Tim Foolery

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Embassy Suites O’Hare

I am not really a Hilton guy, I much prefer Stawrood Properties. I was speaking at a conference being held at the Embassy Suites near O’Hare. I had stayed at this property a few years ago when I had a 12 hour overnight layover at ORD – I didn’t want to deal with heading home for just a few hours.

This stay was two midweek nights. I checked in around 17h00 and was given a room on the fourth floor. Since I was on some bulk conference rate, my Gold Status didn’t get me any welcome amenity. I had to nearly beg for a couple bottles of water.

One of the elevators was out of service during our stay, which made the trek to and from your rooms very long. I asked about taking the stairs, but was told the doors were locked and I couldn’t enter the floors once I walked up. I try it – I’d have been very frustrated if I walked up four flights only to find a locked door.

My rooms was immediately across from the elevators. The glass doors to the rooms didn’t seal fully and the noise from the elevators and atrium really carried into my room.

Entering the room, you find the sitting and office area, with a TV.

The utilitarian couch in the front room served it’s purpose.

The work and dining table combo allowed me to be very productive when in the room.

The wet bar area was a surprisingly nice touch – no minibar though.

Continuing on, you pass the bathroom and the closet. The bathroom was large, but dated. I always forget how annoying the low bathroom vanities are. When brushing teeth or shaving, I end up with some back pain. The toilet had almost no power and when I attempted to flush a single Kleenex, it floated, swirled and barely went down the drain…and that was just a Kleenex- I was nervous about other things that needed flushing! Gross, I know.

The single vanity in the bathroom wasn’t an issue considering there were two other sinks in the rest of the suite.

I was surprised by the tile design in the shower – the water never got hotter than tepid though.

The sleeping area was at the very back of the room, with two full sized beds (Hilton calls these queen beds, but the measurements sure don’t add up). This area had another TV plus a chair in the corner. The corner windows provided a ton of natural light.

These sure aren’t queen sized beds, despite what the hotel says.

The small seating area in the bedroom was showered with natural light.

The bed was surprisingly comfortable, albeit very small – I was afraid I’d roll out. Luckily, I remained securely tucked in.

I wrote about my interactions with hotel maintenance immediately upon checking in, which still surprises and confuses me – no one else I spoke with had the “Clock and Peephole Check.”

The internet was fast and I didn’t find any Wi-Fi deadspots – which is surprising in hotel conference spaces. The water pressure was light and the water never got hotter than tepid, which starts to wear on you after a few days.

Despite the rooms being dated and a little loud (hallway and atrium noises) I’d likely stay again…assuming I needed a quick stay near ORD. I wouldn’t spend multiple days here though.

Have you stayed here before? Was your room loud and your water lukewarm? Where is your favorite hotel near O’Hare?

Is Hotel Status Worth Chasing?

Hotel status is an interesting animal for me. On one hand, I really dig the suite upgrades and the additional points earned for stays, but on the other, the upgrades are so infrequent, why worry about them? I’m Platinum with Starwood and Marriott (their not-so-recent merger allows for a status match between programs). I earn this status by staying 50 nights a year at SPG Properties (plus the nights/stays credited because of the co-branded credit cards). I do struggle maintaining this status because sometimes my work travel doesn’t afford me the opportunity to stay at an SPG Property.

Prince de Galles Macassar Suite – Upgraded because of my SPG Platinum Status

Does Platinum Status even matter any more?

Friends have commented on how Marriott isn’t all that generous with their Platinum members – negligible upgrades being the biggest issue. What minimums do I expect from a hotel program? I expect high speed internet for at least three devices (I need my phone, tablet and laptop all connected…and if I’m traveling with anyone else, we need at least four devices connected), I would like access to a club lounge with bottles of water and some snacks and cocktails (even grocery store wine is an acceptable amenity). I don’t care about breakfast, complimentary parking, or discounts at the on-property restaurants. A room free of feathered linens and located away from the elevator is also high on my list.

