Podcast #85 — Importance of Hotel Bathrooms; Maximizing Miles

Safely hunkered down in the TravelCommons studios during the busiest US travel week of the year, I don’t know how I can call this a travel podcast if we don’t talk about the TSA‘s “junk touching” patdowns.  The general traveling public is finally catching up with the frequent traveler set.  The TSA’s claim that it’s groping vs. safety is a false choice — their security theater doesn’t make us any safer.  The increased hassles associated with air travel have increased the fly-vs.-drive breakeven point — almost tripled it according to some.  A new study on the future of hotels neglects one of the most important features of any hotel stay — the bathroom.  And we wrap up talking about mileage tracking websites with the CEO of GoMiles.com.  Here’s a direct link to the podcast file or you can listen to it right here by clicking on the arrow below.

Here are the transcript from TravelCommons podcast #85:

  • Intro music — Warmth by Makkina
  • Coming to you once again from the TravelCommons studios outside of Chicago, Illinois during the one week a year I make a determined effort to stay off the road.  I wasn’t successful last year – a client scheduled a meeting in Philadelphia the Monday before Thanksgiving, so I did an 18-hour up & back – last flight out Sunday night, returned Monday afternoon – to avoid the building crowds.  But this year, I have a bit more control over my travel schedule.  And that means I actually put my roller bag away – not just leave it lying around empty in the bedroom.
  • I hate to sound elitist, but this week is always amateur week at the airports – families, infrequent fliers.  They’re going to be the ones trying to take a water bottle through the security checkpoint, taking 2-3 shots at the metal detector before getting all their jewelry off; then walking slow, 4 or 5 abreast down the concourse, placing 5-adjective orders at Starbucks, crowding the jetway door trying to board with the handful of elites who couldn’t stay off the road, ….  Why should I torture both of us?  So I stay home and keep myself calm with a weekend long low-grade tryptophan-induced stupor supplemented by a steady diet of football and good-quality beer.
  • Watching the TSA patdown controversy from this distance was entertaining rather than frustrating — even though it cost me the opportunity to earn the special “Don’t Touch my Junk” badge on FourSquare . Coming during “amateur week”, there were more than enough infrequent travelers willing to put themselves in front of a reporter’s microphone and say “I don’t care how long I wait or how they need to touch me; I just want to be safe”. They’re always there when the TSA turns the screw a bit tighter. But this time, there were an equal number of people saying, “Wait a minute”. I thought the woman who walked through LAX screening in a black bikini made the point
  • Though not many people voluntarily chose the full body groping during National Opt-Out Day , the organizers did get an impressive amount of attention focused on the TSA’s screening procedures. By Wednesday, John Pistole, the TSA administrator, must have gotten tired of getting wired up for the umpteenth remote interview with a news show..
  • The pile-up of interviews and media investigations made the point that frequent fliers figured out long ago – the TSA’s justification – the scanning and the gropings are a necessary evil for secure flight – is a false choice. Most frequent fliers don’t think the TSA and their security theater makes us more secure – they’re just one more hassle we have to deal with before we can get to our destination. Last week’s hoopla just drove the point home to everyone else.
  • Bridge Music — DLDN Instrumental by St Paul

