Archive | June 2013

A quick look at Hilton HHonors

HHonors got some serious criticism a few months ago for the devaluation they did in their program.  It must have been one of the most drastic devaluations that occured over the last years and unfortunately it was followed by devaluations in other programs like Marriott Rewards.  I watched it all with sorrow eyes.  Meanwhile we had time to settle our emotions and had another comparison in between the major programs after they did their devaluations as well.

Hilton was my second choice (after Marriott Rewards) before the devaluation and remains in that spot.  They have many hotels and a consistent product.  I believe their Hilton Garden Inn brand to be even somewhat better than Marriott Courtyard.  I just don’t switch to their program as it’s harder to get a good value for your points.  As a matter of fact, it’s not possible to do so by using their standard rewards.  To give just one example:  5th redemption night is free for everybody at Marriott but only for Elites at Hilton.

Also the introduction of Seasonal awards in the Hilton program will increase the amounts of points you need to spend in High Seasons.  This will make it harder to find a good deal for your points.   HHonors is stopping you from doing what you would do to get most value out of your points. You would typically use them at your favorite hotel at the moment that their prices are higher than normal due to some event or holiday.

One thing I do like about HHonors is the double dip option.  HHonors allows you to get a combination of both points and miles for every stay.  If you have different programs of which some of them are hardly used you could use this double dip option to stop the miles in those programs from expiring. (if you don’t want the miles you can choose to get 50 percent more HHonors points)

I do believe that you can still make it work for you if you can focus on the program and exploit all available options  by participating in all promotions and getting the Hilton Creditcards.  HHonors often has bonus promotions going on, more then I’ve seen with Marriott Rewards.  Just be sure to register for them or you won’t get your bonus points.  Quite recently Doubletree had a promotion that basically offered free points for just liking their facebook page.

At this point they’re running a different promotion.  This is the great getaway promotion with discounts up to 40 percent!   Certainly worth a look if you are planning a trip in the near future!

HHonors has a creditcard in Europe as well, see below for a complete list.  It will give you HHonors point for each euro spent.

To wrap up, if you want to make your HHonors membership a succes:
– Make sure you get most out of the double dip option, you can switch these preferences as often as you want
– Keep an eye open for all promotions
– Try to get a Hilton branded creditcard if you can (Visa in UK, Austria, Italy, Japan & Germany, Visa & AmEx in USA)

PS : Picture attached is taken at Hilton Papagayo Costa Rica.  A resort I can recommend!


How it is to be elite in the hotel programs

We already discussed airline programs in an earlier post, let’s now have a look at the hotel programs.

Just as is the case with airline programs, hotel programs tend to offer 3 elite levels.  The advantages that come with each elite level tend to vary from program to program but here again, as is the case with the airline programs, you will see that there are similarities.  The same is true for the requirements to earn the different elite levels.  Let’s have a look a the first elite level that is usually achieved after 10 nights.  (Hilton Honors offers this after 10 nights or 4 stays).

One benefit that is common to all programs are bonus points in the form of a percentage on top of your base earning.  The bonus percentage you get will varies a lot from program to program.  Here are the bonus points granted with the first elite level in a few example programs :

– Accor Hotels (still the biggest chain across Europe) offers its Silver Elite member of the ‘Le Club’ program a 50 percent bonus.

Accor hotels

Accor hotels (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

– Marriott Rewards offers it’s Silver members a 20 percent bonus
– Hilton Honors gives a 15 percent bonus to Silver Members
– Choice Privileges (Choice Hotels) gives only a mere 10 percent bonus to Gold Members (the first level as well but only differently named)

Bonus points are a nice perk if you are mainly interested in free nights.  Extra points means you will faster earn your free night.

Other perks for elite status are room upgrades. Usually they come with small print to indicate that these upgrades will only be granted if space is available.  Upgrades are usually offered as of the second elite level.  In our example programs the exception is Choice Privileges that only offers upgrades for their top tier members.  Upgrades are a perk that is often discussed amongst frequent travelers.  Success rates vary a lot as well as the “type” of upgrades.  Is a room with a better view an upgrade?  Upgrades to suites are excluded in some programs (like Marriott) but some travelers receive them anyway.  It’s still a nice perk if you don’t set your expectations too high and let yourself be surprised.

Welcome gifts are one more perk.  You can receive anything from a bottle of water to a bottle of wine, snacks or a voucher.  It depends on the brand you stay with and the goodwill of the hotel.  The latter at least for the lower elite levels.  As of a certain elite level the welcome gift is guaranteed.  The level varies by program  (top-tier for Marriott, 2nd tier for Hilton & Accor, no welcome gifts in the Choice Privileges program).

