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Gary Leff: I showed up at the wrong Hyatt in Miami, because I went to the one I always go to not realizing that I had a reservation for a different one and fortunately they just shifted my reservation to the one that I happened to be standing in.

Ed Pizza: But it's not why I'd give Marriott $20,000 worth of business on a yearly basis. As a road warrior, I'd want more service than that.

Speaker 3: Climb a board. This is the Miles to Go podcast, your source for the latest in travel news, reviews and strategies you can't afford to miss. And now here's your host, travel expert and road warrior, Ed Pizza.

Ed Pizza: Hey guys. Welcome back to the Miles to Go podcast. Flying solo this week as we lead up to Thanksgiving with episode 201. And if you didn't get a chance to listen to episode 200 last week, I hope you'll hit the rewind and button and take a listen. It's been four years of podcasting and I am still enjoying each and every week that we sit down in front of the microphone. We've got a mosquito bite interview with my buddy, Gary Leff, of View from the Wing. But before we get to that, I have a few listener questions to answer and a bit of travel news. Before we dive into that, a quick reminder that you guys can shoot us any questions you have. We'd be happy to answer them on a future show. I'd love answering questions back and forth via email, I'll put people on social media.
You can email me, ed@pizzainmotion.com, and you can text or leave us a voicemail at (571) 293-6659. And don't worry about writing that down if you're on a treadmill or behind the wheel, I will put both of those in the show notes for you. Lastly, you could always hit me up on social media, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, all @pizzainmotion. And if you are enjoying the show and want to help us out, please leave us a five star rating or review wherever you are doing your listening. So first off I got a quick listener comment. Wanted to thank Jeff for writing in. He says he's only been listening to me since the pandemic started, really appreciates the information that we provide. He also enjoys all of our RV stories and my interactions with Richard Kerr.
He says, "You steered away from getting an RV, though my wife would've made it a hard pass when I brought it up. I just applied for the Bilt MasterCard and was approved and will hopefully get this month's rent applied to it." It looks like we're talking Bilt even when Mr. Kerr is not on the podcast. For those that may not have listened in the past, Bilt is a newer card that came out geared towards renters, but they made some pretty significant changes recently that make it a really valuable card to take a look at it. Doesn't have a sign up bonus. So that's something that turns some folks off, but it has some really interesting travel partners, including American Airlines, which is something you don't find very often in the city. Just ended their very short transfer partner arrangement with American Airlines for a temporary transference.
And now Bilt's the only name in town and I don't receive any sort of compensation if you sign up for it. So to take that with a grain of salt. If you do want early access to the card, you can use the code a PIM, as in Pizza in Motion, the number four and Bilt, and we'll put that code in the show notes. We've also got a listener question and it's about Radisson Rewards, a program that doesn't get a ton of attention but has some really great properties overseas. Not so much in the US, but stronger overseas. And this goes back to an interview that we did with Radisson executives when they made some pretty significant changes to the program earlier in the year. One of our listeners, John, asked why he couldn't book European hotels from his Radisson account.
And while he didn't say this, I knew that his problem was that he has a US based Radisson account. And so this is due to a change in the program that they made, where essentially they split the program up into two. It's a US based program and then everything else. And there were some political-ish reasons having to do with China and ownership rules and stuff like that for the split that we won't really dig into, but not much has changed in terms of how the program works in redeeming points. You just need to create a Radisson Rewards international account and then you just link that to your US based account and you transfer your points over to that international account before booking that European room. Everything else pretty much remains the same.
There were also some pretty major changes to the Radisson Rewards program earlier in the year, and I'll link to that in the show notes in case you guys are interested in hearing more about that. Two quick travel bits before we have our interview with Gary. So Marriott covers both of our stories this week. First off, and boy this would've been a great week for Kerr to be on with us because resort fees are the hill he's going to die on, in my opinion, Marriott struck a deal with the Pennsylvania, I'm guessing, district attorney to essentially include resort fees in their upfront pricing. And for those that aren't aware, resort fees are these persnickety fees that popped up at a lot of properties nowadays, even a bunch that aren't really resorts, and they're essentially just an extra tax, if you will, on top of the room rate, except it doesn't go to the government, it goes into the hotel owner's pocket.
And it's usually very opaque. It's not listed early in the booking process. On third party booking engines, sometimes you don't see it at all until very late in the process or not at all. And there are ways to show it on the Marriott website but it's something that you have to opt into as opposed to opting out of. This is the first state that's really pushed Marriott on this thought process of making sure these fees are disclosed up front. I'm going to be interested to see how it looks, how it's displayed, because, as I said, Marriott already has a feature where you can opt into showing resort fees. They just choose to opt everybody out of it and you have to manually opt your way in.
So I don't know if their solution to this will just be to turn accounts from Pennsylvania residents into an opt-in status instead of an opt-out status, or if they're planning to display things in a more meaningful way, change their interface. And I think the big key there is, for a company the size of Marriott, to have a website that's just geared towards people from Pennsylvania and then hide this for everyone else. That's essentially a fork in their development, if you will, in terms of their code and I'm not entirely sure that Marriott would choose to have two separate websites at that point with this information, they might just adopt this across all of their sites. The downside is how these rates display on third party platforms, Expedia, Travelocity, places like that.
