You’re getting ready to make your hotel reservations for your trip. You’ve always enjoyed a nice view from your room, and wish there was a way to know in advance what the view from the hotel was like. The Starwood group (Sheraton, Westin, W hotels, Four Points, St. Regis, Le Meridien, and aLoft hotels) has a solution.
Their Room With a View website offers real-time webcam views from many of their hotels around the world. Some of the views are pretty dramatic:
- The Westin New York At Times Square offers a wonderful view of the Empire State Building.
- The Grand Mauritian shows their beautiful property.
- The Sheraton Park Tower, London provides a view of the London skyline including Big Ben and the gigantic London Eye Ferris Wheel
- The Cervo Hotel, Costa Smeralda Resort in Sardinia, Italy has a great view of the luxury yachts at the Piazzetta
- Few views can be as dramatic as the view of the Mirabell Palace from the Sheraton Salzburg Hotel in Austria
Note all of the webcams are up and running; many of the sites give a “Coming Soon” message.
As more sites come online, the Room with A View product can only get better. This is a concept whose time has come. Bravo to Starwood for putting it in place!
Sometimes government regulations help, sometimes they hurt. Here is an example of the government getting involved and making a big difference for the consumer.
On rare occasions, airlines have, for one reason or another, left passengers stranded on aircraft, either at the gate or on the tarmac. I was once stuck on a British Airways flight at Heathrow for over seven hours before they decided the aircraft could not fly and switched us to another one. Other, more famous incidents include:
- August, 2009: 47 passengers were stranded overnight aboard a Continental Express plane at the Rochester, Minnesota airport. Their Houston to Minneapolis flight had been diverted due to bad weather. Once they arrived at Rochester they were not allowed off the plane for six hours, spending the night on the plane with no water and overflowing toilets.
- December, 2006: Kate Hanni, was stranded with her husband and two children for 9 hours on the tarmac in Austin, Texas. Hanni later went on to form FlyersRights.org, an organization dedicated to the creation of the Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights. the bill would allow passengers in the US allows passengers the option of getting off delayed planes after 3 hours on the ground, and require airlines to provide adequate food, water, temperature controls, ventilation and working toilets to accommodate a 3-hour delay.
In response to these and other incidents, US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced new rules in December 2009 that established a 3-hour time limit after which U.S. airlines must allow passengers to deplane from delayed domestic flights. In addition carriers would be required to provide adequate food and potable drinking water for passengers within two hours of the aircraft being delayed on the tarmac and to maintain operable lavatories and, if necessary, provide medical attention.
Passenger rights organizations supported the rules, the airlines opposed them saying that they would lead to additional flight cancellations. They argued that an airline faced with the possibility of a 3-hour tarmac delay of a flight, would simply cancel it rather than have to comply with the new rules. They took affect at the end of April 2010 and, so far, appear to be a great success.
May 2010 was the first full month of the rules being in affect. In May 2009 there were 34 tarmac times of more than three hours; in May 2010 there were only five. A subsequent Department of Transportation investigation determined that four of the five May flights were misreported by the airline.
In June 2009, the FAA reported 268 flight with tarmac delays of three hours or more. In June 2010, that number dropped to only three (all three were United flights at Chicago O’Hare on a day when winds exceeded 75 miles per hour.) As far as the increase in cancellations that the airlines had predicted, that did not happen. The airlines canceled 1.5 percent of their flights in June 2010, the same percentage as in June 2009.
So, tarmac delays dropped 85 percent in May, and then an incredible 99 percent in June. The airlines also reported a slightly higher percentage of on-time flights in June 2010 compared to June 2009. See the Department of Transportation’s press release for all the details.
Will the rules be as helpful four months from now when winter storms cause airports to shut down? We’ll see, but in the meantime the good news is that the rules are working exactly as intended. That’s good for the traveler, and whether they admit it or not, it’s good for the airlines too.
One of the easiest ways to earn hotel points and airline miles is with an affinity credit card. Perhaps you already have one: my first was the American Airlines MasterCard with which I earned one AAdvanatage mile for every dollar I spent. For several years I made almost all of my purchases on that card: food, gas, cell phone service, etc, and then paid it off at the end of the month, thus avoiding any interest fees. The miles I earned by doing that paid for two trips to Hawaii for Mrs. HappyFlier and I!
