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Pratic Hotel, Le Marais 

You can read all about my first visit to Paris here, basically, I fell in love with this city the moment we touched down at Charles de Gaulle in 2011. The past couple of visits, our time has been short in the City of Lights – often just a day or two. We would use points and stay in a beautiful Starwood property on Avenue George V, just off the Avenue des Champs-Élysées. For this trip, we wanted to be more frugal and wanted to get back into the neighborhoods.

Our first thought was to revisit our first Paris hotel, the Jeanne d’Arc, unfortunately, this specific weekend, that hotel was going for more than  €200 a night, which is nuts. In general, I say Paris is like New York or Las Vegas (huh? I know, bare with me). I’m not spending much time at all in the room, so I don’t need anything fancy. I need hot water in a private bathroom (I’m not walking down the hall and waiting in line to use the bathroom, fuck that), a door that locks and a bed that is comfortable enough.

Now don’t get me wrong, I do love the 180 square meter suite with two bathrooms and a fire place, but I’m here to see the city. I’m up early to get a pain au chocolat and I’m out late drinking wine in a cafe, watching the people. I just need a few good hours of sleep and a hot shower…and of course, I don’t want to get murdered as I sleep.

We chose the Pratic Hotel, which for four nights cost just €580 in total.  The hotel is just three minutes from the St. Paul Metro Station (Line 1) and surrounded by a young, vibrant neighborhood. This formerly Jewish neighborhood of Le Marais, is more of the gayborhood now, but you wouldn’t be able to tell. Yes, there are same sex couple walking around holding hands, but you aren’t being kept awake by any loud clubs. It is a perfect little neighborhood with great restaurants, fun bars and it is so centrally located, you can literally get anywhere in the city in minutes.

The Pratic Hotel is small. There are six floors, each floor with four rooms. The rooms have private baths. The hotel has been renovated recently and is very clean – it has a sleek, modern feel.  The rooms are tiny. Our room was about four meters by three meters (likely less, you had to walk sideways to get by the foot of your bed (there was probably 10 centimeters (6 inches) of clearance.

The beds were firm yet, quite comfortable. The bathroom was new as well and had a small sink, a toilet and a shower. The shower reminded me of the room in Bolivia. The shower itself was so small, I dropped the shampoo once and had to get out of the shower to pick it up. I’m not a small guy by any means, but that is ridiculous (I’m 5’11 and 185 pounds). I even got the shock of my life as I turned around in the shower and I accidentally bumped into the faucet, turning the warm water icy. Now that’ll wake you up, and make you a little more mindful of your surroundings.

Our room – fourth floor – quite a tight space, but worked well for us.

The hotel has no elevator, so walking to our room on the forth floor (room 418) was tiring at the end of a long day. Paris was blazing hot when we were there.  The high temperatures were consistently around 30C-32C each day. Our hotel didn’t have air conditioning. We felt like we were cooking at night. We slept with our window open, which faced Place Saint-Catherine. The Place was busy until 02h00 each morning and was really loud. Interestingly enough the noise  didn’t bother us, despite the wide open window drawing in all of that party sound.

The beautiful and vibrant Place Saint-Catherine in the 4th.

We chose not to take breakfast at the hotel. This decision was made based on two factors 1) The hotel was going to charge €7/person and 2) There were dozens of great boulongeries in walking distance, where we could get a stellar meal for much less.

The breakfast room – we didn’t eat here, nor did we see anyone else during our stay.

The Pratic Hotel was nothing to write home about, but it met all of our needs, including 1) Reasonably Priced 2) Perfect Location 3) Safe and 4) Comfortable. I would consider staying at this property again, but it all comes down to price. If it is cheaper than the other options, book it.

Where do you stay in Le Marais? Do you have a go-to hotel, or do you reach for the best prices property? What other hotels do you recommend?

The Westin Galleria Dallas

I had to be in Dallas for some meetings and there was a bit of a screw up on my hotel, so I had to move from my original hotel for the final of the three nights. I ended up staying at the Westin Galleria Dallas. Dallas hotel rates were outrageous. The Sheraton near the Galleria was sold out, but as a Platinum member I could get a room…for $595/Night. Plus, the Sheraton is currently under construction. I couldn’t imagine paying that rate in general, let alone during a hotel construction project. The Westin, on the other hand was going for under $300/night. I booked it and cashed in a Platinum Suite Night Upgrade for my one night stay. If you remember, I didn’t use all my upgrades last year – two actually expired. While I sure didn’t NEED a Suite, I might as well try for it.

I wouldn’t be spending much time at the hotel. I’d arrive after 17h00 and leave the next morning before 09h00. I arrived as planned and was met by a woman working the check in desk. It was very clear I was disturbing her afternoon. She asked my name and for my Photo ID. She struggled with finding my photo page on my passport, then eventually gave up. She didn’t really welcome me or even interact with me. She asked her colleague if he’d already issued by keys, which he had. Then She handed me my keys. She didn’t tell me what room I was in, didn’t point me to the elevators, didn’t ask if I needed anything else.  She wanted me to hurry away.