Without going into further detail I will list some other perks that can be found in these programs:
Ultimate Reservation Guarantee : You’re guaranteed to get a room untill X-hours upfront your stay.  The number of hours varies by program and sometimes elite level as well.  Mostly interesting for business travelers although it turned out to be very usefull when we stranded in Hartsfield Jackson Airport Atlanta during a storm and lot’s of people could not find a hotel. (but we did :-))

Free Internet : Interestingly some hotels still do not offer free internet to everybody.  Marriott Rewards and Hilton Hhonors offer this as a perk to their 2nd tier level elites in all their properties.  (both have brands where everybody receives free internet)

Late checkout : Another benefit that is offered with small-print (space available).  A nice benefit that could come-in handy if your departure flight is somewhere in the afternoon and you want to grab a quick shower before you head out to the airport.

A picture of the Courtyard of the beautiful Marriott Costa Rica - San Jose

A picture of the Courtyard of the beautiful Marriott Costa Rica – San Jose

Hotel programs are different from airline programs in the sense that you will be able to get status for free.  No status or spending with the hotels are required.  This is not true for all programs but is the case for Marriott and Hilton.  Marriott offers credit cards that give you Silver status.  Hilton has several credit cards that grant you Silver or Gold status.  (the cards are not free but are relatively cheap if you plan on benefiting from the status you will enjoy)

Note that there are many more hotel loyalty programs ( Starwoord Preferred Guest, Club Carlson, Wyndham rewards, ….) but I just picked out a few of them to give you some examples.  Why I picked these?  Le Club Accor is the biggest chain in Europe and Hilton and Marriott have a very good coverage in the United States and to a certain level the rest of the World.  All three of them include a good selection of brands from basic hotels to very luxurious.  They have something for everyone.  Choice hotels is a program that includes 11 different brands as well but is mostly focused to the budget-wise traveler.  I included them as they offer very good options for budget-wise travelers although their coverage worldwide is less attractive.

We will go into further detail, comparing programs head 2 head, in later posts.

My New York trip

This was not my first but certainly won’t be my last trip to New York.  Every time again this city has something else to offer that makes my stay special and pleasant.

As AA was running a special promo on their new DUS-ORD flight I decided to leave from DUS (Dusseldorf) and flew AA241 & AA362 to New York.  On my way back I picked an AA codeshare on Iberia to test the new A330, AA5583 & AA5678.

I will share with you my experience.

A view towards Central Park taken from out of the Bloomberg office

A view towards Central Park taken from out of the Bloomberg office

Dusseldorf is an easy-going airport to depart from.  Dusseldorf is off-course a pretty busy hub for one of the other partners of Oneworld: Air Berlin.

Air Berlin plane in OneWorld livery

Air Berlin plane in OneWorld livery

More Air Berlin planes & Etihad

More Air Berlin planes & Etihad

This is my first experience and maybe at other times the airport may be more busy but I hardly experienced any queues.  Notice that AA signs are not yet installed outside at departures.  Don’t start looking for them, you need to be at ‘A’.  As an AA Gold I could use the Business Class check-in.  Staff was extremely friendly and making jokes.  My bags were tagged with the priority labels, I got the usual security questions.  (Was your bag with you at all times?) and I could continue to clear security and head to the gate.

Even at the security at Dusseldorf Airport were there smiling faces and a friendly hello.  It must have been a while ago that I experienced this kind of service at security.

Dusseldorf airport offers many opportunities to shop, spend time and eat&drink but I did not have that much time.  Just time to eat a way too much expensive sandwich (as always) and rush to the gate.  They just started boarding when I arrived.

My home for the next 9 hours.  Still the old AA livery.

My home for the next 9 hours. Still the old AA livery.

First Business was allowed to board and after that all elite passengers.  I would have been aboard pretty quick if it weren’t were I was picked out for an additional random security check at the gate.  After the extra security check I could finally pursue my way to my Main Cabin Extra (MCE) seat.

MCE seats offer additional legroom to travel in comfort.  Look at how much space I have:

Main Cabin Extra seat

Main Cabin Extra seat

Enough space for a comfortable trip and a free upgrade for all elite customers in 2013.  As of next year it will be free for Platinum and Executive Platinum Elites.  Off course everybody can enjoy the benefits of MCE for a fee.

MCE is in the front of the Main Cabin which means you’re also one of the first to deplane and one of the first in line at the border in the United States.  Those who experienced the lines when entering the United States know what I’m talking about.

I continued my flight to NY on one of AA’s MD’80’s where I had picked an exit-row.  At first I had 2 seats for myself  (configuration is 2-3) but as soon as other passengers noticed the flight was not full it didn’t take long before the exit-row seats were taken.

Bye Bye New York
AA Gold means you can’t pick your seats upfront on Iberia and BA. (You need to have at least Platinum status to do so.)

I checked in for my flight the evening before and was pleased with the seat they assigned me for the flight JFK-MAD (3rd row in economy and the right side of the plane (2-4-2 configuration). I changed my seat on the next segment to BRU to be seated in an exit-row.

