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July 31, 2010

One year later, and Starwood completely redoes New York City

What a difference a year makes.

When I was at Cornell last year, I spent my weekdays hunched over a desk flipping through textbooks and killing time on Facebook when I should have been cramming for exams. Come weekends though, I made the trek to NYC from Ithaca, and after a 5+ hour drive

including bridge and tunnel traffic into Manhattan (myself included), I would check into the not quite glorious but comfortable Four Points Times Square on 40th between 8th and 9th.

Now look what the new kids escaping from Cornell on the weekends get to stay in. This year Starwood opens up nearly 2,000 new rooms in 6 brand spanking new hotels in NYC, including the following in order of my would be favorites if I were still there:

You’ll notice that Aloft and Element make their debut in the big apple.

With these additions, Starwood is actually opening up more hotels in NYC than in any other city in the world. I thought China would have taken the cake here, but it looks like NYC comes out on top and 75% of the Starwoods there will be either brand new or completely renovated come 2011. According to analysts, these new builds will contribute one out of every four newly opened rooms of all the new hotels coming live in NYC this year. Is that bullish or what?

July 23, 2010

Double Starpoints, morning dim sum, and 4pm late checkout at Chinese Le Meridiens

 

Starwood’s making another push to build the Le Meridien brand in China.  These days, you can get double Starpoints, complimentary breakfast, and my favorite Starwood perk of all . . . 4pm late check out.  The catch is you gotta stay for at least two nights.  Click the link below for more details and make sure you travel before October 7, 2010.  Looks like rates are refundable, but check the T&C yourself.

 

http://www.starwoodasiapacificpromot…mo/china/july

Here’s the list of participating Le Meridien’s . . .

Le Méridien Chongqing, Nan’an
Le Méridien Cyberport, Hong Kong
Le Méridien Qingdao
Le Méridien She Shan Shanghai
Le Méridien Shimei Bay Beach Resort & Spa, Hainan
Le Méridien Xiamen
Le Royal Méridien Shanghai

July 14, 2010

Starwood’s new SPG Rewarding Returns promotion is live, but you can’t please everyone

Starwood’s SPG loyalty program just kicked off another new promotion called SPG Rewarding Returns.

There are a number of different variations of the promotion, and to access them you’ll need to input your SPG number and register. Basically, after five completed stays between July 1 and December 31, this is what you get to choose from:

4,000 Bonus Starpoints

With Free Night Awards starting at 2,000 Starpoints at Category 1 properties, you’ll already have enough for a night away

$50 Award Certificate

Redeem for on-property indulgences during your next stay, including spa treatments, room service and more.

An earned Award Certificate will be mailed 4–6 weeks after fifth eligible stay to the shipping address we have on file in your SPG profile.

25% Off Redemption

Get away sooner using fewer Starpoints. Take 25% off a Free Night Award redemption of up to five nights at any Category 1–5 property. Redemption must be used by 7/31/11.

Don’t forget you need to complete five stays before the end of the year to receive the award you choose. I think it’s great that Starwood lets you choose the type of promotion that best suits your desires, although the strength of the promotions are not the best we’ve seen from SPG. Still nice to have though!

Too bad this guy below doesn’t seem to feel the same (from FlyerTalk).  You just can’t please everyone  . . .

July 8, 2010

New Starwood Hotels Plus website ventures into the turf of online travel agencies (e.g. Expedia)

In the ongoing battle for customer loyalty between branded hotel websites and the online travel agencies (e.g. Expedia or Orbitz), Starwood Hotels has hit a new milestone with its new Starwood Hotels Plus website.

The new site allows guests to book packages that bundle together hotel rooms with air flights, car rentals, both, or even destination activities.  Keep in mind though that the hotel inventory that this hotel pulls is strictly limited to Starwood’s portfolio of hotels.

Rumor has it that as an added incentive to drive customer booking loyalty to Starwood’s branded websites, SPG members get bonus 500 Starpoints for each night they book through this new Starwood Hotels Plus booking channel.

I took this baby for a test drive search that included the Room + Air combination.  You can see in the search results screenshot below that Starwood hotels show up without a problem, but my concern is that the air selection is quite limited in this example.  Going from Singapore to San Francisco, I would imagine the cheapest flights would be on United or Cathay Pacific . . . but Delta?  I think not, but it was the top search result for flights.  Perhaps the air partnerships that Starwood has in place are more geared towards US domestic travel, but I highly doubt that Starwood has anything equivalent to the vast inventory Expedia or other online travel agencies have.

