Category Archives: Hotels
Hilton unveiled their vision of what the hotel restaurant will look like. Hilton’s three standard brands, Hilton, Doubletree, and Embassy Suites are slated to have their restaurants redesigned. The biggest change of the three is to the Embassy Suite Flag. These concepts are slated to come on line in the United States starting in 2013, with the doubletree Tulsa and the Hilton NYC. These designs tailored for the American market are just one part of Hilton’s F&B plan, corporate spokespeople said they are slated to roll out 800 new restaurants across the world.
Embassy Suites will see the biggest change. Embassy Suites are marketed as up-market family brands. All rooms are suites, and there is a free hot breakfast, and free manager’s reception. Hilton’s concept is called “Brickstone grill’ it will take the place of full service restaurant, the breakfast buffet, and the bar for the manager’s reception. Hilton touts it as a way for Hotel owners to lower costs and consolidate staffing as there will only be one F&B outlet as opposed to three.
The other two new concepts are “Made Market” and “Herb N’ Kitchen” for the Doubletree and Hilton brands respectively. While the names are different the concept is essentially the same, a full-service restaurant and bar, with a grab-and-go quick service component. Hilton has been playing up the Embassy Suites changes while down playing these. It is understandable. Hilton acquired the doubletree flag and there have been problems ever since. This is mostly because Hilton corporate has limited to differentiate the Doubletree and Hilton brands. Their brand standards are almost identical.
At least Hilton knows it needs to do something. In my opinion, Hilton lags SPG and Hyatt in terms of quality and service. Maybe these restraint concepts are a way for them to bridge that gap. Hilton taking the “Wal-Mart approach” to hotels going for quantity over quality hasn’t been that successful for Hilton or Wal-Mart. Maybe this is a step in the right direction.
It is time to make a run for platinum status. I need to re-qualify for real status, IE United Platinum or 1k. Since I travel mostly for leisure this means making mileage runs. This involves traveling just for the elite qualifying miles. For this trip I selected Milwaukee. I booked this ticket as two one-ways, for the most part fares in the US can be booked as round-trip or two one-ways for the same price. The benefit of booking two one ways is the United Travel Club. The club gives me a $5.00 travel credit for each ticket I book though United.com. Essentially, I get the commission that would have otherwise gone to the travel agent. With two one-ways I get $10.00 instead of $5.00. The downside of course is that if I have to change my plans I have to pay double change fees.
Anyways, I booked PHX-SFO-CLE-MKE on Saturday, September 15, 2012 and MKE-IAH-PHX on Sunday, September 16, 2012. Seeing as I live in Sedona, AZ two hours away from the PHX airport, if I have a flight before 10am I stay the night before at an airport hotel. My flight to SFO was at 0600, so I stayed at the Airport Hilton. Now I have previously stayed at the Airport Hilton and I was very disappointed. Kayla back me up on this.
This time around I didn’t have those problems. The room was clean and above all cheap, my rate was $56.00/night. I got a lot for that $56.00. Let’s break the rate down:
Free dinner in restaurant: $10.00
1000 bmi points: $30.00
2512 Hilton points: $12.56
Free Soda and water: $2.00
Free Parking for the run: $12.00
Total: $66.56 in value, before the value of the room is factored in. So far it’s a win. The room was pretty standard. There was no diamond suite upgrade, that’s pretty disappointing. However, this room was ok. I also included some pictures of the executive lounge.
Well wake was at 0405, and I made it down in plenty of time to catch the 0430 shuttle to the PHX airport. Normally, I do not have problems with PHX security today I did. I presented my PIV card. This card is issued, as far as I know, to all government employees and contractors. It is accepted a valid id at TSA stations, except this morning. The TSA people were in a tussle that the ID doesn’t fluoresce under their UV lights. They demanded a second piece of ID, which I reluctantly provided. They gave me the “do you want to travel today,” despite the fact that the TSA website clearly states that no one needs ID to travel. Oh well, after taking down the supervisor’s name, I cleared security. I went to the PHX United Club, where my membership somehow still works.
I had a couple of Diet Cokes, walked off my annoyance with the TSA and walked to the gate. There I boarded my flight to SFO on a SkyWest CRJ-700. Seven of my last ten flights have been on the lovely CR7. Thankfully, I got to switch to the sexy ERJ-145 a couple of times later on during the trip. The flight to SFO was short, and we actually got in about 20 minutes early. I headed to my normal snack shack in SFO.
