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Paris Trip Report, Part 3: Staying in Paris


We started our stay at Holiday Inn Paris Marne La Vallee rooms x01 and x33. My wife and I were in room x01, whereas my mother and my two kids were in room x33. Here are some pictures of x01 and the view from there:

Room x01 was substantially smaller than room x33 and was clearly designed for a single occupant (though there were two of us sharing the room). There were no outlets near mirrors, the bed took up almost all of the room’s floor space and things were cramped. However, it was not the smallest room I’ve had in Europe, and we were really only basing from it, so I was going to be okay with it. That is, I was going to be okay with it until the first night didn’t go so well. You see, that room is the nearest to the elevator, and (strangely) a stand-up shoe polisher in the hallway. There was constant elevator noise all night long, and everyone that walked by that shoe polisher had to try it out. We didn’t get much sleep. The next afternoon (we waited until the front-desk clerk that checked us in was back since she was very nice), we asked to switch rooms and were immediately accommodated. We picked up our things and headed to room x36 which was larger, had a better view, and was and much further from the elevator and shoe polisher!

The hotel was a great value. It is (now, after a recent refit) very modern, with updated lobby and bar area. And not only are the rooms accommodating (after our move), but breakfast was included, and the staff was great all around.

 

In addition, the proximity to shopping (there is a commercial center—including a great mall selection, a grocery store, and a nearby fruit stand), and to RER A is very convenient. In fact, the train station is maybe a 2 minute walk that doesn’t even cross any streets! From that train station, it is a 10-minute ride to hub stations that can get you anywhere in Paris in 5-10 minutes. So, really, the hotel is about a 15-20 minute train ride from wherever you want to be (with typically only 1 change of train).

After a fantastic, negative event-free, comfortable 8-night stay, we headed down to check out. Upon checkout, the agent informed us that our free breakfast wasn’t supposed to be free since we were staying on points for 12 of our 16 room-nights (honestly, I was amazed when the first agent told me it was included, but I wasn’t going to complain!). When I informed her that the original agent had indicated that breakfast was free, she removed the breakfast charges without any fuss. This was fantastic customer service and I was very pleased with every aspect of this stay. If I return to Paris, I will seriously consider staying at the Holiday Inn Paris Marne La Vallee again.

A few quick tips if you plan to stay here. Get a room with an even number. This puts you onto a side of the hotel with a much improved view (see pictures below compared to above). Also, get a room with a number greater than about x14. This should put you far enough from the elevator and shoe polisher to be able to get a good night’s sleep!

Next up: Getting Home. Then, the series will conclude with probably the most important post—Tips for vacationing in Paris!

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Paris Trip Report, Part 2: Miami to Paris


We left the Crowne Plaza Miami International Airport later in the afternoon and headed to MIA for our 7:40pm flight to MAD in time to catch a quick bite at the Admiral’s Club. The MIA Admiral’s Club is pretty nice with a kids’ play area, an interesting design with several rounded corridors and lots of artwork on display.

After relaxing for a little while, we boarded an Airbus A340-300 for IB 6118, which departed around 8pm bound for MAD and got some sleep during the 8.5-hour flight. Upon arrival at MAD, we picked up our bags and headed through passport control where the kids got their first stamps. It was a pretty big moment for them and, honestly, for me, too! Our layover was only about two hours, so we made our way to our gate to see how much time we would have before boarding. When we got to the gate, it was ominously empty and we were greeted by an agent who said “Paris? Allons-y!” So, needless to say, there wasn’t much exploring time. However, I did snap a couple of shots of the airport.

We trotted down the jet way and boarded an Airbus A321 for IB 3406 and a 1.5-hour flight bound for ORY. For this segment, four of us were in main cabin and my wife was in business class. Needless to say, she had a better food experience! Main cabin had snacks for sale and a soft-drink service whereas she had 3 courses of actual food and wine. Of course, her ticket was 60,000 miles and the rest of the tickets were only 40,000 each, so for 20,000 miles it had better have been some pretty good food since that was the only business segment she got! Incidentally, booking her in business class was the only way to get availability—this flight only had 4 award seats in coach despite calling at least weekly for a few months to check (I also checked the other segments to see if we could get her into business more often, but there was also no availability there… ever).

