithCaroline for advice and inspiration.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2018. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Booking Strategy Budget Travel Frequent Flyer Miles & Points

The Best Frequent Flyer Programs for 2019, Ranked

WalletHub is out with a list of what it considers the Best Frequent Flyer Programs for 2019. Because the term “best” is usually relative to the traveler, lists of this kind can range from useful to clickbait. WalletHub’s version seems to be the former; it includes substantial data points and even an interactive calculator where travelers can enter their travel budget to find the best option for them.

The survey ranks the 10 largest domestic airlines based on 23 key metrics, ranging from the breadth of the airline’s route map to the ease of attaining elite status to the airline’s fees. The methodology is quite extensive, (which we’ll get to in a moment).

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The ‘Best’ Frequent Flyer Programs

As for that list, here are the WalletHub rankings.

  1. Delta SkyMiles (for the fourth straight year in WalletHub’s rankings)
  2. United Airlines
  3. JetBlue Airways
  4. Southwest Airlines
  5. Hawaiian Airlines
  6. Alaska Airlines
  7. American
  8. Frontier
  9. Sun Country
  10. Spirit

Digging Deeper into Frequent Flyer Programs

WalletHub helpfully silos its data into three of traveler types, based on average annual airfare spend: Light ($527 per year on airfare), Average ($3,880) and Frequent ($7,232). WalletHub also has a calculator that will list the top two programs for you, based on your personal spending habits:

There are a few data points that really jump out from WalletHub’s research. First, only three airlines (JetBlue, Frontier, and Hawaiian) are offering more rewards value in 2019 than in 2018, which is calculated as the value received per $100 spent. Hawaiian leads that category, returning $21.29 for Frequent travelers, $15.97 for Average travelers, and $10.64 (a statistical tie with Frontier) for Light travelers. Second, Delta and JetBlue are the only airlines whose miles don’t expire due to inactivity. Conversely, eight of the ten airlines have no blackout dates.

Third, and of no surprise to anyone playing the mileage game, “airline miles cost an average of 61 percent more than they’re worth when purchased rather than earned.” And another “no surprise” is that Spirit is the worst on this metric, with a 72 percent markup on its purchased frequent flyer miles. Southwest is the “best” option, with a 44 percent markup on purchase miles; JetBlue is another outlier, with “only” a 51 percent markup.

There’s a lot more information in the full report, so it’s worth reading whether you’re enrolled in a program or considering it.

Readers: What is your preferred frequent flier program? Or have you stayed out of the points/miles game?

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Booking Strategy Frequent Flyer

Big Changes at Hilton Honors from April 3

Hilton announced early this year that there were significant changes coming to the Honors program, set to take effect on April 3. This is a reminder of what’s coming, and how it’s likely to affect you.

Earning

The most impactful changes take place in points-earning.

First, members will earn points only—no more points-and-miles or points-and-points.

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Second, the earning rates, including elite bonuses, will change, as follows:

  • Blue (non-elite) members will earn 10 points per $1 (versus 15 currently)
  • Silver members will earn 12 points per $1 (versus 16.5 currently)
  • Gold members will earn 18 points per $1 (versus 17.5 currently)
  • Diamond members will earn 20 points per $1 (versus 20 currently)

Elite Benefits

Perhaps recognizing that the earning changes would be perceived as a net devaluation, Hilton is adding some new perks for elite Honors members:

  • Elites can rollover elite-qualifying nights
  • Gold and Diamond elites can gift elite status to other members
  • Elite members will receive milestone bonuses (10,000 points every 10 nights beginning after 40 nights)

Winners and Losers

On the earning side, there are clearly more losers than winners. Only Gold members earn more, and only marginally more.

Points-and-miles is a program feature that had value for many members. While Hilton claims that only 1 percent of Honors members elected to earn that way, that’s still a big number (1 percent of 71 million equals 710,000 members). It will be missed.

For Gold and Diamond elites, the combination of rollover nights, elite-status gifting, and milestone bonuses will make the program modestly more valuable.

Honors remains competitive overall with the other major chains’ loyalty programs. No thanks to these latest changes.

Reader Reality Check

How do these changes affect your relationship with Hilton and Honors?

