Saturday, March 30, 2013

Cashing 'Em In

Another Summer of Travel Beckons
Barcelona, Venice, Vienna, Berlin and Madrid

Using Up My Incredible Shrinking Points
With all the news about a merger between US Airways and American I decided to go look at American's reward structure as it will undoubetly get adopted by US Airways. YUK!

Then comes quiet little announcements by both Marriott and Hilton that they'd soon recompose their point redemptions.

All of this prompted Roadboy to get off his butt and get summer travel all booked. 

Good thing too. Hilton's new structure is now in place and in the days leading up to it, it was almost impossible to find anything on the HHonors website clearly describing what was about to happen. Calls to the "800" were required. When connected customer service reps routinely had to "talk to a supervisor" before answering simple questions. Roadboy knows that whenever the travel industry announces "changes" in their loyalty programs their most loyal clients are about to get screwed. 

Actually I marvel at the travel industry business model. A model I assume was carefully created by Max Bialysotck of Broadway's "The Producer's." I mean who else perfected selling products they don't actually have?

Hotels and airlines offer a myriad of ways to accumulate loyalty points, then find ingenious ways to prevent anyone from actually redeeming them. Anyone who as tried knows that without (very) flexible travel dates you'll have to double or triple points to obtain any desired reward.

I've heard statistics suggesting only 10% of the points earned by consumers are actually ever used.

So after carefully evaluating the tea leaves at the bottom of my commuter cup (and some relentless searching) I determined that (like last year) it would be best to book my business class seats (at a good rate - 50K each way!) through Spain during August.

This year we will fly into Barcelona. I never tire of Barcelona and my son wants to see the home of FC Barcelona. Ms. M wants to explore Barcelona's revamped Design Center (which was closed last summer) which should now be open.

From Barcelona we'll fly to Venice for two nights. I love Venice and want Mr. B and Ms. M to see the amazing map rooms in the Doge's palace. And yes, my personal plans include acquisition of more eyeglass frames at Ottica Carraro. 

From Venice we'll travel overnight via sleeper rail arriving into Vienna at 8:00 am. I figure a few palaces and some schnitzel will be good for the soul. Also Vienna is probably a damned fine place to buy a birthday cake for Mr. B. As for me, I was 18 the last time I visited Vienna (please don't do the math) so it will be all new.

From Vienna we fly to Berlin. This will be my first visit to Berlin and I am eager to experience it. Friends always tell me how much they enjoy Berlin. My list includes visits to the Reichstag, Checkpoint Charlie, the Alt (Alternative) Berlin free Street Art walking tour, the Brandenburg Gate and just time to absorb Berlin's explosion in contemporary architecture.

We wrap up with a flight back to Madrid (perhaps a tour of another soccer stadium?) Me, I plan to eat some of Spain's spectacular tapas, delicious ham, and drink some Sangria. I also want to see if I can secure a definitive answer to my open question - who is the dead guy in the Palacio Real Chapel?

For those noting that we are beginning and ending our trip through Spain?

Here's a Roadboy Tip:
Travel via Spain is both a joy and a bargain. The people of Spain are wonderful. Sadly, Spain is currently experiencing fiscal hell and can use our tourist bucks. Spain has two gorgeous and modern airports: Madrid's Barajas (the fourth busiest airport in Europe) and Barcelona's glistening El Prat.

Now consider this, a "free" flight to London Heathrow results in $289 in added per passenger fees. Whereas a "free" ticket into Barcelona accrues added per passenger fees of only $54!

In fact, here are some current sample airport fees to consider. Amazingly (at least to me), the big winner in bargain fees is Venice's Marco Polo airport!

London: $289 (a jolly good rip-off?)
Paris: $139    
Frankfurt: $139
Athens: $80
Zurich: $69
Amsterdam: $64  
Rome: $64
Brussels: $62
Madrid: $60
Barcelona: $54
Dublin $53
Venice: $51 

Our planes, house sitter and hotels are all booked (at those great old redemption rates.) We just need to reserve the puppy resort.

