Monthly Archives: June 2010

And you thought new luxury hotels opening in NYC were a thing of the past?

Currently there are 33 hotels that are scheduled to open in New York in 2010 and almost half of them are in the luxury category.

Gansevoort Park New York

InterContinental New York Times Square The 36-story contemporary hotel with 607 rooms is set to open July 12 with sweeping river and city views, a 2,700-square-foot presidential suite that features panoramas of the city, a French bistro led by chef Todd English and more.

Andaz 5th Avenue This hotel, scheduled to open July 5, claims to be bookishly similar to the New York Public Library, which sits across the street, but can any Andaz be that subdued? The limestone facade is historic — the 1916 Rogers Peet Building — and the hotel promises high ceilings with 184 rooms. The hotel is offering a preview rate of $295 per night, excluding tax, from July 25 through Sept. 1.

W New York Downtown This W hotel is set to open Aug. 16 in the Financial District with 217 rooms on 58 floors. The suite includes a dining table for four, wet bar, panoramic views, two 42-inch TVs, living room and bedroom with work desk. Of course, there are Wonderful and Spectacular rooms too, much more down-to-earth.

Gansevoort Park Avenue The 20-story building with 249 rooms features an indoor/outdoor heated rooftop pool with terraces, indoor-outdoor fireplaces and transparent floors. A tri-level bar and extravagant three-story atrium lobby round out the new digs. The hotel is now accepting reservations.

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Resources for Gulf Coast travelers

Gulf Coast states east of Texas are offering information on destinations that may be affected by the oil spill. Some beaches have been soiled, but most hotels, attractions and historic sites remain open, both along the coast and inland. Here are resources for status reports:

Louisiana: New Orleans, 100 miles inland, is untouched by oil. For updated information on areas affected by the spill, plus phone numbers for tourism information from coastal parishes, access http://oilspill.louisiana travel.com/office-tourism- update.

Mississippi: The Mississippi Gulf Coast is open. Visitors can get special offers and coupons for discounts from a large number of coastal lodgings, restaurants and casinos. Details: http://www.visitmscoast.org.

Alabama: Gulf Shores and Orange Beach have tar balls and odor in some areas, but most of the oil is being removed quickly. The Alabama Department of Public Health has issued a swimming advisory in waters off Gulf Shores, Orange Beach and Fort Morgan. Swimming is not banned, but individuals are discouraged from swimming in the ocean. Beaches are open for sunbathing and walking. Details: http://www.gulfshores.com (click “Oil spill update”).

Mobile Bay and Dauphin Island are open. The Dauphin Island shuttle service is temporarily closed. Summer sightseeing cruises at Bellingrath Gardens and Home have been canceled; the boat used for the cruises is ferrying clean-up crews. Home and gardens tours are available. Details: http://www.mobile baytravelup dates.com.

Florida: Northwest Florida is the only area in the state now experiencing oiling from the spill. Here are websites for major destinations in the area:

Destin area – Links to oil-spill update for Destin and Okaloosa County, beach-condition photos, seafood status and Florida map at http://www.destinchamber.com.

Pensacola area: http://www.visitpensacola.com/ content/oil-spill-update.

Coastal overview: http://www.deepwaterhorizon response.com and http://www.geoplatform.gov/ gulfresponse.

Desert cities consider litigation against Expedia, Orbitz, Priceline.com & Travelocity

According to an article released by The Desert Sun, several desert cities are preparing for a fight with online hotel booking agencies they believe have withheld at least hundreds of thousands of dollars in tourism-related taxes in recent years.

Coachella Valley cities count on the money, known as a transit occupancy tax, to help pay for city essentials like police and fire services.

“TOT and sales tax go into our general fund and that’s what keeps our city running,” said La Quinta Mayor Don Adolph, whose city, officials estimate, has lost between $300,000 and $400,000 in TOT revenue since 2001.

“To provide our citizens service, that’s what our taxes are there for — and if we’re not getting it, that’s not quite fair to the city or our residents.”

