Tim Foolery

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Monthly Archives: January 2018

Avalon Hotel Palm Springs

Our flight from Chicago landed 45 minutes early, which meant we had just that much more time to enjoy a beautiful fall day in the desert.  We were in Palm Springs for a wedding and had nowhere to be until 16h45.  Our first stop was the Hotel.

The front gates at the Avalon Palm Springs decorated for the holidays.

Located just 15 minutes from Palm Springs International Airport, the Avalon Palm Springs is just a block off of Palm Canyon Drive at the far southern end of the strip.  We arrived at the reception desk at around 11h30 and were fortunate enough to be able to get into our room straight away.  I booked directly from the SPG App a few days prior to our arrival, and did indicate an early arrival.  It is a crapshoot though.  Will the room be available or not?  Luckily, not only was our room available, we were upgraded to a nice suite.  As we were being escorted to the room by the bell staff, the woman working reception offered us some prosecco, and you know me, I’m not going to turn down prosecco.  It was served in those cheap plastic cups you get pre-departure on planes. They should have used real glasses, we were staying on property, c’mon.

Our room was over the hill and through the woods and upstairs.  We looked out upon the main pool and bar/restaurant area with a perfect balcony to enjoy the beauty of the property but still have some privacy.

Our one bedroom suite was equipped with two full bathrooms, a mini bar, a huge (and remarkably empty) living room and a bedroom with a king sized bed.

The focal point of the master bedroom was the papered ceiling – I dig it!

The king sized bed filled the bedroom completely and was quite comfortable.

The en suite bathroom was efficient, but quite dated. Reminding me of an older apartment building.

The en suite bathroom wasn’t very high end, but perfectly functional.

The second full bath almost went unnoticed. I love rooms with multiple bathrooms.

The mini bar was full of mismatched glassware, but the addition of a proper wet bar was great.

The room was a little rough. It was clean and comfortable, don’t get me wrong.  The room was dated, paint was peeling and chipping. It reminded me of a college apartment (not the furnishings of course, just the bones).

The couches and chairs were comfortable and we got good use out of them, even for just our one night stay.  We slept like logs as well.

The main living area was large – with plenty of room for another small seating area.

The hotel was doing some renovation work during our stay, which included work on the roof of our room. They were out with ladders working early in the morning. Luckily, it is Palm Springs and we always get up very early when we visit (seriously…I’m not being sarcastic).  There is something about Palm Springs that pushes me to wake early.  It is probably the fact that the sun goes down behind the mountain in winter so early, you are ready for bed by 21h30.

After checking into our room and grabbing lunch off property, we returned to the hotel for some much needed pool time. We ventured off to the pool on the southern edge of the Hotel, where the sun was still shining bright.  I ordered a drink…yes, a piña colada with a double dark rum floater (hey, it was vacation).  I relaxed, nursing the previous night’s holiday party hangover.  I even grabbed an avocado toast (I’m not a millennial, so you can skip the mortgage jokes…just barely not a millennial though).

I dipped my foot in the pool and it was very cold. It wasn’t warm enough outside to need a polar plunge, so I just lounged by the pool and ate, drank and read.  

Enjoying the December sun and a lovely cocktail poolside.

The Avalon hotel is very close to the mountains and the sun ducked behind them around 15h15, and while it was still light, it cooled off very quickly. Our pool time was over, which was fine since we had places to be.

We ended up grabbing a late night snack and a cocktail too at Chi Chi, in the hotel. The service was good and the snacks were exactly what we were looking for. I’d been to Chi Chi’s once before. They offer both indoor, outdoor and poolside dining and cocktailing, with pretty prompt service. I’d swing by again, even if I wasn’t staying on property.

This was my first stay with the Avalon and while there may be newer and fancier hotels in Palm Springs, I really enjoyed my stay there and would definitely return – I’m actually planning a return with a friend as I write this!

Have you stayed at the Avalon Palm Springs?  What is your favorite Starwood Property to call home whilst in Palm Springs?

Language and Travel – Parlez vous la langue locale?

I love language. English is my native tongue. I studied Spanish for three years in high school, German for two years in College and I’ve been taking French as an adult for a couple years now. I love the nuances of each languages, but I truly dig the similarities between different languages.

My Spanish, German and French are good enough to order in restaurants, ask for directions, get tickets to things and of course, ask if someone speaks English.  My mind struggles with formulating a response to a question…even if I completely understand the question. I just need more time to put the words together in my mind…but the question poser usually switches to English and I’m done with my language experimentation for that conversation.