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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Booking Strategy Budget Travel Frequent Flyer

Recap: The Week’s Biggest Travel Stories and Best Deals

Following is our regular summary of the latest travel news and best frequent traveler promotions reviewed during the past week.

If it was a good deal—or a notably bad deal—from an airline, hotel, or car rental loyalty program, you can read all about it here, and plan your travel accordingly.

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Booking Strategy Frequent Flyer

Radisson Hotels Has a New(ish) Loyalty Program

For the past seven years, Club Carlson has been the loyalty program for Carlson Hotels. OK, except, confusingly, there aren’t any Carlson hotels, except for Country Inn & Suites by Carlson, which are widely known simply as Country Inn & Suites.

So at a minimum, there was an identity disconnect between Club Carlson and the brands it represented, which were overwhelmingly Radissons.

In an effort to bring some order and marketing focus to this mishmash of brands, this year the Carlson Rezidor Group became the Radisson Hotel Group, and Club Carlson has just been redesigned and relaunched as Radisson Rewards.

According to today’s news release, “Embedding the Radisson name into the heart of our program, will help us instantly boost the global brand awareness of our loyalty program. Radisson is a name that’s instantly recognizable, respected and stands for award-winning, innovative hospitality.”

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So, what’s changed?

Foremost among Club Carlson’s weaknesses was its elite program. Radisson Rewards somewhat addresses that issue, with lower qualification thresholds, at least at entry-level and top tiers:

  • Silver – Requires 40% fewer nights/stays to qualify
  • Gold – Requires 15% more nights/stays to qualify
  • Platinum – Requires 20% fewer nights/stays to qualify

On the earning side, Club and Platinum members continue earning points at the same rates (20 and 35 points per $1, respectively), but Silver and Gold members now earn fewer points per $1 spent.

It’s all Radisson now, both the program’s name and the brands it represents. That has to be good for the company’s marketing efforts.

As for the other changes, there are as many negatives as positives. From an overall value standpoint, the program remains much as it was, which is not among the industry’s most compelling programs.

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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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Categories
Airport Health & Wellness Travel Etiquette

Can United’s New Procedure Fix the Boarding Crunch?

United Airlines is testing a new boarding procedure that it hopes will provide a better customer experience, with less crowding and more efficient boarding. According to the company’s website:

We’re dedicated to providing convenience and comfort throughout your journey with United and are always looking for ways to improve your overall experience. Our customers have told us they want a better experience when boarding, so we’re working to improve the process by testing a new boarding method at various airports across our network.

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So what is the new boarding process?

As always, passengers will be assigned to five different groups, depending on their seat location, ticket type, frequent-flyer status, and so on. But instead of the current five boarding lanes, the new scheme uses only two lanes.

Group 1 and Group 2 passengers will board first, through Lane 1 and Lane 2. When they’re onboard, the remaining groups will be boarded, in order, through Lane 2. Lane 1 will be left open, to accommodate late arrivals from Groups 1 and 2.

The trick here is keeping passengers seated until their group numbers are called, thereby reducing the congestion that inevitably chokes off the entrance to the jetway. If United can successfully encourage or enforce that behavior, the result should be a calmer, less stressful boarding experience. Problem: solved.

On the other hand, it seems to be human nature to want to be first in line, and it’s easy to imagine members of Groups 3 through 5 ignoring gate agents’ requests to remain seated and loitering at the entrance to Lane 2, long before they’ve been called to board. Problem: unsolved.

Reader Reality Check

Does this seem like a tenable solution, or not?

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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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Categories
Booking Strategy Frequent Flyer Money

Upcoming Hilton Honors Changes Are Good for the Few, Bad for the Many

Hilton titled the news release announcing upcoming changes to its Honors loyalty program as follows: “Hilton Honors Delivers Even More to Its Members in 2018 with Industry-Leading Earn Rates and New Benefits.”

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In fact, for the majority of Honors’ 70 million members, the program will deliver less.