Several years ago I switched to the Starwood American Express Card as my primary charge card. It has many advantages over the AAdvantage Mastercard. The Starwood AmEx not only allows me to earn Starwood hotel points (one for every dollar I charge) that I can use at any of the 800+ Starwood properties around the world (including Sheraton, Westin, W, Le Meridien, and St. Regis hotels, to name a few) but also allows me to earn airline miles. I can transfer my Starwood points to any one of 30+ airlines and earn miles on a one-to-one basis, But, and this is a big but, if I transfer 20,000 Starwood points to the airline, I’ll get 25,000 airline miles, a 25% bonus! So, every dollar I spend on the Starwood card is both more flexible and more valuable than a dollar I spend on the AAdvantage Mastercard.
The Starwood American Express is so good that it has repeatedly won the prestigious Freddy Award as the Best Affinity Credit Card. A list of the numerous SPG membership benefits shows what makes the program so good.
I’ve used my Starwood points to stay in Hong Kong, in a suite in Bangkok, in a two-story villa in Phuket, and in a suite in Nassau. I would not have been able to do this without the points I earned from the Starwood American Express.
This is the time to apply
Starwood and American Express have combined to make the card an even better deal. Open an account now and earn an extra 25,000 Starwood points! You’ll get 10,000 bonus points when you make your first purchase, and an additional 15,000 points when you charge $15,000 on the card in the first six months. This is an unbelievable deal, one you should not pass up. Visit this page to apply for the card.
If you spend the money and earn the bonus points listed above, you’ll have 40,000 Starwood points (25,000 bonus points, plus 15,000 for your spending). What can you do with 40,000 points?
You can convert them to 50,000 airline miles, or you can use it for a free stay at a hotel. For that many points you could get five free nights at, for example, the Westin Bonaventure Hotel & Suites in Los Angeles. Or you can also used them to get reduced rates (cash plus points) on your hotel stays. Check the list of SPG membership benefit for the complete details.
If you spend $30,000 a year on your card, you’ll earn automatic Gold Status with Starwood.
The Starwood American Express card is, quite simply, the best card you can carry. The bonus 25,000 points makes it an even better deal. Apply for yours today! This offer expires July 31, 2010.
After my wonderfully relaxing evening at the Tavern at the Park, I walked back to the hotel and started to pack. I’d have to leave the hotel at 10 the next morning to get to O’Hare for my 1:10 p.m. non-stop flight back to Austin. I’d get it at at 3:50 p.m. and hopefully miss the evening rush hour on the trip home from the airport.
At 10:35 p.m. my phone rang. It showed I was getting a flight status update from American Airlines. A flight status update 14 hours before the flight?
The automated flight status update is one of the best features American Airlines offers and there is no good reason to not sign up for it. Whenever I take a trip, whether it is a mileage run or a vacation, I sign up for this feature. With it I get an automated call two hours before my flight leaves, letting me know if it is still on time, the departure gate, and the estimated arrival time at my destination. If anything changes I get another call; more than once I have been at a departure gate and learned that that there was a gate change or flight cancellation, getting the call before the gate agent made the announcement to everyone else. American has recently improved the services: when you land at your destination you get another call welcoming you and telling you the baggage area for that flight.
As I said, I normally get these calls two hours before the flight; this one was more than 14 hours in advance. I answered the call and got a recording letting me know that my 1:10 p.m. flight for the next day had been canceled, and that American was working on other arrangements.
Twenty minutes later the computer called again to let me know that I had been rebooked on a Chicago-DFW flight, then DFW-AUS. I’d leave ORD at the same time, but get into Austin 45 minutes later.
I called the Platinum desk to see if I could get my exit-row seating, but none was available. Fortunately they were able to move me from the middle row to the aisle. I asked the customer service representative about my original flight — I had never had a flight canceled 14 hours in advance. She said there had been a lot of bad weather through the midwest and Dallas that caused numerous cancellations: those cancellations meant that they would not be able to get the aircraft to Chicago for my Austin flight the next day.
Because I had signed up for AA’s flight notification alerts, I had my new reservations set up before I went to bed that night. The next day I found out how lucky I was.
I checked out of the hotel the next morning and took the train to O’Hare. I used the self-check-in terminal and went to the security line. Once again, I found out how valuable my elite status was. The line at the security check-in was extremely long, but there was another line with no waiting for passengers with elite status. Using that line allowed me to go to the front and get through security much faster. I’d estimate I saved at least 30 minutes!
After a visit to the Admiral’s Club, I went to the departure gate for my DFW flight and boarded the aircraft. With the cancellation of the non-stop to Austin and all of those passengers being moved to other flights, this one was completely packed, not an empty seat to be found anywhere.
We departed on time and had a smooth flight to DFW, landing on time.
During the flight I spoke to the lady in the seat next to me and found out how lucky I was to have signed up for the AA flight status notification. This lady was also scheduled to take the non-stop flight to Austin. When I got to O’Hare, I already had my reservations for the new flight to DFW. However, the lady had not signed up for the notification service and did not know about the cancellation.
