World’s best free spa treatments, British Airways elite program changes and Hilton finally adds some excitement (Saturday Selection)

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The world’s best free airport spa treatments, Hilton in talks to add a terrific hotel brand  and British Airways releases the most confusing elite program announcement of 2024. All that and more in this week’s Saturday Selection, our weekly round-up of interesting tidbits from around the interwebs (links to each article are embedded in the titles).

The best free spa treatments in the world (that you can find in an airport)

No one thinks “relaxing” when it comes to a visiting the airport. For most of us, especially if you have kids, airports are either synonymous with chaos…long line after long line, delays, rushing to make your gate…or with multi-hour layovers in a departure lounge or an overpriced restaurant. Lucky over at One Mile at a Time will tell you that there can be a completely different side to your airport visit, especially if you’re travelling in first class. He gives a tour of the best complimentary airport “spa” visits in the world; all the way from facials and hot stone back massages at the Qantas First Class lounge in Melbourne and Sydney to the free 10 minute treatments you can get by using your Priority Pass at Be Relax spas across the US. Who knew that airports could be so bougie?

Oneworld to introduce alliance-wide points and miles upgrades

Will it soon be possible to upgrade to Qatar Qsuites using miles?

Wouldn’t it be awesome to be able to upgrade a Qatar flight with your AA miles? Or a Cathay Pacific flight with your Alaska miles? According to Gerhard Girkinger, who incidentally has my favorite name of any airline executive, that’s exactly what the oneworld Alliance is going to make happen this year. Mr. Girkinger is the “Customer Experience Chief” for oneworld, and he recently told Executive Traveler (ET) that alliance-wide upgrades are “at the top of our list” for 2024. Sounds great! The one teensy caveat is that oneworld started saying this in 2020 and has been teasing us with easy, appealing upgrades every since. Outside of saying that this functionality will start with a “small handful of airlines” and eventually move to all 13 (soon to be 14), there’s no details about which airlines will be involved, how these will be implemented or what the upgrades will cost. I hate to be a doubting Tim, but – as much as I hope that this is the year – I’ll believe it when I see it. Until then, I’m rooting hard for Team Girkinger.

Hilton plans to acquire Graduate Hotels

Graduate Hotel Ann Arbor, Michigan (Image courtesy of Graduate Hotels)

Hilton has been on the move this week, in welcome and surprising ways. The big news hit on Wednesday, when the hotel chain announced that it would be the new, exclusive partners of Small Luxury Hotels of the World (SLH), wresting the association of blingy independent properties away from Hyatt’s distracted grasp. Earlier in the week, however, there was more under-the-radar news that I think might actually end up being a bigger positive for many Hilton fans. Turns out Hilton is trying to acquire Graduate Hotels, a smaller, boutique chain that targets college towns in the US (primarily) and the UK. I’ve been to a fair amount of the Graduate properties…and I really, really like them. The design is uniformly terrific, with chic bars/restaurants, local color and prime locations in many desirable small to mid-size US college towns. Not only are the hotels themselves appealing, but my assumption is that standard room availability will be much more plentiful than with SLH, where I can imagine astronomically-priced premium rewards will be the rule. This isn’t a done deal yet, but it sounds like it’s gonna happen…and if it does, it will be a win for Hilton Honors members.

British Airways wins award for most confusing program rollout of 2024

a red telephone booth next to a train

In rewards program speak, “program year” or “membership year” refers to the time period in which elite-qualifying miles (EQM) are accumulated in order to attain status for the next year. Most airlines’ membership years are the same as the calendar year, but some are slightly offset, like AA, whose program year goes from March 1st – end of February. Then there’s British Airways. BA’s “tier point collection year” has been based on the 12 months after you first signed up for the program or took a credited BA flight. This meant that there were effectively 12 different elite-qualifying years for its members, depending on the month that they enrolled in the program. For instance, you could have a family of four whose program year ends in January, April, September and December, because they each joined the program in different months (by the way, kudos the to record-keeping folks at BA). This week, BA made the fairly benign and understandable announcement that it would be standardizing all members’ membership years to run from April 1 through the following March. Easy enough. The problem was, they didn’t really explain how a person whose year ended in June would be affected differently vs someone who’s year ended in October. This managed to confuse thousands of people across the British Isles and beyond. Even the points and miles folks were befuddled. After a week of back and forth with BA, Head for Points, one of my favorite UK-based blogs, finally seemed to get a handle on it and published a month-by-month guide showing how members would be affected based on when their program year ended.

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Creditian

NYC is college town???

Andrew

Excited about the Graduate hotels potential to join Hilton. I haven’t stayed at one yet but have seen them popping up in college towns I’ve lived in or visited, and they are very nice. In small towns they might be among the best hotels in town and in larger cities are still one of the better options if you are attending events in that part of town.

Some interesting potential as a good spots to stay in larger cities. The location under construction in Austin is steps from the capitol building. In Madison it’s practically on the waterfront. The Tucson location is just off campus from where I lived there, right on the street car line to downtown & 4th Ave with a cool looking rooftop pool. If they keep expanding into more urban campuses it will offer some potential for good redemptions during big festivals and events in those cities.

Lee

Regarding upgrades, award inventory is the problem. And, we’ve seen how airlines have become with granting premium cabin award inventory to partners. So, forgive me if I’m skeptical that we’ll hear anything other than anecdotal reports of upgrades. When we hear that AA has opened up FF award inventory on transcon flights (other than oh-dark-thirty departure times) to partners, wake me up.

YoniPDX

RIP Concorde Room – was really nice perk when flying BA First pre-C19, the cabana’s were nice as well but they converted them all to showers

Last edited 3 months ago by YoniPDX
Lee

It’s still nice. The real tragedy is the loss of the JFK T7 Concorde Room. The Chelsea Lounge is no comparison — a victim of AA’s cost containment mantra.

YoniPDX

@Lee
Agreed but the loss of Spa treatments, Cabanas, and Laurent Perrier Grand Siecle champagne devalues the CR experience (while not the best F hard/soft product available) its become more mediocre – the mixed FA crew (noobs with the tenured FA) crew interaction is truly a crap shot. Unionized FA in IAG ranks, unlike ME3 – stop the aging out of FA over 30 as well as attentive FA’s (ME3 FA’s are always worried about being terminated over poor performance or complaints – they also tend to be sourced from developing nations and they are paid a much higher wage than they can earn locally).

Lee

Unquestionably, Alex Cruz demolished the brand’s image. Long-tenured employees carry the service culture/ethos of an organization. When tenured FAs were replaced based on cost, BA lost its service culture/ethos. I’ve experienced it. I know what you mean.

Under the current CEO, BA is doing some soul-searching. The Board of Directors needs to make a choice as to what kind of airline it wants to be. Waitrose or Tesco.

YoniPDX

Yes, Alex was a perfect fit for LCC Veuling – but he also brought too much AA/Doug Parker culture to IAG.

I now lean more to United Airlines – Polaris lounge is acceptable- while not CR level – its a step above the Centurion

Lee

While I haven’t been in every Centurion Lounge, each one that I have been in has felt like a Greyhound bus station (with a bar). Can you imagine seeing a guy loading up a gym bag with food from the buffet? Not just a little something for the road. I mean completely stuffing the gym bag. No thanks.

YoniPDX

I also think the food quality has definitely declined post C19. The CL in SFO used to have amazing food. But its been pretty blah since 2021 and after the remodel/expansion. If we didn’t great value from FHR/Airline – definitely wouldn’t keep it for the CL. The PP lounges in the US are also just so-so.