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Tim Foolery

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Tag Archives: Platinum status

AC Hotel Portland Downtown – A Return Visit

The AC Hotel Portland Downtown was our home base at the end of our West Coast Road Trip.  We chose this hotel for two reasons 1) The price was right and 2) My recent stay ended up being pretty nice.  Our favorite hotel in Portland, the Nines, was going for over $650 per night, which is a price I’d never pay for a hotel room.

We arrived late in the afternoon and found a long line at check-in.  Evidently 16h00 is rush hour at this property.  Surprisingly, we were moved quickly to the front of the check-in line. Several of the people attempting to check-in didn’t have their identification nor did they have their credit cards – their personal documents were in their bags still on their tour bus. Lucky for us!

I don’t get why the folks working reception have to ask if this is our first visit at the hotel. It is clear in their system that it isn’t.  When I say I’ve stayed here before, the guy helping me checks his computer screen and sees that I had been their just two two weeks prior.  After thanking me for my loyalty he begins the standard soliloquy of the hotel amenities and details.  I was just here two weeks ago, give me my keys and let me go to my room.

The room was much like the one from a few weeks ago, so I won’t get into those details here again.

We had a more relaxing visit this time – not feeling rushed or obligated to do a lot in Portland, which allowed us to spend more time relaxing in the hotel. The room is quite comfortable for both work and relaxation.

There was one thing off about these rooms, which I touched on briefly last time.  There is only one single piece of art in the entire room. Now usually hotel art is pretty abysmal and I’d rather just see a blank wall than some poor quality, high production prints, but the AC Marriott Portland Downtown was different.  I was digging the art – but the large blank walls seemed like the hotel wasn’t quite finished.

Hotel Art - Not often good, but this was stellar

Hotel Artwork isn’t always good or fun – but this was great.

Final Thoughts

I wouldn’t hesitate returning to the AC Hotel Downtown Portland again.  It is centrally located, new, clean and nicely designed.  The staff is quite nice – a little too thorough sometimes though.

Where do you stay when visiting Portland?  Are you as surprised as I am about hotel prices in Portland?

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Important Changes to Marriott / Starwood Redemptions: Act Now!

Marriott acquired Starwood in 2016 but had a very slow and methodical integration of their loyalty programs. Kudos to them. Doing it right is better than doing it fast. I’d prefer to remain an SPG member, but the changes that Marriott is making are pretty reasonable. These changes are much better than we’ve seen with other travel related acquisitions.

The new program launches on August 18 and with that there are changes in Elite Status, Earning Rates and Redemption Rates. I can’t do anything about Elite Status or Earning Rates, but I can use the Redemption changes to my advantage.

For example, I have another trip to Austria coming up later this summer and I found that my favorite hotel, the Hotel Bristol, is going to cost 14,000 points more per night. Now this hotel only costs 12,000 SPG Points (which are worth 36,000 Marriott Points). After August 18th, the hotel will cost 50,000 Marriott Points to book. Booking now, I’ve saved myself 14,000 Marriott Points — there are about 1,700 Marriott (and Starwood) hotels in the world were those 14,000 points could get my one or two free nights.  I’d be a fool to ignore this savings!

Bristol Hotel Vienna – The main seating area was enormous and filled with classical music our entire stay.

This also goes the other way too. If you were planning on staying at the St. Regis San Francisco, that property will cost 30,000 points less than it does now! You can go ahead and book it now, but just know that you won’t automatically get those points refunded, you’ll have to call and ask for them to be credited back.

Marriott has a great website that helps you review their properties, how many points it takes now and how many it will take in the future. Go check out your upcoming travel plans and see if you should book now or after August 18th.
Where are you traveling and how are you favorite hotels working out with this change?

San Francisco Proper, a Member of Design Hotels

Hotels in San Francisco were not inexpensive for the weekend we were looking to stay. Even using points seemed a bit cost prohibitive. After a few weeks of checking and rechecking hotel prices, we found we could snag a room at the San Francisco Proper, a Member of Design Hotels, for only $210/night. The room we’d select into was a Bunk Room – yes, a room with bunk beds. We hadn’t slept in bunk beds since college and thought it would be a fun change of pace. Plus the price was right for us.  We knew we wouldn’t be spending much time in the room, so even a tight space would suffice.

