There is a division in the USC Office of Admission. It causes heated debate. It can define travel. It certainly is something that defines a person. Are you Hilton or Marriott? (Or do you walk on the wilder side with ::GASP:: Starwood?) If you’ve seen Up In The Air, you’re familiar with this scene. Comparing rewards points programs, your status, and what you plan to do with your points are conversations that happen around every travel season. Personally, I am a Marriott, Hertz and Southwest gal but will spare you the details of why. The moral of the story is that once you select your loyalty program you should stick with it to reap the benefits. Much to my chagrin, I have to use Enterprise in San Antonio because they are $100 cheaper than Hertz for the week (#AdmissionProblems).
These programs give us something fun to aim and strategize for throughout our travel, but they also provide consistency and little perks along the way. I know people who will check in to a new Hilton every night to get Diamond status. Once you are Marriott Gold you get free WiFi and are more likely to get room upgrades. Now that I am Platinum, I get a check-in gift and access to the concierge floor which will have appetizers and drinks. With Hertz Gold, my rental car is waiting for me so I never have to wait in a check-in line and they have been known to give some sweet upgrades (i.e. that Jeep). To me, the biggest perk is just ease of travel. I know the routine and just want to get away from the airport and into my hotel room as quickly as possible.
I try to get my life on the road to mirror my real life as much as possible. My first stop in a new city is always Whole Foods to get water and snacks to keep in my car. I bring work out gear (which I sometimes use, like in real life) and try to wake up and go to bed around the same time each week…but sometimes a nap at 2pm is necessary. I find that consistency is really important to my sanity but sometimes a Milky Way, crackers, and iced coffee drink become my lunch.
We all have our own styles when it comes to filling time on the road. I keep an eye out for Groupon/Living Social deals so that I can get a massage or mani/pedi. Last year I got a haircut. I see movies. I just bought tickets to my first Moth StorySlam at its first event in Houston. Every year, Bon Appetit lists their top 50 new restaurants of the year and luckily some have always been in one or more of my territories. Last year, I tried Oxheart and since I was a eating alone and from Los Angeles they must have thought I was a critic or something because I have NEVER gotten service that good.
There is no doubt that all admission counselors spend a lot of time in their rental cars. You never want to schedule visits too tightly, but that means you can spend hours a day in a parking lot or killing time at a Starbucks/McDonalds/place-with-free-WiFi-and-clean-bathrooms between visits. Regionally, where you find these amenities will vary. Either way, a car upgrade is much appreciated when I spend almost as much time in the car as I do presenting each day. XM radio, easy storage for all my materials, and a comfortable drive are just little things that make each day a bit easier.
In essence, rewards programs and the accompanying perks are meant to make everything feel more like home. You don’t have to wait at a counter for your car; you just get into it like you would at home. You can check in to your hotel from your phone so keys are just waiting for you. Checking your bag and boarding a flight happen more smoothly. The more natural all of these steps are the less like an imposter I feel. I checked in to my first hotel yesterday and heard the words “thank you for being a platinum member” for the first of many times this season. As travel season begins, I hope your upgrades are bountiful and your Google drive times reliable. And, I hope to see you in that high school parking lot!