I have used Upside.com for business trips in the past with mixed results. I was shocked and amazed at what they sent me to remind me of why I should book business travel with them. Can you believe what Upside sent me?
Past Experience with Upside
Upside is an OTA (Online Travel Agency) started by a former Priceline founder Jay Walker that targets business travelers. By pairing consolidator airline tickets and hotel agreements, the company allows travelers flexibility when plans change but they don’t make the bookings entirely transparent. Consolidator fares cause problems for frequent flyers who rely on earning elite-qualifying dollars as the amount paid does not carry over into EQD, MQD, or PQD (whichever your particular airline calls them).
The prices are typically in line with what is found at other OTAs. Since Upside uses consolidator fares with opaque costs, they pay less for the airfare (which is why you don’t get PQDs) and mark it up to retail rates. They also use their commission from hotel bookings to incentivize travelers for their business. Sometimes this is a pair of Bose headphones, an Amazon Echo or gift cards. If tickets you buy for business preclude you from earning benefits, or you prefer these items instead of miles (which have become harder and harder to use) then perhaps this works for you. It didn’t align with my own preferences.
During a United status challenge I booked a three-day trip for about $1200 through Upside.com. Comparing it to other OTAs, my flights ran about $600 and my hotel stay was about the same – it is a very expensive market. As Upside.com was competitive and I was incentivized, why would I book elsewhere?
I chatted with Upside customer service prior to booking to ensure the ticket would earn normally. The agent was not aware of the limitations of the ticket and told me they would credit properly. When the PQDs didn’t post, I reached out to them again, they discovered the error and to make it right, they credited the entire trip. I want to be clear on this, I protested several times – the credit of a $1200 trip in its entirety was far too generous for the simple mistake made. I should also note that this was for my day job not connected with blogging, there is no way they could have known that I was a travel blogger.
Once the calendar turned to 2018, the company sent out a survey and the response (purportedly) went straight back to the executive team. The survey asked several poignant questions, among them how many business trips I booked for myself last year (more than 21 was the category I selected) and how many for others (same answer). They then asked if I intended to book more or less than the year before with Upside.com. I indicated that I would book less (than my one trip) in the coming year. Then they asked why with an essay response form. I indicated that without earning hotel or flight status qualifiers I just couldn’t see this replacing my current modus operandi ignoring the ethical complexity of booking business trips that personally enrich me.
I want to be clear that their solution to the original problem was more than sufficient to make the situation right. In fact, it was too generous. If I didn’t earn credit for a single flight and stay, no big deal. When they ask about moving forward, receiving the associated credit to my hotel and flight is too big of an issue for me, it is a deal breaker. You can toss headphones at me, Amazon gift cards, whatever you want – it’s just not going to work for me personally. Until status earning on their platform changes, I will continue to book elsewhere. I’m not mad about it, they shouldn’t be either – their model just won’t work for me but maybe it will for others in my business who travel infrequently.
Can You Confirm Your Address
Following my survey response I received an email from someone at Upside corporate asking to confirm my business mailing address. I supplied it and thought nothing more of it. Perhaps a thank you letter for last year’s business or a promotional packet discussing the benefits of using Upside. I expected I would receive something along those lines. Instead I found this waiting for me when I returned to my desk from a trip.
If I had to guess, and of course I do, I would say that the value of this box with shipping was in the range of $400. That’s pretty generous and reminds travel bookers like our admin team that we should be getting something back for our travel spend. It was unexpected and really impressive, but will it lead to different results for Upside?
Will It Change Our Booking Pattern?
For my travel, it still won’t change booking style. When Pointshound and Rocketmiles both came out a few years ago, Pointshound paid out smaller mileage bonuses for hotel bookings, but they still counted towards elite status. I gave Pointshound 100% of my hotel bookings because I have to book somewhere, why not book with Pointshound?
Pointshound lost the ability to avoid elite third-party booking exemptions and sadly, they lost my business too. I occasionally continue to utilize Rocketmiles and Pointshound when I have already re-qualified for a program and the price is the same, or a preferred chain is unavailable for a given date and market.
My business has evolved and my group routinely books hotels for staff members who rarely travel for work and do not generally care about miles and points. Our company gets nothing for these bookings now, though we’ve tried a number of different methods to recoup benefits for their spend. Our hotel spend varies between $20,000 and $100,000/month for our small team – it’s a lot of time on the road. For our admin who carries out the bookings, however, it makes a lot of sense to start booking through Upside as opposed to shopping elsewhere. The flexibility Upside offers is great and we receive no incentive for our business hotel spend without them. Now, the company can earn gift cards used to incentivize staff who spend a lot of time away from home. For those bookings, I expect we will start to use Upside to secure hotels now that we can do so without an accompanying flight.
While I would say that bribery doesn’t work, generosity seems to. It’s a reminder too that we are leaving money on the table as a company and that’s just bad business. I would, however, like to clarify that there is a thin line between bribery and generosity. Upside may be teetering on the line with this elaborate care package.
What do you think? Is Upside.com’s generosity fair, over-the-top or normal?