It is less evident to us at this point. So I think there's some wait and see here, but this definitely a move in the right direction. I'm not a guy that hates resort fees as much as, say, my buddy Kerr, but they are annoying in that I just wish a hotel would give me the bottom line number as opposed to playing hide the ball. And any rate, I think this is a good start to what will likely be more transparency. We've seen the airlines have to do this in terms of how they represent their pricing and it's been a little surprising that it hasn't happened sooner for the hotel industry. There are a number of states that have pressed the hotel companies either through the legislative or legal means to make these changes.
So don't think this is the last that we'll see of it, but I also don't know how long it'll take for this to become a groundswell, as opposed to just a blip where it is right now, where specifically it's unclear how big this'll be. So that's Marriott story number one of the week. And Marriott story number two involves the Marriott Ambassador program. And the story that I'll link to in the show notes is actually written by my buddy, Gary, who we're going to be interviewing here in just a minute. It references the fact that Marriott Ambassadors, which is a top level private concierges type service that Marriott has for their most loyal guests, that Marriott ambassadors are now working on a five day turnaround for email responses. And just some background here that when they started the Marriott Ambassador program, you had a personal ambassador, somebody who was assigned to you, you didn't just call into a pool of people, if you will. You had a specific person.
And this goes back to essentially a program that the Starwood Preferred Guest started before Marriott acquired them. And I had a great SPG ambassador, hope he's listening to the show this week, but he was super awesome and that changed over time, and at one point during the pandemic, they actually laid off a bunch of the ambassadors. And any rate, you're spending a ton of money to have an ambassador. Back in the olden days, if I remember correctly, had to spend $20,000 prior to the pandemic for that status, along with 100 nights in hotels. And they amended that during the pandemic. We're not sure where it's going to end up once the dust settles on the pandemic and things get back to some level of normal, if you will.
But I think this belies the whole point of having someone who handles your account. Five days is like a lifetime for a road warrior. I changed airline tickets and hotel reservations on a daily basis. And I couldn't imagine waiting five days for pretty much any answer other than hey, my stay didn't post and could you help me get my points posted? Which certainly is a valuable service that a concierge can provide, but it's not why I'd give Marriott $20,000 worth of business on a yearly basis. As a road warrior, I'd want more service than that. And it just makes me wonder, trying not to hop up on the soap box too high here, but it makes me wonder when you see this, that we know that Marriott believes that this should be a service catering to their highest level customers, and while all of those customers aren't necessarily going to be business traveler, road warrior types, a lot of them are.
And so you'd have to think they know enough about their customers over the years that a five day turnaround time would just be unreasonable to expect for a standard, if you will. I have a similar service through Hyatt, Hyatt as their My Hyatt Concierge service, or if you're a globalist member you get assigned a concierge who helps you, and it's somebody who's assigned to you. Now, when they're out of the office, there's a phone line you can call and you can talk to somebody else who's on the concierge team, but you have somebody who's assigned to you. And during that person's office hours, my current concierge, she's pretty responsive.
She's one of a number of concierges I've had over the years with Hyatt. Some of have been exceptional, some have been pretty poor, and there's some that have been average. I'd say she's in that average to above average range, I've had better concierges since I've had a hired concierge, which dates back probably almost 10 years now. But it's always been a personalized service, somebody who's got a file on me, they know I've got kids, they know I'm a business traveler, they know the places I go, and it really adds to the value of my travel. I can shoot them a quick email to make a change on a reservation. I can shoot quick questions about stuff. I can have them move stuff around. I can have them ask special requests for property, stuff like that.
So there's a lot of value in the service to me from a road warrior standpoint. I really struggle with some Marriott executives sitting in a room somewhere and saying that a five business day turnaround time would be sufficient for emails. So obviously they've got a phone desk that you can call in and get somebody on the phone whenever you want. I don't know what the hold times are on that desk. I've never tried calling it. So no specific experience there. We give them the benefit of the doubt and say that it's a quick pickup and not a long hold time. That is certainly something that you could do to get a quick response time.
But can't call from an airplane, which is why I always love the email service with Hyatt and with Starwood Preferred Guest back in the day. And I think they just really missed the mark here on response time and getting these customers who are spending $20,000 a year to really want to continue to patronize Marriott. It's still pandemic time. I understand things are still a bit sideways, but this one's just a little bit puzzling to me. Any rate, we're going to step aside for a little bit of music and we'll be right back with Gary on Mosquito Island with me. And after Gary and I are done, I'll be back to wrap up the show with a quick final two pennies about Thanksgiving and another listener comment we got. We'll be right back inaudible Miles to Go podcast. Back on the Miles to Go podcast. Continue our time on Mosquito Island. We are sitting here poolside at the bar and I have Gary Leff with me. Welcome back to the show, man.

