Extreme Hotel Deals finds this rate, $41 per night, at the Marriott Brown Palace Denver on Fridays and Saturdays between May 8 and October 31.

Indeed, $41 is all-in with taxes and there are multiple room types available with breakfast even thrown in.

This is a well-regarded property, though I haven’t stayed there. It’s among the better ranked for the area on TripAdvisor, and part of Marriott’s “Autograph Collected”-branded properties.

I would wait several days after booking before making non-refundable travel arrangements around this rate to ensure that Marriott plans to honor the bookings.

Most of the deals I find at Extreme Hotel Deals aren’t especially useful to me, single night offerings where it’s unlikely I’ll be in a city when they’re available. Nonetheless I find their email list interesting at a minimum.

The Wall Street Journal covers plans for Hyatt, Loews, and Langham to launch new ‘lifestyle brand’ hotels in 2015.

Hotel chains have shifted their idea of luxury to meet what modern consumers want. Younger affluent customers aren’t necessarily looking for ornate or historical French design or formal service. Even Ritz-Carlton has tried to update itself.

W Hotels, I think, did a fantastic job catching the moment in the late 1990’s but has struggled to keep pace with the potential of the market or update itself to remain relevant. In trying to be “cool” and not just offer a luxury experience catering to a younger demographic, it winds up chasing its tail.

Here’s the thing about “lifestyle” brands. Cool doesn’t last. The Ian Schrager hotels aren’t great places to actually stay, at least anymore. The original W hotels are tired. Heck, the W San Diego was tired in 2009 — when the W Hong Kong has an LCD screen on the floor of the elevator wishing you a “good morning,” “good afternoon,” and “good evening,” how cool is actually physically changing out floor mats in front of the elevator in the lobby with those messages?

You have to constantly update to stay cool, and to start with you have to know what cool is. And what cool isn’t — it isn’t staff who are trained to act as though they are the cool ones, too cool to help guests or offer anticipatory service.

All of the chains have sought to capture this in some way, though. IHG has ‘Hotel Indigo’ which I don’t think has worked. Make no mistake, it’s their aim at a lifestyle brand.

“The Hotel Indigo brand is uniquely designed to reflect the local culture, character and history of the neighborhoods where our hotels are located,” said Adam Glickman, brand experience director, Lifestyle Brands, IHG.

It’s precisely that Indigo doesn’t get them where they want to go that they needed to go out and acquire Kimpton.

According to the Journal we can expect Hyatt to go big:

Hyatt has the most ambitious plan of the new entrants. The Chicago-based company this summer plans to open 20 lifestyle hotels in places like New York, Miami, San Francisco and Paris, according to people familiar with the company’s strategy.

My first reaction to this: isn’t Andaz their lifestyle brand?

My second reaction to this: isn’t Park Hyatt their take at ‘modern luxury’?

So Hyatt will give us a new lifestyle brand that’s differentiated from Andaz and from Park Hyatt. Surely there’s a niche there, as Starwood’s W hotels is different from both of those brands of course. But the proliferation of brands leads to its own potential for brand confusion. Customers have to identify the brand as being a part of the larger overarching brand and realize, even, that they should be booking at that hotel if they’re loyal to the larger chain or even give their loyalty program number if they happen to be booked at that hotel.

These are no easy tasks, and more attempts fail than succeed, but I look forward to seeing and experiencing the different attempts!

I went on television earlier today to talk weather and navigating flight delays and cancellations.

I’d sum up my advice as, expect the unexpected, be proactive, and be nice.

There are five basic things to do to travel well through flight delays and cancellations

Read More…

News and notes from around the interweb:

Inside Flyer magazine’s blog offers the story of Randy Petersen’s retirement from magazine publishing.

The magazine launched a number of other activities that continue and thrive today.

During our time, InsideFlyer accomplished something that no other publication of its kind has–we left a legacy. Among the things InsideFlyer created, funded and willed to be relevant to the frequent flyer included the Freddie Awards, FlyerTalk and BoardingArea, along with its grandchild Milepoint.com.