So, after a crazy RDU-DCA-MIA (overnight)-MAD-ORY routing, we were finally in Paris! We hopped into an Iberia shuttle and headed to our home for the next 9 days—the Holiday Inn Paris Marne La Vallee. I will pick up the next installment with an overview of the hotel and some insights into getting around town. The fourth entry will cover our trip home and the series will conclude with some tips about vacationing in Paris with your family—what to see, what to avoid, and how to save some Euros!

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Paris Trip Report, Part 1: Miami


As I’ve mentioned before, in order to get 5 award seats for my family’s vacation to Paris, I had to get a little… creative with the routing. The biggest piece of that creative routing involved an overnight stay in Miami, so that seems like a good first entry to the trip report series.

My wife, my two older daughters, my mother and I set out for RDU on the early afternoon of 5 April for our 2:50pm flight on AA 4400. We had main cabin seats on an Embraer ERJ 135 for this 44-minute flight from RDU to DCA. Once at DCA, we headed to the Admiral’s Club to get a bite to eat while we waited on our 8:35pm flight to MIA. This was my kids’ first trip to an airport lounge (they have flown a lot but almost always RDU->MCO which is a nonstop flight). Given their reactions to the lounge, I was pretty excited about getting them to Paris!

The Admiral’s Club lounge at DCA is a pretty standard lounge. Free Wi-Fi, complementary snacks, sodas, beer and wine. I did notice that this club also had complementary house liquors and you could get mixed drinks with them (my mother had a margarita).

 

We boarded AA 1261 heading for Miami which left just a little behind schedule, but the flight was pleasant enough. Upon arrival in Miami, we headed for our hotel, the Crowne Plaza Miami International Airport. When we checked in, I was pleased to note that they had upgraded my room and were providing free Wi-Fi and 1 free breakfast per room as a benefit of my Priority Club Platinum status. I was staying on points, and Priority Club doesn’t normally provided elite benefits on award nights, so this was a great bonus for me. Here are some photos from the hotel. In one of them, you can definitely see why it’s an “airport hotel.” I should note that even though we were clearly in the flight path, I didn’t get any air traffic noise from inside my room. They must have some crazy insulation!

I was hoping that, since our next flight to MAD wasn’t until later the next evening, we would have a chance to head over to South Beach for a little while. Alas, by the time we got rolling, the shuttles wouldn’t have worked out and I didn’t want to rent a car for just a couple of hours. So, instead, we played in the great pool at the hotel and enjoyed some warm weather before heading to Paris.

The Crowne Plaza was a great place to stay, and I think that if I end up overnighting in MIA during another trip that I will definitely choose to stay here. The price was reasonable (and not just because I was on a PointBreak that made the rooms 5,000 points per night!). The rooms were nice, the staff was pleasant and the breakfast was tasty.

After we wiled away the day, we headed over to MIA to board our flight to MAD—which is where I’ll pick up on the next installment.

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Priority Club PointBreak List Today = Unexpected Score!


Priorty Club has an outstanding deal on select hotels that are updated each quarter. Instead of the typical rates for those hotels (often 25,000 points), the rate for a free night is, instead, 5,000 points. I took advantage of this offer at the Crowne Plaza Prague back in September and it was astounding the value that I could get for my 5,000 points (which, to put it into perspective, can be bought for as little as $30 or obtained free by entering 534 Coke lid codes at MyCokeRewards.com and redeeming them for PC points).

I saw on MommyPoints that the updated list was posted today and, lo and behold, I’m able to take advantage again! I have an upcoming stay at the Crowne Plaza Miami International Airport that I booked for 15,000 points + $60 (or 25,000 points). I called Priority Club today and they cancelled my reservation and replaced it with a 5,000 point reservation for a savings of 20,000 points. The phone call had a pretty lengthy hold time given the posting of the PointBreak list today (about 30 minutes total for the phone call), but that’s completely worth 20,000 points to me.

