Aberdeen, Mississippi Homes

Aberdeen, MS Home

Back on December 31st, Carly and I passed through Aberdeen, Mississippi for lunch. The only place open on the main drag was a scratch and dent grocery store that had a small deli where we ate some scratch and dented food.

Then we drove around town to check out the historic homes. There is quite the contrast. For example, the home pictured above looks out across the street at these neighboring homes:

Aberdeen, MS Homes

According to Zillow, current homes for sale vary between $18,500 and $63,600 in this neighborhood. One thing that differed from small towns of similar size that I’ve been through in the Midwest is that there didn’t appear to be many unoccupied homes. While the per-capita income is $23,530 (26.3% of families live below poverty line), it looks like the real estate market is somewhat in line with what people can afford.

Country AND Western at the Tannehill Opry

After visting Tannehill Historic State Park in Alabama (Interesting history, check it out), Carly and I passed the Tannehill Opry along the road to Birmingham.

Tannehill Opry

Check out the sign:

Old time Music Association

Music with no booze can be a tough sell. What’s their secret? Free air conditioning.

And, Tater Wallace, the 92 year old lead singer of the house band:

We missed it by a day.

How to Save on Travel as an Infrequent Traveler

How to save on travel varies based on how often you travel. If you’re a very frequent traveler, you may benefit from your loyalty since it will earn you free flights, hotel nights, and car rentals. But, if you’re not a frequent traveler, those loyalty points rarely add up to anything substantial, and may actually expire before you accrue enough to cash them in.

So, if you’re an infrequent traveler, here is one way to play save some money without too much hassle. The trade-off here is that you’ll receive larger discounts on your travel arrangements in exchange for not accruing loyalty points.

Here is how I recommend doing this.

1. Sign up with MrRebates.com. (BTW, if you do it through that link, I’ll get a referral bonus.) MrRebates.com offers rebates on online purchases from a boatload of online retailers, including many travel related sites.

2. Click on the Travel category of MrRebates.com, then sort the category by rebate percentage. Near the top will likely be travel clothing and luggage retailers. Scroll past that until you find sites for booking cars and hotels, like this:

Hotel and Car Rebates from MrRebates.com

Click through to relevant sites to book your hotel and/or car.

3. Now, scroll further down to find an airline site. You should see many airlines as well as travel agency websites like Expedia and Travelocity:

Travel Agency Websites on MrRebates.com

Why book the flight separately from the hotel and car? Air travel has much lower margins than car rentals and hotel rooms so they can’t offer as large of a rebate. Booking the entire package through a site like Expedia would generate a lower rebate (or, Delta will offer a flat $2 rebate). One exception: You may be able to find a package deal on a travel agency website, so it may be worth starting with your air then circling back to hotel and car once you’ve booked that.

How much will this save you? Assuming $600 for a pair of airline tickets, $120/night for a room, and $50/day for a car on a 4 day 3 night weekend trip, that’s $37.50 in savings for a few extra clicks.

What about Priceline?

Priceline is on the list, so you could save an additional 2% on top of Priceline’s already discounted prices. The blind booking of airfares is a deal killer for many people. That said, the rental cars are from major brands and really do offer some great deals. Hotel rooms can be a little inconsistent for location and star rating, but the deals may make up for it in some cases. Which is why I recommend the plan outlined above. A nice discount while still maintaining control of your itinerary.

Getting Paid for Privacy in Westin Hotels

This is cool. The Westin Nova Scotia makes it easy to opt-out of having your
room cleaned. Just hang this hanger. On top of that, they’ll kick guests $5
worth of food or Starwood points. Solid.

I’d live to see more hotels do this. I don’t even care about the $5. If I’m
in a room for two days, I can survive without having my bed made, shampoo
restocked, and even TP refolded. You don’t need to provide any incentives to
me other than making it easy for me to do it, such as hanging a sign on my
door.