We checked into the hotel close to midnight after taking BART in from SFO. The public transit connection was easy, as BART goes directly to the Civic Center Station which is just meters from the hotel. The hotel is located in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco. If you haven’t been before, know that it isn’t the bright, shiny, area that you see in magazines. This area is gritty, dirty and full of homeless and drug users. As we walked up the stairs from the BART Station we had to step over many people laying on the stairs. We saw people buying and selling various narcotics.  Plus something I hadn’t seen this up close and personal since I studied in London many years ago. We had to step over a man who was actively shooting up, needle dangling out of his arm.

I don’t live in an ivory tower thinking this stuff doesn’t happen, but it was more blatant and obvious than I had seen in years. I’m not going to pontificate on the state of the opioid crisis in America or the horrible state of our mental healthcare system. I will say that this problem is multifaceted and more specifically for this post, be aware of your surroundings when you stay at this property. Other than the difficulty in carrying suitcases upstairs and over people we had no other issues with the people in and around the hotel.

Check-in

The night manager was working check-in when we arrived. She greeted us by name, I’m assuming because we were the last people to check in that day. She was very welcoming and gave us a quick, but thorough rundown of the hotel and reminded us of their award winning restaurant (Villon) and rooftop bar (Charmaine’s).

If we wanted to visit the bar, she suggested we seek a staff member to escort us. At first I thought this was because of the homeless on the streets, but it was actually because the line to get to the rooftop bar was quite long and with an escort we can bypass the line. We opted not to visit the rooftop bar our first night, but did swing by the next day. The bar was lovely, but just too packed and understaffed when we were there. It was an utterly beautiful day in San Francisco, so everyone wanted to be outside enjoying the sun and the warm breeze.

Charmaine’s, the rooftop at San Francisco Proper

A simple beer on a beautiful day. Plus who doesn’t love a cat coaster?

The Room

Our room was exactly as presented, a bunk room. I never really pay attention to square footage stats on hotel websites, I just figure a standard room is a standard room. This bunk room was small, 16m² (175ft²). There was a small table and chair that one could use to work or dine.

The eponymous bunk beds in our Bunk Room

The closet had the minibar, which was properly stocked and had luggage racks, an iron and ironing board. It was tough for us to use the ironing board because we had two suitcases that were taking up much of the room, but we managed.

A surprisingly well stocked mini-bar.

The liquid refreshments in the mini bar.

The room had two TVs though, placed at the foot of each of the bunk beds, and they were controlled by the same remote, efficient, but strange, nonetheless.

A remarkably elaborate system to control the room the size of a shoe box.

The bathroom housed the toilet and the shower, while the sink was in the main living space. It had a rolling barn style door, which doesn’t give you much privacy, but in a room as small as this, there isn’t much privacy period.

Bathroom

Bathroom

Single Vanity in Main Room

The water temperature and pressure were on point throughout our entire stay.

The hotel uses Aēsop bath products, which were in bulk containers. I do appreciate these as I find it so wasteful to have those mini shampoo, conditioner and body wash containers. My biggest concern with the bulk containers is a previous guest messing with the contents (pouring something into the shampoo, for example). These quality products smelled like mint and other herbs. When time comes we may swap out our current guestroom toiletries for this brand. Have you used them before?

We chose not to dine at the Proper, despite the rave reviews of the restaurant. San Francisco is such a great food town, the idea of dining in our hotel was a bit unpalatable. Have you dined at Villon? I’d love to hear your take on it.

Final Thoughts

While the Bunk Room at the San Francisco Proper doesn’t come close to rivaling the Mosaic Suite at the Prince de Galle Hotel in Paris, or quite frankly the AC Hotel Portland Downtown by Marriott, it was a fun experience to try a Bunk Bed and a beautifully designed hotel. I would consider staying here again, but I think I’ll steer clear of the small Bunk Room.