Following Up

  • First of all, here’s a nice audio comment from Linda Martin of the Indie Travel Podcast
  • Linda, thanks for taking the time out from yours and Craig’s jealousy-inspiring tour through Southeast Asia to drop us that line…
  • Thanks also to the folks who “liked” the TravelCommons fan page on Facebook.  And to the folks who follow me on Twitter.  I try to use both services to keep in touch with listeners between episodes – especially with the “expanded spacing” between episodes.  I was scanning the archives the other day looking for the 1st –year recap show to put in the iTunes feed, and I realized that almost half of the TravelCommons episodes – 45% to be exact – were done in that first year.  Of course I had a lot of content to mine – years of travel notebooks – so it was easy to do a weekly show at first.  Now that I’m doing well to keep to a monthly schedule, the Facebook and Twitter “short-burst” messages make it easy for me to talk with everyone – or those who are interested – between episodes.
  • One such item I posted on the Facebook page was a link to an article by Gulliver, the Economist’s business travel blog, which itself linked to an article in the Atlantic about the breakeven point between flying vs. driving. Back in one of my 1st year episodes (#23 to be exact), I calculated the breakeven point to be at the 3 hour/180 mile mark – the distance between Chicago and Indianapolis.
  • Including all the time involved with catching the hour-long flight to Indy — ½ hr drive to ORD, 45 minutes between check-in, security, and boarding, 1-hour flight time, ½ hr for deplaning and getting the rental car, and another ½ hr to drive to the meeting site – got me to 3hrs 15 minutes.
  • But that calculus is 5 years old.  In light of reduced flight availabilities and increased TSA hassles, the Economist and Atlantic writers declared the new fly-vs.-drive breakeven point to be 8 hours or 500 miles – almost triple my number!  “If it’s under 500 miles, I’ll do anything rather than hop on a plane,” says the Atlantic’s Megan McArdle.  “And if it’s over 500 miles, it had better be way over . . . or I’d better be carrying a cooler with a still-beating heart in it.”
  • Anecdotally, I know a number of families who used to fly to places like South Carolina and Florida for Thanksgiving, opted instead for the 10-12-hr drive.  If I’m an airline exec, these numbers tell me that I’m in a no-growth industry; that my one remaining value proposition – we get you there faster than if you can on your own – is being negated by the hassles – both my own and the government’s – that surround me.  And that I should be afraid.
  • Speaking of afraid, I’m sure that everyone will recall the uptick in surgical masks on planes last year during the H1N1 “pandemic”.  After that whole thing died under its own hype, it’s been pretty much back to business as usual – with the exception of the occasional Asian mask wearer.  So I was interested – no, enthralled – when the guy next to me on an ORD-LAX flight whipped out a box of disinfectant wipes and cleaned all the surfaces around him – the seat, the armrests, the headrest, the headrest in front of him, and the tray table.  Even at the height of the H1N1 scare, I’d never seen quite such a swab down.  After he finished, I wished for a big sneeze, but couldn’t muster up much more than a cough.
  • As I mentioned on Twitter at the beginning of the month, I switched over from my little HP netbook to an 11-inch MacBook Air. Yes it’s light, yes it’s cool looking, but when I left it in my backpack going through security at both ORD and Orlando and came away unberated by the X-ray screener, that cinched it – it’s the best Travel PC out there. I posted a full review on the TravelCommon’s website with my impressions after 2 weeks on the road with it. A full month and my thoughts haven’t changed. It can still be a hassle integrating it into my company’s Windows infrastructure, but I can live with it. It’s a great machine.
  • And finally, following up on last episode’s riff on in-flight WiFi, Google’s Christmas present this year to travelers is free Gogo in-flight WiFi on Delta, AirTran, and Virgin America airlines for the holidays – it’s started the weekend before Thanksgiving and runs through Jan 2nd. I don’t think I’ll get to use it – the rest of my travel this year will be on American – but I hope some of you guys get a chance.
  • If you have a question, a story, a comment, a travel tip – the voice of the traveler, send it along.  The e-mail address is comments@travelcommons.com, you can send me a Twitter message at mpeacock, or you can post them on the Facebook page or the web site at TravelCommons.com.
  • Bridge Music — Test Drive by Zapac