Now, I do understand that there is one side effect to this. Apparently,
housekeepers are not paid extra when cleaning rooms that haven’t been
cleaned in multiple days. That’s BS, since rooms clearly news more attention
if they have been lived in for longer. Hopefully, that issue can be
resolved. But the answer is not to have housekeepers run through the motions
on rooms that don’t need to be cleaned.

Tone Deaf Hilton Surveys

My recent stay at a Hilton in Winnipeg has generated an example of what not to do when soliciting feedback from customers.

Let me start by saying that this hotel is fine. It’s close to the airport and has conference rooms, which were probably the criteria used to book an event there that I spoke at. Is it awesome? No. Does it need to be awesome? No. It’s not a destination hotel. Mostly, haggard business travelers fill the rooms. In fact, I met a guy who has been living there for the past six weeks who has strong opinions about the dessert menu (no fruit cobblers).

Now, onto my gripe. Hilton sent me a post-stay survey. No problem. I don’t mind filling out a few questions. However, Hilton’s survey had something like 100 questions. I don’t know for sure because I’m not OCD enough to fill out a survey that long.

So, I abandoned the survey after it was 30% complete. That then triggered this email:

Dear Edward Kohler,

Recently, we sent you an invitation to complete a Guest Satisfaction Survey concerning your stay with us at Hilton Winnipeg Airport, Manitoba, where you checked out on February 24, 2011.

We noticed that you did not have time to complete the survey. We are concerned that you may not have responded because we have somehow failed to live up to your expectations.

At Hilton, we are committed to providing a superior guest experience to every customer. Please take a few minutes to tell us how well we met your expectations.

To complete the survey, please click on the web address below. If that does not work, please copy and paste the entire web address into the address field of your browser.

http://survey.medallia.com?cm5y8cys47n2ww8

Thank you again for choosing Hilton. I look forward to hearing about your stay with us.

Sincerely,

Dave Horton
Global Head – Hilton
Hilton Hotels

Here is a hint to Dave Horton – Global Head of Hilton: If you need to send automatic follow-up emails to people who partially complete surveys . . . yadda yadda.

I took some time to respond to Dave Horton, Global Head – Hilton:

Dave, have you ever tried filling out your survey? It’s painfully long, and you don’t even bother to tell me what’s in it for me. If I wanted to let prospective customers know what I thought, I’d go to TripAdvisor or Yelp. If I had an issue with my stay, I’d let you know. Outside of that, make me an offer that I can’t refuse if you want my feedback.

– Ed Kohler

That received an immediate response from Dave Horton, Global Head – Hilton. I kid you now. Within seconds of sending my email, I received this:

Delivery to the following recipient failed permanently:

hilton@express.medallia.com

Technical details of permanent failure:
Google tried to deliver your message, but it was rejected by the recipient domain. We recommend contacting the other email provider for further information about the cause of this error. The error that the other server returned was: 550 550 User does not exists, and you are not relayed (state 14).

I’m not sayin’, but I’m just sayin’ that Dave Horton, Global Head – Hilton is doing it wrong.

Frequent Traveler Services – TripIt.com and MySeatFinder.com

Here are two services that make life on the road slightly better for frequent travelers. They do for me.

1. Tripit.com – This service has a couple of key features. First, it helps build complete itineraries. Travel is often booked in stages (ex. I know the hotel where the conference is going to be, but I haven’t decided when I’m going to fly in or if I’ll need a car). With Tripit, I can forward the booking confirmations as I have them into their site and they’ll turn them into a complete itinerary. They also offer a calendar sync feature, so booked trips automatically show up on my calendar. In fact, you can even give Tripit access to your email so they can monitor for flights, hotels, and rental cars you’ve booked.

Additionally, Tripit has a points tracker feature where they’ll track how many miles you’ve earned on various travel loyalty programs (there are a few exceptions to this like Southwest). I’ve found this valuable because the Android app gives me easy access to my loyalty numbers (which don’t always end up on file at the time of booking).

