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?



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

Downgraded: Expectations
Five-star hotel not living up to its standards? How about a zero-star hotel instead? The lodging — a converted windowless bunker in Switzerland — is also an art project. Zero-star is a cute idea, and it’s certainly fun. (Spin the Wheel of Fate!) And cheap: $9. I like their motto: “The only star is you.” Nonetheless, I believe the correct term for this facility is “hostel” (or “backpackers” for the Aussies/Kiwis in the house). See a video of the ho(s)tel below. Actually, come to think of it, it’s actually nicer than some hostels I stayed in during college.

Upgraded: British Airways
Downgraded: “cheaper” airlines

A (non-scientific) study by the Times of London found that fares were lower on British Airways than on Ryanair. And that was before they took things like luggage fees and check-in fees into account. This just reinforces the importance of price comparison (which Ryanair and its ilk tend to make difficult by keeping their fares out of the global distribution systems). As I’ve always argued, don’t assume that a “low-cost” airline is automatically lower than others. (Thanks to reader J!)

Upgraded: Skycaps
A court has affirmed that American Airlines harmed Boston skycaps’ tip income when it imposed a $2 curbside check-in fee — which went to the airline, not the skycaps. (The $2 fee was dropped in May 2008, when American started charging a fee for all checked bags.)

Upgraded: Inflight wi-fi
In the last few weeks, Virgin America reduced the cost of its inflight wifi. Lufthansa hinted at relaunching global satellite-based wifi using Panasonic’s technology (essentially duplicating the service it once offered via Connexion by Boeing). And another satellite provider, Row 44, which has tested service on Southwest and Alaska Airlines, received approval from the FCC to offer its services.

Downgraded: Continental Express
Another “trapped passengers” story… Continental Express flight gets diverted, keeps passengers on board for NINE HOURS. I mean, really, nine hours? On a regional jet?? There is no excuse for that duration of delay without allowing passengers to disembark. None. I don’t believe that this is the number one problem facing passengers today, but stories like this make it clear that some time limits to passenger trappings do need to be part of any passenger rights bill.

Downgraded: Some of the best premium seats in the sky
Cathay Pacific, which offers one of the best premium class products in the air, is cutting back the number of first and business class seats.

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.


united customer service phone Upgrades and Downgrades: Southwest wi fi, United customer non service, fare sales and $0 fares, and moreDowngraded: United unplugs customer complaint phone line
The Indian call center that took United Airlines passenger compliments or complaints is being shut down, in favor of going entirely e-mail. “United spokeswoman Robin Urbanski said the airline is able to respond better to customers who write, since they often include more detail, making it possible to provide a more specific response.” Not to mention that sending a form letter response is faster than having a real conversation. And I’m positive every disgruntled passenger appreciates the convenience of requiring them to take the time to write, rather than make a quick call from the road… Sure.

Upgraded: Transatlantic deals on Virgin Atlantic
Virgin Atlantic has a great sale going on right now over the pond, with economy fares as low as $453 round trip including taxes, and premium economy for as low as $675. Best part: No advance purchase. Buy today, leave today! But fares aren’t just last-minute fares, either. But no summer fares. You’ll find the cheapest prices from Feb 11, 2009 – Mar 22, 2009 or Oct 22, 2009 – Nov 30, 2009.

Downgraded: $0 airfares
I’ve always felt that companies should honor the prices they publish. And in an era of airlines that pay you to fly them, why wouldn’t a passenger think that a $0 airfare (plus taxes) was legit? Alas, tickets booked on Northwest at that last Wednesday fare aren’t being honored, unless the passengers are already mid-trip.

Upgraded: Inflight wi-fi live on Southwest
If you’re flying Southwest today (Wednesday, Feb. 11), check to see if you’re flying on aircraft #901. It’s the first plane equipped with inflight wi-fi. The plane is routed OAK-ONT-PHX-SAN-OAK-SNA-PHX-OAK-PHX. And while the service is being tested, the wi-fi is free.

Downgraded: Reading, Geography, Responsibility
A Thomas Cook travel agent mistakenly booked a passenger to San Juan, Puerto Rico, instead of San Jose, Costa Rica. SJU instead of SJO. Bad mistake. But didn’t the traveler bear any responsibility to check the tickets — or heck, figure this out at the departure airport?? I love her quote, though: “I looked around the airport, saw posters of Puerto Rico everywhere, and thought: ‘What am I going to do? Where is Puerto Rico? Where am I?’” Yes, “where is Puerto Rico.”

Downgraded: Surprise
Headline: “Surprising number of companies cut travel spending.” Umm, “surprising”? Have USA Today’s editors been so insulated from the economic crisis that they’re shocked that travel spending is cut back?