City Center for Less
I want to share some personal Best Western hotel experiences in this piece to point out the value of being city center in travel. In many places being city center is the whole point of the travel.
Earning millions of miles was rather easy when I started playing the frequent flyer loyalty program game in 1999. Large airline flight bonuses were offered frequently up until about 2004. There are still some high mileage promotions, but the opportunity to get 500,000 to 1,000,000 miles for $2,000 in flights is something I haven’t seen in years.
Credit cards are all the rage now for earning free miles and points, but that takes significantly more money than I spent clicking internet advertisements and making small purchases for points and miles back in the tech start-up days when loyalty programs like MyPoints and ClickRewards allowed anyone a fairly low bar to enter the game.
Soon I learned that flying Business Class and First Class was great entertainment for free movies and drinks and meals and a comfortable flight. But then after exiting the premium cabin of the plane after 6 to 12 hours of luxury travel, I was faced with trying to find an affordable hotel room for 6 to 12 nights.
Luxurious bargain travel is difficult to sustain when the airline tickets are $250 to travel up front on the international flight, and then the hotel is $250 per night for a week. Priceline was an option that I used for dozens of nights. And transferring airline miles into HHonors points carried me for a few years until most of my airline program accounts loaded with miles dropped out of HHonors miles-to-points transfers.
Hyatt and Starwood hotels in major European cities are typically not a bargain, even with points. You need a treasure chest of points to stay a week in Paris or Florence or Amsterdam on points.
Typically I bounce around from hotel chain to hotel chain when traveling to stretch my points from different hotel programs for the best deals available in the places I am visiting.
My motivation for focusing on hotel loyalty programs was an effort to get a similar experience in a hotel or at least stay in a comfortable hotel in the city center for the locations where I was flying.
Being in a city center hotel is something that I learned to strive for over the years. Sometimes that means city center in a 5-star Hilton, Hyatt or Starwood brand hotel on points. Sometimes that means a midscale chain with Choice, Wyndham, IHG or Best Western on points.
Paris – Romance by the Seine or Jet Noise from the Planes?
I have done Paris staying at a boutique Best Western Hotel near Notre Dame Cathedral for about $75 per night and feeling cramped in a small room, but knowing I had all modern conveniences, free breakfast at the hotel, and a location that definitely penetrated my psyche as total Paris immersion.
And I have done Paris staying at a nice Marriott Paris CDG Airport for nearly free using cash certificates I’d earned through programs like MyPoints. I recall the hotel had a lovely room and a fantastic restaurant with Atlantic lobster dinner specials. I also had the feeling I could have been in any city in the world with the sights of Paris being a shuttle bus ride to the airport followed by a metro ride to the city center.
Two hours a day wasted in transportation to get where I really wanted to be for my time on a relatively expensive trip to Europe is a case where the saying “time is money” truly has meaning.
$2,000 for a 6-day trip to Europe is not something the vast majority of Americans can afford to do every month. City center is truly my hotel advice motto when visiting the historic cities of the world to sight see.
Some of my most memorable hotel experiences were Best Western hotels in Guayaquil, Ecuador and Paris, France. Both hotels were boutique hotels in center city locations where I was able to stay at less than 25% of the cost of the upper upscale loyalty brands.
Guayaquil, Ecuador – Once upon a time in the Wild West
In Guayaquil, Ecuador I recall feeling like I was in the Wild West with large iguanas following me around in the city park and teenagers stalking me on city streets and around the shopping district and malls. The public library was my refuge from street thugs where I was then reprimanded for actually taking a book off the shelf on my own. I caused a scuffle with about a dozen kids when I left the grocery store and tossed eight U.S. pennies I’d received as change from the cashier into the crowd of kids. I thought I was doing a good deed giving away the coins I did not want to pocket. I regretted my action immediately. I did not think the kids would hit each other over pennies!
The Best Western in Guayaquil (no longer in the chain) was certainly not aspirational. In fact, I think it might be the only hotel where I employed the chair against the door deterrent against robbers that I picked up from Robert Young Pelton’s The World’s Most Dangerous Places hotel stay tips.
A $5 steak dinner including a couple of beers in the Best Western hotel café was my experience in Ecuadorian cuisine. The next morning I was escorted by a hip holster handgun-toting hotel receptionist after I checked out and crossed the sidewalk to the waiting taxi.
I wouldn’t have been in the central city of Guayaquil if not for the low cost Best Western. I might not have had so many interesting encounters with the local people.
I could have stayed at the Hilton Guayaquil, away from downtown. Given the choice between hanging out in a comfortable modern hotel room at the Hilton in the suburbs or taking a taxi to venture downtown when I was exhausted from two days stuck in Lima, Peru for ground fog and an airport shutdown and puddle-jumping my way back to Miami via an American Airlines Business Class rebooked award flight would have likely led to an unmemorable Guayaquil layover watching TV at the Hilton.
I remember that Best Western in Guayaquil fondly.
City center is a great place to be. Even when the environment is a bit more intimidating than a nice upper upscale hotel or a hotel safe house in the suburbs.