Gary Leff: Well, thank you, sir. It is very good to be here on Mosquito Island.

Ed Pizza: It is the most unique place that I have podcasted so far, and we are going to do another quick mosquito bite segment starting with one of the favorite places that you've been.

Gary Leff: So here in the pool I was just talking with Greg Davis-Kean, Frequent Miler about the last trip to Tokyo. We both done Tokyo largely for sushi. And saw some of the great places there, and I was just reliving meals at Jiro Roppongi and Sushi Masuda.

Ed Pizza: And I miss Tokyo. My wife never got to go to the old Tsukiji Fish Market, it's one of the things I most regret, but I can't wait to go back to Tokyo either and to bring the kids, they're at that age now.

Gary Leff: We were talking too about just this incredible level at which they are producing fish and giving you the most creative things and what it means to just focus on achieving greatness at something right. Ans at the same time, they become really popular and well known. And so people who don't quite know what it is go because they're tourist attractions. And so it's a little bit of an interesting disconnect. I think that to really enjoy it, you should try to understand it in advance because in Japanese culture this is part of respecting what they are achieving, frankly, their art, and I just marveled at what they're able to do.

Ed Pizza: All right. So people look to us for all of the great ways that we find to travel on miles and points, mistake fairs, you name it, but we are definitely far from infallible. So talk about a mistake that you've made along the way.

Gary Leff: This is to be completely honest, I have made every mistake you can possibly make. If you go back to the early 90s, I let American Airlines miles expire. If you go a bit more recently, so I earned a bunch of American airline miles as a teenager, flying to Australia back when they flew to Australia last time before they stopped, it was DC-10 service via Honolulu. And so those miles expired, but actually several other mistakes have been made on Australia trips. One of them was a Virgin Australia flight back from Sydney where I knew Virgin flight one was a morning flight, but when I booked it, it was an afternoon flight and I didn't get a schedule update. I'm looking at my flight schedule.
I'd go to the airport for my one o'clock flight and it had left three hours earlier and it was a Delta award. And so Virgin Australia couldn't rebook me, it was a Delta ticket. And so I had to get Delta to put me on their own metal in revenue inventory the next day, two seats when they only had three for sale. And they actually put me up in the hotel for the night. So that was pretty good. On my first Australia trip as an adult, I was flying on a United Business class award, and I didn't use the lounge on the way out because I met friends for dinner in LA. On the way back, I used the lounge in Sydney, but it didn't occur to me that before my domestic connection, because I was coming off an international flight, that I had lounge access.
So this is long before I was really into miles and points. I had enough for an award. I was 22 years old. So I didn't realize I had lounge access so I snuck into the United Red Carpet Club at LAX not knowing that my ticket would've allowed me to go in. I've made other mistakes. I've shown up at the Novotel in Bangkok at the airport with a reservation for the wrong month.

