After a summer of COVID, and sensing the pandemic would continue to rage on, my friend Julian and I felt the desire to get out of Chicago before being cooped up for the winter. Given that we’re both in the unfortunate state of unemployment, we found ourselves fairly flexible on the scheduling front, so we decided to save some money and book a road trip out of town for a few week days. After thinking through some options, we landed on Grand Rapids for its proximity to fall color hiking, outdoor food and drink scene, and - then - lower rates of COVID infection. After looking at a few options, we landed on the AC Hotel, a brand I quite enjoy, due to its upscale feel and affordable price.
The AC Hotel brand is a relatively new Marriott concept on the shores of the US. With its roots across the Atlantic in Europe, the hotels offer an upscale refined vibe to the select service sphere - hotels that offer reduced amenities and smaller footprints. One of the moments I enjoy most about the brand is it’s activated lobbies: the bar really becomes a social centerpiece where people gather. The design and furnishings of the hotel are another key selling feature for me. In my mind, AC’s are more of a compact full-service hotel rather than select for this reason.
The Grand Rapids property fits the mold of what I’ve come to expect, but this time packaged in a restored industrial brick building that had an awful 1980’s facade covering its charm. The hotel is quite cool from the street and leaves a good impression. It’s location didn’t hurt either - located right downtown, it was a scenic walk or a quick car ride to anywhere we’d wanted to go, and just steps away from one of my favorite coffee shops: Madcap.
As part of our booking process, Julian and I knew we wanted to keep costs low, so we explored hotels where I had a Free Night Certificate available. In this case, I had an outstanding certificate from when I’d had the Marriott Bonvoy American Express Card, which I’d closed when I opened my American Express Platinum Card. By booking directly with the hotel, and using a free night certificate, our total for two nights came to $173.65 - not too shabby. This netted me 522 Ultimate Rewards Points by booking with my Chase Sapphire Reserve and 1,685 Base + 421 Elite + 250 Extra Bonvoy Points with my Gold Status.
Arrival, Check In & Lobby
After an easy drive in from Chicago, but one in which we’d forgotten about the time change, we were glad to pull up to the generous loading area in front of the hotel to get our vacation started! Upon entering, both of us were immediately struck by the moody elegance of the entry space, especially the show stopping front desk, but then we hit a hiccup… The front desk agent was a bit odd, and didn’t seem to want to be there. Dressed in a yellow t-shirt, she was quite robotic and not very talkative. She didn’t ask any questions, thank me for my loyalty, or mention any information about the hotel. She was also unable to answer most of our questions and seemed to just want us to move on. Luckily, when we returned down a few moments later, a super friendly suited agent was at the desk, and Julian spent a great deal of time getting answers to his questions and inquiring about upgrades while I waited in the lounge.
As part of an effort to briefly reunite our family during the summer, my parents and I made the trek out to Colorado to visit my sister, who studies at Colorado State University. After a stay at the Armstrong Hotel in Fort Collins, we continued on to check out Boulder for its hiking, Red Rocks and, of course, breweries - if you're ever in Broomfield, I recommend Wonderland with its mini-golf course!
Hyatt House is the select service extended stay brand of Hyatt Hotels, which is intended to occupy an upper scale segment in the market. If your head just spun, don’t worry these terms can be confusing, but do highlight what to expect at a property: select service is a category of hotels that offer rooms and a few select services such as morning breakfast and a fitness center, while extended stay hotels are those that offer amenities such as rooms with kitchens and living areas. For comparison's sake, Hampton Inn - which Melanie and Tom stayed at earlier this year - is a household name in the select service market, and Ian's visit to the Residence Inn may ring a bell in the extended stay arena. Hyatt House’s history starts in 2006 when Hyatt acquired the Summerfield Suites chain, ultimately rebranding them in 2012 to evoke the name of the original 1957 Hyatt House property at LAX - the first ever airport hotel, but that’s a different story. Today, the brand is synonymous with contemporary design, apartment style living and a comfortable relaxed atmosphere. Our Hyatt House began its life as a Summerfield Suites, apparently quite an awarded one based upon the plaques displayed in the lobby.
