Wednesday, October 29, 2008

United Airlines offers Door-to-door luggage

Further to my previous threat to resort to dressing in layers as a human equivalent of a Russian stacking doll, due to the trend towards charging for bags, I won’t have to. `Thanks to a new partnerships with Luggage Forward service, Marriott and The Luxury Collection Hotels & Resorts have a Signature Travel Service. Global Guests of the Luxury Collection will now enjoy luggage Free Travel for a fee. A medium sized bag would cost 94 USA from TX to CA on their 5 day service and $245.00 for overnight. - Steep, but you can get points for it. Luggage Forward's door-to-door luggage delivery service is easier than traveling with luggage, safe and guaranteed to arrive on time. Marriott has an elite special through October 31, 2008 to receive a $50 gift card to use toward delivery service when you register as a new member with The Luggage Club.

They will give a first time user 5% discount to you even if you are not a Starwood or Marriott Rewards member.

United Airlines, today becomes the first U.S. airline to offer overnight baggage shipping service via an overnight courier that will provide customers with a more convenient and easy way to travel -- without their luggage. United's new service, Door-to-Door Baggage, enables customers in the continental U.S. to conveniently ship their suitcases, or other travel items like skis or golf clubs, overnight from a home or office directly to their destination within the 48 contiguous United States. At $149 one way for flights less than 1,000 miles, or $179 for longer flights. Door-to-Door Baggage may be purchased on and shipments can be easily tracked online. The Bags are picked up at a home or office. It also provides United with a new revenue stream that, when combined with other ancillary revenue and fee initiatives, is expected to generate more than one billion dollars in 2009." United has lots more revenue creating fees up their sleeves, for example, starting at $14 one way, customers may sit in United's Economy Plus seating section that has up to five more inches of legroom (for elite customers, access to Economy Plus is complimentary). Also, with United's Award Accelerator offering, starting at $9, customers may earn travel awards faster on UAUA.

Continental has reduced the size of carry-on luggage we suspect to increase the checked bags - now that they charge for them. I wonder if United will think of a way to force people to use their new Door-to-Door service.?

Halloween Hotels

The Coronado Island Marriott Resort & Spa in California, has their own resident ghost.
For those with smaller children a more controlled environment can be found at the many parties promoted. A Halloween package is offered at the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa in Scottsdale Arizona 85254 where they Have a director of FUN.
In old England cakes were made for the wandering souls at All Hallows an ancient, pre-Christian Celtic festival of the dead but then it was wiped out in England when it was considered a "pagan" holiday.
In 601 A.D. Pope Gregory rather than try to obliterate native peoples' customs and beliefs, the pope instructed his missionaries to use them so the Irish brought the custom to America. Thanks to Pope Gregory, the day of the dead is celebrated in Mexico. The holiday focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and relatives who have died. Catholics take food to eat at the graveyards. The celebration occurs on the 1st and 2nd of November.
The town of Ocotepec, north of Cuernavaca in the State of Morelos opens its doors to visitors in exchange for 'veladoras' (small wax candles) to show respect for the recently dead. In return, the visitors receive tamales and 'atole'. I stayed at the
Marriott Ixtapan de la Sal Hotel & Spa in the area.
In the Philippines, the holiday is called Araw ng mga Patay (Day of the Dead) and is an amazing time to visit a cemetery because it is celebrated similar to the Mexican celebration.
In the U.K., Halloween is being picked up from the USA but their biggest night is on November 5, Guy Fawkes to commemorate the successful foiling of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. Also known as Bonfire Night. A great place to visit to experience this is Hexham's popular fireworks extravaganza. They have a Band playing and a big Bonfire.
Visit the White Cliffs of Dover is Britain's supposedly most haunted castle. The spooky events at Dover Castle this Halloween will entertain kids with the legends then adults join a ghost walk through the castle and grounds. Another ancient site worth a visit is Anne Boleyn’s gruesome beheading site. Poor Anne’s headless ghost is said still to roam Blickling Hall.