Ed Pizza: We've all done that.

Gary Leff: Fortunately, they moved my reservation. I showed up at the wrong Hyatt in Miami, because I went to the one I always go to not realizing that I had a reservation for a different one and fortunately they just shifted my reservation to the one that I happened to be standing in. So, look, over time I've made every mistake.

Ed Pizza: So what's one of your favorite redemptions for miles and points that you look back on?

Gary Leff: Well, we were talking just a little bit ago about sushi in Tokyo and that happened to be on a Virgin Atlantic redemption for ANA first class, where 120,000 miles is still you a ANA first class round trip. Virgin Atlantic being a transfer partner of all the major bank currencies, where you so often see transfer bonuses. They'll put the award on a 24 hour hold for you. So you can lock in the availability before you do the transfer. And in general, with most of their partners, they're instant transfers so it's just super easy and great value. Of course, now it's a little bit harder to find at least two first class seats than it was. And I certainly wouldn't transfer points speculatively to Virgin Atlantic. First, because they do have the ability to hold the seat for a day.
But most importantly, because this is an award that is such an outsized value relative to what others would charge for the same thing. Usually instead of, say, 120,000 miles, your award's probably going to start with a two for a round trip. And so when you have an award that is orders of magnitude better than average, you can expect that it's not going to last. It's lasted longer than I've ever thought that it would. I think I first wrote about this in probably 2013. It's even better now relative to others because others have devalued. But writing about that, I remember I was literally sitting in the Hyatt Regency Danang writing about the best uses of Virgin Atlantic miles, and this one hasn't gone away and others have. It used to be incredible Air China first class, London, Beijing pricing, and that's been devalued. So you have to think that whenever their contract expires and it gets reupped, that it'll be more expensive.

Ed Pizza: How about one of your favorite loyalty programs?

Gary Leff: Well, I think that we're talking about ANA, ANA has phenomenal pricing. They're an AmEx transfer partner. They have phenomenal pricing that you have to book round trip, but their round trips are often not many more miles than one way awards on other carriers. Now, round trip can be the back half in coach to reduce the price, even if you're going to book a one way and throw that piece away, there are other things you can do, and they do add fuel surcharges onto awards, but for sheer number of low miles, the Asiana mileage program as well has incredibly cheap awards. That's going to go away because Korean Air has acquired Asiana.
And we all also know that Korean Air, during the pandemic, delayed their massive devaluation, but they'll eventually devalue as well. I'm very happy with Hyatt. Hyatt, the idea of their off peak and peak redemptions is a devaluation of their award chart. The points aren't going as far as they once did, but on the elite program side I'm a thoroughly satisfied customer because they give me access to suites in a way that other programs don't. They actually define what breakfast is. And so it isn't a banana and a bagel. I genuinely don't remember the last time that I checked into a Hyatt where I wasn't proactively asked if I wanted 04:00 PM late checkout.

Ed Pizza: That was what got me started on Hyatt in the first place, was because I was a Starwood guy and I started staying at the Hyatt Regency Denver for a contract that we were bidding on, and they asked me if I wanted my late checkout. And I thought I remember fighting for that benefit with Starwood consistently and it really took me back in terms of them leaning into what the benefits were, making sure that their front desk staff was enforcing it. We're super lucky to be sitting here on this awesome island in the middle of the Caribbean. I haven't done a ton of traveling myself as of late with the pandemic. What's one place you're looking forward to traveling to over the next handful of months or into 22?