She arrived at O’Hare and tried to check in at the self-service kiosk, but was not able to because she had to reticket. So, instead of a quick check-in, she had to wait on a very very long line to get her ticket. Then, she had the even longer line at the security check-in. She had not allowed for that much time and almost missed the flight. Let’s just say she wasn’t happy.
“American should have allowed me to check in at the first class line so I could have gotten my ticket sooner, and I should have received free beverages on this flight because of my harship” she said.
That is a nice thought, but the reality is she should have been there earlier, and should have signed up for the free flight notification service.
As I mentioned, we arrived at DFW on time, and after a short layover, I boarded my flight to Austin. Although it had rained all day in AUS, we managed to arrive between storm clouds and landed on time. I was home by 6 p.m.
All in all, a good trip to Chicago, and thanks to American Airlines flight status notification, a good flight home.
If you have followed my blog for a while, you know that I rarely, if ever, have the chance to travel for business. Virtually all of my airline miles have come from my own trips and mileage runs. Given that, it’s a pleasure to say I just returned from a rare business trip, four days in Chicago to attend a conference.
Making the travel arrangements was easy; the corporate travel agent agreed to let me fly American Airlines to Chicago (ORD) due to their good fare. but, for some reason, limited me to non-stop travel, AUS-ORD. When I asked about flying through DFW, the answer was a very blunt “no.” So, I didn’t even bother to ask for the routing that a Twitter friend suggested, Austin to Chicago via Tokyo. Oh well.
My flight departed Austin at 1:10 p.m., quite a pleasant change from all the 6 a.m. departures I’ve had on my mileage runs. My first-class upgrade came through; while I ended up with the bulkhead seat it still beat sitting in coach. Since I was in first I even got a hot lunch. We landed in Chicago at 3, and by 4:30 I was at my hotel.
The conference management recommended the Club Quarters at Michigan and East Wacker and got us a good rate, so I booked that. I had looked at staying at a Starwood property, but the closest Sheraton was a bit too far a walk for me to the conference location, so the Club Quarters won. The location just off of Michigan Avenue helped a lot too. It’s an unusual hotel: from the outside it looks like it was originally constructed as an office building that was later converted to a hotel. The rooms were not very large, but featured a microwave, refrigerator, and free Wi-Fi, so I was pretty pleased with it. The best part of the room was the spectacular view.
I took all of these photos with my new Palm Pre cell phone. I am very impressed by its excellent camera; I even left my digital camera at home.
Once I unpacked, I headed for my favorite Chicago restaurant — Giordano’s Pizza, home of the famous stuffed pizza. There are two schools of thought on Chicago pizza: some prefer the deep dish served at Pizzeria Uno and Due, and I have to admit it is very tasty. But when all is said, and done Giordano’s stuffed pizza is my favorite.
Not surprisingly the Chicago weather was mild, much cooler than the triple digit temperatures we had been experiencing in Texas, so grabbed my jacket as I set out for dinner. I knew there was a Giordano’s on Rush Street, just across the river from where I was staying, but that was not even a consideration that evening. Michigan Avenue was closed for several blocks for Oprah Winfrey’s 24th anniversary show, an event that brought more than 20,000 people to the giant stage built in the middle of Michigan Avenue. I did not want to battle that crowd, so I went in the other direction to Giordano’s location at the Prudential Center. Thankfully, I didn’t even have to wait for a table!
I should have eaten only half of the mushrooms, but they were sooooo goooood! And then they brought my pizza. I had ordered the Tropic Delight featuring cheese, Candian Bacon, and Pineapple.
I had not eaten at Giordano’s for a few years, and had forgotten what a daunting task it can be. I can easily eat a 10-inch pizza here in Texas. But the 10-inch at Giordano’s had so much food that it was much more than I could handle.
I didn’t eat it all, but I certainly enjoyed what I ate. While there are many pizza places in Texas, I have not yet found one to compare to authentic Chicago-style pizza. I walked out of Giordano’s completely stuffed with a big smile on my face, and returned to my hotel.
The two-day Social Media conference, organized by Ragan Communications, began the next morning.There were several valuable presentations, and I am now following several new friends on Twitter.
More to follow…
Readers of this site know that I have selected American Airlines as my airline of choice. I live near Austin, Texas: only Southwest offers more service from Austin than American, but Southwest does not offer international service or service to Hawaii, so that eliminated them from my consideration. I try to do all of my traveling on American Airlines or one of its Oneworld partners.