Even if this new Starwood Hotels Plus website isn’t the most robust at the moment, its introduction still marks a significant and symbolic move for a hotel company to venture into online dynamic packaging of rooms and flights . . . and I think this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Typically hotels use dynamic packaging to conceal deeply discounted rates.  The consumer (and the hotel’s competitors) can’t tell how much the hotel is discounting its rates because they are bundled in with the airline ticket.  I’m curious whether Starwood would then use this site as a means to disguise distressed inventory rates and push occupancy over hotels’ need dates.  It’s possible then that you could get hotel rates lower than online published best available rates, but you’d have to some hefty homework to figure that out.

In case you missed it, Google just bought ITA Software for $700 million.  This is Google’s biggest move to bolster its competencies in online travel.

June 30, 2010

Return to Thailand with 65% off at Starwoods and free breakfast!

Thailand has always been the powerhouse of tourism in Asia, although the recent red shirt protests created a major obstacle for attracting international arrivals.  I was in Bangkok on April 11, the day when 20 people died in the first violent day of confrontations between the military and the red shirts.  I couldn’t wait to leave.

But that’s all in the past now, and many hotels are trying to revive tourism with attractive rates.  Starwood has dozens of properties throughout Thailand, including Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket, Hua Hin, Koh Samui, and several other destinations.  The offer on the table is up to 65% off plus free breakfast when you book between June 21, 2010 and July 12, 2010 and completed between June 21 and August 31, 2010.  Just so you know, these rates are fully prepaid and non-refundable.

And trust me, don’t underestimate the value of free breakfast in Thailand, where the breakfast spreads are unlike most you would come across in the US.  One of the best breakfasts I’ve ever had was at Le Meridien Bangkok in Latest Recipe, where the menu was inspired by the legendary Jean Georges.

Here’s the official terms and conditions.

If you’re still a little uncertain about Thailand, Starwood is also promoting its Sheraton branded resorts in other parts of Asia.  Five properties are participating in this promo, including Fiji, Maldives, Sanya, Haikou, and the newly opened Nha Trang (Vietnam) resort and spa.

Latest Recipe at Le Meridien Bangkok

Starwood’s return to Thailand campaign with 65% off rates and free breakfast

Thailand has always been the powerhouse of tourism in Asia, although the recent red shirt protests created a major obstacle for attracting international arrivals.  I was in Bangkok on April 11, the day when 20 people died in the first violent day of confrontations between the military and the red shirts.  I couldn’t wait to leave.

But that’s all in the past now, and many hotels are trying to revive tourism with attractive rates.  Starwood has dozens of properties throughout Thailand, including Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket, Hua Hin, Koh Samui, and several other destinations.  The offer on the table is up to 65% off plus free breakfast when you book between June 21, 2010 and July 12, 2010 and completed between June 21 and August 31, 2010.  Just so you know, these rates are fully prepaid and non-refundable.

And trust me, don’t underestimate the value of free breakfast in Thailand, where the breakfast spreads are unlike most you would come across in the US.  One of the best breakfasts I’ve ever had was at Le Meridien Bangkok in Latest Recipe, where the menu was inspired by the legendary Jean Georges.

Here’s the official terms and conditions.

If you’re still a little uncertain about Thailand, Starwood is also promoting its Sheraton branded resorts in other parts of Asia.  Five properties are participating in this promo, including Fiji, Maldives, Sanya, Haikou, and the newly opened Nha Trang (Vietnam) resort and spa.

Latest Recipe at Le Meridien Bangkok

June 12, 2010

Starwood’s Canada summer promo. Save “aboot” 35%

Sorry I’ve been missing in action for two weeks or so . . . been traveling throughout Southeast Asia for work and a bit preoccupied at the moment.  It’s been two weeks straight in hotels (though not a single Starwood), but life in hotels is still oh so good.  🙂

Just caught an upcoming regional promotion for Starwood’s Canadian hotels which I believe is done every year about this time.  Start booking on June 16 and before July 1.  Then travel between June 16 and September 6.  Wish I could . . . the heat and humidity in Asia is killing me!

Click for the official promo page, and get ready to head up north.  Here’a quick recap of the critical terms and conditions so you know what you’re getting yourself into . . .

  • Offer is valid for stays booked between June 16,2010 and July 1, 2010 and completed between June 16, 2010 and September 6, 2010
  • Guest must arrive on a Thursday, Friday, Saturday, or Sunday for hotels or all days of the week for resorts
  • Rates are pre-paid, non-changeable and non-refundable

May 19, 2010

Westin St. Francis. Is it a bad, bad hotel?