Tripit Points Summary

The service also does a better job with travel alerts than the airlines do (SMS or email to your phone). Here are some examples of the alerts they send:

Alerts from Tripit

An alert 24 hours before my flight to check in, status of flight, timely reminders of time on the ground between flights, departure and arrival gates, and even baggage claim carousel info. All delivered to my phone at an appropriate time, and without having to set this type of thing up with each airline I happen to be flying on.

There a free and paid version of Tripit, and I don’t remember which features are available with each version, but I do know that the paid version makes a lot of sense for frequent air travelers.

2. MySeatFinder – I don’t know why this is such a big deal, but people tend to have some very strong opinions about what seat is the best seat on a plane. Some people like aisles. Some like windows. I tend to prefer non-bulkhead, non-exit row windows on the right side of the plane because I’ve found that I can lean right better than left when sleeping on a plane, I’d rather store my bag under the seat in front of me than in an overhead bin, and I’d rather check my email than listen intently to security procedures.

MySeatFinder is a service that works to get into your preferred seat. You set it up with your airline account information and it keeps an eye out for new flights you’ve booked (or have been booked for you). It then gets to work finding a better seat for you. Also, it’s a Minnesota based company.

Here is an example of this at work:

MySeatFinder found you a better seat for the following flight:

Airline: Delta Airlines
Reservation Code: HIYD42
Departure Date: February 04, 2011
Departure Time: 7:15 PM
Flight #: 4829
Origin Airport: Toronto, OT Canada
Destination Airport: Minneapolis/St Paul, MN

Your previous seat was 11C [aisle].
Your *NEW* seat for this flight is 2A [window].

In fact, MySeatFinder often knows that I’m flying somewhere before I know I’m flying there. For example, I knew that I was going to Toronto in early February, but didn’t know that my flight had been booked until I received an alert from MySeatFinder that, not only had my flight been booked, but my seat on the plane had been improved by 9 rows and moved from an aisle to a window. Those are fun emails to receive.

This service is currently $49/year after a 30-day free trial. Clearly, this is not designed for people who fly once a year, but for frequent travelers, this, again, is money well spent.

If you know of other services like this that I should check out, let me know.

Green Bay from Up in the Air

Green Bay, Wisconsin

My flight from Toronto to MSP on Friday night followed Highway 29 home. It’s quite a bit quicker by air than driving. For example, the pilots didn’t have to keep an eye out for deer.

As you can probably tell from the photo, Packer fans were busy stocking up on last minute Super Bowl supplies, such as beer, chips & dip, and HDTVs from Costco that they plan to return on Monday (assuming they don’t shoot the TV if the Steelers somehow defeat da Pack).

Google Maps for Hotel Searching

Google’s in the news these days for their plans to enter the travel business through the acquisition of ITA Software. Apparently, quite a few travel companies are freaked out by this, so are fighting the acquisition.

One thing Google is very good at is providing instant access to information from large data sets, including the web. While the travel industry is large, it’s not as big as the entire web, so there’s a chance that Google could do a pretty solid job providing faster access to travel data as well.

Short of that, Google already is in this business in a few different ways. For example, if you search for terms like “MSP to LAX” Google realizes that you’re searching by airport codes and gives you shortcuts to run that search on popular travel sites. Going one step further by putting prices or the page would be convenient.

The travel feature Google provides that I find most valuable today is their Hotel results on Google Maps. While travel sites provide search results based on a city, near an airport, or in certain neighborhoods of large cities, Google takes things further by allowing you to search for hotels based on a landmark of your choice. For example, I could search for “Muddy Pig, St Paul” to center the map on where I am now (or let Google detect where I am). Then, if I clear the search box and type in “Hotel” Google will show me hotels near that location, with prices, and where I can book it at the price they show:

Hotels Near the Muddy Pig

This is a superior experience to what I see on travel industry sites today. It gets me closer to what I’m looking for faster.