The changes, which are set to take effect in April, summarize as follows:

  • Members will earn points only—no more points and miles or points and points
  • Blue (non-elite) members will earn 10 points per $1 (versus 15 currently)
  • Silver members will earn 12 points per $1 (versus 16.5 currently)
  • Gold members will earn 18 points per $1 (versus 17.5 currently)
  • Diamond members will earn 20 points per $1 (versus 20 currently)
  • Elites can rollover elite-qualifying nights
  • Gold and Diamond elites can gift elite status to another
  • Gold and Diamond members will receive milestone bonuses

The changes are a significant devaluation for Blue and Silver elite members, who will earn fewer points for every $1 spent at Hilton, with no compensating benefits additions. For Gold and Diamond elites, the combination of rollover nights, elite-status gifting, and milestone bonuses will make the program modestly more valuable.

Hilton claims the changes are being made “in direct response to extensive member feedback, as the latest chapter in the continuous evolution of Hilton Honors.” Given how much of a downgrade the changes represent for the majority of program members, one can only wonder which Honors members’ feedback Hilton took into consideration. It certainly wasn’t Blue and Silver members.

Bottom line: More for the few, less for the many. But that doesn’t make a good news release title.

Reader Reality Check

How will these changes affect your relationship with Hilton?

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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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Booking Strategy Budget Travel Frequent Flyer

Recap: The Week’s Biggest Travel Stories and Best Deals

Following is our regular summary of the latest travel news and best frequent traveler promotions reviewed during the past week.

If it was a good deal—or a notably bad deal—from an airline, hotel, or car rental loyalty program, you can read all about it here, and plan your travel accordingly.

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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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Booking Strategy Frequent Flyer Travel Trends

Another Harsh Hotel Cancellation Policy, This Time from Hyatt

When Marriott (which owns Starwood) changed its cancellation policy, in June, it was widely perceived as the beginning of the end of consumer-friendly booking rules.

[st_content_ad]Previously, travelers could cancel their Marriott bookings up to 24 hours before check-in, with no penalty. Under the new rule, travelers are charged a fee if they cancel within 48 hours of check-in.

Marriott justified the change as follows: “The revised policy allows us to make rooms available to guests that would have otherwise gone unoccupied due to a last-minute cancellation.” Of course that’s true; the new policy does indeed enable Marriott to sell more rooms, as well as rake in more fees for last-minute cancellations. It’s a great move for Marriott’s bottom line. But it’s a thumb in the eye of Marriott’s customers.

To no one’s surprise, Hilton quickly followed Marriott’s lead, imposing its own 48-hour cancellation policy, beginning July 31.

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What was surprising was the pivot by InterContinental a few weeks later in the opposite direction: With some regional exceptions, InterContinental standardized its cancellation policy across most of its multiple brands not at 48 hours, like Hilton and Marriott, but at a significantly more consumer-friendly 24 hours.

InterContinental’s contrarian move suggested the remote possibility that other hotel chains might use a more tolerant cancellation rule as a competitive advantage—you know, in keeping with Adam Smith’s theory that competition among companies results in better outcomes for consumers.

Hyatt, for one, will not be following InterContinental’s lead. Rather, as announced this week, Hyatt will begin imposing its own 48-hour cancellation policy for reservations made on and after January 1, 2018.

According to the company, “Effective for reservations made or changed on or after January 1, 2018, Hyatt will implement a revised minimum cancellation policy that allows hotels to manage guestroom availability more effectively, including offering rooms and upgrades to rooms that would have otherwise gone unoccupied.”

However, implicitly acknowledging that the new policy is a negative for its customers, elite members of the hotel’s World of Hyatt loyalty program will still be able to cancel fee-free up to 24 hours before checking in.

So Hyatt’s new policy turns out to be a hybrid: a bit Adam Smith (for elites), but mostly Ebenezer Scrooge (for everyone else).

The takeaway: Cancellation policies are in flux, with the overall trend being negative for travel consumers. Travelers must be extra-aware of hotels’ rules to avoid nasty cancellation fees.

Reader Reality Check

Do cancellation policies factor into your loyalty to hotel chains?

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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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Booking Strategy Budget Travel Frequent Flyer

Recap: The Week’s Biggest Travel Stories and Best Deals

Following is our regular summary of the latest travel news and best frequent traveler promotions reviewed during the past week.

