Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Accomodations

I've been on the road a lot lately. On the road, in the air and in plenty of hotels and guest rooms. I've eaten more than my fair share of fast food in terminals and on the turnpike. Travel is part of my job.


Like most people, I prefer my very own bed, with my very own pillow and of course my very own quilt, but I can be flexible. I don't need luxury accommodations. Room Service is not a requirement. I have to admit when I do pay a premium price for premium accommodations I have higher expectations for that establishment.


I am a Fairfield Inn kind of girl. Those establishments are mid level, clean, have a complimentary breakfast, free Wi-Fi and I like their towels. It doesn't hurt that they offer the same shampoo that I use at home so there is less chance of my walking around looking like the "before" photo in a hair care ad. I have moderate expectations for a Fairfield Inn and I have to say that they usually exceed those expectations, often by leaps and bounds. See, I'm not hard to please.


Hotels with Hilton in the name are a special treat in my world.  I'm too price concious to make them my hotel of choice, but I will spend the money when it makes a difference. In Houston for Quilt Market, I thought it made a difference.  It is a matter of supply and demand when International Quilt Market rolls into town. Thousands of quilters, shop owners, sales reps, vendors and support people flood the city and its hotel rooms. The Hilton is a coveted address. It is attached to the Convention Center through a beautiful climate controlled glass walkway. For early morning appointments it doesn't hurt that Starbucks is located at the other end of that short walk. For those of us that run back and forth for teaching and lecture supplies, to drop things off, or just to grab a more comfortable pair of shoes, the Hilton is prime location, and you can expect to pay for it.

Shelling out close to $200 a night means that I expect a bit more than a clean hot shower and a comfortable bed. I've already resigned myself to the wacko economic rules that apply to internet service. Mid and budget rate hotels have no problem offering free Wi-Fi while upscale hotels, like Hilton, charge $12.95 per day to access the internet in the comfort of your room. Another reason that having Starbucks a short walk away is a benefit.

Hallway in borad daylight!

When I checked in to my room at the Houston Hilton for my 5 night stay, I was surprised that the little hall inside my room was so dark. The L shaped entrance had a chest and mirror, which were easy to see in the middle of the day with the drapes wide open and the sunshine streaming in. That same area became a black hole after dark. Why not install a light Hilton? There is clearly a cover plate where a ceiling fixture was removed or never installed. I'm pretty sure the rates you charged would cover another 60 watt bulb.

Not being able to see things in the chest of drawers tucked into the dark corner was not a problem, there was another chest of drawers at the other end of the room. I began to think of it as the haunted dresser. I never did figure out why, but for some reason the top right drawer of that chest wouldn't stay closed. If anything was put in that drawer, even remotely close to the front, it rolled open at will, usually in the middle of the night. Not a comforting sound as you are drifting off to sleep! After 3 or 4 tries to get it to stay closed I decided to just leave it open for the rest of my stay.

Suitable for the "grunge" look!

A dark hall and haunted furniture didn't endear me to the hotel chain and they didn't impede my ability to function either. Then I decided to use the iron and ironing board. Hotel irons are notoriously cheap. I can deal with that. On the other hand, in my book there is absolutely NO excuse for a lumpy ironing board. Here's a photo of the ironing board in my deluxe Hilton accommodations. Really Hilton? Has anyone on your staff ever pressed anything? The idea is to make things FLAT.
We are now quickly sliding in to the end of the year and my business travels slow considerably over the holiday season. I'm home until the end of January when I will be attending a seminar in LasVegas. When I booked my air online I was offered a deal at the hotel where the seminar is being held, for $22 a night. That's not a typo, twenty two dollars a night! I went with the upgraded to the more luxury tower room for $35 a night.  That price still makes me a little nervous.  I hope they have elevators........ I'll let you know how I make out.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Home From Market

I know that many are suffering from the effects of hurricane Sandy and I don't mean to make light of their plight. My prayers are with those that came home to devastation and a few others that are still making their way home as I post this.

 
If you follow this blog you already know that my experience while traveling is "bumpy" to say the least. Canceled flights, lost luggage, weather delays, sick crew members, you name it, I've experienced it while trying to get from here to there. This fall while attending International Quilt Market I shared my wicked travel gene with the entire industry in the form of hurricane Sandy. Early in the week I was teaching on the east coast of Florida and all of the "spaghetti" tracks for the storm that were shown on the Weather Channel clearly showed the front heading out to sea. Once Mother Nature realized that I was on the Florida coast, the models changed and Sandy did her best to make a B-line For the shore.

