Whereas Toronto was planned a week before, this particular trip to Montreal was planned a month or so ahead of time. I had to search availability for myself and 3 friends, but this time two friends were coming from Washington, D.C. and had to go through Chicago to get to Montreal; my and one other friend’s flight was direct from LaGuardia to Montréal–Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport. All flights were on American Airlines booked by using British Airways Avios (BA’s term for miles.)
|View from LGA into NYC from the AAdmirals Club|
The total cost in miles was 66,000 Avios, or 16,500 per person and the cash copayment ranged from $57 to $85, which I feel was a great deal considering either a DC-Montreal or a NYC-Montreal flight costs over $330, as I explained in this post. The Avios cost was inflated somewhat by the fact that two friends were flying though Chicago rather than directly to Montreal from DC and Avios prices per segment, rather than as a single trip. For instance, if we all had been in New York, the cost would have been only 36,000 Avios total ((4 trips x 4,500 miles each way)*2) and remember, a redemption for a single economy seat on the US “legacy” carriers (AA/USAirways, Delta, United) can cost 25,000-50,000 miles per ticket. With the magic of Avios’ distance-based chart, I was getting 4 tickets for only a little bit more. Additionally, I have a ton of Avios, so burning them on tickets for friends isn’t a big deal for me and traveling is no fun alone!
It took around a half hour on the 747 bus (great name!) and a three minute walk down a hill to get to the hotel, which was located at Victoria Square. Victoria Square is the intersection of Downtown Montreal and the Old Port – 15 minute walk to both – and a 7-10 minute cab ride to the clubs and bars on Boulevard Saint-Laurent, which is extremely convenient. Other that the fact it was bitterly cold and windy – no surprise, really – everyone was looking forward to the W Montreal.
I had booked two nights at the hotel under Starwood’s old cash and points chart and each room cost 4,800 points and $90 (plus taxes and fees), as the W is a Category 5 hotel.
Now, that same room would cost 6,000 points and $110, as Starwood has, unfortunately, updated their cash and points system. The new prices are found below.
Either way, each room was being split two ways, so I was paying a little over $50 for a room that was going for around $350, a substantial savings. If I combine this cost with the airline fare, I ended up spending $110 instead of over $650 for a flight and a luxury hotel room – an incredible deal!
Put another way, neither my friends nor I could not have afforded this trip without miles and points. On to the hotel!
I’ve never ever stayed at a hotel as nice as this one. It’s in an old bank, or banque, building and has a solid. imposing, Swiss-like exterior.
The interior couldn’t have been more of a reversal – sexy lighting, low couches and a mezzanine that opened up the lobby. It was an invitation to delight and the front desk was happy to oblige as the charmante (I’ll stop now) receptionist upgraded our two rooms from Wonderful to Mega, which she didn’t have to do on a cash and points redemption, even though I am Starwood Gold (and that’s only due to possessing the American Express Platinum credit card). I chose as my amenity free internet and took the elevator up to the fifth floor.
|Elevator welcomed us!|
The first thing that we noticed was that the floor, and the whole hotel as we found out, smelled amazing – like using eight dryer sheets amazing! The hallway was lighted in cool blue and the ambiance was pleasant. The key for my friend’s room didn’t work, so we entered my room instead to take a look and have the front desk fix the problem.
The room was super – lots of space, a large lounge chair, three huge windows looking out onto Victoria Square and a giant bathroom area with a soaking tub, separate rainforest shower and hella towels and robes. I had never been in a room this nice and I was stunned, as were my friends. There was also a clock radio / iPhone player that had surprisingly decent sound, so we cranked the music up and started yelling excitedly. Another receptionist came up with working room keys, so my friends decamped to their room with a promise to meet up in 15 minutes.
|Closed Bathroom Concept|
|Open Bathroom Concept|
We spoke with the concierge downstairs about things to do for the rest of the afternoon and he recommended going to a local brewery and walking around the Old Port area, which we ended up doing. The brewery was called Les Soeurs Grises, meaning The Grey Sisters, and had several homemade beers that were fine, but nothing special. The highlight was our waiter looked like Peter from the movie Taken, or the guy who gets girls at the airport to take a taxi with him, thereby finding out their address for the Albanian kidnappers. The resemblance was more than uncanny and made the drinks seem more dangerous (Ok, the second part’s a lie.)
