Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Ultimate Car Auctions

Sweet Rides and Hurricane Winds

Updated for 2014
For those that would like to see all prior Car Auction editions of this post see the following:
Roadway's Auction coverage in 2009 Click: Scottsdale January 2009
Roadway's Auction coverage in 2012 Click: Scottsdale January 2012
Roadway's Auction coverage in 2013 Click: Scottsdale January 2013
Roadway's Auction coverage in 2014 Click: Scottsdale January 2014

As Roadboy's friends all know January means a lot more than just a celebration on New Years Eve. It is the time each year when amazing wheels roll into the Valley of the Sun!

This year there were four collector car auctions in town running simultaneously. The Barrett Jackson auction is the biggest, but has kind of bogged down into an endless parade of Shelby Mustangs, Cuda's, and old Corvettes. Not that I don't love them too, its just that the one-of-a-kind cars seem to get lost in the middle-aged, chunky boy, drinkin-a-beer, muscle car extravaganza. 

Live, Internet, and Phone Bids
With Prices Scrolling in Multiple Currencies

In fact this year the top price for a car at Barrett was barely $500K. While over at the RM Auction they sold a 1963 Aston Martin for over $1M. The Gooding auction had the most highly sought after cars with a 1956 "D" Type Jaguar fetching $3.7M. In fact Gooding sold over seven cars that each bid well over $1M.

Russo and Steele this year suffered the effects of a terrible microburst wind storm that literally blew some of their tents away. So much wind that the tent debris closed the nearby 101 freeway for a time.

As is now my tradition here is my report from the "Big Boy", the Barrett Jackson. There were two new tents this year so the number of cars to be sold was much larger than previous years. They had some fun cars too. Sonny and Cher's matching pink Mustangs. Dillinger's getaway car (complete with bullet holes). A later replica of the Batmobile. One of the three original Ghostbuster Cadillac ambulance's. There was a wonderful Loewy Concept Car and a bunch of modern and antique racing cars. The highest bid this year wasn't even for a car. It was for a 1929 "Metalplane" H47 aircraft. 

That is Cher's Pink Mustang 
Complete With A fur Lined trunk!

Dillinger's Getaway Car

Because of the rainy weather there was a lot more action in the big auction tents this year. I think the jewelry and trinket vendors probably did better than usual. My favorite stuff is always the neon signs for sale. Neon reminds me of being a kid traveling through the southwest. As we drove at night we'd see the neon signs from miles away. Man I miss neon.

Give Me Neon!
Lots and Lots of Neon!

The race cars were fun this year. I especially liked the 1952 Watson Roadster. What a head turner that big silver bullet would be. The 1959 Cadillac El Dorado concept car designed by Raymond Loewy was very elegant. Loewy is probably America's most famous industrial designer having designed such icons as the blue and white paint job for Air Force One, the curvy coke bottle, the Greyhound Scenicruiser, and the "streamlined" trains. The car Loewy is most famous for was his 1962-63 Studebaker Avanti. The design of the Avanti was so timeless that the car itself continued in production by a variety of independent car makers well into the 1980's. 

America's Most Famous Industrial Designer Raymond Loewy 

The 1959 Loewy Cadillac El Dorado

The 1952 Watson

Course everyone knows my heart belongs to Jags. So I kept my eye on this one. It rolled across at about $71,000. I think somebody got a pretty good deal on that one. I doubt it could be restored for that amount today. When this model Jag was introduced it was the fastest production car available in the world!

How Could Anybody Not Look Great Driving A Jag Like This?

Over the next two weeks Roadboy will be posting from Barcelona, Granada, and Madrid!

Roadboy's Travels © 2010

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Buildings As Old Friends

The Mission Inn

We frequently associate coolness with newness. It is easy to do in a technology based world. Every day we use phones, computers, and cars that just seem to get better, safer, and more fuel efficient with every passing year. The immediate horizon beckons with the next generation of technological wizardry including stunning new commercial aircraft such as the Airbus A380 and the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

But, as nice as anticipating the future can be, an awful lot of my favorite travel revolves around seeing how good (and sometimes bad) things were in the past.  

