Why I Ignore Hotel Loyalty Programmes

Why it is a relief to not to chase hotel loyalty scheme points and a mistake to choose a hotel on the basis of its loyalty programme.

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Public Hotel New York City
Public Hotel New York City (Image Credit: London Air Travel)

There’s an interesting feature on the cover of the latest edition Bloomberg Businesweek.

It concerns Marriott’s acquisition of Starwood Hotels Group. It happened in 2016. However, it has taken nearly two years for Marriott to combine its frequent guest programme with that of Starwood. The new combined programme will launch later this month.

It seems that the thorniest issue behind the transaction was not both sides and their armies of lawyers agreeing the terms of the deal or combining reservation systems, but their respective frequent guest programmes. Every single development in this regard has been carefully scrutinised by members on tenterhooks that their beloved benefits may be lost.

Put simply, who should be entitled to a free breakfast under the new programme!?

The article gives a good understanding of the workings of hotel loyalty programmes and the sometimes absurd lengths, known as “mattress runs” (it’s nowhere near as interesting as it sounds..), some members will go to climb the ranks of the programmes.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have been a member of some frequent guest programmes and enjoyed their benefits, principally late check-outs. But none have compelled me to be slavishly devoted to one hotel programme and I have been happy to let membership lapse.

Airline and hotel loyalty programmes are not the same

When it comes to flying, there is a logic of choosing to align yourself with one of three airline alliances to accrue frequent flyer benefits.

There is an assurance of flying with an airline in an alliance that there isn’t with booking large hotel groups.

In air travel, there is much scope for things go wrong. As customers of Primera Air and Norwegian have learned, for small airlines there are little means to recover from aircraft availability issues. When flying on a large airline, there is the assurance of the back-up it has through the size of its fleet, its network and its joint-venture and alliance partners. This isn’t so much the case with hotels. The only time I could genuinely see a need to stick with a large chain is when staying in a destination where you need to be confident of hotel security and its support should you have problems.
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10 Years of EU – US Open Skies

As the 10th anniversary of the EU-US Open Skies agreement approaches, we take a look back at how it has reshaped transatlantic travel.

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Delta, American Airlines, Virgin Atlantic & British Airways aircraft at London Heathrow
Delta, American Airlines, Virgin Atlantic & British Airways aircraft at London Heathrow (Image Credit: Heathrow)

Some ten years ago, air travel between London and the United States was governed by an archaic treaty known as Bermuda II.

Signed in 1977 as successor to an agreement signed after the Second World War, it placed restrictions on who could operate flights between the UK and the US, and from where.

Flghts from London Heathrow to the US were restricted to two US airlines. These were American Airlines and United Airlines, who had acquired traffic rights from Trans World Airlines and Pan American World Airways respectively. What were then Continental, Delta Air Lines, Northwest Airlines and US Airways were forced to fly from London Gatwick.

From the UK, only British Airways and, from 1991, Virgin Atlantic could fly to the US from London Heathrow. Not only that, certain routes could not operate from London Heathrow. So BA had to fly to Atlanta, Dallas Fort Worth and Houston from London Gatwick. bmi which, at the time, held approximately 15% of Heathrow’s slots sat in deep frustration at being unable to fulfil its ambitions to fly to the US from the airport.

Some 30 years later, with negotiations no longer between London and Washington, the EU negotiated an Open Skies agreement the US. It officially came into force on 30 March 2008. Heathrow was opened up to all US airlines. And EU airlines could fly to the US from any airport in the EU.

However, access of European airlines to the US market and US airline ownership rules were untouched. They were officially parked into Phase II and remain so today.

So what has been the impact of EU-US Open Skies?
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The founders of Monocle debut the “Kioskafé” at London Paddington

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Kioskafe, Paddington, London (Image Credit: London Air Travel)
Kioskafé, Paddington, London (Image Credit: London Air Travel)

Readers of Tyler Brûlé’s column in the weekend edition of the Financial Times, which for the uninitiated documents the travails of a life spent jet-setting around the globe, will know that a frequent target is the poor state of newspaper and magazine retailing in the UK.

