Thursday, July 03, 2008

I May Have to Reconsider this Amtrak Thing

They give me no blogging material. Boston to New Haven last night. Train left on time, arrived on time. Comfortable. Clean. Even largely full.

OK, so the first half hour served as a cautionary tale for cell phones on airplanes. Is there really anyone who thinks this is a good idea?? The person in front of me was obviously from Podunk, Iowa. They went on and on and on about how big the buildings in New York and Boston were and could you imagine, the roads don't always have lane dividers painted on them, etc., etc. I fell asleep in self-defense. (Note: on trains, always set some kind of alarm. Unlike planes, they don't automatically kick you off at your stop.) But even here, Amtrak has an answer: the quiet car. No cell phone usage.

One downside: Amtrak's awards program is really feeble. At 5,000 miles/transcon roundtrip, I can earn a free ticket on the airlines every five trips (assuming, optimistically, you can find a flight at the saver award level). By contrast, I figure it will take me thirty round trips (at $100/round trip) to earn a free ticket on Amtrak. I guess I'll have to think about the Amtrak MasterCard which, if I use the card merely for Amtrak purchases, would reduce that threshhold to 10 round trips.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

San Francisco Treats

Asides from being one of my favorite cities in the world, San Francisco is one of the great hotel cities around with a great range of properties from impersonal conference hotels (the Hyatt and Marriott) to grand old hotels (Fairmont and Mark Hopkins) to world class properties (Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton) to touristy places to boutiques. Of late, I've found myself gravitating towards the Kimpton properties ( I've now stayed at three of them -- the Monaco, Prescott and Serrano -- and they all share some great characteristics:
  • They're relative bargains. (Under $300/night in San Francisco counts as a bargain.)
  • They have character. Rooms all differ but they share a warmth and comfort level that make even standard rooms seem something nicer.
  • The staff cares. Kimpton calls out its customer satisfaction and my experience has been that everyone, from front desk staff to bellmen, understand that this is the brand promise and that it's up to them to deliver on it.
  • Location. They're all around Union Square, convenient to work, Moscone (if you're there for a convention), dining, transportation, etc.
  • Dining options. I'm not sure if this formula was started in San Francisco but it certainly seems to be prevalent there. Pair up a boutique hotel with a trendy restaurant. The benefits if you're a hotel guest: room service that's way better than usual and preferred access if you want to dine in the restaurant. And the evening wine reception offers really good wine with the really eclectic Kimpton guests, always a good combination.

Kimpton has a rewards program though I stay at their hotels not because I can also earn loyalty points but because they're such a pleasure to stay at. And I've found that because I'm a member of their program, the properties have been very generous in giving me immediate recognition, with flexibility around room level (upgrades) and check-in/check-out times.

Negatives? In probably a dozen stays across several cities (SF, Seattle, Portland), I've never had anything that would count as negative. Predictably good stays at interesting properties at affordable rates? I like that formula.

It's Not Just Me

I was flying back Friday SFO-JFK in business class and started talking to the passenger next to me, indicating my complete disgust with the state of the traditional carriers today. He indicated that he was a 2+ million mile flyer on American and that this was his last flight on American. He too was so disgusted by recent moves and their counter-productive outcomes that all his flying going forward was going to be on Southwest or JetBlue.

It's one thing when the recent moves of the airlines drive dissatisfaction among the low paying leisure passengers and potentially cause them to pay more of their share as compared with business travelers. I don't agree with the approach even while I understand the objective. However, if their approach towards achieving that objective drives away the very passengers they need to retain, perhaps someone ought to be questioning their approach...and sanity.