Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Hotel Review: Hilton Palacio Del Rio, San Antonio, TX

I stayed at the Hilton, Room 618 for a conference.

The Good:
• Comfortable room
• Couch included
• Two bottles of water provide each day
• Soft, body-length bath towels provided
• Two bath robes provided
• Relatively quiet. I only heard people through the door, as they walked by.
• Nice meeting room facilities.
• Hotel staff were very responsive to conference planning and attendee needs.
• Great location - On the River Walk, across the street from the convention center, one block away from the Alamo and the River Center mall.

The Bad:
• The hotel room floor sloped downwards, away from the door. At first, I felt like my equilibrium was playing tricks on me, as I was readjusting to being on the ground after flying all day. But the floor actually slopes. One explanation I heard is the hotel was disassembled in one location and reassembled in its current location.
• I felt my room was a bit small. My colleagues had the same-size rooms, though.

4 out of 5 stars. I am a Hilton Honors Silver member, and believe I received an upgraded room. One colleague got a room without a couch, and did not get two bottles of water each day. I would stay at this hotel again, and would recommend it to others.

Hotel Review: The Wyndham St. Anthony, San Antonio, TX

I stayed at the Wyndham for one night in room 1074.

The Good:
Impressive lobby
Classic-looking hotel
Comfortable 4 Post bed
Two blocks from River Walk

The Bad:
Old-style bathroom fixtures.
No bathroom counter space
Bathroom tiles were grimy
Shower water pressure was very weak.
Water temperature moderated from warm to luke-warm
Thin walls
I could hear the television through the walls from neighbors on either side of me. One guy was watching football highlights. The other guy was watching a horror show.
When one neighbor opened and closed his bathroom door, it sounded like he was in my room.
A door bell box is mounted around the hotel room door peep-hole. In order to use the peep hole, you have to remove the door bell assembly cover.
There were a few shady characters and people asking for money in the vicinity of the hotel.

Overall, I give the hotel 3 out of 5 stars. I would not choose to stay at this hotel again. There are a number of other hotels in downtown San Antonio, and given the choice, I would have picked another option.

I got the hotel through Priceline with a winning bid of $80, or $102 including taxes and fees. Checking the account information via the hotel television, I noticed Wyndham charged $92 for the room. I feel I got my money’s worth. Hotel rooms were in short supply in the city due to the Texas A&M v. Army football game and the jazz festival.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Road Home from San Antonio

I am on United Express (by GoJet) Flight 5677, traveling from San Antonio, TX to Chicago, O’Hare. The commuter jet is about 80% full. I have my own row, which is always nice.

I woke up at 4:00 AM this morning, packed up and checked out, and caught the shuttle to the airport. The airport was a lot busier than I expected for 6:00 AM on a Saturday. I was able to get my flight changed the first flight of the day out to Chicago. I’m scheduled to catch a connecting flight to BWI, and should be back on the ground around 2:00 PM EDT. I am looking forward to sleeping in my own bed this evening!

Friday, September 15, 2006

Post Conference - San Antonio

Friday, September 15, 2006
The conference is over. By all accounts, it was a success! What a relief!

San Antonio has been fun. The people are friendly. The weather has been warm. And the River Walk section was great to see up close and in person.

The first impression I got of San Antonio was “it’s HUGE.” Flying into town on Tuesday night, I could see the city lights stretching from horizon to horizon. I never realized how spread out the city is. The breadth of the city reminded me of Los Angeles, although not as hilly.

My flight home is schedule for 5:30 PM on Saturday. But I’m going to head over to the airport to see if I can catch an earlier flight. I want to avoid getting stuck at Chicago O’Hare airport again.

Getting delayed at the airport was the biggest complaint conference attendees had. Many got stuck at O’Hare.

I am staying at the Wyndham St. Anthony hotel this evening. Trip Advisor reviewers gave the hotel a low rating. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but have been pleasantly surprised. This is an older hotel. But I received a room on the top floor. The room is comfortable overall. The walls are a bit thin. I can hear the guy in the adjacent room watching football, through the connecting door. And the bathroom is really dated. It looks like a throwback to the 1950s.

San Antonio is hopping this weekend. Texas A&M and Army are playing football on Saturday. Fans from both schools have come in to watch the game. Plus, the San Antonio Jazz Festival starts on Saturday.