I mentioned recently that I don’t really need the long drawn out welcome process when checking in, but I would at least like to be greeted.

I made my way to the room, which was a lovely corner suite on the 16th floor. As I walked down the hall to my room, I came across a couple of Westin employees chatting in the hall – one was sitting in a folding chair. The hotel was swapping out old swipe locked doors for the RF keys. They were actually taking the door off and replacing the whole door. An interesting approach. One of the guys, who appeared and acted like he was on the leadership team chatted me up about the door upgrades and how he isn’t a big fan of the ability for a guest to get access to their room via their mobile device – it cuts down on the number guest interactions, which I get. You’d think it guest interactions were important they coach the front desk staff to actually interact with guest and not just stare off into space.

The room was really large. When you walk in you see a full bathroom to your right and directly in front of you is the oversized living area.

A fully stocked bathroom in the front of the suite. I was fully expecting a simple half bath, but was pleasantly surprised.

The large shower in the front bathroom of the suite.

The living room had an enormous sectional couch and a really big (read useful) desk. The one part I found really strange was that the TV was perpendicular to the couch along the wall of windows. For one person, sitting on the far end of the couch, this arrangement was fine, but with more people, you would be able to see the TV.

Now this is a large couch. Interestingly enough, the TV is on the wall to the left side of this shot, between the windows.

The large couch with the wet bar/mini bar looming in the background.

The large desk was perfect for me to get a ton of work done during my stay. The chair didn’t swivel, which I found odd.

There was a wet bar / mini bar in the back corner of the living room. The standard two complimentary bottles of water were stop the wet bar.

Passing through the doors that flanked the desk you enter the bedroom. Other than an entertainment center wall akin to the one in the living room, the only furniture in the bedroom was the king bed and a small bench at its foot.

The large entertainment wall and closets were quite bare/empty.

The king bed – with no feather pillows, thank you very much Westin!

The main bathroom had the same color scheme as the smaller front bathroom, but was substantially larger and was divided into three areas. The first you entered housed the single sink vanity and an enormous soaking tub. Yes, I even decided to take a long soak while staying here. I did clean the tub myself before using it…we all know I’m a little nuts, and this just proves it.

The single sink vanity in the main bathroom. With two separate bathrooms, the need for a double sink isn’t there.

A huge and inviting tub. I did take the time to clean it myself and soak while watching some TV.

To the left is the WC and to the right is the walk in shower. The shower was deep and had several small wire shelves, which is such a little thing, but means something to me. I hate having to shower with no where to put my shower stuff (like my wash cloth, shampoo, face scrub and depending on the trip, my loofah – wait, you don’t bring your own puff or loofah??). This shower was well appointed. That being said, I didn’t really dig the shower head, it just sort of dribbled water on you. The water temperature was great – you could nearly scald yourself. I loved it.

The WC in the main bathroom.

The main shower was large and beautiful – the picture doesn’t due the tile work justice.

After my evening meetings, I popped down to the second floor bar and grabbed a quick pizza, it was…well….a cheese pizza. It’s hard to really screw that up. The server at the restaurant was great. He delivered menus and took my order very quickly and spent the perfect amount of time chitchatting with me.

The hotel is connected to the Galleria – a large shopping mall in Dallas. This higher end mall has everything an out of town guest could want….if you could traditionally find it in a traditional suburban mall, that is.

I will say, I’m not a big fan of the city of Dallas, but I’ve never really had much opportunity to explore. This trip, I spent even less time out and about. My meetings were in the Sheraton and I stayed one night at the Westin 2,000 feet away. If I needed to be in this area again, I would definitely stay at the Westin Galleria again, it was clean, felt safe and really met my Dallas needs.

Where do you stay when you visit the Big D? What restaurants should I have visited on my trip? Do you find the signature scent of the Westin Hotels a welcoming smell? I sure do!

Westin Peachtree Plaza

I needed to be in Atlanta for a few days in early December and decided staying at the Westin Peachtree Plaza because 1) It was near where my travel companion was staying – he’s a Marriott guy and 2) The Fitness Center had Peloton Bikes. I knew I’d be staying at a Starwood Property as I needed the nights to keep my SPG Platinum Status and the rates for all hotels in the area were basically the same, so the Peloton really sealed the deal.

A couple days before my arrival I received a welcome email from a member of guest services as the hotel asking if I needed anything, so I asked to be assigned to the guest room with the Peloton. I figured if I had a bike in the room, I’d be more likely to work out than if I had to go to the gym.  The response came quickly that they couldn’t confirm me into that room now, but would note my reservation and try to get me into that room upon arrival.