On their consumer advocate legacy,

InsideFlyer beat back the introduction of a Saturday night stayover requirement on flight awards from United Mileage Plus in 2000, we led the rollback of the US Airways Dividend Miles elite change to drop status bonus miles, we provided the major funding and support for SaveSkyMiles which beat back an effort by Delta to offer fewer miles flown on discount fares in 2002 along with other related changes to that program and InsideFlyer championed the fight to have United honor the Continental OnePass Infinite Elite program at a higher elite level during the merger of those two airlines’ loyalty programs. We exposed and championed the infamous “LatinPass Run” that created a legend out of that offer and made mileage millionaires out of many. We made flying the Concorde available for thousands of readers when all they had to do was buy 21 subscriptions to the magazine in 2002 and we made a household name out of “The Pudding Guy”.

The ‘Concorde’ deal was that Inside Flyer ran a signup promotion offering Starwood Starpoints, and chose not to limit it to first-time subscribers or even ‘one per customer’. Starpoints back then transferred one to two into Qantas (and thus with double the transfer bonus) so 40,000 Starpoints was sufficient for 100,000 Qantas miles.

  • Inside Flyer cost $59.95 per year.
  • The magazine offered 2500 Starpoints per subscription
  • 21 subscriptions yield 52,500 Starpoints, which transferred to 125,000 Qantas points.
  • That was enough for a roundtrip ticket on the British Airways Concorde, New York – London, back then (though some folks chose to travel one direction in first class instead).

The Qantas award chart was so much better then… And many lounges and libraries received donated subscriptions to a frequent flyer magazine. I’m sure some were even donated to charitable entities for a tax deduction which reduced the cost basis of the Concorde award below the $1259 cost of the points.

Inside Flyer, in birthing Flyertalk, also paved the way for my own path into miles and points. And gave me the opportunity to meet some of my closest friends.

I wouldn’t have started this blog, or my award booking service, without being pulled into the miles and points world through the solar system that Randy created out of and around the magazine. I’ve even helped to defend someone from federal criminal charges related to miles and points, and as a result they stayed out of prison. In a very real way, then, the magazine actually saved a life of someone who doesn’t even know it.

To Randy Petersen’s news I can only offer congratulations.

I was very excited about 15 months ago when Coin launched for pre-order.

It looked so cool, one card that you load your other credit cards onto via an app. You could carry the one and swipe it, you flip between cards that it represents with a button. This would be convenient for cleaning up my wallet, and for managing gift cards I thought.

There’s no EMV chip, it holds up to 8 cards, and the two-year battery isn’t rechargeable.

Supposedly Coin was going to be shipping last summer but it’s going to be this summer before I get mine. I should probably cancel the order, though I’m curious to try it out, even though it appears to have been surpassed by other offerings that should be in the market at the same time.

I should add here that I’m not part of the Apple ecosystem, so ApplePay is out for me.

FrugalHack.me compared ‘all-in-one’ cards. They note that Wallaby will choose what card to use for you, based on best rewards at a given store. It’s a tool to automate maximizing your category bonuses.

Several readers have recommended Plastc to me.

I just ordered it, my referral link gets you $20 off ($135 all-in after discount).

Plastc has chip and PIN technology, Bluetooth, and can hold up to 20 cards. It’s even water resistant, and it explicitly works with gift cards. They suggest putting work access cards on it too. The battery is wirelessly rechargable and the card is expected to ship this summer.

I’m looking forward to trying this out in my wallet, and hope that Coin ships to me soon too so I can compare.

Fuel surcharges are the bane of many frequent flyers, junk fees adding hundreds or even a thousand dollars onto award tickets by many frequent flyer programs around the world.

Airlines like fuel surcharges because:

  • Changing the fuel surcharge in a market can raise or lower every ticket price in that market, no need to re-file every single fare.
  • They allow an airline to raise price even with many fixed-fare agreements.
  • And, of course, because they can be charged to frequent flyers trying to redeem a captive points currency.

US frequent flyers — who don’t participate in mileage programs based outside the US — don’t have to deal with fuel surcharges very much.

  • American adds them to awards on British Airways (and to a very modest extent on Iberia)
  • Alaska adds them to awards on British Airways
  • Delta adds them to awards on some partners – like China Southern and China Eastern – and to travel originating in Europe.

