Saturday, May 24, 2008

It's Not the Phoenician...any more

The Phoenician in Scottsdale ( ) used to be my gold standard for hotels. Back in the late 80's and early/mid 90's, it was arguably the best hotel I ever stayed it. The facilities were over the top (as only a savings & loan cheat like Keating could do) and the service surpassed the facilities. It was so fabulous that it became a running joke in my family. Whenever we went somewhere and that hotel lacked some facility or some service attitude, my standard answer was "well, this isn't the Phoenician." "It's not the Phoenician" became the standard by which we measured service effectiveness.

Of course then came the S&L crisis and the hotel ended up in the hands of Starwood, as part of its Luxury Connection. I actually haven't been back there since then but I'll be flying out to Phoenix on Tuesday and already I've got serious concerns.

I sent an email last night to the Phoenician, asking for information and an addition to my reservation record. With the old Phoenician, I would have gotten a reply within 15 minutes and the response would have no doubt exceeded my expectations in terms of customer service. Now...well, it's about 24 hours later and I've heard not a word from the hotel. If you're going to list your email address on the home page of your Internet site and if you're going to promote yourself as "the luxury collection," you'd think maybe they'd take the time to monitor their inbox. I can't imagine the volumes are that high, especially in this straddle season. To me, it says they're not paying attention to the little things any more. Now maybe they're going to surprise me. Maybe it's going to be world class. Maybe there's a perfectly reasonable explanation for why I haven't heard back from them.

All I know, though, is that I'm going there thinking "it's not the Phoenician...any more."

UPDATE: I heard from them Monday afternoon. Not exactly timely response. And of course, the reply was "you'll have to talk to this other person." So I sent the other person an immediate email. Keep in mind that I'm on a plane Tuesday morning at 9:45. Of course, I get that person's OOF message, saying they won't be in until Tuesday. Of course no one's monitoring this inbox for time-sensitive matters even while this was the one given to me. So I finally heard from this person Tuesday morning...after I was already in the air. I got the message when I landed in Phoenix. That's real useful. NOT.

UPDATE 2: Last chance to redeem themselves. I arrive at check-in. No acknowledgement of Starwood status. No upgrade. "Ordinary" room. Yes, the rooms here are nice but nothing. Oh, by the way, here's what says about room upgrades:

"Enhanced Rooms. Rather than redeeming Starpoints for a better room, you’re entitled to an automatic room upgrade at check-in when one is available. An enhanced room includes rooms on higher floors, corner rooms, newly renovated rooms, or rooms with preferred views."

I guess it wasn't available. No, it's most definitely not the Phoenician I remember. My last hopes, dashed.

Friday, May 23, 2008

American is Listening to Me???

I think American needs to employ a new research methodology. Here's what they say in their newsletter, which was sent out last night:

"Did you know that AA employs a full-time team of research analysts who conduct various types of qualitative and quantitative research designed to gather customer feedback?
The AA Customer Research department surveys thousands of customers on a continuous basis and gathers other additional ad-hoc feedback frequently. A variety of research methodologies are used, including online surveys, in-flight surveys, syndicated tracking surveys, telephone interviews, usability testing, one-on-one interviews and focus groups to gather feedback from its customers. "

I guess their research methodology is actually highly targeted: they're able to pinpoint audiences that are guaranteed to rubber stamp whatever hairbrained idea the beancounters come up with. Given the cacophony of disgust over this baggage charge, finding people who think this is a good idea are probably few and far between so kudos to the American research analysts who are able to ferret out these supporters of the move.

Being a research analyst myself, however, I have some advice to the American researchers and marketers:

Then again, perhaps this say more about American's management. Presented with the overwhelming evidence that this was an epically stupid move, they concluded "we know better." My advice to American's researchers: prepare your resumes. Somewhere management is going to throw you under the bus. "Our research failed to appreciate how much our most loyal customers, who are not subject to this insane charge anyhow, would be distressed by it." You know it's coming.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Why I Love Clear

I'm a new member of the Clear registered traveler program ( If you're not familiar with this, basically at airports that support the program (not enough, yet), you get to bypass the credential check line (though not the baggage check procedure) by going through a dedicated Clear line (where there's never a line).