Have you stayed at the Proper before? What did you think of the neighborhood? What about your room? Did you get a bunk bed? Speaking of, when was the last time you slept in a bunk bed?

AC Hotel Portland Downtown

For frequent readers, you’ll know I’m a Starwood guy. I’ve been a Starwood Platinum Elite (staying 50+ nights a year) for the past 6 years (Gold for even longer), so I try to remain loyal for the benefits and the requalification. I needed to spend a week in Portland, Oregon and the Starwood selections are pretty slim. The Westin recently changed hands and the only other Starwood Property downtown is The Nines, a Luxury Collection Hotel, which I’ve stayed in at least half a dozen times and love it. Unfortunately, The Nines was going for $600+/night, which is well outside of my company’s expense policy and honestly, just outrageous.

Since Marriott acquired Starwood and is slowly integrating the business, I decided to extend my hotel options to the Marriott brand. Stays and points will be combined between Marriott and SPG later this year, so I won’t be losing any elite qualifying credits by jumping ship. Based on the pricing of the properties and the location, I decided to stay at the AC Hotel Portland Downtown. This hotel is just a couple blocks from our office and is relatively new. Plus, the AC sub-brand has a bit more character than traditional Marriott Properties, in my opinion.

I enjoy clever decor…

…and perfectly curated bookcases.

We arrived at around 16h00 after taking an early morning flight and working a good portion of the day. Moments before we arrived, the hotel called me to confirm I was actually going to show up, which I thought was strange. They didn’t do this for my colleague who was staying as well. I thought it was because I put in a special request and they were going to ensure that it was acted upon before my arrival. Spoiler Alert: It wasn’t.

We chose to park across the street at a Smart Park location, in lieu of valeting with the hotel. The self-park option was only $10/day while the valet was $45. Yes, the company was paying for it, but this doesn’t make sense for me to spend an extra $35/night on parking.

Strolling into the lobby, we were greeted by three reps at the check-in desk. Two were helping a confused and angry woman who was arguing about something – I never could figure out what her problem was and I think the Marriott folks were having the same issue. She’d complain about something, they’d offer a solution and she’d poke holes in that solution with a completely separate and distinct problem. She was an angry and toxic guest and the Marriott folks were doing everything they could to satisfy her – no one could make her happy.

Check-in was relatively smooth, if not a bit robotic. After I checked in, I wasn’t given my keys until they could confirm that my room had been de-feathered. I loathe feather pillows in hotels. I have a very mild allergy that makes me quite congested while I sleep. Swapping out he pillows is an easy fix that gives me a pretty good night’s rest. My allergy isn’t catastrophic, but the hotel staff always treats it as such and won’t let me enter the room if there is a feather pillow in the area. So I waited about 15 minutes while they confirmed the room was feather-free. I appreciate the effort, but I just wanted to sit down and relax after such a long day. Kudos for heading THIS request.

I was given a room on the 12th floor, away from the elevators, which is also my preference (high floor, away from the lifts). The room was pretty modern with a king bed and a pull-out sofa.

The room wasn’t huge, but had ample space.

The desk was big enough for me to work and spread out all of my papers. The desk chair was like a dining chair, it wasn’t on wheels, which I think is the first time I’ve come across this in a hotel. It was perfectly fine, just different from what I was expecting.

The desk area – without my special request

The bathroom was big and bright with a very large walk in shower and single vanity. The room was very well lit and had great water pressure and ample hot water.

Lovely large walk in shower.

 

Sleek and modern vanity and super modern toilet.

The minibar was stocked with a single small bottle of complimentary water. I do love an ice cold water, but I’d rather have two bottles a day. The chill was nice though.

Less stocked minibar, but with chilled water.

The view was unobstructed, not all that inspiring. Some views in Portland are absolutely stunning – the mountains or the river and bridges, but the big windows brought in a ton of natural light.

My view wasn’t too shabby.

The room did seem a little bare though, with only one piece of wall art. I’m not expecting a miniature museum, but it did strike me as odd that there was so much blank space.

