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Travel

How the virus will change hotels, B&Bs and villas for ever

Check out the new check-in: Mini bars replaced by sanitation units. Housekeeping robots. And no more buffets… how the virus will change hotels, B&Bs and villas forever

  • Hotel owners are working tirelessly to prepare to please guests once more 
  • There are plenty of bargains on offer at hotels and B&Bs to tempt travellers back 
  • But what is being put in place to keep you safe? Here’s what to expect…

Mid-rant, Basil Fawlty, the irascible hotel owner played by John Cleese in classic TV comedy Fawlty Towers, is interrupted by a guest complaining: ‘I’m not satisfied!’

To this, Fawlty — not one to take criticism lightly — raises an eyebrow and snaps: ‘Well, people like you never are, are you?’

How Fawlty would have coped with the expectations of today’s desperate holidaymakers we’ll never know — but, thankfully, real hotel owners are working tirelessly to prepare to please guests once more.

hotel owners are working tirelessly to prepare to please guests once more. But what will you get for your cash? And what measures are being put in place to keep you safe?

It will be a case of hand sanitiser at every turn, endless cleaning, contactless payments at reception — and you can forget that complimentary welcome drink.

We could see plenty of bargains on offer at hotels and B&Bs to tempt travellers back, and the same with air fares.

But what will you get for your cash? And what measures are being put in place to keep you safe?

Here’s what to expect…

HOTELS

  • Contactless check-ins will be the order of the day, with printed room keys and no requirement to queue to check out. Self-service machines, wiped down regularly, will be a feature of hotel lobbies everywhere. Many groups including Ruby Hotels, Citizen M and Premier Inn already have this at some properties.
  • Thermal screening on arrival could be the norm. It’s already been introduced at the Mandarin Oriental Bodrum in Turkey.
  • Collection cars from airports may also be phased in. Many guests will not want to use public transport. Partitions and drivers wearing PPE could become standard ‘upgrades’. At mass-market hotels in resorts in the likes of Spain and Turkey, buses with extra spacing will be brought in.
  • Facial recognition is a possibility at check-in at the most high-tech hotels, plus at lifts and for room entry. It’s already done at the FlyZoo Hotel in China.
  • Face masks for all guests will be provided. Accor group hotels, which includes Ibis, Sofitel and Novitel, is preparing this.

RENTALS 

Holiday rentals of every type will have to prove they are clean to reassure customers 

  • Social distancing will be easier than in hotels so bookings may boom.
  • Every type of holiday rental will have to prove they are clean to reassure customers.
  • Hygiene standards approved by governments are expected across the globe. Singapore’s SG Clean initiative and Portugal’s Clean & Safe stamp are some of the first nationwide initiatives.
  • In the UK, Premier Cottages is part of an advisory panel, along with UK Hospitality, Visit England and others, which will formulate health and safety guidelines to be circulated by the Professional Association of Self-Caterers.
  • More self-catering accommodation will offer electronic key-safes and contactless check-in; already being introduced by Oliver’s Travels, which has holiday rentals in the UK and Europe.
  • Chefs on call will be offered more widely because people are reluctant to eat at restaurants.
  • Deep cleans will be organised between bookings, so swap-over where guests leave in the morning and others arrive in the afternoon become rarer. Mullans Bay in Northern Ireland has brought in deep cleaning between bookings, as well as a requirement for guests to drive to the door of the rental so check-in is contactless.
  • To win guests away from hotels that can no longer easily offer such services, some upmarket rental chains may offer spa treatments in privacy. The Greek Villas company has already begun this.
  • If hosts do not install hand-sanitiser dispensers and plastic divisions, or put plastic coverings over their own household items, some guests could be put off.
  • Renting out rooms within houses will become much less popular as guests may doubt social distancing and cleanliness.

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Travel

Change of plans? Use this negotiation strategy to get customer service on your side



a airplane that is sitting in front of a window

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If you’re a frequent TPG reader, your life has likely been affected by the coronavirus pandemic and its resulting impact on travel.