The Old Port was next and we walked around for an hour or so – there are some museums on the river, but it was mostly dead. Whether that was due to the weather or time of day (5-6pm) I don’t know, but Toronto was the same way, leaving me to think that Canadians are smart people, because they stay inside when it’s freezing out.
The W concierge had suggested a restaurant, Le Local, for dinner and we obliged him. Since we arrived during the Habs game, there was only a 3-5 minute wait for our table. Here’s the menu – it was tasty, but not amazing and a little expensive. I got the roast beef shoulder and a potatoes gratin-type side dish.
After a trip to the government liquor store (hello, Virginia!), we got ready for the night and eventually made our way to the Plateau Lounge, the W’s mezzanine bar – it was nice, the cocktails were inventive and we were having fun.
There was already a line outside for the chic Wunder Bar, the W’s in-house dance spot, which we ended up going to later, but first we wanted to change locations and go out to a club. The ever helpful concierge’s earlier suggestion for the Boulevard St-Laurent was prescient, as there were numerous clubs / bars / discotheques and hordes of people on the street lined up to get in. We ended up at some random reggaeton club, which was decent, but more memorable for the fact that coat check wouldn’t release my friend N’s jacket. Leaving there angry at the insane attendant, but happy that N wouldn’t freeze, we went back to the Wunder Bar, skipped the line as guests of the hotel can do and wondered why we hadn’t stayed here the whole time – at least I did. Drinks weren’t as expensive as the Plateau Lounge for some reason and the music was bumping. We all ended up posted up, standing on the couches to 2 Chainz, which qualifies as more than solid.
The night ended with a crucial small-to-medium size $35 with tax, fee and tip room service pepperoni pizza.
The next day we had brunch at Cafe Universel, which had only decent food and, to compensate, massive portions.
|Totally insane-sized nutella, strawberry and banana crepe|
The cafe was near the Latin Quarter, in which is located the University of Montreal and after brunch we walked through it. It had the air of a depleted tourist zone in a European city – similar to the red-light district in Amsterdam, but with more trash and less hooking. We ended up back at the hotel, cleaned up and headed back to the airport on the same 747 bus.
Here is another helpful hint: if you are flying internationally on American from Montreal and you take the 747 bus to the airport, the American Airlines check in kiosk is at the complete other end of the airport, a 15 minute walk, so arrive early. The AA check-in attendants are much smarter than the ones in New York – they wouldn’t let me use the free checked bag trick as I had done successfully coming from New York, so I had to pay the $25 checked bag fee. (Quick summary is that booking through BA’s website by using Avios for AA flights will state that you are entitled to one free checked bag per person on the trip itinerary).
Clearing customs was a quick process upon entering the country, but leaving is a different matter entirely. You can clear American customs in Montreal, but add an extra hour to what you normally consider an acceptable time to arrive ahead of time for an international flight – the customs area, especially the lanes for passport inspection, is woefully understaffed and there are multiple levels of security that, frankly, are an unnecessary hassle.
We arrived at the gate about 30 minutes before take-off and I got a small sandwich to tide me over before a later dinner back in New York. The flight from Montreal to New York was as unmemorable as the first – in a good way – and soon enough we landed at JFK.
The weekend was pretty fun and I would recommend Montreal as a friendly destination, but I will couch that by warning you to save your vacation time for when it’s warm in Canada – whenever that may be – as the winter / early spring time is just too brutal to fully appreciate Canadian charm!
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