Does booking through Hotwire or Priceline affect the quality of your accomodations?

The Good: Palmer House Chicago Loop

Over time I have been an avid user of Hotwire and on occasion Priceline Name Your Own Price. Obviously, I chose them to save money against their fellow online travel booking engines the likes of Orbitz and Travelocity or booking with the hotel chain directly (e.g. Hilton, Marriott, etc). As you know if you have ever used either Hotwire or Priceline, the name of the hotel you book is not revealed until the sale is final. If you are unhappy with the selection,  no changes can be made to such bookings short of a decree from God (just kidding, well kind of). In my case, not knowing the hotel ahead of time has worked out well at times (Chicago), but at other times (Ft. Lauderdale) as they say in German nicht so gut. Using Hotwire or Priceline can be a rather hit or miss endeavor, even when one uses the additional features provided by the sites such as star ratings, customer satisfaction percentage, and customer reviews.

The Bad: Ocean Sky Resort Ft. Lauderdale

But I digress to the main point of my post. Does one compromise their chances of a quality room when booking with Hotwire or Priceline Name Your Own Price? Through a synthesis of personal and other people’s experience (both acquaintances and 3rd parties unknown to me via travel forums such as fodors and tripadvisor) the reviews are mixed. More times than not it appears to be a matter of capacity. If the hotel is rather full, one should expect to receive lesser accomodations than his/her fellow guest who has paid more via an online hotel booking site such as Expedia or the hotel directly. Another factor could be the duration of your stay as one night surely will not carry as much bargaining weight as say a 3 or 4 night stay. Ultimately it becomes a matter of cost benefit analysis. Does having a small room dramatically decrease your enjoyment of the hotel or is sacrificing square footage worth it in terms of the hotel’s value regarding price, amenities, and location as was the case for me in Chicago?

The Ugly: Ocean Sky Resort Ft. Lauderdale

There are a couple of things you can do to prepare yourself for a Hotwire booking stay. Of course use their features of map, star rating, customer satisfaction rating, and customer reviews to make the best possible choice prior to booking. After booking and the name of the hotel is revealed, look for them on twitter, begin following them, and send them a message informing them of your upcoming stay. When checking in ask them what the capacity level of the hotel is so that if the room you are assigned is substandard and the capacity is less than full, you have a bargaining chip. Finally, tweet both positive and negative impressions of the room directly to the hotel using a hashtag before its name so it is public in the twitterverse. These are some of the steps I have taken to improve the quality of my stays via Hotwire and Priceline Name Your Own Price bookings. I would love to hear from you about other effective means to ensure the best accommodations when booking with the aforementioned companies.

Happy Hotel Hunting!

Cheyenne Mountain Resort-Colorado Springs

So my wife and I stretched out our Labor Day holiday over two weekends in order to find good value. We spent a night during the second weekend in Colorado Springs at the Cheyenne Mountain Resort. Honestly, I had booked the hotel rather quickly the night before and utilized Hotwire in order to do so. This of course meant that I didn’t choose this hotel specifically, but rather through a series of criteria such as star listing (4 stars), location, overall customer satisfaction (90%), and specific guest reviews. The price was excellent at around $90 I believe, and the guest reviews left me feeling confident it would be a good choice. After booking, when the name of the hotel was revealed to me, I immediately recognized it from researching possible stays for the previous New Years Eve festivities. That being the case, I definitely felt intrigued to know what this hotel resort was all about. 

We checked in around four or so, a little late for my taste, but which coincidentally coincided with the actual check-in time of the hotel. I don’t like how mountain hotels, or in this case foothill hotels, present such a late check-in time. I think it is a rip-off that we get considerably less than a full 24 hour stay. After checking in we had to get into our car again and drive to another part of the resort. The rooms are essentially positioned into mini-compounds providing a de facto barrier between the main hall/pool area and that of the Colorado Country Club immediately to the south. 