Numerous TPG readers have told us that they booked nonrefundable reservations because they didn’t plan to cancel their trip. Others purchased travel insurance, but most trip insurance doesn’t cover epidemics so they’re still out the money. In many such cases, your best bet is to reach out directly to the airline or hotel in question and ask for help.

TPG has covered how to reach customer service as quickly as possible — but what should you ask for once you get on the phone?

Be clear about what you need

Before you get on the phone, know where you want to go before you reach out to your airline to make any changes. A customer service representative can’t tell you whether or not it’s best for you to go home to your own apartment, or shelter in place at your parents’ house in another state, and it isn’t their job to wait on the line while you draft up a pros-and-cons checklist.

Have your desired airport code, travel times and dates, your passport number and record locator, and any other personal information ready on hand before you reach out. And be prepared for long hold times, or try reaching out via Twitter or text.

Be flexible on how you accomplish your goal

It’s great to have a specific plan in place, but keep your big picture goal in mind. Right now, your top priority should be safety and speed, not necessarily convenience or efficiency. If you’re trying to get home to Brooklyn or Queens, be willing to consider flying into Newark, Philly or even Boston. Similarly, flying into Oakland, San Jose or even Sacramento could be a good alternative to San Francisco if you need to get back to the Bay Area.

Alternatively, consider renting a car and driving where you need to go if the journey isn’t too long — or if you’re up for taking the scenic route home. The main goal of social distancing is increasing the amount of physical distance between you and other people, and a road trip fulfills most of the criteria. Keep in mind that most hotels and stores along the way may be closed or operating under limited hours, so stock up on gas and supplies well before setting out. 

Negotiation strategy: Big ask, little ask

If you know that you can’t or won’t need to travel any longer, you’ll probably want your money (or points) back instead of rescheduling your trip for a later date. But just because your friend got a full refund on an international flight through Delta Airlines doesn’t mean you’ll get the same result for canceling a domestic flight on Spirit.

Here’s where a sales negotiation strategy called “big ask, little ask” could help you accomplish your goal.

The concept here is to have at least two satisfactory outcomes in mind, and to ask for the bigger favor first. If that fails, then ask for the smaller favor. In contrast, the smaller request will seem easier to grant, and you’ll be more likely to get what you ask for.

Your success will vary based on a lot of factors, but it never hurts to try — and it really pays to be as polite as humanly possible.

Let’s say you purchased a $400 nonrefundable ticket, and your airline is offering you free changes for the travel dates. But the event you wanted to attend was canceled, so you no longer plan to take this trip. When you reach out to customer service, go for the “big ask” first: A full refund. Be polite, explain your circumstances, and nicely ask if the agent can help you out. If the answer is yes, then great; if no, then switch to your “little ask”, which could be a voucher toward future travel instead of rescheduling your flight.

Chances are, you’ll find some leniency from the representative. And even if you don’t, you can walk away knowing you did your best.

Priority goes to travelers who need immediate assistance

Trying to cancel a spring break trip in April? Don’t get on the phone; save customer service hotlines for people who need immediate help resolving their travel issues.

Instead, reach out to your airline or online travel agency (OTA) via email, Twitter or text. You can avoid long hold times, possibly increase your chances of getting a favorable response, and know that you’re doing your fellow traveler a favor by freeing up the phone lines.

Remember that you’re on the same team — and be kind

These are stressful times with little to no prior precedent, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Remember that you and the customer service agent share the same goal of getting you where you need to go, even if it doesn’t feel that way.

Also keep in mind that these agents have been dealing with frustrated customers for weeks, and are facing job uncertainty themselves. Be kind and thoughtful to the person helping you — a “thank you” or a “How are you doing?” goes a long, long way right now.

Featured photo by Getty Images.