Importance of Hotel Bathrooms

  • Yes, the TravelCommons podcast has long had a close relationship with hotels bathrooms.  Being born in the bathroom of the Wardman Park Marriott in Northwest DC, I think the penultimate bathroom recording was in the shower stall of the Camelback Resort.  The echo was so bad I had to re-record the whole thing.
  • So I was disappointed – to say the least – when reading through Hotels 2020, a future-of-hotels study from Amadeus, a European travel technology company, there was no mention of the importance of the hotel bathroom – or toilette or WC – on the guest experience.
  • Let’s be honest.  When we walk into a new hotel room, we look at the bed first – mostly because, being the biggest thing in the middle of the room, it’s hard not to catch the eye – and then look at the bathroom.
  • It kinda makes sense – unless you have a suite, those are the only two rooms you have, so of course you’re going to check them out.  And, if you think about where you spend your time when in a hotel – you probably spend most of your time in your bed, with the bathroom in second place.  How close a second place – there’s way too many personal issues there for me to sort out in a 5-minute segment.
  • So where did the Hotel 2020 study focus?  The usual suspects – the replacement of the fortress-like front check-in desk with self-service kiosks and live people roaming around with iPads (so we’re replacing front-desk lines with mobbing a wandering clerk?  And that’s progress how?); packing the rooms with even more technology – 3D TVs (so they replace the revenue lost on WiFi with rentals on the 3D glasses), plug-in jacks so we can more easily display the content we’re hauling around on our laptops and iPads and Droid phones; figuring out yet more ways to sell us “ancillary services” – tee times, massages, spa treatments – more ways to make more money from us while we’re at the hotel.
  • But no mention of the bathroom, which I think is a critical mistake.  The hotel bathroom probably the most underestimated, under-recognized cause for guest satisfaction – and dissatisfaction.
  • Think about it –when you look into that bathroom and see a big shower stall, a fluffy robe, and some cook toiletries – a smile comes to your face.  OK, you think, maybe I’ll take an extra long shower – something I don’t get to do at home – try this loofa thing, does the shower gel go on it or on me before it….  Who knows, but it’s fun trying something new.
  • Compare that with the alternative – small bathroom, water-stained tub with a small chest-high showerhead, and nothing more than a small bar of soap.  Not only are you not thinking of purchasing any “ancillary services”, you’re trying to figure out how to get out and book a room down the road.
  • And it makes sense — we all know that our basic physiological needs must be met before we can self-actualize.  And it doesn’t get more basically physiological than the bathroom.  If a hotel can’t deliver a quality bathroom experience, why would I trust it to align my chakras with a hot stone massage?  Give me cut-rate toiletries and I figure you’re cutting corners on the scented oil rub down too?
  • So all you hoteliers, before you get too wrapped around the axle with the latest flat screens and electronic room service ordering and personalized e-mails and electronic concierges.  Make sure you’ve got a great showerhead and toilet that doesn’t run.
  • Bridge Music — Goodbye Sooner or Later by oldDog

Maximize Your Mile – Interview with Founder of GoMiles.com

  • Miles, points – the one thing that helps make frequent travel bearable is the idea that, through the hassles, you’re earning a free trip to some place you actually want to go.  This year, I used United miles to fly my family of four from Chicago to Vietnam, and used Marriott points to cover the hotel in Hong Kong on our way back.  I also used Hilton points for an anniversary weekend in Chicago – left the kids behind with their grandmother – and will use more United miles for spring break trip to Venice for my wife, my daughter, and me.  Doing the math just on this year’s redemptions – the dollar value of these points adds up.
  • Of course, where there’s value, there’s a business opportunity.  A number of web sites for tracking miles and points have popped up over the past few years.  One of these sites is GoMiles.com – a free service that aggregates points across airline, hotel, and car rental programs and displays them on a single easy-to-read page.  I caught up with the founder and CEO Michael Komarnitsky for a Skype chat on why people use GoMiles…


  • Closing music — iTunes link to iconPictures of You by Evangeline
  • OK, that’s it, that’s the end of TravelCommons podcast #85
  • I hope you all enjoyed this podcast and I hope you decide to stay subscribed.
  • The bridge music is from ccMixter
  • If you have a story, thought, comment, gripe – the voice of the traveler — send ‘em along, text or MP3 file, to comments@travelcommons.com or to @mpeacock on Twitter, or post them on our website at travelcommons.com. Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to send in e-mails, Tweets and post comments on the website
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  1. I’ve been a listener since 2006, but as I am not a frequent flyer I was playing catchup after all my driving trips this past two months. And wanted to say heck yeah to the bathroom being one of the most important parts of a stay. I ended in a bed and breakfast in the middle of no where, with no wifi, and the bathroom made me want to tell everyone about it. It had a hot tub and a beautifully large bathroom. But even though i knew no one who was going to the area, i wanted to tell everyone about it. It’s the Inn in New Berlin, PA(in case you care). Thanks for the podcast and the ability to pretended like I get to fly(by quoting your TSA gripes)