The single piece of art on the wall.

Each time I interacted with a staff member on the main floor, I was addressed by name – which never happens at a Marriott for me. I get this at a St. Regis or a Parker or the Ritz…never at a Marriott. I asked for a couple recommendations from staff members too on this trip and was pleasantly surprised that I didn’t get awful recommendations for common chain restaurants. Every time I asked for something, I was offered a local option, within quick walking distance AND most importantly a personal anecdote about a recent experience at these restaurants. SCORE.

I’ve stayed at the AC chain by Marriott a couple times before and have enjoyed it. This stay in Portland was really quite lovely and I’ve already booked a return stay in a few weeks because of my experience. I slept really well (the bed was surprisingly comfortable too) and had very positive interactions with the staff the entire stay.

The hotel is located in downtown Portland, just a couple blocks from the Willamette River, the MAX (light rail system) and hundreds of amazing restaurants and shops. You really can’t go wrong with the location and if the service stays at this level, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better Marriott in the area.

Where do you stay when visiting downtown Portland?

Austrian Airlines VIE-IAD (OS93)

My flight to Vienna was direct on Austrian, but they don’t offer a direct return on Sundays (at least during the off season), so I had to connect.  I found a connection through DC on Austrian in Business Class (with a return to Vienna a few months later in coach) for only $1,300.  It was a great deal and since I’d be flying Business, I’d be earning double elite qualifying miles which is a great leap to retaining Platinum Status on United.

I arrived at the airport for my return flight home to Chicago after my quick and wonderful weekend in Vienna.  The morning was a bit snowy but because I was taking the CAT (City Airport Train) I had no issues with traffic or timing.  The CAT is really the best way to and from the Vienna Airport.

Arriving at the Airport, walking up the stairs into the main terminal where Austrian operates, you could easily miss the Business Class and Elite (HON Circle Members, Star Alliance Gold, etc) check-in area.  While it is well marked, it is something you could just walk by and never notice.  Not all of the check-in lines were open, but the ones that were had only about 4-6 people in line. Unfortunately, those lines didn’t move very fast and each  person in front of me had more luggage than a refugee.  Again, I decided to check my roller suitcase, as Austrian can be sticklers when it comes to hand luggage rules.

The elite check-in area for Austrian Airlines. Business Class, HON Circle and Star Gold Members can use this area.

The elite check-in area for Austrian Airlines. Business Class, HON Circle and Star Gold Members can use this area.

I made it through security and immigration pretty quickly and found my way to the Austrian Lounge – there are two lounges, one for Business Class Passengers and one for Star Alliance Gold.  I was very disappointed when I was told I couldn’t enter the Business Class Lounge, because I was a Star Gold Member, even though I had a paid Austrian Business Class Ticket.  The Star Gold Lounge was completely packed – not a single seat was available, people were standing around, it was miserable and reminded me of the Swiss Lounge at O’Hare.

I decided to pop over to the Priority Pass Lounge a few meters away.  It sure wasn’t fancy, but I managed to get a seat and had a couple tomato juices and a bloody Mary before heading off to the gate.  I left the lounge about 20 minutes before boarding and as I walked to the gate, I snapped the Boeing 767 that would take me to Washington.

Austrian’s Boeing 767 parked in Vienna.

The gate area was blocked off into a standard economy section and the business class section – you were put into your section after your passport and boarding pass were checked again. Boarding began about 25 minutes before our scheduled departure.  There were about a dozen people who hopped on the plane before me.  We boarded through door 1L.

Flight: Austrian Airlines OS93 (Business Class)
Aircraft: Boeing 767-300
Seat: 7K
Departure: 10h35 (11h50)
Arrival: 14h30 (15h31)

I was seating on the other side of the plane this time, in seat 7K – again, the seat closest to the window with the side table on the aisle, really, the best of the seating options on this flight.

As soon as I stowed my briefcase and sat down, I was approached by the flight attendant with water, apple juice and champagne as pre-departure beverage options.  Of course I enjoyed a lovely glass of champagne while the rest of the plane boarded and our menus were distributed.

