Montana On My Mind, But Not With Miles and Points

Headed to Montana Soon
Montana bound on miles and points, not!

When I think of Montana, I think of mountains and rivers, glaciers and prairie, cowboys and grizzlies.

Our upcoming trip will not focus on any of those things.

Instead, we will be touring cement plants and factories, dams and bridges, historic forts and industrial ruins.

Traveling to Montana with Miles and Points — Not!

We will be participating in the Society for Industrial Archeology’s Fall Tour.  When we saw that Great Falls, Montana was the site for this year’s tour, we signed up right away.  My sister lives in nearby Helena.   This will be a great opportunity to see my sister and her family!

We will not be utilizing miles or points for this trip.  We’ll be flying in to Great Falls, and out of Helena.   I could not find a decent itinerary using frequent flyer miles.

I was very excited however, to see the Staybridge Suites in Great Falls on the IHG “points break” list for this fall.  This is a new hotel that is ranked #1 on TripAdvisor’s ranking of hotels in Great Falls.  5,000 IHG points per night would be a nice bargain.

Where to Stay in Great Falls, Montana

Sip & Dip Bar with Live Mermaids
Sip ‘n Dip Tiki Lounge with Live Mermaids at the O’Haire Motor Inn in Great Falls, Montana

We decided against the Staybridge Suites, because we wanted to stay at the conference hotel.

The conference hotel is in downtown Great Falls.  It is the O’Haire Motor Inn.

Aside from the convenience of staying with the rest of our group, the O’Haire Motor Inn looks to be a hoot.

Believe it or not, GQ Magazine named the Sip ‘n Dip Tiki Lounge at the O’Haire Motor Inn the number one bar on earth worth flying for!

This honor wasn’t just because of the live piano bar or the umbrella drinks.

The unique feature of the Sip ‘n Dip Tiki Lounge is the glass wall between the bar and the swimming pool.  There are live mermaids swimming in the pool!

* * *

This will be my first trip to Montana, but it won’t be my last.  I hope to return during the summer months to visit the National Parks in the Big  Sky state.

Holiday Inn Paris: The Curious Incident of the Buzz in the Night Time

Sleuthing in the lobby of the Holiday Inn Paris - Notre Dame
Sleuthing in the lobby of the Holiday Inn Paris – Notre Dame

You don’t go to Paris to stay at a cookie-cutter chain hotel.

Crazy that I am, I booked five nights at the Holiday Inn Paris Notre Dame, for half of our summer vacation in Paris.

The reason, of course, was hotel points.

I had enough IHG points from a credit card bonus to get two free nights at a Holiday Inn hotel, and I was not going to let those points go to waste!

A Surprise Tropical Oasis at the Holiday Inn Paris – Notre Dame

The reason I chose the Holiday Inn- Paris Notre Dame was location.  The hotel is literally steps from the St. Michel Metro station and the RER train station.  It sits right on the border between the Latin Quarter and St. Germain de Pres.  It is within walking distance of just about everything.

View of the rooftops from our balcony at the Holiday Inn Paris -- Notre Dame
Romantic view of Paris rooftops from our balcony at the Holiday Inn Paris — Notre Dame

What really intrigued me about the Holiday Inn Paris – Notre Dame, however, was the rooftop bar that provides generous views of Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower.

The rooftop bar did not disappoint.  It was spellbinding to watch the sun set over the rooftops of Paris.

Another bonus was the charming garden off the hotel lobby, complete with a koi pond and tropical vegetation.

Koi Pond at the Holiday Inn Paris - Notre Dame
Koi Pond in the garden at at the Holiday Inn Paris – Notre Dame

However, the decor of the hotel was quite garish, like a fuschia throwback to the 1970’s.  You can see pictures of the rooms on TripAdvisor.

It turns out our neighbors had stayed there a couple of years ago.  “It’s not very Parisian,” they said.

We were assigned to a tiny room on the first floor, with a bizarre large window between the bedroom and the bathroom.

