Other hotel pet peeves

June 5, 2017

A couple of years ago, I wrote about some annoyances I encountered while staying at hotels.  Last night, at a fairly upscale hotel associated with a casino in the northeast, I encountered a few more.

When I entered the room, the bed had been turned down, chocolates had been placed on it, and the radio had been turned on.  I turned off the radio, and didn’t notice that the alarm had been left on by the previous guest.  My blissful sleep was rudely interrupted by the alarm at 6:00 a.m., long before my intended hour of waking.  I don’t think it’s incumbent upon the hotel guest to figure out whether the alarm clock in a hotel room (of which there are infinite confusing varieties) has been armed; that should be an item on the housekeeping check list, especially when a housekeeper is tasked with turning on the same radio as part of the hotel’s turn down service.

Were it not for the rude awakening I experienced, I would not be writing this.  But as long as I’m ranting, this hotel had a loose faucet in the bathroom sink that no housekeeper could have missed while cleaning the room.  The room, recently (and apparently expensively) renovated, also had a paucity of soft surfaces, such as drapes and rugs.  While I was on the phone, I sounded like I was in an echo chamber, and noises from the hallway and other rooms were quite audible.  The heavy doors also clanged loudly when closed by guests.

I do not envy the jobs of hotel housekeepers, whom I’ve heard work to a very tight schedule and sometimes encounter the messes left very inconsiderate guests that make their jobs more difficult and increase the pressures on them.  However, I think they are the crucial eyes and ears that must be trained to look for certain things, and correct or report them, before the room is released to a guest. Management, please take note.


Buried lede

March 2, 2017

Here’s a headline and story from USA Today that appears to unquestioningly accept the modern corporate culture that protects overpaid executives from the consequences of their mistakes.

Why isn’t the headline something like “Exec on whose watch company lost billions in value and exposed customers’ data to abuse keeps job and ‘golden parachute;’ takes slap on wrist.”

 


Health care conundrums

February 17, 2017

As I advance in age, I am exposed more and more to the health care industry, despite having enjoyed relatively good health until recently.  As a retired New York State employee, I am blessed with excellent health insurance that covers most doctor visits, medical tests and procedures, as well as prescription drugs, with only a relatively modest co-pay. Here are a few observations:

First, it appears that many of our health problems are what a friend of mine calls “diseases of affluence.”  More appropriately, they should be called “diseases of lifestyle,” since they affect people of all socioeconomic strata.  A lot of these are directly influenced by government policies.  For instance, our auto-centric physical infrastructure minimizes the opportunities for and pleasures of walking and cycling, and cannot help but contribute to obesity and other problems based on lack of physical activity.  Our government subsidies to cane sugar and corn (the main ingredient of high fructose corn syrup) help make junk food and sugared soft drinks attractively priced.  This is especially so for the poor, since the SNAP program (formerly known as Food Stamps) allows their purchase with SNAP benefits.  If we collectively spent more on complete streets that were friendly to pedestrians and cyclists, as well as cars, how much could we save on health care (not to mention on school transportation)?  How about if we stopped subsidizing sugar?  I think it would be worth a try.

For all the criticism leveled against it, the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) has achieved something great — it has shifted the dialog from whether health care insurance should be extended to many of those who don’t have it to how the present system should be replaced or improved.  Neither Trump nor his minions are suggesting that those who obtained health insurance through Obamacare should lose it, meaning that they recognize that there is no going back on government’s commitment to growing numbers of its citizens.  Whether things actually get better or worse remains to be seen, but at least no one is talking a bout a pre-Obamacare “reset.”  To me, that is yuge.


Before you go to Rivers

February 2, 2017

I.

Its February 8 opening imminent, the Rivers Casino’s public relations operation is flooding the area with advertising and press releases.  The photos I’ve seen of the casino portray a modern, tastefully appointed property that reminds me of some of the nicer off-Strip properties in Las Vegas, such as the M Resort and Red Rock Station.  The restaurants look inviting.  But is it a place where you will want to spend your hard-earned money?

Casinos operate on the principle that they pay out less than the true odds on their games.  An illustration will explain this:  A fair coin, over a large number of tosses, will result in an equal number of heads and tails.  In a game in which you bet on the outcome, the true odds would be even.  Thus, if you bet a dollar on each toss, and lose your bet on heads, but win a dollar on tails, you are paid true odds, and the casino (and the player), in the long run, would break even on the game, which is not a sustainable business model.  Instead, for your dollar bet you may be paid 85 or 90 cents when you win (the casino keeping your dollar if you lose), the difference between the payoff amount and the dollar that would represent fair odds going to overhead and profit.  The difference between true odds and actual payouts can be roughly expressed as the “house edge.”

