Posted by: Mark Ashley

HiltonLogo125x125 More hotels give elites free wi fiLast week, Hilton announced that they would give their gold and diamond level HHonors program members a new perk: Free wi-fi.

Umm, whoo-hoo?

Other major chains have similar policies in place, but it’s only a nice elite perk because high-end hotels have such absurdly-priced internet access to begin with. My wife recently caved and paid $14.95 — plus taxes — for late-night slow-ish in-room access at a Westin in Atlanta . (Colleagues at the Hyatt down the street got a relative “bargain” for $12.95. Sigh.) That’s how much we used to spend for a month of mid-tier DSL in Chicago.

So now Hilton is giving some elite members a useful perk, but isn’t the real issue the obnoxiously high charges that the chain is charging in the first place?

(To be clear, the internet is already free for everyone at Hilton brands that don’t aspire to be labeled “luxury.” Hampton Inn and Homewood Suites, for example.)

And while Hilton is reserving the free wi-fi for mid- and upper-level elites with 16 stays or 36 nights a year, what about the lower-level elites? If I were a silver HHonors member, I’d be annoyed that my business wasn’t worth a free couple hours’ surfing.

Even better, other chains comp wi-fi for all their members, and not just elites. For example, I have no status with the boutique-y Kimpton chain, but by simply being a member of their program, I got free wi-fi at a Kimpton property recently. Omni is another chain that comps all their members with wi-fi.

From where I sit, the free-wifi-for-elites programs actually make these chains look worse, not better. It’s like making a big deal for having electricity or hot water, and giving it only to your most frequent guests. Touting this new “perk” just exposes how they’re not providing great value to everyone else who visits their hotels.
showban.asp?id=00020541&img=HiltonLogo125x125 More hotels give elites free wi fi

Categorized in: Hilton, hotels, wi-fi

baby headset atc Upgrades and Downgrades: air traffic control, full body scans, Amtrak wi fi, and more
Upgraded: Kids taking charge in aviation
When I was a kid, I loved — loved! — going up to the cockpit during the flight. I remember sitting in a Pan Am 747 cockpit somewhere over the northern Atlantic, and the captain pointed out some icebergs floating below us. I suppose Dwight Schrute and I have the Pan Am experience in common. But in today’s security environment, kids can’t get that experience… but they can direct air traffic control?!

Upgraded: Amtrak
If you’re traveling Amtrak in the Northeast Corridor, you’ll soon be able to snag a free wi-fi signal, but only in first or business class. A good start, but only available in first/business? Come on. At least offer in economy at a billable rate!

Downgraded: Full-body scanners in the UK
Two women refused to pass through the full-body scanner at Manchester Airport in the UK. One refused, on the basis of her faith; the other cited health concerns. But instead of being given a pat-down option, as is the policy in the US, they were prevented from boarding their flights. “The women were warned they were legally required to go through the scanner, after being chosen at random, or they would not be allowed to fly, an airport spokesman said.”

Upgraded: Turkish Airlines’ mysterious premium economy cabin
Turkish Airlines has pre-announced that they’ll introduce a new cabin between economy and business on widebody aircraft, but don’t call the new product premium economy. It “will exceed the premium economy standards of most other carriers and will be close to the business class of some other carriers,” according to CEO Temel Kotil. Okay, great. But why pre-announce a new product, without details, instead of just… announcing? What are they trying to get in front of?


recyling bins Upgrades and Downgrades: Airline recycling, wifi, rental cars
Upgraded: Awareness of airlines’ crappy recycling efforts
I have always bristled at the toss-everything-in-the-bag trash collection aboard US-based airlines. (It’s a striking contrast from European carriers, for example.) So I’m glad to see some light shining on the recycling practices — or lack thereof — of American carriers. The best of the bunch: Delta and Virgin America, who earn a grade of B- from Green America (pdf). Failing grades: United and US Airways. See the FastCompany roundup here.

Upgraded: Wifi on Alaska Airlines
Alaska Airlines will put wi-fi on all its aircraft, using Aircell’s service, which is sold under the Gogo name.