I still feel it is decidedly pagan, never liked, visiting "haunted houses" or watching horror movies, though I did enjoy the bonfires at Guy Fawkes in England as a child.

Monday, October 27, 2008

AirFrance - KLM may buy Alitalia

AirFrance-KLM may, as soon as next week, buy a 20%-25% stake in a "new" Alitalia, the company which should emerge next week from the remains of the collapsed Italian flag carrier Alitalia according to a published report by the Dutch newspaper, De Telegraaf .
Rumor is that Morgan Stanley is also considering investing in the resuscitated airline, alongside a consortium of Italian investor’s final attempt to rescue Alitalia from bankruptcy protection. The government has appointed Augusto Fantozzi, to restructure, liquidate the company, or perhaps the Franco-Dutch giant will eventually absorb Alitalia. see also the De Finaciele Telegraaf. and here

The Delta-Northwest merger may also happen soon in a new round of consolidation in the troubled industry.
The merger would expand Delta's access to the fast-growing Asian market and create one of the world's largest carriers.
My favorite airline, Continental Airlines is the world's fifth largest airline. I hope they don’t grow too big to treat little me well.
A combination of Delta and Northwest would have nearly $30 billion in annual revenue and about 80,000 employees, knocking American Airlines parent AMR Corp. from its position as the No. 1 U.S. airline and posing a challenge to the world's largest, AIR France-KLM.

In June 2008, airlines were knocked back as oil prices spiked up, but now that gas is low they should do well. On 27th October 2008, La Porte TEXAS had unleaded gas for 1 dollar and 99 cents, so we really should see lower airfare but don’t hold your breath.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Tourism is prostitution

“Tourism is prostitution”, was the headline of the Dutch newspaper, De Telegraaf who in turn were referring to a report by the sensationalist, tabloid paper, The Mail - reporting that Prince Philip, spouse of queen Elizabeth II, has compared tourism to prostitution by saying that it is national prostitution. Reportedly said during a visit with the Queen to Slovenia.
Proof that the tabloid paper is distorting this is that a Buckingham Palace spokesman said: ‘We would never discuss anything Prince Philip might have said.’ The Palace does not dignify a remark to that sort of press.
Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh is 87 years old now and he speaks his mind with a sense of humor that only the English can understand.
Prince Philip's gaffes have bemused us with his insensitive remarks many times. I think that he must tire of the etiquette integrated in his life and he rebels occasionally. At his age we should smile and let him get away with it after all, the weird humor runs in the family, his son Charles enjoys Monte Python. I respect him for his straight talk when he was in the Soviet Union in 1967 he said, "The bastards murdered half my family."
Britain was outraged when he remarked that, "If a cricketer decides to go into a school and batter people to death with a bat are you going to ban cricket bats?" This was after a cry for banning handguns after the Dunblane massacre.
Prince Philip has inserted himself into the debate over London’s traffic congestion with an amusing proposal to ban tourists. In a private conversation with members of the London Assembly, including Jeanette Arnold the appalled tourism chairwoman, he made his latest gaffe.
Some think it’s refreshing to find a public character, with character, who is not afraid to be politically incorrect.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Marriott Rewards will offer the same Elite bonus as other loyalty programs

Marriott Rewards today announced that award blackout dates will go away. If you stay for a single night the blackout date removal will be helpful. I have successfully been redeeming blackout free Starpoints for years.

This Marriott program enhancement will start on the 15th of January 2009, with an increase in the Platinum bonus to 50%, in keeping with the industry standard. - Priority Club (IHG), and Starwood (SPG) give Platinum Elite members a 50% Elite point bonus on base points.