I found our room to have a nice layout and decor. It had a balcony with a cute patio table and chairs to enjoy the fresh air. However the view from there was less than stellar as our angle only provided a driveway underneath and a barren field across the way. The room itself displayed a floral motif with earthly tones that I found pleasing. Particularly nice were the curtains and bed headboards. Notice how I said “headboards”, that’s right you guessed it, the hotel expecting the Mrs. and I to share the room like a couple of college dorm mates. One of the casualties of booking through Hotwire I presume. What’s worse was the condition of the beds, suffering from what I call “weakitis.” The beds looked and felt wavier than the sea during high-tide. The night of sleep confirmed our fears, leaving my wife with a sore back in excess of a week. The rest of the accommodation was descent with a wet bar and mini-fridge next to the bathroom. The bathroom had separate areas for the sink and vanity, toilet, and shower, which is always a popular set-up for me.

The highlight of the amenities as far as I’m concerned was Sunday brunch. They provided so many wonderful options such as sea bass, prime rib, Oysters Rockefeller and so on. The desserts were absolutely delightful and all you can drink mimosas added a nice touch. Be prepared to shell out a little coin for the buffet, with each person costing $30 to partake. We didn’t have to eat for the rest of the day so consider that as well. The pool area was quaint but heavily invaded by kids. Actually all the common areas were invaded as such causing the wife and I irritation when we were enjoying drinks and dinner in the bar and adjoining patio all the while witnessing kids running and screaming around us. I just don’t understand how the hotel lets that happen, let alone parents!

All in all  I would concede 4 stars for the Cheyenne Mountain Resort had it not been for weak beds, children allowed in the bar area in the evening, and a general vibe of unhappiness portrayed by many of the clientele. If the hotel can improve in those areas I have no qualms about rating it 4 stars, however being in its current state I would more likely rate it at 3 stars. The guests of the resort did have access to the adjacent country club for golf, tennis, and aquatic sports, which I must admit I only took advantage of its fitness center. So had I used more of those facilities my view perhaps would have changed, bumping it up to 3 1/2 stars. Regardless one non-negotiable remains, a 4 star establishment must furnish comfortably firm bedding!

Beaver Creek Village

Last week’s post talked about how I found a last minute Labor Day Deal to Beaver Creek, a ski village next to the town of Avon, CO and only 8 miles away from Vail. Despite living in Denver now going on 5 years, it was my first visit to Beaver Creek. We arrived at our destination, The Park Hyatt Beaver Creek around 3:00 p.m. on Sunday. The drive in being relatively smooth with sparse traffic and the occasional brief rain shower to cool things down and give an autumn-like feel to the air. Even some of the trees had began changing colors, which is quite early for this time of year. I attribute this premature phenomenon to the rather hot and dry Summer we have had and are still experiencing. 
Upon pulling up to valet at the Park Hyatt (which was included free in this smashing deal), the attendant welcomed us and advised us that we still had a few hours left to enjoy Beaver Creek’s rendition of Oktoberfest. What an added bonus! My wife and I thought as we surrendered our car to the attendant,grabbed our bags, and gave the gentleman a small tip for his services. My wife waited in the lobby as I checked in at the front desk. The front desk attendant, a nice young lady, found my reservation instantaneously but was trying to assess me the $25 resort fee, contrary to what the travelzoo deal had offered. Thinking ahead of time that this may occur, I pulled out documentation of the offer displaying in print the waived resort fee, with which the attendant happily obliged. My wife and I took the elevator up to the third floor, locating our room with ease. While freshening up and getting ready for the Oktoberfest, I took pictures of the room and of the view for this blog. Nowadays I make sure to do that first as it is a hassle to make the room look presentable later on. 
It was so great to eat German street food! The little village square was littered with booths selling everything from bratwurst to Göstl, a sort of hot salad with potatoes, pork, and cabbage. There were also traditional German pastries of which I cannot recall the names at this time and of course hundreds of people carrying around traditional steins of German and local Colorado beer. For those that don’t know, Colorado is a mecca for great local craft beer!
In the center of the square a covered stage appeared, where traditional German music and dances were being held. Many in the crowd danced to their heart’s content and the general vibe was one of tranquil enjoyment I must say. I couldn’t think of a better way to wrap up this Summer season. The most amusing part of the festival for me happened when children competed to make the best sound on the long Swiss horn, called an Alphorn. It surely looked like you needed a lot of wind to make that thing blow! The culminating event of the Oktoberfest involved a performance by the Bon Jovi cover band called Bad Medicine. I am not a cover band aficionado per se, but to me the band played well, sounding and looking eerily like John Bon Jovi. I wonder if they were local or actually toured nationally as a cover band. So all in all the Oktoberfest was a great kick-off to our Beaver Creek Labor Day Weekend festivities. Next time I will discuss our accommodations at the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek Resort and Spa. I leave you with this question to ponder; When and where was a memorable Oktoberfest you spent? 

