Not All Blogger Travel is Glamorous!

Last year I wrote about my very mundane travel routine. It was really about sharing what most of my travel is like, as well as providing a window into the minutiae of how I think about my travel day. Very ritualized, very much ingrained habit. I don’t write about most of my trips because quite frankly they’re boring. I don’t have the wry sense of humor about travel that Ben has. There aren’t that many lessons to be gleaned from a trip out to Phoenix, Chicago, or Denver. I fly more boring domestic segments than first class international ones, but I write about the first class international trips. Some readers get the impression that’s how I travel most of the time, nothing could be farther from the truth. “My So-Called Travel Life” is a good description of my median trip.

This past week was a good example of what that looks like, the good and the bad but without the glamour.

I flew to Seattle to ahead of the DC earthquake. Transcon, upgrade confirmed at booking, but as most of y’all know it’s nothing like ‘back in the day’. Meal was a decent enough I suppose spinach-stuffed chicken. I ate a bit of it. Arrival was delayed nearly an hour but otherwise little of note.

The only thing that struck me during the flight, I couldn’t stop thinking about the video of Hitler expressing his frustrations with the Star Mega DO: Jeff Smisek really did shrink my cookie! And it was heated oatmeal raisin, the chocolate chip is much better. I don’t really want my oatmeal raisin heated in any case.

I boarded the train from the N terminal to the main terminal and straight up to the Avis where my car, a 4000-mile Lincoln MKZ, was waiting.

I was heading out to Bellevue for a conference, the rental and parking wouldn’t be much more than the roundtrip cab, and I’d have a little bit of freedom. Even if I never actually left the block that the hotel was on, at least I could. (And for those who insist I need to explore the Seattle area, my wife went to school there and her family is within driving distance, so I very much have.)

Hotel was the Hyatt Regency Bellevue.

I checked in and I headed up to my room, the first thing I noticed was the view. The second thing? A musty, mildew smell. That wasn’t going to work. Back down to the desk, I asked to change rooms. Being completely full, the hotel put me in a massive suite on a third floor with no view.

The club lounge had a friendly staff. Breakfast had fruit, yogurt, pastries, meats, smoked salmon, hard boiled eggs, and a hot dish that I really couldn’t identify with certainty. Evening appetizers had decent variety, substantive, dessert was weak I thought. At least unappetizing to me, I burnt out on cheesecake years ago when Eli’s Cheesecake was the United standard dessert.

Thank goodness the Portico white ginger isn’t long for this world. Oddly the room had brown towels, brown bathrobes, which was apparently standard on that floor but many rooms throughout the rest of the hotel had the usual white. Wireless internet was slow, slow, slow and went in and out.

The Hyatt Regency Bellevue is in a sort of neat up and coming area, and I didn’t really mind being locked into the block as it were. Just across the street from the bus exit on the first floor is ViaVita Café and Wine Bar. Across the street from the front of the hotel (and accessible by second floor walkway across to the mall), directly above Maggiano’s, is Din Tai Fung Dumpling House, an Asian change with outposts in Taipei, Tokyo, and elsewhere. I still think Yank Sing in San Francisco is better for dim sum generally, and I didn’t get to try Din Tai Fung’s soup dumplings which they only do on the weekend, but it was a real pleasure of a find.

Still, the stay was pretty vanilla so far. A 7am depart to Ft. Lauderdale via Houston was in my future, upgraded on Continental. Head over to the Continental Presidents Club in Seattle which is fairly sparse, no restrooms inside of nothing worth eating for breakfast, I rather regretted not stopping at Starbucks first when I noticed that about half the patrons in the club had brought in their Starbucks. Continental’s breakfast is surprisingly better than what I’m used to on United. It wasn’t gourmet on the ground by any means, but it was actually tasty.

Now, I do wish a domestic carrier would offer a decent brunch because reheated eggs or cereal really don’t excite me. But it did the trick.

Then the Continental flight to Ft. Lauderdale offered a surprisingly good lunch, the mushroom soup was actually tasty and while the ‘turkey cheese sandwich’ that was baked into bread wasn’t likely healthy, and looked a bit odd, dip that sucker in the soup and it was downright sinful, I confess.