The elite point bonus offered by Marriott is presently only 20 to 30% max (for Plat) whereas the SPG ELITE 50% BONUS is earned on platinum and gold. At the Preferred SPG level, you earn 2 Starpoints per every eligible dollar spent and at the gold and Platinum -3 points.
The elite point bonus for Hilton HHonors is 15 to 50% Hyatt Gold passport Varies between 15-30% with Priority club distinguishing between the elite levels the most with a 10 to -50% bonus. 10% bonus on base points is given to gold members and platinum get 50% bonus to base points.
Next year Marriott will also offer a 5th Award night free. Priority Club (IHG) give Platinum Elite members a 50% Elite point bonus on base points.
Blackout dates will be eliminated at nearly 2,900 Marriott hotels worldwide
Participating brands include Marriott Hotels and Resorts, JW Marriott Hotels and Resorts, Renaissance Hotels and Resorts, Courtyard by Marriott, Residence Inn by Marriott, Fairfield Inn by Marriott, TownePlace Suites by Marriott, and SpringHill Suites by Marriott.

The offer to redeem 4 nights to get the 5th redemption night free is advertised as an enhancement but some are wary.
The Marriott point cost for 5 nights at a Category 5 hotel will cost 5.000 more points for the stay than with the previous point price list.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Planet Hollywood offer for Platinum Elites

Movie stars galore at the Planet Hollywood Hotel in Las Vegas. I’m too stingy to part with my dollars by gambling, but it is fun to people watch and the restaurants, spa and shopping mall gave me plenty to do.
The Movie theme and genuine Hollywood memorabilia decorating all the rooms are unique. The hotel was formerly known as The Aladdin, and was more suited to Disney land. - Much more cool SLIK now!

Starwood today, announced a special offer for Platinum elite members to have a weekend for two, November 7–9, 2008, in Las Vegas for just 20,000 Starpoints. Roll the dice, spin the wheel to reserve your first come, first served spot. This exclusive weekend includes:

  • Two nights’ accommodations in a Hollywood Hip room
  • Friday evening welcome reception
  • SPG member-only blackjack tournament with a chance to win one million Starpoints*
  • Saturday night tickets for two for either Keith Barry: Hypnomagician or Stomp Out Loud
  • Sunday morning breakfast for two with SPG
  • Additional hotel nights for $89 per night

**This exclusive opportunity is only available to the first 300 eligible Platinum Preferred Guest members who respond, so RSVP now. Planet Hollywood Hotel and Casino, A Sheraton Resort, is right on the world famous Las Vegas Strip.
Three acres of non-stop gaming action, great bars, lounges and one bar in the middle of the casino for celebrity watching The EXTRA Lounge. We saw Pamela Anderson there.
The action is here where the correspondents from EXTRA mix, mingle and interview celebrities from their Las Vegas Headquarters. The hotel is easy to navigate around, so no problems getting lost like some of the older Vegas hotels that like to trap their guests in their casinos.

Dining options abound - Japanese Restaurant offering small plates spun with a California twist; the extraordinary prime cuts of Strip House steak house that we celebrated Rene’s birthday at by ordering one desert but got enough chocolate cake for 10 people; the coolly sophisticated Mexican tastes of Yolos Mexican Grill; P.F. Chang's China Bistro; the 24-hour Planet Dailies cafĂ©; the fast and easy Earl of Sandwich; the #1 buffet in all of Vegas—Spice Market Buffet; and even Starbuck's. The chocolate cake was too tempting ...You know what they say about debauchery in Vegas….Unfortunately, what happens in Vegas …. Can’t be dismissed because it shows up on the scale when you get home.

The movie 'WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS" starring Demi Moores Ashton and Cameron Diaz. do plenty of Vegas-style partying filmed at the planet hollywood. Even the horrifying morning after scene was filmed on location in many parts of the hotel. The Fox T.V. drama "PRISON BREAK", was also, recently filmed in many parts of the hotel.
They have 2 enormous pools. What a pity that the hotel pools will be closed for the season starting November 1, 2008 until April 15, 2009. I like to swim throughout the year or at least move my limbs in the hot tub. I even swim at ski resorts if the pool is adequately heated. Nothing I enjoyed more than a swim after skiing at the Hyatt Beaver Creek CO. The steam rises from the pool and it is divine!