Last Minute Labor Day Deal!

 

Beaver Creek , CO Landscape

Beaver Creek , CO Landscape (Photo credit: baba1627)

For the last two weeks I had been searching frantically for a Labor Day weekend trip into the Rocky Mountains. My two target were Steamboat Springs and Breckenridge. I tried a variety of searches through the usual suspects; Travelzoo Supersearch, Kayak, Expedia, Hotwire, and Priceline. I used different travel combinations such as leaving on Saturday and coming back on Monday, leaving on Friday and coming back on Sunday, and even shortening it to one night to offset the jacked-up hotel prices for the holiday weekend. That was just it, I couldn’t find a deal justified in my mind where the price of the hotel matched the value.

View at the Beaver Creek Village.

View at the Beaver Creek Village. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Tuesday of this week I had all but given up when a light shone at the end of the tunnel. I went back into Travelzoo and instead of using Supersearch, I went to Travel Deals, clicked on hotels, and then chose the Seattle and Mountain West region. Low and behold a deal had been found! There it was about three options down the page, a stay at the 41/2 star Park Hyatt Beaver Creek Resort and Spa at 60% off. Where the price showing at other travel search engines showed $259, we got it through this special for $109. In addition the deal offered free valet parking, a waived resort fee ($25) and 25% off spa treatments. All in all we are looking at a savings over $200 a night. The only catch was that the deal begins today, so we delayed our trip a little bit.  Regardless, I am just so pleased we were able to find something, this being one of the busiest travel weekends of the year. What was your most memorable holiday travel deal? Next week I will return to begin breaking down my stay at the Park Hyatt and the accompanying village of Beaver Creek.

New York, Baby! Pt.3: The New York Public Library

Front Entrance of the New York Public Library Schwarzman Building between 40 and 42nd St and 5th Avenue

When most people thing of the top tourist spots of New York, they are immediately consumed with images of the Empire State Building, Central Park, Rockefeller Center, Grand Central Terminal and the like. Having a solid three weeks to reflect upon my personal touristic highlights of Manhattan, one particular experience rises above the rest. In the waning hours of my first expedition to the Big Apple, my wife and I paid a visit to an awesome place of learning known as the New York Public Library.

One of two lions guarding the front steps and entrance

What an unbelievable structure! When facing the entrance from the 5th Avenue sidewalk, one instantly notices two larger than life lions guarding both sides of the front steps. The massive building is done in a classical style, resembling a great structure from Ancient Greece or Rome. There were also absolutely ornate ceilings through out the library and rooms decked out with all types of canvas paintings, mostly old portraits by American standards by even a few artists I had heard of before. The library also showcased an original Gutenberg Bible, considered to be the oldest one known of in the New World. Despite being an older structure, the library was light an airy, providing a welcome reprieve from the humid August heat on the busy streets outside.

Main Hall of the library

If the library itself wasn’t enough to impress, a really cool free exhibit lay in wait on the main floor directly past the front entrance. The exhibit, called Lunch Hour, was a tribute to the history of lunch in New York City. It had relics and photos demonstrating street foods such as hot dogs and pretzels, the influence and spread of ethnic foods across the metro, and even the first type of “vending machine” dining that New Yorkers utilized for a quick meal on their lunch breaks. You may not think that a subject like lunch could captivate your interest, but my wife and I spent a good hour or so walking through the exhibit while learning a lot and being thoroughly entertained.