While the Hyatt House has Boulder in its name, don’t let it fool you, the Broomfield portion is really the only accurate part. It is quite a ways from Boulder, about a 25 minutes drive, which we all found a bit deceptive. We chose this property over the Hyatt Place in downtown Boulder in hopes of avoiding crowds, which we did successfully, but I wish we’d done more research on the area. While a nice hotel, it sits in a work in progress residential development that lacks walkability; there is a liquor store and a Starbucks in the parking lot, but the development is essentially its own island. There were a number of excellent breweries just a quick drive away, and trading walkability for the amount of space we had felt like a fair trade off amid COVID.
We had previously booked this hotel for another weekend, and had a change of plans. Upon searching our new dates, the 2-Bedroom Suite was no longer available, so we booked two individual rooms. Then, at the last minute, a 2-Bedroom Suite popped up and we snagged it! The nightly rate clocked in at $215 plus taxes and fees, for a total of $708.54, a steal for such a big space. On the points side, we earned 1,428 Southwest Rapid Rewards points by charging to my parents Southwest Premier VISA Card. Meanwhile, I earned 3,288 Base World of Hyatt Points and 323 Bonus Points for my Discoverist Status. I also earned 3 tier nights towards 2021 Status.
Arrival, Check In & Lobby
We pulled right up to the Hyatt House after the drive in from Fort Collins, the hotel offers free parking to all guests, and unloaded in the large port cochere. Check-In itself was smooth and efficient, and the agent explained all of the COVID changes that were in place at the hotel in addition to answering all of the questions that our group had. She also thanked me for my loyalty and directed us to the H Market for our daily two free bottles of water.
I think I’ve shared this before, but as many know, my sister currently lives in Fort Collins, Colorado while in grad school. It’s a truly great place, with proximity to the great outdoors the state is known for, an enviable number of breweries, and a perfectly walkable downtown that feels larger than its population. At the heart of it is the historic Armstrong Hotel, which opened its doors in 1923; it also housed the first chapter of AAA. Over the years, the property saw the booms and busts of the city, and in 2019 it was stunningly refurbished to rightfully become a jewel of downtown as the last remaining historic hotel.
We ended up at the Armstrong as part of a longer trip that would bring us to Boulder, one that we had planned and replanned and planned again due to the impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Finally, in late September, driven in part by a great rate at the Hyatt House in Boulder, we pulled the trigger and committed to the trip. Before continuing on to Boulder, my family decided we’d love a night in Fort Collins as it’s a city that we love to visit and hadn’t been in a while.
We originally booked this hotel through an online travel agent due to it displaying a lower rate, but upon mentioning to my mom that I’d rather the hotel get the full amount for the stay, we made a phone call to the property and they happily matched our rate. You can also, of course, book directly on the hotel's website at: www.the armstronghotel.com. Our rate was $149/night plus taxes and fees, a steal for this hotel - a sad indicator of COVID’s impact on its occupancy. We paid with my parents Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Card, earning 2x points per dollar spent at hotels.
Arrival, Check In & Lobby
We pulled up to the Armstrong in our rental car after flying into Denver International Airport and driving up I-25. The only thing different than usual was the smoke from the nearby wildfires - it obscured what was usually a stunning view of the mountains to the west - a strong indicator of the disaster bearing down on the state. Upon arrival, the loading pull off was clearly marked, but we were initially a bit confused as to where the hotel entrance was as the Ace Cafe, one of the restaurants, occupied a considerable portion of the street frontage; however, before long we found our way inside and were pleasantly greeted by every staff member we passed. The check in process was smooth and friendly, and oozing with hospitality. The agent made plenty of local recommendations as well, which immediately forged a connection with us as guests.