When truly magnificent old treasures are preserved and remain functional in the modern world, it is especially wonderful. 

Lately, I've had a couple of chances to visit one such place; The Mission Inn Hotel and Spa in Riverside California.

Some years back, while working on a project for the City of Riverside, I watched as its then redevelopment director (Ralph Megna), and some leading citizens (folks such as Henry Coil), worked tirelessly to save Riverside's architectural heritage. One of Riverside's first big "win's" came with the re-opening of the meticulously reconstructed Mission Inn. 

There is Only One Mission Inn

I know today Riverside is not on everyones "Must See" LA travel list, but the Mission Inn stands as testament to a time when the Citrus groves of the Inland Empire of Southern California made Riverside the wealthiest city per capita in the US and provided a warm and relaxing retreat for movie stars, executives, politicians, and wealthy Europeans. 

The Inn was a work in progress for its owner Frank Miller from 1903 to 1931. Each wing of this confection has rooms designed in differing styles and fitted with different features. You may want a two story rooftop room that would have made Rudolph Valentino feel perfectly at home. Or perhaps you'd prefer a room near the front courtyard with it big pool and parrots. Depending upon the wing, you can get rooms with fireplaces, prayer niches, and/or stained glass.

The Rotunda

There is an exquisite collection of bells, a fine wood paneled cocktail bar that has served 10 presidents, big comfy chairs in the gracious lobby (including an especially wide chair built to comfortably house President Taft - who weighed 350 pounds), a wedding chapel complete with windows acquired directly from Tiffany and an 18K gold leafed altar. 

The Chapel in the Atrio

I particularly love the California Glockenspeil complete with a life sized Padre Serra, Indian, and a gold miner who endlessly walk around and around every hour on the hour.

The Inner Courtyard With The California Inspired Glockenspiel

A few weeks back a fine meal confirmed that the food services are now at a par befitting the quality of the place. We had a rotisserie chicken that was nothing short of outstanding.

The Inn is the perfect place for a special event, Sunday brunch, or just a delightful get away for Los Angelinos.

Sometime's I note TripAdvisor comments about the Inn where someone points out that lights in a room didn't all work, or the internet was spotty. While I understand their momentary inconvenience, it cracks me up that some spoiled travelers can be so vacuous. Just remember, this magnificent Inn is truly a living treasure. And, like any other really old and unique thing, sometimes everything doesn't work to 2010 standards. 

Personally I say, enjoy the beauty of what it does well. After all, it isn't fair to measure such a place by what it doesn't do, unless you also recognize it offers an experience that cannot be matched by any other hotel in California! 

 A Beautiful Reminder of California's History

I agree with Will Rogers who declared the Mission Inn to be:
"the most unique hotel in America. It is a monastery, a museum, a fine home, a boardinghouse, a mission, an art gallery, and an aviator's shrine" 

Roadboy's Travels @ 2010

PS: Sorry about the quality of these photo's - my cool, modern, trusty I-phone does the best it can, despite me!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Art of The Deal

Shopping For Hotels During The Recession
Roadboys Great Website Shootout!

Hotel prices will drop a lot in 2010. 

No, I am not clairvoyant, but lets face it they went up too high in the past few years and are no longer sustainable at pre-recession levels.  

The hotel bubble was just like the residential real estate bubble. Years of hotel undersupply was rewarded with skyrocketing room rates, followed by a vigorous hotel building boom. Now those new hotels are in place but business travel has careened into a ditch. The few of us roadwarriors that still exist, after years of getting taken to the cleaners, are gonna get even. 

In 2009 we watched in amazement as the hotel industry desperately attempted to cling to its inflated pricing structure.  

We don't care that you are discounting weekends. We are wise to your ploy of sweepstakes and adding a few inexpensive perks. We have also noticed that you have quietly been taking out lotions, discounting only prepaid stays, leaving us one bottle of water instead of two, and have quietly been sneaking in new parking charges.