Ethnic Foods become more wide spread for lunch

The vending machine New Yorkers used in the 1st half of the 20th century

This last installment concludes my posts about my initial visit to New York. I must say going there I didn’t know what to expect but upon leaving I couldn’t help but wondering when I would return again. There is so much left to see and experience in the Big Apple. The next time I hope to get farther into Brooklyn as we only made it as far as Dumbo. So I would like to begin gathering ideas about what to do and see for my next visit there. What places or experiences are the most memorable for you regarding your travels to New York? Stay tuned for my next investigation into the Rocky Mountains once more for a little Labor Day Weekend R&R to a town that shall be revealed later.

New York, Baby! Pt.2: Accommodations at the Double Tree by Hilton Metropolitan Hotel

After rolling our luggage nine blocks up Lexington Avenue, my wife and I were happy to finally arrive at the entrance of the Double Tree by Hilton Metropolitan Hotel or Doubletree Met for short. We could actually see the hotel from a few blocks away as it displayed a vertical Double Tree sign spanning several stories fashioned in a mid-century style. The marquee above the entrance showed a more contemporary look. Crossing the entrance threshold, a modern looking registration area presented itself front and center with a simple, yet elegant lobby and lounge located directly to the right. Since we checked in around 6:30 p.m. there wasn’t much of a line. A front desk attendant assisted us almost instantly. She verified our reservation for three nights in the Presidential Suite. “What, the Presidential Suite?” I said in disbelief, thinking there must be some kind of mistake. We had booked our reservation as a hot travel deal through Travelzoo, assuring an excellent rate of $169 a night for Friday and Saturday and $119 for Sunday night. Obviously nothing in the fine print guaranteed the potential consumer a night in the second best room of the house! After having the attendant re-verify the rates, my wife and I bubbled up with excitement, still shocked that we secured such rocking accommodations. Although a bit perplexing at first as to how this good fortune had found us, an epiphany about what may have happened surfaced in my mind.
I followed Double Tree on twitter and about a week before our trip to New York there was a tweet saying that the president of Double Tree wanted to here from you (the public that is). Taking the bait, I tweeted back that I had been a long time fan of the Hilton brand and that I was about to embark on my first stay at a Double Tree at their Manhattan Midtown East location. Not expecting a response, you can imagine my surprise when he tweeted back to me a few days before the trip wishing me a great stay at the Double Tree Met and to enjoy New York. He had also sent the reply to Double Tree in general and the Double Tree Met specifically. Not thinking anything else would come of it, I happily replied, giving him my thanks and assuring that we would have a great time. Not knowing exactly what went down, there must have been some additional communication regarding my accommodations between the president and the Double Tree Met, or rather the Double Tree Met took matters into their own hands having received the communiqué from the president. My guess is that having not sold the Presidential Suite during our stay, they upgraded us due to our twitter interactions. They had even pre-registered our stay. Regardless of how it all went down, what an awesome treat that I can only ascribe to the power of social media and twitter specifically.

The Presidential Suite comprised the best of a New York stay. I had heard that New York hotel rooms were are on the small side, but this suite defied such odds. Upon entering the room a small vestibule separated the living area and breakfast nook to the right and the bedroom to the left. Also immediately on each side of the vestibule bathrooms conveniently were placed with the one on the bedroom side containing a contemporary shower minus the bathtub. The living area maintained simple yet functional furniture, the same going for the  breakfast nook. On top of the breakfast table we noticed a tray with all types of goodies such as cheeses, crackers, cupcakes, Voss water, and a welcome note in envelope addressed to me. The note and welcoming tray  was such a nice touch to make us feel at home! The best aspect of the room involved windows that stretched across the whole expanse, which when the curtains were drawn revealed  a beautiful view of Lexington Ave. facing uptown.

The bedroom featured a king-sized bed that my wife and I absolutely loved. We are a bit picky regarding our hotel beds, but the comfort we felt from this one coupled by the awesome nights of sleep could not be beat. A simple headboard with photo artwork depicting the city  hung above the bed. That motif of photo artwork portraying the city popped up through out the suite, in the living areas and bathrooms to boot. Overall impressions of the room left me feeling a great sense of comfort from the size, layout, and a style both contemporary and functional. No doubt the bar has been set high for subsequent visits to New York.