The lobby was equally as charming! It struck the perfect chord, for me, of quirky and refined as well as trendy and timeless. Great furnishing was thoughtfully placed throughout the space, much of it being used for the Cafe as well, and the scale of the room felt perfect. Although not a huge space, the variety of zones made it feel incredibly comfortable and welcoming. The array of artwork, textures and colors just felt right, not to mention somehow uniquely connected to the location. And I loved the staircase with the signature wallcovering that has worked its way into the hotel’s branding - seen on most print materials.
Some of you might be asking: Cleveland? Well, you see, it’s a long story as to how we got here, but the short version of it is that Ian and I recently had to cancel a Los Angeles trip, due to wildfires, and for later this year an Asia / Middle East trip, due to the impact of COVID-19. We were, of course, still inkling to get some travel in and began to look into some road trips that we could take from our home base of Chicago. There were many contenders, but ultimately we landed on Cleveland as we had both never been, had heard good things, and I wanted to check out this hotel.
The Hyatt Regency - Cleveland the Arcade, is a full service historic hotel located in the heart of downtown Cleveland. It traces its roots back to 1890 as a Victorian Era Arcade building, of which Cleveland has several, and is widely believed to have been one of the earliest examples of a shopping mall in the states. It was built by Eisenmann & Smith and the Detroit Bridge Company, and now finds itself on the National Register of Historic Places.
Its location is truly stellar, located just next to the 4th Street Entertainment district, walking distance to all sports venues, a skip and a jump to Lake Erie and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and a short drive from many of Cleveland’s neighborhoods, as well as Cuyahoga National Park.
I booked this hotel directly at www.hyatt.com using a Hyatt Friends & Family discount code, similar to my Colleague Rate at Hyatt Regency Sonoma & Hyatt Regency Indianapolis. By booking in this manner, I achieved a great discount off of the advertised rate of $169/night. I booked using my American Express Platinum, as part of a spending challenge for a statement credit, and earned 5x Points for the total cost of our hotel stay, but did not earn any World of Hyatt Points due to the stipulation of my rate.
Arrival, Check In & Lobby
Ian and I drove in from Chicago in a rental car, after snagging a great rate using the tips in our Beginners Guide to Car Rental. The ride was relatively easy, save being pulled over in Indiana for doing 65 in a 55, up until arriving near the hotel. The entrances were clearly marked, but the roads around the building were like a bowl of spaghetti with many turns, one way demarcations, and dedicated bus routes - not a problem, but something to be aware of if arriving by car. We ended up being able to snag a street parking space just outside the rear entrance of the hotel’s Arcade, which is actually one of the more lively streets in the area, and ended up leaving the car overnight as we would be up for an early morning hike before parking enforcement began.
Upon walking in the entrance of the hotel, we both were immediately struck by the space. I think the both of us dropped our luggage and started snapping pictures. After our iPhones were back in our pockets, we began our search for the front desk, which isn’t clearly marked from the entrance we came in, but was intuitive to find. Had we come in at the front entrance, our entry sequence would’ve been much clearer - there is both an elevator lobby and a grand marble staircase to bring guests up to the registration area.
The Arcade is truly stunning, but the lobby itself is small, and a bit cluttered - which appears to be because of a temporary relocation of Hyatt Regency’s Market and the removal of traditional lobby furniture. Regardless, we strolled up to the World of Hyatt Check-In and were quickly helped by a friendly employee. He thanked me for my loyalty, explained that he’d upgraded us to a City View Room and answered all of the questions we had.
Let me start out by saying this: Indianapolis gets a bad rep from Chicagoans, so many of us assume that it is a tiny, empty city with nothing to offer. I want to quickly dispel that rumor as I am a huge advocate for the city. I’ve visited a number of times in the past few years to visit friends who moved there, and have loved experiencing more and more of it every time! It is incredibly walkable, has a great cultural trail, and offers a truly excellent food and beverage scene. So, when my dad and I were looking for a weekend getaway to belatedly celebrate his birthday, we landed on Indianapolis as a prime target. The introduction of a mask mandate just days before our departure further affirmed our decision: we’d head out for a self guided Brewery Tour and simply stay where we felt comfortable and pass on places where we weren’t. I’m happy to report that our time at Chilly Water, Hotel Tango, Metazoa, Indiana City, Sun King, and St. Joseph were all rooted in safety and quite comfortable - and yes, we love beer...
