Chicago as a Travel "Free Agent"

Discussion created by erc on Jul 19, 2014
Latest reply on Jul 24, 2014 by erc
Back in February, circumstances arose where I would need two rooms in downtown Chicago, midweek in JulyHot Sauce Pain  ouch!
I knew the rates would be painful as Marriott always does terrific business in the summer. I secured the best rate in the city for one of my favorites, SpringHill River North for $225 (I often get a $89 rate for Thanksgiving week or in the dead of winter). Most of you know that I love me some Chicago Marriott, having stayed at virtually every non CY Marriott downtown, four of the two airport hotels, and several suburban properties, enjoying excellent service every time.

Either property on Dearborn is a great stay   

As I watched the rate increased to $240 to $250 to $299 and finally being sold out, I tipped my hat to Marriott for the success of their demand oriented pricing. But I have evolved (hear me roar) and no longer just blindly give my heart and money to Marriott. As a Lifetime Plat from the very beginning of the status over 10 years ago and a Rewards member in all of its forms from the very first month, this was initially a difficult transition, but each time I've ventured away and observed travel life outside the 'family', I've grown more and more confident of my options.

                                     A nice welcome gift

  In April I was able to land a TravelZoo deal for the Millennium Knickerbocker, just down the block from the Residence Inn on Walton Ave. across the street from the Drake and just around the corner from Michigan Ave., that saved me over $900 pre-tax for the two rooms over three nights. Not only that, but I have Marriott to thank for my enhanced "schmooze" skills (as we jockey for upgrades) which served me well when I called the hotel to reserve the dates for my voucher. Breakfast and a bar credit was part of the deal, but lucky guy that I am, I was fortunate enough to have internet included and a pleasant surprise welcome package (see photo). No lake view, it was similar to my terrific stay at the NY Lexington, landlocked among the tall buildings and in a way, several aspects of this hotel (artwork, lobby, bar) were somewhat similar to the vibe of the Lexington. Nothing special about the routine 300 sq. ft. rooms, but everything worked, staff were all personable and helpful and of course, the location was excellent.
        A nice, warm piano bar reminding me of the
           former I Lounge at the JW New Orleans
  While I actually got some work done, I also was able to dine with my daughters and enjoyed several good meals using my "what's the deal?" approach (they're twenty somethings, so the Wednesday night Outback deal for $11.99 would have been just fine; the Outback attached to the SpringHill O'Hare, btw, is great for this);
   Mity Nice Bar and Grill - at Water Tower Place - a quiet place to dine (tucked deep in the bowels of the food court) with a broad range of choices, all well prepared and moderately priced. This is part of the Lettuce Entertain You chain and if you'll recall, yours truly snagged a $25 bonus for every $100 certificate.
  Seasons 52
- Grand Ave. diagonal from the Mag Mile Marriott. Reserved with OpenTable and captured 1,000 points (worth $10) because we ate at 6 pm (which was 7 pm East Coast stomach time). I've enjoyed Seasons 52 in Orlando, Tysons, and now Chicago and it's as reliable as Bandera, which similarly, has restaurants throughout (Newport Beach, Scottsdale, and Michigan Ave. across from the Marriott, to name a few).
  Crossroads at the House of Blues
(down the street from the combo SpringHill/Residence Inn on Dearborn) - joining some of my daughters' friends so I can stay in touch with the Millennial mindset, I executed a $50 certificate (bought for $8) and we had a great time. The food was good enough not to distract from the camaraderie of two generations exchanging ideas and enjoying the blues.
   Millennials can quickly Google Lead Belly and Howlin Wolf on phones

  Lunches - both very close to Magnificent Mile Marriott
   Eataly -  I was with some big dogs from New York who just had to see if this was like the New York operation (similar except smaller and no outdoor dining). My turkey breast sandwich was good, but a TKY at Potbelly would have been $5 cheaper and 15 minutes quicker!
   Purple Pig - went with a business associate and boy, I thought I was in Andrew Zimmern territory. The place has an excellent reputation and prepares essentially every part of the pig, but with an afternoon meeting, I couldn't really chance that a heart, ear, intestine, or neck would disagree with me, so I went with the relatively safe pork brisket sandwich, which was excellent and my friend liked the ham and cheese.
Navy Pier cruises, like Jos. A. Bank, always on sale - don't dare pay list price.
This was a Groupon, but TravelZoo, AmazonLocal, and Goldstar deal year 'round

   Moral of the Story: Leisure travelers, consider signing up for Deals (flights, restaurants, and activities as well) often provide weeks, if not months of availability for planning purposes and there are almost always 10-15 Marriott properties being offered at any one time. Usually (with points) matches the rates, but for non Plats and non Golds, often these deals offer breakfast and internet, so perhaps a deal for newer Rewards members.  I am now 4 for 4 when I've ventured from Marriott (not counting my six VRBO stays, but those weren't necessarily deals, just great places) and continue to hold Marriott in the highest regard, saluting their success (as a shareholder) and combining with them for wonderful times; but now I realize I also have reasonable alternatives when Marriott is red hot and will not miss my smiling face at their place of business.
  Keep on keepin' on Insiders. We're all in this together.