One target has long been WH Smith. Specifically, its poorly lit and understaffed shops, the ill-targeted special offers, the self-scan check-outs and, in the case of its Heathrow branches, its parochial selection of newspapers and magazines.

Tyler Brûlé is not someone who isn’t afraid to put his money where his mouth is, nor to challenge convention.

Having long argued that print media is not dead, in 2007 Tyler Brûlé founded the magazine Monocle. As well as being a commercial and editorial success it eschews social media, does not carry out any research, charges more than the magazine cover price for a subscription and double the cover price for back issues.

Monocle has since extended its reach to shops, a cafe at 18 Chiltern Street London, and a 24 hour radio station, Monocle 24.

Tyler Brûlé is also the founder of the design agency Winkreative which designed the original brand identity of Swiss International Airlines, Porter Airlines, the cabin interior of British Airways Club World on Boeing 747-400 and 777-200 aircraft and the recently launched Union Pearson Express in Toronto.

The Kioskafe

The latest venture from Winkreative’s parent company, is the Kioskafé which opened in the past week at 31 Norfolk Place, opposite the Frontline Club and a short walk from London Paddington railway and Underground stations.
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UK Government explores lower rates of Air Passenger Duty for English regional airports

Amongst the many announcements by the Chancellor George Osborne in today’s summer budget, the Government has announced a consulation whereby regional airports in England may be able to offer differing rates of Air Passenger Duty.

This follows the earlier devolution of Air Passenger Duty to national governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and concerns that regional airports may be at a competitive disadvantage.

This may be achieved through either devolving the power to set rates of Air Passenger Duty to local authorities or for differing rates of duty to be set by Central Government. An alternative option proposed is to provide aid to regional airports.

Whilst any reduction in Air Passenger Duty would be welcomed by the aviation industry we suspect that many airlines will argue that the measure is insufficient and that duty must be reduced further to enable the UK and, specifically London Heathrow, to compete against other aviation hubs in Europe and the Middle East.

Furthermore, whilst many regional English airports such as Manchester and Birmingham have been growing their international links, particularly to the Middle East, this is unlikely to result in a significant rebalancing of aviation capacity between London and the English regions.

That said, the measure may attract more long-haul airlines to English regional airports, particulary to operate “pop-up” routes during the peak summer season, such as Virgin Atlantic’s summer seasonal flights between Belfast and Orlando.

The full consultation can be viewed online. Any interested parties are required to respond by Tuesday 8 September 2015.

“Union Pearson Express” launches in Toronto

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Union Pearson Express Train Pearson Airport Station
Union Pearson Express Train Pearson Airport Station (Image Credit: Union Pearson Express)

One of the many things that are often lacking at airports in North America is a direct rail link from the airport to downtown.

Toronto is one city to gain such a link with the launch of the Union Pearson Express on Saturday 6 June 2015.

The new service will link Terminal 1 of Toronto’s main international airport, Toronto Pearson, with its main downtown railway station (Union Station), every 15 minutes with a journey time of 25 minutes on an elevated rail track. A return fare for an adult is CAD$53 (roughly £28).

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Travel to London’s airports over Easter 2015

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London Heathrow Terminal 5 (Image Credit: Heathrow)
London Heathrow Terminal 5 (Image Credit: Heathrow)

The forthcoming Easter weekend marks one of the busiest travel periods of the year. As is now commonplace, there are extensive engineering works taking place on the London Underground and the UK’s national rail network which may affect travel times to London’s airports.

In addition to the works listed below, there are no trains to and from London Euston over the weekend.
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Lord King & Sir Richard Branson “Desert Island Discs”

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British Airways Concorde
British Airways Concorde

We recently browsed the archives of BBC Radio 4’s long running series “Desert Island Discs” and found two recordings from over 20 years ago, featuring two giants of aviation.

The first is Lord King, the former Chairman of British Airways who, together with Colin Marshall, oversaw the transition of BA from a nationalised industry to the “World’s Favourite Airline”. The second is Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Atlantic.