The Hyatt Regency Indianapolis is a 4-Star Hotel located in the heart of the city. It sits just across the street from the State Capitol, minutes from Monument Circle, and within walking distance of all of the breweries mentioned above. At the rate we snagged, it was a perfect hub for this trip, and it's COVID procedures helped assure of that we were in good hands.
Much like my recent stay at the Hyatt Regency Sonoma - Wine County, I booked this hotel directly at www.hyatt.com using my Hyatt Colleague Discount while I still had it - unfortunately I’ve been been laid off due to the impact of COVID-19, which has exponentially changed what it's like to travel. By booking in this manner, I achieved a great rate of $59/night, when the going rate was almost $200/night. I booked using my Chase Sapphire Reserve and earned 3x Points for the total cost of our hotel stay, but did not earn any World of Hyatt Points due to the stipulation of my rate.
Arrival, Check In & Lobby
My dad and I arrived from Chicago by car, having just narrowly avoided a massive back up on I-65 with an accidental detour. The hotel is conveniently accessible from the highway, but entrance to the self parking was quick confusing - and relatively unmarked. We eventually realized that the entrance ramp was past the valet stand, valet is still in operation at this hotel, and we were soon on our way into the most confusing parking garage I’d ever been in. The route through the spaces truly felt like we were navigating a bowl of spaghetti. We quickly parked and made our way to the elevator lobby where hand sanitizer and a large sign about mask requirements was present - a welcome and relieving sight for the both of us.
Finding myself unemployed and my mom on summer break as a teacher, we looked to find a destination for a socially distant getaway - a temporary escape from reality. After talking through the risks associated with traveling at this time, we landed on Wine Country as our destination. It’s somewhere that we’ve both wanted to visit for quite a while. Knowing that wineries had extensive distancing requirements and that there were several opportunities to spend time in the great outdoors of California; we snagged some cheap flights on Southwest Airlines, booked this property, and off we were!
Located in Santa Rosa, the Hyatt Regency is perfectly located to serve as a springboard for your trip to wine country. It’s conveniently placed at the heart of Sonoma County, just a hop away from Napa Valley and Anderson Valley and a skip away from some phenomenal State Parks and other outdoor recreation areas. Given its proximity to downtown Santa Rosa, you can reasonably walk to shops, restaurants, bars and other business - a real win in my book.
We booked directly with the hotel using my Hyatt Colleague Discount while I still had it - unfortunately I’ve been laid off due to the impact of COVID-19 on the hospitality industry. Using this, we achieved an excellent rate of $109/night when the going rate was $179/night; in the high season, this property can go for upwards of $300/night. I booked using my Chase Sapphire Reserve and earned 3x Points for the total cost of our hotel stay, but did not earn any World of Hyatt Points due to the stipulation of my rate. This hotel normally charges an additional Destination Fee, but it has been temporarily waived due to changes caused by COVID-19.
Arrival, Check In & Lobby
We landed at SFO around lunchtime and after doing some drive through sightseeing in San Francisco - including attempting the Golden Gate Bridge, but only seeing a dense wall of fog - we were on our way to the hotel with what proved to be an easy and scenic ride to wine country. Our GPS routed us to an out parking lot instead of the main entrance where signage was lacking on clear direction. We pulled a ticket and rolled into the lot which proved to be the beginning of our saga around parking - on one instance of trying to exit, we were stuck calling the front desk for several minutes and nearly late for our dinner reservation.
Despite the parking hiccups and an unfinished parking lot, the hotel itself has a pleasant appearance. It’s architecture could best be described as meditterranean influenced, and nicely dressed up a pretty standard building. The most striking feature, though, was the landscape that had soaring topiaries and a plethora of wild grasses and flowers that attracted many bees. Upon unloading our luggage and strolling up to the main entrance, we noticed that all of the front doors were locked, some with chains. By reading the posted signs, we continued to the far door where an employee happily welcomed us into the property.
