Starwood And Delta Air Lines Announce ‘Crossover Rewards,’ Joint Loyalty Program Benefits

crossover rewards delta and starwoodThere’s news this morning of a new partnership called Crossover Rewards that’s forming between two juggernauts in the travel industry. Starting March 1, Delta Air Lines and Starwood will be sharing some benefits from their loyalty programs, meaning members of SkyMiles and Starwood Preferred Guest will soon be able to enjoy perks extended to their partner program without earning status on the other side.

Shared benefits vary by the level of elite status but will not include the entire spectrum of perks. Delta Platinum and Diamond members, for example, will be allowed a late checkout and free Wi-i, but will not get complimentary room upgrades. Similarly, SPG members will enjoy a free checked bag, priority boarding and priority seating, but will not get upgrades. In both programs, booked travel will earn points for each loyalty account.

The move aims to target loyalty members from a different market sector and hopefully entice them to bring loyalty to another program. Simply put, this is an easy way for each brand to target highly profitable and highly loyal customers at low risk, so it’s an easy partnership to forge.

This isn’t the first time that loyalty programs have teamed up for earnings. Hilton Hotels has been using a double dip program in HHonors for several years where loyal travelers can allocate a part of their earnings to an airline mileage account.

Unique to Crossover Rewards though is the elite benefits that are being shared. Under this program, even if the Delta Platinum has never set foot in the same city as an SPG property there are still benefits to be collected. It’s a great incentive to loyal travelers and a savvy move by Delta and SPG. Hopefully the other carriers and hotels catch on.

[Flickr photo via Ed Yourdon]

Roman Coppola And W Hotels Release Four Travel-Inspired Films

With the help of filmmaker Roman Coppola, son of director Francis Ford Coppola, W Hotels and Intel recently held a travel-inspired screenplay competition. Out of more than 1,000 online entries, four scripts were chosen by Coppola, who then used his production company, The Directors Bureau, to match the winning scripts with emerging directors and actors.

The result are the short films below, each of which takes place at a W Hotel around the world: in Doha, Qatar; Mexico City, Mexico; Washington, DC; and the Maldives. The only other stipulation for screenwriters was that the films had to feature an Intel Ultrabook – kind of like the secret ingredient in an Iron Chef competition. The results are quirky, touching, and sometimes eerie, but most of all great ways to inspire travel and help emerging talent get their feet off the ground.

Modern/Love: Two 20-somethings take the next step in their long-distance cyber romance, meeting in person for the first time during an exotic vacation in Doha, Qatar. Will their tech-enabled feelings hold true in real life?
Screenplay by Amy Jacobowitz
Directed by Lee Toland Krieger
Featuring Robert Schwartzman and Naomi Scott

¡El Tonto!: A socially challenged vacationer in Mexico City, Mexico, strikes up an unlikely friendship with one of the country’s best-known luchadores.
Screenplay by Ben Sayeg
Directed by Lake Bell
Featuring Kyle Mooney and Kyle Mooney

Eugene: A traveler in Washington, DC, gets a mysterious gift: an Ultrabook that grants all his wishes. How will he wield his unexpected powers?
Screenplay by Adam Blampied
Directed by Spencer Susser
Featuring Michael Govier and Karolina Wydra

The Mirror Between Us: Two young women embark on a dream-like adventure through the islands of the Maldives after an event turned both their worlds upside down.
Screenplay by Nicole Beharie
Directed by Kahlil Joseph
Featuring Dan’ee Doty

Top Travel Destinations, How Do We Count Thee?

travel destinationsReports and polls determining the top travel destinations in the world come to us in variety of ways throughout every year. Travel related companies tally internal data to make their lists. Government agencies publish the most frequented destinations based on incoming flights, hotel reservations and other criteria. Non-profit organizations have an unbiased tone to ranking top destinations too. Often, it is as important to consider the source as it is the ratings themselves.

Today, TripAdvisor announced the winners of its fourth-annual 2012 Travelers’ Choice Destinations awards. TripAdvisor ranks 440 outstanding destinations across the globe, including lists for Africa, Asia, Australia, the Caribbean, Central America, China, Europe, India, Mexico, the Middle East, South America, the South Pacific and the United States.

“The TripAdvisor community has once again helped pinpoint hundreds of the most amazing and beloved travel destinations of the year,” said Barbara Messing, chief marketing officer for TripAdvisor in a Hospitality-Industry report.

“For travelers planning their big annual vacation or just a weekend getaway, these awards highlight awe-inspiring travel locations of all varieties around the globe.”

