Posts by Katerina Petinos - New York

San Diego resort takes ‘you get what you pay for’ to the extreme

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How much are consumers willing to sacrifice for an affordable vacation? Certainly, first-class seats, high-season bookings and fine dining. But how about a bed in their hotel room? A “Survivor Package” created by the Rancho Bernardo Inn, a luxury resort near San Diego, allows guests to camp out in a stripped-down room (i.e., no bed, no linens, not even toilet paper) and pay just $19 a night.

The more amenities added, the more guests pay, up to $219 for a regular room. Adding a bed is $20 more; for a bed plus toiletries (but no lights, linens or AC), shell out $59. The promotion, which quickly sold out, had drawn 240 reservations at the $19 rate and 116 at the $39 rate as of mid-August.

While this is an interesting tactic that’s garnered buzz and customers—no easy feat at a time when occupancy rates are way down, especially for higher-end hotels—it seems better suited for a down-market brand. The resort is unlikely to win much repeat business from guests who paid bottom dollar. And for an upscale hotel, this feels terribly kitschy and ultimately too off-brand.
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JetBlue offers unlimited flights—for a price

Frequent flyers can now enjoy unlimited trips for a month on JetBlue’s “All-You-Can-Jet” Pass, which hasn’t launched yet but is already garnering attention. For just $599, the Pass will let you fly to 50-plus of JetBlue’s designated cities (domestic and international) as often as you like, from Sept. 8 to Oct. 8, 2009.

Of course, the deal only pays for itself if you plan to travel multiple times between those choice cities within the month.

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However, both the veteran traveler and those who’ve never before sampled the jetset lifestyle may have good reason to consider the Pass. In these stressful times, multiple escapades can provide some relief.

Now let’s just see if any hotels will make similar offers.

Photo credit: DieselDemon

Mars woos consumers with free chocolate

mars-chocolatesAs both The New York Times and the Associated Press recently pointed out, the downturn has been kind to chocolate in the U.S. (Hershey Co. saw profits spike 20 percent in the first quarter of 2009.) Always a favorite guilty pleasure, chocolate seems to be just the type of small, cheap indulgence people are craving, as we noted a few months ago. Now Mars is playing into this recession-era phenomenon with its Real Chocolate Relief Act.

Every Friday through September, the company behind Snickers, Twix, M&M’s and several other candy brands is giving away a quarter of a million coupons good for a free single-size package of “real chocolate.” The promotion operates through Mars’ realchocolate.com. If ever there was a time for brands to dig deep and show empathy, it’s now—when “relief” in the form of a free candy bar may actually help brighten the consumer’s day. In dark times, this type of little freebie can go a long way for the brands providing it.

Cici’s Penny Picker Upper is a downer

pennyCiCi’s Pizza, the $5 buffet chain, is giving “a penny saved is a penny earned” a whole new meaning. Its strangely depressing “Penny Picker Upper” campaign involves leaving 1 million pennies affixed with stickers offering coupon deals near each of the 650 restaurants. As noted in The Wall Street Journal , many quick-service restaurant chains—Denny’s, Domino’s and Subway among them—are offering “aggressive promotions” as the industry suffers the fallout of people eating at home more.

While it’s nice that a donation is given to Big Brothers Big Sisters of America after the return of each penny, asking patrons to scrounge for pennies in public won’t help boost consumer optimism. Especially when millions are now searching for real change every day.

Free drugs! Stop & Shop addresses health care anxieties

pharmaJWT’s AnxietyIndex research has shown that the cost of health care is one of the primary drivers of anxiety for Americans today. The generic-drug prescriptions plans offered by Wal-Mart, CVS and Stop & Shop—which all charge around $10 for a 90-day drug supply—go a long way toward helping customers without health insurance. Now Stop & Shop is going one step further, offering free 14-day supplies of select generic antibiotics (with prescription, of course) at its nationwide pharmacies.

It’s a nice way for the American supermarket chain to show it can help customers with not only their physical woes but some financial ones, as well. (The tagline is “Save more. Feel good.”) The offer, which runs through July 11, is likely to alert more customers to the retailer’s generics program and instill some loyalty in Stop & Shoppers, who will likely pick up other grocery goods along with their prescription.

Considering that some cash-strapped American have stopped filling their prescriptions altogether, however, it will become imperative to educate consumers about the dangers of skipping medication before alerting them to the availability of cheaper alternatives.