The Eliza Jane occupies seven warehouses that were closely clustered together, and eventually combined to create 196 guestrooms. Former tenants of the space include the Gulf Baking Soda Company, Peter’s Cartridge Shop and the iconic New Orleans favorite: the Peychaud Bitters Factory (key ingredient in the Sazerac). The most important tenant, though, was the The Daily Picayune Newspaper, which was published by New Orleans native Eliza Jane. The namesake of the hotel, Eliza Jane was the first female publisher of a newspaper in the United States, and this inspiration is subtly felt throughout the hotel.
Designed by New York based Stonehill Taylor, the finished product features bold colors and rich textures alongside exposed industrial elements. Layered in is a literary history that adds depth without feeling superficial or in your face. In fact, this element may go unnoticed to some.
The hotel has a prime location on Magazine Street, which is within the city’s Central Business District - just a short walk to the French Quarter and Bourbon Street. I particularly enjoyed the quieter, calmer upscale feel of the location of this hotel. If you want to enjoy the craziness, but also be able to step away from it, this is the hotel for you.
It was a rather last minute decision to book this hotel, in fact, I was staying with others until a friend of mine decided to join me in New Orleans. So, I scrambled and was able to utilize a Free Night Award that I get annually with my Chase Hyatt Visa Card - this card is no longer available, but with a $79 Annual Fee, the Free Night Award offers me great value! Yes, you read that right, the Eliza Jane is, in fact, a Hyatt as an Unbound Collection Hotel - a upper upscale soft brand - which is one of my favorite portfolios of unique and thoughtful properties.
Arrival, Check In & Lobby
As many do, we arrived via New Orleans brand new Louis Armstrong International Airport via a quick and affordable Lyft ride. When we pulled up to the hotel, a smiling valet opened the front doors into a reception area where we immediately saw the friend we were meeting - luckily she had coffee for us, which I desperately needed after our long morning of flying. Just to the right, I made my way over to the front desk where a friendly smiling agent welcomed me to New Orleans, offered me a bottle of water and quickly checked me in. A nice touch that I always appreciate is that she thanked me for my loyalty and asked what time I’d like to check out - a 2:00 PM checkout is a perk of my Discoverist Status. Although we were very early, there was indeed a room ready for us, so in just moments we were on our way.
Then the TWA Flight Center first opened its doors in 1962, it was an immediate icon of the jet age, and a means to amplify the TWA brand at a time when each airline built their own terminal. Meant to evoke a bird in flight, the Flight Center was designed by renowned architect Eero Saarinen and is reflective of the truly modern, and often futurist, work of his career. The building itself was designed to increase efficiency of the airline’s operations. The result was a technologically advanced thin-shell concrete structure and a fabulously branded extension of the TWA identity. While progressive visually, the terminal was designed for smaller aircraft, but this was the dawn of the jumbo jet, and the Flight Center failed to adjust to these large birds and the number of passengers that came with them. The terminal shut its doors in 2001.
In 2015, the conversation of turning the Flight Center into the head house of a hotel had begun. By 2016, construction was underway to introduce a new hotel to John F Kennedy Airport and once complete would be the only hotel located on airport.
For this stay, we booked directly with the hotel at www.twahotel.com reserving a Standard King Room at the flexible rate for $239 + taxes and fees. Given that the TWA Hotel is not a member of any major hotel network, our only opportunity for earning points was by booking with my Chase Sapphire Reserve card, earning 3x points on travel, thus netting 865 Ultimate Rewards points valued at $13.