If it was a good deal—or a notably bad deal—from an airline, hotel, or car rental loyalty program, you can read all about it here, and plan your travel accordingly.

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Somebody has to win this trip, right? Might as well be you.

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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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Booking Strategy Frequent Flyer

J.D. Power: The Best Hotel Loyalty Program Is …

The best hotel loyalty program? The just-released J.D. Power 2017 Hotel Loyalty Program Satisfaction Study purports to answer that question.

The study ranks hotel loyalty programs according to the following criteria: ease of earning and redeeming rewards (35 percent); program benefits (27 percent); account management (22 percent); and member communication (16 percent).

The results reflect 4,682 responses from program participants who completed at least five trips during the past 12 months.

Here are the rankings, with the programs’ scores on a 1,000-point scale:

  1. Marriott Rewards – 806
  2. World of Hyatt – 805
  3. Hilton Honors – 793
  4. IHG Rewards – 789
  5. Starwood Preferred Guest – 787
  6. Best Western Rewards – 778
  7. La Quinta Rewards – 772
  8. Club Carlson – 756
  9. Choice Privileges – 743
  10. Wyndham Rewards – 742

Marriott’s is indisputably one of the best programs. No argument on that score. But World of Hyatt at number 2? That will come as a surprise to many travelers, who gave the revamped program a thumbs down when it debuted in March.

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And Wyndham Rewards at the bottom of the list? The same Wyndham Rewards that offers a free night at any hotel in its extensive network for just 15,000 points? The same Wyndham Rewards program that was ranked number 2 in recent hotel-program surveys from both U.S. News & World Report and USA Today?

To me, the results point to either an ill-conceived set of ranking criteria, or a poor choice of survey respondents. One possible clue to J.D. Power’s debatable findings may lie in this statement that accompanied the study:

Flexibility in how to redeem points and the ease with which customers can redeem those points are the key drivers of customer satisfaction in this space, which makes forming strong partnerships with third-party service providers a priority for hotel loyalty programs.

The ability to redeem points for magazine subscriptions is a key driver of traveler satisfaction? Not to me, and nor, I suspect to most other frequent travelers.

Reader Reality Check

Agree or disagree: Marriott Rewards is the best hotel loyalty program, followed by World of Hyatt.

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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Categories
Booking Strategy Business Travel Frequent Flyer

Air Canada Pursues U.S. Travelers with More Service, Elite Perks

Air Canada is upping its game with an eye toward capturing more U.S. travelers, adding new cross-border routes and enhancing services targeting elite flyers.

Beginning this spring, the airline will add six new routes between Canada and the U.S., as follows:

  • Beginning May 1, Edmonton-San Francisco
  • Beginning May 1, Toronto-Omaha
  • Beginning May 17, Vancouver-Sacramento
  • Beginning May 17, Toronto-Providence
  • Beginning May 17, Montreal-Baltimore
  • Beginning May 17, Montreal-Pittsburgh

The new flights will be operated with 50- or 76-seat CRJs by Air Canada Express.

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Beginning later this week, Air Canada premium flyers departing from Toronto airport can await their flights in an all-new airport lounge. According to the airline, “The Air Canada Signature Suite provides premium Air Canada customers with a luxury experience unrivalled in North America that elevates Air Canada into the ranks of leading global carriers for discerning international travellers.” That luxury experience includes complimentary restaurant-style meal service with dishes designed by celebrity chef David Hawksworth, hors d’oeuvres, wine, and cocktails.

The lounge will be accessible only to “full fare paying International Business Class customers, excluding upgrades and most point redemption programs.” Americans connecting in Toronto to Air Canada flights to Europe or Asia are clearly part of the targeted market.

And speaking of premium passengers, Air Canada also announced this week that, beginning later this year, the airline would provide elite members of its mileage program with free Gogo inflight Wi-Fi service. Altitude Elite 75K members will receive six-month unlimited-use passes, and Super Elite 100K members will receive 12-month passes.

It’s obvious that Air Canada is making a play for U.S.-originating travelers, and high-yield American travelers in particular. With moves like this, the airline’s chances look good.