Holiday Inn Paris Notre Dame:  Things That Go Buzz in the Night

Upon returning to the Holiday Inn after a full day walking around Paris, I fell fast asleep.

Around 10 p.m., I was awakened by a security guy searching our room.

There was a strange buzzing going on, that my husband reported to the front desk.

We couldn’t locate the source of the buzzing.  It sounded like it may be coming from the bathtub.  No.  Was it coming from the desk, or maybe from the closet?

The security man brought in a ladder and removed a ceiling tile.  Nothing up there.  Then he turned off the electricity to see if the buzzing would stop.  No luck there.  He left to search the adjoining rooms to see if he could identify the source of the persistent buzzing.

Lovely tropical garden at the Holiday Inn Paris- Notre Dame
Lovely tropical garden at the Holiday Inn Paris- Notre Dame

After an hour of this, it was getting ridiculous.  It would be impossible to get back to sleep under these conditions.

The security guy radioed the front desk and said we would have to be relocated to another room.  The desk clerk agreed.

Unfortunately, the hotel was fully booked for the night, and we would have to move to another hotel.

We packed our bags and headed down to the lobby.

I guessed that they would move us to another Holiday Inn.  “Do you mind waiting?” the desk clerk asked.  “There’s nothing available.   Paris is completely booked tonight.”

Hotel Danube Paris, a More Traditional Accommodation

Half an hour later, she had secured a room and breakfast for us at what she promised was a very nice hotel not too far away.

Lobby of the Hotel Danube Paris
Lobby of the Hotel Danube Paris

She called us a cab, and we were whisked off to the Hotel Danube Paris on Rue Jacob in the 6th arrondissement.

I was up for the adventure — this would give us the opportunity to see another hotel and another neighborhood!

The Hotel Danube Paris is a typical Parisian hotel.  It is a family-owned, solid three star hotel.  There was a small courtyard where you can take breakfast.  The lobby is decorated with ornate green wallpaper.

Courtyard at Hotel Danube Paris
Charming Courtyard at Hotel Danube Paris

We arrived very late at night, and were lucky to get a large, comfortable room with an enormous bathroom.  It was the Hotel Danube’s most expensive room, a “Prestige” room.

This is the kind of place I can imagine returning on a future visit to Paris.

The next morning, we reported back to the Holiday Inn Paris – Notre Dame.  The reception staff was most apologetic.  I don’t think they ever located the source of the buzzing.

In exchange for our trouble, we were upgraded to an “Executive” room on the sixth floor for the remainder of our stay.

View from our balcony at the Holiday Inn Paris - Notre Dame
View from our private balcony at the Holiday Inn Paris – Notre Dame

This “Executive” room was easily twice the size of our first room.  It had a windows stretching the length of the room.

There was a balcony large enough for two chairs and a table.  The balcony was shaded by vines and quite private. It had a magnificent view of the Eiffel Tower.

The reception staff said that we would find a welcome amenity in our room.  Yes, there was a Twix bar and a water bottle on the desk.  Was this the amenity?

When we returned from dinner, we spotted another gift:  a bottle of wine; and a beautiful book of water color paintings of Paris:  Une Aquarelliste à Paris.  

This was a touching gesture and will make a nice keepsake of our time in Paris.

Book of Watercolor Prints of Paris
Book of Watercolor Prints of Paris

Book the Room, Not the Hotel

The moral of the story is that in Paris, and many other places, there is a big difference between the standard room and a superior room at the same hotel.

Our perception of these two disparate hotels was greatly influenced by the room quality.

On a points stay, you are eligible for a standard room.

If you have status with the hotel, by virtue of holding a branded credit card, you may be upgraded to a larger room.  Or maybe not.

If you are a cheapskate like me you may be reluctant to choose anything but the standard room.  Based on this experience, I would advocate searching for a nicer room at a less expensive hotel before making a decision.  In Paris, the difference between a four star hotel and a three star hotel may be whether there is a restaurant and a bar in the hotel, or an elevator, or other features that you might not care deeply about.