Gary Leff: So I hope it's just a handful of months, but the place that I most desperately want to get to is to see my family in Australia. So they haven't been able to leave the country. In some cases, not only haven't they been able to leave their state, they haven't always been able to leave their city within their state. So family in Sydney hasn't been able to go see family in the northern part of New South Wales. So parents can't see grandkids. My cousin's wife hasn't seen her mother, who doesn't live in the country, in a couple years. That mother hasn't met her new grandchild. And so I've got family members that have been born during the pandemic that I haven't seen. And at the very least, they're going to be allowed to leave, finally.
And even as New South Wales residents, it looks like they're not going to be fully vaccinated. They're not going to be required to quarantine on return now. So that's helpful. I'll be able to see them when they leave the country. But I'm very much looking forward to getting back there. I have booked probably half a dozen of forward looking awards that I've mostly had to cancel. So last November I'm booking this past August thinking surely nine months into the future I'll be able to go, that hasn't worked out. So that's where I'm most looking forward. It's just reconnecting with family that I'm close to.

Ed Pizza: Well, we're getting closer. Like you said, there's no sure bet as to when that time will come. I've taken up enough of your pool time, so before you jump back in, tell folks where they can find you when you're not hanging out with me pool casting.

Gary Leff: Well, there's nothing wrong with pool casting because we're literally pool casting on the swim up bar, but you can find me at viewfromthewing.com and @garyleff on all the various platforms, at G-A-R-Y, L-E-F-F.

Ed Pizza: Thank you, Mr. Leff. We'll talk to you soon.

Gary Leff: Thank you sir.

Ed Pizza: Back to wrap up this week's show with the final two pennies. And thanks to Gary for taking a few minutes while we were away at Mosquito Island on an incredible trip to reconnect with me, as well as you guys, the listeners. And I want to give a quick shout out, a bit of an anonymous one. We put a poll out on Instagram last week and was asking about whether we should add video to the show, and when the listeners looped back and sent me a note and said that they've been struggling a little bit with what life has been thrown at them lately, but that they really look forward to the show on a weekly basis. And specifically when I got my buddies on, Summer and Kerr and Julian and all those folks, and that they look forward to the show dropping every week.
And 200 episodes in, I have a ton of fun with the show, and I have even more fun obviously when I've got folks on like Summer and Kerr and those folks who like to poke on at me and also poke fun at themselves and have fun with it. The miles and points world has changed how our family travels in such a meaningful way over the years. And it's really opened the eyes of our kids, my wife and I have been able to explore, but at the end of the day, it's just a ton of one. And I'm certainly incredibly fortunate for that. And it's why I enjoy doing the show on a weekly basis so that we can reach out and help more folks learn how to use these strategies that we've all discovered over the years to travel free or cheap for themselves and their families.
As an aside, if that means that you guys tune in on a weekly basis and find humor in what we're doing and we help make the day a little bit lighter, well that's just pretty darn cool where I come from. And so I'm certainly honored and touched to have that note from one of our listeners and certainly hope that we can continue you to make you guys laugh and put a smile on your face from time to time. It's Thanksgiving here in the US and so if you celebrate the holiday, this is a very happy Thanksgiving to you and your loved ones. Certainly I'll be enjoying that time with my family as well and then we'll be getting back out on the road. We're starting to think about trips that we want to book for next year. We don't have anything at all booked for 2022 yet, but I'm definitely jazzed up. My juices are flowing on where I want to go. We're chasing a few segments coming up. We're going to talk about elite status and what you should be doing next year.
I'll certainly have folks like Summer and Richard and Gary come on to give their views on what we think that should look like, and we're also going to try and chase Summer down after her next international trip to talk about what it's like out there. You might think things are getting better, but we did have a few new quarantines, new travel rules that have come out in the last few weeks. So as things have getting better in some places, they're also getting worse in others in terms of where you can get easily.
So definitely something to stay on top of. It doesn't mean you shouldn't be traveling. It means you should absolutely go into it eyes wide open so you know exactly what to expect and also have a backup plan or three just in case things go sideways. So hopefully we'll have Summer back on to check in and tell us what things are out there soon as well. That's what we're chasing for now, until we upload again, we've got miles to go. That's a full wrap on this week's episode, you can find links to everything we discussed today in the show notes. A big thanks to all of you for tuning into of this week's show. If any of you have questions or suggestions for a future show, you can drop me an email at ed@pizzainmotion.com or hit me up on social media, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, all @pizzainmotion. And you can find me blogging daily at pizzainmotion.com. Until we upload again, we've got miles to go.

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