So, if virtually assured a long term loss, why would anyone gamble?  There are many answers to that question.  However, for the sake of simplicity, let’s choose the most common one – one gambles because of the possibility of “getting lucky.”  While the coin toss will result in equal numbers of heads and tails over a long run, the results are “streaky” — they may come in bunches of heads and bunches of tails, some fairly long.  This volatility can make players winners in the short run.  A well run casino recognizes the necessity of volatility and the winners it produces, and often advertises those who hit large slot jackpots, hoping to persuade others to try their luck.    Because the casino is dealing with a large number of players over a long time, volatility is not nearly as much a factor for it, and it will profit despite the short term winners if its business model is sound.

The more often one gambles, and the more one bets, the more one moves from the short term to the long term.  Volatility recedes in influence, and the house edge asserts itself more consistently.  This is why the educational materials addressed to problem gamblers and potential problem gamblers emphasize that “chasing losses” by continuing to bet seldom works and most often leads to more losses.

II.

A great truth almost never addressed by casinos, their regulators or the general news media is that not all casinos are alike.  In addition to offering different games and amenities, casinos have a wide latitude in adjusting their house edge on many games.  On some games, the player can calculate the house edge.  As I have written, video poker is one of those games. Similarly, the house edge in blackjack can be computed.  Other games, notably slot machines other than video poker, do not readily yield their payoff percentages or volatility.  As I previously wrote, the video poker offered by other casinos run by the company that manages the Rivers has relatively high house edges, and I expect the same here, given the high taxes and fees the Rivers must pay the State.  A recent check of the Rivers web site reveals that its single and double-deck blackjack games will pay 6:5 on a blackjack, which sends the house edge for those games into the unplayable stratosphere (the casino also will offer “shoe games” using more decks that will pay the traditional 3:2 for blackjacks; depending on the other factors, those games may or may not have a reasonable house edge).

If you have guests arriving for dinner in a few minutes, and suddenly find yourself out of something you need to finish the meal, you will go to the nearest store and pay whatever the cost, so that you can return in time to have the meal ready when your guests arrive.  That’s the principle behind convenience stores.  However, for your weekly shopping, particularly if you have a large family, you are likely to be more price conscious, even if it means a longer drive to a larger store.

From the presently available evidence, I predict the Rivers will be on the convenience store end of the spectrum.  If you are a casual, low stakes gambler, and the location is convenient, the comps and offers generous (which remains to be seen) and the atmosphere enjoyable, you can enjoy a day or night out at a reasonable cost if you limit the amount you bring, prepare to lose it, and leave the ATM card at home.  However, if you are a more regular gambler, you may wish to take it easy until you have an idea of how you may be expected to do compared to at the venues you presently frequent.

 

 

 

 


Worst coupon ever

October 8, 2016

Recently, I received via e-mail the coupon below from EMS, an outdoors store.  Needing to buy an expensive Thule roof rack component for my new car, I went to EMS rather than a competitor, hoping to use the coupon, though suspecting it might not be accepted.

I was or was not disappointed, depending on one’s point of view.  When I presented the e-mail on my phone, the sales clerk relied on the small-type words, “exclusions apply,” and scrolled down past a lot of other content to the bottom of the e-mail, which contained, in even smaller type that I had not noticed, a long list of items to which the coupon would not apply, including, of course, Thule products.  My usual argument, that “any one item” is directly contrary to “exclusions apply,” and that the statement in larger type should apply, fell on deaf ears.

Though I probably should not have, I bought the item anyway, as I was there, it was in stock and I probably could not have gotten it for less anywhere else.

I concede that the facts that the coupon did not apply to everything in the store, and that the item I wanted to buy  was one of the “exclusions,” were displayed in the e-mail, and that I was aware of the first, which should have led me to look for the second.  Does this mean that I have no reason to be disgruntled?

I contend it does not.  The format of the 20% offer – with a seemingly unqualified offer in large type, followed by increasingly restrictive words in increasingly small type – seem to me calculated to attract customers into the store as well as to limit the number of tendered coupons that actually have to be honored, thus limiting the cost of the promotion.  Of course, the cost of losing customers who feel they weren’t treated fairly is not factored in by the marketing bean counters.

I wrote to the company, pointing out the direct conflict between “any one item,” and “exclusions apply,” suggesting that honesty would require the use of some qualifier such as “any one specified item” or the like.  I will let you know if I receive a response.

EMS is not the only retailer using this type of coupon, though its list of exclusions is the least conspicuous I have seen.  I believe government regulation should prohibit the use of seemingly unqualified offers unless the fact that there are exceptions, and the list of specific exceptions, appear in the same size type as the original statement.  Such regulation would, of course, be decried as intrusive and unnecessary by the weasels whose antics precipitated the need for it.

 

 


More consumer frustration

June 20, 2016

I recently bought a plastic bottle of after shave, and experienced frustration in being unable to control the amount of product that came out of the bottle.  Here’s the message I wrote to the company:

I like your product, but the hole in the plastic insert at the opening of the bottle is way too big. Much more of the product than intended comes out every time I use it, causing me to waste a great deal of the product. You should buy the inserts your competitors use, which have much smaller openings that allow the user much more control over how much of the product comes out.