Downgraded: Rental car deals
Blame Toyota. The carmaker’s huge recall took out about 8% of vehicles of the American rental car fleet. Yes, recall repairs are being done, but the rates aren’t pulling back too quickly. That is, unless you’re doing a one-way rental from Florida to … well, anywhere.



free wifi Free airport wi fi for the holidays, courtesy of Google

Our Google overlords have spoken, and there shall be free wi-fi in airports for the holiday season.

Through a partnership with many of the providers that already power most airport wifi, albeit for a fee, Google is making wifi free at 47 airports through January 15, 2010. The service is in conjunction with Boingo, Advanced Wireless Group, Time Warner Cable, Electronic Media Systems, Lilypad, and individual airports.

The list of 47 is somewhat deceiving. For example, Charlotte already offers free wifi, so now there’s a Google-branded free option. Big whoop. But at others, like Boston, free service is new — and very welcome.

Unfortunately, some of the biggest airports aren’t on the list. Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, San Francisco?… Nope. Alas.

The airports included are below, after the jump.

Categorized in: airports, wi-fi

lh global wifi Lufthansa relaunches global inflight wi fi
Lufthansa officially announced today that it was bringing back its global inflight internet service. Redubbed FlyNet, the system recreates the Boeing-powered satellite-based system that was up and running as recently as 2006.

Unlike the inflight wireless systems that airlines are running in the US, Lufthansa’s FlyNet, powered by Panasonic, will use a satellite-based network, which means that you can get a signal over the oceans. And if you’re looking for a way to pass the time on a long flight, I think internet access is a pretty good way to do it. (Yes, I know, it can tether you to the office, too, which means you’re never off the clock. It’s a tradeoff.)

How about price? Too soon to ask for specifics, but I like that mileage redemption is an option:

Various different price models are planned – ranging from a rate by the hour to a monthly flat rate. Passengers should also be able to redeem Miles & More award miles for the use of WLAN Internet connections. The exact price for specific products will be announced at a later date.

I like the mileage redemption option, and it will be interesting to see how creative they get with pricing. A recent study by Alaska Airlines showed that customers are extremely price sensitive when it comes to internet access (at least on domestic US flights). One domestic provider, Row 44, has hinted at the possibility of inflight service subsidized by advertising. Who knows, perhaps Lufthansa will consider ads to reduce the cost to passengers as well.

gravel road Upgrades and Downgrades    Gravel roads, fingerprinting, insulting policies, and more

Downgraded: Michigan’s roads
Several counties in Michigan are opting to grind deteriorated paved roads into gravel roads rather than re-pave them. The money’s just not there. That’s progress!

Downgraded: U.S. treatment of international visitors
Because international travelers to the United States, who are already subjected to fingerprinting, photographing, and prying questions galore, apparently haven’t been treated sufficiently like criminals… Homeland Security is now launching a pilot test of fingerprinting visitors as they leave the country as well. Be treated like a criminal when you come in, be treated like a criminal when you leave. Just lovely. Foreigners departing from Atlanta or Detroit will have the pleasure.

Upgraded: Free wi-fi on Virgin America June 24
Google and Virgin America are teaming up to offer a day of free inflight wi-fi, online games, and other hijinx.

Downgraded: Extended Stay Hotels … and the Federal Reserve
Extended Stay Hotels, the parent of Extended Stay America, Crossland Studios, and Homestead Studio Suites, filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy. And who’s left holding the bag? The Federal Reserve!

Downgraded: United Mileage Plus
United Mileage Plus has been on a downward trajectory for some time, but Gary Leff pinpoints the absurdity of United’s blocking of frequent flyer tickets on partner airlines. The airline doesn’t want to make those tickets available because it costs them money when you use your miles on partners. But other Star Alliance airlines don’t block partners like this. It’s a United-specific problem, and it’s getting absurd. Gary writes: “In the last two days I’ve been told ‘Lufthansa doesn’t fly to Frankfurt’ and (looking for flights departing Hong Kong) ‘Thai Airways doesn’t fly to Bangkok that day.’” It’s insulting.