United doesn’t add them at all.

But for European programs, and those based in Asia Pacific, they can be huge — hundreds of dollars each way. The idea is that miles cover the fare only and the frequent flyer has to pay taxes and surcharges.

They generally make economy travel redemptions foolish, as you spend points and have to find availability, don’t earn miles, and still wind up paying much of the cost of a paid ticket.

There are some tricks to reducing fuel surcharges on award tickets.

Reader Petra shares the news that the Philippines has banned fuel surcharges for tickets originating there. And with the price of fuel falling we’re starting to see a few carriers eliminate fuel surcharges, but some airlines just have a sneaky way of renaming the fee since ‘fuel surcharge’ no longer has much credibility with the price of fuel dropping dramatically.

But if you know where to start and end your award trip you can avoid fuel surcharges entirely.

Read More…

I’m not sure what rock I’ve been under, that the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort was sold and is now B Ocean Resort.

The Westin Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort has also been sold, but it hasn’t been reflagged.

Starwood of course lost the iconic Diplomat hotel outside of Fort Lauderdale to Hilton.

But seeing the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort leave the fold struck me, in part because it flew the Sheraton flag since 1956. The Sheraton Beach Resort is the former Sheraton Yankee Clipper, and the Westin Beach Resort is the former Sheraton Yankee Trader.

Both hotels received makeovers in recent years, in my view the Westin a nicer one than the Sheraton. But it’s the Sheraton that holds the most memories for me because it’s where I stayed as a high school debate coach during the 1995 national finals.

The Sheraton had its own style, such as it is.

It is of course shaped like a boat, and looks out over the ocean.

The bar — most recently a coffee shop — is where I also got to know the effects of gin. For some reason straight Beefeater and rocks was particularly inexpensive in the bar years ago, and the older coaches enjoyed that I could keep up and then some with what tasted like water… until it didn’t. (Fortunately the bartender never carded there..)

I didn’t spend nearly as much time at this hotel as I did at the Diplomat. Yet it seems somehow wrong that it should be anything other than a Sheraton.

If you write a travel-related blog, you’re supposed to have a sense of adventure,. This post is how my sense of adventure is actually outweighed by risk, legal risk, that most will never face. Hear me out, and I’d love it if you just tell me I’m being paranoid. I’d love it if you’d help to change my mind on this.

There’s virtually no legal risk for the average American in traveling to Cuba now, it would seem.

While the categories of allowable travel haven’t changed, it’s no longer required to obtain a special permit from the US government to travel. Americans have a general license, and those who do go are presumed to fall into an eligible category.

As for as those categories go, I arguably could go as a ‘journalist’ and blog the trip. I haven’t consulted with legal experts, and I’m not certain how well-tested that area of law is.

Even MasterCard will allow US-issued cards to be used for payment in Cuba starting March 1.

So it’s for all intents and purposes open season for Americans to travel to Cuba, even if it isn’t strictly legal for all to do so. And even if scheduled flights by US carriers to Cuba are on hold.

Here’s the concern I have, and how the legal grey area of Cuba travel might come up. Say you’re being investigated by a US attorney for completely unrelated activity. For the purpose of this hypothetical post, let’s say the investigation is for ‘structuring’ bank deposits in a manner that appears to avoid the required reporting of amounts over $10,000.

You have a pretty good case you weren’t doing what you were accused of. The prosecutor offers you a deal, because they know their case is weak. You’re inclined to roll the dice with a jury. But during discovery, the US attorney’s office comes to learn that you traveled to Cuba — and may not have fallen into an allowable category to spend money there. So if you don’t take the plea, the prosecutor will pile on with charges … for something that most Americans would get away with.

Put another way, it looks fine to travel to Cuba — unless you catch the ire of a prosecutor for something else entirely. And then every grey area move you’ve made is on the table.

I suppose I’m super cautious by nature. Heck, I could be a lot more aggressive on my taxes than I am. But I don’t think I’m ready to travel to Cuba. Many others, of course, will be!