La Quinta and a couple of other desert cities have adopted ordinances and are even considering joining in on litigation against online hotel booking agencies — with the four major companies being Expedia.com, Orbtiz, Priceline and Travelocity.

The cities, as well as the League of California Cities, claim the online agencies are withholding TOT, a bed tax charged to hotel customers.

Dan Carrigg, legislative director for the state league, calls it a scheme in which online travel companies are able to purchase hotel rooms at a discounted rate, charge its online customers more for a hotel room but only pay TOT on the lower rate, pocketing the remaining tax dollars as profit.

That loss in revenue has amounted to about $20,000 in general fund revenue for Palm Desert this year alone “from TOT being siphoned off by online travel companies,” said Palm Desert City Manager Jim Wohlmuth.

Indian Wells city officials said they also believe they have lost about the same amount.

More than 400 California cities and 55 counties levy a local TOT, according to the League of California Cities.

And while some Coachella Valley city officials haven’t completed calculations, valleywide estimates may be at least $1 million in lost TOT this fiscal year.

“They’re trying to squeeze in more profit at the expense of the consumers,” Carrigg said of the online companies.

Upgrade your game plan for hotel upgrades

Just because you booked a standard room, doesn’t mean you have to stay in one. Here are some ways to sleep better.

Go where there are empty rooms

During the economic downturn, certain destinations have had lower occupancy rates, particularly those with high room counts: Las Vegas, San Francisco, New York, Hawaii and Orlando, Florida. Likewise, look to resorts in the off- and shoulder seasons, when fewer suites are booked.

 

Go standby

Hyatt allows guests booking on Hyatt.com to pay a small fee — as little as $30 — for the chance at a space-available upgrade. Hilton Worldwide has a similar program.

Be card savvy

At many hotels, booking with a Centurion or Platinum card from American Express can get you a better room, in some cases automatically. Charging everyday purchases on a hotel-affiliated credit card can help you earn upgrades, too — regardless of whether you’re actually staying at the hotel.

Use your connections

Look beyond AAA and AARP memberships to affiliations you might not expect. Lexus and Saks First cardholders are sometimes eligible for upgrades at Fairmont hotels. If you bank with Merrill Lynch, UBS or HSBC, you can often book an upgraded Ritz-Carlton package though the banks’ member benefits programs. Occasionally, hotels partner with airlines in ways that benefit you, too. Business- and first-class passengers on Singapore Airlines flights, for example, get automatic upgrades at Raffles hotels.

Check in later

The later you check in after noon (when most hotels require guests to check out), the better your chances for securing an upgrade, especially if you’re staying only one night. Plus, it’s more likely that housekeeping has turned over rooms.

Be loyal

Many hotel chains give priority to their loyalty program members based on how often they stay at their hotels. Make sure you use your loyalty member number every time you book, particularly at large chains such as Starwood, Omni, and Loews.

Tom Costello is the CEO, Partner & Co-Founder of Groups International, a company that provides marketing, consultative services, and technology solutions to the group and leisure travel markets.  Connect with him on TwitterLinkedIn, and Facebook or contact him by email.

Check your bill before you check-out – hotel fees and how to avoid them

Hotels fees that are sometimes tacked on to your bill are nothing new but recently the industry has begun to charge more fees for items or services that you may not be aware of. Have you ever been hit with a “Resort Fee,” or paid a ‘Safe Warranty Fee’ simply for having a safe in your room, even if you never used it?

What fees might apply to your stay, and more importantly, how can you avoid them?

Groundskeeping
Make sure to take time to smell the roses in that lushly landscaped garden because you are likely to billed $3 or more a night for the effort involved in keeping the greenery perky.

Towels
Need a towel at the pool? Expect to pay a buck or two. Don’t scamper off to your room with it either, as you may be billed five dollars or more if you forget to return it to the attendant after your swim.

Business center, fitness room
If there’s a room with special equipment in it you’ll probably get charged for simply staying in the same hotel with said equipment, even if you never venture into the business center or gym. Fees typically run $5 – $10 a day. At resorts, this is typically called the “resort fee.”