I arrived late in the afternoon on Sunday and after a very long wait at the Platinum check-in desk, I was greeted by a woman working reception.  She had a big, bold and bright smile and was in great spirits.  She, like many Starwood folks working the front desk (at least that I’ve come across) see your Platinum Status and hurry through the check-in process.  I always assume they think that since you stay 50+ nights you don’t really care to hear all the details of the hotel, and in general that is right.  I just want to hear where the Lounge is, how to get to the elevators and hopefully that I’ve been upgraded to a suite.  She told me I was indeed upgraded to the “Westin Fitness Room, with Bike.”  I was ecstatic – with the bike in the room, I would definitely work out!

I hurried to the room.  The Westin Peachtree Plaza is huge.  There are nearly 1,100 rooms across more than 70 floors.  The main elevator bank confused me at first, as the signs to which set of elevators would get you to your room wasn’t clear.  I eventually made it to my room and discovered there was indeed a bike, but it wasn’t the Peloton.  It was just a regular exercise bike – no metrics, no screen, just a bike.  Frustrating.

That’s no Peloton!

The room itself was perfectly acceptable.  There was ample space, even with the bike and the other fitness equipment that I didn’t feel closed in or claustrophobic.  Other than the additional equipment, the room was a pretty standard Westin room with a king bed, an adequately sized desk and adjacent TV.

My room – king bed, Reebok exercise bike and other miscellaneous equipment.

My own little fitness studio in my room.

View from the fitness center.

The bathroom was a bit dated, but the biggest problem was the toilet stopped working on my first night.  I returned from dinner on Sunday and flushed the toilet, the water flushed, but never refilled.  I flushed again.  Nothing.  By this time it was about 23h00 and I figured I’d just deal with it in the morning.  I woke up at 05h00 and headed down to the gym, but first called the front desk to let them know about my toilet issue.  Honestly, I figured I’d be told that maintenance would be by later in the day and to use the public toilets as needed.  No such luck, fortunately.  Maintenance came up immediately and spent about 75 minutes working on my broken bathroom – most of that time I was at the gym, so it was only the most minor of inconveniences.  The guys said that a valve broke on the toilet making it so the tank couldn’t properly fill.

The small, yet adequate bathroom…and a broken toilet.

On my first night, I stopped by the fitness center before heading out to dinner and I found the hotel did indeed have Peloton bikes – two of them in fact. Only one was working.  I stopped by the front desk to let them know that the equipment wasn’t working, and was told that it would be fixed before I return from dinner.  Perfect.

Two Peloton bikes in the hotel gym. Too bad only one worked at any given time.

The morning of the toilet break, I hit the gym and took a live Peloton class.  Only one of the bikes were working and I hopped on it right as another guest walked in and wanted to ride too.  She was frustrated (rightfully so) and surprisingly, asked me if I would use a different exercise bike, so she could take a class.  Ballsy of her for sure, but I told her I’d be done with my class in 45 minutes and she could ride then.  Hmmm.

Before leaving for my meetings that morning, I stopped by the front desk, reminding them of the Peloton issues.  I was assured that they would be fixed.  They never were – each day I visited only one bike would work.  The working bike would actually alternate by day, so I think someone went down to fix the bike, but ended up turning off the subscription to the other bike.  Each morning I managed to JUST beat another rider to the bike.  I was proud that this early bird got the bike.

The hotel was hosting some conference which meant the bars and restaurants were utterly packed with people.  It took forever and a day to get a drink.  The bartenders and servers were very apologetic, but I think they were just understaffed, which was a bit disappointing.  The good news though, I only had a glass of wine each night, no more, because I couldn’t stand the wait!  The Westin and Starwood helped me make more healthy decisions without even knowing it.

The Sundial Restaurant and Bar was really disappointing.  I stopped by the bar on my first night, as dinner wasn’t as filling as I had hoped.  I wanted to grab a beer and some bar snacks.  The servers here was pretty young and seemed either very poorly trained or poorly supervised.  The bar was pretty empty, but it took two visits of my server to actually bring me a menu, then when she handed it to me, she stood there staring until I selected my beer.  10 minutes later she returned with my drink, and I asked about changing some of the toppings on the pizzas they offered.  She said I couldn’t make any changes (not even adding an ingredient from another pizza to the one I wanted).  I decided to stick with the beer and then order room service.  She eventually came back and said that she “had done the chef a favor,” so he’d make my special order pizza.  Uh, gross?  The pizza arrived and it was disgusting – the sauce had so much garlic I could barely eat it..and interestingly enough, there was so little sauce, it was like eating a saltine cracker.  I had a slice then called it a night.

The pizza and service at the Sundial Bar was abysmal.

So, all in all, my stay wasn’t without hiccups. It is a huge hotel – the fourth tallest in the Western Hemisphere – and the issues were all pretty minor and easily fixed.  That being said, there were many little issues that just compounded on each other.  I would return to this hotel, if I needed to be in that general area in the future.  I’d rather have a hotel in walking distance to my ultimate destination.

When was the last time you had a broken toilet at your hotel?  How about the Peloton bikes – are they ever working perfectly at a Westin (remember the issues at the Westin Seattle)?

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.


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?