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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Categories
Airport Booking Strategy Frequent Flyer In-Flight Experience

JetBlue Has a New Boarding Scheme. It’s Complicated

To airline managers, an airplane sitting on the ground is a horror: an expensive asset failing to justify its expense. The goal is full utilization, which means keeping planes airborne as many hours as possible, with as many passengers on board as possible.

[st_content_ad]One key to maximizing utilization is timely turn-arounds, which require quick, orderly boarding. That would seem to be among an airline’s easiest tasks. Yet after more than a century of commercial air travel, there’s still no consensus on the best way to quickly fill a plane with passengers.

Some airlines board passengers by row; others board by cabin; and still others use a hybrid scheme that combines considerations of row and cabin and other factors.

While there’s no consistency among different airlines, travelers can at least expect consistency from flight to flight when flying the same carrier. Until, that is, the airline changes schemes.

That’s just what JetBlue did recently, replacing its row-by-row boarding with a new group-based approach, which boards passengers in the following order:

  • Pre-boarding for disabled passengers
  • Mosaic elite and Mint passengers
  • Even More Space passengers (Group A)
  • Active military and passengers with children in strollers or car seats
  • Group B
  • Group C
  • Group D
  • Group E
  • Everyone else

Naturally, JetBlue paints a rosy picture of the new process, touting its supposed benefits to passengers. In response to a request for more information regarding the reasons for the change and its effects, a JetBlue representative claimed the new procedure was designed to “reduce congestion on the jet bridge and in the aisles—and get customers on their way faster than ever.” As for its effects, “While the process is still new, we have been quite pleased with the results. Many customers and crewmembers have remarked on the ease and speed of boarding.”

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Is it really any faster than the old way? JetBlue customers commenting on FlyerTalk, a discussion board for frequent flyers, gave the new scheme mixed reviews.

According to one commenter:

I was on BOS -> ORD round trip yesterday morning/night, maybe it was just a predominantly business crowd, but it seemed really quick and easy boarding each way.

But another’s experience was less positive:

I can’t accurately say if there was a change in boarding time, as this was my first A321 flight, but both boardings (particularly outbound from BOS) seemed to take forever. Flight back wasn’t full, so that helped, but boarding was pretty slow, and gate agents seemed to be allowing long pauses between boarding groups (presumably to let the aisle clear out).

And there was at least one conspiracy theorist, who divined ulterior motives in the switch:

This won’t affect me but I would like to know the impetus for the switch. Seems needless unless they are going to upsell the boarding groups to nickel and dime people.

Indeed, for what’s being characterized as a customer benefit, the airline has been notably mum on the subject. Aside from an email to JetBlue’s elite Mosaic members, there has been suspiciously little communication about the change. No news release. No social media buzz. Nothing.

As a result, many JetBlue travelers have been taken by surprise when faced with the new boarding rules. Whether it’s ultimately deemed a pleasant surprise or not remains to be seen.

Reader Reality Check

Upgrade or downgrade: What’s your assessment of JetBlue’s new boarding process?

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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Categories
Booking Strategy Frequent Flyer

Good Ol’ Hilton Is Back with the Double Points

Hilton’s promotions are rarely the industry’s most generous. In fact, the company has settled into somewhat of a marketing rut with its continuous string of middling double-points offers. But what it lacks in imagination and generosity, it makes up for in intensity. I can’t remember a single week during the past two years when a Hilton stay would not have earned at least that modest bonus.

And the beat goes on …

Offer Details

Between September 1 and December 31, Honors members will earn double points for every qualifying stay. The same as they did between May 1 and August 31. And so on before that.

There’s a new kicker added for Diamond members: They’ll earn 10,000 bonus points for every 10 nights, up to a maximum of 50,000 points after 50 nights.

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Registration is required.

Deal or No Deal

Double points might be thought of as the minimum bonus required for an offer to be worthy of being called a promotion. Anything less would be met with disappointment or derision by loyalty-program members. It’s better than nothing, but hardly an excitement-generator.

But again, Hilton’s sheer consistency in keeping the earning rate even modestly elevated is a plus for the program.

Note that Hilton’s 500-point bonus for bookings made via the Honors mobile app will remain in effect through the end of 2017, and is combinable with this promotion. Every little bit helps, right?

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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