Podcast #134 — Value of Loyalty; Need Those 5 Stars

Status Recognition in Vietnam

Finding a Jag in the Hertz Presidents Club aisle has me thinking about the differing value of loyalty from hotel, airlines, and car rental companies while 5-star rating schemes are pushing grade inflation. All this and comments on luggage discounts, traveling while injured, and #metoo while flying at the direct link to the podcast file or listening to it right here by clicking on the arrow below.

Here is the transcript of TravelCommons podcast #134:

  • Intro music — Warmth by Makkina
  • Coming to you from the TravelCommons studios outside of Chicago, IL. No exciting or exotic travel since the last episode; just a quick down-and-back to Atlanta, a day in Washington, DC, and a few trips to Charlottesville, VA.
  • The first trip to Charlottesville, about 3 weeks ago, was the first time I’d been back in 5 months after spending more than a year there. Other than the flights being poorly timed — there are non-stops from ORD, but they arrive at either 2:45 in the afternoon or quarter past midnight — it’s been a great town to visit. So I was surprised as anyone by the white supremacist march there in August.
  • I was on the late night flight and when I walked out of the terminal, the one cab at the curb had already been claimed. But it was only a 4 min wait for a Lyft driver, so not a problem. Indeed, it turned out to be a great ride. The Lyft driver, an older black guy, told me, unprompted, the whole back story of the protests; how it started as a local political battle that then blew up big. He wanted me to know that Charlottesville wasn’t like that. He told me “I’ve lived here for 40 years and have never seen that statue, until one day, I drove past a park, looked to my right and there it was!”
  • Since the white supremacists had shown back up the Saturday before we came back, I said to the project team, “We need to find out where that statue is so we can avoid it.” One is from India, the other born in the US of Indian parents. I didn’t want us stumbling into a line of tiki torch-bearing protesters.
    But as we got working that day, we forgot about it. Driving to dinner, we missed a turn — actually we missed going straight; instead followed the road as it turned — and as we wandered through some side streets to get back on track, I look to my right, and there’s the Robert E Lee statue covered in black tarp, with a couple of people camped out in front of it, and another group of people walking toward it. I suggested that we didn’t need to come to a complete stop at intersection. And, well, we know where that statue is now.
  • For all of my complaints and bitch tweeting about delayed flights, I have to say that my American flight home from Reagan National Saturday morning was great. Exit row seat; no one in the middle. Everyone boarded quickly; they closed the door and left 10 minutes early and with no traffic on the taxiway and a beautiful sunny day, we were up and over the Potomac in 5 minutes. Typically, though, nothing like this goes unpunished at ORD, but we landed, didn’t have to wait for a gate, and taxied immediately in, arriving a half-hour early. Damn if this doesn’t make me look forward to my next trip.
  • Bridge Music — i knew by bridges (c) copyright 2008 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license. Ft: shannonsongs

