|By Hugo Martin, Los Angeles
TimesMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
March 11, 2013--Here's another sign the economy is stronger: Several major hotel chains are significantly raising the number of loyalty reward points needed to book a free room.
It's a simple matter of supply and demand, said Joe Brancatelli, who writes an online column on business travel. An improving economy has spurred more travel, prompting hotels to raise rates.
"Demand is up so they can charge more," he said of hotels adjusting their reward points programs.
Most of the chains adopting point hikes are shifting hotels to a higher tier in their respective programs. Each tier designates the points needed to stay in that hotel. The higher the tier, the more points needed.
For example, Starwood Preferred Guests, the program for the Westin, Sheraton and W hotels, among others, raised the rate by at least 25% on nearly 250 hotels. The changes took place Tuesday.
Wyndham Rewards, which includes Days Inn and Howard Johnson, is raising the points requirement by as much as 66% on about 1,600 hotels around the world. At an additional 2,900 or so hotels the rates are dropping, and they are staying the same at about 2,700 hotels. The changes take place Thursday.
Hilton HHonors, which covers Hampton Inn, DoubleTree, Embassy Suites and Waldorf Astoria, among others, is hiking the points requirement on many of its hotels 14% to 50%. The changes start March 28.
The Marriott Rewards program, which includes Fairfield, Courtyard, Ritz-Carlton and TownePlace Suites, will raise the points requirement by at least 33% for more than 1,300 of its hotels. The program also created a higher tier for its most expensive hotels. The changes take effect May 16.
Laurie Goldstein, a spokeswoman for Marriott, said hotels typically reevaluate their rewards program each year. "We make these changes every year based on market demand," she said.
But Brancatelli said the latest changes are atypical. "Individually and taken together the changes this year are really draconian," he said.
Delta adding new flights from LAX
Delta Air Lines is bullish about Los Angeles.
The Atlanta-based carrier, the third-largest at Los Angeles International Airport, is adding 17 new flights to eight new destinations, boosting the number of seats from LAX by 12%.
In addition, Delta has teamed up with airport officials to invest $160 million in upgrades at its terminals, including adding last summer a luxury bar at the SkyTeam lounge. (Instead of helping themselves at a self-serve bar, members can now order a drink from a bartender.)
Why the big investment in L.A.?
Los Angeles is one of the nation's top domestic markets for corporate travel, said Bob Cortelyou, Delta's senior vice president for network planning.
"The economy is strong and it's time for us to take advantage and expand the Delta experience in Los Angeles," he said.
LAX is already in the midst of a $4.1-billion modernization, which will include an expansion of the Tom Bradley International Terminal and 18 new gates for international passengers. Work is expected to be completed in 2014.
Hotel offers service to improve sleep
If you have trouble getting a good night's sleep at a hotel, the folks at the Benjamin Hotel in Manhattan think they have just what you need.
First of all, the 209-room hotel offers a pillow menu, with a choice of 12 different pillows, including a hypoallergenic and water-filled pillow.
The hotel also offers "white noise" machines that play soothing sounds to get your mind at ease. The hotel's spa can also send a masseuse to your room.
But the Benjamin took its sleep program one step further last week by introducing a "work-down call," the opposite of a wake-up call. You can arrange to have a sleep concierge call at a designated time to remind you to get ready for bed.
"We advise our guests to shut down all electronic devices and just unwind about an hour before you go to bed; that way you are guaranteed to get some rest," said Anya Orlanska, head of the hotel's sleep concierge team. "If you don't get the proper amount of sleep, you are not going to be able to function."
Such luxuries don't come cheap. The rates at the Benjamin range from about $350 to $1,400 a night for the VIP suite.
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