Arrival, Check In & Lobby
My journey to the hotel begins with my inbound Delta Connection flight from Toronto, leaving me to navigate from Terminal 1 where our little CRJ-900 arrived. The commute was easy enough, though, by following the signs in the terminal to the JFK Airtrain. Arriving on the Airtrain at Terminal 5, the route to the TWA is clearly marked both overhead and on the ground. I quite liked the routing provided because as opposed to entering the terminal, and thus the hotel via inside, we made the trek to ground level and approached as if we were a passenger arriving for a flight back in the glory days of TWA. This allowed me to take in this architectural wonder in all its glory, after all, this was a huge reason I was here. However, for those arriving in inclement weather, I’d recommend the indoor route.
Located in Toronto’s annex neighborhood, the Annex Hotel, is thought of as a reimagination of what a modern day hotel could be like. Designed by Toronto’s StudioAC, the hotel is chic, fresh, and inherently local - which is increasingly becoming a key driver in the hotel industry, and something that’s of high importance to me when I travel. With a philosophy of guests all of what matters and none of what doesn’t, this property is a standout among others in the city, likely a more comfortable competitor of Airbnb than, say, Hilton.
First described to me as the “un-hotel,” I was excited to get a feel for what this rethinking would look and feel like, and - as you’ll see - it had both it’s ups and downs.
As this is an independent hotel, we booked directly with the property at www.theannex.com - rooms in the hotel are also available on Airbnb and other sites. Given that we had a brief one night stay, we opted for a Medium room with one queen bed as we intended on being out and about in the neighborhood for the duration of our stay. Our total for one night, with taxes and fees, came out to a reasonable $135.98 US which we charged to my colleague’s Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card.
Arrival, Check In & Lobby
After landing at Toronto’s Billy Bishop Airport from a flight in on Porter Airlines, we attempted to take public transit, but after getting on the wrong train and subsequently realizing they were cash or token only, we opted to call an Uber given its affordability and speed. Arriving at the hotel was a bit of a confusing process as the hotel’s address is off of what is essentially an alley - causing our driver to get lost. It was clean, and in the evening well lit, and also had a great sequence of street art leading up to it which we would spend time exploring later.
I usually spend about 2-3 weekends a year down in Springfield as a part of my involvement in AIA - our offices for AIA Illinois are in Springfield - which usually means an overnight at the Statehouse Inn. This has quickly become our go to due to it’s affordable rates, friendly staff, and prime location which I’ll discuss below. At the time of this stay, it was co branded as part of the Red Collection by Red Roof Inn - an effort by Red Roof to enter the boutique market with midscale to upper midscale urban properties. At the time of publishing though, it is now branded as a part of the Trademark Collection by Wyndham, a slightly more upscale take on the strategy of the Red Collection.
The Statehouse Inn is aptly named due to its location directly across from the State Capitol and just a few blocks from the historic Old State Capitol. It’s also positioned perfectly within the most walkable portions of downtown Springfield, which is filled with great shopping, dining, and drinking! Some of our favorites: Buzzbomb Brewing, Obed & Isaac’s, JP Kelley’s and Custom Cup. Springfield often gets a bad rap, but there really is a lot to see and do - Abraham Lincoln’s Home, the Dana Thomas House and the Lincoln Presidential Library to name a few. It’s also conveniently located just off of the Amtrak Station should that be your method of transportation.
The hotel occupies a handsome midcentury modern building with an attractive teal and blue glass facade with buff brick - it was recently restored alongside the conversion to the Red Collection brand.
Given that I was travelling as a part of a Board of Directors Meeting, my room was booked within a block by our lovely staff at AIA Illinois. As such, I paid nothing out of pocket. Given that I don’t frequent Red Roof properties, I’m not a member of any loyalty program, and thus didn’t earn any points.
Arrival, Check In & Lobby
As is usual with my trips to Springfield, I arrived via a rental car, and National handed me a sweet upgrade on this trip, which you can get too. I also could have taken the Amtrak which drops off just outside the parking lot had it fit my schedule. Speaking of parking, there is an abundance of spaces and they are included with your nights stay. I parked and took a quick walk into the lobby, although I should note that signage is confusing and I accidentally strolled through the event center first.