The best amenities of the hotel included the fitness center and lounge. The fitness center, located on the second floor, maintained a nice array of strength conditioning and cardiovascular equipment. I looked forward to my morning run on the treadmill everyday overlooking the action on the corner of 51st and Lexington. The lounge as previously mentioned positioned itself next to Registration and the lobby. Small and open, yet chic and dim enough to conjure a romantic ambiance, it provided a great opportunity for a night cap or late night snack. It also so happened to be a great place to people watch due to its open floor plan and proximity to the lobby and registration.

It may be hard to top the experience I had staying at the Doubletree Met for my first visit to New York. The hotel has a fantastic location, with a subway station right there and short walks to Grand Central Terminal, Rockefeller Center, 5th Avenue shopping, and Central Park. The unexpected upgrade to the Presidential Suite set the tone for our visit and guaranteed comfort and rest for the duration of our stay. Finally, the value thanks to the Travelzoo deal meant more money to spend in the city. I want to pose a question to those who read this blog post. What has been your favorite hotel experience while visiting New York? Stay tuned for the final installment of New York, Baby where I talk about my favorite touristic highlights of the Big Apple!

Travelzoo, You’re my boy but what gives with the twitter contest prizes?

Image representing Travelzoo as depicted in Cr...

Image via CrunchBase

One Friday this June I participated in a contest hosted by Travelzoo on Twitter. Our job as contestants was to come-up with a catchy caption to describe a photo. The winner was promised a prize. The photo happened to be a series of 4 or 5 drinks on a serving table. I studied the photo meticulously, hoping that a theme would emerge thus leading me to a rich response and assured victory. Noticing that all the drinks possessed fruit in some capacity or another, an idea emerged. With a soft-chuckle and swift manipulation of the keyboard, I entered the caption “Got that Friday Fruity Feelin!” Immediately an aura of confidence in winning overcame me, re-affirmed more strongly as my fellow competitors’ responses took shape. Soon thereafter the Travelzoo moderator stated that a winner would be chosen on Monday. “Wow, a whole weekend to wait before the winner is announced”, I thought. Quickly I forgot about the endeavor as gratification was being delayed for at least a few days.

Having forgotten totally about the contest over the weekend, you can imagine my shock when I saw my twitter handle posted as the winner of the Friday picture-caption contest. I couldn’t believe it. I never win contests, let alone social media ones. The message requested that I send an email to the moderator at Travelzoo. I did so almost immediately, checking and rechecking the email address to make sure my acceptance of victory ended up in the right hands. After clicking send I must have refreshed my yahoo inbox 50 times or so the rest of the afternoon but nothing came. As a matter of fact nothing came that day nor the next, which prompted concern on my part that some how the email never made it, like it had been kidnapped by a band of internet pirates. On Wednesday I began debating on when to follow-up with the moderator about the status of my prize. Then shortly before noon I was contacted. The moderator asked for my address to send the prize. I responded rapidly with my mailing address and began waiting in great anticipation for my prize.

A week or so went by when my doorbell rang and a FedEx package placed at my doorstop. The size of the box surprised me, knowing that I was to receive Travelzoo Local Deals gift cards per my email conversation with the contest moderator. During the time between the conversation with the moderator and the delivery of the package, I filled my head with thoughts about the gift certificates. I imagined two $25 gift certificates being sent, in which I could amply apply them to a couple of fun meals at trendy Denver restaurants with my wife. So you can imagine my surprise when I opened the box and found an umbrella, pen, and five $5 gift cards inside. After getting over my initial disappointment, I tried to see if I could combine the cards for one Travelzoo Local Deal. No such luck, as each deal would only accept one gift card code.

I feel a little weird complaining about the prize from a twitter contest. After all it cost me nothing but a few moments of my time. I even enjoyed coming up with the silly caption. I guess I just believe that if a company is going to offer a prize for a contest it should actually be worth winning. Travelzoo can take a page out of the book of other online travel companies the likes of Expedia an Orbitz who offer free round trip tickets and travel vouchers of value in the hundreds of dollars. I continue to support Travelzoo for the quality of travel products they promote. It’s just that I will take a long look before investing time and energy into one of their online contests again.