The interview with Lord King was first broadcast on 19 April 1991. The interview with Sir Richard Branson was first broadcast 9 June 1989. Both were interviewed by Sue Lawley.

Whilst the interview Lord King covers much of his time at British Airways, the interview with Sir Richard Branson barely touches on Virgin Atlantic – the main focus being Virgin Records which at the time was owned by Virgin. At the time Virgin Atlantic was just five years’ old. Interestingly, the relationship between the two airlines, which was to later sour significantly, isn’t mentioned in either interview.

The contrasting styles of Lord King and Sir Richard Branson are very much evident in the interviews.

That said, whilst Lord King does come across as a little cold at first he does warm up later into the interview. Furthermore, whilst Lord King’s style is seen as very much from a different era of business, so much so that Financial Times journalist Lucy Kellaway once wrote of his “bombastic rudeness” (legend has it that Lord King personally ordered the removal of BA advertising from the Financial Times after he took exception to a profile of him written by the paper), it is clear he has a genuine passion for business.

Furthermore, there is little Lord King says in the interview that many current aviation CEOs of today (Willie Walsh of International Airlines Group or Richard Anderson of Delta) would disagree with, particularly the references to the need for rational decision making and that sometimes painful decisions have to be made in the long term interests of the company.

Lord King also complains about government regulation and the barriers to true consolidation in the industry – two issues which are very much alive today.

As far as music choices go, neither interviews yield little surprises. The Flower Duet from Lakmé, famous for its use in many BA ads, features in Lord King’s choices. Many famous tracks from the Virgin Records back catalogue feature in Sir Richard Branson’s choices.

You can listen to the Lord King interview here and the Sir Richard Branson here.

Sadly, there was one other programme we would have loved to have covered here. That is an interview with the late Alan Whicker from 1967 but, alas, there is no audio online.

Air Passenger Duty abolished for children from May 2015

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(Image Credit: British Airways)

In today’s Autumn statement, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, has announced the abolition of Air Passenger Duty for children under 12 flying in economy class from 1 May 2015.

The measure will be extended to children under 16 from 1 March 2016.

The rate of duty is currently £13 for flights up to 2,000 miles, £69 for flights between 2,001 and 4,000 miles, £85 for flights between 4,001 and 6,000 miles and £97 for flights over 6,000 miles.

Whilst airlines are still lobbying for the abolition of APD entirely, the measure will be good news particularly for “holiday” leisure routes to Florida.

For the avoidance of doubt, the reduction does not apply to children in premium economy, business class and first class.

More to follow, including the response from airlines and refund arrangements for flights already booked, shortly.

Update: British Airways has confirmed it is to refund APD to affected customers and will confirm administrative arrangements in due course.

New & Noteworthy: CityJet, Heathrow Moves, Lufthansa Miles & More

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Here are a few new & noteworthy items for today, Friday 7 June 2013:

Air France KLM has identified a preferred buyer for CityJet. Intro Aviation GmbH is the preferred bidder. (Bloomberg)

Following the recent confirmation of the opening of London Heathrow Terminal 2, Heathrow Airport has published a list of which airlines are moving in to the terminal and when. United Airlines is the first airline to move on 4 June 2014, with Air China, Air Canada and ANA following two weeks later on 18 June. (Heathrow Airport)

US based blogger “Million Mile Secrets” has published a detailed guide to the Lufthansa Miles & More frequent flyer programme. Although written from a US perspective, following the demise of the bmi “Diamond Club” frequent flyer programme, Lufthansa Miles & More is the main Star Alliance programme in Europe. Parts one to six of the eight part series are now online. (Million Mile Secrets)

New & Noteworthy: Virgin America and easyJet report financials

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Here are a few new & noteworthy items for today, Tuesday 15 May 2013:

Virgin America publishes its quarterly results. The Cranky Flier delves into the numbers. (The Cranky Flier)

easyJet publishes solid half year results. The airline is evaluating an order for next generation short-haul aircraft (easyJet Investor Relations)

easyJet to also offer fast track security for business passengers at 27 airports. (easyJet Media Release)