Quit moving the deck chairs and just drop your prices. 

Some of the top chains (i.e. Marriott) just can't seem to get it. I've been a Platinum member of Marriott for a decade, but in 2009 every time I compared the room rates between a Courtyard and a Hilton Garden Inn, the (much nicer) HGI was almost always significantly less costly. Hilton seems to be getting it.

So for a recent trip I thought I'd do a bit of comparative shopping. I knew I'd need 4-5 hotel rooms in a few months in San Francisco (which is usually a pretty darned expensive destination). So I started looking early and thought I would then keep tabs on price fluctuations until the date of travel.

Here is what I found.

90 days before the trip I started going online to check all the usual hotel websites. After about three weeks I decided the prices were not going to go down, so I opted for a 4 star hotel from Hotwire. 

Hotwire offers blind reservations. "Blind" means you know the location and the number of stars of the property, but not the name. The hotel name is disclosed only after the transaction is complete. Hotwire transactions are pre-paid, do not qualify for any frequent stay points, and are non-refundable. So I only use Hotwire when I know the trip is "for sure".

For recreational travel I like Hotwire a lot. Since I spend between 150 and 200 nights a year in hotels, I'm pretty picky. When I've had a problem with a Hotwire reservation they have made it good. Example: the description for a Hotwire hotel in Las Vegas offered a free airport shuttle. Now in my heart of hearts I knew the description had to be wrong. Frequent travelers to Las Vegas know that the cab mafia makes darned sure that NO hotel in Las Vegas ever offers free shuttles. While high rollers at the Wynn get a Rolls dispatched for them, the rest of us get a cab. 

So when I got there and confirmed there was no free shuttle, I emailed Hotwire. I told them I would have selected a different hotel (with a less expensive cab ride) if the description had been accurate (all true). They reviewed it, agreed, and gave me "hotbucks" which work like credits to use on future hotel reservations. 

Now for my test trip to San Francisco, Hotwire delivered the Westin Market Street for $89. The lovely Westin turned out to be perfectly located and had heavenly beds. It was a SCREAMIN deal at $89.

So even though I had already booked our rooms, as the date for the trip got closer, I went back to the web a few times to see if deals would have been better if I had waited and booked closer to the date of travel.

Admittedly it was hard to compare websites side by side as not all sites had the same hotels available at each visit. So I tested a few very common properties:

The Intercontinental: 
Expedia $99
Orbitz $119 
Sidestep $119
Priceline $132 
Quikbook $139

Le Meridian
Travelocity $97
Sidestep $97
Expedia $134
Getaroom $138

Mark Hopkins
Priceline $99
Kayak $99
Quikbook $99

The Westin
Hotwire (blind) $89
Non-blind averaged $196

Strangely, (which I usually like) was not very competitive on the dates I checked. There was was also a lot of price spread for the fine local chain (Kimpton).

What does all this mean? Well for a "for sure" pleasure trip Hotwire delivered the best deal. But I also noted that as the date grew closer the Hotwire offerings got pretty slim.  For business travel (where pre-paid non refundable hotel rates are rarely an option) shopping is essential. 

As you see above, although Expedia offered the best deal at the Intercontinental, it was not competitive at the Le Meridian. So, while price sensitivity is clearly emerging, to get the best deal you still have to surf around a bit.

I close by noting that I recently got a questionnaire from Marriott inquiring why I only stayed 67 nights with them in 2009. I thought about it. It kind of made me mad. I happen to think 67 nights in one year is a whole lot of nights. I also think that Marriott's 75 night requirement to achieve platinum is about 15-20 nights too high. 

What was surprising was that the e-mail questionnaire was constructed so that you really could not answer why you were staying less at Marriott. It almost felt like they really did not want to hear what they already know,  that they are just too expensive.
So, go ahead and start planning travel for 2010. 

Plan to spend a little time shopping, you'll probably be rewarded with darned good deals!

Roadboy's Travels © 2010