Starwood makes checking in a social affair

Starwood and foursquareStarwood Preferred Guest, the rewards program for such brands as Sheraton and Westin, just took “checking in” from the front desk to the iPhone, BlackBerry and Android. The hotel company is launching a new program with social media company foursquare to increase member benefits.

According to foursquare’s blog, this partnership is “the first truly global loyalty integration of its kind,” an appropriate statement for a corporate blog, of course. Here’s the upside for you: when you check in (on foursquare) while checking in (at a Starwood), you can pick up more points, get free nights and win contests.

In the past, foursquare has worked with Heineken, American Express and others, but this appears to be its first foray into travel, a natural fit for a company that has built its business around location.

Starwood Preferred Guest program offers FaceTime customer support

As a kid, I remember playing with a video phone at the local phone store – and thinking how cool it would be if we all had access to video phones in the future. Well, the future came, and along with a total lack of jet packs, video phones never really took off.

Apple has managed to change that with their FaceTime application, and while it is by no means the first video calling application, it is the first to become mainstream. Thanks to its easy to use interface, lack of need for configuring settings, and massive install base, FaceTime is a huge hit.

And with that huge hit, comes new ways to use the service. One of the first customer support applications in the travel industry comes from Starwood Preferred Guest, the loyalty program for Starwood hotels.

On Twitter this morning, an SPG rep announced that they will be offering live chat sessions with their customers using FaceTime. The actual practical applications are relatively limited, but some customers may prefer to talk to a rep face to face instead of using email or phone. What do you think? Would you use a FaceTime chat session instead of picking up the phone, or do you think this is more of a gimmick designed to make them look cool?

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Get a free Clear security pass for three months!

We finally found a way to give Clear security a trial run without having to pay any of their fees. Previously, we uncovered a deal to get access to the fast-track airport screening service, but it only worked if you were in an elite tier of a hotel rewards program. Now, it’s available for everyone.

The key is that you have to be a member of Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG), the rewards program run by Starwood, the mother chain of The Westin, Sheraton, W Hotels and the like. But enrollment is free and no credit card is involved, so you only need to quickly sign up. You can do that here.

After you get your membership number, just go to the SPG promo page, drop in your ID and bounce over to Clear for the balance of your application.

The crux of the application process is in giving up your personal information to Clear. While they swear that their system is secure (with, only a hiccup or two,) some people aren’t really comfortable with giving up more personal information to another third party. They’re not taking just your home address either – you’ll need to give them fingerprints and a retina scan once you get to the airport.

Your trial membership courtesy of SPG lasts for three months and you can sign up until the end of February.

Only after your application is complete will you be able to show up to the airport with your Clear card, scan your retina and zip through the ID check line – only to get into the x-ray line with everyone else.

Fine. But will it save you time? Often times when I’m in the airport the first class & elite line is just as short as the clear line, so in many cases it may not shave off minutes. But if things are backed up and the clear lane is open, it could save your trip. I’ll let you know how it goes when I give Clear a test run next week.