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Travel

Harsh new United policy change irks fliers amid coronavirus fears



Slide 1 of 4: An eery quiet at San Francisco International Airport at 6:30 am on Monday morning, March 9.
Slide 2 of 4: An eery quiet at San Francisco International Airport at 6:30 am on Monday morning, March 9.
Slide 3 of 4: An eery quiet at San Francisco International Airport at 6:30 am on Monday morning, March 9.
Slide 4 of 4: An eery quiet at San Francisco International Airport at 6:30 am on Monday morning, March 9.

Harsh new United policy change irks fliers

An eery quiet at San Francisco International Airport at 6:30 am on Monday morning, March 9.

Harsh new United policy change irks fliers

An eery quiet at San Francisco International Airport at 6:30 am on Monday morning, March 9.

Harsh new United policy change irks fliers

An eery quiet at San Francisco International Airport at 6:30 am on Monday morning, March 9.

Harsh new United policy change irks fliers

An eery quiet at San Francisco International Airport at 6:30 am on Monday morning, March 9.

“This should be illegal.  United is now saying if you buy a ticket but United changes it, as long as they can get you there within 25 hours of the original time it is no longer refundable.  That’s disgraceful. Contract law should shoot that down,” said frequent traveler S.H. in an email over the weekend.

What’s he talking about? Well, over the weekend, United quietly made a big change to its refund policy in light of the cuts it has been forced to make due to plummeting demand amid coronavirus fears.

Previously, if United changed, canceled or rescheduled a flight and it was unable to move passengers to another flight to their final destination within two hours of the original flight, it would offer them a full refund.

The new policy enacted over the weekend states that United will now only offer a credit for a future flight (no refund) if it can get passengers to their final destination within 2-25 hours of the originally scheduled arrival time. It will only offer a refund if it can’t find another flight within  the new 25 hour window.

So what does that mean in real terms? Let’s say you are holding a reservation to fly from San Francisco to New York-Newark departing at 8 a.m. next Wednesday. Then United makes a change to its schedule, eliminating that 8 a.m. flight. It switches you to an 11 p.m. redeye flight 15 hours later instead. If you choose not to take that flight, United will no longer give you your money back… it will only offer you a credit to use on a future flight within 15 months.

A United spokesperson told SFGATE: “We’ve made reductions to our international and domestic schedules and know many customers are impacted as a result.  Our goal is to rebook as many people as possible without interruption and right now, more than 90 percent of impacted customers are being put on a flight that is within 2 hours of their original booking. For any rebooking that goes beyond two hours, those customers can change for free or cancel altogether, and use the value of that ticket toward future travel up to 15 months from their original ticket issue date.”

United put schedule changes into effect this weekend after announcing last week it would cut its flying by up to 20 percent internationally and 11 percent domestically. Many other non-U.S. carriers have made similar cuts, but so far United is the only U.S. carrier to announce broad flight reductions.

Since it appears United imposed this onerous new refund rule as a result of coronavirus-related cuts, I asked if it would be rescinded when the crisis passes, but the spokesperson stated that she would not speculate on that.

You can read United’s refund policy here.

News of United’s new policy broke over the weekend, setting the travel blogosphere ablaze with comments about what appears to be an ill-timed move.

Brian Sumers, a writer for travel industry news website Skift, who broke the news on Twitter wrote: “How much does United want to conserve cash? Before Saturday, after a schedule change of more than two hours, United happily would refund you. The new policy is 25 hours.”

Matthew Klint, who writes the popular Live and Let’s Fly blog and tracks United closely was blunt: “That is just wrong. It is disgusting. We don’t contract for a particular aircraft or a particular seat number, but we certainly contract to travel on a particular date and time. This schedule change gives United broad power to disrupt your travel plans without recourse. United plans to apply this policy retroactively to previously booked tickets…an even shadier move.”

Over at The Cranky Flier, editor Brett Snyder was a bit more conciliatory, stating, “United created a model and realized money was going to fly out the door with this schedule change. The airline then had to try to figure out how to prevent bloodshed in this very uncertain time. Is this solution as good for customers as the old policy? No, definitely not. But the reality is that it is a mostly fair solution considering the circumstances.”

Read all recent TravelSkills posts here

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