Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Hilton hotel sale - Molino Stucky under 100 euro per night

View on San Marco square from the San Giorgio Maggiore

The wonderful Hilton Molino Stucky (with a chance of an upgrade to an absolutely wonderful view if you're a gold status holder in Hilton Honors) can now be booked for even lower rates than the rockbottom rates I found for ourselves last month. The cheapest room in this five star property on Guidecca, right across the south of the main island, can be booked from 91 euro per night. That's for an internal view room without breakfast.

However, Hilton gold status can be obtained relatively easily either by doing a status match here or by signing up for Amex Platinum here (kickback warning) which will get you the status instantly. And last time we received an upgrade to an executive room which lets you view Venice from the sixth floor and includes lounge access - and free breakfast is standard with Hilton gold status.

I checked November and December for these rates - if you fancy a trip to Venice just before Christmas you can get the low rates as well. To find them, start a search here, then select the option Change, and tick the checkbox Use flexible dates. This allows you to see the rates for two weeks, and browse backward and forward by the week. Remember that Venice adds a five euro per person per night city tax to the rate.

Short review of the Valerio Catullo lounge at Verona airport

Luckily there's more to Verona than its horrible airport and airport lounge - View from Castelvecchio

Most lounge experiences are so standard and uneventful that they do not need a review. You just sit there, have a drink, read a book and then carry on with your life. However, this morning my wife and I paid a brief visit to the VIP lounge of Verona airport. It's a land side lounge (which doesn't really make sense to me: it's better to have lounge access after security as you never know how much passing the security checks will take these days).

You get access for free with a Priority Pass subscription (the all-inclusive one that is) - but don't get your hopes too high. The woman behind the reception did not even bother to ask for our signatures, nor did she hand our Priority Pass cards back to us - she just left them on the desk. The lounge, with a very seventies feel ot it, promotes FREE WIFI on large posters, implicitly stating that this is a unique selling point - welcome to 2019 folks. And it was completely empty.

Having left our hotel before 7 AM, we had not had breakfast in our hotel so we wanted to eat something. We could choose from packaged plumb cake and packaged vanilla waffles. A hot drink? There was a kettle which you had to fill with bottled water in order to make tea. Or you could put a packaged capsule into one of two coffee machines which had not seen recent cleaning - was that fungus on the capsule compartment?

When we had to leave to catch our flight it appeared that there was indeed 'fresh' food being distributed - too late for us. Anything positive? Well, they had glass bottles of Coke Zero, always highly appreciated by me - even in the early morning. I don't think any of the people working in this lounge actually cares about people at all - making the label 'VIP lounge' all the more grotesque. But we will remember this lounge as one of Europe's worst.

Monday, 6 May 2019

An ethical pitfall of business travel: who's paying for loyalty benefits?

Looking down from The Shard in London

My assumption is that most loyalty programs in the travel industry have been designed to get the loyalty of employees by letting their employers pay for their loyalty benefits. Often, it only helps to be a member of an airline or hotel loyalty program if you're a really frequent traveller, and that probably means that someone else is paying your bills.

It is very attractive for an individual to have benefits from business travel and then use these for leisure travel. When I would do a lot of business travelling, it might affect my decisions in such a manner that I would benefit from them for my leisure travelling. It would probably cost my employer more money than strictly necessary.

The thing is this: it hardly ever pays to be a loyal customer. It is far more economical to find the cheapest tickets and rooms every time you have to travel. This works properly as long as the traveller's interests are aligned with those of the one taking up the bill. But if the traveller, or their secretary, is the one booking the tickets and rooms, the alignment is no longer there.

For example, I can easily book two cheap return tickets instead of one flexible ticket, and still save money. But the number of airline miles I can earn with the flexible ticket will far outweigh the ones for one cheap ticket (remember you don't earn miles for segments not flown). So the most economical solution (two cheap returns for added flexibility) might not be chosen in the real world.

The same is valid for hotel rooms. Most hotel programs are revenue based nowadays. This means that the more expensive a hotel room is, the more points you can earn, which will get you a free hotel room for a leisure trip more easily. Not to mention the tricks hotel loyalty programs have to let you book more nights than strictly necessary. There's your incentive to decrease travel costs...

When I was the company's internal travel agent at my latest employer, I had a few rules that should ban all risks associated with the above dilemmas. I booked all tickets and hotel rooms based on only price and convenience. Employees could still use loyalty programs but were not likely to benefit from them because I put them on any airline that provided the right price and time (and a direct flight).

Of course, using cashback sites is absolutely out of the question in a business travel setting. Even in case of channeling the money back to the employer, it might be too time-consuming to be effective. It is important to let employees realise that benefits from travelling are not an obvious thing if they do not pay for them themselves. Ultimately, all loyalty benefits are being paid for in cold, hard cash.