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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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Daily Getaways Promo from AmEx and US Travel Association


American Express and the US Travel Association are teaming up to bring us some pretty great deals for a limited time starting next week. Each day there will be a limited quantity of a particular deal that you will be able to buy if you jump on it. Starting this week, they’re previewing some of the deals.

The first deal is 10,000 Priority Club points for $67. That’s $0.067 per point which is about half of what they regularly sell for. And, incidentally, $0.007 more than the rate you can get if you “take advantage” of their cancellation policy on cash+points reservations. In addition, you can use any American Express card to get an extra 10% off. That brings the cost down to $0.061 and saves you $6.70.

I think I’ll try for this one. Incidentally, if you “Like” InterContinental Hotels & Resorts on facebook, they’re going to post a code at noon ET allowing you to order the deal early. It won’t be publicly available until an hour later. The preorder quantity is limited to 130 and the total is limited to 650. Like I said, if you want it, get in early 🙂

Enjoy!

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TopGuest, Hilton HHonors, and Hampton Inn


TopGuest is an interesting affliate for loyalty programs. They offer participating programs advertising, in the form of user checkins on foursquare, facebook or Twitter, in exchange for loyalty plan points for those users. There is a pretty good list of affiliate programs including:

  • Hilton HHonors
  • Virgin America Elevate
  • M life
  • Priority Club Rewards
  • Clubhotel
  • Best Western Rewards
  • Wyndham Rewards
  • Kimpton InTouch
  • Voila Hotel Rewards
  • United Mileage Plus (registration in this program requires a different link).

I’ve been a user of TopGuest for quite some time now, earning close to 20,000 miles/points across several programs (about half of them in Priority Club). I happen to work nearby the hotel area just outside of a pretty busy airport, so it’s easy to pass by several participating hotels during an afternoon stroll (and I drive through the airport on the way to work).

The one thing that’s been missing for me is a Doubletree. You see, the TopGuest partnership with HHonors only gives bonus points for checking in at Doubletrees… or so I thought. During lunch yesterday, a friend that also participates in TopGuest mentioned that he was checking in at Hampton Inns for the HHonors points, so I visited the TopGuest partnership site. Sure enough, Hampton Inn has recently been added as a partner for HHonors checkins!

Now, you don’t get a ton of points from TopGuest (typically 50 per day for each program), but it is probably plenty to get you enough points for, say, a US Airways Grand Slam hit in each of the programs if you do it regularly. Or, even if you don’t do the Grand Slam, it still nets about 1,000 points per program per month if you can be consistent. Given that I can do weekday checkins for HHonors, Priority Club and Mileage Plus, that’s about 30,000 miles/points per year just for doing checkins.

With Hampton Inn now participating, I’m only a month or two away from having enough points to transfer for a Grand Slam hit later this year. How about you? Are you a TopGuest user?

Enjoy!

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2,000 Quick/Easy/Free Priority Club Points


I read over at View from the Wing today about a quick quiz that you can answer for 300 Priority Club points. In the comments section, it was pointed out that this promotion was about a year old (though I had not seen it). So I went digging around in the referrenced postings. While doing this, I hit this FlyerTalk post. In that post, it lists all of the links to the surveys for several languages. By clicking all of these and answering them, I picked up 2,000 Priority Club points in about 5 minutes.

Note: The USA, JPN, CHN, GBR combo seems to be the best mix. The ESP and POR varients tell you that you’ve already done the survey, the others don’t seem to check.

It’s important to note that this is not going to be newsworthy for everyone. Plenty of folks did these surveys last year. BUT, I hadn’t done them and I’m betting that there are at least a few other people that haven’t done them either (or at least not in all 4 of the languages listed above).

Enjoy!

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United Mileage Plus Partnering with TopGuest


I’m a big fan of TopGuest. It’s a great service that, in exchange for you publicly checking in via FourSqaure, facebook or Twitter, gives you points toward an associated loyalty program. For example, I take a walk most days that drops me by a Holiday Inn and a Cambria Suites. Dropping by and checking in at each of those places nets me 50 Priority Club Rewards points and 50 Choice Privileges points. To give you an idea of what this can do over time (I’ve been a member for almost 6 months), here is a quick list of my tallies of points from TopGuest:

75 Virgin America Elevate Points
500 M life Tier Credits
3,300 Choice Privileges Points
200 Hilton HHonors Points
100 Wyndham Rewards Points
7,050 Priority Club Rewards Points
150 Best Western Rewards® Points

That’s not bad for just clicking Checkin on my mobile phone app. Well, TopGuest just got even better. Though I don’t see it listed on the official partners page, you can visit http://mileageplus.topguest.com/ and associate your Mileage Plus account with TopGuest. Once you do that, you can check in at airports serviced by United and pick up 50 Mileage Plus points for every checkin. This is a great way to pick up some extra points with very little effort and, as a nice added benefit, can help keep your miles from expiring if you have that issue (which I never do :)). I’ve only been able to take advantage of this twice so far, but it is great to see an airline join the TopGuest partners list!

Enjoy!

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