Safe
Hotels are tacking $1-$3 dollar a night “Safe Warranty” fees onto bills to cover the cost of providing the safe and the insurance policy that covers the things stored in it. (Good luck collecting anything if that in-room safe is burgled though, as most hotels post signs disclaiming responsibility for valuables.)

Housekeeping, bellman gratuity fees
These folks certainly deserve to be paid well for their hard work, and most travelers show their appreciation with tips. But before you dig out the dollars, be aware that fees of $10-$30 a stay are being added to some hotel bills to cover housekeeping and bellman gratuities.

Water and newspapers
How nice that a bottle of pure spring water was thoughtfully left in your room. Don’t drink it. Chances are it’s not a gift and you will be billed anywhere from $4-$6 a bottle. The newspaper that shows up at your door in the morning? Expect to be billed for the “convenience.”

Energy surcharge
Intended to recover the rising costs of providing electrical power, this charge can add $3-$6 dollars a day to your bill.

Early check in or out/extended cancellation
Checked in earlier than the hotel’s stated check-in time? You may be billed up to $50 for that early access. Had to leave sooner than planned? Expect to be charged anywhere from $50 to the cost of one night’s stay. And make sure to check the cancellation policy: Hotels that used to allow you to cancel the same day before 6 p.m.are now billing customers for one night’s stay if they don’t cancel 48 hours ahead of time.

Shuttle service
Taking the hotel shuttle from the airport used to be free, but it’s likely to cost you now, and almost as much as taking a cab to your lodgings.

Baggage-holding
Travelers with late-day flights often ask hotels to store their bags so they can enjoy another vacation day before heading to the airport. Some hotels are now charging up to $3 for each bag they babysit for the day.

Bartenders
Check the bill before you tell the bartender to keep the change. Posters on several travel boards have reported seeing charges for 20% of each drink added to their tabs for the bartender gratuity.

Room block fees
You’d like to reserve a bunch of rooms, all on one floor, for a family reunion or other event? No problem, because some hotels will be happy to bill you $10-$20 for that service.

Mini-Bar
No, it’s not the insane prices charged for those goodies, it’s the charges that are now added to your bill if you move something in the bar to make room for your own bottle of water, or even pick something up to look at it for a few seconds (sensors in the bar record your action and add the product’s fee to your room bill.) Some travelers who’ve routinely asked for the mini-bar to be cleared out before their arrival have been surprised by $50 “unstocking” fees.

Random incorrect charges: Numerous posters on travel forums have reported getting charged for smoking in non-smoking rooms when the evil weed had never touched their lips. Ding: cleaning fee of $100 to $250, and sometimes more. Other random fees include being charged for unordered movies, unmade phone calls, etc.

What to do

1. Be aware of your rights. According to federal law, additional fees should never be a surprise. Hotels must post information about such fees “clearly and conspicuously.” What “clearly and conspicuously” means in practice is in the eye of the beholder, but if extra fees aren’t clearly stated in the reservation conditions when you book online or over the phone, you should inform the hotel they are violating the law and politely but firmly ask for the charges to be removed. Obviously you now need to read the fine print conditions when you book online, and should ask if any extra fees are billed when you book over the phone.

2. If you’re not using the service you’re being charged for, ask to have it removed from your bill. Some hotels remove fees for safes, business/fitness centers, newspapers, and gratuities from your bill. If the latter, explain that you’ve already tipped the staff (assuming you have). The practice of “negative option billing” — the legal name for fees billed without your express permission — is based on the assumption that you’ve used the service and have therefore implied you agree to the charge. If you don’t and haven’t, the hotel should remove it from your bill.

3. Look at your bill before you check out, and question any unexpected charges. If you’re your card is automatically charged before you receive the bill, look it over as soon as possible and contact the hotel if you see any charges you think are unfair. It’s often best to query charges in writing, either via mail or email, so you have a record of what happened should you need to get your credit card issuer involved, or opt to take legal action.

4. Vote with your wallet. Stay at hotels that charge a fair rate for a room and facilities, rather than a bogus low rate which they then jacked up with an assortment of dubious additional fees.