I recently had to attend a conference in San Francisco: the corporate travel agent made the reservations for me and I had no choice in the matter, I had to fly on United Airlines. I hadn’t flown United in several years, and thought a comparison of UA and AA would be of interest to you.
I have flown around the continental United States, to Hawaii, and to Europe on American Airlines, and have elite status. I have taken three flights on UA, and do not have elite status.
Flight Status Notification:
Each airline lets you register for free flight status notification. Once you sign up for this service, the airline’s computer will call you in advance of your flight to let you know if it is on time and what the departure gate is. I always sign up for this at American and have found it to be a very valuable feature. I also found that there is a difference between the way the two airlines operate their notification systems.
American continually updates their notifications. If you are supposed to depart from Gate 14, but there has been a change to Gate 6 instead, you will get a call to let you know. United apparently does not offer this feature. My flight home from San Francisco had a layover in Denver. I received a call with one gate listed for my departure, but the video screens in the airport listed another gate that was at the other end of the terminal. I have never experienced a disagreement between the video screens and the notification system on American, but now I had this problem with United. I decided to go to the gate listed on the video screen, and that was the correct decision. If I had gone to the gate provided by the flight notification system, I would have missed my flight.
United also called me to let me know the arrival time of my flight. Since I did not get this message until after I had landed and turned on my cell phone, this did not help me at all. However, if you set it up to have the call go to someone who is meeting you at the airport, it would be a great help.
Check In Process:
American allows passengers to check in with a reservations agent, or use a self-serve kiosk. If you check in with the agent, he/she issues your boarding pass and receives your checked baggage. If you use the kiosk, the kiosk issues your boarding pass, but you then have to stand on another line to hand in your baggage.
United has combined this. Everyone stands on one line (unless they are flying First Class, which has a separate process) until they reach the check in counter. They use a computer terminal to check in, then give their checked baggage to the agent behind the counter.
I have elite status with American Airlines, this allows me to reserve exit row seating which gives me extra legroom.
I checked in for my Austin – San Francisco flight and the agent asked if I would like a seat with extra legroom. Would I? It’s a four-hour flight! Of course I would! How nice of them to offer!
“Yes, I would love extra legroom!.”
“That will be $49, would you like to pay with cash or charge?”
“Neither, thanks for offering.”
Since I don’t have elite status with United I could only get extra legroom by paying the extra fee. I declined that offer.
On my return from San Francisco I took two flights, San Francisco-Denver and Denver-Austin. The cost for extra legroom was $78. Again, I refused this benefit.
Most of my flights on American are on MD-80s, some of the oldest aircraft in their fleet. My United flights were on an Airbus A-319, Boeing 737 and 757. In each case, the United aircraft felt newer than the MD-80s I normally get on American.
American does not offer in-flight entertainment (IFE) on the MD-80, so I rarely experience it. All three of the United flights offered it. None of the flights were long enough to show a movie, but there were several TV shows. In addition, there was the standard choice of music channels to listen to.
My favorite feature on United is Channel 9. This channel lets you listen to the air traffic controllers as they talk to the aircraft, and the replies from the cockpit crews. I’ve always been fascinated by this and really enjoy listening to it. You never know what you will hear.
You’ll hear the expected “United 43 heavy clear for departure on runway 27 left” mesages, but also hear pilots asking if they can change their altitude or course to avoid turbulence. When we backed away from the terminal in Denver for the flight to Austin, I heard the controller tell our pilot “I have 15 aircraft getting ready to depart in the next few minutes. If you can leave now, I can put you in front of them all.” Needless to say, our pilot accepted that offer!
When we landed in Austin I heard our pilot tell the controller that the spotlights in a maintenance area were shining directly in her eyes as she taxied to the terminal.
I love Channel 9 and wish other airlines offered it.
It’s 2008 and neither airline offers food in coach unless you buy a snack box. You can get a complimentary non-alcoholic beverage.
American has 12-volt power outlets on its aircraft, providing a place to plug in your laptop or DVD player. United does not. This is a definite advantage to American, particularly on a long flight where your battery will not last long enough to get you to your destination.
Without exception, every American Airlines flight I’ve taken has featured arrival information announcements. One of the flight attendants announces our arrival gate, where to pick up our luggage, and departure information for connecting flights.
United offered no information other than the recommendation that we review the video screens in the terminal for information. This was a problem when we arrived in Austin as passengers from my flight wandered around the luggage area trying to figure out which carousel had our bags. An on-flight announcement would have helped prevent this.
There you have it, a short and totally un-scientific comparison of American and United Airlines. Did I find one airline to be dramatically better than the other? No.
American offers more service from Austin than United does, so I will continue to give them my business.