Outsmarting disaster is my main goal when I travel, so having experienced weather delays before, I headed for Texas as the feeder bands began. I was confident that the wind and rain would be long gone days later when I would make my trip home. As the storm started to build, much of the conversation on the Market floor revolved around who was getting home, how, and when. With market ending and Festival beginning, hundreds of hotel rooms were scheduled to change hands. If you requested to extend your stay, the hotels promised to do their best to try to accommodate you.... At a higher, much higher, rate.

 
I was scheduled to fly from Houston to Orlando, then Orlando to Pittsburgh on Southwest. I didn't even bother trying to check with the airline until my last evening in Houston. When I finally did, much to my surprise my reservation was confirmed and boarding passes were issued for on-time departures. While everyone else was scrambling for someone to share a room with, I finished my orders, picked up a few last minute items and started to say my last good-byes. That's when my phone rang. My son called to say that my Orlando to Pittsburgh flight was cancelled. No problem.

When you have the travel record that I do, you become accustom to a few bumps along the way. I had already checked with my friend in Florida, who happened to be attending a funeral in Orlando, and I could stay with her at her sister-in-laws.  Nice weather, friendly people, welcome accommodations. It is all in having a plan B, C, D and occasionally E.

Plan B, overnight in Orlando, was scrapped when I spoke to the airline. It would be two nights in Orlando, possibly three. Jacksonville? I have a daughter attending college in Jacksonville. I've made that drive many times.  I actually rented a car and drove home from there during the last ice storm that paralyzed everything south of the Mason-Dixon line. The Southwest operator offered to get me into Jacksonville at 11:35pm, for an additional $315. On to plan D. Columbus Ohio? That would be drivable. Possible, but not until Thursday (it was Monday at the time) and an additional $249. Orlando was looking pretty good.

 
I checked in at the Southwest counter at Hobby Airport for my flight to Orlando. On the off chance that I could get closer to home or at least close to a more familiar bed, I asked the counter person if they had anything going to Louisville, Kentucky. Louisville is a little less than two hours south of my oldest daughter and the twins.

"Yes, I can have you there by 9pm" were the nicest words I had heard all day! Done. No matter what the fee. Stranded out of town can be both miserable and expensive, but stranded out of town with an unexpected opportunity to visit with the grandchildren is worth the price! My evil travel gene had instantly produced an unexpected bit of luck! I whipped out my Visa. "No need for that, we don't have change fees here" were the next words from the Southwest agent. Really? That never works for me. I had already spoken to Southwest customer relations earlier. Those were the very helpful, polite people that quoted me the change fees! "No problem, no fee". She did make sure that I understood that getting from Louisville to Pittsburgh would be my responsibility. I didn't bother her with the details, but getting me home to Pittsburgh would actually be Grandpa's responsibility. He could drive out and pick me up and have an excuse to see the kids too.
Quick calls to my husband who called my daughter who arranged for a rental car that I could use to drive the hour and forty five minutes to their home in Covington, KY and I was on my way. The smooth flight to Chicago gave no indication of the horrendous weather out east. We landed in Chicago a bit early and I decided to get something to eat before heading to my next gate. Waiting in line for my Chicago style hotdog my text message alert went "ping". Southwest was notifying me of a gate change. Impressive service! I arrived at gate B19 and looked at the board. Flight 842 to Louisville was scheduled to leave right on time.  This was going too smoothly.... The gate agent announced that they would begin boarding immediately after they boarded the flight leaving out of adjoining gate B 17..... to Pittsburgh.

That is correct. Hours ago in Houston there was no possible way to travel to Pittsburgh because of the storm. Customer Relations assured me that nothing was flying in. Absolutely no connections were available that would get me home before Wednesday or possibly Thursday. However sitting in Chicago, waiting for my flight to Louisville I watched as the gate agent booked 3 people through to Pittsburgh. I questioned the seat availability. The gate agent offered to transfer me to the Pittsburgh flight. In my travel world you have to know when to hold them and know when to fold them. With my luck the wind would pick up and that plane would need to be diverted. Probably to Orlando.

Instead I chose to keep my seat on the flight to Louisville. I would rather change planes, pay $82 for a rental car and drive a few hours for kisses from Grant and Madeline than risk another flight change that might not get me home. If you are keeping score, this is FIVE, count them F I V E trips to International Quilt Market that I have had some issue getting home. This time I got to snuggle, play and get hugs and Halloween kisses from the twins. I going to score this one:
Evil Travel Gene 4
Karen 1.