News and notes from around the interweb:

Since I wrote yesterday that Aer Lingus appears poised to accept a third takeover offer from British Airways (and Iberia) parent IAG, I’ve gotten several messages from readers quite concerned.

You wouldn’t expect a mostly US audience to worry over consolidation in the European airline sector, especially when it’s a non-alliance member being acquired. But Aer Lingus is a British Airways partner already, and one of the few ways to redeem British Airways points across the Atlantic without paying big money in addition to miles in the form of high fuel surcharges.

The first thing to know though is that nothing will change right away. The transaction has to be accepted. Then it has to close. The airlines will continue to operate fully independently at first. So I wouldn’t expect to see anything meaningful different over the next year.

We do not know what, if anything, will ultimately change.

There’s very little that British Airways members will look forward to with this acquisition, because BA and Aer Lingus are already partners so you can use BA points for Aer Lingus awards. But here are the things to look out for.

Continue reading…

Korean Air is one of my favorite Chase points transfer partners.

Although they are of course very Korean and their processes for redeeming awards are unique.

Korean went offline as a Chase transfer partner in November, though I wrote that it was expected to come back based on what Chase was suggesting. Korean Air’s website said it would be back in January.

Last week Chase began confirming it would be back very soon, and customer service reps were saying January 25.

And transfers are now back online!

As much as I love the ability to be able to transfer Chase points to United, British Airways, Singapore Airlines, and Hyatt… I really love transfers to Korean. They’re a unique partner, Korean points are hard to get otherwise, and since Delta doesn’t permit first class redemptions there’s just not a lot of competition for those seats.

Korean serves more US destinations than any other Asian airline, they have first class across the bulk of their long haul fleet and even many short haul destinations intra-Asia. And while there are fuel surcharges imposed by the program, they’re modest to many destinations. A great redemption is US – Hong Kong via Seoul for 80,000 one-way in first class.

You can also use Korean miles for first class redemptions on several other Skyteam airlines, like China Southern.

Very glad to see this return!

Flying into a city during the week car rentals can be expensive, especially at the airport. I needed a four day rental, and the came out to about $300. Discount codes that I’m actually eligible for weren’t really bringing this down.

Now, I find that I do quite well renting cars via Hotwire.com. You’re guaranteed an on-airport major rental company, they tell you the price just not which company until you’ve completed the purchase. The only downside is it’s prepaid, non-refundable. I’m fairly allergic to prepaid rates until very close to travel.

Instead I booked the best rate I could find on a midsize car, which happened to be from Avis.

And I fed the confirmation number into AutoSlash.com.

About a week passed and I got an email from them:

I clicked through to rebook the car, although given the savings I decided to spring for a larger vehicle.

Shortly after clicking through to rebook, they found another lower rate, again via Avis.

Simple. The lazy, easy, lucrative way to book rental cars. Book something that matches your needs and as long as you’re more than days out from the rental you can let AutoSlash do the work to find you better pricing.

@drdavidge tweets:

He writes, “I am part of an small invitation only discussion group between Citi and AA where they ask questions and send out surveys..”

And shares this two question survey:

Have any of your miles credit cards sent you a 1099 tax notice for miles that were rewarded to you? Select all that apply.

Have any of your points credit cards sent you a 1099 tax notice for points that were rewarded to you? Select all that apply.

Don’t freak out just yet! This new survey doesn’t raise alarms, in my view.

A 1099 just informs the IRS of a transaction. Citibank does not determine what is taxable. It’s fairly well-established that the miles or points awarded for credit card spend are not taxable transactions.

Now, when you sign up for a Citibank checking account bonus, and the value of the bonus exceeds $600, you risk receiving a 1099 which is just reporting to the IRS on the value they’ve provided to you. Citi’s approach in the past was to view bank account rewards as tax-reportable.

When you redeem Citibank Thank You points earned from a bank account signup bonus, a 1099 may be generated.

You don’t have to agree with the valuation, you can dispute the value. But the notion that rewards from bank accounts can be considered income isn’t new.

That’s different than asserting that frequent flyer miles generated by credit card spending or travel are tax, or that they’re required to be reported to the IRS.