Lets look at their top ten.

  1. London, England
  2. New York City, New York
  3. Rome, Italy
  4. Paris, France
  5. San Francisco, California
  6. Marrakech, Morocco
  7. Istanbul, Turkey
  8. Barcelona, Spain
  9. Siem Reap, Cambodia
  10. Berlin, Germany

TripAdvisor Traveler’s Choice Destination award winners were determined based on the popularity of destinations, taking into account travelers’ favorites and most highly rated places.

But wait. Last month, in “Suspicious About Hotel Reviews? You Are Not Alone,” Gadling reported that the United Kingdom Advertising Standards Authority had ruled that TripAdvisor’s advertised claim of “trusted advice from real travelers” was misleading because fake comments could be posted without verification.

If that is true and TripAdvisor based the 2012 Traveler’s Choice Destination award winners on the same faulty data, where should we look for information that can be trusted?

Maybe no where. Maybe we should consider rankings as entertainment because those who rank destinations stand behind their numbers.

“People may think if a place only got one diamond, it can’t be any good,” said Todd Cronson, regional manager for AAA Tourism Information Development in the Seattle Times. “That couldn’t be further from the truth. Maybe the lighting styles are out of date, maybe the furniture is older, but if it got a diamond from us, it’s perfectly clean, safe and well-maintained.”

Maybe the whole notion of a destination rating system, while coveted by those who rank high for bragging rights, should be viewed with caution.

Paul James, global brand leader of Starwood‘s luxury brands told the Seattle Times, “I thought a universal star rating system was essential. But the more time you spend in the industry, and you understand the complexity of it, the more you see a hierarchical star system as completely outmoded.”

Subjective criteria is always going to be difficult to measure. What one traveler finds essential, another may not care about at all. Instead, focusing on an easy-to-compare laundry list of features at the destination might be more valuable information to have.

Applying research theory used by professional travel agents for decades, make a list of must-have features and don’t give in on any of them. These are required elements you must have to be happy like, say, Internet access, safe and well-marked hiking trails or bike-friendly roads. Next, take that list and search for travel blogs that resonate for specific destination information.

Short of having a trusted friend who has been there, is eager to share what they did and how they did it, today’s travel blogs offer some of the best, most current and relevant information available…as opposed to basing travel decisions on a popularity contest.

Top Adventure Travel Destinations

Flickr photo by nattu

Find hotel deals with new booking site Guestmob

hotel deals guestmob collectionsThe Internet has brought us many ways to research and book hotels at prices much lower than the hotels’ published rate. Aggregate sites like Kayak and Orbitz give you the best available rate (BAR) without pre-payment on a specific hotel, while “opaque” sites like Priceline and Hotwire allow you to bid for a room below BAR but the actual property remains hidden until after you book and the purchase is non-refundable. Now a new booking site offers you hotel deals well below BAR while ensuring consumers flexibility and a standard of quality.

Guestmob differs from other hotel booking sites by combining high-tech algorithmic pricing and expertly curated properties hand-picked for their high user ratings. The site works by grouping hotels into collections of four to eight properties in a given category and neighborhood. You enter your travel dates and can immediately see a room rate of up to 50% below BAR for each hotel collection. The Thursday before you check in, the exact hotel is revealed but you are guaranteed one of the specific hotels in the collection. Best of all, unlike other opaque booking sites, you can cancel your reservation up to three days before check-in.hotel deals guestmob booking pagePreviously, some savvy travelers have tried to “game the system” with sites like Bidding for Travel, a forum that tries to guess winning bids and participating hotels on opaque sites by sharing successful bookings. Guestmob removes the need for this research by specifying hotels in each collection and immediately offering a deeply discounted price. While room upgrades, frequent guest points and other requests are still at the discretion of the hotel upon check-in, it’s still a great option for travelers with flexibility.

A Guestmob search for a hotel in Chicago on a weekend in mid-May yielded a price of $164 for a 3.5 star hotel on Magnificent Mile (such as a Courtyard or Embassy Suites), or $203 to bump up to a 4 star in the same area such as a W or Westin Hotel. The same properties ranged from $221 to $279 on other sites. Most Guestmob hotels are part of well-known chains such as Marriott or Starwood, or smaller chains like Kimpton and JDV.

Guestmob soft-launched last year in San Francisco and has now expanded to include New York, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Orlando, San Diego, San Jose, Seattle, Boston, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, Portland and Phoenix. The site is well connected to social media so you can get help, learn news or give feedback on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. You can also chat with them right on the site if you have questions.