I could watch the Bellagio fountain performance while reclining on the bed or while relaxing in the enormous bath tub.

I should not complain about the pool closing for winter because the bath tub in my room was as big as a pool. Extremely divine!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Windmills & Souvenirs

Tourists like to go to the Rijks museum and the many other attractions in Holland but the place that most visitors describe as the highlight of their visit is, - Zaanse Schans.

I always take visitors there and have even guided Dutch natives there. It is a wonderful place to visit to see a delightful old hamlet on the banks of the river Zaan. 'The open-air museum includes a wooden shoemaker, pewter factory, bakery, cheese-maker, dairy farm, and a century-old grocery store. Original buildings have been preserved to depict Dutch life in the 17th and 18th centuries. Don’t miss the historic shipyard, the clog-making demonstration and millers demonstrating how their windmills work.Lots of shops offering Cheese, souvenirs, antiques, wooden toys and old fashioned Drop (Dutch candy made with salt). I know. I can see you pulling a face … ., but its redeeming quality is the licorice.

The first Albert Heijn grocer store can be seen.- Now it is the largest grocery chain in the country.

Admission to Zaanse Schans is free. There is a small fee for the museums, mills and the Loo (you always pay for the Rest Room in Holland.). There are four direct trains per hour that take you from Amsterdam Central Station to the Koog-Zaandijk station in 17 minutes.

Some of the attractions are closed in the winter but there is still lots to see. Bear in mind that it is an outdoor village. I’ve been there on an ice-rain day in the winter.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

a-la-carte air charges by American Airlines

American Airlines, the world’s largest airline, is thinking up all kinds of things that they can charge for in their a la carte program. They were the first to charge for checked bags and now charge for blankets, pillows, headsets, drinks etc. Air Canada has been charging this way since 2004.

CRS software providers that give booking services to airlines and other travel providers may not be programed to the a la carte pricing structure. Sabre is American Airlines so they will adapt but Amadeus, Galileo and Worldspan may not be able to deal with the new pricing.

Northwest Airlines Corp. estimates baggage charges will bring in $150 million or more each year. Continental Airlines estimates it will generate more than $100 million just from a new $15 fee for checking a single bag for non elite passengers
Air Canadas choices are from four fare levels:
The top tickets, called Latitude and Executive Class, are fully refundable and come with priority check-in, food and other extras included. The cheapest fare, called Tango, requires extra fees for upgrades such as a food voucher, advance seat selection, flight changes and airport lounge access. Tango passengers can save another $3 by declining frequent-flier miles or not checking a bag. mmmm... not a bad idea, now that airline miles are worthless.

AA is courting Business Class passengers with its "We Know Why You Fly" brand campaign.

But nickle and diming us because you know that we have to fly does not make us happy and now that oil is cheaper, are they going to give us refunds?
They have added charges for fuel, checked baggage, upgrading from coach and other services, but the one that hits me the most is the flight change fee. I paid 1000.00 dollars on one Continental Airlines international flight. It is $250.00 each time you change the date and I changed both the inbound and the outbound flights 2 times each. The change fee for domestic flights is $150.00 each time.

“As with all of our advertising, we wanted to develop the best story that relates to our customers,” said Roger Frizzell, for American Airlines. “This new commercial is a strong addition to our broadcast and online rotation, exemplifies the commitment that American makes to its business customers, giving them the product that they value.” The new work follows the story of a film producer and the obstacles that she faces while working in different international locations with a talented, yet challenging director. As in real life, American’s global scope and new Business Class offerings are a pivotal part of the story of this resourceful professional who “just makes things happen.” Another commercial, will also be an integral part of American’s out-of-home utilization of video. It is the first of a series that complements the current campaign, which includes “Team Building,” a commercial that features two co-workers desperately trying to change their flights to an earlier departure so they can escape their team-building seminar. That commercial recently won a Cannes Bronze Lion.

