Welcome to the April 2007 issue of "Smart Traveler". The newsletter with tips and information to help make your traveling smoother.


Aloha, Fido and Fluffy! Welcome to the islands

For years, visitors who wanted to bring their pets to Hawaii faced a four-month quarantine for the animals — and they had to pay for it.

But the rules changed in 2003, making it easier to avoid quarantine as long as other requirements are met to ensure that the animals are free of rabies.

As a result, arrivals of cats and dogs to the islands are up more than 30 percent in three years, and hotels are responding to the trend by offering amenities for traveling pets.

Nearly 9,000 dogs and cats arrived in Hawaii last fiscal year, up from about 7,650 in 2005 and just over 6,800 in 2004, according to the state Department of Agriculture. Already more than 5,600 have come to the islands in the first seven months of this fiscal year, while just 311 went through the 120-day quarantine.

The Sheraton Princess Kaiulani in Waikiki and Four Seasons Resort Maui allow small pets to attract visitors to their upscale hotels. Several bed and breakfasts, vacation homes and the Harbor Shores Apartment Hotel in Aiea welcome pets.

At W Honolulu in Diamond Head, cats and dogs under 40 pounds are welcome. Owners pay an extra $25 a day at the W plus a $100 cleaning fee at the end of their visit.

Upon arrival, they get special water bowls, pet-size beds and goodie bags packed with a rawhide treat or chew toy.

"It makes the experience for pets just like it is for humans," said general manager Lyle Takeuchi.

     
Northwest eases change policies

Fickle fliers, you're in luck.

Northwest Airlines announced on April 18th that it is cutting the fee to change a non-refundable ticket on the day of departure from $100 to $25.

Until now, NWA would only let you change your ticket for $25 if the new flight was within three hours of your old flight. Otherwise, it was an onerous $100.

The NWA option, called “Fly Now, ” is better than flying standby, because it confirms you on the flight.

In this era of packed planes and bumped passengers, it’s better to have a confirmed seat. But the new policy should also benefit NWA because it will encourage passengers to confirm changes rather than standing by.

It applies to those holding non-refundable tickets, for flights within the continental U.S., Canada or Alaska.

Here's the link for more information: http://www.nwa.com/corpinfo/newsc/2007/pr041820071753.html

My take? It's about time. Change fees have been getting out of hand.


How to complain when something goes wrong at your hotel

Get Me the Manager!

Problems often occur on hotel stays: no hot water, no heat or air-conditioning, filthy rooms, overcharges or other problems. Successful complaining is a skill that can be acquired. Just follow these easy steps the next time something goes terribly wrong.
 

• How to Prevent "Bad Luck"

Stay at the best hotel you or your company can afford.

Inexpensive lodging can often mean slow check-in, hard-to-find staff, dirty rooms, faulty plumbing and just about anything else you want to avoid. When an airplane is delayed, first-class passengers are stuck waiting along with the cheap seat guys in coach. With hotels, more money almost always means better service. And if they do make a mistake, it is easier to get it fixed when you are paying the big bucks.


• Be loyal

You may change jobs and spouses with abandon, but be true to your chosen hotel in cities where you travel frequently. Get to know the staff. When disaster strikes, the familiar face usually gets the best treatment. Familiarity also means that you will know the best rooms to ask for. Write nice notes to the General Manager when you have received good treatment -- mention staff names. These letters are usually posted behind the front desk -- the place where you will be complaining the next time something goes wrong.


WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU DO HAVE A PROBLEM

• Is it really worth your time?

Business travelers are often stressed out and tired. Little problems can loom large. Is the problem really worth complaining about, or are you trying to avoid finishing the presentation for tomorrow morning's meeting?

• Know what you want

If you've decided it must be handled now, decide what you want. A new room? A discount? Hotel frequent travel points? What will make you feel properly compensated for the problem at hand.

