I just finished a kind of epic travel run of four cities and two countries over three consecutive weekends.
First, I had an unexpected three day weekend in Toronto reuniting with some of my study-abroad friends from Paris. Then, I spent Easter in the Bay Area and Sacramento with family – always enjoyable, especially with the weather cooperating brilliantly. Last, I spent the weekend at the W Montreal with friends from home, overindulging whenever possible. This past weekend was the first one home in four and it allowed me to catch up on reading, sleep, faire du musculation and sleep.
Since this post is about flying American Airlines and redeeming points at Starwood Hotels, and I flew to San Francisco on United and stayed with family, I will ignore that trip for now, save it for another post and instead concentrate Toronto in this post and Montreal in the next.
Toronto, as explained in this post, was literally booked a week before and late at night, which ended up being a problem about 3 days before the trip, when I realized that I had booked us for a Sunday 8am return flight, rather than the preferable Monday 8am flight from Toronto back to New York. Luckily for us, there was still award space on the Monday morning flight and I only had to pay a $65 change fee per person versus buying a new one way ticket costing at least $150. Remember, a round-trip ticket was over $330 and we ended up each paying about $115 with the change fee – quite a lot of savings! British Airways customer service is hit or miss and we lucked out with a polite and knowledgeable CSR who allowed the whole rebooking process to take only five minutes.
Flying out from LaGuardia was great – the weather was clear and warmish in New York, the cabbie was quick and our 2:55 pm departure allowed us to arrive in Toronto around 4:30 pm.
|Never forget your passport!|
My friend Nick and I tried to get upgraded to business class, but the front desk agent was insistently polite that since we were flying on award tickets, an upgrade was not possible. We ended up boarding last anyway and I grabbed Nick and pulled him into the business class seat in front of me- what the heck, right? The flight attendant came over and asked us if we wanted anything to drink – I demurred, but Nick stepped up and ordered some orange juice like a real boss!
Two minutes later, we ended up getting asked for our boarding passes when the second flight attendant made a check of the coach cabin and said there were thirty-four people instead of thirty-six; we were the missing two. I just started laughing and moved back to the rear of the plane, where I could also have my own row. Nick and I also told the second flight attendant that it was our first time in an airplane, so could she spot us some booze? She proffered us Heinekens, which was generous considering we were obviously lying about the fact we hadn’t flown before and had just gotten kicked out of business class.
I even tweeted at American about it, and they responded, which was a good sign that their social media team doesn’t take itself too seriously!
Getting to Toronto from the airport was easy – we used the free airport internet to check for the bus schedule and took a cheap, 20 minute bus ride to the metro, which was probably another 25-30 minutes into the city. It wasn’t the fastest way, but it was the cheapest.
Honestly, the Toronto days and nights just kind of blended together – lots of walking, drinking, and walking while drinking (actually that last part is a lie; that’s illegal). We did find time to go to several excellent restaurants, however. Friday night dinner was at Woodlot, a restaurant in a “hip” part of town – I got the seared rainbow trout with lentils, as well as a side of fingerling potatoes, and the food and service were exemplary.
|Seared Rainbow Trout w/ Lentils – Yum!|
Later that night, we proceeded to bar hop in an area similar to Williamsburg – it was fun, but wow, is Canada frozen for late March!
|Throw in another minus-15/20 for wind chill!|
Saturday, we had brunch at Le Select and while the service was only average – the waiter forgot one order and was slow with the water refills – everyone’s food was fresh and delicious. However, brunch wasn’t complete without a nutella crepe – we were in a country that speaks French, after all!
The rest of the day, I felt we literally walked the entire city; from SkyDome to the Air Canada Centre to the CN Tower to the Distillery District, we went everywhere except Drizzy Dreidel’s house.
|Attempting to fly to the top of the CN Tower|
|The Distillery District|
Toronto, architecturally, is kind of a wild west – there seem to be no zoning laws and new 30-40 story condominium towers were going up everywhere, making it seem excessively artificial, like Dubai. (Ok, I have never been to Dubai, but I’m assuming the feel is similar, temperature excluded.)
|The older looking building with the copper roof in the middle right is the Fairmont Toronto –
at one point the tallest building in Toronto!
|Old and New|
Saturday night, we went out again to a young person’s area and got foolish at a couple clubs. My friend Mike had brought a camera into one of the clubs and told girls he was from LA Weekly (actually a real magazine) as an excuse to flirt. It didn’t work too well, but it was pretty funny to watch.
Sunday afternoon was the same as Saturday – it was spent walking around and cursing the cold.
Our flight was at 6:20am Monday morning, so I had booked a Sheraton airport hotel on cash – $60 – and Starwood points – 5,000, since the metro doesn’t run through the night. The regular rate was over $170, so I saved a bundle. Due to being a Starwood Gold member through my American Express Platinum credit card, we were upgraded to the highest floor and had access to the Club Lounge.
|Sweet Sleeper Beds|
|Nothing special, but very clean|
The Club Lounge was closed, but we were able to grab some juice, water and yogurt in the morning for a quick pick-me-up on the shuttle bus to the airport. Check-in was easy and our one checked bag was free, since I had booked my ticket using my British Airways Avios (BA’s name for miles), and kept the receipt where the benefit was stated, saving us $50 ($25 each way).
We were also able to access the AAdmirals Club, again through my American Express Platinum credit card, at the airport, where they actually had some decent chocolate chip cookies. Lounge access was free for me and my two friends, but it was not something I would pay for out of pocket.
All in all, the weekend was an decent excuse in debauchery, and at 25, I really can’t ask for or expect much more out of myself or my friends (I kid, I enjoy museums, architecture and history much more than most people my age, I’d wager). Toronto is a decently fun city, so definitely check it out – IN THE SUMMER, THOUGH! Canadian winters will make you think twice about living above the Mason-Dixon Line.
Thank you for reading and stay tuned for part deux – my brief escapade in Montreal!
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