For the privilege, you have to pay $100/year (plus a fee to have your background checked; terrorists need not apply). If you're a premium flyer, you may think "why would I need this; I already have dedicated lines." I'd note a few things:
  1. There are sometimes 10-15 minute lines even at premium lanes. I've never waited more than a minute at a Clear line.
  2. At key convention airports -- MCO, LAS-- there are often no premium lines or very limited, and long regular lines. If you go there once or twice a year, this alone justifies the fee. And they just announced an agreement with ATL.
  3. Only because of Clear did I make my flight last week. The SFO rental car shuttle broke down and we had to wait for busses. As you might imagine, they were slow and the net result was a bunch of people arriving all at once...and lining up, even in the premium line, all at once. I was the only Clear flyer...three minutes and I was through security. They even escorted me to the very front of the baggage check line, ahead of the six people who were waiting to take off their shoes.


  1. You still have to go through the baggage checking process.
  2. They're still not widely available in my home airports, New York area and Boston, though they're hinting at progress in New York.
  3. My fingerprints are now in someone's database. Before this, I had never been fingerprinted.
  4. It takes at least 20 minutes to go through the whole sign-up process and fingerprinting/face capture, and usually the sign-up kiosks are on the OUTside of security, so it's not like you can jump over and do it while you're waiting for a delayed flight, only if you get there early. Save yourself some time and begin the sign-up process online if you're going to do it.

If you sign up, tell them DSCAM1164007 sent you; that's my referral code and I'll get free months or something if you use this.

American's $15 Bag Fee

Beware the law of unintended consequences. Here's the scenario:

  • Infrequent flyers have to pay for the first bag.
  • So they carry on.
  • Being infrequent flyers, they slow the boarding process.
  • Flights take longer to board.
  • Things run late.
  • Which costs the airline way more than the revenue they generate.
  • Overhead compartments fill up sooner.
  • Late arriving frequent flyers get really pissed.

Even though we're not subject to the fee, we're caught in the unintended consequences.

And what are they going to do when the bins fill up? Charge $15 for the gate check?? Can they do that? If not, is that the loophole. Everyone carry on and check at the gate. More delays. More baggage handling costs. These old line idiots are really trying hard to push us frequent flyers to JetBlue, aren't they.

Why this blog

I've flown over 100,000 miles/year for 23 of the last 25 years. I'm over a million miles on United and I'll probably get there on American. Obviously I've seen a lot in the course of those 3+ million miles. Perhaps it was the straw that broke the camel's back but American's announcement today that it's going to charge $15 for the first bag just sent me over the edge. Yes, I know as an American Platinum flyer, I'm not going to be subject to that fee. But I am going to be impacted by it. (See my next post.)

So, instead of stewing about it, I'm going to write about it. I'm going to document the good, the bad and, often, the very ugly of what I see and what I've seen. Through it all, I've learned a few lessons and I'll share those.

That said, I think the deterioration of the industry is so complete in the United States that perhaps those lessons are no longer valid. Just one example: my travel mantra used to be "treat people with God-like powers like, well, God." That gate agent or hotel check-in agent had/has incredible power. Upgraded room? Pow. Seat by the lavatory. Bang. So I'd approach these people with great bonhommie -- that's my general nature anyhow -- and somehow not surprisingly these people who take so much abuse on a regular basis responded with open relief and joy. I didn't always get an upgrade, mind you, but I at least got a smile. Now, however, the abuse is so widespread, the customer so disspirited, the employer so out-of-touch, that these attempts at goodwill are all too often falling on ears so deaf that they're unwilling or unable to notice the humanity. It's as if the efficiency expert told them it take 0.03 seconds to smile and that over the course of a year that'll cost you the ability to process two customers. It has gotten so bad that I have just about given up on my attempt to show goodwill and humor.

Is this really where we want to be?? In my professional life, I talk a lot about the move from a product to a service economy (and what technology can do to enable that). The travel and hospitality industry is moving in the exact opposite direction.

And so I'll write.