Well, I finally succumbed to the charms of my darkside doppelganger dejamo (hey, I just earned my Insider alliteration badge) and tried out a Hilton Grand Vacation. Like many of the Marriott Vacation Clubs, it was a marvelous experience. I write this post not as anti-Marriott (I love me some Marriott) but as pro-traveler and how we can best operate in the 'new world' of customer loyalty. Having just read a Fortune article, "Vegas' Next Big Thing" (I'd share but unfortunately, apparently it's subscriber only) where they emphasize the newer/younger breed of traveler, courtesy of demographic trends and The Hangover film, I realize as a traveling boomer I better use whatever tactics I can to avoid being completely ignored (tip #1). One of those skills we boomers have developed over the years, is reading people; be it negotiating a contract, closing a deal, or promoting an idea. Upon check in, I could sense (like at many of the well run Marriott properties) I was dealing with a competent, service oriented front desk clerk who was actually eager to interact with customers with the goal of maximizing the experience.
I discussed the Insiders forum with him and informed him of Hilton's biggest booster dejamo always touting the virtues of Hilton. Having the good fortune (tip #2 - go to Orlando the first week after Labor Day, relatively speaking it's a ghost town, with superb customer service attitudes and small lines) of checking in during low occupancy and an expansive thinking associate, I was placed in a lovely corner unit terrific lockout three bedroom unit (to be fair, this has occurred at Marriott as well, but I'm discussing carpe diem when it comes to enhancing our travels). The property was across from Sea World, down the street from Discovery Cove (swim w/dolphins), a convenient equidistant, 3-4 miles from both Disney and Universal, and an easy trip to Sand Lake (Doc Phillips/Bayhills) and the excellent restaurant scene. We had a terrific week as every associate was as personable and helpful as you could ask.
Tip of the cap to dejamo for his supporting role in my securing a great room
This leads me to the reminder, often artfully stated in this forum, of obtaining as many elite statuses as possible. Lifetimers like myself who won't be travelling the required levels any more, should consider the matching programs prior to a projected need. For example; I have an upcoming Baltic Sea cruise (which I call in honor of our recently retired Insider, The Jasper Cruise, he went in August, boy wouldn't I love to see his videos from the cruise) where I'm staying at the Renaissance Malmo (Cat. 5 using a certificate, before they increase it to a 6) one night, but will not bring myself to pay the quoted (and holding firm for 8 weeks and counting) $700 rate for the Copenhagen Marriott, so I found a nearby Best Western for $220 who will match my Platinum status. Even if I never again qualify or use the status, I'll get one stay in with perhaps a free oj, anything, what the heck. Road warriors like pingreeman, kernitzki, and other 125 plus nights a year, shame on you if you don't (and they probably have) arm yourself with the deserved recognition of your revenue potential - certainly, as shown, Mother Marriott ain't gonna show no sympathy. Again, this message isn't anti anything, it's pro-you. Good luck to all.
Flying United, I realized, that as that soft spoken, easy going, United lover IAHFLYR has often stated, the trade of benefits appears much more than it actually turns out to be. As a United credit card holder, I already got bags and United club privileges, but was interested to see how the highly touted Economy Plus upgrade would turn out. Well I'm a big 0 for 2 so far. There weren't any seats left to be upgraded to, as United went from 6 flights to MCO down to 4 (granted, a sound business decision) flying in as previously noted, a quiet occupancy week at a 99% plane capacity (flight down had two middle seats left, flight back was full). I did happen to notice that the preferred boarding lines of group 1 and 2 were fuller than usual ( probably due to Marriott plats joining in) and an interesting event drove this home to me. Walking from the club lounge to the gate, I was passed by a guy wearing an ankle brace, who then proceeded to pre-board my flight (as someone needing assistance)! Man, if you ever needed incentive to capture as many elite statuses as you can, that really drove it home for me - it's a dog eat dog travel world out there and we customers are wearing milk bone shorts - so 'protect yourselves at all times'.
Tip #3 - The increasing number of happy hour meal deals at some very nice restaurants. It must be consumed in the bar/lounge area, but each one I went to had booths or comfortable tables (as opposed to only sitting at the bar). Whether it was catching an entire meal at tef6178 's recommended Fleming's (great tip, once again, Insiders adding value to our travels), or a quick drink and a half priced bang bang shrimp or lobster potsticker appetizer while waiting for your table at Bonefish or Roy's, this is a great way to go (most happy hours are between 5-6:30, some 5-7, so we don't even have to become the 'belts at our nipples early bird dining specialists'- yet). pluto77 had mentioned Ruth's Chris has similar offerings, as does Landry's, Vidalia in DC, Moonfish in Fla. etc etc. If I had more energy, I would compile a list, but I'm preparing for the 19th annual rabble rouser meeting in Chicago next week.
Tip #4 - As experienced road warriors who are being overlooked for the seduction of the youthful (and agreed, potentially profitable) millenial target audience, we do have our contacts and pals accumulated over the years - use them. One pal, a Disney muckety muck, got us great deals at the theme parks and restaurants and another buddy, an ad agency owner told me a deliciously juicy tale of how Marriott went outside the company to a digital media firm to handle the bulk of interaction of the apparently pita Insider audience (andy remains the real deal, but those new superstars merb and marybr were customers first). I must say, it's working, as the communication has improved dramatically even though the message often disappoints; so, a somewhat reluctant 'attaboy' (attagirl) to Marriott for that.
Yes, Virginia, there's life outside Marriott
View from California Grill (Contemporary Resort) fireworks included
Holy moly, our eyes were bigger than our stomachs - Fleming's Happy Hour
Burger (we were thinking sliders) was lunch next day - yeah baby