Incidentally, I learned an interesting lesson during my stay at the Crowne Plaza Prague. As I’m sure you’re aware, Priority Club does not provide elite benefits on rewards stays–even for Platinum elites like me. When I was booking this stay, I was told that there was no availability for the first night (well, for one of the rooms–I needed 2). So, I used my Platinum elite status to force availability which required me to pay for one room that first night, but made the property an option for my stay. The best side effect of this was that all of my Platinum elite benefits (upgrade to executive level, bonus points, etc.) now applied to both rooms. This turned out to be a great windfall. Not only did I get the 5,000 point rate, I got all of my benefits!

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Trip Report: Palm Springs, CA – Westin Mission Hills Resort and Spa: Part 2, Staying There


Primer:

I visited Palm Springs, CA in late February 2012 on a business trip to attend the Association of Test Publishers Innovations in Testing conference. My week-long trip included four flights on American Airlines, visits to Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU), Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), and Palm Springs International Airport (PSP) along with their Admiral’s Club lounges, and a stay at the Westin Mission Hills Resort and Spa.

Part 1, Getting There
Upcoming: Part 3, Getting Back

When I arrived at the Westin, I went to the Starwood Gold Preferred check-in desk (which, incidentally, was the only manned desk so it was performing double-duty with non-Elite check-ins). Upon arrival, I was told that my room was not quite ready yet. I got there a bit earlier than anticipated, so this was not unexpected. They informed me that I could check my bags with the bellman at the valet and enjoy the facility while I waited. This seemed a bit extreme since I only had 20 minutes or so to wait until the room was ready, so I asked about it. It turns out that at this property, they shuttle you to your room in a little golf car. It’s primarily a golf resort, and there are several buildings (all about 2 stories) so I thought this was a cool little touch. I walked the 100 yards or so to the bellman, checked my bag and got a phone call that my room was ready and I could come back and check in. I wish I would’ve waited the 2 minutes it apparently took to finish my room. That would’ve saved me a bit of walking… On the bright side, they “upgraded” me to a golf course view room. More on that in a second :).

Westin Entrance

My Room

My room was spacious, well appointed, and nicely decorated in a Southern California style. The view from the window was great. The bathroom had two sinks, a separate water closet, and a Heavenly shower head, so what’s not to love.

View Looking Left

View Looking Right

Bathroom

Shower Head

Now, about that upgrade… As I said, I was upgraded to this golf course view room–which had a great view. The issue? There was a car show going on the weekend that I checked in. There were some pretty amazing cars parked around the property and I was looking forward to taking a closer look on Sunday when the show began in earnest. The show started a little early on Sunday… I know this because a decent bit of it was being conducted on the golf course. Right outside my room. I awoke to the sound of music blaring, engines roaring and an auctioneer. This would have been a concern to several people, and I admit that I had about 15 minutes of annoyance out of it. But, once I got up and around, I appreciated the coolness of being able to watch the cars getting shown off and sold from my patio. So again, I thought it was cool. YMMV :).

Cool Car

Car Show

The Westin Mission Hills Spa and Resort is a very nice property and was a pleasure to call my home for the week. Here are some more great pictures that I snapped while there.

Waterfall

My Building

Walking Path

Fountain

Ducks

Another Path

I will follow this post with 1 more when I get it written. Stay Tuned.

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Trip Report: Palm Springs, CA – Westin Mission Hills Resort and Spa: Part 1, Getting There


I visited Palm Springs, CA in late February 2012 on a business trip to attend the Association of Test Publishers Innovations in Testing conference. My week-long trip included four flights on American Airlines, visits to Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU), Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), and Palm Springs International Airport (PSP) along with their Admiral’s Club lounges, and a stay at the Westin Mission Hills Resort and Spa.

I started my day with my travel-day routine of checking to see if there were any changes to my flight itinerary. Fortunately, I do this before I leave the house because I found that my flight had been delayed 45 minutes–that bit of extra early-morning sleep time was precious! After a 30-minute drive to RDU, and a light wait at the security line, I headed to the RDU Admiral’s Club for a quick snack to use as my breakfast substitute. I reviewed the RDU Admiral’s Club in an earlier post, so I’m only going to mention that it was the same experience as usual this time around.