Within a very short time, I received a personalized response to my message:

Thank you for contacting us regarding * * *. We welcome all comments about our products.

We conducted several packaging tests with an automated dispenser to determine the internal shape of the orifice reducer as well as the orifice diameter that would provide the same “dose” as the glass sprinkler finish. It was based on these test results that the current plug was designed. For proper application of the After Shave, please try not to squeeze the bottle while applying the product. We are also filling the bottles with more product (to maintain our shelf size/impression) and the longer use-up rate.

Were I a professor in an MBA program (heaven forbid), I would give this company relatively high marks for the promptness of its reply, and for attempting to address the specific concern I expressed in my communication.  However, although the message attempted to justify the use of the bottle insert that I found problematic, I would take away points because it did so not by stating that the insert used met most of its customers’ needs, or that it would re-evaluate the situation based on my and others’ suggestions, but because it replicated the previously-used glass packaging, whether that packaging met its customers’ needs or not.

I replied that tests of the insert on human customers might be more helpful than automated dispensing tests, and that I did not squeeze the bottle when dispensing the product, but I did not receive a further response.

Bottom line — I will not buy this product again.  Every time I use it, half of what is dispensed goes down the drain, wasted.  I don’t really care about whether the present container has the same dispensing characteristics as a previously-used container, and I don’t care about shelf size/impression and longer use-up rate (whatever they are).  As a professor, I would deduct further points for use of undefined industry jargon in a response to a lay person.

Another pet peeve:  the response to my original inquiry was “signed” by an employee who gave only her first name.  I suppose in an age when many customer service people won’t even give you that information unless you beat it out of them, I guess that’s above-average.


Switching cell phone carriers – again

May 13, 2016

I have written extensively about my experiences with Verizon and, later, Consumer Cellular.  Both companies provided good service (Consumer Cellular, I am told, runs off the AT&T network; Verizon has its own network).  When I switched to Consumer Cellular, I bought myself an unlocked GSM phone, noting at the time it would allow me to switch carriers if things didn’t work out.

After my initial disappointment with Consumer Cellular’s less than transparent disclosure of the optional fees it chose to impose, I was basically a satisfied customer.  Consumer Cellular’s model is to have tiered voice and data/text plans that charge different rates for different levels of use.  Customers can change plans at will, even retroactively, within each billing period.  Thus, if you go over your voice minutes or data use, you can step up to a higher plan after the fact, as long as your billing period hasn’t expired.  Consumer Cellular helps with usage alerts and an app that lets you monitor your usage, though accurate totals often take hours or days to show up, which can cause a problem if your cumulative usage approaches you plan limit near the end of your billing period.

The problem for me was not so much on the voice end (I usually stayed within the 250 minute plan, with minutes being charged on every incoming or outgoing call, regardless of day or time).  Data allowances were very low, however, and if you went over 150 mb per month, you would end up paying over $30 per month with taxes and fees.  While staying within plans that cost under $30 per month usually was possible for me, I found I was worrying about usage more than I should, and not using my phone in situations where using it would be more convenient for me.

I therefore started looking at other carriers.  Not a major data user (as a result of having to monitor my use as a Consumer Cellular customer), and seeing that most plans now offer unlimited talk and text, I considered two carriers — MetroPCS, which offers a $30 plan with one gigabyte of data, and Cricket, which offers a $40 plan (which can be reduced to $35 with auto-pay enrollment) with 2.5 g of data.  The prices for both plans include all taxes and fees, and there are no extra charges if you go over your data limit — instead, you get “throttled” down to dial-up speeds for the rest of the billing period.

In part because I was satisfied with AT&T’s service while I was a Consumer Cellular customer (MetroPCS runs on the T-Mobile network), and in part because of the higher data allowance, I opted to try Cricket.  I saw on the web site a $50 offer for new customers (that would offset the cost of a new SIM card and activation) and stopped in at my local retailer to talk.  That retailer told me it could not honor the $50 offer; and it directed me to one of the stores that could.  There, I was told that my Consumer Cellular number was “owned” by AT&T, which owns Cricket, and as to which the offer did not apply. However, he offered me a $20 rebate available to AARP members, of which I am one.  I decided to take the plunge.

The switch over (“porting” in industry lingo) took a few hours, and everything worked after the process was complete.  I would rate the process as relatively painless.

So far, my experience with Cricket has been good.  I’ve had no operational or coverage issues at all.  I still have my phone set to use wi fi by default, and see no problem staying well within the 2.5 g monthly data allowance.

One nice feature Cricket offers is unlimited talk, data and texting in Canada and Mexico on higher priced plans.  The Cricket sales rep told me it was easy to temporarily switch plans, and I may give it a try when I take a planned trip to Canada later this summer.