Bao…How I love thee let me count the ways…
Bao is Chinese Dim Sum dish. Think of Tapas, small plates, which are served for brunch. My personal favorite is bao, steamed Chinese BBQ pork buns. I can’t begin to describe the glory that is bao, other than if you haven’t had it, you need to get yourself to the local dim sum place at once.
United flight 1154, SFO-CLE, started out the same way as the flight to SFO started, with me dying #1 on the upgrade list. That’s two in a row, also the last because I cleared my upgrades for Sunday. It would however get worse. I had a POS, person of size, occupy the seat next to me. I am not sure what the gate agent was thinking when she boarded him into 21B as clearly there were going to be problems. I was effectively evicted from 21C (the reclining exit-row) and what I consider to be the best seat in coach. I hung out in the back galley chatting with the FA, who was there when all of this went down, and she opened the bar cart for me for the entire flight. Eventually, using the mobile app, we found that 20B, window on the 737-700 was open and she phoned up the front FA who informed the gate agent to reseat me there. She also opened the bar cart for me, which was ironic as I actually remembered my drink chits for this flight. I am guessing 20C got upgraded (there was one open F seat) and I then had row 20 to myself.
I don’t know what would have happened if the flight was full, I assume skippy or me would have been de-boarded. I would have claimed I was involuntarily denied boarding. My real concern was what was the gate agent thinking when she boarded him into the exit row. I don’t think he can move with the requisite speed to open the door and haul butt out the exit. Be that as it may, it was not my call. Anyways, I settled into 20B, had a row to myself, and evaluated paying 8.00 for direct-TV. I took one look at the college football games on (Florida State versus Wake Forest and similar) and passed. Well I was reading Clancy’s “Cardinal of the Kremlin” and that would be my IFE for the flight.
The CLE flight leaves at 0910 and arrives in CLE at 1645, effectively skipping lunch, I was interested to know what the catering would be. As you can see from above it was a breakfast. I got basically a sausage McMuffin with Egg and side of fruit (four pineapple and four melon cubes) was $6.00, a little bit more than I would pay for the same meal at McDonalds and with the fruit instead of hash-browns a little healthier. Since it was “breakfast” I went with double Baliey’s and coffee. I am not really a vodka drinker, so bloody Mary’s were out. The flight was about what one would expect for a coach flight. I took some shots inside and outside the plane before landing, here you have Detroit MI followed by CLE airport
Cleveland, besides being home to my former employer is known in Continental circles as the other hub. As such when I landed and saw a 757 parked next to me, I just had to grab a picture as they are pretty rare there these days. My layover was short, so I didn’t have time to grab beer from Great Lakes Brewing. I just made my way over to the regional concourse D.
With drama on my previous flights I wondered if I would get another dose on my Cleveland to Milwaukee flight. Well, I did. As I was boarding in my zone, a gentleman in a yellow skull cap came up with his roller bag and asked if could board first so the flight attendant could store his bag. It was obvious that it would not fit in the overhead compartment, so it had had to be gate checked or stored at the FA’s discretion. Well when the gate agent told him it was not possible and he would have to board with his zone number he became loud and upset. I walked down the jet bridge to the sounds of him demanding to know why he couldn’t board first. I got on to the ERJ-145 took the following picture of the carpet at my feet. It has seen better days.
We landed at Milwaukee airport on time and it was time to find some food. But before I even made it to baggage claim, I noticed something was going on. Apparently there was a “honor flight” a group had chartered a plane to fly a group of WWII veterans to Washington D.C. to see the WWII memorial. I got in at a little after 6pm local time and the crowds you see in the photos were from around that time. Anyways I mentioned food. Well I checked Urbanspoon, my go to app for local grub, and It suggested a burger and custard place that was in the central landside concourse. Well I went there had a cheeseburger, cheese fries, cheese curds, and a diet soda. From the pictures the fries look pretty bland, but they were some of the best cheese fries I have ever had.
