Sunday musings: Ribbon through clouds, racism and budget hotels? Pointless airline miles?


Sometimes highways are more than only a means of transportation. Is racism rearing its ugly head when it comes to budget hotels? And, taking another look at frequent flier programs.

A concrete ribbon through the clouds

Sometimes a trip on a highway becomes more than simply a trip from Point A to Point B. The uniqueness of the trip might be scenery, such as the mighty mountain passes of Grossglockner Pass might claim. It might be underground engineering like that found on the road spiraling to Norway’s fjords on the way to or from Bergen. Or, it might be the epic Millau Viaduct that soars so high for so long that one can feel like a bird.

… it had the highest road deck in Europe, the tallest piers and highest bridge tower in the world, and the longest launch of a bridge deck. It even displaced the Eiffel Tower as the country’s tallest structure. Engineers took the curvature of the Earth into their calculations. But more than a wonder of epic size and technology, the gracefully curved bridge, supported on needlelike piers, is a masterpiece of daring and majesty. It was clear from the start that this bridge is much more than an expedient path between points A and B.

… it is a colossal piece of land art that completes the landscape, arguably making it better, adding majesty to the serenity of the hillscape. The viaduct occupies the air and lingers in the sky, only lightly tethered to the ground.

Tellingly, motorists who cross the bridge from the south often turn off just beyond the abutment at the north and turn around to park and admire the bridge they have just crossed. They came across a thrill, as though driving in the sky, and now they want to see it. The Viaduct Millau is a beautiful object as well as a beautiful experience.

Are travelers racists when it comes to lodging?

In a twisted backlash, it seems that budget motel owners who originally immigrated from India are being faced with a racist reality here in the USA. Signs are popping up at low-cost motels and hotels saying, “American Owned.” They don’t say as opposed to some other nationality, but Asians are feeling the heat.

The numbers are big: The Asian American Hotel Owners Assocation (AAHOA), founded in 1989, now represents more than 11,000 members at 20,000 hotels nationwide. Collectively, that’s $128 billion in property value and $9.4 billion in annual payroll.

The economic downturn slammed the United States’ roadside hotel industry, and as properties went on sale at bottomed-out prices, they gave Indian families a rung on the ladder to operate businesses of their own. Hotels furnish places for a proprietor’s family to live and then to assimilate into their new American communities.

…Appraising the value of affordable hotels is one of the cornerstones of Frommer’s. We can tell you from 58 years of budget travel experience that dirty rooms and poor service are not particular to any skin tone or germane to any nationality.

Are frequent flier miles pointless?

Frequent flier miles are getting harder to earn with changes in which fares get what kinds of miles; harder to keep with shorter expiration times; harder to use with fewer award seats; and more expensive to use with new fees and surcharges. Are frequent flier programs worth it any more for the occasional traveler?

A perfect storm of airline mergers, frequent-flier program changes and reduced flight capacity could make it tougher and more expensive for travelers to redeem miles in coming months, experts say. Travelers who can’t reasonably expect to earn elite status and the free upgrades, priority boarding and other perks that come with it may be better served these days by chasing fare sales and using a cash-back credit card instead of one branded to a particular airline.

Photo: Courtesy Foster and Partners