I’m ready for bed. I was up late last night putting the finishing touches on my privacy presentation this morning. The presentation went better than I expected. And I am very satisfied with the results.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

San Antonio, Texas

Tuesday, September 12, 2006 12:00 Noon EDT

I’m off to San Antonio today, via Chicago. It’s been one of those “hurry up and wait” days.

I was up until 2 AM working. Then woke up around 6:30 AM. I took care of some more work, and then packed up and headed to BWI.

The first challenge was the traffic jam on the beltway. A tractor-trailer overturned shortly after the Connecticut Avenue exit. That backed traffic all the way up 270 to Montgomery Avenue. I gambled, hoping I would be able to hop on the beltway at Connecticut, and the bypass the accident shortly thereafter. It worked. I spent about 10 minutes in heavy traffic, and then the rest of the ride to BWI was smooth sailing.

At the airport, I checked in and found out the first leg of my flight to Chicago was canceled. Instead of flying out at 1 PM, I have to wait for the next flight which is due to depart close to 3 PM. That means I’ll get to San Antonio about 3 hours later than expected.

One minor benefit is I received an upgrade to Economy Plus for the Chicago-San Antonio leg of the trip.

The airport is surprisingly quiet today. The handful of people waiting in the terminal are either traveling for work or retirees traveling for fun. I’d like to retire and travel for fun starting today, but it looks like I’ll have to wait awhile before that happens. There are no children at all in the terminal. This is quite a contrast from the last time I was here in August. Back then, it took nearly an hour to get through security, and there were people everywhere.

Time to take care of some more business.

Chicago, IL – 4:30PM CDT
I’m sitting at O’Hare Airport, Gate F14, waiting for the connecting flight to San Antonio. The Flyer Talk members were right about O’Hare. It’s a zoo. There are masses of people everywhere. The weather has been overcast here in Chicago for most of the day today. That has caused flight delays and the domino effect has caused passengers to miss connections.

I remember a day when I would only fly non-stop. I hated connecting flights for this very reason. You miss one connection and your whole day is thrown off. I’m going to go back to flying non-stops.

I had to hike from Terminal B to Terminal F. This airport is huge. It took a good 15 minutes to hike from one terminal to the other.

After this flight and the delays, I may skip the next mileage run I have scheduled for September 23. I really don’t need the EQMs. I’ll qualify for Premiere without those miles. And I could use the time at home to take care of matters. I’m keeping my options open.

I need a candy bar to tide me over until dinner.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Mileage Run Recap

Sunday, September 10, 2006
The return portion of the Mileage Run was busy and relatively uneventful.

The Las Vegas Airport is very nice. Clean, spacious, well laid out, and plenty of slot machines. I made my $10 contribution to the one-armed bandits. I was ahead by $1.50 at one point, but gave it all back. Such is life.

I was surprised to find out Las Vegas’s Airport offers free Internet access. And it’s quiet fast! I really enjoyed being able to sit and wait for the next flight, and check e-mail and surf the web.

One message I received was from Launy, a long time friend. I met Launy in Manila in the late 70s. We were both part of the ex-pat crowd. Now she’s living somewhere in Africa. And I was sitting in Las Vegas reading an e-mail message from her. I remember sending mail via Air Post Office service in the 70s, and having to wait 3 weeks for delivery. Now messages can be sent and received instantaneously from practically anywhere to anywhere else in the world. Technology can make the world seem smaller and closer together.

The flight from LAS to SFO was relatively empty. I had a whole row to myself. There were a couple of Russian women sitting in the row across the aisle. They gabbed the entire flight. One time on the Metro, a Russian couple boarded. The woman talked the entire 30 minute trip, while the man said nothing the entire time. He only nodded occasionally.

The SFO airport was nice as well. The last time I flew through SFO was in January 1992. A number of nice restaurants and stores have been added since then. I picked up some See’s Candies for my mom. She was very appreciative. I also liked the flat panel display screens used at the gates to announce arrival and departure information

The flight from SFO to IAD was packed. United had to change planes, and apparently squeezed everyone into a smaller plan. I was slated to have my own row. But I ended up having to share. I slept for most of the flight. It was a redeye, and relatively uneventful.

We landed at Dulles on time. It was odd being back on the ground again after 16 hours of traveling.