Off to the Avis again, and they had a nice new red Cadillac for me. Make a short drive and I was at the hotel I really wasn’t looking forward to… Some may remember my scathing review of my last stay at the Hyatt Pier 66. Well, the previous hotel General Manager implored me to give them another shot. And I needed to be literally less than a mile and a half from the hotel. South Florida traffic can be a nightmare, I didn’t want to stay farther afield. So I did.

Last time at the Hyatt Per 66 there was a run-in with hotel security over their broken treadmills. Ants on the balcony because housekeeping didn’t remove food. A flooded bathroom, with water coming in through the ceiling. Housekeeping leaving the door of a room open when done… Not a good stay, and that’s only a piece of it. Am I crazy for going back?

Well, this time was… better. Not great. Not even good. But better than last time.

One day housekeeping never came. In the evening, with no desire to go back out to give them the space to work in, I didn’t protest. Being by the elevator was problematic, on a high floor, you could hear the bass thumping from the party in the revolving event space at the top of the hotel that used to be a restaurant. The one time I made it to the hotel’s (unimpressive) breakfast, I saw the ‘chef’ put food that had fallen over onto the counter back into the warming trays. Appetizing. And I generally think that the previous night’s cocktails ought not to be sitting on a credenza by the elevator at 9 am…

But the room worked, it was large, it had a lovely view of the marina and everyone was relatively friendly. When asked how my stay, when checking out, I told them and they immediately removed $50 from the bill as an apology.

The property wasn’t as bad as a year ago, they have a new general manager, perhaps they’re in the process of getting better. Maybe I’ll go back in a year to find out. But I won’t be excited about it. The physical plant is aging, and I’d prefer most other locations, so my likely return hinges strictly on the need to actually be close to the hotel. It seems to work for departing cruise passengers.

That’s the mundane. The interesting stuff is what happens when you try to fly home into a hurricane. Well, not quite, but that seems to be what US Airways thought we were trying to do. They cancelled their entire schedule in and out of DC on Sunday. My 4pm arrival was toast, and they let me know a day ahead of time. It was sad, really, because in the end other airlines were operating just fine by that time.

Call US Airways, and of course I was looking at airline availability at the same time, the agent told me they could offer me a non-stop flight home (great!) … on Tuesday (not great).

Or… a bit of work… would I take a connection? Sure! They’d be happy to put me on something through Philadelphia getting in at … 5pm Monday.

Ok, I don’t mind a forced overnight. Yes I understand hotel is at my own expense, no I don’t want to sleep in the airport. But researching, researching, it didn’t look like there was an open seat on any US Airways flight into DCA before 2pm on Monday.

No problem, other airlines must have seats, right? American out of Miami to Dulles, National, and BWI are sold out until Tuesday. Other airlines are similar. I just started working backwards. What airlines have seats from any city, ideally South of DC? Then I can try to get myself to that city.

I found some seats Raleigh – Washington National on American. And while US Airways wouldn’t put me on the flight since the cancellation ‘was due to weather’, I didn’t much care. Buying the one-way short hop would be nearly $500. Or 12,500 miles. Sold. American couldn’t get me Miami-Raleigh to connect, so I got US Airways to do so. Ft. Lauderdale – Charlotte – Raleigh. Ouch.

So I write this now sitting in Raleigh. With a five and a half hour layover. I decided the Admirals Club wasn’t going to do it for me, I access it with an American Express card anyway and would have had to pay for internet. Instead, a cash and points award at the nearby airport Four Points was $30 and 1600 Starpoints. I got free internet, more space, peace and quiet.

Now I head back to the airport for what should be an on-time departure back to DC. A very long travel day, 3 flights to get back from Florida, but I’ll make it same-day rather than waiting until Monday late afternoon or even Tuesday.

And that’s what my travel life is really like, it isn’t all Cathay Pacific first class seats, ANA first class food, Thai massages at the airport, and Singapore Airlines champagne. Unfortunately.