Pre-departure champagne.

Pre-departure champagne served in a beautiful Riedel Glass

Like the previous flight, the chef came by and took our orders for lunch and the pre-landing snack while we were still on the ground, and I was served another glass of champagne.  Unfortunately the snow had picked up and we were told we’d need to head over to be de-iced and we were fifth in line for the procedure.  I started to get a little nervous since I did have a connection in DC and I really didn’t want to get home too late as I had to work the next day.

We waited on the de-icing pad for about 45 minutes until it was our turn.  15 minutes of de-icing and we were ready to take off.  The snow was really limited and I was surprised that we actually needed to be de-iced, I think we’d have just taken off if we were on a US based flight, but I’d rather be safe than sorry.

An Austrian Airbus painted in classic livery.

The business class cabin was quite full and some people tried to take a nap before take off.

About two hours after our scheduled departure time and about 45 minutes after we actually took off service began.  I had another glass of champagne with some mixed nuts.  The nuts were ice cold, which was a little disappointing – I think the warm airline nuts are a nice treat.

Continuation of champagne and fresh nuts. Cold Nuts.

The meal service moved quite quickly.  The antipasti trolley made it’s way down the aisle and I picked one of everything, excepted for the smoked salmon – I am really not a salmon guy.  The octopus was quite good, and no one else on my aisle seemed to like it, so the flight attendant returned and offered me a substantial refill.

I sampled most of the antipasti from the trolley.

The next course was a very lovely tomato soup that was a little smokey and had a few small pieces of bocconcini mixed in.  I was very nervous about eating this soup – a deep red tomato soup on a plane always makes me think I’m going to be wearing the soup with just a touch of turbulence.  Luckily, I wasn’t covered in this tasty soup….this time.

The smoked tomato soup with bocconcini.

For my main course, I had the Viennese style veal goulash, which had a shockingly sweet sauce.  It wasn’t bad per se, it was just not at all what I was expecting and it actually paired horribly with the red wine the flight attendant suggested I have with this course.  The sauce was sweet and the wine was extremely dry, making for a cloying combination.  The spaetzle was really done perfectly though.

Viennese style veal goulash with homemade spaetzle

I was utterly stuffed after this course and couldn’t even bring myself to have cheese or dessert on this flight.  Take a look at my previous Austrian flight review to see how that turned out – the desserts were exactly the same (which is why I chose to steer clear this time).

After lunch, I decided to watch some movies on the in-flight entertainment (IFE). Again, since I had just flown this product 4 days earlier the movie and (dismal) TV selection were unchanged.  As I rewatched Murder on the Orient Express, I napped for a few hours.  I didn’t want to get too much sleep because I had to work the next day, I tried to focus on getting reacclimated to the Central Time Zone.  I also spent much of the flight watching TV shows on my tablet.

We ended up landing in DC about an hour later than scheduled, which meant we picked up about 30 minutes in the air.  Many passengers had tight connections and deplaning was a bit of a mess.  I got off pretty quickly, but then remembered the awful part of Dulles – those people movers that look like they belong on the moon.  I don’t know if you can bypass these monstrosities and just walk, but I boarded these futuristic contraptions and waited.  And waited. AND WAITED.  It took about 30 minutes from the time I hopped aboard until we started to move, then once we stopped everyone began pushing to get off.  Often times I’d rather have a long walk – at least I’m in control of that situation. Being at the mercy of these Star Wars style people movers just made my frustrated.

This was my first time flying Austrian Airlines westbound.  Heading this direction you aren’t focusing so much on sleep as you are on the eastbound journey, so I was able to slow down and enjoy the product and the service of it all.  I really do think that Austrian offers the best Star Alliance Business Class Product out of Chicago to Europe.  I’ll have to expand my horizons and try British, Iberia, Air France or KLM soon though.

Have you flown Austrian Airlines in Business Class?  Which direction is your favorite?  Don’t you just love the onbaord chef and the BLAZING Red Uniforms of the cabin crew?