5,707 miles posted to my account on Monday. That puts me at approximately 19,000 miles for the year. Another 6,000 miles and I will attain Premiere status. I’ll end up hitting that status in less than 2 weeks.

The amount of time put into flying makes you wonder if it is worth it. I’ll let you know after I get to enjoy my first upgrade.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Mileage Run

Saturday, September 9, 2006 11:40 AM EDT

I’m sitting in Terminal C at Dulles Airport. I am making my first-ever mileage run. By the end of this month, I will have enough EQMs to qualify for Premiere status with United. That entitles me to free upgrades, bonus miles, advanced boarding and a host of other benefits. I can’t wait!

Today’s itinerary is IAD-LAX-LAS-SFO-IAD. That’s about 5,600 miles in one day.

Dulles is surprisingly quiet. The last few times I’ve been here, it’s been very busy. Thousands of people coming and going. I’d say it’s down to hundreds of people coming and going.today.

This is the so called “shoulder season.” Travel tends to peak in the summer months, and tends to drop off dramatically after Labor Day. In large part because of families taking trips before kids head back to school. Many of the people waiting at the gate are retirees, without school-aged kids. Not many families with kids are flying today.

The good parts about traveling during shoulder season are smaller crowds, lower travel prices, less ground traffic and more parking.

Time to board the plane.

2:00 PM, EDT, Somewhere Over the U.S.

Two hours into the flight and things are moving smoothly. The movie is Poseidon. The movie is an entertaining adventure/thriller. But there are a few major problems. First, animation is overused for many scenes such as the ship and the ballroom. Second, several of the actors were miscast. Andre Braugher plays the ship’s captain. He’s an excellent actor. But he isn’t meant to be a ship’s captain. Kevin Dillon plays an obnoxious gambler. He is well cast in that role. Several of the lesser-known actors are weak.

The movie is a remake of the 1970s version. This version came out this summer. It didn’t do very well in the theater. An unfortunate flop for Warner Brothers. I think it will do much better on DVD.

One way to describe this movie is a “Body Count” movie genre. Any movie where hundreds of people get theatrically killed off falls into this category. That includes all of the “Living Dead” movies and related spin offs. When you know the movie you are watching is really bad, counting all the dead bodies can be a way to pass the time until the movie ends.

Sitting in coach is cramped. I’m having a hard time working on my laptop. The good news is after this month, I’ll get upper class seating for the next 15 months.

Time to do some work.

3:00 PM Pacific Daylight Time

We landed at LAX on time. The weather out here is beautiful. Sunny, relaxing and enjoyable. I really enjoy sunny weather. When the sun is out, my mood and disposition are a million times better. I feel more active, more relaxed and more energetic. When it’s cloudy and rainy out, I feel like curling up and sleeping. I notice I sleep less in summer when the days are long and more in winter when the days are short.

I’m sitting next to a power port, recharging my laptop battery and watching passengers go by. You see a huge cross section of people and cultures at airports. There is an Aussie sitting across from me eating a Big Mac. On the plane, I sat next to a blue collar worker who looked like he came off the set of My Name is Earl. The guy had a moustache, unkempt, long hair, mirrored sunglasses and a camouflage cap. There are cutsie J-Pop Japanese tourists wearing mini, mini skirts. A college coed is sitting next to me recharging her laptop and playing solitaire. An Indian baby is exercising her lungs and letting the whole world know she’s alive and unhappy about something. Airports are fantastic places to people watch.

I had dinner at Wolfgang Puck Express. A Caesar Salad and a big Iced Tea. The salad was delicious. It goes back to the sunny California weather. The sunny weather helps produce fresh and tasty fruits and vegetables. When those veggies are packed and shipped out to the East Coast, they lose a lot of their freshness and flavor. You tend to get a lot of wilted, uninspiring veggies on the East Coast during winter months. I like Wolfgang Puck’s food, but the menu items are overpriced – unfortunately typical for LAX.

The only other disappointment I have is the lack of free wireless Internet access. Several airports offer free access. LAX is not one of them. I known SFO offers free access. I’m not sure about Las Vegas though. I’m guessing Las Vegas does not. The hotels want visitors to spend time at the casinos, not in the airport surfing the web.

Almost time to board the next flight.