The best method to obtain an upgrade

We flew Continental Airlines from New York to Amsterdam using a combination of payment and miles for the upgrade portion. I was at the top of the upgrade wait list. Then joyously, while walking out of the Presidents club, was able to see that my BusinessFirst seat had been confirmed. 'The gate agent was chatting with a passenger pal but I requested my boarding pass. She was about to print it when another agent interrupted to whisper that she wanted to give the upgrade to their friend. She then turned to inform me that there was no upgrade for me, so I respectfully produced proof of my confirmed upgrade, visible on my cell phone. Did not think that this could be disputed but she tried. A moment later I clicked on the refresh button and was astonished to see that the person that was previously behind me on the wait list had jumped over my name and was now positioned to get the seat that I had been allocated. I think that the supervisor was able to discover that her unethical preference for her friend was unmerited, because she unearthed my first class seat.
All was well and I was able to enjoy the scrumptious steak on board, prepared with direction from the Chef at Churrascos Restaurant. It is a restaurant I frequent in Houston.
I like happy endings… will leave it here for today but watch this space because I will elaborate on my growing suspicion that the best trick to obtaining an upgrade is to know the airline staff.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Hell on United Airlines vs Heavenly

I won’t be flying with United because Westin Hotels have partnered with United Airlines to bring the Westin pillows and merchandise to air travel and I am allergic to the down/feather pillows. I would prefer the memory foam.

Business and First-class sections on United's premium service flights between New York's JFK airport and California, travelers will have the signature so called "Heavenly" blanket and pillow, during the cross-country flight.

On the aircrafts and at the Westin Renewal Lounges inside Red Carpet Clubs they will sell their products. In my opinion, they should stick to their core business and not try to sell bedding and furniture on planes.

Select United Red Carpet Clubs in New York and San Francisco, for example, feature custom-designed Westin Renewal Lounges outfitted with the signature Westin design, lighting, White tea scent, food, and botanicals.

They never have their white tea candles in the hotel rooms so I don’t suppose they will have them at the airport and most definitely not on the plane. Are scents not an individual preference?

Friday, October 3, 2008

Insider info. – What Hotel Programs don’t tell you.

I have completed the 25 annual stays that are needed to qualify for Platinum Starwood Elite status and I was planning to use some of my points for the rest of the year so I am a bit peeved that they have an offer to attain elite status more easily than I have been doing it.
Starwood has an offer that they say is ,” The biggest offer in Starwood Preferred Guest® history.” You Choose your own rewards. - The most popular choice is the unlimited double Starpoints® option where you can aspire to reach elite status with stays counting double. Register your choice, complete an eligible stay at any of the participating Starwood hotels and resorts worldwide between October 1 and December 31, 2008, and then reap your reward.
I don’t need it but may wait for it in case they offer it again next year because most hotel chains offer promotions to entice one into accumulating more points. Marriotts fall MegaBonus delivers rewards when you stay at Marriott properties September 15, 2008 to January 15, 2009, and payment is with your Visa Card.

Marriott offer a better deal for less frequent stayers than for Platinum members because Plat members have to stay the full 20 total Visa-paid nights to earn 35,000 bonus points, whereas silver members can start earning bonus points on their second stay but can only earn a max of 25.000 points. They feel better than I did when I stayed 19 nights one year and got NO mega points Zilch! I don’t need points to maintain Platinum level for this year so I won’t even try to get the 20 nights this year since I am not eligible for the 2nd to 19th stay.
The stars have to be perfectly aligned when you register for the MegaBonus promotion if you want to earn 5,000 Marriott Rewards points (up to 25,000 points), for every third Visa-paid stay you make at Marriott (Platinum members are NOT eligible). Some guests stars are aligned to get points after their second stay.
Some earn up to 25,000 Bonus Points Stays and only need 15 stays to achieve a goal. They raise the bar to 20 stays for Platinum members and don’t give any points on the way to the 20 stays. One more reason that makes me think that they want to discourage Platinum members.

They really mean it when they advertise that the stars have to be aligned !