  • Miles from your personal travel represents a rebate, it’s returning money (value) to you that was already yours and ostensibly already taxed.
  • Miles from credit card spend are a rebate on that spending.
  • The IRS has asserted that it will not attempt to tax miles earned for business travel, even though that’s not a rebate on your own spending. (IRS Commissioner’s Announcement 2002-18, 2002-1 C.B. 621)

None of this suggests that the tax treatment of these items will not ever change. And there are certainly still grey areas — such as credit card signup bonuses. Those that require minimum spend could be construed to be a rebate on that spend. Those that are awarded on card approval might be on shakier tax ground, though the IRS to date has shown little inclination to address this. (Although revenue recognition by loyalty programs themselves is a live issue at the IRS.)

News and notes from around the interweb:

Expedia, which was already operating Travelocity with its own search technology, is now acquiring its Sabre-owned smaller rival.

Since Travelocity had long since given up investing in its search and booking platform, and I found it virtually unusable as a standalone (though I still tried to use it, as it would offer be 2 Ultimate Rewards points for bookings made through the Chase shopping portal), the consolidation doesn’t mean much for competitive pricing in the industry. About the only thing it changes is having one fewer marketing site that offered its own set of coupons and incentives like shopping portal payouts. That matters, but only at the margin.

More significant perhaps is that Orbitz, once started by a consortium of airlines as a competitor to online booking sites but which eventually spun off to become their competitor, is looking to sell itself. This is meaningful because:

  • Orbitz generally has the best airfare search technology for combining fares across different airlines.
  • That’s useful for fuel dumps (though not as useful as Expedia’s various country sites that allow you to issue tickets in the country of your choice).
  • Orbitz is also more advanced than Expedia in pushing hotel choices that it thinks best match consumer preferences, rather than those with the best payout to the booking engine (or that are privileged for other internal reasons).
  • More players investing in search technology push out the progress in delivering best results for consumers, so consolidation there is on net undesirable.

That said there are still new entrants in the search space, and Google’s increasing presence should more than compensate if we lose Orbitz.

And a stronger Expedia plus Google will both represent competitors to Priceline, which is really Kayak and Booking.com.

We’re still in the early stages of online booking technology, and the future is in advances that allow mass customization and tailored travel recommendations. So we shouldn’t expect that the biggest entity now will stay the biggest — the future of online booking will be won by the companies that can best guide customers through the complex world of travel to the myriad choices that work best for them.

That’s not just ‘which flight is cheapest’ or ‘which hotel gives me the features I want’ but which connection is best given weather, which total trip cost is lowest or even provides the best overall value, and what site best knows and understands evene unstated preferences of a given consumer.

American took delivery of its first Boeing 787 on Thursday, and flew it to Dallas on Friday.

They have 42 firm orders for the 787-8 and 787-9 and options on an additional 58 planes.

We’ll see the aircraft flying between domestic hubs for a few weeks when the aircraft first goes into revenue service during the second quarter, before they begin flying it internationally.

Here’s the American’s 787 landing at Boeing’s Paine Field after a test flight.

With the introduction of the 787, American is claimed to have operated every Boeing-designed jet aircraft.

Boeing 707 (-123, -123B, -323B and -323C models)

Boeing 717 (designed by McDonnell Douglas as the MD-95, inherited from TWA but not officially operated)

Boeing 720

Boeing 727 (both models)

Boeing 737 (-200, -300 and -800 models)

Boeing 747 (-100 and SP models)

Boeing 757 (-200 model)

Boeing 767 (-200 and -300 models)

Boeing 777 (-200 and -300 models)

Boeing 787 (now the 787-8 model)

I’m not sure the 717 should even count, as it was McDonnell Douglas-designed prior to the merger with Boeing. So even if you’d only count American as having had the aircraft as a technicality, I’d toss that from the list since it wasn’t Boeing-designed in the first place.

Interestingly, the only pre-Boeing 707 aircraft (the 707 was their first jetliner) that American operated that I’m aware of was the 377 Stratocruiser, by virtue of their acquisition of American Overseas Airlines which was later sold to Pan Am.