Roadboy's Travels © 2013

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Roadboy's Hotel Fire

One Night in Denver

This week I received my lifetime Platinum membership card from Marriott Hotels. To get one a road warrior must spend a minimum of 750 nights in a Marriott and earn at least 2,000,000 Marriott Rewards points.Year in and year out I have been platinum with Marriott and most of those years I also reached gold or diamond with Hilton too.

I spend a lot of time each year in a hotel room.

Now, anyone my age (old) can probably remember the 1980 MGM (Now Bally's) fire in Las Vegas. This fire quickly spread through the casino creating toxic smoke. The smoke spread up through the hotel elevator shafts. 735 people were killed and injured from smoke on upper floors of the hotel. America watched the airlift of over 1000 guests from the roof of the 23 story hotel on TV.

After that fire I began to routinely look for a fire alarm, fire detector and fire sprinkler in any hotel room I enter.

With so many of my nights spent in hotels I've lost track of how many times I've been awakened by an aggressive fire alarm Regrettably, my strongest impulse is to pull a pillow over my head and wait for the alarm to stop.

Although usually the alarms are the result of some careless guest incinerating popcorn in a microwave, I've also experienced three real live hotel fires. One in Alexandria VA, One in Bellevue WA and (this week) one in Denver CO.

My word up? Staying in your room during a fire alarm is downright stupid.

It can kill you.

Hotel fires don't just happen in dumps. My first major fire was in the elegant Bellevue Club in Washington. In Bellevue I was awakened by someone madly pounding on my door to "Get out! The hotel is on fire". It turned out the new building's sophisticated fire alarm had false alarmed so many times the hotel management had disconnected it. That turned out to be a bad move when two giggling trust fund tweakers lit up a mattress in their room.

Amazingly, after almost a whole night spent sitting on a cold curb, the hotel offered nothing but sympathy and a cup of coffee. I had to argue for a room refund, which was refused.

This week my hotel in Denver caught fire. When the alarm sounded I did not wait. I put on pants and shoes, grabbed my coat and car keys and headed for the stairs. At the first floor the smell of natural gas was pungent in the stair well.

Smelling that made me exit the building and keep walking as far as I could.

Within minutes seemingly every major piece of Denver's impressive fire fighting equipment arrived along with dozens of firefighters who worked hard to put out the upstairs fire.

Wednesday Night At The Doubletree North In Denver

Initially Guests Waited In The Lobby

Firefighters Soom Required Everyone Vacate
The Hotel Delivered Blankets

Around 3 AM, car keys in hand, I decided to go check into another hotel. The next morning I came back to try to retrieve my suitcase (It was fine.)

So here are Roadboy's tips.

1. Avoid rooms near elevators (they act like smoke pistons).
2. If you have any walking issues ask for a lower floor.
3. If you have any hearing impairments make sure the alarm in your room also has a strobe. My room alarm in the Doubletree was audible only. If I'd been deaf, I'd have been completely unaware of the fire.
4. If the room alarm sounds never try to ignore it.
5. Gather up your car keys, wallet, coat, and medications.
6. Unless your other belongings are all packed up and ready to go, leave them.
7. Before opening your room, look through the door peep scope and touch the surface to check for heat.
8. If you see fire or smoke or if the surface of the door is hot, don't open it. Soak bath towels and use them to seal the threshold of the door.
9. Go near the window and make yourself plainly visible to firefighters.

By the way, unlike the Bellevue Club.....The Doubletree North staff were great. They brought out comforters and blankets to cold guests. They displayed genuine concern at every turn. Without prompting at check out they covered my stay elsewhere plus a full refund for my nightly rate.

To Denver's Fire Department, you are awesome!

Roadboy's Travels © 2013

PS: To those that burn popcorn in hotel microwaves, you know who you are, it is 2 minutes (and never more than 2 minutes and 30 seconds) on high!