But because of this, I do know that I enjoy the Charlotte airport, not just for the quaint rocking chairs, wifi, or bathroom attendants. And I like the bright new Raleigh Durham airport. I like them both for accommodating me on my long road home today. Most importantly, I didn’t rely on an airline to fix my trip (or Chris Elliott!). I did it myself, it cost me a few miles but no more than extra lodging would have and most importantly I didn’t kill an extra day out of the office.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. “Most importantly, I didn’t rely on an airline to fix my trip (or Chris Elliott!). I did it myself, it cost me a few miles but no more than extra lodging would have and most importantly I didn’t kill an extra day out of the office.”

    Best lesson for FFs. When things go haywire, learn to deal with it yourself. The airlines arent’ going to. You can wait on them and lose days, or you can spend some $$$ and get it over with.

  2. I lived in Raleigh a few years ago when they started construction on the new terminal…finally had a chance to fly in there a couple weeks ago, and it was certainly impressive!

  3. Din Tai Fung never stops serving its soup dumplings (xiao long bao). It’s their trademark dish. It would be like if McDonald’s only served hamburgers on the weekend.

  4. The last time I was at the RDU Admiral’s Club with my AmEx, they told me that free Wi-Fi for AmEx entry was “coming soon enough anyway,” and gave me a free access card. Just FYI. Also, in a fun note, I work in an office park next door to that Four Points 🙂

  5. For when you don’t have the skills and bookmarks to fix it all by yourself, use someone who can. I use Cranky [Brett], but there are others.

  6. Gary, I thought you always traveled so high-end that I wondered why I kept reading you. But I see you sometimes suffer the same problems that I do. I’m sorry to learn that, but it reminds me that problem solving is just a normal situation.

  7. Gary,

    Don’t sell yourself short! Your “wry” humor is extremely enjoyable! And while I knew the majority of your trips looked more like the rest of us who are on the road all the time, its nice to get it reinforced by a piece like this. Thanks for what you do. You still remain my first stop for travel.

  8. Gary, my friend’s mother complained of a smoke smell at the Hyatt in the 1st room she was in (I believe she was upgraded because she is a diamond), when she stayed there early this month. I wonder if there is something going on with their ventilation system?

    Also, at Din Tai Fung, they serve their juicy pork dumplings every day! It’s the mini versions that they only serve on the weekends. Also, try the Spicy Shrimp & Pork dumplings. The sauce is amazing!

  9. Gary, just an FYI: either the UA ad on your page is throwing it off (just after the page loads, it jumps to the ad ONLY in the upper left corner) or the site no longer plays nice with Safari (can’t tell as I’ve got the Adblock extension on Firefox). This also happens on the iPhone.

  10. Din Tai Fung always serves the soup dumplings seven days per week (“xiao long bao”).

    But they only serve the “special” soup dumplings (“xiao long “tang” bao) on the weekends, beginning at 9 am until they run out (usually they’re all gone by noon). I think it’s #51 on the menu (if you can read Chinese… I think there’s some “Chinglish” menus too).

    The nomenclature is confusing because “tang bao” literally translates into “soup dumplings”, but that isn’t what you necessarily want. The regular XLB are just fine.

    The special “tang” bao are smaller than the regular XLB, and they are served upside down. They kind of look like XLB rejects. The “tang” bao are served with a bowl of chicken broth soup, hence the “tang”. You don’t really need the broth since there’s already “soup” inside the dumplings, so it’s kind of redundant that you get a bowl of soup with your soup dumplings.

    Nonetheless, the “tang bao” attract a cult following, including yours truly who trekked all the way to Taipei just for them (before they opened up their US outposts). I still think the regular XLB better though, and in my opionion, DTF is a bit overhyped resulting in huge crowds and high prices.

  11. IIRC, the AC at RDU is next door to the DL SkyClub. You can likely hijack the T-mobile wifi SkyClub signal from the AC. Just in case you ever have to camp out in RDU again.

  12. Gary, US Air did the same thing to me by cancelling my DCA flight on Sunday. Is there any recourse, or do they get a get-out-of-jail free card because it was cancelled due to “weather” (even though most other airlines were flying that day!).

  13. I hate having to deal with airlines who cancel their flights cancel on you, leaving you in a lousy situation. Hope the last leg of the journey went well.

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