I boarded AA 1041 which left at 8:36am en route to DFW where it arrived just less than 3 hours later. The flight was uneventful and was spent reading the first several chapters of The Hidden Europe by Francis Tapon. (Incidentally, this book is a great read and I plan on featuring a review in an upcoming post, so stay tuned for that.) Once in DFW, I headed to the Admiral’s Club for a bite of lunch (where I have to say, I had a great mushroom/Swiss burger). This lounge was large and well furnished with plenty of semi-private spaces and comfortable seating–in addition to shower facilities, free WiFi–even with no lounge membership (I use my American Express Platinum for lounge access), and a pleasant staff.

DFW Admiral's Club Chairs

DFW Exercise Facilities

After my stay in DFW, I boarded AA 1767 bound for PSP. This was another uneventful flight (the best you can ask for in coach) that also clocked in at just under 3 hours. PSP is quite possibly the most pleasant airport I’ve ever frequented. Being in a desert environment, they are able to have much of the airport design be open-air. There were plants and grassy spaces everywhere, benches to sit upon and even a little playground for the kids. It was absolutely beautiful.

PSP Entrance

PSP Playground

PSP Gate Access

Sonny Bono Concourse

A 30-minute cab ride later, I checked in at the Westin.

Westin Entrance

I will follow this post with 2 more as I get them written. Stay Tuned.

Part 2, Staying There
Upcoming: Part 3, Getting Back

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“Trip” Report – Radisson RTP, NC


On November 10, Club Carlson started a promotion that entitled the first 50,000 people who signed up for it to a bonus 50,000 Club Carlson points if they had a qualifying stay at a Radisson property between 11/10/11 and 12/30/11. I jumped in and registered for the promotion on 11/10. I didn’t stay awake until midnight like many other bloggers to make sure that I made it in the first 50,000. But, when I signed on the next morning the promotion was still active and I got registered.

I kept putting off my qualifying stay thinking that maybe there would be a legitimate reason to stay at a Radisson during the promotional period. That opportunity never came, so I decided that yesterday would be the day for my mattress run. I made a reservation for a Radisson about 5 minutes from my office via the Club Carlson website (which should give me an extra 1,000 points). It was for a one-night stay last night.

I had no intention of actually sleeping there since I only live about half an hour away. I did swing by to check in and take some pictures yesterday on my way home from work, and then again this morning on my way in so that I could pick up the receipt and check out (even though it wasn’t necessary to do so in person).

Here are some pictures of the Radisson Hotel Research Triangle Park. Note that the pictures on the property website are much better than mine. In fact, the property looks a lot better on the website than I actually found it. The room was clean, well-equpped, and comfortable-looking (if small). The hotel itself looked to be in need of some love, but it’s the off-season and things there were pretty slow, so maybe they were prepping for some work.

Exterior
Exterior
Pool
Pool
Living Space
Living Space
Sleeping Space
Sleeping Space
Bathroom
Bathroom
Lovely View
Lovely View

As you can see, the bathroom is tiny and the view… left something to be desired. However, the stay will be good for something just over 51,000 Club Carlson points which will get me 3 free nights at a Category 2, or just about 2 nights at a Category 3, or, and what I was expecting, 1 night at a top-level Category 6. Depending upon the cash requirement, it could alternatively get me 10 nights at a Category 2 or 3 nights at a Category 6.

See the free award night chart here, and the Points + Cash award chart here. Note that the latter does not include the cash requirement and instead states that it will be shown at the time of the reservation. Just for some comparisons, the $94 I spent for 1 night cash at the Radisson Research Triangle Park netted me enough points for: 2 free nights at the same property, or 10 nights with a $47/night copay. So, it looks like about a 50% discount if I used it at that property ($0.004 per point or $0.009 per point). However, if I used it at the Radisson Martinique on Broadway, it would get me 1 free night (a $250 value), or 3 nights with a $149/night copay ($0.005 per point or $0.006 per point).

Given that analysis, it looks like the best redemption is actually at the lower-levels and I should use these points for random family stays during long drives, or other no-frills trips. Overall, I’m happy with the promotion. It’s not the Grand Slam by any stretch, but it was a nice Christmas gift :).

Safe travels!

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