Tim Foolery

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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)?

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?

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?

SLS Las Vegas

I travel to Las Vegas almost every year, usually for work, and I may tack on an extra personal day or two, depending on what’s going on in my life that week.  This trip was completely business with no add on days.  I’ve stayed up and down the Strip on previous visits, including the Luxor, Aria, Planet Hollywood and even the Stratosphere (God help me). Once I even stayed off Strip at the Red Rock resort. This time, I decided to try something new, get away from the massive casinos and earn some night/stay credits at Starwood.  After a little research, I settled on the SLS Las Vegas. I have never stayed at an SLS Property before, but these hotels are part of Starwood’s Tribute Collection and can be found in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami and the Bahamas.

The rate was on par with the other hotels I found, but the SLS was offering a couple bonuses to the rate, including 20% off all food and beverage plus a $25/day credit to food and bev charged to the room. Easy enough as these credits would offset the $35 Resort Fee that was in addition to the rate (even including this fee the nightly cost was on par with other hotels of its quality during my stay).

I still had five Platinum Suite Night Upgrades on the books, so I decided to use them here. I have a hell of a time getting these upgrades to clear in the US and often a few will go to waste.  Surprisingly the upgrades cleared pretty early and I was put into a World Tower suite.

I arrived around 20h00 and found no line at check-in. My previous experiences in Las Vegas always had at least a 30 minute wait – obviously I planned my arrival a little better this time.  Check-in wasn’t a painless process however. My rate was right, but the man helping me didn’t see the two F&B benefits. He actually told me they didn’t offer things like that – I had to show him my emailed confirmation. Now whether the credits would have worked the same or not, I don’t know, but I wanted this confirmed.  This took about 15 minutes.  At the end of this discussion, he told me he had personally upgraded me to a World Tower Suite (the same category that the Platinum Upgrades got me). I mentioned that the “personal upgrade” he had given me was the same upgrade that was given to me a week prior. Of course I asked if he could kick the upgrade to a better room. He said he had done everything he could do (which was nothing). That’s fine, I got good use out only upgrades and if he thought he did something to get it for me, good for him.

After this interaction, my expectations had fallen pretty far.  I got to my room, on the 28th floor and was really surprised. The had a fun and funky design – mostly white, with some garish silver accents. There was a ton of space in my living area, enough that they could have added some more seating or a larger bar area.

Living Room of the World Tower Suite

Living Room of the World Tower Suite

Living Room of the World Tower Suite

The bedroom was not only the sleeping area, but the work area. I would have liked the desk to be in the other room to give a more separated feel and allow for a more balanced use of the space.

King sized bed

Desk in Bedroom

To get to the bathroom, you had to walk though the closet, which wasn’t a problem for me. There was ample open storage in the closet, which unused immediately. On work trips, especially when I wear suits, I always unpack and hang my clothes.

Walk-In Closet

The bathroom was very big, with a walk in shower, single sink vanity and the toilet.  There wasn’t enough space to add a separate tub, but I think it could have been done if the shower had been a little smaller.  That being said, I’m not taking a bath in a hotel room in Las Vegas. There is just something off about that to me.

Large bathroom

Large bathroom

The bathroom use to had two sinks, which you could see by the way the plumbing fixtures were laid out. I don’t think two sinks is necessary in a hotel – if you do have two, I like one to be separate from the main bathroom, so you can use the sink while your roommate is in the bathroom…doing….whatever.

The water pressure and temperature were perfect. Actually, the temperature got quite scalding in the sink, but I’d rather regulate that than shave with tepid water.

With the food and bev credits, I decided to dine on property quite a bit.  The Monkey Bar, on the main floor between Registration and the Casino was fun. It is a small bar, open to the public spaces, but was adorned with photos of various apes (gorillas, chimpanzees, etc) in formal attire. Some making martinis, others waiting for your direction. A little garish, but I was digging it.  I drank a variation of the cocktail Aviation, called Buzz the Tower, which I enjoyed.

The first night we ate at Katsuya, the sushi restaurant. It wasn’t inventive and the fish seemed a shade less than fresh. It wasn’t bad, but it did give us pause.

The next night  we decided to splurge. Dinner was following a rough day as this was the day after the maniac opened fire on the concert at Mandalay Bay killing (at the time I write this) 59 people and injuring more than 500. We had some team members at that concert and luckily everyone from our group was safe. Suffice it to say, I took it upon myself to treat the team to a nice dinner.

We went to Bazaar Meat by José Andrés – the steakhouse, and enjoyed the tasting menu. The food was really phenomenal and when I mentioned I don’t care for salmon (which was one of the courses), the server swapped it out quickly and easily. The steak here was truly great- prepared perfectly and seasoned with a bit of big flake sea salt.

I also ate at the pizzeria one night, 800 Degrees Neapolitan Pizzeria. Here, you design your own pie (I had a traditional Margherita Pizza with pepperoni, pineapple, goat cheese, cherry tomatoes and artichoke hearts). Pairing with a beer made for a great dinner.

Finally, I grabbed a burger at Umami Burgers. This was the only place I had heard about before my visit to this property. A few colleagues commented that they truly loved the burgers here. I was excited…then after my first bite, I was disappointed. The burger patty itself seemed over processed, the taste and texture felt a bit off.  If you are looking for a burger, skip Umami’s and head down to Bobby Flay’s Bobby’s Burger Palace at City Center, head and shoulders above this competitor.

I gambled a bit here too. While the Casino isn’t big, it wasn’t crowded either. The minimums were low, which surprised me when I saw the table occupancy.  I also watched three Chinese men lose $15,000 each at baccarat within about 10 minutes of play. That was exciting and confusing. I left when they each pulled out a huge wad of cash to start the process over again.

I snagged a late check out, without a problem too.

I really enjoyed my stay at the SLS Las Vegas and am looking forward to my return…and I will definitely return. The property is a manageable size, but has all the amenities I’d want in a Las Vegas resort – great dining, accessible gambling, a cool looking pool (which I missed out on because I had to work) and it even had access to the monorail. It really was a win-win.

Have you stayed at the SLS Las Vegas?  What about the other SLS Properties?  What do you look for in a Las Vegas hotel?