| NEW YORK, April 13
NEW YORK, April 13 During a recent trip to
Colorado, jewelry designer Alicia Mohr planned another vacation
from an unusual spot - a hot tub at a Starwood hotel, where she
is a platinum-level preferred customer.
Enjoying some beer with her husband and some friends led to
a spontaneous decision to travel to Munich for Oktoberfest this
fall. To make plans, Mohr simply called the private concierge
that comes with her coveted platinum status. Quicker than you
can say "oompah," they had guaranteed suites at a hotel at the
entrance to Oktoberfest. "And we paid with points," Mohr says.
"It doesn't get easier than that."
Hotels, airlines and other travel service providers are
trying hard to win the loyalty and dollars of sophisticated and
extremely lucrative road warriors like Mohr and her strategy
consultant husband, Chris, who book a combined 100-to-150 nights
a year in hotels (Starwood, whenever possible), racking up
points and perks along the way.
Airlines are succeeding in getting business travelers to
upgrade. Small businesses spent an average 5.8 percent more on
first and business class tickets in last year's fourth quarter
than they had a year earlier and big companies spent 8.8 percent
more, outpacing the growth in economy tickets, according to
American Express Business Insights.
High-end hotels haven't seen the same growth, according to
American Express, but that doesn't mean they aren't trying.
Eighteen percent of hotels surveyed at the end of 2010 by the
American Hotel and Lodging Educational Foundation said they have
a club floor or lounge, up from 10 percent in 2004. Eighty-nine
percent of those hotels classified themselves as luxury or
"upper upscale." Sheraton announced that it has spent more than
$100 million upgrading 120 lounges worldwide.
Here is a round-up of some of the more interesting and
helpful perks you can take advantage of if you have the money or
points to travel first class.
New York-based Garde Robe has found a way help travelers
avoid packing and schlepping suitcases to the airport.
The company, which is expanding this year to include Florida
and London, stores a portion of its customers' wardrobes for
them. Before a trip, a customer chooses items from his online
"closet" to be shipped anywhere in the world. When he heads
home, a valet retrieves them so they can be cleaned and pressed
for the next time.
One-quarter of customers are business travelers who keep a
stash of suits, pants, business dresses and shoes, the company
says. Mastercard and Neiman Marcus' customers can cover the
fees, which start at $350 a month plus shipping and dry
cleaning, via certain rewards programs. Deutsche Bank and JP
Morgan offer the service as perk to their executives.
GETTING TO YOUR FLIGHT
An "upper class" ticket on Virgin Atlantic earns you VIP
treatment at Heathrow in London. It starts with a limousine ride
to the airport and a guarantee that you'll get from curb to
lounge in 10 minutes.
A Virgin "host" meets your car, checks you in and handles
your luggage while you pass through a private security check.
Then you can cool your heels with spa services, workspaces,
dining options and multiple lounges for catching a pre-flight
nap. Not that you'll have to wait long. The service lets you
check in only 45 minutes before departure, even for
Similar door-to-plane services are available through other
airlines and airports. At several Asian airports including
Singapore's Changi, the Jetquay program provides expedited VIP
check-in and exclusive lounges plus extras such as a personal
shopper and valet parking at prices that start at about $65 and
run to more than $1,100.
Upscale hotels have gotten in on the act, too. At the
Peninsula Beverly Hills, where room rates begin above $500,
airport transfers ($100) include access to a LAX concierge and
his multilingual staff who meet guests at the curb or gate to
help with whatever might ease their departure or arrival. "Our
job is to set the tone for their hotel experience when they
arrive, and to leave them with a fond memory of it when they
leave," says concierge Jimmy Bardolf.
Book a "diamond first class" ticket on Etihad airline (about
$9,000 from Abu Dhabi to London and $15,000 from Abu Dhabi to
New York) and you have access to an "in-flight chef" who will
prepare dishes on board from an extensive array of options,
including breakfast options like salmon lox or eggs any style
and a steakhouse-inspired "grill" menu as well as the expected
Middle Eastern fare. Moreover, you get to decide when you want
to eat, a handy plus on Etihad's long-haul flights.
AT YOUR HOTEL
Marriott is another chain that has been investing in its
lounges. In Chicago, platinum- and gold-level preferred members
have access to an executive lounge that includes 60-inch
televisions, access to a conference and media room, a dedicated
concierge, complimentary breakfast, afternoon snacks, evening
hors d'oeuvres and special events such as wine tastings. Other
guests buy access to the lounge for $60 a night.
Similarly, a room on the "club" or suite floors at the
Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore comes with access to a
lounge that offers free champagne breakfast, afternoon tea and
evening cocktails and canapés, free meeting space and
teleconferencing services, all with stellar city views.
Other hotels are finding high-tech ways to deliver
high-touch service. At the Plaza Hotel in New York, The Berkeley
in London and the OPUS Vancouver in Canada, guests are handed
iPads when they check in. At the Plaza guests can use the iPad
to order room service or print their boarding passes.
At the Berkeley, concierges map out personal recommendations
for things to do, see and eat for guests in the top suites,
which start at about $2,000 a night. At Hotel32, a boutique
hotel within the Monte Carlo in Las Vegas, guests can use their
own iPod Touches or the hotel's to reach out to their "suite
assistant" with special requests.
Here's one last perk that's unique and potentially quite
fun: Guests who book a suite at the Loews Santa Monica Beach
Hotel in California ($750 to $3,600 per night) can borrow items
including the trendiest belts, necklaces and cocktail purses
from a lending closet that's stocked by the legendary Fred Segal