Following Up

  • On my most recent trip through the ATL PreCheck line, there was no X-Ray machine choreography this time. If you remember in the last episode, I talked about the TSA agent at the parallel loading X-Ray machine coordinating each bin push, having everyone hold up until all the previous bins had cleared, and then having everyone push their bins onto the conveyor at once. Not this time, though I did get a bit of a stink eye from a couple when I walked around them to one of the further up loading stations. They’re obviously not old PC heads, otherwise they’d instantly understand the difference between serial and parallel paths.
  • Following up on the packing pro tips topics from the last episode, which I also repurposed/recycled into the Ruthless Packing Tips blog post, Dan Bennett, the CEO of Test Facts, sent me a link to study where they tested and compared 32,672 luggage prices. I’ll put a link to the study in the show notes, but a couple of interesting factoids from their introductory infographic
    • You can save an average of $110/39% buying on-line
    • Walmart and Target’s on-line stores tend to have the highest discounts; Kohl’s and Macy’s the lowest
    • Amazon is in 10th place for average discount (in the 40% range), but is tops by a long way in greatest variety — over 12,000 luggage items vs. 7,500 for Jet which was #2
    • Luggage sets have a 23% higher discount than single pieces
  • Check it out — it’s an interesting piece of analysis
  • Jim McDonough posted a “traveled while injured” story on Facebook that put my biking injury whining in its place
    • My wife and I were in County Kerry on the West Coast of Ireland. We were killing time before dinner, at an ancient stone circle on the edge of town. I was taking some photos, and it started raining. While walking down a slope, I was putting my camera back in my bag to keep it dry, when my left foot slipped on the wet grass. My right knee hyper-flexed, causing a complete tear of my quadriceps tendon. There was a loud crack, but no pain.
    • It turns out you can’t walk without a quadriceps tendon. We didn’t know what the problem was. My wife ran off and found some people and got them to come and get me, and they took me to the doctor’s house. The doctor (more like a physician’s assistant, the regular doctor was away) poked around but couldn’t diagnose anything. We went back to our B&B but did not go out to dinner that night!
    • Flying home, Dublin/Gatwick/DFW, I needed assistance for the connections. British Airways took such good care of me in Gatwick that I fly them whenever I can. While on the plane I was OK – I used seat backs to get to/from the head. American was supposed to provide a wheelchair at DFW but they failed to until the lead flight attendant got on the horn and got me one. I had surgery a couple of days later, and my rehab took a few months.
    • This is the same injury that Bill Clinton had at Greg Norman’s house. He had a better medical plan than I did
  • Just “ouch”, Jim. Reminds me of years ago when I broke my right foot getting out of my car in Philadelphia. I stepped on some broken concrete and heard a loud “snap”! After a long wait in an ER in downtown Philly — where they rightly were triaging gunshot victims over me — they plastered me up to my thigh and told me not to put any weight on my foot. The next day, I’m hobbling through 30th Street Station and down the stairs to the train platform on crutches with a carry-on bag across my back, swinging with every step. No one from Amtrak took any sort of care of me.
  • Mika Pyyhkala tweeted me a great video of what I assume is a new service that guides blind travelers through airports. I’ll put a link in the show notes. It’s a great demo, show how a person in the contact center is viewing a real-time video stream through what I assume is a camera mounted on the head of the traveler, and then providing audio guidance. And watching the video made me realize what a mine field an airport is for blind or low-sight travelers. I guess I should’ve realized this; it’s typically a mine field for those with 20/20 vision. Thanks Mika for the pointer. Very cool video.
  • The #metoo Twitter campaign on sexual harassment that started up a couple of weeks ago reminded me of a couple of stories women have told me about seat assignments. One from a woman CIO; she’s sitting in her aisle seat, pre-boarded with the top status group and is downloading some last-minute e-mails during regular boarding. She looks up, there’s a guy standing there who says “Why don’t you just slide over, honey”, pointing to the center seat. She closed her PC, stood up and pointed the guy to his center seat, and then leaned out into the aisle for the rest of the flight. Another story was from a friend, a woman air marshal, who was sitting in her assigned aisle First Class seat — armed and incognito to everyone except the flight crew. During boarding, a well-known male TV host on MSNBC asks her to switch seats. She can’t; the regulations say that air marshals need to be in their assigned seats; but she can’t tell him that and stay undercover, so she politely tells him “No”. To which he becomes very irate, obnoxiously berating her — “Do you know who I am” and all that. As much as she’d love to tell him why she can’t move, she can’t. So she has to sit there and take it, until finally a flight attendant comes over and intervenes. Followed by, again, an uncomfortable 2-hr flight in close quarters with a troglodyte. Sexual harassment is bad — full stop. Having to fend someone off, and then be in the same tight metal tube with him unable to leave, even worse.
  • And if you have any thoughts, questions, 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 use your smartphone to record and send in an audio comment; send a Twitter message to mpeacock, or you can post your thoughts on the TravelCommons’ Facebook page — or you can always go old-school and post your thoughts on the web site at TravelCommons.com.
  • Bridge Music — Funkist – cdk dub mix by cdk (c) copyright 2007 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license.  Ft: teru.

What’s the Current Value of Loyalty?

  • I continue to love Hertz’s new Presidents Club pick-your-own car aisle. Yes, National has been doing it for years. But on my last trip to Atlanta, I’m walking down the aisle looking at the cars — Altima, Altima, Hyundai, Altima, Jag, Altima — wait, what? I very quickly back up. It’s a new Jaguar Model XF. I look up — nope, I haven’t slipped into the Upgrade aisle. I throw my bag in the back and take off for one of my nicer drives up I-85 through the city. Another time, I’m walking down the aisle and a Hertz guy pulls a new Dodge Charger into the space next to me. He hops out, hands me the keys saying “We want to make sure you guys have a nice selection of cars to choose from.” And so now as the year is winding down, I’m looking — how many more rentals to keep Presidents Club status?
  • I felt the flip side of this last week at the Charlottesville Courtyard where as I’m filling up a couple of water glasses in the workout room cooler, I tweet “I kinda hate Courtyard Hotels. They offer the worst experience for the money to Marriott Platinum members…” Scott Drake tweeted back “I’ll be the contrarian: at the price point is it not valuable? Are you expecting the JW experience at a Courtyard?” while Michael Kline asked “Detailed explanation? Maybe on the podcast?” Mine was a tweet that come from a comparison between my stay at an Atlanta Marriott the prior week and this Courtyard. For about the same rate, the Atlanta Marriott gave me a bit of a welcome gift, free breakfast every morning, and restocked my room with bottled water. The Courtyard — I could either pick a bottle of something from their little market next to the front desk or have one free coffee during my stay. I took the bottle of water, which I then filled up every morning in the workout room until the maid threw it out. Not knocking the maid — she’s just doing her job. But as I’m carrying the now filled water glasses back to my room, I’m thinking — why am I staying here? And again, it’s not that I couldn’t go buy a bottle of water and expense it, it was more the disconnect of the thing — how much better the Marriott treated me for the same price.
  • On my last trip to ATL, I flew DL where I have absolutely no status. I was trying to thread my flights between already-booked conference calls, and DL, with way more flights than AA or UA, was the only way to string everything together. On the way down, I couldn’t get a seat assignment until I was at the gate — 32B, second-to-the-last row on an old Boeing 717 — the last of the DC-9/MD-80 series that I think Delta got from the old AirTrans. At the gate I thought I lucked into an aisle seat, but those 717’s have a 3-2 seat configuration, opposite of AA and the old NW, so B is a middle seat. The flight was fine; the service reasonable, and it was a short flight, so it wasn’t a big deal. But it was definitely a less enjoyable experience that my Saturday flight on American, with an exit row aisle seat and an empty middle seat.
  • There was a study a few months ago that showed American was the most stingy carrier with award seats. And there are other ways that they’ve eroded the value of loyalty. I’ve flown American since July 1985 when I started my first full-time job in Dallas and I’ve noticed that chipping way over what’s now 37 years — that’s a frightening number to say out loud. But when my objective is to get from Point A to Point B with the least amount of hassle, there is still some value to loyalty.
  • Which is kinda the muddling middle ground I’ve carved out nowadays; invest enough time/effort to hit the loyalty level that fits the value I will get. I’ll go out of my way to re-up my Hertz status because it’s given me great rental car choices. I won’t push for anything more than mid-level airline status because, with the high load factors and the push to sell 1st-class seats, there not much more to get than free front-of-the-plane seating and a reasonable shot at overhead bin space. Going out of my way to make American’s Exec Platinum or United’s 1K again doesn’t appear to be worth it. And with Courtyards, there’s not much value in a $2 bottle of water.
  • Bridge Music — Jolanta Blues by Doxent Zsigmond (c) copyright 2015 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.  Ft: Admiral Bob, Martijn de Boer