To walk off the light meal I had, I decided to walk it off. The airport is a pretty cool place, there is an aviation museum, a ping pong table, and a well-stocked used bookstore, where I avoided spending money. The aviation museum had a model of the Space Shuttle the model was originally of Discovery but at some point someone had relabeled it Columbia. Whether this was in honor of the Columbia deaths or not, it was poor done on the model. The old airport beacon is now on top of the concourse elevator, and there is a replica of a Curtis plane in the concourse.
After walking around I got the shuttle to the Hampton inn that is shared with the Hilton Garden Inn. We dropped off at the HGI first where the shuttle picked up a bunch of people who were at a wedding party and loaded down with Coors Light and red solo cups. They were looking to party. I got dropped off at the Hampton where I scheduled a pick-up for 0415 to go to the airport. I took some pictures of the hotel and room seen below. Note the Justin Bieber VIP party that was going on down the hall from my room. They were quiet and I was able to sleep. At 0400 I got up and made my way downstairs. This Hampton was spotlessly clean and they even had the continental breakfast out for those with early flights. I helped myself to some POG juice and waited for the shuttle.
I got to the airport and United check-in was a zoo. Thankfully I was able to quickly print my boarding pass and make my way through the empty security checkpoint I don’t like mobile boarding passes because there is no physical record of the flight. I have had to send in copies to get flight credit too many times to be sold on the technology. When I checked the UA app a random MKE-PHK direct segment on US appeared in my record. It turns out the flight was oversold and UA was proactively protecting passengers on flights that got to their destination sooner. Also apparently, something had happened when the inbound plane landed and they had to switch jet bridges. The flight was now going out of a gate that did not have a podium. Instead of computers there were trashcans. You can imagine the scene at the gate, the gate agent with no computer trying to manage an oversold flight. I volunteered of course, and I hung out around the “podium” and answered a few questions to help the gate agent. A couple and I volunteered to be bumped. It looked like they were going to need three seats, so it was going to work out. They gave my first class seat to a gentleman who was otherwise going to be sitting in 15B.He boarded into my F seat as I waited at the gate for the last passenger to show up. That passenger had checked three bags and then no-showed the flight, putting me back in F and having to kick the guy in my seat out. The guy in my seat was good natured about it at least. I didn’t find out what happened to the guy with bags who no-showed but I have an idea. United in MKE is still in split concourses with separate security checkpoints. When a person comes up from check-in all they see is a sign that points them to the gates where the ORD and DEN flights leave from, so I assume that the person went there.
The flight to Houston was your normal early morning flight. The guys next to me were intent on getting hammered and had three or four vodkas each. Food was the normal A.M. snack box which is pathetic at best. It contains a dole fruit cup, plain Rondele cheese, bagel chips, and a mini Cliff bar. The pack is not only unhealthy but is generally not very tasty. We got to Houston on time, and I looked over at the drinkers one was quite drunk, impressive as it was 8:30 in the morning. I went to terminal C, and I hung out briefly in the United Club and then went to my gate for the PHX flight. The Phoenix flight was mostly empty and I had an empty seat next to me but a person moved from the first row to my row and that was that. The plane was so empty that while we were getting ready to depart the flight attendants were moving people around in coach for weight and balance issues. We took and off and lunch was served it was a little better than my last lunch on this flight but still pathetic. It was a chicken hot pocket, soup, and fruit. Finally before landing a oatmeal cookie was given out. I watched Prometheus on the plane, it was ok but not as good as I had hoped. When we landed the trip for me was finally over and I could go home, but not before I forgot my Bose headphones in the seat pocket, but I managed to get the gate agent to get them, lucky again.
Until next time
Go forth and conquer
Hilton, Sheraton, Marriott and all the other Hotel brands are just that, Hotel brands known in the business as “flags.” (see the company flag on the pole outside hotel, get it) Flagged hotels operate under a franchise agreement with the brand. For example, the Hilton you stayed at last night isn’t owned by Hilton, but by a developer who pays Hilton to use the Hilton flag. Hotels are moved into and out of flags by both the property owners and the brand for a variety of reasons. Today the Paris Arc De Triomphe Hilton abruptly deflagged themselves. Essentially, there was court battle in France between the hotel and Hilton over the Hotel. Now I am not privy to the details, but it appears to be over the fact that the Hotel thought itself better than the Hilton brand and more in line with luxury brands such as Waldorf=Astoria and Conrad (the luxury Hilton brands). Hilton lost the court battle and the end result of which talks between the hotel and Hilton broke down and the hotel abruptly deflagged this morning. The hotel has decided to not honor award stays and that has left some guests in the lurch as the other Hilton property is well outside the center of the city. The guests are mad at Hilton when they should be made at the Hotel, here’s why.