• Don't be greedy

It's not likely that you will get a free room because someone forgot to put mints on your pillow -- believe me, I know people who have asked. It is fair to ask for a new room if you have been inconvenienced by faulty plumbing, a dirty linen, etc. Most business travelers are less concerned with a discount for poor service -- after all the company is footing the bill, unless it is your company. Many ask for extra frequent travel points for their account. You should too.

• Be quick

If you've decided that the situation must be addressed, go to the front desk immediately. Ask for the Front Desk Manager or the Rooms Exec. The assistant behind the counter may try to solve your problem -- give them a chance. Empowerment is a buzz word in the hotel industry today -- many front line staff people can solve your problem quickly. If they can't , then...

• Escalate, escalate, escalate

The Rooms Exec (usually second in command at the hotel) can solve many issues. They do most of the day-to-day work at the hotel. Even if you end up dealing with the General Manager, the Rooms Exec will most likely execute the solution, so don't alienate him or her.

• Don't be a jerk

You may have every reason in the world to be angry, but keep your cool. Hotel employees have a great deal of discretion in handling problem situations. No one will go the extra mile to help out a raving idiot. Be nice, you'll end up with a better room, and maybe even a fruit basket. If you are a jerk, you will get the "standard" response. And your "jerk status" will be documented in your permanent hotel record -- for everyone to see the next time you have a problem.

• Be concise, don't embellish

Just deal with the basic issue and what you want as compensation. If you mention every little problem that has arisen since you entered the hotel, you'll sound like a whiner. The real problem will get obscured.

• Be honest

Remember, everybody is wired now. Don't say that you are a top-tier program member is you're not (they check). Just be specific and accurate.

• Say "thank you"!

If the problem has been resolved to your satisfaction, thank everyone involved and drop a note to the General Manager naming the individuals who helped. This will stand you in good stead the next time something happens (and something always happens).

IF YOU ARE STILL NOT SATISFIED, TAKE NAMES

Write down all the pertinent information about your problem, dates, room number, staff names, etc. while it is fresh in your mind.

• Put it in writing

Send an email and a letter to the appropriate hotel executives. Most hotel web sites now have specific areas to file email complaints. Embassy Suites even has a special email address -- embassy_unsatisfied@promus.com . Remember the rules: clear, calm, concise and tell them what you want for compensation. Hotels handle complaints from their web sites ahead of other online services.

• CC the World

Be sure to copy the hotel company president, as well as the regional executives that your hotel manager reports to. The hotel senior officers are often inundated with complaint letters and the information gets forwarded to a complaint department where standard policy is enforced. Your hotel General Manager usually reports to a regional officer who determines his or her fate. This person does not always have a large staff and they are very interested in learning about the service at "their" hotels. Let them know about your problem. You can locate their name by calling the company headquarters.

It's a great feeling when you finally get your problem resolved. Just don't waste a lot of precious time complaining ineffectively.

 
SAFETY FIRST

The recent cruise ship disaster near Santorini, Greece, is a reminder to pull out your ear buds and actually listen at the next safety briefing on a ship or plane. While both cruise ships and airplanes have strong safety records, things can go awry -- and you need to know what to do, where to go, what to bring. Don't wait for an emergency to discuss your family plan of action in case you get separated.

Cruise basics:

• Don't hurry, don't panic.

• If you're near your cabin, grab your life jacket. If not, go directly to your muster station.

• Bring medications, your glasses, cellphone, identification, room key and credit cards, and a jacket. Wear shoes.

On a plane:

• Follow the attendants' directions.

• If the oxygen mask drops, put it on yourself before you try to help children or someone else.

• Count the number of rows between you and the nearest exit; if the cabin gets smoky, you'll need to ''feel'' your way out.

• Keep your cellphone and wallet handy; if evacuation is required, you won't be able to snag them from the overhead locker.

In a hotel:

• When you first get to your room, locate the nearest exit; study the floor plan on the back of your room door.

• Keep a robe and shoes handy; you don't want to end up in the street barefoot or naked.

• Put glasses, medications, room key, car keys and your wallet together in case you need to make a dash.

• Don't take the elevator.


Remember: Without a travel agent you're on your own


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