I thought long and hard before making this post.  The iconic Westin St. Francis has always been a favorite hotel of mine, and I wish it only the best.  The hotel’s name alone gives me vivid flashbacks of my first few days in San Francisco after moving there in 2005.

But those images aren’t quite what guests at the hotel saw last week, when a flashmob infiltrated the Westin St. Francis to raise awareness for their fight to get fair worker contracts and specifically affordable healthcare for hotel employees.  Through their performance of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance,” including instruments, singing, and choreography, they made a creative call for boycott much to the amusement (or bewilderment) of guests in the lobby.

If you ask me, the video (which has certainly become viral over the past week) does one hell of a better job in raising boycott awareness than previous line and picket protests in front of San Fran Starwood properties.  It seems like a gay activist group called Pride at Work SF was behind this in an attempt to influence gay/lesbian visitors to stay elsewhere during San Francisco’s Gay Pride weekend next month.  What the group didn’t mention is to watch out for the several other Starwood hotels in the city that are also on the boycott list.

Here’s a recap of the action from the group’s blog . . .

A confused and amused crowd gathered to watch the dancers continue shouting: “Boycott! Boycott! Workers rights are hot!” After the dance number the band paused for one of the event organizers to make an announcement on the bull horn. “We are here to tell people to workers have called for a boycott of this hotel. We are sending a message to the hotel corporations that the gay community is an important source of tourists dollars and that we support the worker boycott,” said Jane Martin. “At the same time, we are sending the message to members of our own LGBTQ community that when you come to San Francisco in June for the Pride celebration, support the workers and honor the hotel boycott.”

If only all protests were this creative . . .

May 12, 2010

Scavenging for free weekend nights at Starwood Hotels

When I worked at the W San Francisco in early 2009, I suggested the W brand launch a scavenger hunt that would increase cross-property stays among loyal W guests.

Not sure if my idea ever made its way through the corporate intranet, up the ladder, and into a boardroom of brand managers, but now coincidentally Starwood has a similar scavenger hunt spanning all brands that they just kick started. The contest is called SPG Passport to Free Weekends, and here’s how the hunt works . . .

Each day for the next 10 business days, there will be a Starwood property that holds the prize (different hotel per day).

Using clues provided on Starwood SPG’s Facebook and Twitter, guests will be able to narrow down the specific hotel.

The first 10 guests to check in to the hotel and approach the front desk will be awarded with the prize. They’ll also get their passport picture taken and posted on SPG’s Facebook and Twitter pages.

So what’s the prize? Two free weekend nights which can be used at almost all of Starwood’s hotels throughout the world.

Here’s the full terms and conditions. Happy Hunting!

May 6, 2010

Housekeepers rolling eyes over Sheraton’s “fake” environmental program

Green or greedy, or somewhere in between? Hard to say.

For those who aren’t aware, Sheraton has a “Make a Green Choice” program which allows guests to decline daily housekeeping in exchange for $5 food and beverage vouchers or 500 bonus Starpoints.  It started as a pilot program in Hawaii and Seattle back in 2007 and was eventually rolled out across the brand.

The program has always received criticism for being a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  Opponents have billed it as a labor cost cutting initiative disguised as an environmental conservation initiative, and I always thought it was only a matter of time before disgruntled housekeepers with cut schedules would start getting vocal.  They agree that the “Make a Green Choice” program is nothing but a fraud.

From a long-time housekeeper at the Sheraton Centre Toronto . . .

“Do you know how dirty a room gets when it hasn’t been cleaned for three days?”  Normally I clean a room in 30 minutes. After three days of no service, it takes me almost an hour and half to clean the room and I use just as much cleaning fluid because the bathrooms are filthy.”

Starwood then responded . . .

“In the first six months, more than 200,000 guests across North America participated in the program, which resulted in a reduction in water consumption of more than 8.2 million gallons of water. In addition, 38,000 kilowatts of electricity was saved and chemical use was reduced by 11,000 gallons.”

Who’s side are you on?  I admit as a frequent solo traveler I often have no need for housekeeping beyond a fresh towel and more bottled water.  I don’t use the floor as the trash bin, and I still don’t quite know what the point of turn down service is.  I like the program’s food credit and bonus Starpoints, but I can see how the program allows the hotel to turn its back on its housekeepers (at least the on call ones).

Source: Toronto Star

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