When I travel someplace new, someplace where I have no knowledge of the language, I will pull together a few words or phrases that I can use to show I’m not a total dolt.  Things like Please, Thank You, Hello, How Are You?, I’m Fine, Do you Speak (English / Spanish / German / French)?, Where is…. These all at least shown that you’ve tried to learn about the culture you are visiting.

Last year, we flew on EVA to Taipei from Chicago (en route to Myanmar). I knew the stews would speak English, but I wanted to learn a critical phrase in Mandarin. Critical for me.  No, not “Where is the bathroom”, but more important “I would like some champagne please.”  I googled this phrase and practiced the day of our departure.  Once we boarded and had settled, I turned to the stew and said, in my best Mandarin “Hello, how are you? I would like some champagne please.” She was shocked and giggled while covering her mouth. She responded in Mandarin, which I didn’t understand. She returned with the Purser and a glass of wine. The Purser said she couldn’t open a bottle of champagne because of Cook County taxing rules, but I could have a glass of sparkling wine.  Good enough for me.

Unfortunately Hello Kitty could not help me in my champagne search. I tried though

Fast forward two month, I’m at an annual meeting for my company, which is being hosted at a Marriott near O’Hare. The bar was packed and service was slow and confused.  I was standing around several senior leaders from my company (several C-level and a couple EVPs). I noticed our server had a Chinese flag on her lapel, so when she came over, I used my limited language skills and ordered a champagne.  She flashed me the biggest smile and took off, not taking anyone else’s order. She returned a few minutes later with a bowl of bar snacks and a flute of champagne. One of the executives I was standing with turned and asked with a smirk – “What just happened? Did you just order a cocktail in Chinese?” We are not a multinational organization, so using Mandarin isn’t part of our daily lives. Luckily this woman didn’t ask me any follow up questions.

At the end of the day, this is just an amusing anecdote we tell around the office and the only real benefit was that I got my drink quicker than others.  That being said, I think you earn a lot of street cred when you at least try to pick up some of the local tongue. Who knows, you may be able to show your resourcefulness at a hotel bar and impress your executive leadership team.  Also remember, if you know just two phrases, don’t act like the cock of the walk – you memorized a couple of sounds, you’re not a polyglot, but you could end up just being a jerk.

Do you try to learn a few key words and phrases before you hit the road?

Starwood Preferred Guest Platinum Benefit Selection

As 2018 begins, I take stock of my various point and loyalty programs and realized, I just barely squeaked by, keeping Platinum Status with Starwood Preferred Guest – earning exactly 50 nights this year (with 24 stays).  With the recent merger of Starwood and Marriott hotel chains and the upcoming merger of their loyalty programs, I’m concerned that the new SPG Program will not be as lucrative – it will be more akin to the Marriott Rewards Program.  Friends who stay a ton with Marriott talk about never getting proper room upgrades or any other material benefits for their Platinum Status – which is why, I will likely stop chasing Platinum Status once the two programs fully merge – although the exact timing of that change hasn’t been announced yet.

That being said, I do find value in Platinum status with SPG.  No only do you get an additional point per dollar spent on SPG stays (compared to Gold Status), I find that when traveling outside the US, I will often get a nice room upgrade.  I almost never get a room/suite upgrade in the US though.  When you earn Platinum status by staying 50 nights (vs 25 stays) you get to select a special Platinum Benefit.  Historically, you’d just be gifted 10 Suite Night Upgrades (basically, an upgrade instrument that when used on an existing reservation, would increase your likelihood of getting a swanky Suite), but a couple years ago, SPG started to give you a choice between several options, including some Uber Credits (not worth it), gifting Gold Status to a friend (depending on the friend, it could be worth it) or donating to Charity.

This year the choices have changed a bit and include: One Free Hotel Night (Category 1-5); Five Elite Qualifying Nights (for current year!?); 10 Suite Night Awards; 40% Off Hotel Bed; Gift of Gold Status; Donation to UNICEF.

While I will never say I have enough hotel points, I’ve got plenty, and I figured choosing the Free Hotel Night wouldn’t work out properly for me – I’d either forget about it, or if I did remember it, I’d end up frustrated because the hotel I wanted to stay at wouldn’t accept the free night (nothing firm to base this on, other than my cynicism).

The Five Elite Qualifying Nights sounded intriguing at first, then I realized they were only for the 2017 qualification year and not for 2018.  This would ONLY be helpful if you were within five nights of the next status level – earned at 75 Nights.  I’m far from that threshold so this makes no sense for me know.