As the A330 just joined Iberia’s fleet the plane feels and smells completely new. The new in-flight-entertainment system (IFE) looks quite fancy as well. Personal TV’s in every seat coming with a big selection of movies, series and games. The IFE is however not always as intuitive as I would have hoped. For someone used to these kind of interfaces I got lost when I was choosing my film and suddenly found myself in music and TV shows lists. Some older persons needed help. It took the crew 3 attempts to get the system up & running but once it was up it was running smoothly. I watched the movie ‘Taken 2’, the selection consisted of new movies as well as some classics, and I tested some of the games.


Economy Cabin on the Iberia A330 (Courtesy of Iberia)

Legroom on the A330 is really, really very limited. I could not put my book in the seatpocket of the seat in front of me as I had not enough space. (and no, it was not the 3-in-1 edition of Lord of the rings ) (I measure 1m82)

I was glad this flight was only slightly less than 6 hours. For transcontinental flights you could use some more legroom.
Transfer at Madrid was again a long walk. Arriving from the United States you need to transfer from terminal 4s to main terminal 4 which includes a long walk, a bunch of escalators, a quite long tram ride, another bunch of escalators and another long stroll. Off course you pass immigration and security along the way. Be sure you have at least 90 minutes.

Iberia’s European flights are the opposite of their transcontinental flights when it comes to meal & drink service. Where the meals on their transcontinental service are, in my opinion, better than average, you have no free drinks and meals on their European flights. Prices are a little bit more expensive than what you would pay at the airport. If your thirsty or hungry be sure to buy your drinks&foods upfront.

Last but not least, all flights were on-time! Something I can really appreciate as it is, after safety, one of my major concerns.

How it is to be ‘elite’

We already spoke about elite perks in the previous post.  Now let’s get into some more detail about what these elite perks mean to you and to your traveling experience.

Most airline programs offer 3 or 4 elite levels.  This harmony is mostly enforced because they’re part of an alliance and need to align their elite levels to their partner airlines.  If you’re elite on one airline in an alliance you’re treated accordingly when you travel on the other airlines in the alliance.
Hotel programs most of the time have the same number of levels.  We will cover hotel programs in more detail in the next post and will focus on airline programs in this post.

There’s only one way to achieve elite status on the airline programs.  You have to fly!  Each airline has some specific requirements to achieve status.  They’re all based on a minimum number of flights or points (sometimes called level or status miles). Here are some examples how to achieve the first status level:

– British Airways Executive Club requires 300 tier points or 25 flights.
– Flying Blue (Air France & KLM) 25000 level miles (30000 if you live in France+Monaco) or 15 flights.
– Miles&More (Lufthansa and partners) requires 35000 status miles

It pays to compare programs in the same alliance.  Aegean (Star Alliance) requires 16000 miles to achieve Gold Status (2nd elite level).  Miles&More, also member of Star Alliance, requires 100,000 miles to reach the same Gold Level.

Note that level or status miles should not be confused with the miles you earn for redemption towards free flights.  In many cases you will earn both but this is not always the case. eg. Flying Air Malta will earn you redeemable miles with Lufthansa but these will not count towards status.  Most of the time flying airlines within an alliance will earn you level or status, others won’t. (exception is Korean Air that is part of Skyteam but does not earn Medaillon Qualification Miles or MQM on Delta)

British Airways is slightly different from Miles&More and Flying Blue.  British Airways is more generous and grants 100% redeemable miles on the most discount economy tickets. (Miles&More and Flying Blue only 25% or 50%).  They’re not as generous with their points towards elite status.  To see how many tier points you would earn you can use their calculator on their website.

Some airlines offer shortcuts to elite status.  They may match your status if you’ve earned status on another carrier or they may offer you status for flying a lower amount of miles in a short time span.  Contact me for the exact details of your carrier of choice.

Now you know how to become elite we should still cover the benefits for you.

Benefits vary with each airline but generally include:

– a bonus on the number of  redeemable miles you earn. (25% to 50%)
– privileges of checking-in at the business counter even if you’re traveling in economy class

Sometimes you may get a higher baggage allowance or priority tags for your bags so you should get them faster at the baggage claim.  (although my experience is that the priority tags don’t really affect the speed your baggage is delivered)  Those airlines that offer seat selection for a fee (like British Airways) will generally offer them for free some days in advance to elites.  This gives you the opportunity to pick those better seats before everybody else can.

These are just a few perks.  I’ve listed those that I enjoy most.  As I mentioned the list varies by airline.  I will compare some programs in detail in a next post.

The Lufthansa First Class lounge at Frankfurt ...

The Lufthansa First Class lounge at Frankfurt International Airport, Germany. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Access to airline lounges is also a nice perk which is most often offered as of the second elite level.  (Aegean Miles&Bonus is an exception where this is a benefit in the first and only elite level).  I enjoy lounge access a lot.  You get to escape the crowd at the airport and relax in quiet area reserved for elites.  Some drinks and snacks are complimentary.

As already mentioned, detailed comparisons of the benefits of the programs will follow.  I hope this post could already give you some idea what elite status is about!Contact me and I will be happy to help you with your questions.

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