The fundamental difference between a hotel award and a travel (plane) award is a reservation versus a ticket. If an airline cancels a flight, the ticketing carrier still has an obligation to get you to the destination. With hotels there is no ticket just a reservation that can be canceled by either property. When the hotel deflags they are no longer obligated to honor that reservation as they no longer have an agreement with the flag. They can choose to accept the money that the flag would pay them or not. As the payments from the Flag to the Hotel can be exceedingly low, there is little incentive for the hotel to honor the reservations. Unfortunately there is little the guest can do when that happens. Generally, the flag will arrange for the guest at another location but like this case it isn’t always enough.
It would be better for the hotel flags to require that hotels, even when they deflag, to honor the reservations already made and to put that requirement in the franchise agreement. However, as it seems universal across brands it is unlikely that this will happen.
Go forth and conquer,
It is rare that I write about hotels. I am top tier with Hilton Honors, mostly because their properties tend to be less expensive than Hyatt, SPG, and Marriott and there are more of them. Hilton in addition to Hyatt and SPG provide their top members suite upgrades as an additional benefit. In contrast to airline upgrades hotel upgrades are a bit more inconsistent. This is understandable as generally hotels are not owned by the brand, or flag as it is called in the hotel industry. Hotels are franchise operations own by local companies who pay a franchise fee to their flag. That means each owner has his or her own interpretation of the loyalty program guidelines. This leads to some properties doing a lot upgrading and others not so much.
Let’s talk about how large hotels work, specifically room assignments. About two weeks out from your stay, the hotel’s computer auto-assigns all people who booked in advance a room. This makes sense; it gives the people who have control of the process a place to start from. Then in the three or four days leading up to your stay, rooms control takes over. Rooms control is run by generally a front-office manager. They look at the requests people put in, the guest’s status, the rate paid, and other information to finalize room assignments. People who book only a couple of days in advance are only going to get whatever is left. Then when you arrive on your day of stay your room has been pre-assigned by rooms control.
Using that quick and dirty overview of the rooms assignment process, let’s turn to the upgrade process. Rooms control and the Front-office manager have total control of the upgrade process. Having read some of the Hilton brand standard documents, they mandate that hotels complete the upgrade process 48 hours in advance. Well, that almost never happens. I think hotels mostly run upgrades the morning of the stay in order to maximize the chance that they will sell a more expensive room, rather than giving it to the upgrader. When you, the guest, gets to the check-in desk your upgrade has already been determined. The agent you are speaking to have little to no discretion on your room type. There may be some movement within the class of rooms you booked, IE moving from two queens to a king bed, but they rarely have the ability to upgrade you. That’s not to say they can’t, if for someone reason they have to take a room out of service of upgrade due to overbooking then the agent has control over the process. But that control has been expressly delegated from the front-office manager of the manager-on-duty. Abusing the front-desk agent over upgrades will not only fail to get you the upgrade, it will make you look like a jerk.
For those of you that are not familiar with Hotel programs here’s how they work. One earns points for how much they spend. Hotel Chains break their properties down into discrete groups. Each group has their own points per/night cost.
Well Hilton published their list of “point breaks” this is the list of properties that change categories.
Hilton has 7 categories Cat 1-7, from 7,500 pts per night to 50,000 pts per night.
My friend said it best,
Looks like the judge finally signed the order finalizing Hilton’s divorce from reality.
A sharp knock on the door and 3 serious looking CID police asking to speak to us. I invited them in and they asked us a bunch of questions. It became clear that they were told that we were running a prostitution ring or something like that. They quickly could see that we weren’t running a brothel or doing anything illegal. They took down our passport details and apologized. When I asked how could they possibly have chosen our room to raid, they said the hotel strongly believed I was running prostitutes and trafficking women.
From FT member Stimpy, full post here.
I am curious how one appears to run a brothel from one’s hotel room. I feel there is more to the story as hotels do not just randomly tip police off to a brothel. It is all very odd.