40% Off Hotel Bed – well, we already have a Westin Heavenly Bed – and I’m not really digging it.  This could be a good benefit for you, if you were looking to get a new bed.  This really isn’t helpful for me now.

Gifting Gold Status to a friend.  Years ago, United use to allow you to gift Silver status to friends and I got a lot of benefit out of this.  The friends I’d gift this to just loved it.  Gold Status with SPG could be good for a friend, but you only need to have 10 stays or 25 nights – which isn’t all that hard to get.  Plus, if you have Status with United, you can get some Status with Marriott (RewardsPlus crossover program), which will transfer directly to SPG.  If you have the American Express Platinum Card you also are granted Gold Status.  This benefit doesn’t really do anything for me now.

Finally, the UNICEF Donation…don’t get me wrong, I’m all about UNICEF, but I’m also selfish and want something for ME after staying so many nights at Starwood Properties.

That leaves me with just one choice – the 10 Suite Night Awards.  I’ve stayed in some amazing suite in Europe and Asia with these Awards and I want to continue that trend.  I don’t ever NEED a suite, especially when I’m traveling around Europe or Asia because we aren’t often in the room, but it is nice to spread out a little bit and not be as crowded.  As has been the case for several years now, I’m choosing these Suite Awards and hoping that my luck continues during my upcoming travels.

What would you choose?  Do you get many upgrades in the US or are you usually racking up the suite stays in Europe too?  What’s the favorite SPG Suite you’ve stayed in?

Travel: 2017 Year in Review

Last night we closed out 2017 and as is a tradition for me, I like to provide a Travel Year In Review.  I spent my New Years Eve in Denver celebrating the marriage of two dear friends.  That means I’m starting my mileage earning for 2018 on day one of the year.

I mentioned this last year that the difference between coach and first class is getting more and more narrow and I continued to see that in 2017.  Sometimes, First is even less than economy, depending on the route and how close to departure you are booking. Since booking in First Class gets you double qualifying miles, I was able to keep my Premier Platinum status with United.  Here’s how my year ended up – with the previous four years included as a comparison.

By the Numbers: (2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013)

Total Miles Flown: 81,978 | 68,278 | 72,293 | 53,322 | 73,825
Total Segments Flown: 55 | 45 | 41 | 37 | 44
Cabin Segment Breakdown (F/B/C): 21/3/31 | 8/5/32 | 2/5/34 | 0/5/32 | 7/4/33
Total Airlines Flown (new airlines bolded):  8 (United, EVA, Thai, KBZ, Myanmar Air, Azul, Air Canada, American) | 5 | 4 | 7
Total Hotel Nights: 84 | 69 | 67 | 56 | 71
Total Hotel Stays: 35 | 35 | 47 | 32 | 31
Total Airlines Miles Redeemed: 85,000 | 0 | 155,000 | 37,500 | 105,000
Total Hotel Points Redeemed: 12,000 | 106,000 | 283,500 | 134,000 | 13,400
Countries Visited (new Countries bolded): 3+3 (Myanmar, Thailand, France, Brazil, Canada, Bahamas) 3+2 | 6+1 | 8+1
Longest Single Segment:  ORD-TPE @ 7,457 | ORD-CDG @ 4,153 | ORD-HKG @ 7,787 | MUC-ORD @ 4,535 | ORD-PVG @ 7,056
Shortest Single Segment: GIG-GRU @ 210 | CUZ-AQP @ 195 | CVG-ORD @ 264| YUL-YQB @ 145
Northernmost Airport: CDG (Paris) | CDG (Paris) | LHR (Heathrow) | ARN (Stockholm) | LHR (Heathrow)
Southernmost Airport: BKK (Bangkok) | LPB (La Paz) | HKG (Hong Kong) | MCO (Orlando) | SGN (Ho Chi Minh City)
The most frequent non-home airport: DEN (Denver)| Tie between EWR & LAX (Newark and Los Angeles) | BNA (Nashville) | YYZ (Toronto) | BNA (Nashville)

I flew enough miles to:
Circumnavigate the world: 3.2 | 2.3 times | 2.9 times | 2.0 times
Make it a third | a quarter | a third | a fifth of the way to the moon

My 2017 Destinations. Where did you go?

How did your 2017 Year in Travel turn out?  Did you keep your status – upgrade your status?  Were you able to check off one – or more – of your travel bucket list items this year?  What is in store for 2018?  Do you plan on taking that one big trip you’ve been talking about, or are going to take many smaller trips to visit friends and family?  If you want my advice, it doesn’t matter where you go, just go. Enjoy the journey. Experience the destination. Share a drink, a meal and a laugh.