Unique Hotels – Prince de Galles, Paris

One of my new year’s resolutions for 2017 is, given my frequent travels, to do more hotel reviews. I’ve decided to kick off with the Prince de Galles in Paris, for several reasons. First, you can’t beat the location – in the 8th arrondissement on the Avenue George V (more on that below). Second, it’s one of Starwood’s most elegant properties but beyond that it’s also quite historically significant. Third, it is where Chris and I stayed for our honeymoon and, of course, because of that it’s very special to us.

The Prince de Galles is located just off the Champs-Élysées, and shares its portion of the Avenue George V with the Four Seasons next door. In the neighborhood with the Arc de Triomphe, the Place de la Concorde, and the Élysée Palace, the Prince de Galles is at the heart of Parisian elegance and romance. We’ve stayed at the Four Seasons as well, and while it’s certainly very glamorous, it can be somewhat formal and stiff. Or, as a slightly inebriated (and slightly too overly-Chanel clad) American guest who was sitting next to us one night at dinner famously declaimed: “It’s such a scene.” And with that pronouncement – which could have been uttered by one of Woody Allen’s more pretentious characters in “Midnight in Paris” – we had to be captivated by the “anti-scene” next door. 

The Prince de Galles and the Four Seasons share many characteristics – plush and decadent lobbies filled with ever-freshened floral arrangements, polished marble floors and acres of shiny brass and silver accents, eternal mirrors and silent but ever-present staff. But where the Four Seasons evokes the establishment and the upper crust of la Belle Epoque, the Prince de Galles exudes insouciant, Art Deco charm. Built in the heyday of the Jazz Age in 1928, the Prince de Galles has also welcomed many famous guests with a certain flair of their own: Winston Churchill, Marlene Dietrich, Rita Hayworth, Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley among them. The Prince of Wales, later Edward VIII and still later the Duke of Windsor, also lodged at his namesake on several occasions. A massive renovation in 2013 restored the hotel to something close to the original glorious elegance that he and others would have enjoyed nearly a century ago. The guest rooms are like jewel boxes – less spacious than intimate, more divine than staid. The spa is tiled in hues of blue and green, hidden in a deep, hushed core of the building, where you can forget you are in a busy hotel, much less one of the busiest cities in the world – sensory deprivation, anyone?

We were fortunate to be given a suite of rooms facing several stories up onto the courtyard below where “Le Patio,” a fabulous outdoor bar surrounded by terracing with endless mosaic tiles has held court since the hotel was built. While I didn’t fall for the claim by a staff member – who showed us over the property when we arrived – that Le Patio is UNESCO-protected due to those tiles having been hand-fired and glazed in Morocco, I agree it’s a beautiful and enchanting place. Having a drink under one of the potted palms and stretched on a rattan chaise lounge, you can imagine yourself somewhere between the Right Bank and French Algeria, c. 1934. At night, we opened the window of our bedroom, which faced over the patio and heard the laughter and music from guests below. Even on a cool November night, there was plenty of late-night revelry at Le Patio.

We also loved La Scene – the one Michelin star restaurant at the hotel. Described as a gastronomic experience it does live up to the hype. The food was delicious and rendered even more special as during our meal (late in the even due to full booking that night and others) ended with Chris and me as the only diners left. Our curated dessert of chocolate and figs made it a perfect evening. With a kitchen open on three sides to the dining room, you can also see the chef and team at work, which for foodies like us was another lovely treat.

Full disclosure: the staff did know we were on our honeymoon, and even if they did not they might have guessed from the surfeit of flowers, chocolate and champagne that kind friends and colleagues had delivered to us daily (either that or they might have mistaken us for someone’s entourage!). That said, the service was impeccable and we had no complaints or negative experiences at the Prince de Galles. And if you’re a Starwood points hound – as I am – there are some great deals to be had at this property. Start looking for those, and put the Prince de Galles on your list for a trip to Paris.

United Global Services

In the world of frequent flier programs, the most coveted may surely be United’s mysterious and elite “Global Services” status. For those of you unacquainted with this magical creature, it really is the only way to travel. Far beyond mere 1K status (100,000 miles annually on United flights), it is something that frequent fliers speak of reverently when they talk about even the most grueling business travel.

How do you obtain entry to this prestigious program? The truth is that no one really knows. United Airlines does not disclose how it selects members, and there are no published criteria for how you get or retain this status. A while ago, the Wall Street Journal published an article that came about as close as any I’ve ever seen to describing some of the keys to the castle: “Inside United’s Secret Club for Top Fliers.” The WSJ suggested that flying at least 100,000 miles a year is a minimum, but that heavy spend with United – perhaps more than $50,000 – and on premium flights and in premium classes of service (Business First and Global First) are what count the most.

Whatever the allure, I can tell you unabashedly that I’m part of the cult. I track my miles and spend with United, I treasure them, I obsess about them, and I work to do whatever it is that meets the magic formula of Global Services. As 2015 draws to a close, I have a spate of international travel coming up and much of it happens to be on United (sorry UAL, but you’re not always the most convenient or price conscious choice for me or my business). And there may be a few personal trips in there as well to round out the year. It’s worth it – every bit. Delayed flight? United puts you on a new connection without your even calling them. Cancelled plane? You’ll be immediately re-booked on any airline they can find to get you where you need to go. Making a tight connection? No worries, you’ll be picked up and escorted to your gate where planes are even held from departure for you.

My own experience with Global Services demonstrates why the program resonates so much with so many loyalists. In January 2013, returning from a wonderful trip to New Zealand, we arrived in Australia for our connecting flight to the US, only to learn that it was cancelled due to mechanical issues. If you’ve ever looked at the size of a 747, you’ll appreciate that re-booking that many people isn’t easy. Many of the passengers on the flight who were in first class were being told the best that could be done was a re-booking in two days. If you were in economy, well, you might as well have just renounced citizenship and decided to move to Oz (no complaints there – Australia and New Zealand are great places for relocation). But with my Global Services status, I went to the counter and asked the United personnel what they could do. The result?  A re-booking on a flight leaving for the US within 2 hours of our originally scheduled United departure from Sydney. Who else on the flight got this treatment? No one except me and one other Global Services member. For that, I am eternally grateful.  Sydney’s a great place but not when you have to get home from a 16 day vacation.

No matter what I do, however, I suspect I’ll never top one of my colleagues, who recently spoke at a dinner honoring him for his years of commitment to human rights, justice and religious liberty on a world stage. He centered his remarks on 10 things he is grateful for – unsurprisingly; they included his family, his friends and colleagues, his good health, and his excellent golf game. But high on the list – not first but nowhere near last – he said it: “United Global Services” – and the crowd gasped, not with shock but with admiration. Some true believers out there, that’s for sure.

So the other day, when I said to Chris that I needed to make sure I got Global Services status for 2016, he looked at me with horror and concern about how I had let there be the slightest doubt of this. I promised I would do my best to stay in the club-without-membership-applications. To which Chris replied that failure was not an option. So United, if you’re out there, I’m traveling and I’m with you.  Just keep me in the club – I can’t go back now that I’ve seen the Promised Land . . .

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