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Giveaway to Getaway

Enter the Giveaway for 1,500 IHG Points
Enter the giveaway for 1,500 IHG points!

I’m giving away 1,500 IHG (Intercontinental Hotel Group) points to a reader who newly likes my Facebook page.

IHG Rewards Club is a program of hotels like Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Intercontinental Hotels, Crowne Plaza, and others.

I earned these points through the IGH Share Rewards promo that is running this summer.

I’d like to share my points with you!

In one week, I’ll select a winner randomly and post the results on Facebook.

You’ll need to contact me with your name and email address so I can send you the points.

1,500 IHG reward points could be just what you need to top off your account for your next award stay!

Which Hotel Chain Has the Most Hotels in Paris?

"Paris is Always a Good Idea'  Audrey HepburnNow that our plane tickets to Paris are booked, I need to make some hotel reservations.

To the extent possible, I’d like to leverage my hotel points to book as many free nights as possible.

To that end, I started by exploring availability in the the two programs where I have the most points:  Club Carlson and IHG.

Not surprisingly, award availability for our travel dates was hit or miss.

Which Hotel Chain has the Most Hotels in Paris?

There are quite a few Holiday Inns and other IHG hotels in Paris, but only 4 Club Carlson Radisson Blu hotels.

Are these the best loyalty programs if you are looking for free nights for your Paris holiday?

If you read a number of other travel blogs, you’ve probably heard about the Park Hyatt Vendome, and how you can stay there for free by opening a Chase Hyatt credit card.

There are 2,400 hotels in Paris.  Why do all the bloggers stay at the same place?

On the one hand, I’d really love to stay in a boutique hotel on the Left Bank or the Marais.  On the other hand, I need to economize.

I went to Award Mapper to get a rough count of which chains have hotels that you can book for points in Paris.  I was surprised by what I found.

Best Western Has 42 Hotels in Central Paris

Best Western Hotels in Paris
Best Western Hotels in Paris via Award Mapper

Here are the tallies I came up with for the major hotel chains:

Best Western:  42

Choice:  15

Club Carlson:  4

Hilton:  1

Hyatt:  4

Intercontinental (IHG):  14

Marriott:  9

Starwood (SPG):  4

Wyndham:  2

Best Western has the most properties — 42 hotels in many different neighborhoods in Paris.  Hilton has the fewest — just one hotel.  Hyatt, Starwood, and Club Carlson each have four hotels.

Are you surprised by these results?  Were you able to book award stays in Paris?  

IHG Froze My Rewards Club Account

IGH Rewards Club Account Frozen
IGH Rewards Club Account Frozen

Have you seen the movie Frozen?  Well, that’s exactly what happened to my IHG Rewards Club account.

A couple of weeks ago, I was researching hotels for an upcoming  summer trip.

I noticed that I could not pull up the IHG web page on my computer.  A notice popped up that the site was down.  When this continued for more than a week, I finally realized that something was wrong.

IHG Froze My Rewards Club Account

I called IHG and was told that the website was not down.

However, my access to the website had been terminated for — dare I say — fraudulent activity.

Don’t Believe Everything You Read on the Internet, Duh

IHG Rewards Club (formerly known as Priority Club) allows you to stack more than one promo code on to a reservation.

These promo codes allow you to earn extra points for your stay, sometimes a lot of extra points!

I had found a list of IHG promo codes on a blog somewhere and had attempted to enter as many as possible on to my account.  About half the codes I tried were accepted.

Don’t Enroll in Random IHG Promos

The customer service rep told me that my IHG Rewards Club account had been frozen because I had applied promo codes to my account that I found on the internet.

She warned me to use only promo codes that had been emailed specifically to me.

Using random promo codes would result in IHG confiscating all my points and permanently terminating my account.

Some of the travel hacks you read about on the internet can backfire.  This hack had apparently been working for quite some time.  About the time I discovered it, in June 2014, IHG had pulled the plug.  Consider yourself warned.

Have any travel hacks backfired on you?  Please share in the comments.