Need Those 5 Stars

  • A few months ago, after an overnight stay at a Residence Inn in Baltimore, I wrote up a TripAdvisor review. I titled it “Pretty standard Residence Inn experience” and gave the place 3 whatever TripAdvisor calls them — stars, circles — whatever they are, I gave them 3. Seemed in line with the review, where I said “Standard Residence Inn set up; friendly service. Shuttle driver provided good service driving us to/from nearby businesses”. Nothing controversial. So I was a little surprised when I got a note the next day from the general manager
    • “Thank you very much for going on TripAdvisor.com to review our hotel. We greatly appreciate it. One request I have, if you would be willing, is if you might consider changing your rating from a 3 star review to a 4 star review. Marriott hotels views a 3 star review or lower as a “0”. Meaning the hotel takes a hit/mark against it for providing what Marriott considers is a “bad” stay which is 3 or under in their view. It looks like your comments indicate that you had a good stay. In that regard, I wonder if you would be willing to change your score up to a 4? We would really appreciate it if you would.”
  • I didn’t change the rating. Maybe I should’ve, but honestly, I don’t know. And even if I did, I really didn’t want to. I thought it was a 3-star experience. I’m sorry that Marriott doesn’t give you credit for that, but I kinda feel like that’s not my problem
  • Now, I’m nothing if not inconsistent, because I’ll give every Uber and Lyft driver 5 stars if they get me to my destination in a reasonably clean car. Indeed, I was right with my son when he jumped all over my wife for giving a Lyft driver 3 stars for what she thought was an “OK, nothing special” ride. “You gonna get him kicked off!” he said. And he wasn’t wrong. Internal Uber documents leaked a few years back said that drivers with ratings less than 4.6 would be considered for deactivation. So this is a little different than TripAdvisor. Here, Uber, the owner of the platform, is saying that a reasonable, acceptable ride should be 5 stars, since anything less will slide the driver down toward the deactivation zone.
  • It’s the Internet version of the Lake Wobegon effect — everybody is above average. The latest stats I saw on Yelp said that the average rating is 3.8 and 46% of their reviews had 5 stars. Which explains why that 4-star diner you drove to try out was just “OK”.
  • Call me cranky, but the two apps that I regularly rate on — TripAdvisor and Untappd — I rate “average” as a 3; kinda like King Canute trying to hold back the waves of grade inflation. On Untappd, anything below a 3, I wouldn’t order again. a 3 is OK, 4 is a great beer, 5 outstanding. I just downloaded my stats into Excel and after a little remedial pivot table training, I can see that I’m a bit skewed — 13% of my ratings are below 3; 60% are between 3 and 3.75; 26% between 4 and 4.75; and 1% at 5 with a median rating of 3.5. Not as bad as Yelp, but maybe it’s because I really like beer.

Closing

  • Closing music — iTunes link to Pictures of You by Evangeline
  • OK, that’s it, that’s the end of TravelCommons podcast #134
  • I hope you all enjoyed this podcast and I hope you decide to stay subscribed.
  • If you have a story, thought, comment, gripe – the voice of the traveler — send ‘em along, text or audio 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
  • Bridge music from dig.ccmixter.org
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