In reality, I can get all my hotel needs met with a mid-tier (Gold with SPG, Marriott and Hilton) status. I get access to upgrades (that rarely materialize even with Platinum status), I get free internet and I get access to the club lounges. I get this status without running on the Hotel Stay/Night hamster wheel.

The American Express Platinum card offers Gold Status with both Hilton and Starwood. United offers Gold Status at Marriott for flyers who maintain Gold or higher status with MileagePlus. I’ve got all the major programs covered, why should I push for Platinum Status? Should I just find the best rate at the best hotel and use whatever savings I’m getting to pay for a nicer room when I really need it.

Since the Marriott and SPG loyalty programs will likely be combining in 2019 and I have confidence that it will look more like Marriott Rewards than SPG, I’m changing my hotel strategy – Find a hotel with a good rating, great rate, close to everywhere I want/need to be and call it good. I hope it feels freeing that I don’t feel obligated to stay at a property I’m just not digging because I need the Stay/Night credit (I’m looking at you, Westin Arlington, VA).

What is your hotel strategy for 2018 and beyond? If you are a Marriott fan, tell me how your luck has been with your upgrades and elite recognition.


United Changes Premier Requirements for 2016

Anyone who reads this blog, knows I’m a United guy. I fly just enough each year to earn United Premier Gold Status (50,000 paid miles flown in the calendar year). Last year, United announced they’d be adding a revenue component to the qualification as well for the 2015 status (miles flown and dollars spent in 2014 earn you status for 2015). In order to keep Premier Gold Status for 2015 I would need to not only fly 50,000 miles, but I’d also have to spend at least $5,000 in airfare.

It isn’t surprising that United (and Delta) have done this. The economy is doing well, airlines are making money and more people are flying. The airlines want to reward their flyers who are their best customers – not just the most flights, but the people who contribute to their bottom line. Before this revenue requirement was implemented, it was possible for a flyer to buy cheap long-haul airfare and earn status without really contributing to the bottom line of the company. For example, last year I found a flight to Shanghai (PVG) from Chicago (ORD) for less than $700. That’s 14,112 miles round trip or $0.049/mile. At that rate, I could have earned Gold status for just $2,480 – which would have granted me free checked backs, free upgrades, access to various lounges when traveling internationally and immediate complimentary access at time of booking to their premium Economy Plus seating. Following the same logic, I could earn Premier 1K status (the highest status that doesn’t require an invitation) for only $4,960). With United earning that amount of money on their elite flyers, they wouldn’t stay in business very long.

Fast forward to last year, when United adds in a revenue component – they want reward the flyers that make them money. Basically, United wants you to spend $0.10/mile on average with them to get status. When this was announced last year, I took a quick look at my United spend and found that this wouldn’t be a hard threshold to pass. I’m fortunate enough that about half of my annual travel is work related – going to some markets that have very limited air traffic, which drives up the cost per ticket.

A couple weeks ago, United announced a change in their United MileagePlus program. To keep my Premier Gold status through 2016, I’ll need to fly 50,000 paid flight miles (award miles don’t count in this total) and spend $6,000 on those flights. That’s a 20% increase in spend year over year.

Requirements for Elite Status in United MilagePlus for 2016.  - Image Courtesy of United Airlines

Requirements for Elite Status in United MilagePlus for 2016. – Image Courtesy of United Airlines

20% increase in spend – that’s a big jump. I have no concern that I’ll fly 50,000 miles next year. I do have a concern that I won’t pay $6,000 for those miles though. Every other tier has increased 20% in revenue as well – so it is a good possibility that I am going to fly 50,000+ miles and only hit Premier Silver status because of spend. Then again, that sounds like a problem for 2016-Tim. Current Tim (and by extension 2015-Tim) only has 1,800 more un-booked at this time – I was golden, then two of my work trips got cancelled! — miles to go (already hit my spend requirement) to ensure my Premier Gold status remains intact for 2015.

How do these changes to the MileagePlus treat you? Are you afraid you’ll be relegated to Silver – or god forbid, a General Member? What is your strategy in meeting these new thresholds in 2015?