American, in announcing details of what their combined program with US Airways will look like confirmed that the actual combination of Dividend Miles and AAdvantage will happen during the second quarter of 2015.

Here are more details on the program and who wins and who loses.

But when will this actually happen?

It matters because American elites want to know when their status will get them upgrade priority (and not just day of travel eligibility) for upgrades, and vice versa. It matters for folks wanting to use US Airways Dividend miles to book awards under their relatively more generous routing rules or with their unique partners.

This post is speculation, though I hope it’s educated speculation.

The combination should happen earlier in the second quarter rather than later:

  • In announcing second quarter, this was a date range they were clearly highly confident in. There was no reason to announce a date there was any conceivable universe that they could miss. They had to believe they could easily hit a date early in the quarter, or even be ready during the first quarter and then put it off, or else they wouldn’t have announced the target. They would look bad to customers if they missed the date, and they’d look bad internally. Remember there are still plenty of management ‘synergies’ to be had through ‘redundancies’.

  • They needed to kill US Airways challenges at least 90 days prior to the changeover. They killed it in late December.

  • Travel starts to really pick up after March. That’s why airlines usually combine in February or early March. It’s always best to do data migrations when things are slow(er) — although this is just the frequent flyer program and not the reservation system.

Regardless, I expect that we’ll have advance notice of the actual date of combination.

It seems like they have to give us at least 60 days’ (or some reasonable amount of) notice of the date when things would get combined. So there will be plenty of time to decide whether to make a speculative award booking under US Airways rules that may need to be changed later, or make decisions about whom to fly.

Starwood got hacked. This came shortly after American, United, and Hilton got hacked. Points are advertised for sale cheap online.

Data security is big business, consulting firms have identified a huge mark business opportunity in working with loyalty programs.

There’s no way to be perfectly secure, and programs don’t often admit what’s really going on — plenty of blame shifting, talk about the need for strong passwords and changing passwords (blame the customer), talk about third parties getting hacked (blame the partners).

Truth is that some amount of hacking risk is a cost of doing business, you don’t want to be ‘too secure’ or you’ll be too difficult to do business with. Customers who have to constantly change passwords that they can’t remember are customers who will be frustrated and won’t engage with the program online. And complex unique passwords are passwords that members have to write down or store in an unencrypted file on their computer which introduces its own albeit different security issue.

What’s more, shifting responsibility for security onto members doesn’t work when the programs effectively indemnify members against any consequences of a hack by restoring points in full. Why should members invest effort in hack prevention, when a hack doesn’t actually cost them anything?

But there are basic things that a program can do, and things that members can do, to keep their accounts more secure. And relative security is all they need – you don’t need to be hack-proof, just more difficult to hack than the next program and next member down the digital ‘street’.
Continue reading to see how hackers use points, and what that means for how programs can protect you and how to protect yourself!

It’s not just the man who used an airline’s mistaken downgrade as an excuse for groping and sexually insulting a flight attendant.

Here are two stories out of Canada this week:

Couple Attempts to Hide Acts on Plane via Coat Over Laps Despite Also Being Topless.

The New York Daily News leads,

‘Her pants were down around her ankles’: Canadian couple used coat over laps to hide mid-flight sex acts, attendant says..

..He found the couple in their seats with a coat covering their laps. Lander’s pants were down, her breasts were out of her bra and her hand was near Chase’s crotch, the flights attendant said.

..It’s not clear if the two knew each other before the frisky incident.

..Dunn demanded Lander get dressed and asked her to put her breasts back inside of her bra, he said

..“At one point she lunged at me as if to bite me,” said [a responding officer]

South African woman fined $15,000 for throwing water on and cussing out a flight attendant.

Johansson, who is from Johannesburg, told RCMP after her arrest that she was upset because she couldn’t sit with her husband on the flight and her TV did not work.

..In sentencing her, Judge John MacDougall wished her, “Godspeed. Get out of here.”

Passengers are sure a piece of work.

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View from the Wing is a project of Miles and Points Consulting, LLC. This site is for entertainment purpose only. The owner of this site is not an investment advisor, financial planner, nor legal or tax professional and articles here are of an opinion and general nature and should not be relied upon for individual circumstances.

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